Advice – How can I support my boyfriend through a big life change?

My (32f) boyfriend (34m) just had a bomb dropped on him by his wife (38f) of 10 years. She confessed that she doesn’t love him anymore, not like she used to. She doesn’t yet know what she wants to do, and he’s terrified. He doesn’t have any family here in the US, he emigrated here to be with her, and all his friends are her friends too. I’ve made it abundantly clear that I will support him in any way I can, even going as far as letting him move into my spare room if need be even though I’ve only been seeing him for 2 months.

Anybody have any advice on helping him through this? I’ve helped partners through breakups before but never something this heavy before. I’m feeling really apprehensive about everything, but I’m also feeling very protective of him and I want to be as much help as I can.

/u/BomberBootBabe88, Reddit.

Dear Bomber Boot Babe,

Your boyfriend is going through a tremendous relational traumatic experience in his decade-long relationship with his wife falling apart.

There is something even more terrifying in the uncertainty of what she will do next once she figures out her next steps whether that is a drawn-out divorce process or mutual efforts to rekindle their marriage. And the most challenging part of all this is that from what you have shared, what happens in their marriage appears completely out of your boyfriend’s control. That precise lack of control (or even ability to scope out what his next several months could look like) is further compounded by his lack of support network here in the States – other than his relationship with you.

That lack of scope and inability to anticipate also applies to your own future as well. Helping a partner through any kind of trauma can be a very draining experience for the supportive partner, especially if you are still romantically engaged with the person resolving trauma.

Two months is not a long time to get to know someone. While the decision to offer your spare room to your boyfriend came from a place of deep compassion and empathy, it is possible that you might want to think more about what that could look like. Is it a temporary offer for while he resolves separation and divorce? Or is it a semi-permanent offer for until he can get back on his own two feet? If he does decide to take you up on the offer to live together, what does that mean for both of you?

In short, what does your support entail?

Let’s talk more about the different divergent paths.

There is three likely possibilities in the current situation, not directly accounting for any changes to your relationship with him.

First is that they decide work on their relationship together. Whether that is through couple’s counseling or through individual therapy, they will each need to work on why and how they became so disconnected in their respective experiences within their relationship. That is most likely to impact your relationship with him in the amount of energy he has available to be present in his distinct relationship with you. If he is already sharing with you about the types of intimate conflicts he has with his wife, then I would guess that he already struggles with compartmentalizing relationship experiences between different relationships. As such, you will get more exposure into why their relationship has struggled as he struggles to selectively filter information that is both honest and compassionate to you.

Another more drastic option is that they decide to separate and pursue a formal divorce process. Divorce in most US states take months (if not years) and thousands of dollars in legal fees to just to get to the settlement point. Your boyfriend will likely experience significant grief and loss in his discordant past and unrealized future with his now-ex-wife. And even if the divorce itself is finalized, it could be possible that he might struggle to be in a healthy mental headspace to be a good partner to you (or anyone else). Even if we assume that he was on the same page as his wife about the end of their marriage together, you can’t just wipe away a ten-year history with another with a penstroke. He’ll have to find his footing on his own, even if you are there for the initial support to help him get back on his feet. One thing to keep in mind is that polyamorous relationships are not recognized in the court of law. Many courts do not look kindly upon a divorcing partner residing with their other partner while the divorce is being finalized, and his living with you will definitively negatively impact his divorce proceeding.

The third option is that they stay married but de-escalate. This option is the most likely if they already have kids but lack the financial reserves to go through an official divorce process. This means, that he’ll have to continue to encounter his partner in close encounter while still passing as a loving couple in front of all others, especially so in front of his kids. That is an immense emotional labor to undertake, especially so since this wouldn’t be his decision, but a decision his wife would have thrust upon him. Like the first two options, he’ll have a lot less emotional capital available here as he’ll have to compartmentalize and manage his grief and loss.

Regardless of what happens, it is important for you to keep supporting yourself.

