Boyfriend has a child

Dear Alice

By the time you respond to this, I probably will have made the decision... but I have to have someone else's point of view. I fell in love with this man about a year ago. We have known each other for five years but we didn't start "messing around" until last year. Last summer things started to get somewhat serious between us and he told me he was soon to be a father. At the time I told him that I was not willing to deal with that and that I didn't want to get serious.

Well, to make a long story short, before I knew it I was head over heels for him. The only problem we have ever had was dealing with his fatherhood. He is afraid to tell the mother of his child about me and it is eating me apart. I love him dearly but that coupled with the fact that I feel like such an outsider when it comes to the relationship that he has with her. I don't know if I am being immature or not, but I am hurt that he can't or won't tell her. HELP me please.

Signed, Not the mother

Dear Not the mother,

Trying to figure out how to move forward in a new relationship isn't at all immature — especially when you’re also juggling the complicated dynamics of creating a family with children from previous relationships (often known as a blended family)! The decision on whether or not to stay with your partner is completely up to you, but you may find it helpful to reflect on the situation on your own and with your partner. Additionally, it might help to consider how this situation makes you feel, as well as what you both need and want in order to have a healthy relationship. Since this may be a difficult process for many people, you might also consider speaking with a trusted family member, friend, or mental health professional to further work through your concerns and help you make a decision on how to move forward.

First, taking a step back and trying to figure out what you desire in a relationship may be useful. You could start by making a list of your relationship deal makers (what you must have) and deal breakers (what you can't tolerate). Afterwards, you can try comparing your current relationship to that list and see if they match up. From what you said in your question, it appears that you initially thought your partner’s child was a deal breaker as you weren’t able to “deal with that,” and didn’t want to get serious. Have those feelings changed, or could you see that changing in the foreseeable future? Are you interested in being in a relationship with a person who has a child with someone else? Thinking through these questions can help you determine whether or not you see this child being part of your life. 

As you reconsider your feelings on that, it's worth mentioning that your initial concerns or reluctance aren't unwarranted. Managing family dynamics, especially for a blended family, can be challenging. However, it's certainly possible to be a part of a blended family where you find much joy and reward as a result. Though your partner’s existing relationship with the child’s mother may make you feel uneasy, it’s key to remember that they’re likely to maintain some semblance of a relationship given their responsibilities to their child. Furthermore, being a part of a blended family may take a new level of investment from you towards your partner and the child. So, if you two get serious, chances are you’ll begin to have a role in their child’s life, and you and your partner may need to explore what that may look like in the future.

You also mentioned feeling particularly hurt by the fact that your partner is afraid to tell his child’s mother about you. It's possible that your partner isn’t hiding your relationship to hurt you or because he's ashamed of it. Instead, it may be that co-parenting is entirely new territory for them to navigate and they're struggling to figure out the best way to do so. It may also be that his relationship with the child’s mother is currently delicate or rocky, and they need to strengthen that further before he tells her about you. Since it’s unclear what your partner's thoughts are on this specific issue, you may find more answers and peace of mind from having a direct, open, and honest conversation with him.

If and when you feel ready to talk further, it's good to make sure that all parties feel respected and are given an opportunity to share their opinions without judgement. Additionally, you may want to avoid trying to hash it out immediately after an unpleasant incident or during a heated argument, as it’s often easier and more productive to have serious conversations when neither person is angry. If you do choose to talk to your partner about the situation, picking a mutually agreeable time for you two to talk so that both of you have the opportunity to think about the issues beforehand may be beneficial. Moreover, in complex situations such as this, working with a mental health professional or professional couples counselor might help you and your partner decide how to move forward. They may be able to act as an impartial listener and help facilitate your conversation with your partner.

If after working through your feelings and having these discussions you decide to stay in the relationship, you'll hopefully have more clarity in regards to the direction of your relationship and the role you play in it. On the other hand, if you decide to end the relationship, that’s okay. Ending a relationship doesn’t mean that you don’t love your partner, or that the relationship isn’t valuable to you. It could just mean that it’s currently not what you want for your future.

Here’s to hoping you soon find some peace of mind and the answers you’re looking for. Best of luck,

Last updated Oct 08, 2021
Originally published Mar 01, 1994

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