Dear Wayne and Wanda,
My partner and I have been together for 16 years; we are not married. We have two teenage children. Four years ago, we decided to have another baby, and had our daughter, who is now 3 years old. I then got pregnant again with our son, who is 2. When I was pregnant with my son, I found out that my partner was regularly talking with his ex girlfriend from middle school, and had been carrying on this relationship since my previous pregnancy.
I was six months pregnant at the time and felt very betrayed, trying to understand why he would do that to me. He really never gave me any answers. When I was critical of her and their involvement, he would get defensive and angry and would say he was sorry and wouldn’t do it again.
Well, he lied. I just learned he’s still been in almost daily contact with her. I was so mad that I end up calling her. She said nothing physical is going on, they just talk every other day.
He said he wasn’t sure why he did it again and was sorry, that it is just friendly chat between them. He said he wanted to tell me but he knew I would get mad so that’s why he didn’t tell me.
I don’t believe or trust him. I know I keep him around because of our children. We’ve been arguing every day because I keep thinking he’s doing other stuff on his phone. I don’t know what to do. Should I leave or try to work out the relationship? Any advice will be greatly appreciated.
There’s nothing wrong with having friendships outside one’s romantic relationship; I would even argue that’s healthy and important. But when those friendships are with someone with whom we share romantic history, things can quickly grow complicated, toeing a gray area of impropriety, or clearly crossing into emotional infidelity.
In this case, your partner has crossed the line. He knew you felt betrayed by his secretive relationship with his ex, promised to stop, and didn’t. His correspondence with her isn’t occasional or a one-off — it’s a habit, and at this point, a regular part of his life. Your reaction is justifiable. This is a very real threat to your relationship. As things stand, another woman is competing for or even supplanting your role as your partner’s primary source of comfort and care. And his dishonesty has damaged your trust.
It must feel overwhelming on many levels to consider ending a long relationship with four children involved. If you’re going to make it work, you have to focus on repairing the trust and prioritizing communication — which means he needs to be communicating with you, not his ex. You can’t fix this alone. He has to also be willing to commit and he needs to be honest with himself and you about why he maintained this other relationship. This conversation won’t be easy, but it’s the first step toward fixing things.
Sorry to hear all of this. There are no easy answers and there are no smooth roads ahead. You’ve had a wild ride with this man but now it’s time to stop thinking and acting as a couple and focus on your happiness and future: shift all of your energy directly onto what is best for you and your kids moving forward. No more consideration about what your boyfriend(?) says, thinks or promises. What is going to put you into the best position to move forward with as little pain and drama as possible?
If you feel it’s best to attempt to stick it out with your man, then he must meet all of your demands — ending all questionable communications with other women, making you and your kids his No. 1 priority, being honest and open with you, and living up to his promises. Whatever else you feel you’re missing — a wedding commitment? — or need to move past his betrayal, demand it. If you want to see a couples counselor with him, book one — and he’d better be there with you, notebook in hand.
But if you feel you’ve given all you can, that you cannot move past his string of lies and deceit, that you simply can’t trust him anymore, that you’ll always be anxious and never be happy with him again, then it’s time to move on. I know you aren’t married, but you’ve been together forever so it wouldn’t hurt to talk to a divorce lawyer to see how to protect the best interests of you and your kids. Find a therapist to help you discover some clarity and eventual closure. And bring in a mediator to hopefully minimize the collateral damage of the divorce process on your kids.
Again, this is about your peace and happiness now. Your kids need you at your best. And you deserve it. Good luck.