The question: I love my boyfriend very much, he is warm, loving and giving. However, when I imagine my life five years from now I have a hard time seeing him in it. We come from different academic backgrounds – I have a B.A. and a college certificate, he never finished college. I want to get married and have kids, and while he says he wants to, he only very recently starting saving. Sometimes I feel I'm being snobbish or not giving him enough time to change. After a three-year relationship, I don't know whether to wait this out or to leave. This has consumed my thoughts for four months and is making me so anxious I almost have panic attacks. What should I do?
The answer: The amount of distress you are feeling about whether or not to continue your relationship – and the fact that you are even questioning whether you see him in your future – is the biggest sign you have about what to do next.
Fleeting doubts and questions about long-term compatibility are very normal and come and go even in long-term, solid relationships. Pervasive and significant doubts that last months or longer are not.
Often, our emotional reactions provide us with useful information about our circumstances, even before we can verbally articulate what those reasons are. You are likely reacting to a number of factors, and you know at a gut level that the relationship, for a range of reasons, is not the best fit for you. You need to trust this reaction.
All too often we go through life ignoring our intuition – despite the fact that it often tells us what we need to know. Think about the significant decisions in your life so far, with a particular focus on regrets you have or mistakes you made. Likely, your intuition almost always gave you a sign as to what to do, but you ignored it.
There are clearly a number of very positive attributes about your boyfriend that you admire. However, the reality of long-term relationship success is that there often needs to be compatibility at a number of levels such as personality, interests, and finances.
Are these differences that the two of you could potentially work through? Yes, of course. However, forcing the issue and trying to work hard at accepting fundamental differences between the two of you isn't necessarily the best way to move forward given the extent of doubts you already have.
You are clearly torn about what to do, and not yet ready to let go. Given this, the next step for you – both for peace of mind, and to do justice to the three years you have spent together – is to have some candid conversations.
You will need to balance being respectful with being straightforward – for example, rather than specifically outlining the differences in education (which may feel very hurtful to him) you may say that you worry your personalities and career interests are very different. These conversations will likely be heart-wrenching, but it is what you need to do.
Keep in mind that it is possible to have love for another person without being in love with them and spending your life together. And, it will be much less painful to end the relationship now, rather than down the road if you were married and/or had children.
Dr. Joti Samra, R.Psych., is a clinical psychologist and organizational & media consultant. She is the host of OWN: Oprah Winfrey Network's Million Dollar Neighbourhood and is the psychological consultant to CITY-TV's The Bachelor Canada. Her website is www.drjotisamra.com and she can be followed @drjotisamra Click here to submit your questions. Our Health Experts will answer select questions, which could appear in The Globe and Mail and/or on The Globe and Mail web site. Your name will not be published if your question is chosen.
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