How to Strengthen Your Relationship/Lonely and Vurnerable
QUESTION: Hi Sharon,
I decided to share a little about myself to help you formulate your feedback, because I noticed that it helped in some of the questions asked to you…
My name is Markus. I am 39 – soon to be 40 in December. I have an 8 year old son and a daughter that is 17.
I am reaching out to you because I have fallen into a vulnerable state since splitting up with my ex-girlfriend. In fact, I have been so lonely since then and have expressed it to her in text form as well as by phone and in person. She misses me too, but has been guarded and tough with her feelings. She has basically expressed to me that she will not allow herself to become vulnerable. We separated the last week of August.
Nicole and I have been together for nearly six years. We have lived together the last 2 years. We meet each other at work back in 2007 – worked together until 2010. We spent a lot of time with each other during our first 4 years of dating. She would also spend a lot of nights at my place. Nicole is now 31 years old. Nicole has a son who is 12 years old. He was 5 when I met him – my son was 3… Bringing our kids around each other was an experience for Nicole, because her son acted out a hand full of times – such as pushing my son around at playgrounds and dismissing him on other occasions. Nicole found herself having to apologize to me often because he behaved oddly towards my son – even to me… He would at times correct me if I used a word a certain way in a sentence, or pronounced a word that was different from the way that his family and circle would pronounce it. Don’t get me wrong, he is a bright kid – but his smarts and moody behaviors ultimately contributed to the relationship coming to an end.
Nicole’s son and his father had split custody. Her son primarily lived with his father, and spent half the week with Nicole. However, that changed 2-1/2 years ago because his father committed suicide. He had been going through rough times with his wife, fell into depression and took his life… Nicole and I had been looking into moving in together. After some time went by, we began talking about our involvement with each other and came to an agreement to move our relationship to the next phase. I agreed to relocate to another county with her. We moved into the same township where her son attended school.
My relationship with Nicole has always been great… I can honestly say that she is the only girl that I ever became friends with, yet loved romantically. She also feels the same way. She also realizes that our blended family was a challenge towards our relationship. We both would roll through the punches, but my tolerance peeked out this past year, especially during the summer months. I began seeing characteristics in her son that only a teenage kid would display. Her son has always entertained mood swings – like bipolar straights… He would shut down from time to time, loose interest in certain things – but yet would display high energy often. He is bright – very opinionate and challenged his mother all the time – he needed answer for everything… She at times would on eggshells, but she won’t admit it.
So as for me – well I too lost a loved one… Aside from the 2 kids I told you I have – I had a 19 year old that was killed by a violent crime. He died a year and half ago… Obviously, my way of dealing with my son’s lost is different than how son is dealing with his… My son’s death wasn’t a surprise because he had been living a lifestyle that was unhealthy. He lived in another state, so I didn’t see him often. With that said, I feel that my relationship when through a trial because of our losses. Nicole eventually got her son involved with theater and invested a lot of her free time there with him - that involvement caused our relationship to derail somewhat. Aside from that, I had stuff I was dealing with on my own but for the most part was manageable… Things just started getting edgy – I just didn’t want my presence in her son’s life to be a trigger for him to start behaving in an unhealthy way… I didn’t want fingers being pointed at me from all angles – such as his dad’s side of the family who is very very pronounced in his life.
So here’s our current events - I met Nicole while working for the same company… I resigned in 2010, but came back a month ago – she actually gave the department that I worked in a heads up that I was looking to get off the road… She had moved on to another branch of the business – different property – more volume and pay… The department that I work for knew about me and my background, so they were happy to go through the motion of bringing me back on board with the company… So yup – we work together once again, but in different departments… we don’t see each other – only once since being there.
My reason for contacting you is for some perspective and perhaps some hopefully insight… I miss Nicole very much. I miss having her and her son in my life… In fact, my 8 year old also misses them a lot… We spoke about marriage, but I prolonged it because I had special proposal plans, yet had conflicting feelings because of the challenged that surfaced the past few years.
