Tough Love: Your Boyfriend Is Not Going to Marry You

Hi readers, I’m Dr. Samantha Rodman, aka Dr. Psych Mom. I’m a married mom of three kids, and a clinical psychologist in private practice in Maryland. I write at DrPsychMom.com, where I share articles about psychology, relationships, and parenting. Readers often write in with questions, and I enjoy sharing my thoughts and advice, based on my clinical experience.  

Reader Rejected writes —

I’ve lived with a man for 11 years and we have raised his daughter together part time, and more recently, full time, but he won’t marry me unless I lose weight. Should I bother? If he doesn’t want to marry me now will it matter if I lose weight, or is this just a way to keep me in a holding pattern?

I smoke, which he hates, and our sex life has tapered off to the point that it’s almost a sexless relationship. I love him and am sure he loves me too, but I’m unsure if we should even get married or if I should just move on and hope to make it on my own, or maybe look for someone who likes me despite my perceived “failings.”

I don’t think he is very attracted to me since we only have sex if I initiate it, and he is passive and uninterested in spicing things up. Again, he will only consider trying new things if I’m skinny. A friend says this is emotional abuse. Is it?

Dear R,

Let’s be straight. Your boyfriend is being open about what would be required to, in his perception, make him attracted enough to you to commit his life to you. You aren’t doing it. Thus, he isn’t having sex with you or proposing.

I don’t think this is emotional abuse unless he’s calling you names or mocking you. He is, however, staying in a relationship without sex, with a woman he’s not attracted to and who does something he hates (smoking). I would imagine this pattern of being in a bad situation and being a depressed martyr type is familiar to him from his childhood. Similarly, you are staying in a situation with a man who won’t have sex with you and who voices not being attracted to you. I believe in your childhood you likely felt rejected in this same way by one or both caregivers, who were hard to please or get close to.

I think you should see a therapist and explore a few things: why you’re in this relationship, what needs you’re getting met by staying, and why you struggle with weight and smoking (on a deep level, maybe you have low self-esteem and don’t value your own health; you likely also have low self-esteem because you stay in this relationship).

Good luck, and till we meet again, I remain, The Blogapist Who Says, Therapy Can Really Help Here.

Reader Frustrated and Hurt writes —

Not sure how to summarize but we have three kids (11, 7, and 5 years old) and my husband has been having an affair on and off with the same woman for about seven years. We’ve been through counseling, church help, and so forth, but the longest he’s not talked to the woman within that seven years is about three months. I am very hurt.

I don’t depend on him financially. Yet, for the 15 years we’ve been together, maybe I gave him the impression that I would never leave him, so he abused the chances I gave him. He is an alcoholic too. However, he’s a good father and supports the family when he’s not in “affair mode.”

Do you think there’s hope for a meaningful reconciliation or are we just afraid of filing for divorce? We are currently separated and he’s with the other woman, but he says he wants to try and work things out with me. So far, I’ve refused and asked him to end the other relationship completely before we talk. I’m really unsure about what to do.

Dear FAH,

I have seen couples in this situation, and sometimes they come into counseling together even though one is living with another person. Sometimes they reconcile, sometimes they don’t. You need to ask yourself what you want here. Not only does your husband cheat, but he is also an alcoholic. This likely means that you are familiar with an enabler or codependent role.

What are your children learning from watching you putting up with behavior that you hate?
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I tell people that perhaps they could have an open marriage in this sort of situation, but since you have three kids and attend church, I am going to guess you would not be okay with this. That means that you have to think about what you want. Your husband is unlikely to give this woman up. They are in a long term affair and he is living with her. He also drinks to excess. What are your children learning from watching you putting up with behavior that you hate?

Your husband is a good provider and a good father, so your children will benefit from his involvement in their lives no matter what (unless he is a scary drunk and you’re lying to yourself about what they do and do not see).  So, focus on that, and get your own counseling to determine what path you want your life to take. You have likely experienced parental alcoholism or some form of abuse or dishonesty in your childhood growing up, which makes it familiar to you to deal with this sort of dynamic. That needs to be explored for you to be your best self as a person, mother, and intimate partner, whether it’s in this relationship or another one later on.

Good luck and keep me updated. And till we meet again, I remain, The Blogapist Who Says, Choose Your Own Destiny.

Ask Dr. Psych Mom, aka Dr. Samantha Rodman, your own anonymous relationship questions for this column by emailing her here, and don’t forget to order her book, How to Talk to Your Kids about Your Divorce: Healthy, Effective Communication Techniques for Your Changing Family.

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