Dear Melissa, I’ve been separated from my husband for over 4 years. We have 2 children (15 and 12). Two years ago, I started seeing a wonderful man. He’s been separated about 4 years as well and also has 2 children around the same age as mine.
Everything is going well! We’ve been taking things slowly and have decided now is the time to reveal our relationship to the kids. So I guess you’re thinking what’s the problem?
The problem is he’s never told me he loves me. His actions indicate that he does. We talk every day and spend as much time together as possible but he hasn’t said those words.
I know he was burnt terribly by his ex and he is just protecting his heart. Should I worry about those three little words? Am I worrying over nothing?
To complicate things further, my ex has started telling me he wants to try again and he loves me. He doesn’t know about my new relationship. How do I let him down gently? I’d appreciate any advice.
Dear New Beginnings,
Thanks so much for your question! I feel you.
“Should I worry about those three little words? Am I worrying over nothing?”
First of all, I want to emphasize that whenever you’re feeling an issue
That’s why you’re feeling something, that’s why your senses are flagging it. So I want to really acknowledge you for paying attention to how you’re feeling and for wanting to find out what it’s about!
That “tuning in” helps you make highly conscious decisions about your life and relationship.
So, should you worry? It depends on how important hearing “I love you” is to you at this stage in your relationship.
You’ve been dating for two years and you’ve been talking about going into deeper levels of involvement like introducing each other to your kids.
Knowing how he truly feels about you and knowing where his heart stands is really important to know when deciding whether or not to bring him into deeper levels of involvement with you and your family, and whether to go into deeper levels of commitment with him.
Because I can totally understand your worry and hesitation.
Going into deeper levels of involvement and commitment with someone without feeling truly secure in where the relationship is going is worrisome because it doesn’t feel “safe.”
It’s like investing in building a house…it feels like you’re making deeper and deeper emotional investments…without knowing with enough certainty that the house will actually be completed and livable.
So, yes, it feels worrisome and scary because, while no investment is risk-free, you want reasonable assurance that your investment is going to be worthwhile and pan out the way you want it to. Right?
And the fact that you’re worrying about this means that this is an issue for you, that it is important to you on some level.
So exploring that need more deeply will help you decide what you should do.
I encourage you to explore these questions:
Why is hearing “I love you,” important to you?
What does it mean to you to hear him say it? What does it mean for you and your relationship?
Why is hearing “I love you” important to you at this time in your relationship?
What do you need in order to feel loved?
Some men aren’t very verbally demonstrative. Some men show their love in other ways.
But what matters is how YOU want to be loved.
Because if hearing “I love you” is something that’s really important to you at this stage in your relationship — something that you need before you go into deeper levels of involvement with him — it’s important for you to talk to him about it and get clarity on it, otherwise it’s going to continue to worry you.
And that sense of worry, if it persists, will strain your relationship. It worries you because there’s a need that’s not being met.
Whenever we experience issues in our relationship, it’s because we feel there’s a need or requirement that’s not being met.
So exploring that — what’s really at the bottom of that for you, what do you really need that you feel is missing for you — helps us get unstuck, gives us clarity, and deepens our connection in our relationship.
And to know, undeniably, that he loves you. That he’s clear on how he feels about you. That you’re both on the same page about the status of the relationship and where it’s going.
And that marriage is on the table. That doesn’t mean that he has to have proposed. But ideally, you’ve talked about the next step and are both considering it with each other.
How to Know If He Loves You and How to Find out If You Don’t Know
First, get clear for yourself on what you need to feel loved.
Based on your own needs, how would you know someone loves you?
Then, observe your relationship. Is he meeting that need?
One caveat: He may indeed love you and may indeed be showing it, but just not in a language that’s clear to you.
For example, he may be the kind of man who shows his love through giving gifts. While you might be a person who’s verbally demonstrative.
(My dad is like that. You won’t get a hug or a verbal “I love you” from him. But he’s there for you if you need anything and will surreptitiously tuck a $20 in your bag when you’re not looking for “gas money.” And you might see him sign a birthday card with love. Then again, it just might be “Dad.”)
