I have been with my partner for just under 10 years. We were 20 when we got together and so have grown and changed over this time. I currently have two major problems in the relationship that I don’t know how to resolve.
First, I was very insecure when we got together and, as he is very confident and intelligent, I tended to worship him and follow everything he said. Now I am more confident, and feel intelligent and strong, but he still treats me like a little girl. He instructs me on how to do things and can never take advice from me. I don’t feel respected as his equal. This is very frustrating as I tend to feel crap about myself around him, though when I am with friends or colleagues I feel wonderful about myself. The thing is that he is like this with everyone, not just me, so I am not sure how this could change.
The second problem is that he doesn’t want to have children, but wants to adopt. I think this is because he suffers from anxiety and doesn’t want to pass this on, though he doesn’t say this to me. I desperately want to have at least one biological child, and also to adopt. If I don’t have my own child, I feel I would be giving in to his power and letting him decide once again.
He is very closed-off and isn’t that interested in other people. He is very social, but does not really open up or want other people to open up. His mother is like this too. Aside from all this, he is very affectionate with me and I can see that he is hurting when I am pulling away from him. I am still attracted to him, but I just don’t know if we can resolve these problems of power and communication, and if he does not want to have babies with me, should we even try? To make things worse, we are travelling overseas together and will be for the next four months, and so we are both isolated from any other support systems. I am communicating with friends and family about all this, but I am sure he is not.
Please help me. I am so lost.
F via email
Actually, you are not as lost as you think, but you are not listening to your inner voice because what it is saying is scaring you.
As you have said yourself, you have both changed a great deal in the years you have been together. This happens in your 20s. It is the first decade you have out of the parental home and you are finding out who you are. If you pair up with someone during that time and grow together, then that’s great, but what can happen, as in your case, is that one or both of you discovers more about themselves, grows as a person, and you grow apart.
The most telling line for me in your letter was this one: “I tend to feel crap about myself around him, though when I’m with friends or colleagues I feel wonderful about myself.” An editor once told me that you know you’ve found the right person to be with when they love you “when you’re most yourself”. Whatever that “self” is: bossy, shy, confident, timid, etc. This isn’t happening here, and I think you need to think very carefully about what to do next. It is not that I think the problems you both have are insurmountable – they aren’t. But it is whether you want to overcome them and whether he wants to meet you halfway.
The children thing is something to think about really carefully. It is perfectly acceptable to want to adopt, but it is also perfectly acceptable to want a biological child. I don’t really understand how him not wanting to pass on his anxieties impacts on how he has children. Without getting into the whole nurture versus nature debate, his personality will, in either case, have a bearing on what sort of parent he is. This anxiety is an aspect of his personality he may wish to address in counselling. Or he may not. That’s up to him. You, meanwhile, need to be careful of trying to explain away the parts of his personality you find difficult because of his childhood experiences, or whatever. If you are not careful, you could spend a lifetime making excuses for your partner while never really getting what you want.
This isn’t about him being “bad” and you being “good”. It is about being different and whether those differences can be bridged to give you both a happy life.
If they can’t, you deserve to be free to meet someone else, and so does he. Ten years – a third of your life so far – is a long time to be in a relationship, so this is not going to be easy. But neither is being in the wrong relationship for the rest of your life.
First published in the Guardian Family section on 18th October 2013.