Jewish Journal


January 13, 2012

Feeling Second Best


Dear Therapists,

I am 38 years old, and have been dating my girlfriend for three years now. She has a son from a previous marriage that is 10 years old. For the most part, he and I get a long very well. Sometimes he even calls me ‘dad’. Recently, I feel like his relationship with his mom, my girlfriend, is having an indirect impact on our relationship and its progression. I have alluded to wanting to get married over the last year, and she believes that its too soon for us to get married because it may have an impact on her son. Though I understand her need to protect her son, I also feel like a lot of the things I want to do in my life, and hope to do, will be put on hold because of her son. I wonder if I will always be second best? Or if I will ever be a priority? I don’t want to compete with her child, or be a burden on that relationship, but sometimes I feel 
like I am getting put on the backburner.

Feeling Second Best

Dear Feeling Second Best,

It is quite clear that entering a relationship where kids are involved is no small challenge. It’s understandable that you are frustrated about the slow progression of your relationship, and often feel second best to your girlfriend as compared to her son. However, when you chose to date a woman with a young child you actually signed up for a divided attention from her. It is inevitable that as a responsible mother she would be protective of her son, and would want to make the best choices for him. In fact, this sort of accountability should be considered as a positive quality about this woman, which might have been one of the reasons you were drawn to her. You would know that if the two of you ever have children together she would be a good and responsible mother. All this said, you might also want to consider that her love and affection for her son does not need to compare with her love and affection for you. She treats you like an adult. Her responsibility towards you is of a romantic, and adult nature. You can negotiate the terms of your relationship, and discuss your needs in a mutual and adult level. Her relationship to her son is more of a caretaker nature, and is therefore not mutual. He needs her in a completely different way than you do. Just think about the balancing act your girlfriend must be struggling with between being a competent mother, and an attentive girlfriend.
It seems like you feel Your goal and hope in being with her is incongruent with what she can provide at this time. What you need and want is being affected by her limitations due to being a mother. This is where in an adult relationship you can talk about your needs, and she can also express hers, and you will have to find a way to make both of you happy. Negotiation means creating a win/win solution. But first you have to think about whether or not your love for her can endure her commitment and dedication to her child.
In the end, it is quite important that you can be honest about your rivalry feelings towards her son. Understanding why you feel this way may help reduce some of the tension you experience around this subject. For example, is it possible that some of your own unfulfilled childhood needs (with your own mother) may have been triggered by watching the relationship between your girlfriend and her son? These are just possibilities, worth exploring. The point is that you should pay attention to your feelings, and first explore it from your end, and also try to always find a way to have a dialogue about such important matters with your girlfriend. Often couples caught up in complex dynamics, like yours, benefit from couple’s therapy, where both of you can assert your needs and discuss transitions you may be embarking on in the future while being sensitive to each other’s needs.

Best Wishes
Ask Your Therapist Team

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