Columnist and trained counsellor Fiona Caine responds to a man who is unsure whether it’s worth – or possible – trying to save his relationship
“I’ve been seeing a beautiful and caring woman for the past 11 years, but we only lived together for about five of those, in a home I purchased. I’ve wanted to marry her from the first day I met her, but every time I’ve brought it up, she says we don’t have the building blocks to do something that permanent.
“I’ll admit things have been bumpy; although we lived together, we often led separate lives. For example, she has three girls from a previous partner and did many school events with them, to which I was never invited because the girls’ father was going to be there.
“Her 21-year-old daughter is a single parent and has been a constant source of problems – she does what she wants, when she wants, and she’s always been like this. Her mother makes it easy for her; she and her baby lived with us for a while, and she continues to live with her mother to this day.
“We always seemed to have other members of her family staying too; her mother decided she wanted a fresh start and moved in with us shortly after we moved in together. She stayed with us for a year, and it only ended because I demanded she move out – but then we let her brother and his wife move into our rental property, another nightmare. They paid the rent infrequently and were not good tenants, so we didn’t part on good terms when I kicked them out.
“Then three years ago, I had an affair with a colleague, though I am not sure you can call it an affair because the woman I care for and I were never legally married. Anyway, my colleague and I had a baby – but I still didn’t want to leave my significant other, although I was also not going to leave my daughter without a father. I managed to get joint custody and my daughter lives with me 50% of the time, but my significant other has since moved out.
“We continue to see each other, and we even say we’re together, but there are no plans to live together anytime soon. Much as I miss her, I don’t miss her lazy daughter, but maybe it’s asking too much of her to love another woman’s kid. One way or another, I’ve devoted a lot of time and energy to this relationship, but I’m not sure I was ever getting what I wanted and wonder if it’s time to cut my losses.”
“You describe this woman as your ‘significant other’. But from the start of your relationship together, you’ve not been the only person in her life. She is obviously deeply committed to her family and, whatever you may think of her daughter, I suspect she loves her greatly.
“You tell me you often led separate lives; that she was still sufficiently in touch with the children’s father to attend school events with him. You also tell me you had an affair with a colleague – doesn’t this all add up to something for you? You have never been loved enough by this woman and it seems like you never will be. You looked for love and affection elsewhere – and perhaps you found it, although for reasons best known to you and to your colleague, you’ve decided not to make a future with her.
“The child you have with your colleague is not just ‘another woman’s kid’. Had you had this daughter before you met your ‘significant other’ it might have been completely different, but the child is now a constant reminder that your relationship together wasn’t enough.
“By the sound of it, it has never been enough – she has always wanted others around her, be it her mother, her daughter, her brother. Isn’t this a clue for you that how ever much you may care for her, she needs more than you can give her?
“You ask if it’s time to cut your losses, but that’s only something you can decide. If you are willing to accept things as they are, then the relationship will probably continue in the same vein – I honestly cannot see it changing. If you’re not, then yes, perhaps it is time you looked for love elsewhere. Might that be with your colleague? If not her, then at least another woman who wouldn’t have to look at your child and know however much she cared for you, it wasn’t enough to stop you looking for love elsewhere.”
If you have a problem you need help with, email Fiona by writing to firstname.lastname@example.org for advice. All letters are treated in complete confidence and, to protect this privacy, Fiona is unable to pass on your messages to other readers. Fiona regrets that she cannot enter into personal correspondence.