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Alone on Christmas

Partner resents boyfriend running off to parents every year

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Merry Christmas, gay news, Washington Blade
Merry Christmas, gay news, Washington Blade

(Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

Michael,
 
My boyfriend is going to leave me at home to spend Christmas with his parents, yet again.
 
Neil and I have been together for five years and I’ve never even been invited to meet his parents.  They live in a nearby suburb but don’t know I exist.
 
Otherwise Neil is a great boyfriend. He’s loving and very attentive to me. We always have a lot to talk about and are interested in each others’ lives and work. He knows how to soothe me when I’m sad. Because he is with me, I feel safe in the world, I think for the first time in my life. That’s saying a lot because I am in my 50s.
 
But when Neil goes to his parents for Christmas without me, I feel so lonely. I don’t have many friends and my own family turned their backs on me long ago because I am trans.
 
Neil is worried that his parents, older and not open-minded, would kick us both out of the house if I showed up (I think they’d clock me), and then stop talking to him.
 
His parents are both in their late 80s, practically homebound with many health problems. He says they need his help and he wants to spend their last Christmases with them.
 
I’m not sure how to talk to Neil about this without crying or getting angry.

I’m wondering if I should tell Neil he has to choose. That feels mean but it also feels mean that he is leaving me every Christmas. I don’t mind that he goes over every Saturday for a few hours to take care of them, but being left alone each year on Christmas is hard.

Michael replies:

I’m sorry, I know it is painful to be treated as “less than” because you are different.

You could tell Neil he must choose you or lose you, but threatening consequences unless your partner does your bidding is a dangerous move. Once you introduce this dynamic into a relationship, it’s difficult to stop.

Instead, I suggest that you back off the precipice by having a conversation or series of conversations that might bring you and Neil closer.

How? Start by acknowledging how hard it is to talk when you have two different positions on such an important matter. This move alone might soften the mood between you. Keeping in mind what you love about each other as you speak could help you keep relatively calm. Striving to listen with empathy, rather than focusing on your rebuttal, would likely make it easier for each of you to understand your partner’s position.

Regarding Neil’s fears of parental rejection: I would encourage him to get clarity about whether he is keeping you secret out of fear or based on where his parents might actually stand. Perhaps they are more open-minded than he thinks, or would be willing to stretch to accept the two of you rather than lose their son’s support. Perhaps not.

If Neil won’t shift, you will have decide whether you’re willing to live with him as he is: a guy who loves you, soothes you, makes you feel safe and leaves you alone for Christmas to visit his ill, possibly closed-minded parents.

Working as a couples therapist for the past two decades, I’ve learned that at some points, all of us are bound to be gravely disappointed by our significant other. That just comes with being in a relationship: two people sometimes want very different things. We do best when we strive to be resilient at those times.

If you decide to stay, how might you find a way to be more at peace with Neil’s choice?

You might consider seeing Neil’s devotion to his parents in a positive light. While it’s painful to have him choose them over you on Christmas, he is generous in his willingness to love his parents, care for them and keep them company on the holiday, even if they may be putting conditions on their acceptance of him.

You might consider working to deepen your existing friendships and perhaps build some new ones, given how lonely you are when Neil is gone. We’re all better off when we don’t rely too much on just one other person for companionship. You might have a lovely Christmas if you had a few close friends to celebrate with even if Neil celebrates elsewhere.

And of course, you and Neil could have an early or late Christmas celebration just for the two of you, even if this were not exactly how you would like it to be.

You could also end this relationship because you don’t want to accept Neil’s behavior toward you at Christmastime. As you note, you’d be giving up a lot of good and you would certainly be heartbroken.  But you would be proving a point.

The question is, would proving that point be worth all that you would lose?

Michael Radkowsky, Psy.D. is a licensed psychologist who works with LGBT couples and individuals in D.C. He can be found online at michaelradkowsky.com. All identifying information has been changed for reasons of confidentiality. Have a question? Send it to [email protected].

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Advice

After 16 years together, my wife suddenly wants children

‘I don’t want to be stuck in restrictive heteronormativity’

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Dear Michael,

A few months ago you answered a letter from a guy who wanted a baby but his boyfriend didn’t. I’m in the opposite situation. Carol and I have been together for 16 years (we’re married) and all of a sudden she wants to have a baby. This was never on the table until her dad died last year suddenly of a heart attack.  

Since then she’s been a different person. She tells me that she wants to focus on something “bigger” than just enjoying life and also wants some sort of sense that “life will go on.”

To me, being queer has always meant that we get to fully live life in the present, for us.  We don’t have to focus on having kids and all that entails: fertility stuff, sleep deprivation, diapers, babysitters, PTA obligations, college tuition, etc. Let straight people deal with those headaches while I enjoy myself. 

I don’t want to be stuck in restrictive heteronormativity, giving my time and energy to a kid who’s going to go from crying to whining to tantrums to rebellion to not talking to me. And then expect me to pay their bills after they’re 18.  

And why crowd the planet even more? In my opinion, having a baby on this planet is selfish sentimentality.

