Dear Dr. Chani,
I have been going out with a wonderful girl for two months, but I am worried that she will break up with me at any moment. It’s not that there is anything particularly wrong with our relationship. We feel great chemistry. Our dates are fun and exciting. It seems like we both look forward to spending time together. But I know from previous experience that when I am ready to take a relationship to the next level, girls tend to break up with me.
It really confuses and scares me. I am 34 and I have been dating for a while. People give me the impression that I am a “great catch.” I guess I can understand why. I have a stable, well-paying job in finance. I daven with a minyan every day, and I volunteer every Thursday night, delivering food packages in my community. Most girls are thrilled to go out with me. We have an easy time making conversation and we have a great time on dates.
Yet, each time I go out with a girl for a while, our relationship seems to self-destruct out of nowhere. The last three girls I went out with for a few months eventually broke up with me without warning. The strangest part of it is that none of the girls gave me a good reason. She simply said that she was not “feeling it” or that she “did not see it working out.” I tried to find out why each girl backed out, but I only got vague answers with no real explanation.
What can I do to break this pattern? I really want to get married. I do not want to lose another relationship with a fantastic girl, but I have no idea what I can do to change this dynamic. How can I get my relationship to the next level without destroying it? Can you help me?
I can only imagine how difficult this has been. You sound like you put a lot of effort into your dates and are serious about getting married. Each time you go out with a great girl for a few months, you are hopeful that this is going to be the one with whom you will stand under the chuppah. Yet whenever you invest in a relationship with a great girl, you find that she eventually ends the relationship out of nowhere.
The fact that this is a pattern concerns you deeply. You do not understand what happened in the previous situations and you are concerned that your history will repeat itself. You are determined to figure out what you can do so that you will maximize your relationship with the wonderful girl you are currently dating.
You should know that you are in good company. This is one of the most common issues people face in dating. You have an easy time making conversation. Your dates are fun and exciting. Yet, you struggle to take your relationship to the next level.
The good news is that you can overcome this issue. First, it is important to understand why each girl you dated for a while ended her relationship with you for what seemed like no tangible reason. The truth is, the reason why each girl ended the relationship was probably not based on a specific concrete fact. It was most likely because of a feeling, or lack thereof.
The most common explanation for why couples experience an emotional disconnect is because of the nature of their conversations. If you look back to the conversations that you and your dating partners tend to have, you might notice what is missing. My guess is that you are having a lot of fact-based conversations.
In many ways we do live a life of facts. For example, you are probably sitting on a chair or sofa. You are reading with your eyes. You might be 5’10” with jet-black hair. Facts are secure, reliable and empirical. Much of life consists of facts all around us. But what makes life beautiful and enriching are the feelings behind those facts. We value facts because of the feelings that they create within us. For example, you feel so comfortable sitting in that chair. You find it so relaxing to steal a few minutes to read. You are proud of your black hair. Facts are around us and feelings are within us. The feelings that we have from the facts that surround us influence our thoughts, actions and decisions.
Meaningful relationships also blossom from feelings, not from just the facts. People that share their feelings about the facts they experience can develop deep relationships. When a couple shares their feelings with each other, they grow to know each other more. If they usually discuss facts instead, they will find that their relationship remains at a superficial level.
For example, most people attempt to develop conversations by discussing people, places and things. They ask questions such as “Where are you from?” “What do you do?” or “How was your day?” The response you hear is usually factual: “I live on the Upper West Side” “I’m an accountant” or “I had a busy day.”
While this is a promising way to begin a conversation, many people fall into a trap of continuing the conversation by following up with more fact-based questions: “Do you know my friend from the Upper West Side?” “Where do you work as an accountant? “What did you do today?” You may be taking a genuine interest in the other person, but if you continue along a fact-finding path, it is likely to leave one or both of you bored with the conversation.
If many of your conversations are primarily fact-based, then your relationships will keep treading above the water. You might technically be dating a girl for two months, but your relationship is still in the beginning stages. In some ways, it feels like you have been going out for two days instead of two months.
How can you develop an emotional connection with your dating partner? The way to connect emotionally is to share emotions. One way to think about it is to discuss FACT+FEELING. Share facts and feelings that are meaningful to you. You and your partner should take turns being the speaker and the listener as you share your feelings with one another.
As the listener, your goal is to ask questions and listen to the feelings that your dating partner might share. Try this exercise. After you ask a fact-based question, follow up with a question to discover a feeling that relates to that fact. For example, “What is it like to live on the Upper West Side?” “What do you enjoy or not enjoy about accounting?” or “What was one of the highlights of your busy day?” Allow time for your dating partner to think about and articulate her feelings. Listen to the feeling she shares and try to emotionally put yourself in her shoes. Let her know you can understand why she feels that way.
Take turns as the speaker, sharing your own feelings as well. Think of a fact about your life that you would like to share, and follow-up with a feeling about it. Try to share your feelings in more than just a few words or a sentence. Tell a short personal story to convey your feelings with a richer description. It may take time for you to become comfortable sharing your emotions on dates, but it is the only way to really emotionally connect in a relationship.
As an aside, you do not need to be vulnerable to share your feelings. It is common nowadays to celebrate being vulnerable. There is a beauty behind that, and you may want to share vulnerable feelings as you get to know each other better and build trust in your relationship. But start with sharing feelings that are not too confidential. Share your feelings about your job, your Shabbos experience or the latest article you read. Allow your dating partner to gradually get to know “the real you” over time.
It may take time to become comfortable with sharing your feelings and to figure out how to ask the right questions to draw out your partner’s feelings. Practice these relationship skills with your friends or family first. It can also help to role play with a professional.
Once you get used to discussing your emotions, you will transition from dating to building a relationship together. As your relationship builds, you will find that many “next levels” follow. I wish you lots of success and happiness as you discover them!
PRO TIP – FACT & FEELING is a great way to deepen any relationship! Try it with your parent, child, friend, or co-worker as well as your dating partner. Practice this skill this week and let me know how it goes in the comments below.
About the Author
Dr. Chani Maybruch is a social psychologist and relationship coach, specializing in teaching emotional connection and communication skills for over two decades. She coaches individuals and couples, teaches courses on how to become a master of relationships, and blogs at chanimaybruch.com. To find out more about how to gain self-awareness and get dating clarity, register for her FREE E-course “Get Dating Clarity” and her upcoming online course: “Master Dating: How to Create Your Ideal Relationship.”