I basically want them back in my life, but she has playing her cards… In fact, I read one of your answers and it seemed like I was reading Nicole’s actions nowadays…
“ THEN DO THIS. Get on Go Fish on line dating, have friends (not of his) fix you up and go have FUN and be the center of attention. No heart strings, just light fun dating. Immerse yourself in things you want to do - and DO THEM with JOY. Force yourself if you have to at first.
And don't call him EVER. Let him call you. And if he wants to see you, it's ONLY if you are free. Short notice meetings or dates aren't acceptable, you already have plans. Make him work for you - and be sweet, kind and very womanly when you speak or see him. But, he now has to make ALL the moves and jump through your busy dance card of hoops, and you aren't waiting and too busy for many of them anymore, because your dance card is FULL! All of a sudden, there will be a big hole where you used to be. He can fill it with seeking how to get you back (make him work HARD at this, and be kind and sweet but very non committal - FEW WORDS!”
I stopped calling her and sending her messages that convey venerability. We have been talking about going to dinner lately, for her bday that recently passed, but even that is a mission… She has agreed to it, but isn’t following through. I have been sick to my stomach the past several weeks… I lost 15 lbs since the spit – so did she. I have even entertained the idea of asking her to marry – obviously invest in a ring… We recently had a text conversation about last Valentine day. I brought it up because a tv commercial reminded me about that day. I had bought a brand new outfit just for our day together. We went to a Shake Speer show then had dinner afterwards… All along she thought I was going to propose. I had apologized for the mixed cues back then. In the text, I told her about the special ideas I had in mind for that day… She knew all along that I wanted it to be special. She has always been understanding, yet is the most levelheaded person that I have even been involved with… In fact, she is also driven by logic. I am a very passionate person – logical, but well in tune with the spirit in me. I am not coldhearted… but she has always loved with logic and submissiveness for the sake of pleasing because she was the girlfriend. Her work has always been a mind drainer, and obviously her son was a major part of life – her 2 most important balances… I on the other hand had been present, but yet over time felt caught up in limbo if that makes any sense… I was content with her, I am not high maintenance. She was great, but like I said…. Things just got sour and we both knew it.
I do want her back, but I know the challenge is going to be with her son – winning him back.
Thank you kindly
ANSWER: Dear Markus,
This is not an easy answer with all the dynamics of his/her children, etc. It seems like it is beyond playing hard to get or other maneuvres that a person might do. It seems like the love is there and it is a matter of sitting down and seeing if you can figure out how to make this work with all the challenges.
I suggest you take one thing at a time. You need to ask her if you can talk to her son. Then have a heart to heart talk with him. Tell him how difficult it must be for him to lose his dad and that you know that you can never take the place of his father but that you could be his friend. Tell him that you miss him and that your son misses him in his life, too, and ask him if he thinks that it could work to put the two families together if you all have rules to follow such as having his mom do the discipline and you not having anything to do with that and you disciplining your own without his mom taking over that role.
If you approach him as though he has some power in how it all would be put together and ask him for his input, that might break down the barrier. He has been jealous that your son has his father but he does not and it must be very difficult.
Sacrifice will be necessary for a time. His mom does need to spend time with her son and you will have to be mature about it and let that happen but then when you talk to the son and his mom that you suggest once a week they all do something together and that Nicole spend some alone time with him and that you get to spend one evening a week with just you and Nicole. Ask him if he thinks that would be fair.
Most children feel very powerless in their lives and their whole world falls apart when there is a divorce and they feel even more powerless than ever. But if you include them in some of the decisions so that they feel some power in their situation it really helps a lot.
You might do family counseling for awhile, if necessary.
So, I would propose to Nicole what I have suggested here in this letter and that you have had such a good relationship that it would be a shame not to try to put it together following the suggestions above.
Good marriages and families are based on negotiations and then agreements that everyone follows. When children act out they usually feel powerless and that they are crying out for power and strength and stability in their lives.
Try this and then let me know what happens.
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QUESTION: Hi Sharon,
Your feedback is very insightful – thank you!
