Just after my divorce, I started dating someone I had known through work for a couple of years. I knew she wasn’t Ms. Right, but I was lonely, and we had sex a couple of times. I realized that it was a mistake, and I have told her there was no future for us. However, she says she’s in love with me and is going to wait for me to realize that we’re “meant to be.” On one hand, it’s an ego boost after my ex-wife’s desertion, but on the other hand, I feel she’s pressuring me to feel something I just don’t. I would consider a purely platonic friendship with her, but I’m wondering whether I should just refuse to see her again. What do you think?
My advice is, in the most kind and respectful way you know how, cut off contact with her all together. If you feel you have done this already, steer clear of her and continue to avoid contact. I suggest this out of consideration for her feelings as well as yours. Because she professes love for you, any type of contact will encourage her and fuel her romantic fantasies, further adding to the disappointment and discomfort that is bound to come.
The situation you are presenting is one that I encounter frequently as a relationship consultant. I am often given the excuse, “Well, I told her there was no future, what’s the harm in just being friends, especially if we’re both lonely and enjoy each other’s company?” The problem with it is that it will only prolong the inevitable and prevent each of you from getting on with your life — not to mention the fact that you might miss the opportunity to meet Ms. Right in the meantime. But ultimately, why I think it’s a bad idea to continue to date someone you aren’t interested in is that it sets you up to continue to find fault with her to keep her at a distance. This is not only unkind to her but it serves to reinforce any negative opinions you have about women. You say your wife deserted you — well, my advice is don’t do the same thing by deserting yourself. If you know she is not what you want, don’t waste your time or hers. Finally, as much as you say that it’s an ego boost to have this woman profess her love for you, how good can you really feel about yourself if you date her for this reason?
Right before our seventh anniversary, my husband returned from a ten-day business trip and told me he didn’t love me anymore and wanted a divorce. This was completely out of the blue: before he went away, he had been studying travel brochures, telling me that he was planning a spectacular second honeymoon for us. I am absolutely reeling. I want to fight for our marriage, but he has refused to go to marriage counseling — or even to give me any reasons for throwing away our relationship. What should I do?
If you want to fight for your marriage the first step is to let your husband know your intentions and feelings. Keep your message simple and direct. “I love you, I want to be with you, I’m going to fight for our marriage.” Send the message in the form that he will likely receive it, such as a letter or brief phone call.
The next step — and it is equally important as the first — is to gather support. This means to get in touch and stay in touch with friends and family that nurture you and bolster your spirits. Ask them to support you in being patient during this stressful time. Discourage them from maligning your husband as they might be inclined to do in your defense. Negative comments will only serve to put a strain on your relationship with them and make it more difficult to accept their support.
The third step is to be patient as well as persistent. If your husband made a snap decision about your marriage, as you say, then he is more likely to reconsider his decision just as suddenly. For this reason, it goes without saying, take it slow. Don’t make any major decisions one way or another for the next six months. A lot is going to happen between now and then. Meanwhile, I suggest you check into an organization called Retrouvaille, which is a grassroots organization designed to help couples in serious distress.
I have been divorced for a couple of months after a ten-year marriage. We have two children, ages 9 and 12. My ex-wife has labeled herself as a “codependent”; I can clearly see how our mutual emotional immaturity devastated our relationship, but she blames only me for her unhappiness. I asked her during the divorce process to attend the PAIRS program with me (which I am currently involved with alone), but she refused. I still have feelings for my ex and hope that we might reconcile someday. I believe I have grown enormously emotionally since our separation, and I have earnestly done everything possible to make our divorce as amicable as possible. Do you think that there is any chance that we might “rediscover” each other in the future and reestablish a relationship, or am I just deluding myself?
I don’t think you are deluding yourself. The percentage of couples that reunite after divorce is growing — thanks in part to marriage education programs such as PAIRS (Practical Application of Intimate Relationship Skills). You have found a fine program and I commend you for continuing to participate. Regardless of the outcome of your relationship with your ex-wife, you, your children, and she will benefit from the skills and knowledge you gain from the PAIRS experience.
If you are serious about reconciling with your ex, the most prudent action you can take is to let her see, by your actions, that you have moved beyond the immaturity that you believe wrecked your relationship. This means that you remain calm when issues arise that used to upset you; you remain cooperative when your inclination may be to retaliate; and most of all, you must acknowledge and apologize for the mistakes you know you made in the past.
If indeed your ex-wife blames you for her unhappiness, it should only be a matter of time before she realizes she’s the same person regardless of marital status. One approach you might try, since your ex labels herself as codependent, is to ask her to accompany you to a PAIRS workshop to help you learn more about the mistakes you made in the marriage. If she agrees to do this, be true to your word! Don’t invite her under the guise of helping you work on you, and then use the opportunity to try to convince her to reconcile or work on herself. She will feel tricked and/or betrayed. Paradoxically, if she sees that you are serious about continuing to grow and learn, this will have the greatest likelihood of attracting her to you as well as the idea of reuniting.
My wife is too attached to her parents, and it’s interfering with our relationship. Whenever we have a significant decision to make — like buying a house, or naming our children, for instance — she runs to them and asks their advice, and I’m expected to go along with whatever they say. If I disagree, she cries, sulks, refuses sex, and generally makes my life a living hell until I “step back in line.” We live three doors away from her parents, and she spends more time with them than she does with me. I’m thinking of telling her either we move away from them and go to marriage counseling, or we’re getting a divorce. Do you think there’s any hope for us?
Yes, there is indeed hope for you — however, you are likely going to need some help and support to realign the boundaries of your relationship. The situation you describe is far more common than you might think: in fact it is so common, I wrote a book about it more than ten years ago and the book is still in print. The title is Emotional Incest: What to Do When A Parent’s Love Rules Your Life. It describes the subgroups in the family and the roles, rules, and functions that belong to each of them. I think a brief description from the book will shed light on the difficulty you’re experiencing.
You and your wife constitute what is known as the spousal or executive unit of your family. The role of the spousal unit is to provide a relationship where adults can get their adult needs met. Spouses are best friends; confidants; and financial, social, and sexual partners. They have an exclusive relationship that includes no others. They establish a home together and consider one another a priority. They have a special place in one another’s heart that no one else has. A spouse is someone who is on your side, in your corner, and when push comes to shove is there for you. Marriage is a legal partnership designed to function on its own without the interference of others.
The parental unit is designed to provide love and structure for dependent children. You are your wife form the parental unit for your children. Parents may continue to provide guidance or input on special occasions after a child reaches adulthood — however, this is the exception to the rule. The relationship of parents and their adult children should resemble a friendship more than a primary love relationship. And the relationship between a parent and grown child should never undermine either one’s marriage. There should be a clear division between the two families.
The situation in your family is highly charged and sensitive, therefore I caution you not to give your wife any ultimatum. I strongly urge you to get the help of a knowledgeable professional. Make sure you select a therapist who is trained in family systems. Most family therapists are members of the American Association for Marriage and Family Therapy (AAMFT); you can find someone near you through this organization.
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