Advice Column

I have been with a man for 17 years who loves my three children (23, 18 and 17) from a previous marriage, and vice versa. We live in a home I have owned from before our relationship. We have had some rough patches due to money problems and family interference.

My partner went back to a trade after closing a failing business that long kept him in debt. We are in fair shape now, but I often worked two jobs to pay the bills when the kids were growing.

He has always told his mom one-sided views of our relationship. Now, she is trying to lure her son back to a relationship with a girl he dated in his early 20s. She never married and calls him constantly on his cell (he returns calls to her). His mother also wants him to buy a house of his own. His parents are fairly well off and have a home in Florida, but no one in the family has ever had the guts to tell mom to butt out of their business. He is going to Florida for Thanksgiving, and I think mom is secretly inviting the girl.

How do I handle this meddlesome mother? I cannot talk to my boyfriend about this. He worships his mom, and I am always on the losing end. He says he loves me but tells our friends that if he gets a house, we can recapture the romance we once had. How do I make him see he can love his mom but needs to keep her out of our lives? How do I get her to stop disrespecting me and the kids in this manner?

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I have told him if he doesn't want to straighten out our relationship, he needs to go. He said I need to go to court if I want him out. That would be too hard emotionally after fighting an ex for child support for 20 years, and the kids would run to his side. D.C.

With you ordering Loverboy to leave, is it really a surprise that mom's looking out for his social life? The absence of marriage may especially encourage her to declare open season on her son, but she's been allowed to intrude in his affairs for decades. Married or not, most offspring with an intact backbone would have established firmer boundaries long ago.

The problem is not the meddlesome mom but the compliant son her overprotection spawned. Sure, meddling moms are hard to deal with, but Loverboy doesn't seem to be playing on your team at all. You don't treat him as a grownup, and you don't help matters by shifting all blame to mom.

Perhaps you really would rather work it out, but delivering ultimatums doesn't further that goal -- since you don't know how and neither does he. So, you're stuck lobbing poison darts at each other. That's a handy outlet for resentment and you've got lots to resent -- his failure to stand up to mom, the sacrifices you made for the team you thought you were both on, his failure to pay you back in some meaningful way and, now, his receptiveness to an old flame -- but it's poison to a household. It may be creating a harsh climate for everyone, even your own children, making the siren calls of an old flame welcome relief.

Hiding under any resentment is pain. It's time to let yourself feel it -- and to tell Loverboy (nicely!!) how deeply you are hurt. Also tell him what you want for the future, and precisely what you would like him to do to help bring it about. Although that's what created the problem in the first place, it sounds like he's open to suggestions from reasonable-sounding women.

If he can't respond empathically, calmly speak your disappointment and set a date for his departure. Also ponder the lessons learned. In this case, a marriage license would have helped deter mom's most egregious moves. I'm very attached to someone I have been seeing for the last two years. When I am with him, he acts like he really, really likes me -- loving, thoughtful and affectionate. But, he doesn't do anything to encourage the relationship and leaves all the calling to me. The only effort he puts out is to ask me to come over. Then he abruptly stops seeing me for weeks at a time. He says he doesn't want to get too attached, since he is moving to another state within the next two to five years. I try to understand this but feel a big sense of rejection. I have made him a big part of my life. Rita

You are discovering the hard way that relationships feel good only when they are mutual. The real issue is, why are you so heavily interested in someone who isn't reciprocating interest in an active way and repeatedly delivers fresh blows of rejection?

.Deep down, do you think relationships are supposed to be difficult or that guys are supposed to be reluctant partners? What beliefs do you have about love, relationships or yourself that allow you to settle for disrespect and hurt?

It's possible that Rejectorboy doesn't understand that relationships require effort by both parties, or maybe he isn't aware of the pain his nonactions cause. It's also possible that he really does have a deep-seated fear of developing an emotional attachment.

But, don't you wonder what he is doing all those weeks he stops seeing you? Is he married or seeing someone else (male or female)? Does he hole up with work?

You need to know what's really going on. Try notching down your level of activity to about his level of interest for several weeks -- don't call, don't take the initiative. If that doesn't motivate him to assume more responsibility for contact, that's a strong clue to move on. If he calls, be friendly, but make no offer to come over. If he asks you to come over, tell him you'd love to see him but that you'd rather that he came over to see you. If you and Rejectorboy are ever going to have a relationship, there must be some balance of effort -- since effort communicates interest.

If it doesn't work, remember that not everything that goes wrong in a relationship is about you. Maybe he just has other issues to sort out in his life.

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