"Ask Dr. Tracy"

10/29/2000 Advice Column

Social Butterfly and Stick-in-the-Mud
Yipes! Her Fiance is Married
Common Law Marriage

Dear Dr. Tracy,

My boyfriend and I have been together for almost two years. For the most part, he is charming, witty, sexy and intelligent. Before I moved into his place I lived in a much larger home that included a dining room with fourteen person dining table, where I had regular dinner parties / cocktail bashes with my roommate who enjoyed socializing as much as I did. The apartment I now live in with my boyfriend is considerably smaller and does not allow for such gatherings. The six person dining table is located in the kitchen and does not inspire me to plan formal dinners. My previous lifestyle also included people just dropping by - on short or no notice - for casual visits. I have a handful of close friends who I like to see outside of restaurants, parties and nightclubs and I would like them to feel welcome in my home. My boyfriend can be very social when he is in the mood to go out but we have a recurring drama, as he does not like unexpected visitors. I should add that he never has his friends over to hang out. As such, I rarely have friends over in the evening when he gets home from work - like four times this year. I think that my inability to plan formal gatherings due to the layout of our current home and cutting my visitor schedule by 95% is more than enough of a compromise on my part. Yet he still raises a nasty fuss when I have a guest over in the evening and he hasnít been notified. However, if I did let him know, heíd encourage me not to and if I insisted, accuse me of "selfishly" ruining his night.

The latest example of his flexibility in this area was Halloween. I decided to stay home and give out candy. Though my boyfriend wanted nothing to do with participating - meaning he would be in the bedroom watching television while I manned the door - he was nice enough to rustle up the pumpkin and candy. That afternoon an old friend called saying they weíre feeling blue. I suggested they come over and partake in the Halloween festivities with me, thinking it would cheer them up. I called my boyfriend, who was on his way home from work, to let him know. He blew up. When he did arrive, he managed polite greetings and headed directly for the bedroom. I went in an hour later to inquire if he would like dinner - he was completely foul, told me how "selfish" I was and behaved like a child/jerk. I told him he was selfish and should compromise on this issue. He always raises the issue of "not feeling social" and "not wanting to entertain anyone". However, no one is asking him to. Needless to say, episodes like this are just lovely when you are entertaining a guest in the next room. Not that they hear it, but shifting from a discourse with your recalcitrant boyfriend in one room to a pleasant visit with an old friend in the next puts a strain on my enjoyment of the evening. My friends are aware that heís "not pleased" and adding to the dilemma is that the bathroom is located off the bedroom and I notice that they just donít pee all night. It annoys and embarrasses me that our relationship is depicted as if the two of us are always fighting when they come over - but obviously I canít tell them heís pissed off because they are there. Itís perfectly customary for him to lounge in bed watching TV after work and I donít understand why he canít chill out and let me hang out in the living room with my friends on occasion. Iíve lived with other men and my doing so has never been an issue. I donít want to have to go out every time I wish to have a relaxed visit with someone. I believe Iíve made a valiant effort to respect his isolationist, after work mode but feel heís making zero effort to understand what I might like or want. I come from the worldís smallest family and these friends are important to me. I attend many of his family get togethers all year long - something he does not have to do as my family doesnít have dinners or formal gatherings. I donít mind, as I quite like his family but I also attend things as I feel Iím obliged to but, think he might have the same respect for my close relationships. I think heís being entirely unreasonable and Iím sick of having ridiculous disagreements about it. Help!

Getting irritated

Dear Irritated,

You and your recluse have been together for almost two years. And you admit that he's mostly charming, witty, sexy and intelligent. But now that you have him, you want to change him. You want to make him more like you. That's a big mistake. You fell for him because of who he is, not who you can make him into. Relationships don't need two social directors. One will do quite nicely. As a matter of fact, you and your fella are probably just what each other needs. Nobody needs a clone of themselves. That said, stop trying to change him.

When you are part of a couple, you must consider the other person when you make plans that affect that other person. You must consult that other person. You are not supposed to make unilateral plans without asking first - that's part of the price you pay to be in a relationship.

So stop springing visitors on your boyfriend. Don't call him on his way home from work to tell him somebody's coming over. If he doesn't like unexpected company, that's understandable. That's his right, and really not so out of line. Tell your friends they can't just drop by. Make plans with them ahead of time, but consult with your boyfriend first. Make him feel that he is a part of the arrangements, not a left-out, locked in the bedroom, impediment to your plans. If he knows he can count on you to always consult with him before having someone come by, he might be more amenable to casual entertaining.

And try to make your friends his friends. I suspect your boyfriend is socially shy. You, being outgoing and easy with people, should take extra pains to make sure he's comfortable with those people. When you become a couple, your friends should become your mutual friends as much as possible. Let him become friendly with them in the way he prefers -- with planned get-togethers. If he hates one of your friends, don't force him to be around that person. Instead, make arrangements to see that friend away from home.

Of course, if you do all this, and he still always says no to casual entertaining at home, you may have to conclude that you're simply incompatible -- despite him being a "charming, witty, sexy and intelligent guy." You may have to move into a place by yourself if you want to be totally in charge of who comes and goes.

Good luck,

Dr. Tracy

Dear Dr. Tracy,

I am a 30 year old single female. I have been a faithful reader of your column for over a year and have much respect for your advice. Recently I ran into some relationship problems and hope you could give me some advice on how to handle the situation.

I was engaged to a man who is 9 years older than I am and we planed to get married at the end of this month. Before we dated, he told me that he was married once, but divorced a long time ago, although he and his ex-wife were still good friends. That didn't bother me very much and we had a great relationship for a year and half. My parents liked him and his family like me very much too, and we get along with friends from both sides.

