[Two Pronged] Did I settle down too early?
Rappler's Life and Style section runs an advice column by couple Jeremy Baer and clinical psychologist Dr Margarita Holmes.
Jeremy has a master's degree in law from Oxford University. A banker of 37 years who worked in 3 continents, he has been training with Dr Holmes for the last 10 years as co-lecturer and, occasionally, as co-therapist, especially with clients whose financial concerns intrude into their daily lives
Together, they have written two books: Love Triangles: Understanding the Macho-Mistress Mentality and Imported Love: Filipino-Foreign Liaisons.
Dear Dr Holmes and Mr Baer,
Thank you for taking the time to hear my situation.
I am in a 5 year relationship with the father of my child. We started a family when we were really young, and he's the only boyfriend I've ever had. Things are generally good, but there are times when I question if I'm still happy and satisfied.
I often ruminate on how it might have been if I didn't settle at a young age and explore other relationships. This lockdown has left me with a lot of time to think about lost times that I could've spent on myself, and all I feel is regret because I feel like I got tied down before I even had the chance to grow and focus on myself. My relationship with my partner now has gone stale, and oftentimes he would gaslight me and deny it, which frustrates me very much.
A part of me would like to end the relationship because I feel like we'll just hurt each other in the future, but I fear for my child because I don't want her to grow up with a broken family. Any advice would be helpful.
Thank you very much,
Thank you for your email.
We all look back at our past lives and can see moments where if we had made alternative choices the outcome would have been significantly different. These moments may be minor (like when you think of just the right answer in an argument but 5 minutes too late) or major (like deciding to be a lawyer rather than a doctor) but they all share one feature: however much we dwell on them, we cannot change our history.
This does not, however, mean that we cannot take our concerns about the past into account as we plan our future. If for example you decide that your relationship with your partner has run its course, this will open up opportunities to experience those things that you currently regret missing out on. Of course, you will be 5 years older but perhaps 5 years wiser too.
As for the effect of a breakup on your child, she will already be aware that all is not well between you and your partner. She will also be witness to any further deterioration in your relationship with him. Her understanding of a relationship is therefore likely to be based on what she sees and hears rather than fairy tale versions in books or peddled by the religious of whatever stripe. By the same token, her understanding of the role of a partner and mother, which will influence her behavior as an adult, will be based on how you behave towards your partner and towards her.
Hopefully this will give you more to ruminate upon as lockdown continues. Please write again if you want to discuss anything further.
All the best,
Thank you very much for your letter. Thank you too for saying “any advice would be helpful,” because I have only two.
My primary advice is that you go to a therapist, even for a one-time Zoom consultation. This might not be as effective as a person-to-person consultation, but with all that is going on at the moment (lockdown rules, COVID cases rising exponentially), I think online consultation is the best option available.
Why do I suggest this?
It is NOT because I think your problem is the worst I have ever heard or even in the top 50% of situations that need immediate resolution. However, your situation will benefit immensely from a session (or two) that, if successful, will help you listen more to yourself and help you see how your “what if’s” might realistically play out if you suggested to your partner you call it a day and do so anyway even if he refuses.
You could also hear yourself weigh the pros and cons of suggesting such major changes while your family — and the nation — is under lockdown. This would depend a lot on what sort of person your partner (let’s call him Cyril) is. Would Cyril gaslight you even more? Might he get violent/verbally abusive? If so, best hold off your true feelings till you have a physical “out.” And the fact that you have to hide your feelings until then tells you that definitely Cyril is not someone you want to spend the rest of your life with OR…maybe he is? Is your relationship worth suggesting you both go for therapy (or even that you both sit down and try to sort things out)?
One of the things to be sorted out would be Cyril’s temper. Depending on how much Cyril values your relationship and whether he realizes what he could lose (as opposed to knowing your leaving was merely a empty threat ), he could change significantly.
BUT… is that what you really want?
For Cyril to try to win you back? Do you really feel your relationship is worth another try? Or do you want to end it for good? Online therapy can help you tease out what really matters and how realistically you could achieve those ends.
My secondary advice is to take on board all Mr Baer wrote about regrets and about the impact her parents’ relationship has on your child. I do not always say this about Mr Baer’s advice. But in this case, he is spot on regarding both issues. That is based on my clinical experience and on methodologically sound research.
I do hope this has helped, Emma.
Wishing you the very best as you navigate the sometimes treacherous but also incredibly rewarding world of relationships,
Need advice from our Two Pronged duo? Email firstname.lastname@example.org with subject heading TWO PRONGED. Unfortunately, the volume of correspondence precludes a personal response.