Carol and I always saw 100 percent eye-to-eye on this issue but now she’s gone over to the other side. I have shared all of the above to shake some sense into her but haven’t gotten anywhere. This was not our agreement at all.

I know you can’t change someone else, but doesn’t she owe our relationship a commitment to the life we already agreed on? I’ve suggested grief counseling but she says no.

Michael replies:

No one owes their partner a commitment to not change. It’s a guarantee that we all change over time. Relationships challenge us to stay with someone as we both evolve in big and sometimes unexpected ways over the years. There’s no way around this challenge if you want to stay happily married. 

It’s also true that you don’t have to keep living with someone who changes in ways you don’t want to accommodate. So, if Carol is certain that she wants to be a mom and if you are certain that you don’t, you can leave.

It makes sense that you’re sad and angry (putting it mildly) when your wife suddenly wants to completely upend your life. That said, you’re not going to improve your marriage by criticizing Carol or insulting her wish to parent. And if you pressure her to give up a deeply held wish, she will likely resent you.

Instead of these tactics, how about being curious regarding her desire to parent? What “bigger” meaning is she hoping to get from life? How does she think her father’s untimely death affected her, not just on this issue but possibly in other ways as well?

There’s great value in being curious about our partners’ differences rather than contemptuous or critical. That’s a path toward greater intimacy, in that we get to deeply understand the person we are spending our life with. While you may not stay with Carol, you still might want to have a close and caring relationship with the woman you’ve spent 16 years with. Understanding her better might also help you make some peace with her desire to parent.

I also want to encourage you to consider that there are many ways to be gay, lesbian, queer — to be just about anything. You could say it’s “heteronormative” to want to parent; but you could also view it as a common human (and non-human) desire that is unrelated to sexual orientation. Carol has different ideas for how she wants to live. This doesn’t mean that she is foolish.

I’m curious about why you have such an unrelentingly negative view about parenting and kids. Is it possible that you’ve had some tough experiences in your life that have shaped this view? 

I’m not pushing you to change your mind, but you might consider talking with some parents to get some sense of what parenting, and children, are actually like. 

You might open up your thinking, and your heart. You might decide you are willing to lean in Carol’s direction, or you might not. In any case, I’m hopeful that you would get a more balanced picture of what parenting and childhood can be. 

Michael Radkowsky, Psy.D. is a licensed psychologist who works with couples and individuals in D.C. He can be found online at michaelradkowsky.com. All identifying information has been changed for reasons of confidentiality. Have a question? Send it to [email protected].

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Advice

Should I divorce my husband for the hot new guy in our building?

Debating whether to leave or stay after the sex goes cold

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Dear Michael,

I’ve been with my husband for 10 years and the sex is pretty much gone. It stopped being exciting a long time ago and pretty much the only time we ever do it is with the occasional third.

A really hot guy moved into our building about a year ago. We would see each other sometimes in the elevator or at our building’s gym and we started talking and really hit it off. Mark is 15 years younger than I but we seem to have a lot in common. We started hooking up and the sex is amazing.

I haven’t told my husband because it’s breaking our rule about no repeats. I have to say that the secrecy is hot. It’s kind of a thrill to take the elevator upstairs when I say I’m going on an errand. But it’s more than that. I have a connection with Mark that is far more amazing than what I have ever felt with my husband. Not just the sex. We just enjoy being together, talking about anything and everything.

My husband went to visit his family last weekend and I spent the whole time with Mark. Since then I can’t stop thinking that I want to leave my husband and be with Mark.

Part of me thinks this is a crazy mid-life crisis. I mean, this kid’s in a totally different place in life. But we have mind-blowing sex and a fantastic connection. I’d like your thoughts on how to proceed.

Michael replies: 

You’ve got a lot to consider.

First: Sex with a long-term partner changes over time. It tends to be less about erotic heat and more about the connection with a person whom you love. In other words, it’s being with the person you’re with that makes the sex meaningful and even great. Having a good sexual relationship with a long-term partner comes far more from a heart connection than from a crotch attachment.  

Second: You seem ready to throw your relationship under the bus pretty quickly, without addressing other problems in the relationship besides sex. When you are sneaking around, lying, and rule-breaking , I don’t see how you can look your husband in the eye; and if you can’t look him in the eye, you certainly can’t have even a half-way decent relationship.

Yet another point to consider: Affairs pretty much always seem more exciting than marriage. The partner is new, which almost automatically makes the sex hotter; the secrecy is a thrill; and you don’t have to deal with paying the rent, house chores, and all the petty annoyances of living up-close with someone day-in, day-out.  

You are bringing lots of energy to your affair, and everything about it is exciting. You are bringing no energy — at least no positive energy — to your marriage. You get what you put into a relationship.

Divorce is not something that should be entered into lightly. Be aware that if you leave your husband for Mark, you will no doubt find over time that the sex becomes less exciting and that the connection is not always fantastic. No surprise, 75 percent of marriages that begin with affair partners end in divorce. While I don’t think statistics predict what will happen to any particular couple, believing that you will have a significantly better relationship with your affair partner than you did with your husband sets you up for likely disappointment.

