Living What He's Learned: Origins of Commitment-Phobia
- Wednesday, April 05, 2006
We live what we learn. Men who can’t commit often come from backgrounds that may explain their difficulties with commitment phobia. Many times those who were raised in broken homes in a society fraught with commitment issues, seem to expect fragmented relationships.
Jim sat quietly across from me, blankly staring out the office window. A tall, burly man, he was fit from throwing 100-pound bags of grain around at the local feed store. He wore stained Carhartt overalls and a baseball cap with a curled brim covering a full head of jet-black hair.
Jim did not want to be in my office. He was angry about his circumstances – his second wife had told him to get help or their marriage was over. He felt blackmailed, cornered and judged.
Jim and his wife, Tina, had come to see me several months earlier. Tired of his profanity, angry outbursts, and volatile temper with her young daughter, as well as with his sons, she insisted they get some counseling to try to save their five-year marriage.
“I am so tired of telling him how to behave,” she said sadly. “I already have a child to raise – I don’t need another. I want to be with a man I can respect, and it’s hard to respect a man who can’t manage his own moods.”
Jim and Tina shared how their marriage had started out wonderfully. Both thirty years old and recovering from failed marriages, they were immediately attracted to each other. Both were ready for another chance at love, marriage and family.
Jim seemed demanding, uptight, and tense much of the time. He ran the family like he ran the feed store – methodically, practically, failing to take Tina’s parenting requests into consideration.
Jim now sat expressionless before me. I was surprised at his apparent detached manner.
“Tina is thinking about a separation,” he said gruffly. ” I don’t like it, but I guess that’s how it’s going to be.”
“Do you have any sense of why she has decided on a separation?” I asked. I wondered if he could see that his critical, detached attitude was pushing her away from him.
“Tina wants things to be perfect,” he blurted angrily. “She wants me to come home from the store, smile when I walk in the door and tell everyone what a wonderful day I’ve had. I work hard and I’m tired when I get home.”
“Tina says you are moody,” I said.
“Sure, I’m moody. Who wouldn’t be? My wife is threatening me with a separation, and I won’t put my boys through that again. They’ve been through one divorce, and I swore they’d never experience that again. I don’t want it, but I can live with it.”
“Are you sad at all about what is happening to you and Tina?” I asked. “You told me you were hoping this would be a second chance for both of you. How do you feel now?”
“I’m sad. But, I’ve been through it before. I know what to expect. The boys and I will set up home , and we’ll do just fine. If divorce is what she wants, that’s what she’ll get. I’ll be fine.”
“Jim,” I stated. “You don’t sound committed. You seem ready to call it quits.”
“Sometimes it seems hopeless. Just like my parents, nothing worked for them, so why should it work for me??”
“Let’s talk about the early years of your life, Jim. Sounds like that might have something to do with your reaction to Tina right now.”
Jim’s mood shifted abruptly when I brought up his past. He started to fidget and his eyes filled with tears he could barely contain. I struck a nerve.
“I still hate my parents for what they did to us kids.”
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