Premium

Dear Richard Madeley: 'My partner’s fear of commitment is eroding our relationship'

'My partner’s fear of commitment is eroding our relationship'
'My partner’s fear of commitment is eroding our relationship' Credit: Rii Schroer/Kaja Merle for The Telegraph

Dear Richard

I am in a loving and mostly contented relationship with a man who works near me but lives 15 miles away. We are both in our early 60s, both widowed, and never expected to find anyone else, let alone find the happiness we have in each other.

My problem is that, while we talk of vague plans for the future, he is reluctant to publicly acknowledge me as his partner, and I haven’t been officially introduced to his three grown-up children – they know he “sees” someone but that’s about it.

I believe he is racked with guilt over the death of his wife from cancer: he blames himself for not being with her enough – he was building his business at the time – and he thinks that to admit to himself, let alone others, that he’s found happiness with someone else would be a betrayal of her memory. As for the children, he is admirably adamant that nothing will change their place in his heart, but he won’t let himself see that they would probably be glad to see him happy. My son knows him and likes him enormously, and I’d like to be a part of his children’s lives, too.

I feel myself becoming snippy and impatient about this, and I don’t like it. I’m not even sure what I want to happen in the short term – we have no plans to move in together, for example. I have talked to him and he says it’s too soon – though we’ve been together for nearly seven years! He also politely but firmly refuses to get counselling about his wife. Do you have any advice for us?

Jay, Dumfries & Galloway

Dear Jay

'The written word is often more effective at unravelling problems like this one' Credit: Rii Schroer

As I read your letter I was forming my reply, which was in effect to counsel patience, give it time, etc. Then I reached the end and saw that you’ve been in this relationship for seven years! I think you’ve been patient for long enough.

You obviously have a great deal of sympathy for your partner’s emotional and psychological needs, and that does you credit. But you have emotional needs too, Jay, and it’s time they were addressed.

The problem is that you can never force these things. You can’t issue an ultimatum or deadline, can you? (“I get to meet your children by Christmas or we’re finished.”) The last thing you want to do is put him under that kind of pressure. He’d probably crack under the strain, and you’d be damaged too. The relationship would certainly be scarred, perhaps irretrievably.

But your frustrations won’t be denied: that’s why they’re bubbling to the surface. You say you’re becoming “snippy and impatient” with him. That will only get worse, causing its own kind of damage. So you can’t just sit passively, hoping that things will change. You need to act.

I suggest you write him a letter. The written word is often more effective at unravelling problems like this one; conversations can take wrong turns and end up down blind alleys. It doesn’t sound as if you’ve made much progress by discussing the matter face to face.

Tell him this has, quite simply, become a question of happiness – your happiness. Being shut out of such an important aspect of his life is making you miserable. Other couples who find love again after bereavement or divorce manage to share their joy with their children: why can’t you? Say you’ve understood his reluctance to take such a big step, but that the time has arrived for him to put you first. Surely he doesn’t want to see the woman he loves so distressed and unhappy?

Suggest some practical ways for you to meet his children, such as a meal out together on neutral ground. (Perhaps your son could be there, too, to divert some of the attention away from them.) Finish by telling him you realise he’ll need time to think things over; suggest a short break of a few days or even a week or two before you see each other again. That’ll underline the seriousness of your argument and help focus his thinking.

I wish you well.

Richard Madeley's column is published on telegraph.co.uk every Saturday, Sunday and Monday at 11am