Vail relationship column: Can this relationship survive?
VAIL CO, Colorado
Dear Neil, I have a daughter with my on-and-off-again boyfriend of three years. On one of our off times, he got another girl pregnant, and I am struggling with that. I have tried to be supportive, but it is hard because I feel so betrayed. It is the cause of most of our fights, and he has cut me off from that part of his life – as if it has nothing to do with me. I have such conflicting feelings about this that I don’t know if our relationship can survive this struggle. I would greatly appreciate some advice.
Struggling in Commerce City, Colorado
Dear Commerce City: In a nutshell, you are describing that you have trust and betrayal issues with him, not to mention feelings of anger and resentment. It’s a lot to work through, and it takes two motivated people who really want to be together, because it’s not going to be easy to do. Most of us would have trouble handling this, it’s not just you.
Let’s begin with the obvious: the other child is not going to go away. So you have a choice: either find a way to accept the other child, and accept that your man is the child’s father (which may put you in the position of being that child’s step-mother), or this issue is likely to haunt your relationship for a very long time. If you reach the conclusion that you can not accept the other child, it would be better to let go of your boyfriend, or you’re likely to be stuck in angry, hurt and betrayed feelings for years.
If you succeed in neutralizing your resentment about the other child, you are going to need to figure out why the two of you have not been in a stable relationship, and what it’s going to take to make the relationship consistently on-again, because if you remain in the on-and-off-again cycle, this whole dilemma could easily happen all over again. So what would change your relationship so that you and your boyfriend could be solid and stable?
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Another way of asking this question is to look at what you think he has been fighting for. What has he been unhappy about? What does he want you to do differently, stop doing or do more of? Could you do more of what he’s requested? What would you need from him in order for you to be willing to more fully meet his wants and needs?
And let’s not forget about you. Overall, what have you been fighting for? What are you unhappy about, other than the other child? What do you need for him to do differently, or quit doing? What would need to happen in order to make this relationship one that you were proud of being in and happy to come home to? Present your needs and desires to him, and invite him to do the same with you. Only then will the two of you know if your relationship can weather through all of these emotions.
If the two of you decide to stay together, it would be important for the two of you to have a wiser way of working through a disagreement, rather than calling it quits for awhile. You need a different and friendlier way of resolving conflicts with each other, and no doubt couple’s counseling would be very helpful in learning far better ways of fighting and working through conflicts.
And what agreements do the two of you need to iron out about the two children – yours and the other woman’s? Is he capable and willing to be financially and emotionally supportive to both of his children? Would you ever be willing to bond with the other child and become a loving step-mom? If so, would your boyfriend be willing to open up that part of his life to you and welcome you in?
All of this needs to be talked through and agreed upon if you and your boyfriend are going to stabilize. It’s a fair amount of work, isn’t it? You’re going to have to decide if your relationship is worth it.
Neil Rosenthal is a licensed marriage and family therapist in Westminster and Boulder, Colorado. His syndicated column is in its 19th year of publication. You can reach him at 303-758-8777, or email him through his website: http://www.heartrelationships.com.