I am definitely going to work on contacting Nicole to see if she will allow me to have that one-on-one with her son. I am concerned, though that she will reject my humble approach… She has been playing a friendly card for the sake of not dismissing me or setting herself up. She doesn’t reach out to me or make herself available. And when I reach out to her – usually by text – she eventually reciprocates by touching on something that I may have said. For example, we have spoken about dinner plans for over 3 weeks now. I haven’t been pushy, but I have casually sent her links on restaurants… She responds by making reference to an item in the menu, or a highlight about the location and that’s it. She’s just being nice and completing the communication cycle. I just leave it alone every time. I want to vent about it, but instead I just accept her way of managing our separation – or just me still present in her life… it sucks! Actually, I did have one time with her in person where I expressed how I felt about her placing me and the love that we shared far far aside… I mean – it literally feels that way. How could someone who is optimistic and expressed love and care – mostly logical – just forget and ignore those feelings that we both shared for years. Why is she being so cold… I at times felt her coldness, but dismissed it usually because I understood that she mostly operates with logic.
I ran into her recently at work. She was busy with someone, but when she freed up she glance over toward by direction with piercing eyes. An hour later she text me saying that it was nice seeing me with a smiley… This was her being nice – just acknowledging me being present. I mean, we had a pleasant relationship for the most part. The only challenges were that ones that I mentioned. We would always talk about them, and would always attempt to work beyond them. She has 3 best friends in her life that she doesn’t see all the time like before. She basically has them in a special place…. She has mentioned that I am now in that special circle. I mean come on – I am now a part of circle, for God sake… I was upset when she told me that. I told her our relationship was deeply meaningful, and that I did not belong in that group. In fact, I do remember telling that I felt bothered by her treating me like a stranger… She did fire back and said we are not together what do you expect… I remember her saying – what – are we getting back together along with other stuff, like saying if this is how it’s going to be if we run into each other at work she is going to be sorry, but left it on a patient tone… She did call me later in the evening to apologize for the outburst, but again – she was being nice I guess.
Anyway, in my heart I feel that I am going to set myself up for disappointment and rejection… I feel that she has just given up – even though she has said that I am still there in her heart and that she misses me usually when she lies down… Apparently, she has occupied all her free time that she doesn’t have time to think about being lonely.
Why the cold heart? How can she just ignore and dismiss what we had? Why be nice? Why the piercing mean eyes? Why treat me like a stranger as if we only dated casually when we considered marriage lived together and planned on having family – baby? Why isn’t vulnerable? Why doesn’t she tell me that she misses me and still loves me like I have to her?
ANSWER: Hello again,
People handle grief differently. She is turning off her feelings by being cold. I believe she feels quite hurt and that is the way she is covering up.
You might try writing her a letter. First of all, one of the deathbed regrets people have is not taking enough risks. There is always a risk when you allow yourself to be vulnerable and open to hurt but that is also how you might get what you want. At this point you have nothing to lose except your feelings.
Tell her that you are sorry if you disappointed her but you really thought that you had the potential of putting together a good life and a good family. Tell her that you thought you both loved each other and that through communication and planning, a good and lasting relationship could be put together. Then tell her of your plan to talk to her son and that you think it might be possible that he would accept you become a family if he felt that he had some control over the situation just as I explained it. Tell him that your son misses her son--I believe you expressed that to me and that it seems like it would be a very good thing if it could be worked out. Tell her that if you could have family meeting once a month where each person has input and then agreements on how to handle each other and family situations could be worked out. Tell her how we talked about the children feeling so powerless in these situations and that if there were family meetings where their ideas would be considered, that you could put together a good family, with you, of course never taking the place of his father, but you could be a good male friend to him but that she should remain his parent and the one who takes care of discipline of him. Pretty much tell her the things I suggested and said. This might appeal to her.
Then I would say, that if there is no hope for the two of you then it would be best to stop all contact. She needs to feel the loss and that you are not just waiting in the wings for when she might decide to give you the time of day. Then offer to let her think about it for a few weeks and then to let you know if she is open to working things out. Make sure there is no blame, begging, or nagging. Just lay it out as to what you are thinking and then let it go. Of course, tell her you love her and care about her and for her happiness, and if that is with someone else then that is what you want but that you hope she could see that you two have the potential for a great life together with a lots of love, and a little work and planning.
