I don’t know if my relationship with my father is at the root of my current problem. He was a workaholic and we did not see much of him; he was volatile and I had little respect for him. He seemed weak to me. I was able to recognise that his physical power did not make up for his lowly status in our home. My mum wielded all the power and still does. He has always provided for us financially and still helps out if necessary.
Then came my ex-husband. He seemed, at first, to be a stronger man. We were OK at first. We had two children and he took on a large part of the childcare, partly because I was the main wage-earner. However, he was always very critical of me, not really able to show love and soon did less around the house. He was also terrible with money, getting into one debt after another. We separated and then divorced after 15 years. I felt obliged morally (and because I was scared of him) to give him half of the proceeds of the sale of our house. I moved to a small house where I still live with my sons. It is not ideal but I have made the most of it. I have a job that I love and great friends.
After five happy years on my own, I started a relationship with a really decent, kind, loving man. He has a good relationship with my two sons and we have a lot in common. After a few years, we tried living together but it hasn’t really worked and I think this is my fault.
I feel very enclosed in a small house and I like my house to be “just so”. He is very messy and when I get back from a busy day at work, I have found this difficult. We have decided to live apart for the sake of our relationship. As well as being messy and unreliable, he is also terrible with money. We are in our 50s and he has a tendency to hide his head in the sand. He had lots of debts when we got together and although he has worked hard to address them, he still does silly things like forget (or ignore) small traffic fines until they build up to enormous amounts.
I don’t think I can cope. I work hard to manage my own budget and provide for my children. When my partner moves out, I will lose the small amount he was contributing to the household but am prepared to sacrifice this for the sake of our relationship. However, when I think about a possible future with him, all I see is a small house, sharing a small pension, while he is still making foolish financial mistakes. I can’t seem to separate love from money. How do I work out whether we have a future?
Your longer letter was very complex. I think a large part of your anger is actually aimed at your parents, mostly at your father; but I think some of it is aimed at yourself. Jeannette Roddy, a psychotherapist I consulted on your behalf, (bacp.co.uk) made a salient point: “What do you actually want from a partner? You talk about what you’ve got but what do you want?”
I think this is the crux of your problem. I think you define partners in terms of “not like my dad/like my dad” without thinking about your needs.
It’s important to know what you want and I think the not-knowing is causing you more angst than your current situation. There were also conflicting bits of information. You list traits that your partner has (perhaps traits you think a “good partner” should have?) but give no examples other than negative ones. Also, as Roddy said, “When you talk about what you would lose [if your current partner moves out], you talk about money.”
Roddy also wondered if you had a good example of what a healthy relationship should look like, given that your parents’ wasn’t healthy. Most relationships involve compromise, but while that compromise can be annoying sometimes (let’s be realistic) it should never be the defining feature of a partnership.
“You need to think about how much control you want or need in your relationship,” advised Roddy.
For some people, financial security – or at the very least parity – from a partner is overwhelmingly important. There’s nothing wrong with this but you do need to know yourself and not be afraid to say “I need this” and seek it. Roddy recommended thinking about past relationships and what made you happy, thinking about “what you want your life to be like. Are you, for example, prepared to take on the running of the household finances?” Finally, how much control do you want or need in a relationship?
I think a bit of time out to discover who you are, what you need and what you want, might be a good thing at this stage in your life.
This article first appeared in the Guardian on 5 September 2014.