He lets his ex call the shots
Question: Dear Dr. Pam,
I’ve been with my boyfriend for four years. My problem is that he has two children, aged five and eight, from a previous relationship. He is still in very close contact with their mother and spends time with them all as a family three evenings a week and one full day of the weekend, either spending time in the house or going on day trips out. I have met his children about ten times and always believed his promises that when we moved in together he would make the children part of our relationship. However, after I moved in with him a year ago his ex put her foot down and said that she will not allow me to spend any time with them. My boyfriend won’t argue with her as he's scared she will take the children and move away.
I’m finding it very difficult having to share my boyfriend, it’s like he has the family life with her half the week and the single life with me half the week. His ex has never met me and refuses to do so. He lies about what he does with her as he knows it causes arguments if it’s something that I don’t approve of. I’ve tried ending the relationship a few times but always feel unable to carry it out. I’m only 24, he’s 38, and I don’t want to be in a relationship where an ex-partner calls the shots.
Dear 'Calls the shots',
I'm SO glad you got in touch because this is a common problem when actually it doesn't have to be like this. You're absolutely right to be troubled by the way your partner treats his relationships - what he does is ‘compartmentalise’ them.
Although women can do this too, men seem to be better at compartmentalising different parts of their life. This is the ability to divide up their emotional life into compartments and they don't allow much crossover between these.
At the heart of this is the fear of the problems and even the emotional ‘chaos’ that might occur if the compartments cross over. In his case - if you're more involved with his children that means ultimately being more involved in how he handles his ex. And he undoubtedly fears a can of worms being opened if he confronts her about these issues.
But what really happens when someone compartmentalises is the ‘compartments’ themselves cause problems because someone like you is a living, breathing person with their own feelings and thoughts on things. And yet he's trying to stick you in a box and keep you out of the rest of his life.
No one can share a whole, grown-up relationship like that and I'm hardly surprised that at 24 you feel cheated by the way he handles these things. Try the following:
- Explain to him that he needs to develop confidence that together you two can forge a proper relationship that involves full discussions on who spends what time together - and where - like his children coming over more frequently and being a part of your life, etc.
- Let him know that it causes you anxiety, that you feel cut off from a major part of his life - and although you don't want to take over what he does, you do want to be part of the decision-making process. I'm sure you've already told him this but you need to do it calmly and repeat the message again.
- Ask him to think about how he'd feel if the tables were turned and you had an ex and children and cut him off from decisions about them. He wouldn't be happy!
- If, when talking in a calm and grown-up manner (I emphasise ‘grown-up’ because right now he's not relating as a grown-up should), he still doesn't make any changes then you should make practical suggestions of how you can feel a fuller part of his life.
- If he still doesn't come around to meeting you halfway you need to raise the fact that you want a happy relationship, you understand he's a father of children and that he has to deal with that, but that if it continues like this it will break you up. This shouldn't be done as a threat particularly as you've made halfhearted attempts in the past to breakup. But let him know you're raising this because of the genuine unhappy feelings about how things are going.
Also, breaking up shouldn't be raised in the first, fresh conversation you have with him because issues like this often take a number of heartfelt conversations to make changes.
Final tip: don't undermine his masculinity by telling him or implying that he's a wimp for not sorting out his ex - that’ll probably make matters worse. Instead try and help him boost his own confidence that, handled differently, everyone will be happier.
Ultimately, maybe he's still too attached to his ex (not necessarily longing to get back with her but still emotionally attached her) to have a proper relationship with someone else.
Best of luck with it, Dr Pam x
For loads more advice, Dr Pam's latest sex-and-love guide is available on Amazon.
Also visit www.drpam.co.uk
Have you got a sex or relationship problem? Email Dr Pam at firstname.lastname@example.org
- 10 naughty books that'll make you want to have sex
- Take our love quiz and let the stars reveal your Mr. Right
- Enhance your personal pleasure with our Orgasmatron