If You Don’t Know If He Loves You, Here Are Some Approaches to Find Out
Actions carry more weight than words. You don’t want to be in a situation where he says he loves you, but his actions don’t match his words.
At the same time…would you want to marry someone who never said I love you verbally or through writing even though he’s a loving person in other ways? Ultimately that’s up to you and how YOU want to be loved.
You can inspire him to share his feelings by simply asking him. There’s a way to do this that will maximize your effort to connect with him and get him to open up.
And that is to first create a safe space for him to open up. A space free of judgement, pressure or expectation. So approach this with the intention to simply hear him and connect — not to “get him” to say a particular thing.
So you could say something like:
“I love being with you (or say some other thing that you love about him that you genuinely feel in your heart). I love how caring and attentive you are. But sometimes I feel confused. Sometimes I feel like I don’t know how you really feel about us. I don’t want to feel confused. I want to feel certain. I want a relationship where I know my man loves me. What do you think about this?”
What’s important about this approach is that you’re talking about YOU and what you want, not about him. You’re not making him wrong for what he’s doing or not doing. You’re not telling him he’s not doing this or that. You’re simply talking about your experience, what you want, and asking him what he thinks about it.
3. You say “I love you” first.
Why not take the lead and share your feelings first? It might inspire him to share his!
However, if you do say “I love you” first, it’s important that you do so
1) when the timing feels right to you,
2) out of genuine love….like you really feel this way,
3) and without expectation.
The worst case scenario is that he doesn’t reciprocate your feelings. But either way, your sharing and your honesty increases your confidence because you’re not holding in your feelings, and you will get valuable information from what transpires after you say it!
The bottom line is: You get to decide how you want to be loved. But I also add that two years is a long time to be dating someone and if they haven’t yet figured how they feel about you after that amount of time, that would be a flag for me.
Ultimately, what’s important is that you feel loved in this relationship.
How to Let Your Ex down When He Wants to Reconcile
Also, you mentioned your ex wants to reconcile.
Not knowing the details of your separation and how you and your kids are handling it, my general recommendation is that since you are both separated, I highly recommend waiting until your divorce is final and until your kids have really moved on emotionally from the separation and divorce before introducing a boyfriend. (And that involves assuring and preparing your kids for both transitions, the divorce and introducing a new person into their lives)
If you haven’t already, I recommend checking in with your kids and having a real heart to heart with them about how they feel about the separation so you can get a sense of where they are at emotionally with it, and address any concerns they might bring up or provide necessary assurance.
Even if your new relationship is going well, introducing your kids to a new love too soon might complicate or delay their process of healing from the divorce, which consequently would make them less receptive to a new person in their life.
I bring this up because it sounds like your ex is not over you. And if he has hopes of your reconciling, your children might too. So, ideally, I would first tell your ex about the fact that you’re dating before telling your kids.
And how you approach this might depend on your relationship with your ex….whether it is open and friendly or less so.
But in any case, I would approach this with the attitude that you’re informing him of your intentions, and it’s not open for debate or discussion and you’re not asking for his permission.
You’re informing him. But there’s still a way to warmly and kindly inform that you’ve moved on, that you’re dating, and that you’re not looking to reconcile.
There’s no easy way to do it if he’s still in love with you. It’s going to be painful either way because he still has feelings for you.
But you’re both parents. You’re both grown-ups. So you’re both highly capable of doing difficult things and surviving them.
So, to let him down gently, I would approach this by simple being warm, but also transparent and direct.
You could start by telling him that you really appreciate him as a father to your children (or whatever nice thing you want to say that’s genuinely true), but that you’ve moved on and you’re now dating now.
You don’t have to explain yourself or go into detail. You’re divorced from him. Your love life is not up for debate or discussion. Your love life isn’t his business at the end of the day. You’ve been separated for four years.
“I wanted you to hear it from me and not the kids: I am dating now, and the guy I’m seeing will meet the kids.”
The bottom line on this is: If there is some unfinished businesses or unresolved issues, it is best to resolve them before moving on to deeper levels of involvement in a new relationship because unfinished business can interfere with the success of your new relationship.
I hope this helps provide some guidance!
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