It can be very easy to fall into codependent habits when supporting a grieving partner. And the best way to ground yourself in reality is to take care of yourself and make sure that you are in a place of mind to be able to support someone else.

That could mean regularly checking in with yourself to see if you have the support necessary to be able to support another. If you are dating anyone other than this particular boyfriend, you are going to have to creatively carve out spaces that are entirely your own. If you decide or realize that you cannot support your partner, the best thing you can do is to be honest with him about the support you can no longer provide. Doing anything less than that is dishonest.

If he decides to move in with you, you two should have a very honest conversation about what that means for each of you, and what your respective expectations are going to be. Setting a timeline will be a must.

Good luck!

Tea Time with Tomato is an informative relationship and sex advice column for both monogamous and polyamorous folks. By submitting your post, you agree to let me use your story in part or in full. You also agree to let me edit or elaborate for clarity.

I want to hear your thoughts and feedback! Please feel free to send me your questions and comments at teatimetomato@gmail.com. If you liked my advice for this post, please follow me on Facebook and Twitter. You can also subscribe below to get alerted when my next advice column is published!

Advice – My partner resents me for missing his father’s funeral from before we got together.

“Before we got together, my partner’s father unfortunately passed away. This was around when we knew each other for about 2 months, we wouldn’t really hang out a lot but we did talk here and there.

The day I found out his father died I gave him a hug and talked a little bit about it to comfort him. A week later, he invited me to the funeral and unfortunately I couldn’t make it due to work and told him so and that I was sorry about it.

Part of me also felt like I wouldn’t belong there as I couldn’t properly mourn him (because I didn’t know him or the family at all and was not super close to my now partner) , so I didn’t want to feel like I was being disrespectful in that regard.

A month later, we became very close and decided to date each other. It’s been a year and a half now, but my partner told me he partially resents me because of it.

I’ve supported him emotionally with the aftermath of his father’s passing and have suggested we should visit his grave to clean it up and leave items in honor of him, but he always refuses. I’ve tried to ask multiple times about this before he said this, but he always says no. Part of me understands the resentment, but part of me doesn’t at the same time. How do I fix this?”

Anonymous on /r/relationship_advice.

Photo by Connor Forsyth on Pexels.com

Dear Anonymous,

Let’s imagine a hypothetical scenario. Let’s say that you and your partner are building a Lego Hogwarts Castle set together. The catch is that your partner is building this Lego set from scratch while you have the instruction booklet the next town over. So you two call each other to communicate what piece goes where and in what order. I would imagine it’s probably really difficult to complete that set without getting frustrated at each other when you have to shout over the phone for the fifth time to place a thin green four-peg block six pegs right from where he placed Harry two instructions ago.

Helping your partner through grief can often feel like shouting over the frustration your partner feels while they sort through all six thousand and twenty individual pieces in the Lego Hogwarts Castle set in front of him.

I don’t think his grief is your responsibility to manage. You had your own reasons. And as you said, you’ve already reiterated your reasons to your partner. This tells me that his sense of resentment is not one that is rooted in logic, but rather emotion. But even if you were really dating him (let’s say you two have been dating each other for a month when his father passed away), it is still wholly within your own personal right not to attend the funeral for all the reasons you already shared. You’ve only known each other for two months when this happened. And even though he did extend an invitation to you, your decline was fair and reasonable. This decision is not something you should have to defend.

Furthermore, you’ve done your subsequent emotional labor of supporting a partner through the grief process, a deed you did not necessarily need to sign up for. This article from What’s Your Grief talks about the concept of Continuing Bonds where it discusses that grief is ongoing. It isn’t something we get through. Grief becomes a part of our lives. And while you didn’t say that your partner was close to his late father, I am guessing based on his actions and words that they were very close. And even if you are completely fault-free and you’ve done your personal best to help your partner process through that grief, one of the myriad ways grief can manifest is through blaming. And in here, I don’t mean that he is blaming you for his father’s death, but that it is manifesting in something you couldn’t do for him.

