After a refreshing summer break, Relationship Dilemmas is back. As usual, the questions I am asked can be about any aspect of relationships – for example, what to do when you’re not ready for a relationship – and sometimes parenting and health.
If you would like any advice, feel free to message me or pop a comment in the comment box at the end of this post. I promise to be gentle.
Here are just some of the questions I’ve been asked this week.
Q: How do I tell my kids sorry for not being a strong mom after a divorce? They lived with their dad from ages 13 to 18.
A: I think it’s natural for most people to feel guilty after a divorce – or at least a sense of failure – whether they were the person who left or the one who stayed.
If your kids are happy, well-adjusted individuals who are doing OK at school and have friends then don’t worry too much. The most important thing is that they know they are loved equally by both their parents.
My kids are 8 and 7 and have school friends whose parents have split or are in the process of splitting up.
All we can do is explain that we are all human, nobody is perfect and that relationships are not always carved in stone.
I don’t think we are doing our kids a favour by pretending that the traditional nuclear family is a lasting solution to happiness, nor by hiding the fact that as mothers we are not infallible. Mothers are women first, aren’t they?
Why don’t you take the kids out for a burger and just have a general chat about how they feel about things and ask them if they have any questions you can answer for them.
I think that’s a better approach than saying “I was a terrible mother, don’t hate me”.
You may find that lots of these worries are in your head.
I think you may benefit from talking to a good friend about your feelings or perhaps a little counselling?
Q: Why can’t I feel romantic love or excitement?
A: The off-the-cuff answer would be because you haven’t found that special someone or thing that will truly excite you. Perhaps you are just not ready for a relationship?
The more serious answer is that, when we feel like this, sometimes we are suffering from anxiety or depression. It’s not for nothing that depression is called the “black dog” because it follows us about sucking the joy out of everything.
There is insufficient information in your question to give you a clear answer but I would also suggest that you can’t force romance or excitement. It’ll happen when the time is right and when you aren’t looking for it.
If you are feeling down and unhappy I’d suggest you talk to somebody about your feelings, perhaps your GP. Sooner or later the clouds will lift, I promise you.
Q: Why am I not ready for a relationship?
A: You don’t say how old you are so I’m wondering if your question is really “when will I find someone”? Otherwise, I’d say you don’t have to be in a relationship.
Some people are happier on their own, doing their own thing and if someone comes along they want to spend time with, great. If not, well, no problem.
The problem comes when we feel others judge us for not being in a relationship. And those who judge the most, by the way, are usually looking to distract themselves from their own less than successful relationships!
Ultimately, it’s your choice. It’s not about “being ready”. It’s about finding someone who is a great friend with that added romantic spark.
I would spend time with friends, meeting as many people as you feel inclined to and developing your interests.
You may just find a relationship turns up without you even needing to be “ready”.
Q: Do I have to help my broke parents?
A: You don’t say why your parents are broke or whether this is a sudden turn of events but I think most sons and daughters would feel morally and emotionally obliged to try to help out in some way.
Of course, if you have a poor relationship with them or they have been cruel or abusive then, understandably, I can quite understand why you would feel wholly justified in walking away.
If you do have a good relationship with them then a sensible first step is to sit down with them and understand their exact financial position, the number of their debts and how soon these must be paid off.
In the UK, for example, 3 defaults on a mortgage payment may lead, as I understand it, to having your property repossessed.
Could you sort out a debt counsellor for them? Or help them make an appointment to talk to their bank or other lenders? Is this debt something that is continuing to rack up? Are there, for example, gambling problems?
I think, rather than wading in with a chequebook, the situation needs a clear, logical analysis and it is likely that it may take a professional to sort it out.
If you cannot afford to help then you are perfectly reasonable if you explain this to them but are there non-financial ways you could help tide them over? Cooking meals, driving them places, helping with some DIY, finding some books on budgeting and financial planning?
The most helpful thing you can do for your parents is to show them how they can get their finances back in order so that debt is reduced and does not mount up.
There’s no point throwing money at a problem if it is only a short-term solution – unless of course there is a risk to their health and security which needs immediate action.
Q: What are the advantages and disadvantages of dating a man who has 4 children under the age of 5 and we are both in our 20’s and I don’t have children?
We have been dating for 2 years and I’m helping him with his 3 kids. We have discussed marriage. He’s a loving dad & hard working. I’m fond of his 3 kids. We’re in love. Our issues are his family & ties to his exes.
