Dear Neil: I have lived with my boyfriend for 10 months. A couple of weeks ago he went out with a long-time female friend of his, and he didn’t get home until 3 a.m. on a Tuesday night. I questioned him about where he was, and he said “at a bar,” which I later found out doesn’t open on Tuesday night.
I don’t question his faithfulness; it is the dishonesty that has effected me so much. Why lie to me? I became angry and reactive, and since that time it is obvious that the relationship has changed.
I have asked him to tell me if he feels confident about a future together and he says he will let me know. I am now feeling very anxious. I feel “on trial.” Can you recommend how to deal with this knowing that the relationship may be over?
Anxious In New Zealand
Dear Anxious: You sound as if your boyfriend is the only person who must make a choice about the future of the relationship. But that is not so. You both have to decide if there are enough positives to outweigh the negatives—enough warmth, affection, friendship, compatibility, respect, depth, relationship skills and love to sustain the relationship over the long haul.
Even if your answer is “yes,” don’t give away what’s important to you. Two people committed to each other agree on certain codes of behavior they both live by. It sounds as if your relationship is being forced to create such agreements. So sit down with each other and address the following questions thoroughly. Consider each question in light of what you want for the future.
What are your expectations about sexual fidelity? About opposite-sex friendships? About honesty? About when and under which circumstances it’s okay to mislead or deceive the other person? About when one person is going to be late, is that person responsible for letting the other know, and leaving the phone number about where and with whom they’re going to be with?
Are you agreeing to be a team—facing the world together—or are you agreeing to be two separate individuals? If you are agreeing to the latter, when are you answerable to the other person? Are each person’s needs and desires treated as important, or is one party’s wishes and feelings more important than the other’s? Are both partner’s input about major decisions solicited and considered important, or are major decisions made unilaterally?
How do the two of you show or demonstrate that you care about each other, and how do you want the other person to show that s/he cares about (loves, needs, cherishes) you? Are you committed to each other? How solid is that commitment? Do you feel liked by your partner? Accepted? Respected? Approved of? Valued for your contribution to the relationship? If not, what do you want different?
The disagreement between you and your boyfriend does not mean that your relationship needs to end. It means that your relationship needs to deepen, and that the two of you would be extremely wise to be talking and negotiating about what kind of relationship you’re trying to have, and how you expect to achieve such a relationship.