Photo by La Miko on Pexels.com

It is very important for you to acknowledge that his grief is his to own. And even more important for you to recognize your own needs as distinct from meeting his needs. In stressful times like these, it is very easy to get caught up in codependent habits. Codependency is loosely defined as excessive physical or mental reliance on a person usually experiencing addiction or illness, and I do think supporting a dependent partner through grief also falls under this umbrella.

Sam Dylan Finch defines codependent relationship as “a relationship in which a partner becomes a substitute for healthier coping strategies. By being an individual’s sole source of support and caregiving, they interfere with their partner’s ability to be self-reliant and adaptive in the face of stress.” You mentioned that you two got close and started dating each other only a month removed from his loss. That is a lot of weight burdened upon a beginning of any relationship. I wonder how much you two grew to depend on each other as emotional support and thus inadvertently interfered in each other’s ability to become more self-reliant.

And let’s talk a bit more about your own feelings in this situation as well.

Hearing that your partner partially resents you for turning down the invitation to attend his father’s funeral could be a very painful realization, especially if you feel like you did your best to support him through this very traumatic time. Your pain too is real. You and your partner have been dating each other for a year and a half. And to hear that he harbors negative feelings for what you reasonably decided wasn’t the best course of action could feel like you’ve been misled. So you too need to acknowledge your pain that comes from your partner either

  1. Withholding his true assessment of your ongoing emotional support for the past year and a half, or;
  2. Misusing his ongoing grief to blame you for something that you chose not to do.
Photo by Plush Design Studio on Pexels.com

Like many other pains in life, time will heal this too.

It sounds like you are already doing your best by offering to visit his father’s grave together. And in continuing to engage in a conversation with him, you’ve left the door open for him to come reach out to you in dire need of emotional support. But I’m curious if he himself acknowledges that he is mired in the process of grief and loss, and what he is doing to productively manage his own grief. I sincerely hope that he has been able to receive grief counseling or at least talk about his grief and loss openly with a professional therapist who can help him develop his own tools to manage his feelings.

At the end of the post, you asked “How can I fix this?”

My answer to you is that you can’t. Your partner owns his own feelings, and those feelings are for him to manage. To go back to the Lego example from earlier in the post, it’s just much more efficient to bring him the instruction booklet and offer to help in person. So let him know that you are here to support his journey back to sanity.

Good luck.

Tea Time with Tomato is an informative relationship and sex advice column for both monogamous and polyamorous folks. By submitting your post, you agree to let me use your story in part or in full. You also agree to let me edit or elaborate for clarity.

I want to hear your thoughts and feedback! Please feel free to send me your questions and comments at teatimetomato@gmail.com. If you liked my advice for this post, please follow me on Facebook and Twitter. You can also subscribe below to get alerted when my next advice column is published!

Advice – Boyfriend’s best friend passed away.

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

/u/ThrowRA-201301 on /r/relationship_advice writes…

“We’ve been together for 4 years, however, I’ve [27F] never met his [32M] ‘best friend’ Jon [35M]. They were the best of friends, but after a failed business venture a few years ago they had a falling out, and didn’t talk for a while. A couple years ago they started reconnecting and talking more, but because Jon is involved with a lot of shady dealings and organized crime, BF has kept him at arms length.

From BF’s dad, who rented his house to Jon, we found out he had cancer. For a while things seemed hopeful, but overall the prognosis wasn’t good. Bf visited and had lunch with him a couple of times, and BF would tell me how upsetting it was for him to see his progressive physical deterioration, and how it brought back memories of his late mother’s similar battle. BF even made plans with Jon to move with him to a hospital across the country where Jon would receive experimental treatments, so he could be there to take care of him. But his condition worsened, and that no longer became an option.