The reason I think it should be all or move on is that it is not good for either one of you to be hanging on to each other in case of what ifs. You were together long enough to know if it could work or not and it is time to make it work or move on. If she feels that from you, it will make her stop and think. As long as you are hanging around waiting in the wings, she is not forced to make a decision and can keep you in limbo for a long time and that is not good for you or her.
That is what I think. Hope this helps you and you find the happiness you seek.
---------- FOLLOW-UP ----------
QUESTION: Hi Sharon,
I hope you had a great weekend with friends and family. I spend nearly all my free time with my 8 year old son when I am not working… It’s always great having him around me – he’s a fun kid.
So I have not rated your feedback yet because I also plan to share my comments. You have helped me with perspective. Your thoughts have been so helpful with restoring my lack of acceptance. I am humble for your time, especially for having you share your professional, yet personal ability to tap into my state of being. I appreciate all the suggestions that you have given me regarding my challenging circumstances with my ex and her son… Thank you very much!
Since your last feedback, I spoke to her once by phone but it was casual. I have been pondering on wanting to talk to her – actually writing her because I express my thoughts and feelings better in that way… I gave in, though, and sent her a text message Friday late night. I basically wanted her to know how uncomfortable I have felt lately – like feeling that she no longer loves me and my kids. I told her I felt that we now have miles and miles of emptiness between us. I basically wanted to know from her why she has chosen to distant herself from me this way. I realize I am responsible for most of that, since I was the first one to breakdown and expose vulnerability. But for God’s sake – I can’t help missing her… I don’t have a stony heart. I could have chosen to block my feelings and entertain myself with anger to shadow them, but to me that has always been unhealthy in the early part of my adulthood. On the other hand, though, the treatment that I am now getting in return from her is unhealthy, too… But like you said: “one of the deathbed regrets people have is not taking enough risks. There is always a risk when you allow yourself to be vulnerable and open to hurt but that is also how you might get what you want. At this point you have nothing to lose except your feelings.”
She did reply the very next morning. I never responded because it felt like a blow to my stomach. I needed time to digest her thoughts. So now I am here to share her thoughts with you, and to once again ask for your help.
“I don’t know what you want from me. You moved out. We’re not together. But you still want me to tell you I love you and answer all of your text messages? Of course I love you and your kids. I was never the one who had a hard time with that. You on the other hand couldn’t love my son the same way I loved your kids. That’s what I think about all the time. And yes, I’m keeping my distance from you. I don’t want to have any conversations about how did all this happen and I still love you business and how did we get to this place. These kinds of conversations should have been on the table bEFOREe we moved out. It’s too late for all that. This is where we are now and I’m dealing with that. I just want us to be happy so stop trying to shove this I don’t love you and your kids stuff in my face. That’s wrong and you know it.”
“I’ve wanted to be friends with you but I’m not at that place right now. I feel like we’re still too close for us to be just friends. I do want the boys to see each other once in awhile but I’m afraid it’s not going to feel right for everyone. I don’t want anything to be confusing for the kids.”
Those are her recent thoughts… What I find so hard to process is how she has logically chosen to disconnect her feelings – like turning off a light switch. I recall her in the past being nonchalant about some discussion making with money – like for example a lost from a bad investment… her attitude was always – no sweat – I can just make more. Her brother broke up with his girlfriend… her attitude was: He’s now single and alone and has to recover and start over. Her sister cheated on her boyfriend and experience emotional mayhem… her attitude was attentive to her feelings, yet seemed cold because she basically penetrated her mind and stay far far away from the core of her being - her feelings. Don’t get me wrong she is not a mean and ugly person – she really is sweet and very attentive, kind and caring… But her attitude nowadays with me/us is hard to swallow… I feel that she is being prideful to some extent. I feel like now that we are no longer together she no longer has to work at being attentive to the relationship, since her work and her son’s schedule are the most important factors in her life and consumed her mentally and physically. I am hoping that she will realize that we are worthy of working things out. I realize that our kids are major factors to be mindful about, so we can’t be selfish… I defiantly want to write to her and touch on the points you have made, but I can’t go on feeling this way much longer. I do wish that she would open up heart and realize that I do care about her son – always have… As for her feeling that I did not love him – well, I always felt that he didn’t accept me. And that was very obvious on my occasions. At times acted like he did not want to be bothered with, yet his mom would tell me from time to time that he did want me to apply myself, but I always had to play into the game with cheap-psychology… I was always affected by that logic. I was always sincere until I started processing that sort of behavior and attention seeking… His mother knew this. I wanted to talk about it, but with the help of someone profession… My ex wasn’t flexible with that idea. So to this day… she feels that I never loved him.
