He Made Mistakes, I Made Mistakes. Is Our Relationship Salvageable?

My boyfriend and I broke up one year and both went our separate ways. He was devastated, to say the least, as I had fallen in love with someone else. He ended up having a one-night stand that resulted in a child. We got back together, and I found out about the baby a month before she was born. I left him again and moved to a larger city to pursue my career. I wasn't doing so well in the industry that I was in, though, so I moved back to my hometown. My ex begged me to move into his brand-new house. I did, and we were working on our relationship. He filed for custody of his daughter and won! I was excited, confused, and torn all at the same time. I was back home without a job, and I became a stay-at-home mom all of the sudden. My career went by the wayside and my contacts dwindled. I was upset, confused, frustrated, and felt neglected. I was overburdened by the sudden responsibility and lack of self. The father was at work nonstop, and here I was in the huge, pretty house taking care of another woman's daughter. After she was born, my fiancé put the woman up in a house, let her use his car, and gave her money. I never knew about any of this, and I knew it was for the sake of the child, but he hid it. Hid it all, and I found out in a very harsh way, by email and texts. I felt betrayed and I began to get angry. Really angry. Angry that he got another woman pregnant, and now I was taking full care of his mistake. Angry that I was finding out about everything last. Angry that I was not the social bombshell I used to be. My friends were climbing the ladder of success while I put on pounds and watched my life dwindle. In November 2012, my ex-lover called me one day out of the blue to check in with me. When I was with him, the skies felt as though they opened. I was so happy and elated to even hear from him. I started to meet him for coffee when I had a break. He took me out, listened to me, cared for me, held me after I have not been touched for months. We started to see each other a lot more often; I was getting the attention I needed. We had sex and it blew my mind. I was barely interested in even touching my fiancé sometimes. But then my fiancé found out. He was livid. I shot back, saying I did it because I felt alive again and that if he could go and keep secrets about the child's mother and the events that followed away from me, I have the right to do as I please. Which I know isn't right, but I feel justified in some way. I feel alive. I now have a job and still carry the burden of picking the child up from school some days, and feeling like a single mother sometimes. I love him, and he's a good man. I love his baby, and she's really a light in all this mess. The situation just hurts me sometimes. I feel like I could do better. I want my own family with someone who doesn't have kids and who's never been married, but at this age (30), who doesn't have kids? I'm stuck in a daze and don't want to leave, but I don't want to keep lying and being pissed off every time I come home. I bring up the past often. I blame him. I should let it go, I know, but it's harder said than done. I wonder if this relationship is even salvageable. He would move mountains for me, and I would do the same for him. Why can't I just leave my ex alone and be in love with what I already have? Why so bitter? Go ahead, bash away. —Unfulfilled
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Dear Unfulfilled,

Thank you for your post. Sounds like quite an ordeal, chaotic and intense. In a way, your last sentence speaks to the heart of the issue: “bash away.” Why? It sounds like you’ve done a good job of that yourself! There’s so much criss-crossing here that I almost began to lose count, almost like Chekhov on espresso.

It’s a bit of a psychological cliché, but then all clichés have a grain of truth, that one’s external life is a reflection of one’s emotional or psychological life. To quote Marlene Dietrich’s line to Orson Welles in Touch of Evil, “Honey, you’re a mess.” In a way, the emotional drama surrounding all this seems tragicomic, but what tilts it toward the tragic is your own suffering and the fact there is a child involved who needs a stable home. It sounds like you are the primary female role model in her life. She is depending on you as a mom, since it sounds like her biological mom is out of the picture or plays a limited role. If there’s any “bashing” to be done on my part, it would be my beseeching all parties involved here to make a commitment to this kid in her best interests. You say you want a family, but in a sense, you’ve got one. It may not be what you envisioned, but most things aren’t. Why not make the best of it?

I have the nagging sense that the dissatisfaction with your circumstances has more to do with a psychological conflict than these men. For instance, you sound quite upset with your fiancé … then why continue to let him back in, live with him, be a stay-at-home mom, etc.? I was struck by the fact you were furious at your fiancé for getting a woman pregnant after you dumped him! It also sounds like a lot of this conflict was spurred on by struggles in your own individual life: career, identity, and so forth. Was it because you were unhappy in these arenas that you hoped this might be an answer? I wonder, too, if your fiancé—not to let anyone off the hook here—was inclined to hide some of these details from you (regarding supporting the kid’s mom) lest you get enraged, which is exactly what happened.

