She Said, He Said: This codependent relationship needs to pump the brakes for a few miles
She Said, He Said
Dear Jeff and Lori,
I’m struggling with letting my guard down in my current relationship. We were both recently separated from our spouses when we met, and he moved in with me very quickly during the first COVID lockdown. Both of our marriages were unhealthy, and I moved quickly to file for divorce. My partner, however, has a son who has been very open about his disapproval of his dad’s choice to leave the marriage. My partner says he is fully committed to me and has proposed, but is afraid that filing for divorce now will sever his relationship with his son. I also know that he’s in regular contact with his wife, and that she still wants to make the marriage work. I feel so insecure right now and keep asking him to finalize his divorce. Am I wrong to feel this way?
Signed, Insecurely In Love
Jeff and Lori: There are really two issues here. The first is the complex process of your partner ending the relationship with the mother of his children, and the second is how that process is impacting the relationship he has with you.
Jeff: Being in the unknown space between a fully committed relationship and no relationship at all is a very challenging experience. You want to know your status and what you truly mean to your partner but you’re going to have to stop seeing it as all-or-nothing. Your story of whether or not he truly loves you seems overly dependent on whether or not he completes the divorce within your time frame. While that certainly would make your relationship and his future intentions more clear, it might also complicate the relationship he has with his son. Learning to be OK in the uncomfortable place of not knowing will allow the relationship to grow on its own timeline, without the pressure of needing to reassure you that everything will go according to plan.
This certainly doesn’t mean that you can’t ask him to set better boundaries with his (hopefully soon to be ex) wife to help you feel more secure. Be clear about what kind of contact you’re OK with and what doesn’t work for you while he navigates the divorce. This process will require a lot of patience and trust that it’s moving in the right direction — although clearly not at the speed you would prefer. If this is too big of an ask for you (and only you can decide what you are capable of), then put things on hold with him until he’s figured out the best way to proceed.
Lori: Take a look at your relationship history. It’s possible you and your partner have codependent patterns, which is why you attached to each other so quickly and why there’s such discomfort for you that he’s not yet divorced. Jumping from one serious relationship into the next is an indication that you don’t feel solid enough emotionally or financially to stand on your own two feet. As a result, you always need to be seeking a rescuer. The challenge with relationships that are formed from codependency is that the responsibility on your partner to make you feel OK (lovable, safe, secure or taken care of) is too great for what any relationship can sustainably give. Then when the partner disappoints, that sense of OK’ness gets shaken. Moreover, how you perceive your partner flips from the rescuer who took care of you to the perpetrator who causes you pain by letting you down.
Your partner was initially seen as the man who would heal the emotional wounds of your painful marriage and now that complications in his life don’t allow you to fully be his priority, you have created a conundrum for him. Either he risks his relationship with his son to take care of you, or he hurts you by giving more time for his first family to grieve the losses of separation and divorce.
Lori and Jeff: It’s OK that you feel insecure, but the solution is not in making your partner create security for you. Your work is in learning to feel solid on your own feet. This relationship has moved way too fast. Slow it down.
Lori and Jeff are married, licensed psychotherapists and couple-to-couple coaches at Aspen Relationship Institute. Submit your relationship questions to info@AspenRelationshipCoaching.com and your query may be selected for a future column. For more relationship advice, subscribe to our “Love Matters” podcast on iTunes.
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Reminded of mortality by the Jewish High Holidays, I’ve been thinking about our 14 ½ year-old puppy, Leo. Though near life’s end, his ever-wagging tail signals he’s loving life.