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Vail Relationships: When you want to be a higher priority

Neil Rosenthal

Dear Neil: I am a 69 year old successful, affluent business woman. My boyfriend of 10 years is 55, and much less successful and affluent. He has twin daughters, age 21, who he dotes over and will do anything for. But they don’t want their father to have a girlfriend.

He lives in my house and cannot afford to share all living expenses, which does not present a problem for me. But he is held an emotional hostage by the twins. He will give to them lavishly, but he has to live frugally himself. When he goes to see them, he drops me totally off his radar screen, and I lose all presence in his life. He does everything they want, when they want, with utter disregard for me, and I feel shunned and dismissed when they’re in the picture or want something from him. Is there anything I can do about this?

– Not a priority in Pennsylvania

Dear Pennsylvania: Initiate an extremely open, honest and sober conversation with him about what each of you envision for the future of your relationship, and the quality of relationship you would like to have with each other. During the next year or two, does he see the relationship remaining about the same, or does he want it to change? What would he like to see different, and how does he envision getting from here to there? Specifically, what would he need to do in order to create that vision and what would be asked of you? Then it’s your turn to address the same questions. Talk about the quality of the relationship you desire with him for the future.

Tell him that it’s wonderful that he loves his daughters and is devoted to them, but that it feels awful to you because the warmth and connection between the two of you ceases, and then you feel invisible and unimportant to him. Don’t make this about his daughters – that will only make him defensive. Make it about you and how you feel slighted and ignored when he’s around his kids. Then tell him what behavior you’d like from him instead. Make sure to include something about the priority you’d like to hold in his life: perhaps that he can be in a warm, caring, vital relationship with you while also being a good father – and he doesn’t have to ignore one while tending to the other.

It occurs to me that he may not want the relationship to get any closer – that this is as close as he may want things to get between the two of you – but doesn’t acknowledge that because he’s financially dependent on you, and may fear you asking him to leave your house. I’m unclear if this is how he feels, but it would be prudent for you to keep a watchful eye in this direction, and look at how devoted and committed he is toward you.

In the end, you can’t control what he feels about you, or what priority he assigns you in his life. But you can get clear about what it is that you need in the relationship, and you can communicate your wishes, needs and desires, as well as what hurts, devalues or offends you. And you can also request different behavior -and how important that behavior is to you.

Neil Rosenthal is a licensed marriage and family therapist in the Denver/Boulder, area, specializing in how people strengthen their intimate relationships. He can be reached at 303-758-8777, or e-mail him from his Web site, http://www.heartrelationships.com.


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