So I have not spoken to her, but I still have it in my heart to write to her with all I got and with all you have helped me with… I have already accepted the negative outcome, such as having to move on.
Looking forward to your thoughts… Thanks
Well, a couple of things. First of all, accusing her of not loving was not wise but I understand where you are coming from and a lot of what is happening but I am very limited in this venue. You would really benefit from a few coaching sessions because there is a way to communicate with her that would benefit you greatly.
Now, the problem is that people show love in different ways. She is loving and caring but also has a balance of logic whereas you are led by emotion to a much greater extent. This is the difference in your basic personality traits. That is why you do not understand that she can love and still remain calm and to you, seemingly cold. Even though she told you that she loved you and your son in her answer to your latest communication with her, you cannot accept it because you do not understand how someone could love you and not respond differently and how she could leave you be. You can love someone and still realize that things are not working out and need to move on. You can love someone and realize that the highest good is more important than feelings.
Her first responsibility is to her son and yours is to your son. That must be respected. She is doing what she thinks best for her son. Your feeling like he did not accept you is absolutely correct but what was wrong was your unrealistic expectation of him doing so. If you could accept that you can never replace his father and understand how he must have felt in thinking that he was supposed to accept you as a parent, and if you could realize that you should have not been his disciplinarian in any way then you could have been the adult friend that he could have respected. That is the only way his/hers ever works.
It is very difficult to blend families and rarely is successful because of unrealistic expectations and parents protecting their own children over their partner's children, which is natural. Parents often feel guilty about their children not having the other parent, feeling guilty over divorce, etc. and naturally tend to favor their own children.
When she says it is too late to have these conversations then it sounds like she has emotionally moved on from the relationship. People do that to protect themselves or else they live in agony such as you are experiencing. It is called survival. Some people have the ability to put their feelings in a cage easier than others. It doesn't mean that they do not feel love or that they do not love. It just means their minds and traits are different from those who are led more by emotion.
Now, there is a whole way that you could communicate with others more effectively which I cannot fully help you with in this brief question/answer situation. Basically, you care, ask questions, and listen intently, and find out what the other person wants. Then ask if it is possible to work things out together and come to an agreement to work together to build a future.
If there would be some way that you could convince her, after you have been very interested in how she views the whole relationship, truly listen to her, and accept what she says (with no accusations of anything but just understanding her feelings and ideas of what happened); and then go from there, which might include showing her that you are willing to learn how to communicate with her son and that you really did care but reacted to your concept of his rejecting you, instead of being able to show that you were a caring friend then she might be open to talking more about the relationship. But if she is not willing to discuss the possibility then you will have to accept it and move on.
So, before you say what I suggested in the last answer, I would simply ask her to tell you what she thinks happened and why and absolutely listen to her without comment, going on the defensive, explaining why you did things, etc. but just asking lots of questions in response to what she says and then tell her that you would like to have some time to think about it so she feels like you were really interested in her, how she feels, and her perspective on everything, that could do a lot to get her open to listening to you, later as you put together suggestions from what I have said in combination with what she tells you, then it might work in your favor. I would just contact her and tell her that you are very interested in just what she thinks what happened in your relationship and that you promise to give no suggestions or explanations unless she asks for them but you just really want to know how she feels about the whole thing, then she might open up and you might learn some things that will help you take the next step.
I must go now. If you are interested in a few coaching lessons let me know. I do offer one introductory session for $25, payable through PayPal. A lot more can be accomplished in a telephone session then in correspondence.
I hope these things are helpful to the situation. A lot is in her hands, however.
There are ways to get past your feelings and learn to handle things in a way that would be more appealing to her.