Dear Dr V,
I’ve been with my boyfriend for a year. Right after he broke up with his ex, she rented the house next to his. He had been with his ex for several years, and since she’s moved in he says they’re “trying to be friends.”
As a result there are now all these conditions his ex is placing on my visits, like when I can come over, I can’t come over to his house when she’s there visiting; she’s uncomfortable if I’m around when they go out with their mutual friends … she even has a problem with me spending the night!
She claims this is all in the interest of “respecting their friendship,” but I think she’s still in love with him and is being incredibly possessive. My boyfriend is conceding to these demands, because he says their breakup was really hard for her and that she doesn’t have a lot of friends to go to for support. He says things will get easier over time and hopes me and his ex will become friends, but honestly I feel like I’m a third wheel here. Despite all this I’m still crazy about my boyfriend and desperately want this to work out. What do you think?
Thanks, Confused and Worried
Anyone in your situation would feel as you do. I imagine there might be some anger and frustration swimming in your emotional ocean as well. I wish there were a way to get everyone involved to behave like rational, mature adults.
Sadly, we can only affect the direct change in our own perception and behavior, and hope the good radiates out to positively influence our circumstances. This being said, let’s examine the situation.
I do agree with you that the “ex’s” behavior sounds possessive, and the fact that she deliberately moved in next to a former boyfriend after a bad break up is a big red flag to me. From what you have told me, it sounds as if she has not accepted that her relationship with your boyfriend ended. She is placing conditions on your relationship that are not only unacceptable; they are entirely inappropriate.
In fact, any influence she might exert over your relationship is entirely inappropriate. I do not think it would be wise to give this time, as your boyfriend suggested. Allowing things to continue as they are will only further muddy the waters for everyone involved. I also find it rather naive, if not insensitive on your boyfriend’s part, to think it would be OK for you to put up with this. Normal, platonic boundaries need to be established immediately between your boyfriend and his ex if you two are to stay together in a healthy relationship.
I suggest discussing this with your boyfriend, but doing so after you have discharged your negative feelings in whatever way works best for you (go for a run, a yoga class or what have you). Hopefully you can then put yourself on a relatively even emotional keel, so that when you speak to your boyfriend about these issues you can do so in a positive way that will promote communication between the both of you. If you approach the topic from a place of anger, your boyfriend may feel blindsided or under attack. He then might “shut down” without really hearing what you have to say, leaving the situation unresolved and you feeling further frustrated.
If possible and agreeable to you both, a counselor or therapist’s office might be the best place to have this discussion. As I have often told others facing heavy discussions, release your expectations on the outcome. Try to accept the fact that things may not be resolved in one sitting. There is a balance to find here between empathic, patient communication and recognizing the immediacy with which the issues must be handled.
Along with recognizing what’s going on inside you, I also think it’s worth considering what your boyfriend’s perception of the situation might be, as this could help your own understanding of the circumstances, and the possible motivations behind his actions. You mentioned that the breakup between he and his ex went badly. It is possible he still harbors feeling of guilt over how things ended, and maybe sees a chance to “fix” things and redeem himself now by placating his ex-girlfriend.
If your relationship with him has been going well up until this current issue arose, it could be that he feels secure enough with what you two have that he’s inadvertently taking it for granted, and turning his focus on attempting to resolve the unfinished business of his former relationship. Although it could be an honest mistake on the part of your boyfriend, it does need to be addressed as soon as possible as it is leaving you feeling, I imagine, disrespected and neglected, and you certainly do not deserve to feel this way.
I do feel obligated to address the other possibility, that perhaps your boyfriend is moving backwards, and may even want to return to his previous relationship. Though I am someone who tries to give just about anyone the benefit of the doubt whenever possible, I think we do need to acknowledge this possibility. If, after talking things over, your boyfriend seems unable or unwilling to address these issues, then you will need to seriously evaluate if it would be best for you to continue on in a relationship where your needs and feelings come in second to those of your partner’s former lover. You closed your letter by saying you “desperately” wanted this to work out. Your desperation could be an indicator that perhaps it would be best to move on.
From the tone of your letter you sound like a reasonable, levelheaded person. If you can hold on to your internal balance, I think it will benefit you greatly in dealing with this situation, however it works out. Many people in your shoes would be outraged, perhaps to the point of being irrational. In fact, it sounds as if you might be the most reasonable person at the moment in the triangle you find yourself embroiled in. Know that so long as you remain true to your heart and keep the negativity from clouding your vision or judgment, you will help things move towards a resolution for the greatest good.
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