Dear Neil: I am a 25 year-old divorced mother. My boyfriend and I recently moved to the same neighborhood to be close to each other, but ever since then he has gotten moodier and more distant.. This has made me increasingly panicky about our relationship, and when I question him about his motivation for space, he gets angry and says we should break up. I love him very much and would give him the world if it would make us better again. But I feel unimportant, devalued and that he doesn’t respect my feelings. How do we get back to good?
Hot and Cold in Loveland, Colorado
Dear Hot and Cold: Some people want you only when they can’t have you. They’re looking for safety, not connection or closeness. They want only a little bit closeness, and only in “safe” doses. The double messages “come hither” and “stay away” are often given at the same time, so you don’t know how to feel or what to believe.
What you could do is to ask him how he feels about the relationship with you, what he would like different and where he’s both happy and unhappy in the relationship with you. You can ask him what he’s thinking and feeling when he talks about breaking up, and if that’s what he really wants to do.
If he says yes, he wants to break up, engage him in a discussion about why—although you are unlikely to change his mind. If he says breaking up is not what he wants, then tell him that you don’t handle threats well, and that you don’t want him to talk about breaking up again for any reason, but that you’ll be happy to talk about any issue or problem that’s bothering him. Then hold those boundaries firm, or you’ll wind up feeling like a yo-yo.
Dear Neil: I have been married for three years to man everyone loves. The only problem is that he is wonderful to everyone but me. I seem to be the least important person to him. His sister is always asking us for money, help or for his time. She and her husband both have DUI’s, no driver’s licenses, one minimum wage income between them, two children—and she is an alcoholic—drinking every evening at least six beers. We have done all that we can do to help them, but I feel that they now need to start helping themselves. My husband doesn’t see it that way. He will drop everything to do whatever she asks him. I have tried to put my foot down because we have been used over and over again by his sister, but now his family hates me—and he has told me to leave because I will not drop the issue. If I mention anything about the topic, he goes off cursing and screaming at me. I don’t know what to do anymore.
Feeling Unimportant in Montrose, Colorado
Dear Feeling Unimportant: I would recommend that you leave the sister issue alone. You cannot win that battle, and you’re digging yourself further into a hole by trying. But other than the sister issue, specifically what would he be doing differently if he put you first in the relationship? What would help you to feel heard, valued and cherished in your marriage?
Ask your husband for these behaviors instead—and tell him you’ll drop the sister issue entirely—and then do so. If he shows disinterest in the behaviors that you identified that would make you feel more valued, ask him what he would need from you in order for him to come back in the spirit of attempting to make things work between the two of you
A marriage counselor would be an extremely good idea.