Relationship Improvement Tips

“When you are stuck in conflict with your partner, before negotiating with them, first listen in order to get to know them better. Your partner needs to do the same for you.”

Breaking Up With My BFF

Dear Dr. Deb,

Can someone be broken-hearted from losing a best friend?

Kim and I have been BFFs since we were six years old. We’re an odd couple and the unlikeliest of friends, but from the beginning, we just clicked and became kindred spirits.

Even in our twenties, we constantly texted each other about each other’s day. I would wake up every morning with a text from her, and she was the last person I spoke to before I went to sleep.

It felt more like a sisterhood with a bond so strong, it felt like it would last forever.

Then it happened. Kim got into a serious romantic relationship, and everything changed. She went all-in and I felt pushed out.

Of course, I’m really happy for her and her boyfriend. He’s a great guy and he seems to make her very happy. But overnight, all she wants to do is spend time with him. Lately, I was always the one to text first, and she’ll reply a few times, and then disappear again.

When we do speak, it’s always about him. The last time I reached out to her, we got on a video call. She apologized for not getting in touch sooner. I was excited to finally have a chance to catch up. But in the middle of talking, with absolutely nothing to do with what we were talking about, she interrupted to say she was sending me a screenshot of a very funny text from her boyfriend. That was when it finally hit me: I’ve lost my best friend.

It feels like my world is crashing down. Maybe I’m a little envious of the fact that she found someone, and I still haven’t—but I truly am very happy for her. I feel abandoned. Does having a new relationship mean there’s no room for me and our friendship in her life anymore?

I thought deep friendships like ours stood the test of time, but it seems she’s given up. Should I just give up? Where do I go from here?

Yours,
Desperate and Discarded

My Wife Had An Affair: Does Our Marriage Stand A Chance?

Dear Dr. Deb,

After ten years of marriage, it was clear that things were not okay, and our relationship was breaking down. On top of this, I felt in my gut that my wife was having an affair. Her behavior had changed, and the ways she took care of her looks were a dead giveaway. She started to show how dissatisfied she was with me—nothing I did was right.

A friend recommended that I use the Betrayal Buster app to check on her online activities. The app revealed secret conversations she was having with another man. Knowing the truth was a punch in the gut. It was one thing to suspect, but the pain of knowing for sure felt unbearable.

When I confronted her, she admitted that she did fall for him, but that it’s been over for some time. She said that she wanted our marriage to work and asked me to forgive her. I don’t know if I can.

I’m so furious about the betrayal that I end up yelling at her, telling her how awful she is on a regular basis. I would demand explicit details of the affair from her, then I’d get so worked up until I’d lash out and call her nasty names. I tell her that she deserves worse than this. We’re causing each other so much pain.

I know that divorce is always an option. Maybe I should give up and move on. After all, isn’t it true that once a cheater, always a cheater?

Part of me wants to walk away. But I also want to give her a second chance to see if we can get back what we had before. I still love her. I can’t seem stop loving her even after the pain of her betrayal.

Where do I go from here, Dr. Deb? Is there still hope for healing and trust again in our marriage? Will I ever stop thinking of the two of them together?

Sincerely,
Almost Hopeless

Can My Ex and I Still Be (Only) Friends?

Dear Dr. Deb,

What’s your take on staying friends with exes?

My first love and I dated all through high school and college until we finally made it official and got married. We had been inseparable, and there was no doubt that we were best friends. Eventually, time led us to change in different ways, and by year ten, we finally made the decision to go our separate ways. And although the divorce was an unavoidably painful process, we managed to remain amicable with each other.

We’re each in our own new partners these days, but to me, she will always be one of my best friends and confidants. So much so that we still get together for coffee every few months.

Lately, my current partner is feeling uncomfortable and threatened by my regular coffee date with my ex. In my view, my ex and I are just being friendly, but she thinks there is more to it than that. I can’t seem to reassure her otherwise.

Dr. Deb, is my partner being too demanding or is she right that I should stop meeting up with my ex? Why does it seem that staying friends with exes always makes the current partner feel insecure? I’d like to think that if the situations were reversed, I wouldn’t want my partner to cut off such an important relationship.

I hope you can give me advice on how to finally resolve this situation and stop the exhausting back and forth with my partner.

