"Ask Dr. Tracy"

12/3/2000 Advice Column

Mixed Marriage
His Ex-wife's Picture
Needing "Space"

Mixed Marriage

Dear Dr. Tracy,

I am in need of some advice. I am seeing a therapist right now but she's really not helping me at all. Maybe you have some answers.

My boyfriend and I have very different religious backgrounds and it is causing a conflict in our relationship. He is a Jehovah witness and I am Christian. For those of you who don't know much about JW's they are very strict. They go directly by the Bible. They do not celebrate holidays, salute the flag, vote, and are not supposed to socialize with people outside of their religion. There are alot of other things also. Anyway, my boyfriend and I have been discussing marriage and we both want to see it happen sometime in the future, not necessarily any time soon. We love each other very much but because of his religion neither one of us can see our marriage working out. If he were to ever get disfellowshipped from his church he is not allowed to have any contact with his family or friends. His parents love me like one of their own, and I don't really understand why he's so worried about losing his family. I think they would support him no matter what happens. But I know if he chose to leave his religion it would be very hard for him to try and lead a different life.

Unlike him, I celebrate holidays and I love it!!! I am not willing to change that. He doesn't really believe in his religion, he's pretty much just staying in it so he doesn't lose his family or friends. I can't blame him, but I don't want him to continue contributing in something he doesn't even believe in. He's deceiving himself. If we were to get married would we celebrate holidays? Would our children be witnesses or christians? These are questions we can't answer. But we love each other so much and it makes us both sick to think that we can't be together in the future. We're wondering if we are wasting our time on something that will never happen. We've tried separating, but it's impossible. I've never loved anyone the way I love him. He is the most incredible man I have ever known. I know that nobody can satisfy me as much as he does. He's taught me how to love and trust people. Something I could never do in the past. And I know for a fact that he loves me just as much as I love him. But we're both so confused!!! If you have any advice please feel free to write. Thank You! Sincerely,

Dear Confused,

People from different religions marry all the time. These couples have successful marriages because they have found a way to live together without having their different religions become an obstacle. Usually they work out the religious differences before, not after marriage.

Sometimes they are both religiously ambivalent, with neither one caring that much, so they decide to let the religion slide and just be happy together without practicing either religion. Other times, the one who cares the least about their religion will switch to the other person's religion, for the sake of peace. Or sometimes the couple will decide to practice both religions equally, celebrating all holidays and going to both churches -- but they decide ahead of time on which religion their children will be brought up in.

You and your boyfriend, however, don't seem to be able to find a compromise position. You love him, but not enough to give up Christmas and holidays. He loves you, but not enough to give up his religious devotion that might alienate him from his family and friends. You can't decide which religion your kids would have.

Since you can't find a compromise, even though you both love each other, I don't see how you can marry. This problem won't go away. As you know, Jehovah's Witnesses are very strict, and I doubt if he'll give it up easily. So, sad to say, unless you are willing to embrace his religion, your marriage will be fraught with problems.

You say that you are seeing a therapist right now. I suggest that you and your boyfriend see a therapist together. Also, before giving up on finding a compromise, you might investigate his religion and have him look into yours by visiting each other's churches. Perhaps by becoming more familiar with each other's religions you will be able to work out a way to be together without either of you feeling as if you are making sacrifices you can't live with. But don't marry without resolving these issues.

Good luck,

Dr. Tracy

His Ex-wife's Picture

Dear Dr. Tracy,

I am 44 years old and had been single for over 10 years. I have been dating a man (Tom) for over a year now, we love each other and are talking marriage.

When I initially met Tom he was very unhappy in his 20 year marriage and on the verge of getting a divorce (so he says). We fell in love and he asked me to wait for him for a year until his youngest child turned 18 and graduated from high school and was on his own. I told him I would be patient and wait for him. I have never doubted Tom's love for me.

I asked him to seek counseling to re-examine his marriage and make sure that this was what he wanted. He did go to counseling during the final year of his marriage. We dated in secret during this time. Everything has gone according to plan. Tom moved into his own place the same month his son graduated from high school and his son is now in college. The divorce is now final.

During the time that Tom and I were seeing each other in secret, he was very insecure and somewhat jealous about my ex-husband with whom I have a good relationship (we have two daughters together ages 15 and 11). My ex-husband has always been a good father and close to us but we had remained divorced for 10 years with no hope of reconciliation. Tom admitted to me that his insecurities over my relationship with my ex-husband was also part of his counseling. Anyway when things worked out (my girls out of the house), Tom would spend the night at my place. I knew of his insecurities and jealousy over my ex. Out of sensitivity for him I removed my ex-husband pictures from my walls at home.

Things have not always been smooth for Tom and I, but we have always managed to work out any problems we have come across. Now that Tom has his own place he has furnished it quite nicely (bachelor motif) and I do spend some time there. We have not spent the night together yet at his place but me and my daughters often go there for supper or to spend the evening. He also has been to my house several times for supper or family events. We are moving slowly in order to gain acceptance of all involved (our families) and to make sure of our commitment to each other.

Now, of all the dumb things that have come between us in the last few days is a picture of his ex-wife hanging in his living room. I lost my cool over it because of all the consessions I have made for Tom in the past. I don't know if it is insensitivity on his part, grieving the last of his marriage, or just plain stupidity, but I was very upset . After having said a few choice words to Tom, I told him that my pictures of my ex are going back up in my home. I insisted that he keep the picture of his ex-wife up in his living room and that I also wish to reserve the right to have my ex-husband's picture up also when ever we might get a home of our own. He knows I removed pictures of my ex from my home for his sake and I can't believe that he did this.

