BRENT STOLLER

Writer. Advice giver. Peanut butter and chocolate enthusiast.

Advice for the Modern Man: Red Flags or Cold Feet?

Red flags or cold feet

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(Question has been modified for space and clarity.)

My fiance and I have been together for nearly four years and engaged for almost one. When we first started dating, I left my family and friends and moved about an hour and a half away to be with him. We both have a child — he has a daughter, I have a son — but we don’t have any children together.

Lately, I’ve been having second thoughts about marrying him. I realize it’s common to get cold feet, but I’m not sure that’s what I’m experiencing. I have been extremely unhappy and don’t feel like myself. I no longer know who I am.

The more I think about my life and our relationship, the more I realize that I’m facing many double standards. I don’t feel as though I can truly be me.

My fiance has become impossible to talk to about anything related to my feelings or the problems I’m worried about. He gets defensive and turns everything back on me.

I’ve been contemplating splitting up with him and moving back to be closer to my family. But there’s a part of me that feels like that would be a mistake. In fact, I feel as though I’d be making a huge mistake no matter what path I choose.

I don’t have any idea about what I’m supposed to do, and I’m terrified of making the wrong choice. I feel an outside perspective may help.

What should I do?
–MajerAnie; Cleveland, OH

I don’t believe in telling people what to do. That may sound strange coming from someone who writes an advice column, but that’s not how I see my role.

And truthfully, you don’t want me to tell you what to do, even if you think you do. I understand you feel helpless. You’re simultaneously lost and trapped, and you don’t know which way to turn. Any guidance would be welcomed guidance.

But ultimately, this is your life, and it’s your decision. You have to own each of those.

That said, you’re not alone. I am here to help.

As I see it, my role with this column is to examine a situation from all sides and lay out the possible courses of actions, while also highlighting potential pitfalls and upsides of each. The goal is to offer an objective breakdown in hopes of helping you decide what to do.

In this instance with your fiance, you’re faced with two questions: Should I stay, or should I go?

Let’s look at the case for each…

The Case For Staying

You love your fiance. At least, you loved him at some point.

You’ve been together almost four years, you uprooted your life to be close to him and you accepted his proposal. None of that happens if there’s not an emotional connection between the two of you.

While it can be a hopeful, exciting time, your engagement also can be stressful. And it can be stressful for reasons that have nothing to do with invitation envelopes and appetizer selections.

The engagement is an odd transition period, like the time between getting a contract and closing on a house. You’re committed to each other, and the stakes have been raised. But amid various inspections and negotiations and wish lists, it’s still not too late to walk away.

For however long, the relationship’s underlying question has been, “Are we going to get married?”

But once someone gets on one knee, it shifts to the in-your-face-reality of, “We’re going to be married.”

And that can play with a person’s psyche.

It’s possible this change is driving your second thoughts (i.e. cold feet), and it’s possible it’s causing your fiance to act out of character.

After all, you wouldn’t have stayed with him this long or brought him into your son’s life if you’ve always felt this way and he’d always treated you with such disrespect, would you have? (If you would’ve, that’s a whole other article.)

I have to believe that, underneath these issues, there’s something good that’s kept you in this relationship. You just have to decide if, given this recent tumult, you’re still interested in rediscovering it.

The Case For Going

You’re unhappy. You’re not yourself. And you’re unable to tell your fiance how you feel without having those feelings thrown back in your face.

Those are red-hot flags that would give anybody cold feet.

Beyond the change in relationship status, your engagement also can turn stressful because a) it potentially stirs up and shines a light on issues that have been there all along, and b) it offers a preview of married life — and what you’re seeing now is not what you want for your future.

It’s conceivable that the problems you’re experiencing are temporary; every relationship has its rough patches.

But every healthy, successful relationship is rooted in mutual respect. And whether you and your fiance have shared that before, you’re not sharing it now.

Do you want to be with someone who doesn’t treat you as an equal, and who doesn’t make you a priority, and who’s unwilling to hear you out? Do you want to be in a relationship in which any of that is even a possibility?

If the two of you can’t respectfully work through these issues during the dry run of your engagement, how do you expect to survive when the bullets are live come marriage?

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A few final notes…

• It’s natural to feel like either choice you make is going to be a mistake. If you didn’t feel that to some extent, there’d be no decision to make. So don’t beat yourself up over it.

• There is a third option, and that is to pause the engagement/postpone the wedding (if it’s been scheduled). When you’re trying to decide if you want to commit to or walk away from a marriage, you want to do so with a clear mind and on your own timeline.

• The only way to figure out which option is best is to talk to your fiance. Tell him how you feel, tell him about your fears and tell him what you need to make this relationship work.

I understand recent attempts went poorly, but that doesn’t mean you stop trying. Because the second you stop is the second the relationship is over.

And who knows? When your fiance is put to the point of (potentially) losing you, there’s no telling how he’ll respond.

And while you probably don’t believe me, once you hear that response — whether it’s good, bad or ugly — and you give yourself a chance to process it, you, and only you, will know what feels right.

It’s the type of insight you can’t get from anybody else.

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This article originally appeared on the Good Men Project.

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