Sincerely,
Ex Aficionado

It’s a Relationship, Not a DIY Project

Dear Dr. Deb,

I’m happily partnered with someone trustworthy and considerate – my friends all say I lucked out with this one. We were very good friends for over 30 years before we became romantically involved. Our backgrounds are culturally different, with me born and raised in a rather strict German culture while he was raised in the U.S.

At 18, I lost both my parents. I think being an orphan who then became a successful model turned me into someone hyper-independent and very self-contained. But I’m also a very caring person, and I feel grateful for my partner. I have daughter who’s now in college.

There’s really just one thing I can’t seem to overlook about my partner: his excessive cheerful attitude. I know that’s seems like a funny thing to complain about, but the overfriendly way he communicates with others when we’re socializing makes my skin crawl.

When it’s just the two of us together, I feel more at ease. We have a natural and open way of communicating with each other and I feel that we’re in sync, especially whenever we travel. I know I can depend on him – and I don’t depend on a lot of people.

But whenever he starts with this cheerful Pollyanna behavior, I feel embarrassed. He exudes a happiness and niceness that some people appreciate, but I find incredibly annoying. I really don’t know why I’m so disturbed by it. I can’t help thinking how lame he is and wonder if our relationship will last.

When I try to bring this up, it inevitably leads to a fight. He accuses me of nitpicking and always finding fault with his upbeat personality. I want him to see my point of view about his off-putting chirpy behavior, but it makes him defensive.

Shouldn’t our relationship flow more easily than this? Is it normal to be so annoyed and embarrassed by someone you love to the point that I find myself thinking I’m with the wrong person?

Sincerely,
Feeling Like a Villain

The Look of Love: Staying in Love Through the Physical Changes

Dear Dr. Deb,

When I first started dating my fiancé, I was head over heels. I was very attracted to her, especially her mind-blowing body. Having sex and being active physically have always been major part of our relationship.

We’ve been together for four years, loving each other and finding reasons to laugh together, even through hard times.

Now I feel like we’re going through our toughest challenge. During the Covid-19 lockdown, things drastically changed with her habits. Like most people who got cooped up at home, she became sedentary and less motivated to exercise.

She gained more than 30 pounds and she’s become really insecure about it. As much as I don’t want to admit it, I don’t feel as attracted to her because of the drastic change in her body. I still think she’s pretty, but I’m not as excited about our sex life as I was before.

I know she feels it, and she’s told me many times that she wants to get in shape again. But I don’t really see her making an effort. She won’t even go on a walk with me.

I love my fiancé, and apart from the physical changes, I appreciate our relationship and how well we get along. It’s just that I can’t help feeling bored and stuck – so much so that I’m starting to notice other attractive women. I know that physical attraction is important, but it seems ridiculous for something as superficial as her weight gain to be the end of our relationship.

I’ve never considered myself to be shallow or superficial guy. I never really thought about how much physical appearance matters to me. But things at home have started to make me question myself, and I hope you can help.

How should I bring this up to my fiancé without hurting her feelings? Should I just try to ignore my feelings and wait for this to blow over?

Sincerely,
Weighed Down

Does Love at First Sight Make Sense?

Dear Dr. Deb,

I have a silly question for someone already in their 50s: Is love at first sight real? Can people who have met for the first time simply know that they’re meant to be?

As you can guess, I’m asking because I feel like it happened to me: I locked eyes with a beautiful woman at a party and almost instantly felt that she’s my soul mate. I don’t know how else to describe it: the sudden and intense pull that feels like the truest love.

As a successful entrepreneur who has been divorced for four years and with two adult children, I feel a bit foolish asking for advice about this. But this is something I’ve never felt with anyone else before: Something in my heart felt at home. I just felt safe, loved and comfortable in her presence. Suddenly, everything in the world seemed perfect.

When she introduced herself, I felt my busy mind go blank.  We talked for hours, but the whole time I was hyper-focused on how I was so attracted to her: how she looked, her mannerisms, the way she talked. I had major butterflies, and my heart was pounding like I was back in high school!

After our first date, it felt like I had known her for a long time, but still wanted to know much more. All I can do is think about her and the very real possibility of a future together.  I am finding it hard to focus on anything else.

This is a new feeling for me.  I didn’t feel this attraction with my ex-wife. Back then, our relationship blossomed as more of a slow-burn romance.

I believe I have found my match. If this attraction isn’t true love, I don’t know what is. Dr. Deb, as an expert in love and relationships, what’s your take on this? Is love at first sight the real deal?

