Challenges of Dating a Single Parent

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Artwork by Alexis Hickox

Artwork by Alexis Hickox

Dating a single parent is riddled with challenges and difficulties. This article addresses some of these challenges.

Dear Doctor Life Advice

I am dating a single father who has a crazy ex-wife. It seems to me that  the more happy he feels, the more his ex-wife uses their child to manipulate him. Their marriage ended when she left the relationship to be with someone else. My boyfriend is always waiting for things to go wrong. I happen to be the complete opposite of his ex-wife. She was angry,aggressive, and mean. I’m a happy,energetic and sweet person. The problem with my boyfriend is that he goes back and forth emotionally. Sometimes, he wants to go out and have fun, sends me text messages, is on the phone with me, or we are together. Other times, something happens with his ex-wife and he becomes silent, angry, and miserable. Whatever I do, I feel that I cant get through to him. I try to leave him, but I can’t; I never can.

Signed: Drama with Baby Mama

 

Dear Drama with Baby Mama,

You are in a very difficult situation. There are a few points that stand out immediately in your question.

  1. You are dating a single father who is obviously attached to his child, and has an ex-wife that uses this child to hurt him.
  2. Your boyfriend picked an angry, mean and aggressive woman to be his wife, and she ended up cheating on him and leaving him.
  3. It seems your boyfriend is easily affected by his ex-wife and whatever happens between them has an impact on his relationship with you.
  4. You have tried to help him learn to cope better with the situation, and you have been unsuccessful.
  5. Your boyfriend is unpredictable in his behavior towards you. You don’t know when you two are going to have a good time together, and when he is going to act angry and miserable and shut you out.
  6. The situation is bad enough that you have considered breaking up the relationship, and you may have even tried a few times.
  7. For reasons that are not clear to me, you have convinced yourself that you can never do that. In other words, you feel “stuck” in this relationship.
  8. You do not mention the word “love” in the entirety of your question.

 

I’m concerned about how you have convinced yourself that you “can’t” leave the relationship. For some reason, you have relinquished your ability to make choices and believe that you do not have a choice. You believe that you are powerless in this relationship. I want you to empower yourself and remind yourself that you have options. Once empowered, you can allow yourself to weigh each option and then choose what you are going to do.

Let’s start by quickly reviewing the things you do not have any power or control over, and eliminate them from your options. You have no control over how your boyfriend and his ex-wife communicate with each other, and what role their child plays in the dynamics. I know this is hard to accept, and I bet you have tried already without success. Stop trying. You also cannot control how your boyfriend reacts in situations, and how he feels. Think about all the times in your life when someone told you that you should or should not feel a certain way. Did it work? The answer is no, because we always feel how we feel, regardless of whether or not we should. The only person whose behavior you have control over is you, so let us look at what your options are.

 

Option 1: Stay in the relationship as it stands now

Whether or not you are aware of it, this is what you are doing already. You must understand that you are choosing to do this; no one is forcing you to. Look at your boyfriend and see if you can imagine having a long-term relationship with him just the way he is now. Imagine yourself in this relationship during the good times as these are the ones that attract you to your boyfriend. Think about how attached you are to having these times. Ask yourself if you really need your boyfriend to have good times, or if he just makes it easier for you. Take a good look at how you feel about him when you two are having a good time.

Once you have a good picture of what you love about your boyfriend, try to look at the last two or three months of you relationship and see how much of it has been spent in these good times, and how much of it has been “miserable” as you said. Now imagine yourself in a long-term relationship that includes all the hard times. How much of the past few months have been spent on these? Can you see yourself dealing with these episodes of unhappiness over years? If you believe the good times are worth living through the hard times, then you will probably stay with him. Just remember, you absolutely can leave, it’s just very hard.

If this is the option you decide on, then I recommend you find things that you love doing on your own. When your boyfriend is in one of his funks, just leave him to it and go do the things you love doing without him. Let him know you’re there for him when he’s ready to come around, but you refuse to be his depository for negative feelings when he’s upset at someone else.

