Are you someone who wants a committed relationship, but somehow yours don’t end up heading in that direction? Here’s some “investment advice” to help you overcome this dilemma:

Q. I continually seem to get into relationships that appear great on the surface (good communication, affection, chemistry, healthy love life, fun, mutual love), but suddenly the guy needs space or wants out completely. They still profess their love, affections and passions, but they want out. I am 40 and my significant others tend to be close to my age or a few years older. The relationships have lasted anywhere from 9 months to 3 years. Any ideas? Donna

A. Yes, Donna, I have plenty of ideas, the most important of which is recognizing that this dating dilemma can be avoided before a relationship takes on a life of its own. What I mean is this: rather than feeling like a victim of a man’s “need for space,” you have the power to decide, long before getting further involved, if the relationship is to head towards an exclusive, committed relationship (i.e., marriage), or not.

I advocate that the decision to invest more time with a dating partner be made before the fifth date. That’s because people can spend one to three years of their valuable time dating someone before deciding, “This is not a good relationship for me.” But if you sit down earlier on to talk about the direction you want your relationship to head, i.e., a committed relationship or marriage, then this is when to say so. Based on the outcome of your discussion, you can then decide if you want to become exclusive and invest more time in the relationship.

Because I keep hearing about the many “commitment-phobes” lurking out there, the decision to become exclusive is hence a "pre-commitment.” I actually like to call it “a commitment to see if we should make a commitment,” which I find takes the edge off of making bigger commitments, like deciding to move in together, or get engaged.

Dating and communicating in this more cognizant way will help you determine earlier on if your relationship is headed in the direction you want it to. You then have the power to choose whether or not to invest more of your time. Otherwise, you’ll be in the same water together, but swimming different strokes.

Q. I am in a relationship with a woman now for about a year and a half. Both of us come from long, destructive marriages. I feel I am ready to get married, but she says that she's not ready. She says she wants to get to know herself better. I love and adore her and am doing my best to be patient, but I’m also fearful that she may never want to marry. What should I do? Steven

A. You are in a similar situation as Donna – you have invested 1-1/2 years of your time in a relationship that you wanted to lead to marriage, while your girlfriend has instead spent this time with a different goal. The goal, to “know herself better,” is clearly not something that can be accomplished within the relationship. So you now have to decide if you should invest an additional, unknown amount of time until she is ready to share your goal of marriage.

I’ve used the term “invest” in both of my answers here to mean the following: “To spend or devote for future advantage or benefit.” Like investing money in stocks, bonds or savings accounts, you do so with the expectation that you will receive a specific benefit or profit after a certain period of time.

The only “currency” that singles have in their search for a life partner is time. While investing time is a necessary component in choosing a partner, time can also be wasted if you invest too much of it with someone who isn’t headed in the same direction as you. Singles will instead stick around and invest more of their time, hoping that by doing so the other person will eventually change and the investment will “pay off.” Referring back to the money analogy, this is akin to “throwing good money after bad,” i.e., investing more money in a failure, or repairing an already poor product.

Having said all this, I don’t recommend that you stick around and invest any more of your valuable time while your girlfriend embarks on the completely diverse, singular goal of knowing herself better. I suggest you tell her again that you want to marry her, and after being together for 1-1/2 years, you have enough information about each other to get engaged.

If she continues to say that her goal is self-knowledge, then you should find someone to invest your time with who shares your goal of marriage. Expecting you to stick around while she pursues her separate goal would be akin to “stealing” your time. Again, using the time-as-money analogy, this is comparable to stealing money that you could spend on other (more promising) investments.

If she eventually determines that she knows herself well enough to accept your proposal, then you have the choice to return to the relationship or not. After all, only you can decide how to spend your money, and your time.

© Copyright 2005-2008 Janice D. Bennett, Ph.D.

Author's Bio: 

Practicing as a psychologist for over 22 years, Dr. Janice has treated many singles looking to get married, but who had become depressed and demoralized by the dating process. Living in New York City with her husband and three children, Dr. Janice now uses her skills and experience to help healthy singles overcome the obstacles preventing them from attaining the relationships and lives they really want. Janice has been quoted in Us Weekly and Cosmopolitan Magazines, writes the "Love Coach" advice column on, has a free e-newsletter and gives teleclasses, lectures and workshops. Check out her "Get Your Love Right!" blog, read other dating-related Q's&A's and articles, and sign up for a complimentary 40 minute telephone coaching session by visiting her website at