Many gay men focus on “hot sex” as the big draw, pursuing a lot of sex with a lot of men, and/or pursuing an ongoing series of relationships that last until the sex cools. If that’s what you want, that’s fine. But it’s a different path from pursuing a close and loving long-term relationship, which involves knowing someone well and having him know you well; collaborating on getting through the hard stuff life throws at us; finding ways to make peace with disappointment; and consistently striving to be someone worth being married to. 

How to proceed? While you are the only person who should make that decision, I would suggest that whatever your choice, keep in mind that marriage can be more than what you’ve made of it, so far.

Michael Radkowsky, Psy.D. is a licensed psychologist who works with couples and individuals in D.C. He can be found online at michaelradkowsky.com. All identifying information has been changed for reasons of confidentiality. Have a question? Send it to [email protected].

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Advice

Giving up drinking is killing our relationship

What happens when one partner is sober and the other isn’t

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I’m a 38-year-old guy, was single for most of my 30s, which I didn’t like at all, and I finally met a great guy last Memorial Day Weekend. 

Until New Year’s I would have said that everything was going great. I was on Cloud Nine. Eric is kind, handsome, smart, and a great catch.

But in December he decided to do “Dry January.” It was kind of on a whim I think. We were out with some friends and one of them said he was not going to drink at all for the month of January. He thought alcohol was playing too big a role in his life so he wanted to see what life would be like without it. Another friend said he would do it too, and then Eric said he would.

I wish we hadn’t gone out that night and then this whole thing wouldn’t have happened.

So, as the month progressed, Eric started talking more and more about how much better he was feeling without alcohol in his body or his life.

I don’t think we drank that much pre-January. Yes, we’d have something to drink every time we went out, with friends or just together, but not to excess.

At some point, Eric started saying that he wasn’t really enjoying going out with our friends, as he wasn’t drinking and they were (except the two friends who were also doing the Dry January thing). This meant I’d either go out without him (which I didn’t like) or we’d stay home, or go out just the two of us. But then if I’m drinking and he’s not, it just feels awkward. He hasn’t said anything but I feel like he’s judging me whenever I have a drink.

I was hoping he’d relax about the whole thing at the end of the month but now he’s decided he doesn’t want to drink anymore at all.

To make matters worse, he says that the month made him think more about the big role alcohol plays in his life (his words) and he has started going to Alcoholics Anonymous meetings.

So where does this leave me? I do want to keep drinking. I’m just a social drinker and I don’t have a problem with alcohol. I think it adds a fair amount of fun to my life. Plus, all my friends drink (including the two who did Dry January) and it’s a big part of our socializing. If you don’t drink when everyone else is drinking, it’s really not fun and it feels weird.

At this point Eric doesn’t go out with the friend group we were going out with because he doesn’t have a good time as the only non-drinker. (I get it, that’s one of the reasons I drink when my friends are drinking.) So I go out sometimes without him, which as I mentioned doesn’t feel so good, and which I don’t think is great for our relationship; or I don’t go out with my friends, which I don’t like.

I love Eric and I could see us having a great life together but his not drinking has opened what feels like a chasm between us.

How do couples handle this situation, where one person wants to stop drinking and the other does not? The impact is seeming increasingly huge to me and I don’t see how to make it stop being a divisive problem.

Michael replies:

I don’t think that Eric’s sobriety needs to be a divisive problem, if you can tolerate that you don’t get to have your life with Eric be exactly as you would like. 

This is the same dilemma that everyone in a serious relationship must face. Our partners are always different from us in some important ways, even if it doesn’t seem that way at first. And we have to figure out how to live with these differences, contentedly for the most part.  Our partners face the same challenge. 

Of course, not every difference can be (or should be) resolvable. For example, if one person is determined to parent and the other person is determined to be child-free, it makes great sense to part ways — unless one person decides they’d rather stay with their partner than have it their way.  

You and Eric have to figure out if your differences around alcohol are a deal-breaker, or if you can find a way to build a solid relationship, even as you drink socially and he is sober.

Whether and how you do this are for the two of you to figure out.  That said, here are some ideas for your consideration: 

  • Can you accept Eric’s not joining you for some or even many of your social activities?
  • Can you and Eric talk about what might help him be more comfortable joining your friends now and then?
  • Can you ask Eric what it’s like for him when you are drinking, rather than assuming that he is judging you? (Important question for your consideration: What led you to make that assumption rather than asking him?)
  • If Eric is making friends in Alcoholics Anonymous, would you want to join him at times when he socializes with them? 

The main ingredients here are generosity, flexibility, collaboration, and curiosity.

Speaking of curiosity, rather than wishing that the two of you had missed that invitation to participate in Dry January, how about being curious about Eric’s decision to stop drinking? I suspect that your dismissiveness has a negative impact on his desire to be close to or confide in you. If you are curious about this important life change that Eric is undertaking, you will certainly learn a lot about your boyfriend, and likely deepen your connection.

Michael Radkowsky, Psy.D. is a licensed psychologist who works with couples and individuals in D.C. He can be found online at michaelradkowsky.com. All identifying information has been changed for reasons of confidentiality. Have a question? Send it to [email protected].

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