Am I over-reacting? Or was he just being true to his gender and really had no clue that this could be an issue? Is my attitude only going to make matters worse? I am still angry about it and don't know when I will get over it.

Dear Angry,

Of course you are overreacting. Tom was married to his ex-wife for 20 years and has just gotten divorced. He has no idea how to be single and how to court someone.

I'm surprised you and Tom have gotten as far as you have with your "tit for tat" idea of getting along. Just because he does something you don't like doesn't mean that you get to do it back to him to "show him." That's childish and won't get you where you want to be - happily married.

You've been so reasonable all along, and you and Tom have survived sneaking around while he was married, his divorce and moving out, and now you are about to blow it over a picture of his ex on the wall? Sure, you removed your ex husband's pictures from your wall, but you'd been divorced for 10 years. Frankly, I'm surprised to hear that you still had your ex's pictures on the wall after that long.

Of course it was insensitive of Tom to put his ex's picture up, but why wouldn't you simply say, "Tom, I'd really appreciate it if you would put Mary's picture away"? What were you doing -- getting even with him for all the time you waited or for all the sneaking? I really think there's more to it that the picture.

Perhaps now that Tom is actually free and available, you're getting cold feet and don't want to commit yourself. Perhaps it's not the pictures. Perhaps you're just using the picture as an excuse to pick a fight, to back off from commitment.

In any case, if you want this relationship to work, it's time to stop acting like a child. This "you hit me, so I'm gonna really hit you a lot" is no way to have a relationship. Grow up. Ask for what you really want. Say how you feel. But don't put your ex-husband's pictures up to get even.

Stop this war of the ex-s pictures. You don't have the right to put up a picture of your ex in a home the two of you have together and neither does he have the right to put a picture of his ex-wife up. People who love each other don't do things just to hurt the other person or get even.

Good luck,

Dr. Tracy

Needing "Space"

Dear Dr. Tracy,

I couldn't believe it when I read the letter from a man who said he dated a wonderful woman for 6 years, yet doesn't seem to know if he wants to make a commitment. I could very easily be the woman he is talking about. I have fallen in love with a wonderful, affectionate man whom I dated for that same period of time. During the early years of our relationship, we could not stand to be apart--we always made arrangements to be together, and he always had time for me. He constantly showed me that he loved me, and was quite communicative and passionate. We would see each other every other weekend, and many weekdays during the summer. We attended each other's family functions, he made indirect statements about a future together, and had a bedroom for my daughter in his house. He gave me every impression we would have a future together.

Several years into our relationship, he purchased a bigger house. He has a very domineering mother, and his father had virtually no retirement income. His parents moved in with him for several years, and have since rotated living with his other siblings, who have a history of relationship problems/multiple marriages. Neither he or his siblings have ever had their mother's approval on any of their relationship choices; in fact, she either made derogatory remarks about their choices in their presence, or did not speak to them at all. He sought the help of a counselor to help him work out these issues. When I asked him if he felt his therapy was helpful, he recently told me that his counselor, after numerous sessions, has not given him any feedback on how he can overcome the disapproval and improve his relationships. He was also concerned, so I suggested that he may want to try someone else.

He has made tremendous strides in his life, despite overwhelming odds. He is a highly-respected professional, who now has practically no personal life. Although I have tried to be understanding and supportive, and he continued to tell me that he loves me and cares for me, he told me he felt I wanted more than he had to give. He told me he didn't know if he was capable of sustaining a relationship, he began to withdraw, and his behavior toward me deteriorated rapidly. I know that he is experiencing tremendous stress on his job, and I was wondering if he was going through a bout of depression or a midlife crisis. He no longer enjoys his work, no longer seems to truly relax, and is doing things to make himself appear younger. Although he lives alone, he tells me that he "never has time to do things HE needs to do." When I directly confronted him about whether or not we had a future together, he told me he needed more space.

I am torn because, normally, I would not give a person like this the time of day, but because of his past compassion, love, and assistance toward me during a long, protracted divorce, is it possible that he could overcome his difficulties? I am a self-sufficient, financially independent professional in my own right, but I miss him. Should I have faith or move on?

Dear Torn,

There are lots of signs here that your man means what most men mean when they say they need space. He means he wants out.

He's not affectionate. He doesn't see you as often. He says he can't give you what you want, that he's not capable of sustaining a relationship, and that he's experiencing a lot of stress at work. All excuses for a man who doesn't want to go further with you. He may be having more than a midlife crises. He's doing things to make himself appear younger. That's a danger sign that he may be looking for or even have already found a younger woman.

When a man is in love with you, he wants to be with you all the time. He doesn't need space. He doesn't buy a big new house and never mention moving you into it.

After six years, this relationship has run out of steam. I never recommend waiting longer than three years for a man to make a real commitment to you. In three years, a man knows whether he wants to spend the rest of his life with you. It doesn't take six years or more.

If you would normally not give a person like him the time of day, move on. Don't let his past kindnesses be your excuse to stay on indefinitely waiting for those days to come back again. If he hasn't overcome his difficulties in six years, it's possible, but not probable that he will in the future.

Good luck,

Dr. Tracy

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