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Parallax - Advice

April 21, 2003

A good time?

Dear Conversely,

Ask us a Question!My boyfriend and I have been together for almost two years and we are very happy with each other. He has a young daughter and is currently negotiating a messy custody arrangement involving her. I understand that this is a difficult time for him, but I am very keen for us to move in together and make progress on our relationship. How can I raise this with him, without having him view it as just another pressure in his life? Email to a Friend

Her view:

Dear Curious,

It will be pressure—now or later. That's just the nature of the request. That said, after two years of dating, surely he is anticipating some sort of discussion about such things. If you don't raise the issue, you will be angry with him and snotty in other ways. So I fear you are compelled to bring it up, have it out—whatever that means—and then make the necessary decisions from there.

Now, on technique, you should try to be a bit subtle and see what you can ferret out from his responses. Ask a lot of open-ended questions, such as 'What do you think of our living apart or together?' and 'What's your vision of our future?' At least this puts the onus squarely on him, to take the opening step in identifying a direction.

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His view:

Dear Curious,

On the face of it, it looks like you already know you shouldn't be pressuring him, even though you want to. Perhaps the underlying problem—the issue that is generating anxiety for you—is the fear that, regardless of the unfortunately-timed custody battle, you are worried about his commitment to you.

By raising the question of further 'progress' now, you risk forcing his hand at a time when he may not be thinking straight. If he is even somewhat ambivalent about your future together, he may back out, pleading overwhelming life circumstances. On the other hand, if you hang back, these circumstances might be prolonged indefinitely, leaving you in limbo for longer than is reasonable.

You could compromise by waiting a month or two and then reconsider the situation. But why wait? If he is ambivalent about you, you might as well find out now. If he's not ambivalent, then he should, at a minimum, reassure you of his commitment. Or even better, he should accede to some of your requests.

As to the best approach, don't present your worries as an ultimatum or as demands that need immediate resolution. Instead, raise your concerns in a level-headed discussion, preceded by lots of empathy and I-know-this-isn't-the-best-time-for-this. Give him options in terms of how he can respond to you, including an honest assessment of his feelings for you and his level of commitment.

And don't pressure for an immediate response. Let him think about it.

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