Q. I have been dating a man who has been separated from his wife for 2 years. They haven’t divorced yet because of the financial situation (he can’t afford it yet). He maintains minimum contact with his wife and largely talks to her about the children. Ever since she came to know that he has been seeing me, she has been trying to woo him back.
She calls him more often, talks about how much she misses him and asked him to move back with her. So far he hasn’t responded favorably to her and he finds it strange that she has developed an interest in him after 2 years. He too thinks that she may be trying to win him back because he is dating me. He assured me he would never go back to his wife.
Recently she has started using her kids as a means to get closer to him. She celebrated her son’s birthday and purposefully planned it in such a way that he spent the entire weekend at her place. This is something he hasn’t done ever since he moved away from her. He also mentioned that he noticed a distinct change in the way she treated him- she was being more friendly and warm than she has ever been before.
Right now I am spending most of my energy wondering what she is up to rather than enjoying my relationship with him. I am concerned about this situation and I would like to know what I can do to save my relationship. Should I walk out of the relationship considering the fact that I am actually dating a married man even though he has separated from his wife?
A. This is such a difficult situation to be in.
I have worked with many women in similar situations. One of my clients recently came in to discuss the fact that her soon-to-be-divorced boyfriend still goes on family vacations with his wife’s family and their children. There are no easy answers about how to navigate this kind of relationship. What goes on between your boyfriend and his wife is not in your control, but how you deal with it is.
If you are the kind of person who can accept the fact that we can’t control other people, and you can tolerate some discomfort and insecurity, I will tell you to hang in there for a little while and try talking with your boyfriend about the boundaries of his relationship with you, and his relationship with his wife.
I suggest being incredibly supportive of his relationship with his kids, and not asking him to choose between time with them and time with you.
You can ask him to inconvenience himself a little bit to show you, and his relationship with you, the respect you need to feel safe. A weekend birthday party for his son? Great! And would he be willing to leave after bedtime, come home and sleep away from his wife’s house, and get up and drive back for Celebration Day 2 the next morning?
It doesn’t make practical sense, but it makes great relationship sense. He’s setting a boundary with his wife, and showing you the respect you deserve without cheating his son of time with Dad. I would encourage you both to look for ways he can set clear boundaries with his wife, while still being present for his kids.
I would also encourage you to communicate your fears and worries in a safe, loving way.
If you act jealous, paranoid, and accuse him of “falling for her tricks” it will most likely create distance from him, instead of the closeness and reassurance you are seeking. I suggest practicing some mindfulness techniques (meditation, mindful walking, mantra breathing) to help calm yourself down and build your ability to be present and turn off the internal fearful chatter.
If you aren’t able to be a safe, loving, present partner, he most likely won’t be willing to do the work of setting boundaries to give your relationship a chance.
Lastly, I will recommend you proceed with some caution.
As you work to build a healthy relationship with him, and talk with him about what boundaries you need him to have with his wife, I suggest you also be ready to protect yourself from the potential heartbreak ahead.
We all should have some self-protection in our relationships—anyone can be left brokenhearted by a loved one—even the most seemingly “perfect” couples. And some relationships are riskier than others. Yours…it is risky.
He has a long history with his wife, and it is possible he could choose to give his marriage another chance.
If you know yourself, and you know you aren’t good at managing your emotions, or tolerating discomfort, than you may want to back away from this relationship until your boyfriend is officially divorced and has set up healthy boundaries with his wife.
If you can deal with the risk, then simply building a healthy life, with time spent with other friends and family, time for professional or volunteer pursuits, and time for joy-filled activities that don’t include him will help you build a layer of protection for yourself. You will know that no matter what, you have a full, rich life, and you will be okay.