Sincerely,
Out of My Mind.

For Better, For Worse - But Maybe Not Forever

Dear Dr. Deb,

I grew up in a pretty dysfunctional family: an abusive father and a passive, co-dependent mother. Witnessing this toxic situation growing up, I felt determined to escape and break the pattern in my own relationships. 

Ten months ago, I married my boyfriend who had been the kindest, funniest, and sweetest soul. I remember how romantic he had been when he proposed to me, and I felt like so fortunate that I met someone like him.

I’m using the past tense here for good reason. Since the wedding, his personality has changed – a lot. I know that marriage is a life-changing event, but he’s done a complete 180.

From being a soft-spoken gentleman, he’s turned into a nasty, demanding creature who constantly says cruel things and inflicting emotional harm on me.

When we go out with friends these days, he’ll provoke an argument and blame me for it. I know that I did nothing wrong, but he’ll wear me down with the way he berates and tears me down. He would tell me, “Everyone knows how you are. No one likes you. People don’t want to be around you, just ask them.”

I’m not someone who needs constant validation, but he makes me question my sanity at every turn. He’s quick to blame me and my mental health issues as the root cause of our problems. Then I end up thinking that it’s all my fault, so I constantly apologize.

It’s gotten so bad that I’m walking on eggshells in my own home. I’m afraid of how he’ll react to even a simple question. On any given day, I’ll hear his snide comments: “You’re so dramatic and emotional.” “It’s not that bad.” “Get over it.” 

I still love my husband, but I don’t love the way he treats me. I also don’t love that I feel worthless and incompetent whenever I’m with him. He justifies it all by saying he only wants to help me become a better person.

I feel like I’ve been lured and tricked into marrying someone exactly like my father. Something that I never imagined would happen to me. Dr. Deb, what can I do in this situation? How do I even begin to fix this?

Sincerely,
Baited and Switched

Mr. "Right" Misses The Mark

Dear Dr. Deb,

I’m 22 years old with a sweet, generous boyfriend who I also consider my best friend. He knows how to show his love and has always been supportive of my achievements. On top of that, our physical chemistry is undeniable. We’ve been together for two years now and I really feel like I lucked out.

Here’s the thing: he makes me feel amazing – for the most part. And for rest of the time, I feel everything fall flat.

I’ve always appreciated how we seem so good for each other, even with our different backgrounds. But I feel the big divide between us whenever I look to him for a deep mind connection.

He’s my Mr. Right who can’t seem to “get” with me intellectually. Our conversations lack depth, and I don’t feel inspired by them. He’s definitely not dumb and can hold his own in his own way. It’s just that it feels like we’re on different wavelengths. When I tell a joke, I’m never sure if he’ll find it funny.

I’m a creative type with a rich imagination and I’d love nothing more than to share my insights and interests with him – whether it’s conversation, a solution to a problem, a new way to rearrange furniture. Unfortunately, he doesn’t seem to do the same.

I’m not expecting every conversation to be super interesting, but more and more, the lack of connection between us leaves me feeling lonely. I feel guilty for feeling this way, especially as he hangs onto every word I have to say and clearly values me. I love that he adores me, but I can’t say that I feel the same for him.

Dr. Deb, I don’t know what to do about this missing connection. How would I begin to bridge our differences? Our relationship has been smooth and conflict-free, and the thought of leaving him makes me so sad. I’m hoping for your words of wisdom to help me resolve this.

Yours,
Disconnected and Frustrated

Love And Marriage.... And Money

Dear Dr. Deb,

I’m a 45-year-old Indian and I’ve been living with my family in the US for the past 10 years. I have a stable job that pays well – so well that it’s considered high, even with the standard of living here. But even with all of that, I still end up spending more than my income.

My wife also works full time with good pay, but she doesn’t share in any of the expenses. She firmly believes it’s my responsibility to provide, and she just keeps all her money in her own account.

We have multiple properties under both our names including cars, but she doesn’t share in the payment and mortgage. I also shoulder all the groceries, bills, travel — everything.

I’ve brought up this issue with her multiple times, and each time, she dismisses my concern, going so far as saying I should be ashamed to expect money from a woman.

If this continues, I know won’t be able to save at all. At this rate, I’ll be broke by the time I reach retirement age! This has really affected me, and I’ve spent sleepless nights thinking about this financial situation.

Dr. Deb, what should I do so that my wife understands my concern?