The last time BF saw Jon was at an all-out ‘Last Birthday’ party Jon threw for himself, at which point the doctors had given him two weeks to live after his kidneys failed. BF didn’t hear anything about Jon after that, and he confessed to me multiple times he was worried about him, how he wanted to talk to him, but didn’t know what to say or what they’d talk about with the terminal elephant in the room.

But a few days ago BF got a call from his dad. I was in and out of sleep on the couch, but I was fully awake at this time. He didn’t leave the room, so I listened to his half of the conversation. Apparently Jon had passed away. BF asked for a little detail, they reminisced a little, expressed some regrets, but conveyed that he seemed happy at the end. They talked a bit after that about other things, then hung up.

BF sat down afterwards, asked how my nap was, asked about my movie and other things and we went to bed. He hasn’t mentioned Jon at all in the couple days since. We went to go see a movie, where at the end, the character’s friend dies and he has to move on, and I noticed BF wiping away tears. Afterwards, he said he wished they hadn’t ended it so sadly, but didn’t relate it at all to Jon.

I can’t tell if he thinks I don’t know, doesn’t want to tell me, or assumes I read the writing on the wall. Either way, I don’t want to broach it at all, as it’s his grief, and I guess I feel he should deal with it in his own way rather than forcing his hand. But it confuses me, as he’s been so open about his feelings leading up to Jon’s death.

I want to help him through his grief, but at the same time, I don’t want to push him to open up if he isn’t ready, or doesn’t want to. I haven’t ever had to help someone through grief I wasn’t involved in as well, and I don’t know what to do besides be there physically, and just make sure he feels loved and supported. How do I handle this?”

Photo by Anna Tukhfatullina Food Photographer/Stylist on Pexels.com

Dear ThrowRA-201301,

I really feel for you, and the grief your boyfriend is currently experiencing. Losing a loved one, even a one where you’ve fallen a bit out with, is still a major loss.

One thing I’ve realized about the process of loss and grief in this past (very tumultuous) year is that different people experience loss and grieve very differently. When I very suddenly lost my father-in-law earlier this year, my mother-in-law, my sister-in-law, and my wife all experienced loss and grief in incredibly different and distinct ways. It could be very possible that your boyfriend could be experiencing the loss of his friend Jon in a very unique way.

You said you are confused about the sudden change in his behavior right up to the point of loss. So I will also mention this. A lot of men are conditioned to internalize and muscle through their pain and grief on their own without any external help, much to their own detriment. Displaying and sharing difficult emotions has not been a part of our mainstream masculinity subconscious. It doesn’t mean that these internally-focused men are not processing those feelings, but rather that it is very much shrouded behind the curtain of masculinity. So allow him to process and express his own grief in his own way. He might have felt comfortable expressing regret when Jon was still alive. But to come to terms with and accept Jon’s death might be a whole new level of vulnerability that your boyfriend has to unpack and resolve.

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

So as someone who has had to personally help someone process their own grief, I have three pieces of direct advice for you.

First is to be there for your partner when they need you in the ways they might not expect you to be. It could mean a nice shoulder rub after a long day, washing dishes after dinner, a cute note tucked in his lunch bag, or a night out to movies where they happen to synchronously talk about passing of a dear friend. You are already doing a great job here.

Second is to also look out for yourself. You are going to be undertaking a bit of emotional labor as your boyfriend continues to spend some of his emotional bandwidth on this process of loss. So support yourself so that you may support others.

The last piece of advice I have for you is to be patient. Like I mentioned, different folks process loss differently. Keep doing what you are doing and continue to cherish your boyfriend.

Again, I am really sorry you and your boyfriend are going through this. I wish you the best of luck.

Tea Time with Tomato is an informative relationship and sex advice column for both monogamous and polyamorous folks. By submitting your post, you agree to let me use your story in part or in full. You also agree to let me edit or elaborate for clarity.

I want to hear your thoughts and feedback! Please feel free to send me your questions and comments at teatimetomato@gmail.com. If you liked my advice for this post, please follow me on Facebook and Twitter. You can also subscribe below to get alerted when my next advice column is published!