Dr. Tracy's Advice Column

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Problems With His Selfish Family
Can't Trust
Dealing With Children from His Previous Marriage

Problems With His Selfish Family

Dear Dr. Tracy,

I am a 41 year old female, twice divorced. "John" and I have been together for sixteen months now. There is a large age difference between us -- 12 1/2 years, I am older. We live together and are planning our future together. We are very, very happy. We feel that we are the best thing to ever happen to each other. Everyone around us says the same thing, except for one of his aunts and her daughters.

"John" is a very softhearted man, and has a hard time saying "no". If he says he must think about it, his family tries, and almost always succeeds, in guilting him into it. I have recently put a stop to this. For example, on Easter Sunday, one of his cousins called. "John" was outside with my uncle. We had my family over for lunch. When the cousin called, I told her he was outside somewhere with my uncle, indicating we had guests.

It has been over a year and a half since this cousin has contacted him in any way. She, here sister and a friend show up here. They did not even knock, just walked in like they lived here. I was busy doing dishes in the kitchen; "John" was in the dining room visiting with my family. The cousin, I'll call her "Mary", runs in the door, hugs "John" and talks to him for about fifteen minutes. When they leave, she sarcastically said "hi" to me. After finishing the dishes, I came in to sit with the men, my aunt and visit. "John" says "Mary" was here to ask to borrow "our" truck to take to prom.

Yes, our relationship is so serious that we are making major purchases in both of our names. Our next step is to buy a house in the country together. Back to my problem. "John" told her she could borrow our truck without even talking to me. I got very angry, but held it in until everyone left. He knows me so well, that he instantly knew something was wrong. When he asked, told him I was tired of his family taking advantage of him. "Mary" has had no contact, not even a phone call to him. What would be so difficult for her to call or come over just to say hi, how are you?

"John"'s reply was that they used to be very close. I said the operative words were "used to be". Besides, he should have discussed it with me before he said yes. This family only calls or comes around when they want something from "John". I love him with all my heart and soul and will not stand still for this sort of treatment to him. I even told him I did not want to come across as a bitch, but I love him and have decided that I am tired of them taking advantage and using him.

"John" gave in, did not admit that I was right, but his actions said I was. He called and told her she could not have the truck. Am I wrong? I feel I am simply protecting him. He does the same when someone in my family tries to take advantage of me. I feel that we protect each other. This was an agreement that we had once our relationship got serious. That when one was being used, the other would point it out and try to put a stop to it.

"John" is in counselling right now trying to get his license back. He lost them from a DUI seven years ago. He no longer drinks. The psychologist knew he was the type of personality that does things because someone wants him to. He also pointed out that I was not.

Am I wrong in this? Are we wrong in protecting each other from selfish families? I consider "John" my family now, and he considers me his. Even the Bible says you should leave your family and cling to you spouse. No, we are not married yet, but we live as though we are, and probably will be some day.

Thank you for your time.

Dear Angry,

You're absolutely right. The new family that you and John have formed should come first, but that's always easier said than done.

Families tend to think that since they were there first, they have priority over the new woman or man in that person's life. And people who are younger, perhaps like John, are more accustomed to getting along with their families than with their mate. Your agreement with John, to protect each other from being taken advantage of by your respective families, is good, but it's a little vague. You need a more specific agreement to prevent problems from arising in the first place.

His difficulty in saying "no" is where to start. John obviously has gotten into the habit of saying yes to his family, no matter what they want. Perhaps it's because he feels guilty if he says no. Perhaps it's because he feels like a big shot if he's able to say yes without consulting you.

Whatever the cause, the solution is simple: you both have to agree that in the future, each will consult with the other before agreeing to anything with family or friends. Tell him that he must learn to say, "I have to talk to (insert your name) and get back to you on that."

He should not say, "I have to think about it" - or worse, "It's okay with me, but I have to ask (insert your name)," which makes you the bad guy if you say no. If he feels guilty saying this, I recommend Pete Smith's book, "When I Say No, I Feel Guilty," or Wayne Dyer's book "Pulling Your Own Strings."

There is a reason John wants to say yes whenever he's asked. It could be because he has low self-esteem and doesn't think people will love him unless he says yes to everything. Assure John that he doesn't have to be a pushover to be loved. The books will help in that.

Don't confuse the issue by complaining about the cousin who doesn't visit regularly and only shows up when she wants something. You can't control that. What you can control is how you and John react to his family when they do show up.

Instead of waiting until one of you is being used and then trying to do something to stop it - nip this in the bud by not letting it start to begin with. Present a united front. Once his family (and yours) learns that no promises or decisions will be made without the two of you consulting, they'll get the idea that they have to deal with you as a couple.

Good luck,

Dr. Tracy

Can't Trust

Dear Dr. Tracy,

I'm extremely depressed about this situation. Please help me I really need some good love advice!!

I'm 20, engaged for 1 yr., been together 2 yrs. My fiancee is also 20. My fiancee has a past of cheating and he did cheat on me twice before we got engaged but promised me he hasen't cheated the whole time we've been engaged. The problem is last Tuesday my fiancee broke up with me and said he loved me but was no longer in love with me, (yes, it happened that quickly with no warning signs whatsoever). I was so heartbroken and shocked that someone who was to be my future husband would do this to me!

Later, he confessed that he had gone out on a date with another girl on Sunday but that nothing happened so I can't consider it cheating (she didn't know he was engaged and he didn't wear his engagement ring while on the date).

