by Wendy Olsen, MFT
Q: I’ve been dating my boyfriend for a little over 6 months now. Things started out really great with us. I do a lot of marathons, and triathlons, and he was very supportive of me, always coming out to cheer me on no matter the weather. He is very attentive to my needs and is always doing sweet things for me. The thing is, recently there’s been an abrupt change in his behavior. He gets extremely embarrassed, and angry, when I pay for dinner whenever we go out on dates, as I have a better paying job than he does, which is also something he gets angry about. He has started using language such as, “I will allow that,” or “that’s something I will take under advisement,” when I give him my opinion on a decision we should be making together, such as where to go on vacation or to eat. I’ve come to find out that he has a very “traditionalist” view of the male/female relationship, and adamantly believes that I should be “submissive” to him. This is the first time I’ve ever encountered this type of thing in a relationship and I’m not really sure how to broach this with him. I in no way, shape, or form plan on being submissive to him or anyone else. I think he’s awesome and could see us going further together but this is kind of a major hiccup. What do I do?
Wendy Says: All relationships have their challenges. However, your challenge seems to be in the area of core values. You believe people are equals in a relationship and your boyfriend seems to believe that men rule the roost. Whether his values are borne out of his insecurity in the wage-earning department or they are values instilled in him from birth, it is going to be his default mode when issues challenging his sense of self arise. When you see anger regularly in a new relationship, see it as a big red flag. He may have no idea how often it flares up as it may be a regular occurrence for him. Trying to fix someone’s issues early on is a major remodel project you need to dust your hands of now. He may have his great qualities, but they will always take a backseat to his rage. I would encourage him to do some real work on his anger and attitudes toward women. I would encourage you to find a partner that has similar values to you and a default mode void of anger.
Q: I’ve been with my boyfriend for over a year now and we were planning on moving in together, however, he recently revealed to me that he had been in sexual relationships with other males in his past. I want to flatly state that I am all for equality for everyone, and I know that in this day and age it shouldn’t bother me, but it does. I just don’t really know what to make of it, as it seems weird to me that he used to date men, and is now dating me. I have enough women to be jealous of without now being jealous of guys too. Maybe I’m overreacting but I just think it opens up Pandora’s Box of things down the road in our relationship. He says that past relationships or all the same, men, women, what difference does it make as he’s with me now. Is it wrong that this is bothering me so much?
Wendy Says: One thing is important to understand: feelings are not right or wrong, they just ARE. Feelings don’t think. Actions can be right or wrong. Having said that, I think it’s important that you acknowledge how this new information has made you feel. You feel uncomfortable. That’s okay. You have to decide what to do regarding this new information. Your comment about needing to be jealous of women is a concerning one. Prior to learning that your boyfriend has dated men, did you feel jealous in regards to how he has been around women? If that’s the case, that’s an entirely different issue. Security in a relationship is important. If you trust him completely around women, why not around men? Perhaps he can help you understand any differences, or lack thereof, in his romantic relationships with men and women. What you may find is that he is drawn to similar characteristics in people whether they be male or female. Including his interest in you. We tend to be drawn to what is familiar to us emotionally (more so than physical characteristics.) I would encourage to talk with him about your feelings and to learn more about how he has been in relationships historically. If you notice a pattern of deceit, this relationship is not for you. On the other hand, if you see that he has been a loyal boyfriend to others, chances are quite good that he’ll be the same with you.
Q: My wife and I got married right out of high school and have been together for almost 10 years, and have one child. I love my family, however, the thought that can’t escape from my head is that I got married too young and that I missed out on some of the best years of my life. Several of my friends, who are now just settling down, were able to experience things that I didn’t because I wed so early, and to be honest I’ve always been a bit envious of them. I’m finding myself starting to really resent my decision that I made as a teenager. Things just feel really suffocating right now. I’m not saying that I want to step out on my wife or get divorced, but I do think I really need to reassess things, and maybe we do need a little “break”. I’m not sure how to even bring the subject up with her or if I’m a bad person for doing so? What do you suggest?
Wendy Says: Marrying young and starting a family does present it’s own challenges. Many people question their choices to do so later on when the pressures of family life seem particularly difficult. On the other hand, being single can suck too. It’s not all the fun and games it’s cracked up to be. If one choice were clearly better over the other then everyone would make the same choice. The question you need to ask yourself is: what do I want? If your answer is: to run around with whomever I want doing whatever I want to do for an undetermined amount of time, perhaps you need to think more about the question. You mentioned envying your friends’ freedom as single people. Understandably, a lack of obligation as to where you’ll spend your weekends or evenings after work would be nice sometimes. Is that an arrangement you and your wife can make for each other? In other words, would it be okay for each of you to carve out some free time for yourselves to be with friends or have some alone time? Do you think that would help alleviate some of the resentment you’re feeling? Would that give you a bit of the break you referenced earlier? One person can not meet all of our needs. We need family, friends, colleagues, etc. to give us balance and support. In fact, the better network we have the more we appreciate our partners. In terms of how to bring it up to your wife, you just need to talk with her about the pressures you feel having so much responsibility so young. Tell her how you feel about wishing you had fewer obligations at such a young age. Ask her how she feels about all of her responsibilities at a young age. You can’t go back in time and change things, obviously. You have responsibilities now. You’ve put a lot of time and effort into your life and family and that is extremely valuable. Don’t discount what you have built in your life. Work with your wife to give yourselves some personal perks that might help you appreciate what you have and help to abate the resentment.
Wendy Olsen is a Marriage & Family Therapist, specializing in Sex Therapy. You can find more of her advice at http://www.talk2wendyolsen.com