 

Option 2: Stay in the relationship and seek professional couples therapy

This option, of course, depends on whether or not your boyfriend is open to seeking couples therapy. You both need to be invested in this relationship and really motivated to make it work. If this is not the case, then you will be wasting your time and money on therapy. Either way, suggesting therapy will give you a good indication of how much your boyfriend wants to stay with you, and how willing he is to help make things better between the two of you.

If you two decide to take this path, then the therapy will teach each of you techniques to communicate with each other. A good therapist will never take sides, and will always give each of you the opportunity to talk. The therapy environment will be a safe one in which you each can express your frustrations. The therapist will help you work through these frustrations and will help the two of you understand each other better. I am a big advocate of therapy, and have seen many couples improve their relationship tremendously.

Couples therapy can be a double-edged sword. You will get to know your partner in deeper ways than ever before. This is usually good, because understanding your partner will help you be more compassionate and sympathetic. Every once in a while, however, you may find out something about your partner that will give you serious doubts about whether or not you want to be with such a person at all! I believe this is a good outcome as well. If your partner has character traits that are absolutely incompatible with yours, then better find out sooner than later. In your case, for example, I wonder if you really want to be with a man who picked an aggressive, angry, mean, dishonest, and cheating person for a wife. What does that say about him as a person? Does he think he deserves to be punished all the time? Does he think you’re too good for him, and is therefore sabotaging the relationship? For your own sake, give serious thought to his true personality, and see if you even like him as a person.

 

Option 3: Count your losses and leave now

Leaving any kind of a relationship, romantic or not, is emotionally painful. In our attempt to avoid the pain, or to avoid hurting the ones we care for, we end up staying in relationships way after they have lived out their course and become toxic. Still, we continue to stay; we even convince ourselves that we “can’t” leave the relationship. Meanwhile, we end up feeling a lot more pain rather than avoiding it. We also end up hurting the people that we were trying not to hurt!

When you say you “can’t” leave your boyfriend, I assume it’s either because it’s too painful for you, or you are afraid that it will hurt him too much. Ask yourself how much pain you are experiencing by staying in this relationship. Are you really better off with this never-ending pain, rather than just leaving and focusing on mending your broken heart? You are stuck in a situation that you are very unhappy with. Leave it. Move on. I see people in my practice all the time that are completely out of touch with who their partner really is. They hold on to the good times they had in their relationship, even though the good times are long gone, and the partner’s true personality has revealed itself. They live in this fantasy world in which the “good” partner will somehow magically reappear. I’ve seen people throw their entire lives away waiting for their true partner to become their fantasy partner.

If you’re staying in this relationship because you don’t want to hurt your boyfriend, then seriously look and see if you’re not hurting him more by staying. Would you like to be in a relationship where your boyfriend is only staying with you out of pity? I would think not. The same is probably true about your boyfriend. You are not really doing him a favor by staying with him even though you want to leave. By staying with him, you are allowing him to continue to behave the way he does, going back and forth with his emotions and his behavior. You are not giving him the opportunity to learn that he can’t treat people this way. You are also taking away from him the possibility that he may meet someone who can tolerate his situation more easily.

Those of us who go through life avoiding pain and hurting others, ultimately end up living in constant pain and hurting everyone. Find your strength, never give into the “I can’t do it” pattern, and do what is best for you.

 

In conclusion, whatever you decide, I want you to know that you have choices. I hope this article will empower you to take control of your own well-being.

Words to live by:

If you don’t think you have a choice, then you don’t have freedom. Dr. Jim Turrell



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About Doctor Life Advice

Doctor Beheshti

I am a compassionate and well trained psychiatric doctor, and I spend my days talking to others and helping them with their daily issues and problems. I have come to understand that all of us, regardless of our backgrounds and our life stories - every one of which is unique - share similar wants and needs.

I love my job which allows me to hear unique stories and help each of my clients individually. Although I cannot take the place of your doctor, I would love to hear your story too and perhaps provide some advice that will be useful to you, as well as others that will benefit from your story.

I have a sense of humor which comes through in my writings. Please know that I NEVER intend to make light of anyone's painful or sensitive situation. I only use humor because I think sometimes a smile and a little chuckle can go a long way in helping us feel better.

Doctor Life Advice is written and maintained by Sayeh Beheshti, M.D., M.A., a private practice psychiatrist in Newport Beach, CA.


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