Advice Column

Answers to difficult questions on commitment in relationships.

By Hara Estroff Marano, published on November 1, 2003 - last reviewed on November 20, 2015

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

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

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

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.