The day after he broke up with me, I went to talk to his dad who in turn talked to him. My fiancee then told me that he was wrong for breaking up with me and that he did it because he was just confused, scared of growing up and that because we don't live together there is just so much temptation. He also thought I would be better off with someone else who could give me all the things he thought I deserved.

We are back together now, and even though I asked him if he would rather us just date, than be engaged, he says we can't go from being engaged to dating and that he does still want to marry me. But now, all I can think about is how he went behind my back and went on a date with this other girl (even though he still swears it wasn't a date), I'm constantly worried about going anywhere but to see him because he craves attention, and if I'm not always there to give him attention I'm afraid he'll cheat on me again. I love him with all my heart and soul but I'm worried that he's just a lost cause (he also goes on the internet and dosen't tell anyone he has a girlfriend or is engaged).

My questions are these: what do you do when someone has cheated on you for the third time? how can I just let this go so we can move on in our relationship? should we stay together or should I just move on to someone I can trust? he says from now on he's going to be committed to me, but how can I tell if he's really serious?

I've always wanted to be married but should love really be this painful? I'm at the end of my rope!!

anxiously awaiting your reply, confused and desperate

Dear Engaged Too Young and Depressed,

No wonder you're depressed. Your fiancee runs hot and cold. One minute he's engaged, and the next minute he's not in love. He's cheated on you in the past and has given you no reason to trust his emotions in the future.

Your fiancee doesn't understand how much he hurt you when he said he wasn't in love with you. His confession could have been made just so that he could go out with the other girl. You really don't know what he's up to. You still don't trust him from when he cheated on you before you were engaged, and he goes on dates without his engagement ring and goes on the Internet and pretends he's single.

If someone cheated on you three times, chances are he'll do it again. Past behavior is a good indicator of future behavior. This is a good time to back off on this relationship. I'm afraid, however, that by taking him back and reinstating your engagement, you have taught him that it's okay for him to cheat and change his mind about being "in love," and that there will be no repercussions for that kind of behavior.

This man will drive you crazy and make you miserable if you give him a chance. You can't watch him every minute and give 100% of your attention to making sure he doesn't stray. Love is not supposed to be this painful. You shouldn't be this uncertain about your future husband.

Trust is one of the most important factors in a marriage. You have to be able to trust your husband to be there when you need him, to handle money responsibly and to take care of your children. Don't marry a man you don't trust no matter how much you want to be married. Wanting to be married is fine, but you're young, you have your whole life ahead of you - plenty of time to find someone you can trust and who loves you without any doubts.

Don't marry this man without a very long (think years!) engagement where he can prove himself one way or the other.

Good luck,

Dr. Tracy

Dealing With Children from His Previous Marriage

Dear Dr. Tracy,

I'm old enough (41) and experienced enough that I should know the answer to this question, but of course when love enters the equation it's hard to see clearly. I've been divorced for three years and have the day to day custody of my two pre-teen boys, which is somewhat unusual as I am the father.

Two years ago I started dating a wonderful woman. She's close to my age (37) and shares many of my interests. There is tremendous chemistry between us, and for the most part we get along very well. We inspire each other to be better. I can see myself spending my life with her, and she tells me she feels the same way.

The problem, of course, is the children. She doesn't have any of her own, and doesn't want any. With few exceptions, she only spends time at my place when the kids are away. Otherwise she makes herself scarce by catching up on housework, visiting with friends, or occupying her time with whatever else she can think of. She certainly won't spend the night at my place when the kids are present. I appreciate adult company even when my kids are around, and a Saturday night can be pretty lonely when she's out partying and I'm home baby-sitting.

On the other hand, I'm not surprised at her reluctance and I do have some sympathy for her. Who in their right mind would want to move in with someone else's teenagers! One of the main reasons why second marriages fail is the difficulty created by children from a previous marriage. Facts are facts and I ought to face them. Perhaps the present arrangement is all I can reasonably hope for until my kids leave the nest. And, let's be clear, the present arrangement is not so bad. I enjoy her company when I have it, and truth be told I don't want to live with her or anybody else just yet.

It's just that I'm a little anxious about the future. I want to remarry some day, and I'm concerned that I'll invest the next ten years in this relationship only to find that she never gets over her reluctance to be around children. Should I set her free and find someone who wants to be in a family situation, or should I treasure this wonderful relationship for what it is and not worry so much about what happens next?

Dear Anxious,

Your children are at an age where anyone would have trouble moving in and mothering them. They would resent it and certainly give that woman endless grief. And sure, your woman friend is missing out on the joys of children, but what would you do if she said, "Oh great, I'll move in and be a mother to those two cute little boys!" You'd have lots more problems then. I'm glad you understand all that.

Actually, you're lucky to find a woman in your age range who doesn't already have children or feels like she's running out of time to have some, right away. If she wanted children, you might not want to start another family after raising the first one. As you say, the present arrangement is not so bad. In fact, it sounds tailor-made for you, since you say you don't want to live with her or anyone else right now.

So you'll have a few lonely nights with your kids. You'll survive. In a few years, the kids will be off at college or moving on and starting families of their own.

Stay in the present and don't futurize. Don't worry so much about what will happen down the road. Nobody can tell what's going to happen. Futurizing ruins relationships and keeps you from enjoying the here and now. Just treasure the wonderful relationship you have.

Good luck,

Dr. Tracy

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(Featured art from cover of Letting Go, by Zev Wanderer and Tracy Cabot, published by "Bitan" Publishers, Tel-Aviv, Israel)
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