Dear Neil: My boyfriend (not live-in) is very friendly with his ex. They have had an off-and-on intimate relationship over the last 20 years. She sometimes comes to see him in the evening unannounced—cooks him dinner and stays late into the night. This seems disrespectful to me. The trouble is, he asked me if I minded and I didn’t say no. Maybe I should have, but I didn’t want to seem jealous and controlling. I feel caught between a rock and a hard place.
Troubled in New Zealand
Dear Troubled: Tell him you’ve changed your mind, and that you’re increasingly growing uncomfortable with his ex coming to his place unannounced and staying late into the night. Tell him that it is now feeling disrespectful and threatening to you, and ask him to curtail those visits.
You’ll learn a lot from his answer. An intimate relationship asks each of us to be responsive to the wishes, tastes, fears and sensitivities of the other person. That means your boyfriend—if he cares about you and wishes to further a relationship with you—must be attentive to your feelings, needs and concerns, even if he doesn’t agree with you.
The same is true of you, by the way. You must also be respectful that he values his relationship with his ex—once you are assured that it is not a romantic or sexual relationship. If it is a sexual or extremely affectionate relationship, tell him you won’t accept that.
But if that relationship is friendly but not romantic or sexual, it need not threaten you. Look at what you would need from him in order to be OK with that relationship. For instance, would you want to be there when she comes over, or would you like the unscheduled visits to change? Whatever it is, see if you can’t negotiate with him about how he could maintain a friendship with her in a way that doesn’t threaten you or your sense of security, and that gives you all the assurance you need that he is yours and yours only.
A healthy relationship values your feelings and his. Your desires and his. Your needs and his. See if you can co-create such a relationship with him.
Dear Neil: I would like to know whether communication is a necessary factor in a relationship. I had a boyfriend who texted and e-mailed me a lot in the beginning. He wanted to be with me and do things with me. Then after he came back from a six month trip, he spent most of his time away from me and his e-mails became factual rather than personal. Is it reasonable to want e-mail and text contact with someone during the day? To me it means that you are thinking of and caring about that person.
Confused in Wellington
Dear Confused: You’re right. Your boyfriend lost interest in you, or developed an interest in someone or something new. Either way, he is communicating that he doesn’t want much contact with you, and yes, that feels awful.
Decide what it is you want or need from him in order for you to be happy in this relationship, and tell him straightforwardly what it is. If he is willing to accommodate to your requests, there is hope. If he isn’t, he is telling you he no longer wishes to be in a relationship with you. If that’s the case, let him go and find someone who wants you.