Yours,
Troubled in Paradise

How Do I Tell My Friend I’m Not Okay With Her Relationship With A Married Man?

Dear Dr. Deb,

Once upon a time, my friend Sarah (not her real name) vowed never to get involved with a married man. Imagine my shock when she came to me one day and told me she had, in fact, become that person, and is involved with an older, married man in her office.

I simply can’t make sense of it. Sarah isn’t exactly a free spirit – in fact, she’s very inexperienced when it comes to romantic relationships. 

Whatever brought this on, she has certainly dug her heels in, rationalizing the relationship, using a tale as old as time: He doesn’t love her/his relationship with his wife is awful/they sleep in separate bedrooms/he can’t divorce her…yet.

Through it all, I haven’t said anything because I’m a big believer of not volunteering advice to someone who didn’t ask for it. The problem is, my friend has asked me that dreaded question: “What do you think?”

It took so much for me not to blurt out my real thoughts (No, no, it is never okay to get involved with a married man). At the same time, my friend is important to me, and I want to be there for her.

I realize that life isn’t as black-and-white, especially when it comes to relationships. But how do I tell her how I feel without alienating her? How do I stay true to my values while helping my friend navigate this difficult situation?

Dr. Deb, is this a time to stick with my friend through thick and thin or should I let her go and learn from her own mistakes?

Sincerely,
Tongue-Tied

Split Decision Or A Decision To Split?

Dear Dr. Deb,

Used to be I could talk politics with people closest to me without both sides getting heated. I don’t know how this happened, but it’s a different world now. It seems like expressing political beliefs almost always devolves into a fight.

My partner and I have been together for three years. We’re both seriously committed and, I had hoped, in it for the long haul. But my hope ends where our political beliefs split.

I’m embarrassed to admit that sometimes when my partner expresses her views, I feel sick to my stomach. We end up in ugly shouting matches. I end up wondering if we should continue to work on it or go our separate ways.

I know there’s still some love and respect between us, but I don’t know how to navigate our political differences.

I see and hear that this seems to be happening to more and more couples, so I know I’m not alone in this struggle. What’s missing is helpful advice about how to resolve this.

Dr. Deb, please let me know if there’s another option other than throwing in the towel. What am I missing here?

Sincerely,
Mr. Bitter Half

Should I Marry My (Functional) Alcoholic Fiance?

Dear Dr. Deb,

Rick and I started out as college sweethearts. We studied. We had conversations long into the wee hours of the morning. We had great sex. We did everything together, including drinking. And we drank. A lot.

Drinking was the “routine” every Friday and Saturday for seemingly everyone on campus. I actually remember worrying that I wouldn’t get drunk enough at pre-game football parties.

It’s been five years after graduation, and Rick and I are living together, engaged, and in the process of planning a huge wedding.  

I have no problem admitting I was a binge drinker in college, ever eager to get wasted.  But now that I’m a young professional, I’ve normalized my drinking. It doesn’t seem to disrupt my life or cause physical or personal problems for me.

For Rick, it’s much of the same at surface level. He doesn’t black out or wake up hungover anymore. But he still drinks. A lot. There are even times when I’ve noticed that his speech is slurred or he’s unsteady on his feet. More often than I’d like to admit, he acts aggressively towards me.

I’ve cried to him about this and begged him to cut back his drinking. He doesn’t take it too well when I try to monitor his drinking. And even though he acknowledges that sometimes he drinks too much, he would deny the possibility that he could have an alcohol problem.

The thing is, he seems to function very well, pays his bills on time, routinely gets promoted at work, and is well-respected by his colleagues and friends. 

But something really doesn’t feel right, and I’m worried about our future together.

Dr. Deb, is it possible to have a healthy marriage with someone who is dependent on alcohol?

Sincerely,
In Love and The Bottle

Non-Consensual Ex

Dear Dr. Deb,

Several months ago, my girlfriend of eight months told me that she’d been wanting to get in touch with her ex again. She assured me it wasn’t sexual or a threat to our relationship. I didn’t feel good about it, especially because she waited for some time before telling me. I told her that, moving forward, I wanted to know about any conversations she had with him. 

I’m not proud of this, but I felt so suspicious that I ended up looking through her phone. I discovered conversations between them that she didn’t tell me about. They were “harmless,” but the fact that she didn’t tell me makes me feel worried.

