Dating at Midlife/dating a man with adult children/follow-up
QUESTION: Dear Dr.Belove, thank you for this opportunity. I have a problem which I tried to resolve with my boyfriend, I even went to see a therapist, to no avail.
I am dating a wonderful caring man who has a 28-year old son. The son does not live with him, has a job, but prefers to spend every weekend with his dad. We never have privacy in my man's house because of this. Even when we are away for the weekend, we are never alone: his son calls him literally every hour, just to talk! I tried to talk to my boyfriend about it, he says he still feels guilty about leaving his son's mother (24 years ago!), feels close to his son, this is the way he is, etc. We had a very serious talk a month ago, and I clearly stated that if he plans his life with me(we actually are talking marriage in the future), then we need some adjustments to make, and that I do not want to build my life and this relationship around children, either mine or his. He seems to agree and keeps telling me he is working on this, but things are still the same: we can spend time in my house only, or away from home, because his house is always occupied by his son on the weekends.Any advice? Shall I be more patient or shall I set the rules? I love this man, he is always telling me he loves me and wants to spend the rest of his life with me.
ANSWER: Hello Irina,
I'm terribly sorry to say this, but I think you have a situation on your hands that is not going to change quickly. Whatever the reasons are for this exceptional closeness between father and son, exceptional to the point that the boy won't allow his father a certain reasonable independence, and seems to need contact with his father, whatever the reasons for this, they are compelling and run deep.
About the most you can expect is a very small change.
As you've described it, the father seems as committed to the arrangement and the son. And it might indeed be related to t he trauma of the divorce but 24 years is too long for that alone to be the explanation.
Also, if I were to be working with the father, or the son, or the two of them, I might be more effective. YOu are in the weakest possible position to make a change happen. So one thing you could do is ask the father whether he would speak to someone like me.
On your part,I'm going to guess you make the mistake of insisting on total change and since you ask for too much he can only respond by giving you nothing. You could start by asking for less. Here is a script, " Instead of calls every hour, could we limit it to insisting on a three hour window between calls? Surely we could accomplish that. " The advantage of this small request is that, if he can't meet it, if it's too much of a challenge, that says something about how serious the problem is and that will motivate the father to take it more seriously."
Let me know. Feel free to follow up.
Philip Alan Belove, Ed.D.
---------- FOLLOW-UP ----------
QUESTION: Dear Dr.Belove,
thank you so much for answering me.
I do not think I am insisting on a total change, I just asked my man
if his son could give us a few hours of privacy a week, and he agreed it was not too much to ask. Say, the son comes to his father's house on
Fridays, but instead of leaving on Sunday - he would leave on Saturday night. This would give him time with his dad and would give us a night
a week. We can only see each other on the weekends (jobs!#.
So, I would see him this Saturday and would try "call every three
hours instead of one" deal, let's see how that would go. But I already am considering being single again. It would break my heart #and I am sure his,too!#, but is this relationship worth the pain it inflicted?
Also, my man confided in me a few months ago, that he tried to date several times in the past three years, but all women left him "after six or seven months", and he could not figure why. I knew the answer back there, but did not dare say it out loud. Should I now?
First of all, you are welcome to a one hour phone call. So we could talk then.
But to your question.
You have to be careful here.
Many midlife relationships in development have these crisis moments. At our age our lives are
much more complex and complicated. And that means we have to be prepared for, and skilled at
these difficult conversations.
So I want to warn you about something.
You have a theory about why these other relationships ended. It goes like this: these other women left him
for the same reasons you are tempted to leave him. It's not a bad theory, but it is a guess.
Also, it's an escalation, or could be received as one. So you have to be careful for those two reasons.
It's already a fairly big step for you to say to him, "I think I might have to leave this relationship
even though I love you and want it to work. That's how much I find the arrangement with your son unacceptable
to me. That's how serious I am being. Do you understand this? I need to know that you understand this. I don't want to
yell and get hysterical. It's a very difficult position I find myself in."
That alone is quite a bit.
I would also suggest that you suggest he speak to someone like me.
In that situation, with your feelings running very high and the urgency you are feeling
it might be better for him to have a conversation or two with me so I could help him
sort through the complexity of his feelings about his son. That relationship is very important to him
but it doesn't sound like he's handling it well, or maybe his son is in some kind of chronic state of anxiety.
I can't tell, but they may need some help. Your jobs is to be a catalyst for change in that relationship.
Does this help? Again you may follow up here or directly at firstname.lastname@example.org
Philip Alan Belove, Ed.D.