My partner and I are great together except?

Dear Toni--
I am a 39 year old divorced female in an increasingly committed relationship with a 48 year old divorced man who one teenage child. We have been together for three years, get along really well, and have so much in common. I want to be married again and to have children, so time is not on my side. He is very open to this as well, but there is an issue that has led me to question the relationship and wonder if I just need to move on before I spend any more time with someone who may not be who I think he is.

About three weeks ago I happened to see a text come in on my boyfriend?s phone, which was lying out on a table. It was from a woman he worked with a number of years ago, who I have never met. Apparently she is in a troubled relationship and even though she lives at a distance, she has been in communication with Ryan for some time. It's not the texting itself that concerns me. It is that this exchange was of a very sexual nature. When I saw it, I was very upset, and then I snooped through his history to see what else was there. I found a number of very sexually suggestive texts that he had sent to her and some similar communication going on with another woman-- and that felt like the last straw.

Fast forward to when I told him I had discovered this information, which led to his then telling me I was cornering and pressuring him and that this has been a problem for him. However, I never did this before I discovered these texts. It is also important to let you know that my marriage broke up because my husband cheated on me and wanted to pursue a relationship with the other woman. We did not go to counseling given his feelings. I moved out and filed for divorce and moved on. I'm feeling some of those same emotions regarding this situation, but I don't want to move too hastily, especially since Ryan keeps telling me he loves me, wants to be with me, and is committed to me and what we have.
He is starting individual counseling again with someone he saw in the past and I am also seeking out someone. He said he has to figure out what is wrong with him so he can fix it. Do you have any thoughts on our situation, advice, or suggestions for next steps, especially for me? --Second Time Loser?

Dear Second Time Loser?,

I am sorry about the situation you find yourself in. Betrayal is very painful, and to be confronted with it in two significant relationships can be devastating. Let me begin my response by addressing Ryan's reassurances that he loves you and only wants to be with you. His words are just what you want to hear and he knows this--however, it is what he has done and may still be doing that speaks the loudest. For whatever reason, he has been "virtually" unfaithful in the boundaries he has crossed with other women. He knows this and so do you.

Your letter does not go into your discussions with Ryan except to say that he had stated the problem to be "that you are cornering and pressuring him." This response demonstrates a lack of remorse and an unwillingness to take responsibility for his actions. He then goes on to offer you verbal reassurances, which have only left you more confused and unsure of how to deal with this situation. This may have been Ryan's conscious or unconscious way of manipulating you and keeping you from taking any steps towards cooling or ending the relationship. It also could lead you to feel that the problem is something you have caused, which is not true. There may be problem issues/dynamics in your relationship that have not been brought out into the light, but this does not mean that you have caused him to behave this way.

Individual counseling is always useful, and it does sound like Ryan needs to figure some things out and gain insight into his behavior and what drives it. You could also benefit from the support counseling offers, and will have someone to guide you as you figure out what those next steps will be. Along with individual counseling, I think you should consider couples counseling. The reasons I am recommending this have to do with your future goals, especially your concerns about being 38 and wanting to have children one day. Therefore you don't have an open-ended amount of time to work with here. However even if you were 28 I still would recommend you not leave this open-ended because having a set time frame helps to push a process and the resulting decision making along. It will also keep you from being stuck in limbo as Ryan is working on figuring out why he does what he does and maybe even what he really wants and who he wants it with. Your goals and hopes for the future could be lost if years were invested waiting for him to find these answers.

Couples counseling would help both of you to have those difficult discussions, as you will learn how to say what you mean and say it in a way that it gets heard correctly. It will allow you to work on your relationship issues together, and bring any individual insights and gains you have made to the process. Your goals for joint counseling will include setting time frames, and establishing joint relationship goals--or perhaps finding out that your goals are not aligned and that this is a core issue in the problems you are now having. It should help save you from wasting time and energy in a relationship with, as you put it, "someone who might not be who I think he is."

(from November 2016)

Want to read other columns on this subject?

"The addicted spouse"
List of more
"Confronting Unacceptable behavior"

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Toni Coleman, LCSW
Phone: 703-847-1768


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