I’m aware that looking through her phone was a violation of her privacy and there’s no excuse for what I did. But now there’s undeniably some mutual resentment between us. 

I’m writing to you for advice, even as I know the answer in my heart. Whatever advice I get, I’ll most likely end up doing things my own way, anyway. Nevertheless, I would really want to know what you think.

Is it okay for my girlfriend to stay in touch with her ex?

I don’t want our wonderful relationship to be ruined over this, but it could be a deal breaker for me if she feels the need to remain in touch with him.

Dr. Deb can you help me resolve this in a healthy way?

Sincerely,
Doubtful

The (Bill) Splitting Headache

Dear Dr. Deb,

I’m newly divorced and coming to terms with single life again. I’m determined not to be a sad sack, so I make sure that I spend time going out with my friends. Some of those friends, understandably, are couples.

There’s a particular couple that I like, and we’ve kept a standing date for going out to eat. It’s been a good for me in many ways, except one: paying for the bill.

This couple routinely insists on splitting the bill 50/50 – even if there’s two of them and only one of me. At our most recent dinner they ordered two expensive meals (lobster dinners) and had four glasses of wine between them, while I had just one.

Frankly, I feel “punished” for being single. I’ve taken for granted how easier certain things can be when done as a pair. The whole situation made me feel powerless to speak up. I didn’t know how to say how I felt without sounding petty or cheap.

I feel duped, helpless, and even more angry at my ex who has left me in this situation.

Dr. Deb, what is the etiquette of splitting a dinner bill in a group with singles and couples? Until I figure this out, I might just stay home and eat leftovers.

Yours,
Punished Singleton

How About Some R-E-S-P-E-C-T?

Dear Dr. Deb,

I found one of your articles while searching for advice on boundaries in romantic relationships.

I was searching that topic for a reason. I was wondering if you could tell me what I can do if my husband won’t respect my personal boundaries?

Yours,
Secretly Googling

Not Tonight, Honey

Dear Dr. Deb,

I’m a stay-at-home Mom with three children ranging from 9 months to 6 years old. Prior to the birth of my firstborn, I worked for several pharmaceutical companies. In fact, I have a master’s degree in biomedical engineering. I loved being a professional woman and there are times when I miss it. But I’ve learned to be happy with my role in our family.

My husband of eight years owns a small pharmaceutical distribution company. He travels a couple of weeks at a time and goes to many working dinners. The business is successful, but sometimes he worries about it, too. His moods can sometimes feel like an emotional roller coaster.

To his credit, my husband is great at keeping in touch with me while he’s on the road. I just often feel angry after he calls. He gets to check in and then hang up, leaving all the domestic difficulties for me to handle. When he’s home, I’m eager to spend time with him, which I don’t get because he needs his space to decompress after work.

I love my husband and am fully supportive of his entrepreneurial pursuits. But I can’t help but wonder whether I’m completely suited for just a “back-up” role.

It feels like my husband is waging a battle in the frontlines and he can’t make it without my help. I know I’m important to him and the family. It’s when we go to social functions that I feel unappreciated. People treat him like a hero while I feel like nothing I do is worth mentioning.

Dr. Deb, I need your help to understand why I’m feeling this way. I love my husband, but I fear sooner or later my supportive role may become unsupportive.

Sincerely,
Mrs. Doubtful

Has She Lost That Loving Feeling?

Note: This letter was edited for clarity.

Dear Dr. Deb,

I have spent years trying to communicate my feelings toward my wife. We do not see eye-to-eye on certain topics, which I’m fine with. But what bothers me the most is not being able to compromise on things that matter to us.

When it comes to intimacy, my wife complains that “It’s always about sex” with me. But I’d be lucky if we’re intimate once or twice a week. Part of the issue is we don’t sleep in the same bed so she can be with our kids, who I know won’t be kids for a long time. And when we have been intimate, it’s almost like a joke or game, and I can’t fully enjoy being with her.

Another thing that bothers me is that she and the kids spend too much time on iPads and iPhones. I would rather that we spent time with one another. I’ve made that clear, but my wife doesn’t agree. She’s so busy at work that she considers her phone time as a chance to decompress. I don’t understand, since I also work, cook, clean, and take care of the kids as much as she does, but I don’t feel I need to be on my phone to destress.

I value my wife and I do my best to listen to her. I consider myself a very considerate and understanding person. I’ve changed in many ways to compromise for her needs, but I don’t feel like my needs are being respected or honored.