Over a month ago when we were almost going to send out the wedding invitations, he confessed to me that he was not even divorced yet. It turned out many years ago, he and his wife were separated, but to help her getting health insurance since she didn't have a job, they came out with an idea that they would have a divorce when one of them met someone whom they wanted to marry to. For all these years legally they were still married but they told others including family members that they were divorced. Physically there's nothing going on between them, but I can tell there's a quite bit of emotional attachment. She is very much dependent on him and he always feels guilty of not helping her enough to get on life on her own. He considered bringing up the divorce issue when we were engaged, but she just lost her job during that time, so he thought it was improper time until it's too late. He said he loved me and wanted to marry me, and hoped I could understand why a stupid plan turned into disaster.

I was devastated when hearing the truth. The wedding is obviously cancelled. I told him if he didn't file for a divorce by certain time, it would be over between us right away. He filed for a divorce recently before the deadline, and is willing to see pastors and therapist as I recommended to him. His parents, who have a great marriage, when told about the truth, expressed their love for me, their disappointment in him and their hope that he could earn my trust back. I have to admit it was a good relationship for the past year and a half, and he has been very kind and loving to me aside from this incident. Thus I am willing to give this relationship another 6 months of try. I told him that since I couldn't compromise my standard for a husband, first he needs to cut off emotional ties with her without feeling guilty and to learn how to be honest and open to people, and for me I need to learn how to forgive him and let go of my anger. Next, maybe we can work on how to rebuild the trust in our relationship.

Frankly, I have no clue how things will turn out in the next 6 months. Do you think it is a good plan, or I am blinded by love and wasting my time here, or perhaps I should go out and meet other people? I very much want to have a good marriage and family. Thanks.

Dear Engaged,

I can understand what a shock it must have been for you to find out your husband to be isn't really free to marry, especially when you're almost ready to send out the wedding invitations. He really should have told you sooner that he wasn't really divorced yet.

However, what's done is done. And he has filed for a divorce and offered to go with you for counseling. So take him up on his offer. Go with him for counseling with your pastor and a therapist and see if you can get past this.

Sure, it'll take time for you to rebuild your trust in him, and you should make sure he doesn't have any other skeletons in his closet. However, his feelings of concern for his ex aren't all bad. They do show that he cares about people he loved, even if they're no longer together. Nevertheless, I agree with you that it's time for him to cut the emotional cord to her and be honest and open with you.

He has to understand that when he remarries, his loyalties and emotional investment must switch from his former wife to you, totally and without reservation. And you have to take time to forgive and forget. Someday, when you're gray-haired grandparents in your rockers, you might even laugh about it, but that'll take time.

In the meantime, I think you have a good plan in giving him six months. After all, he's been loving and kind and has taken steps to rectify the problem. If in six months, you still feel unsure, give yourself another six months. Be sure to talk everything out with him, including finances and children. Insist on full disclosure in every aspect of your future.

Good luck,

Dr. Tracy

Dear Dr. Tracy,

I'm 44 & he's 45. We've lived together for almost 18 years, never married. We have 3 children in common, 14,11 & 7 years old. He's an attorney, practicing in family law. He was an xray technician when we met. He tells me now that he's been unhappy & "dealing" with it for 2 years. This June he started staying out late & helping one of his clients, a 25 yr. old mother of 3 kids. The "helping out" turned into a relationship between them. He has moved her from a roach-infested apartment into a small house. He's purchased a used car for her and many other things for her household.

I "busted" them at the end of July. He now no longer lives in our home but comes to see our children. He is currently being investigated by the Bar Association for inappropriate behavior with previous clients. He's now under treatment by our family doctor for depression & anxiety. He still sees her on a regular basis & even had our children with him while visiting her.

I had no choice but to get a restraining order to remove him from the house and the children. The order is no longer in effect & that is okay. We are all in counseling, him, me & the children. He keeps telling me he will pay the bills (some have been paid) but I worry about the mortgage. During his severe depressive period he was unable to work & thus no money came in to meet our bills. He has said many ugly, mean things to me over all these weeks. But at the moment, we are willing to be amicable for the children.

My questions is: if and when he sees the light (that the grass isn't always greener on the other side) should I be "stupid" enough to possibly consider working on our relationship? If for no other reason, than to provide our children with two parents under their roof? Can I possibly forgive him for all he has done? Can he ever be the man I want to live out my years with?

Dear Never Married,

You are a good example of why "that piece of paper" is important. If you had married this man, your rights would be clear. But since you never married, I suggest you get a lawyer and find out where you stand legally in your state. Some states recognize common law marriage if you've lived together for a long time and held yourselves out to the community as husband and wife. Other states do not, and there are all kinds of variations on whether living together is like being married.

You need a good lawyer, especially since your partner is a family lawyer. He probably knows all the ins and outs of the system and you're going to need help if you have to fight him for your rights. Make copies of all important papers, especially financial ones like tax returns etc. Get statements from people who've known the two of you for the whole time you've been together. Don't wait to take these steps. Consider them as insurance, just in case.

Your partner may be having a mid-life crises and he may see the light, but you should be prepared in case he doesn't. I suspect his severe depression could have been caused by trying to balance two women and two households at once.

You deserve better treatment than he's given you, but if he does come to his senses and want to come back, be sure to set new terms. Insist on getting married, just so you have legal status. Don't take him back on the same old "living together" basis. Also, insist on continuing therapy and working on repairing the relationship. Certainly, he's not the man you want to spend your life with right now, and only you can decide what he'd have to do to be that man. Try making a list of what you want and how you see your life together. Then don't settle for less.

Yes, you could forgive him. Many women have, but don't take him back just for the children. Do it for yourself, if it's what you really want.

Good luck,

Dr. Tracy

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