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Dear Wendy
Dear Wendy

“My Boyfriend of Three Years Won’t Divorce His Ex. Should I Walk Away?”

My boyfriend was romantically involved with his ex-girlfriend for ten years, but their marriage was for a green card which enabled him to stay in the country and later become a UK resident. There was no ceremony and not many people know of the marriage, so I’m confident this is true. They separated four and a half years ago and she now lives in her home country. My partner says he views the marriage as nothing more than a piece of paper but has stayed married because he would like to return the favour in case she ever wants to return to the UK, which he feels is the right thing to do.

A year and a half after they separated, my partner and I got together. I was aware that he had been married but assumed they were divorced and no longer in contact. So, three months in, I was surprised when I found out that this was not the case and they were still married and very close friends, too. I struggled a lot with this, in part due to my own trust issues (my father cheated on all his wives and I have been cheated on myself), but I was also not entirely comfortable with their relationship either. They never had a “cooling-off” period after they separated to redefine their relationship as “friends” rather than “partners.” And, during the first few months of our relationship, his ex became frustrated that he was not supporting her emotionally and was not available as frequently as he was before we got together.

While most of my partner’s and my values align, there is a definite disparity in that I do not believe exes can be friends while my partner does, and he wanted to stay friends with his ex whom he shared ten years of his life with. I did not want to force my partner to cut someone out of his life, and I knew we had something special, so I decided he was worth it and to try and work through the situation. However, I made it clear that I needed certain reassurances and boundaries in order to be comfortable with the situation. Namely, that I needed to meet her and see for myself how they interacted as friends. Eight months into our relationship, I also told my partner that if we stayed together for over three years, I would not want him to be married as I would like there to be the possibility of a longer- term commitment to each other (such as a proposal) and some mystery around when this could happen.

Fast forward a couple years and we now live together and are looking to buy our own flat. But I still have never met or spoken to his ex, and he still is not divorced. He has been speaking to his ex once every couple months, and he says he has tried to get her to meet me, but she doesn’t want to because she thinks it will be awkward. He has also said she doesn’t think he has been a very good friend since we got together, so she doesn’t see why she should do that for him. Now, while I understand you can’t force someone to do something for you, I have doubts about how assertive he has been and how hard he has really tried to convey to her how I feel about the situation. I can’t help but feel my needs are coming secondary to hers, and I also can’t understand why she would not want to meet me if they really are just friends.

We are now one month away from our three-year anniversary, and he has finally told her that he wants a divorce. However, divorces take four to six months to go through, so while I want to be grateful, I can’t help but feel angry that it has taken so long. I trust that he believed the process was shorter, but I still feel betrayed that he clearly hadn’t even bothered to look into it. On top of this, he has told me that if his ex wants to come back to the UK, he will feel obliged to repay the favour she did for him, so he is not sure if he would be willing to get divorced yet. With that being the case, I can’t understand why he didn’t start these conversations earlier so that she had time to consider her options, while respecting my boundaries.

I have now told him that if he hasn’t at least applied for a divorce by our three-year anniversary, then I will walk away, and I’m really scared that this may actually come to reality. He has said he feels hurt that it has come to this and can’t understand how everything else we have together isn’t reassurance enough that he wants to be with me. I want to be with him. I see us getting married, having kids, and leading a happy life. But I can’t see how we can do that if in the back of my mind I always feel like my needs are secondary to his ex’s. Am I being the unreasonable one here? And, if he doesn’t apply for the divorce, should I leave? — Feeling Secondary to His Ex

Are you being unreasonable? Unreasonable for asking your boyfriend of three years to finally divorce his wife? Um, no. If anything, you’ve been far too accepting of this peculiar arrangement, enabling your boyfriend to continue the sham he and his wife have going on. Notice that I refer to her as “his wife” and not “his ex” as you refer to her; that’s because… she is his wife, and I really think that by renaming her as “his ex,” you’ve allowed yourself to believe this marriage isn’t real or doesn’t mean anything, but clearly it does or it would have ended years ago. This woman is his legal wife, he admits to caring very deeply about her, she is jealous of you, and he has thus far refused to divorce her because he thinks doing so would compromise his relationship with her and would, somehow, be morally wrong because he feels indebted to her.

Everything – EVERY.DAMN.THING – about this situation absolutely screams prioritizing her feelings over yours. Of COURSE you feel like your needs are secondary to her because THEY ARE. And yet. And yet! You’ve stayed with him, you’ve put up with this, for three years! Not only have you stuck with him without any promise of his actually divorcing his wife, but also you’ve moved in with him and are now actively looking into buying a home together. Where is his incentive to get divorced when, despite your threats to walk away if he doesn’t get divorced or doesn’t introduce you to his wife, you continue moving your relationship with him forward while he is still married to another woman who refuses to meet you?!