What am I missing?

Mr. Wits-End

Mixed Signals: How Do I Know What He Really Means?

Note: This letter was edited for clarity.

Dear Dr. Deb,

I’m 57 years old, happy, and confident with myself and my life. But I’m in the middle of a murky situation that leaves me feeling like a confused teenager. 

I’ve been seeing this guy casually. Or at least, I think I am.

We started off as friends. At the time, we were both trapped in horrible relationships. We confided in each other, and this made us closer.

After our respective relationships ended, we started hooking up. He shows signs of interest in me, and it seemed like he wanted to get more serious with our relationship. But just when I thought we were going somewhere, he pulled away. I didn’t stop him and gave him space.

Lately, we started talking again. It’s been going well, seemingly getting back on track. But then he started sending me videos of people ending their relationships and joking about having commitment issues. It felt like a passive aggressive way to pull away from me again.

Dr. Deb, how do I know for sure what he means by this? What do I do about his hot-cold actions?

Sincerely,
At A Loss

Incapable of Loyalty?

Note: The narrative and question in the letter have been edited for clarity

Dear Dr. Deb,

I have been reading your new column and really appreciate all the honest advice you’ve given. I’ve considered writing to you several times before, but my relationship problems have always seemed to resolve themselves.

This time, it’s different.

Let me begin by saying that I think the world of my girlfriend. She’s intelligent, adventurous, and we laugh a lot. Not to mention that she’s beautiful. We’re both in our thirties and have been dating for about eight months. I really care about her. It’s a big plus that we both grew up in Catholic families and share similar values. Despite dating a relatively short time, I occasionally daydream about our future together.

The bad news is that she’s been diagnosed with bipolar 2 disorder. She began having symptoms when she was 19 years old. She experienced cycles of depression and manic hypersexual behavior, which is one of the characteristics of the disorder. But at the time, she felt too embarrassed to tell her psychiatrist about her hypersexual behavior. She ended up getting misdiagnosed and improperly medicated. It wasn’t until years later that she told her doctor about it and finally got help and the right treatment for her sexual dysfunction. 

Since we began dating, she’s seemed emotionally stable. But deep down, I’ve always felt that we should be talking about her mental illness and discuss how it could affect our relationship. I know it’s easier said than done, and it seems like we’re able to talk openly about all this only when we’ve both been drinking. 

In these “sessions,” I’ve told her that I’m a fiercely loyal, monogamous person. I’ve admitted to infidelity as a dealbreaker for me, and I’m worried that her disorder will jeopardize our relationship. She has tried to reassure me by saying that her episodes of acting out sexually and recklessly are simply part of her bipolar struggle and not a relationship related issue. I don’t feel reassured at all.

Dr. Deb, I do love her, and I don’t want to break off our relationship, but should I commit to someone who can’t offer me the stability and monogamy in return because of her condition?   

Is it time to cut my losses and end this or is there a way to work this out?

Yours,
Fiercely Loyal

Left with Less on the Weekends

Note: the question was edited for context and clarity

Dear Dr. Deb,

My husband is currently struggling with executive functioning and emotional dysregulation disorder related to ADHD. He’s been working with his doctor to get his medications just right, and finally, after several combinations, it looks like he’s found one that works really well.

By well, I mean that when he is on his meds, he is a conscientious, loving, patient man. But when he misses taking them, he is short-tempered, has no filter, and can’t concentrate. The trouble is, he says the meds make him feel “not like himself,” so he only wants to take them during the week when he needs to work. On the weekends, he often skips them or “forgets” to take them until it’s too late (he gets insomnia if he doesn’t take them early in the day). My kids and I are then left dealing with his issues.

I feel like it’s unfair that we never get his best self on the days we spend with him. But he feels like his family should understand that he doesn’t want to be medicated 24/7. When I try to explain that it’s hard on us deal with him when he’s scatter-brained and temperamental, he gets defensive and says I only “love him when he’s on drugs.” 

What should I do?

Yours,
Deprived and Disappointed

Stuck in an Emotional Rollercoaster

Note: This has been edited for clarity.

Dear Dr. Deb,

My partner cannot meet my emotional needs. That aside, I think we have a wonderful relationship. He’s  everything I want. But the emotional part is huge – and he admits he isn’t capable of handling that. 

