A Reader Asks:
I’ve been dating a quality guy for the past two months. From my perspective, things are going well. We have a great connection and share life goals.
He is way ahead of me, though. He drops subtle hints about our future, family, and home, and wants me to meet his entire family. As much as I like him, I’m feeling smothered, choked. And the more he does it, the faster I want to run.
I’m now strongly considering breaking up with him. After all, doesn’t he deserve someone that feels the same way about him as he does about me?
Dating Coach Rachel Burnham Responds:
Unfortunately, it’s common for singles to want to drop a relationship based on one issue that overtakes all else. What’s best is to drill down to the critical details, which is exactly what we’ll do with your scenario.
One should never disregard red flags when it comes to safety and comfort in relationships, but it doesn’t sound like you feel you are in an abusive situation, but rather a personally overwhelming one.
Why might your date be engaging in the behaviors that contribute to your sensation of being smothered? The hints and gung-ho, meet-the-family approach could be triggered by anxiety over potentially being dropped as a match. Alternatively, it could be that he is so excited about you and your potential as a couple that he is allowing boundaries to loosen before you are both ready. Finally, sometimes one person is just out of touch with the true emotional temperature of the relationship and acting according to that misperception.
Now, let’s turn to you. What internal factors could be contributing to your sensation of being smothered? In my professional experience, those at high risk of feeling “choked” in this manner are:
Cautious personalities who need all to make sense before moving forward in a relationship.
More closed or distant personalities (either by nature or nurture) to whom emotional intimacy feels uncomfortable and/or unfamiliar.
Those burned in previous relationships who fear being hurt again.
There’s also a gender dimension to this. There is a saying that men are like microwaves and women are like crockpots: Men are more likely to heat up and cool off quickly, while women are more likely to take longer to warm up yet remain warm for longer. Men tend to get excited about a great girl fast and are ready to move forward without thinking details through. Women tend to keep their emotions in check until it all makes “sense.”
There are upsides to both approaches and the two can bring balance to a relationship. While one side is making sure all the components are intellectually there, the other ignites the spark and allows the emotional side of the relationship to grow.
Here are five ways to bridge the gap and find clarity:
Communicate. Sit down for an open conversation about what you are each up to and what your needs are. I would recommend the excellent book “Fierce Conversation” by Susan Scott to help you prepare. You might even want to break the ice by saying “Let’s have an awkward conversation!”
Put yourself in their shoes. Try to understand where the other is coming from so as to remove judgment and create more compassion for their viewpoint.
Analyze the data. Look at the relationship beyond the smothering/choked feelings. If that were not present would you continue? Are your other needs being met?
Give each other what you need. You both will need to flex beyond your comfort zones to meet the needs of the other. That’s what good relationships are made of.
Shelve it. Consciously put this feeling of stress on a mental shelf and continue to date. A few weeks later reintroduce the issue and see if it still holds the same weight it once did.
If you feel emotionally overwhelmed by a relationship that is otherwise going well, give yourself some time to sort out what you actually feel about the person and the relationship versus feelings of panic that may or may not have anything to do with the individual you are dating. You may actually like him just as much as he likes you when all is said and done.
Coming at the issue from the other direction, those who feel they are being held at emotional distance in an otherwise strong relationship should know that they’re unlikely to experience this forever. Once their date has gone through their “process” they will more often than not come around to embrace deeper connection.
A final word of caution: I’ve had many clients that took too long to reciprocate emotionally, only to find out that when they did, their partners had moved on. Be aware of your partner’s emotional temperature so you don’t miss your window of opportunity. This may need time, a deep conversation, or outside coaching, but it’s still a relationship ripe with potential and should not be rejected lightly.
May you use compromise, team work, and communication to bridge your gap of each other’s mindsets to find clarity towards the shortest distance of your longest relationship.
By Rachel Burnham