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We’re talking marriage, but she won’t relocate

Before they met, he put a deposit on a home in Florida, but his girlfriend doesn’t want to move. Dr. Gail Saltz has advice.

Q: To my surprise and delight, I now have a serious girlfriend. We are talking marriage. However, I really want to move to Florida — and had even put a down payment on a house shortly before we met — but she isn’t keen on moving and doesn’t like the house as much as I want her to. This is turning into a real problem. What should I do?

A: It sounds as though you want it all — you want this girlfriend, and you also want her to want everything you want. While both eventually may happen, it is not a reasonable expectation.

Your decision to move was a decision made when you didn’t have someone important in your life. Now, serendipitously, you do.

You have arrived at a transitional time when it should be possible for you to say: “I have unexpectedly found somebody to love. I am willing to give up the idea of moving to Florida, and we will make a decision together about where to live.”

It is also a good opportunity to learn how to handle such life decisions in the future.

It all comes down to what some people like to call “non-negotiables” — those third-date conversations about such matters as having children (including how many), religious beliefs, the type of marriage ceremony and where you might live. Anything you consider non-negotiable should be discussed before you are deep into a relationship.

If, before you met this woman, you knew you absolutely were going to move — and it sounds like you did because you had put down a deposit on a Florida home — you should have told her early on. Sometimes people avoid disclosing such things because they want to avoid conflict, or they think they can talk the other person into something.

If you told her about the move, she could have decided for herself whether to get more involved. She might not have wanted to get serious with a guy who was going to either move far away or insist she move with him.

And it’s a bad idea to be vague. Saying “I have always liked Florida” or “I hate to shovel snow” is vague. Saying “I have put a down-payment on a house in Florida and am moving in April” is clear.

That said, all is not necessarily lost. It’s possible that your girlfriend’s objections to moving can be overcome. Maybe she is worried about getting a job in her field; you could possibly answer this by agreeing to support her until she finds a job. Maybe she isn’t certain of your commitment to her; perhaps this could be resolved (and she would gladly go with you to Florida) once you stop talking about marriage and actually do it.

On the other hand, she may have hard-to-overcome reasons for not wanting to move, such as being very attached to her nearby family and friends. You need to respect her feelings as much as you want her to respect yours.

Such a big step — a move far from home — has to be fully embraced by both parties if it is to work. If your girlfriend accompanies you with any heaviness in her heart, it’s likely she will end up resenting you, which can eat away at the relationship and ultimately destroy it.

So ask yourself: Is your dream of moving to Florida more important than your dream of finding somebody? Is this the only house that will make you happy? Do you feel there are many fish in the sea and this girlfriend is by no means the last fish? Or is she the soul mate you have been awaiting for many years? (The “surprise and delight” expressed in your letter would seem to indicate the latter.)

Dr. Gail’s Bottom Line: First, learn to discuss non-negotiables early on, so you don’t end up in a relationship where you expect to change the other person’s mind on important issues. And if it’s already too late for that, you must make hard decisions as to what your priorities are.

Dr. Gail Saltz is a psychiatrist with New York Presbyterian Hospital and a regular contributor to “Today.” Her new book, “Becoming Real: Overcoming the Stories We Tell Ourselves That Hold Us Back,” was recently published by Riverhead Books. For more information, you can visit her Web site, .

PLEASE NOTE: The information in this column should not be construed as providing specific medical or psychological advice, but rather to offer readers information to better understand their lives and health. It is not intended to provide an alternative to professional treatment or to replace the services of a physician, psychiatrist or psychotherapist. Copyright ©2005 Dr. Gail Saltz. All rights reserved.