Also, you say that upon your fiancé winning custody and your becoming a stay-at-home mom, you felt “excited, confused, and torn all at the same time.” That sounds like a reflection of wildly conflicted feelings best sorted out with a therapist—and let me be so bold as to suggest you go to individual counseling rather than couples counseling. I’m sure the temptation is strong to look at your fiancé and ask yourself why you’re with him, why he isn’t good enough, or why he’s such a blessing or a schnook, depending on your mood. Every partner, at some time or another, disappoints us in a way that pushes our buttons, but don’t forget you have chosen to try and make a life with him.

I also wonder about the ex-lover who creeps back into the picture. To take a lover and then use it as retribution speaks to me of the betrayal you have felt, though to go about it this way seems to have only caused further confusion. (Also, if your ex-lover is so satisfying, why not commit to him rather than use the affair to “get back” at your fiancé? Did the latter do something especially egregious in the relationship, not mentioned in your letter?) I see another key to possible childhood wounding when you say you felt neglected and then angry. There is a thread of neglect and anger running through this story like a DayGlo thread. Perhaps all of these experiences are propelled by old wounds relating to past neglect and/or abuse? The danger is that, sad as it is to say, whatever partner we find as an adult cannot completely fill the hole left by inadequate parenting. It’s a tough reality necessary to accept if one wants satisfying adult relationships. You might also want to consider a women’s therapy support group to realize you’re not alone in your struggles. You strike me as someone who needs some loving confrontation, support, and understanding. I would bet your decisions would be different if you didn’t feel so distraught, neglected, or hurt (beneath the anger).

The danger in not addressing one’s childhood wounds, and staying focused only on “getting” what we want from current circumstances, is that we become mired in the minutiae of life, overwhelmed by details without mastering them, which is a gateway to resentment and unhappiness. This seems like a situation with two tough choices, each requiring some compromise, either the ex-lover or the fiancé and his daughter. I think to try and have both isn’t fair to anyone, including yourself. Perhaps you’re holding on to your fiancé out of fear; so many women I know fear getting older and losing opportunity. A happy woman of almost any age, who feels grounded and content, is bound to attract the right person. You certainly have a passion for life, to your credit, and I’ll bet you know how to have fun. A lot of men would appreciate that. Yes, there are men who chase younger women, but not all men; as guys creep into our thirties and forties, many of us start to value companionship and dependability more than sex and physical beauty. To hold on to something dissatisfying due to fear has never been a happy solution, in my experience.

I’d like to add that your being “deserving” may also be worthy of therapeutic exploration; I caution people who have that feeling to remember to follow it up with action. That pesky reality principle tells us that, yes, you certainly are deserving; however, almost nothing worthy is thrown into our laps. We have to go out and work for it. Those clients who do pursue these goals and succeed are often disappointed, largely because their desires were emotional in the first place. What they really wanted was intimacy, safety, feeling wanted, valued, and respected by another. But without confidence and self-esteem, they couldn’t let those qualities in or return them. Without the latter, most relationships are doomed. Thus the other cliché I’ll employ today, which also has a grain of truth, is that you have to be able to give what you want to get.

It would be very loving toward yourself if you could decide you want to make a go of it with either man, realizing that something will be gained and lost and that some past injuries in your psyche are likely making this choice very difficult. Part of the difficulty is its being unconscious; we tend to put away what is too painful to deal with. But it always comes bubbling back to the surface, usually when we least want it to. Do yourself a favor and step away from all this for a bit, and focus on your own needs, wants, and (possibly) psychological wounds that need healing. The confusion you’re struggling with speaks to me of the latter, and there’s no shame at all in seeking help. Thanks for writing, and remember to be gentle with everyone, including yourself.

Sincerely,
Darren

Darren Haber
Darren Haber, PsyD, MFT is a psychotherapist specializing in treating alcoholism and drug addiction as well as co-occurring issues such as anxiety, depression, relationship concerns, secondary addictions (especially sex addiction), and trauma (both single-incident and repetitive). He works in a variety of modalities, primarily cognitive behavioral, spiritual/recovery-based, and psychodynamic. He is certified in eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR) therapy, and continues to receive psychodynamic training in treating relational trauma, including emotional abuse/neglect and physical and sexual abuse.
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  • Lana

    Lana

    May 31st, 2013 at 11:25 AM

    Wow that is an intense situation so much going on i kind of worry about the baby. sounds like you love her but if you dont love her dad i donno. maybe start over a new relationship?

  • Sean

    Sean

    May 31st, 2013 at 11:34 PM

    No use of forcing yourself to stay in a relationship where things are so tough.And its not your mistake.Why don’t you just let go and move on?That will mean a new beginning for you anyway!

  • ruthie

    ruthie

    June 1st, 2013 at 4:48 AM

    Sounds like there is still a great deal of anger that you need to deal with and let go of.
    I don’t find that there can ever be any real healing and moving forward until some of that is allowed to fall away and make peace with it.

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