He avoids emotions and takes anything that touches on that as an attack, which leaves me walking on  eggshells and feeling like I can’t be myself around him. 

He started counselling because he says he realizes he needs to work on himself, but honestly his behavior  has gotten worse since then. It’s a cycle of highs, and lows, and I’m having a hard time ending it. I don’t  know what to do.  

I feel lost. 

Yours,
Stranded

Separated and Holding on for an Answer

Note: Letter edited for clarity

Dear Dr. Deb,

I’ve been reading your columns and I admire how reasonable and non-judgmental your advice seems to be.

My husband and I are currently separated, and I am concerned that this might lead to divorce.

This is my second marriage, and we have two children. Hubby has a history of alcoholism, although he’s been sober over nine months now. 

When our first child was born in February 2016, my husband decided to quit his job of 17 years to stay home with the baby and me while I healed. We were married a few months later, in June 2016.

I returned to work that September, but not my husband. He hasn’t worked a real job – meaning any work situation longer than three months – since the birth of our first child. Our second child was born in May 2019. Then the pandemic hit.

We started living in separate homes in September 2020. I bought a house in December 2021, but he refuses to live with me and my mom. I completely understand that. We are still both in New York, but each living separately with our mothers. The children live with me and visit him every other weekend.

I have no interest in being in another intimate relationship with someone else, but I dislike catering to him as a wife and not getting 100% of the benefits of having a husband. No Social Security is building up in his account. I pay for every date night or family trip. I don’t even have the pleasure or luxury of waking up to hubby’s face in the morning.

My question is: how much longer should I wait for him to get a job? Is our separation leading to divorce?

Sincerely,
Separated and Holding On

When Business Gets Personal

Dear Dr. Deb,

My thirteen-year marriage is falling apart.  It’s hard to tell who’s really at fault, but I do want to untangle this mess and understand the role I played in it.

I’m a 55-year-old recovering drug addict who’s remained sober for 20 years. My wife is an only child who grew up with alcoholic parents.

Several years ago, I left my corporate tech job to become an equal partner in my wife’s very successful real estate business. We both wanted to create a true partnership built on our mutual desire for fulfilling work while making time to live the life we love. Our company roles focused on the different skillsets we brought to the table: I took on the COO role, and she continued to lead as the CEO.

However, the honeymoon was short-lived. Business issues soon surfaced concerning decision-making and conflicting work styles.  Being a type A perfectionist, my wife refers to the business as “her child going off to college.” In my case, I don’t feel like a “birth-father” to the company, and I have trouble referring to the business as “ours” as her identity is so closely entwined with it.

For example, she rejects my opinions frequently, insisting that she’s more equipped to know what’s best since she was responsible for the initial success of the business. I’m constantly afraid of letting her down, which means I tend to defer to her decisions often. Ironically, this seems to frustrate her even more.

She fluctuates between being supportive and being demanding, pressuring me to know more than I do. I get emotionally overwhelmed, so I detach and don’t communicate — as a former techie, I’m used to isolating myself.

Sadly, it seems we’ve become adversaries. Neither of us feels nurtured by the other. Our sex life is non-existent. Home is no longer our sanctuary because we can’t seem to separate our personal relationship and the business.

I feel powerless and hopeless, and I’m being mindful of the potential effects of this conflict on my sobriety. Thankfully, I’m still able to keep myself drug-free. Dr. Deb, can you help me figure out what I need to do with my two roles as a husband and business partner to deal with this situation? 

Sincerely,
Keeping Sober

Twice Betrayed and Having Second Thoughts

Dear Dr. Deb

I’m the kind of person who doesn’t make decisions lightly. Once I’ve made up my mind, I can’t be convinced otherwise. So when I decided to enlist in the Air Force to serve my country in Afghanistan, neither my mother nor my wife could change my mind.

Several years ago, sometime after my discharge, I discovered that my wife was having an affair with her colleague. She ended it, and after much coaxing on her part, I put my ego aside and agreed to give our marriage another shot. It sounds cliché, but I made that decision partly because I was worried how the divorce would affect our three young children.

My one condition was that if she had another affair, divorce would be non-negotiable.

To my great disappointment, I recently found new emails from her lover that showed that she hasn’t learned her lesson. This time, I’ve decided to move out of the house.

Of course, neither me nor my wife are perfect. We certainly had our fair share of issues before her infidelities. It seems that I’d become too self-absorbed, insensitive, and prone to rages. I’ve often been isolating in my home office which has become my sanctuary away from her and my family.