He found out that while separated from ex he got a friend pregnant. He’s done a paternity test and has another 4-year-old.
My boyfriend’s older sister (single parent of two children) lives with him (rent free) and watches his kids while he works. He pays her. His older brother also lives with him (rent free) because he’s been down on his luck lately.
He has an older sister that is married with kids that got overprotective and confrontational with me because sometimes I watched the kids and she was “concerned”. She never apologized for calling me up and being rude to me.
I’m 25 years old and although my parents aren’t trying to stop me from dating him, they have asked me to move out (and test out living with my boyfriend). I’m hurt that they are pushing me out. [question edited due to length…]
A: This man seems to have had an incredibly chequered romantic history and a rather cavalier attitude to contraception. I’m afraid I can quite understand why your parents aren’t too keen on him.
Are you sure there aren’t more kids dotted about somewhere that he hasn’t told you about?
Unfortunately, the kids are part of the package and I think there’s a chance you will end up taking over responsibility from his sister without the payment!
I know you say you’re ‘in love’ but this man seems to have been in and out of relationships an awful lot.
It’s all very well for him to say that he is going to “step up and be a dad” but what about the mothers involved in all this? By default he will always have a relationship with them – and so will you.
It also sounds like his family are very much a part of the package and it looks like the older sister views you as another one in a pretty long line – hence her confrontational attitude to you.
This man seems to have created quite a bit of havoc and is happy for his family to mop up the mess. In your shoes, I would think very carefully indeed about what a future with him, his family and his copious kids would look like. 25 is very young to be saddled with all that.
Q: I separated from my husband two months ago and now I want him back.
A: In the absence of any explanation about what happened, all I can say is “it depends”.
Who instigated the separation? Was one of you unfaithful? Or unkind? Or abusive? How long had you been married? Nobody can wave a magic wand and tell you it will all be OK.
First, you need to tell your partner how you feel and see if he is willing to talk. As you say you are separated, have either of you started divorce proceedings?
In the UK, a good course of action is to consider relationship counselling with a professional organisation such as Relate, or mediation via your solicitors if things have gone that far.
You don’t say whether you have children, but if you do their happiness and security should come first.
Whatever your situation, you have taken the first step of being honest about how you feel.
Talk to your husband and see if there is a way forward – but be aware that the best outcome you may reach is friendship, rather than a rekindling of your original relationship.
If either of you were unfaithful, then the affair needs to be over and the extra person out of the picture completely if you are to give your relationship another shot.
Q: My boyfriend wants a break from our relationship, I am trying hard to be respectful of his space. What are things I can do to lessen my anxiety?
We have been fighting more and he is starting to feel depressive. He agreed to take a break instead of break up. It left me anxious, I’m trying to control the want to call/text/go see him. It is getting really hard, the chest pain is worsening and the panic attacks more frequent.
A: Your health comes first. Please see a doctor and explain about your panic attacks and the chest pains. Do you have any friends and family you can talk to for support?
This relationship does not sound very healthy and when we say we are “trying to be respectful of someone’s space”, often it means we are letting them do exactly what they want to hold on to them.
If your boyfriend suffers from depression then he should seek help too, but it is unfair to blame you for it. It may be that, with his mental health problems, he is not ready for a relationship.
You don’t say what you have been fighting about but your relationship sounds as if it is a co-dependent one – with each of you supporting the other in really unhealthy ways of relating and behaving. That’s no way to live.
I understand the urge to call and text and sit outside his house but these behaviours are more likely to drive him away. The only way to make someone miss us is not to be there.
And it’s only by staying away for a while that you will give him a chance to decide whether he wants to be in a relationship with you. But why are you happy for him to have things all his way?
Rather than obsess and panic, try to build your self-confidence and self-worth. You really DON’T need to chase after a man who shows no sign of wanting you. You are worth more than that. And because you are worth more than that, you don’t need to panic.
It’s time to get angry and strong.
Get yourself checked out by your doctor, read some self-help books or some biographies of strong women and go and enjoy yourself for a bit.
Then, if your boyfriend does want to come back you will be in a much better place to handle the relationship – and indeed to decide whether you want HIM back.
How would you have responded to these questions? You can find more advice on my problem page.
Want the answers to last week’s questions? They’re here.
All materials included in this post are intended for informational purposes only. This post/information is not intended to and should not be used to replace medical or psychiatric advice offered by physicians or other healthcare providers. The author will not be liable for any direct, indirect, consequential, special, exemplary or other damages arising therefrom.