Dear Melissa, I’ve been dating a divorced man for almost 5 years. He has a son. We are now having problems with almost everything we talk about.
I’ve been dating a divorced man for almost 5 years. He has a son. We are now having problems with almost everything we talk about.
My boyfriend isn’t happy with me because he thinks that I’m not committed to the relationship and that I don’t love his son. He also thinks I’m overly involved in religion.
He expects me to take care of his son while he focuses on his job, but very often I feel stressed because I can’t cope with him alone.
We’ve also had disagreements in the way we manage his son and now he takes over to handle it himself. Since then, he has been unhappy with me.
I do not know how to continue with this relationship. I’ve asked if he wants me to leave, but he stays quiet. I feel clueless and very lost.
Dear Lost Soul,
Thanks so much for reaching out. I’m so sorry you’re having this experience. I know it’s hard when you feel like you’re arguing all the time and feel stressed in your relationship.
How Do You Continue in This Relationship?
This really comes down to your needs and requirements. In other words, the best thing that will help you is to:
First, get clear on what kind of relationship you really want. Really envision it and feel it in your soul.
What do you need and require in a relationship in order for it to work for you?
What do you need in a relationship in order to feel loved?
What is your vision for the kind of partnership that you really want?
Then, communicate your vision to your partner. Have a heart to heart about each of your visions for the kind of relationship that you want.
He has a vision for the kind of relationship that he wants. For example, he feels like you’re “not being loving enough to his son.” But he’s saying that because his vision for ow he wants his partner to be with his son isn’t being realized.
When you know what his vision is for the kind of family that he wants and what he expects, then you have the awareness and power to decide if that is a vision that you’re able and want to fulfill.
But you both have to discuss those needs and expectations, as well as your needs and desires around the kind of family you’d like to have. Your needs matter, too.
If he wants you to take care of his son but you don’t want to and it stresses you out, you do not have to take care of his son while he focuses on his job.
But in order to resolve this conflict in your relationship, you do have to talk about what expectations you both have, and whether you both can meet each other’s expectations.
And if you can’t meet some of his expectations, you can talk about what other solutions you as a couple come up with to help make it work to meet each of your needs.
You’re clashing on parenting because you have different needs and perspectives around parenting.
Getting clear on your needs, and what needs are not getting met helps you identify and communicate what you need to fix and improve in the relationship.
If he’s unhappy, it means his needs aren’t being met and his vision for the kind of relationship that he wants isn’t being realized.
If you’re unhappy, it’s because a need or requirement isn’t being met for you in the relationship.
So talk to each other about what isn’t working and what you both need.
And once you know what you’re solving for, you can come up with solutions for how to meet each other’s needs.
If he is concerned that you’re “not committed enough” and that you “don’t love his son,” you’ll need to discuss with him why he feels that way. What does “being committed enough” look like in a partnership to him? What does he wish were happening? What does he expect in terms of commitment and in how your treat his son? And also ask yourself: how do YOU feel about all that? Are you able to support that vision?
Being able to support each other’s vision for the kind of life and relationship that you both want, and having both your needs and requirements met is key to long-term relationship happiness, it’s key to growing together instead of growing apart.
Also, if you want to connect more deeply with your partner, don’t engage in arguments with him. This doesn’t mean that you can’t disagree with your partner. It’s inevitable that there will be disagreements; you and him are different people with different points of view.
But arguments are totally unnecessary. Arguments usually stem from emotional reactivity and defensiveness. We “argue” to defend our point of view, and usually we make the other person “wrong” in the process.
Arguing may get your point across, but arguing doesn’t work to solve your relationship problem.
So, instead of arguing, do this instead: talk about how you feel about the issue, and state what you want and what you don’t want. Not what you want him to do, but what you want in a partnership, what you want in your life.
“I don’t want to argue.”
“I don’t want to babysit.”
“I am feeling stressed.”
“I am feeling lost.”
If you notice these statements, they’re very simple and they don’t say anything about your partner.
In my relationship coaching work with women, I help women script the exact words to say so they feel good about and confident communicating their needs in their relationship…all in a way that doesn’t escalate the argument, and avoids any defensiveness or blame.
When you make the issue about you instead of about him (because at the end of the day, it is about you — because any issues we experience in a relationship are directly related to our own needs or requirements), you avoid triggering his defenses, and you make it much more likely that you’ll be heard and understood.
Also, if it feels like you’re arguing all the time, it can also mean that the both of you are focusing on what’s not working in the relationship to the exclusion of what is working.
It’s important to bring up issues and discuss them as a couple so that you can resolve them. But it’s equally important to mention things that you appreciate about each other.
I love how John Gottman, psychologist and clinician who did extensive work over four decades on divorce prediction and marital stability, puts it in this article on the science of lasting relationships:
“Gottman can predict with up to 94 percent certainty whether couples—straight or gay, rich or poor, childless or not—will be broken up, together and unhappy, or together and happy several years later. Much of it comes down to the spirit couples bring to the relationship. Do they bring kindness and generosity; or contempt, criticism, and hostility?
“There’s a habit of mind that the masters have,” Gottman explained in an interview, “which is this: they are scanning social environment for things they can appreciate and say thank you for. They are building this culture of respect and appreciation very purposefully. Disasters are scanning the social environment for partners’ mistakes.”
“It’s not just scanning environment,” chimed in Julie Gottman. “It’s scanning the partner for what the partner is doing right or scanning him for what he’s doing wrong and criticizing versus respecting him and expressing appreciation.”
Contempt, they have found, is the number one factor that tears couples apart…Kindness, on the other hand, glues couples together….Kindness makes each partner feel cared for, understood, and validated—feel loved.”
The bottom line is: Have a heart-to-heart with him about his needs and requirements and vision for the kind of relationship he wants with you. And in this heart-to-heart, it’s important that you share what your needs and requirements are, too.
Ultimately, it’s up to you how and if you want to fulfill that need. You’re always at choice in your relationship.
I hope this helps provide some guidance!
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