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QUESTIONS & ANSWERS:
Relationships Department

Please remember, this column is designed to help the consumer seeking behavioral-health information, and not intended to be any form of psychotherapy or a replacement for professional, individualized services. Opinions expressed in the column are those of the columnist and do not represent the position of other SelfhelpMagazine.com staff.

Question

I have been in a three year relationship with a married man, ten years my senior. He left his wife recently. He is currently deciding upon his future, but won't consider the idea of moving in with me because I have two young children. He has three teenage boys. There are other reasons for not wanting to move in, but he gives as his primary reason his children's resentment of my kids. I do not want him to be a replacement parent for my kids, but I do want a closer relationship with him. I have tried not to influence his thinking, but he says that I am pulling away from him. I believe that if I tell him what I really want he will call our relationship off so that I can be released to find another partner who will have my kids. What should I do?

Answer

I believe that getting involved with a person who is in the process of getting divorced is risky business. Having an affair with someone who subsequently divorces is even more risky. And when there are young children involved, the risks are far, far greater.

When people are having an affair, the person who is married is never fully available to his or her lover. A large portion of his psychological investment lies with his/her spouse and family. As such, the lover only experiences part of that person. Thus, it is a very unbalanced relationship. One person is emotionally and physically available while the other is not. The person who is married views the lover as a source of pleasure, excitement, and fun. S/her looks good as a supplement to a marriage that is going sour. As a supplement, the lover may be quite adequate, but as a main course, the feelings may change.

When someone becomes involved with a person going through a divorce, the divorcing party is likewise heavily invested in dealing with his/her situation -- loss of family, friends, lifestyle, finances, etc. Often the lover becomes a transitional person for the divorcing party to hold onto for support and nurturance during the course of the dissolution. Once the divorce is over, and some healing has occurred, the divorcing party no longer needs the lover in the same way.

When there are young children involved, the children may become attached to the lover. And when the circumstances change, they have to deal with the consequences. They have already lost their family and their Daddy, now they may have to lose the lover. That's a lot of loss to deal with at so tender an age. It is one thing to risk one's own life and happiness, it is quite another to risk that of children.

In your situation, we have all these circumstances operating. Your friend has to transition from being a lover, to a mate, to a potential stepfather, all within a very short period of time. It should be expected that he is ambivalent. It would be natural for him to want time to reassess his situation and what he wants for his future. Is he ready to make another commitment after having just left a long marriage? His children are grown. Does he want to start all over again with the responsibilities of having to contend with young children? Does he want to go through the same circumstances as he just left with only difference being a change of partner?

Your best bet is to put all of your cards on the table, including your awareness that some or all of the above issues may be operating. A frank discussion of all of these issues may bring you closer together, may lead you both to take some time to consider what you want to do next, or might lead to recognizing that the timing and circumstances make continuing the relationship inadvisable. In terms of your children, better it happen sooner than later.

3/5/98

Dr. Edward A. Dreyfus is a Clinical Psychologist, Marriage, Family, Child Therapist, and Sex Therapist. Dr. Dreyfus has been providing psychological services in the Los Angeles-Santa Monica area for over 30 years. He offers individual psychotherapy to adolescents and adults, divorce mediation, couples counseling, group therapy, and career and vocational counseling and assessment.His book, Someone Right For You, is available in the Amazing Bookstore Catalog.

Dr. Dreyfus can be reached at: (310) 208-5700.

 

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