Dear Jeanne,

I have been either dating or living with my boyfriend for over 5 years. I am happy with the way that things are – which is good almost all of the time. Until … the topic of marriage comes up. Then, not so good.

He comes from a really great family and I know that his mom and sister are wondering when we are going to “do it” – commit to getting married. Even some of my friends will ask me when we will be getting engaged. At weddings, I stand at the back of the “single women” group when the bouquet is thrown because I don’t want it near me.

There is something inside of me that just gets freaked out (in a quiet, inside way) whenever the topic of marriage comes up. This happened recently when we were together with friends and I wanted to run out of the room.

My boyfriend doesn’t bring pressure on me – the pressure is generally from outside people. I mean, we have had past conversations about the future and he knows how uncertain that I am about all of that. We love each other and we are good together, but I know that I might have to leave one day when things get too “real”.

My own parents’ path of multiple separations and then divorce were horrible to experience as a child and I would never want to bring that on a young life. My sister struggles a bit with this too (she won’t even stay in a relationship for over a year – no anniversaries, she says) and I know that as much as I love my boyfriend, I have so much fear over being abandoned. I can never fully commit my future to someone else. I am surprised that I have stayed so long.

I know I am rambling, but I know that the “expiration date” on our relationship is coming up and it makes me sad to let go and terrified to actually get married.

I’m a mess.

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Dear “I’m A Mess”,

Your experience of fear of commitment is shared by many. It is especially common in those who have been through or witnessed an intense breakdown of their own parents’ marriage. This emotional trauma takes intentional work to resolve and release.

Fear can be a really tough thing to navigate, especially when it has been triggered or activated. When those thoughts or feelings begin to descend, they can feel all-encompassing.

It seems (from what you’ve shared) that your partner is not the one that is bringing this pressure to bear on you, but that it is coming from friends and family. I think that we humans do think and act from predetermined cultural patterns. A man and woman have been together happily for a period of time, so when do we get to celebrate their wedding?

Here are a couple of inputs that might help you bring some clarity.

Firstly, a partner relationship is an agreement (or set of agreements) between two individuals. You and your boyfriend hold the blueprints of how your relationship is being constructed. It is YOUR creation to shape and enjoy. As long as you are on the same page, that is what is most important.

Secondly, marriage is a shared energy between two people (two souls). It is not a piece of paper nor an event. It is an ongoing and on-growing extension of their love and their agreements morphing in and through life together.

Thirdly, you have named “fear over being abandoned”. It is good to acknowledge that your life path has brought incidents and experiences that culminated in feelings that you fear being abandoned. I would just encourage you to make that naming of something work FOR you and not become your identity.

Too often, people take the naming of something and make it a label. Our current society is really good at this. I see so many people name something and then have it become a label that then becomes their identity, reducing the full capacity of their creative energies.

Identifying something, naming it, is the first step in doing something about any non-optimal situation. However, if you stop there, the naming can become a label that defines you and your life choices. If you move into investigating and understanding it, you can release its hold on you. Understanding always does this.

None of us can ever erase our past, but we do have the opportunity to transmute it so that the shadow of it doesn’t distract or dim our potential for happiness.

In my own journey, I have had to do some work in this area and so I know the value for you that it holds. Life after the release of old wounds is unbelievably more beautiful and I encourage you to pursue both forgiveness and family trauma work. The layers of grief and trapped emotion that are released opens a level of living that holds so much more vibrancy.

In closing, you are perfectly made and perfectly you. You and your boyfriend can construct your relationship to be whatever you select. The work you do to embrace and release this thing you’ve named will keep it from being an artificial identity that drives your energy and defines your future.

As always, do reach out for any clarifications.

Much love to you,