But here’s where things get even more complicated. During our separation, my wife and I have continued having sex and seem to be enjoy each other’s company again. We’re even managing to co-parent peacefully.

WTF is happening?

In my heart of hearts, I believe that I need to be firm about my choice to leave the marriage. My mother supports this decision, and I know where she’s coming from: I’ve witnessed her agony and eventual recovery over my father’s philandering and their inevitable divorce.

If I stay in my marriage, I’m not sure I’d get over the feelings of resentment and shame. On the other hand, my wife and I seem to be in a good place. So I’m wondering now: Am I being too rash and ego-driven about wanting a divorce?

Sincerely,
Twice Betrayed

Just (Online) “Friends”?

Dear Dr. Deb

I am a 55 year-old married man, happily devoted to my wonderful wife of 30 years.  She is smart, beautiful, kind, and funny.  We have recently become empty nesters, and I’m loving the independence.

Several months ago, while noodling through the internet, I met a woman who, like me, is an avid motorcycle rider. We have become internet chat friends, talking about everything from motorcycles, to politics, and more.  There is nothing sexual about our conversations.

The problem, Dr. Deb, that my wife feels disconnected from me and deeply betrayed.  Convinced I am cheating, she has taken to annoyingly hover over me when I am at my computer, which is slowly alienating me from her.

I love her and would never cheat on her. However, we have become distanced and have reached an impasse in our relationship.  

Sincerely,
Confused

Deeply Befuddled

Dear Dr. Deb

I need your help.  I can’t find a man who loves me for me and I don’t know why.

I’m 55, divorced, and, although this may sound vain, still quite attractive. I have a very healthy self-esteem and with good reason. I built a successful real estate career, made a ton of money, and I drive a Bentley!  Yet with all I’ve got, I haven’t been happy.

I was in a lonely marriage to a cold and remote man. I knew I deserved more, which is why I divorced him. But rather than finding a loving companion, I ended up with a series of Lotharios. It starts out with romance and affection, which ends up with me funding their “dream businesses, which never go anywhere. Of course, when I realize this and stop being a cash cow, these jerks get nasty and manipulative.  Rather than being loved, I feel used. These losers have cost me several MILLION dollars!

Dr. Deb, how did I become such a victim?  I’ve heard a lot of these things are rooted in childhood experiences, but I couldn’t have had a happier one. My adoptive parents loved me, showered me with attention and reminded me I was everything they ever wanted in a daughter. Sure, they had strong ideas about the kind of person I should become, which wasn’t necessarily what I wanted for myself, but they’ve guided me well and I trusted they knew best.  

This makes it even harder for me to figure out.  Dr. Deb, how could I be so smart in business and so stupid in men?

Sincerely,
Deeply Befuddled

I Used to be Her Rock, but Now I’m Drowning

Dear Dr. Deb.

Last week I had a sinking sense that I was lost.  Lost in myself and my life, that is. Nothing seems to make sense anymore.  The thing is, I can’t shake this feeling that the only way to find myself is to get out of my marriage.  NOW.

Am I having a mid-life crisis? I’m a 43-year-old biracial man married to a white woman.  We’ve been together for 12 years, and we used to be happy.

I always thought we were a good match.  I’m a tech entrepreneur and she’s an MBA student, always on the Dean’s list and still manages to juggle a part time job as an accountant.  Early on I did recognize that she can be emotionally needy.  She would have crying jags and bouts of anxiety that would affect both our routines and our social life.  I couldn’t go to my parents’ 40th anniversary party because she was anxious about the people there.  It can be exhausting and I feel like I am dealing with a troubled child.

To be honest, I think I’m partly to blame for her behavior.  I liked being someone she looked to for strength and guidance.  I’m very empathetic and have always found it hard to turn down people who need my help, even when I sometimes feel like I’m running on empty.

But, now I feel trapped.  Helping her with her emotions has taken over my life.  I love her, but I feel like I’m at the end of my rope.  All I want to do is get as far away as I can from her and her meltdowns because I feel like I’m drowning.  Dr. Deb, is leaving my wife the only way to regain a sense of myself?

Sincerely,
Drowning

Do you have a burning question – Your comments in response to a column are welcome. ​I will do my best to answer as many of your questions as I can. Please email me at deb@drdeborahhecker.com

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