There are two ways this relationship ends: Your three-year anniversary comes and goes without an application for a divorce – or *maybe* he files for divorce to appease you but doesn’t progress with it – and eventually your fourth anniversary comes along and he’s still married and maybe then you walk away or maybe you wait another year or another year after that but at some point – maybe when you want to have a child together or a wedding? – you finally can’t take it anymore and you leave. That’s one way it could end. Or, you could say, “You know what? You’ve had three years to divorce your wife and make yourself 100% available to me, and not only have you not done so yet, but also you are still actively avoiding a divorce and even still saying, after all this time, that you may want to stay married to repay your wife some debt you think you owe her that she may never want to collect anyway—- all instead of considering MY needs and your obligation to me as a long-term partner to make yourself fully available to build a future with me. I’m done waiting – good-bye.”

Either way you end this relationship – whether you do it now or wait potentially another one year, two years, or three years down the line – it’s going to hurt. If you walk away now, you do so with your dignity intact, knowing that you invested in this relationship as much as you could, gave it a lot of time and attention, and did your best to work through your issues. You can walk away knowing that it didn’t work out not because you didn’t try, but because you didn’t want the same things (you would like to be married to him one day and he wants to stay married to his wife). If you leave later, you risk a complicated financial situation (like, if you buy a home together) and have wasted time that could have been spent healing from this relationship and then making yourself available to someone else whose values are better aligned with yours.

tl;dr: No, you are not being unreasonable for asking your boyfriend to divorce his wife, and yes, you should walk away.

***************
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If you have a relationship/dating question I can help answer, you can send me your letters at wendy(AT)dearwendy.com.

10 comments… add one
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    Phoebe December 2, 2021, 11:06 am

    Oh, wow. Yes. He’s been putting the LW after the wife all along, and that won’t change. He’s had time and multiple warnings, and he doesn’t care.

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  • FYI December 2, 2021, 11:32 am

    His excuse doesn’t even make any sense. If he only married her to get a green card in the UK, then that means that she was (is) a UK citizen. Citizenship is not conferred to the spouse of a non-citizen! So why would he need to return the favor one day? She’s a UK citizen already, according to his lie. His story is convoluted and not at all credible. And guess what? In the UK, you can get a green card by being an UNMARRIED partner for just two years! You are being snowed, and a simple google search would’ve told you that.

    It’s sad that you gave him a deadline two YEARS into the future to get divorced. “If you aren’t divorced by year three …” I mean, that right there is telling him that he has all the power in this situation.

    Wendy is right. It’s going to hurt regardless, but have some dignity and don’t waste any more time on someone who lies to you.

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    • Part-time Lurker December 3, 2021, 8:41 am

      Yeah, this story makes absolutely zero sense.

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    Bittergaymark December 2, 2021, 1:45 pm

    Wow. I am so shocked… just SHOCKED that dating somebody who is already married to somebody else isn’t all sunshine and lollipops. Seriously. Who knew?

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  • ron December 2, 2021, 4:42 pm

    ” I see us getting married”

    He obviously doesn’t see that happening and you know that it can’t legal happen unless he gets divorced.

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  • Oracle December 3, 2021, 9:27 am

    He’s staying married so he can’t marry you.

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  • PurpleStar December 3, 2021, 8:16 pm

    For Fs sake don’t buy a flat together. Don’t invest any money into anything with this man.

    And leave – leave now – not at your 3-year anniversary. Leave. Go live your life.

    Oh, and if he tells you he is divorced – go down to the courthouse and check those records yourself.

    He has been shaming you for years.

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  • Redgirl December 3, 2021, 10:40 pm

    This hurt to read because I have been the LW. I can tell you from personal experience that leaving him is your only option if you ever want to be happy. Even if he leaves his wife, at this point you will ALWAYS resent him for taking so long and needing to be nagged into it. You will forever wonder if he would have actually done it on his own.

    If you leave, you have the potential to meet someone who will choose you over all others, who will be enthusiastic about committing to you. Someone who doesn’t make you feel ashamed or like a dirty little secret. You deserve that. You deserve so much better than this. And as long as you keep sticking around putting up with this crappy treatment, you are denying yourself that opportunity.

    It will hurt like hell at first, but in the end you will be so much happier. I know. I’ve done it.

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  • A lurking mouse December 4, 2021, 8:09 am

    The framing is key. She is NOT his ex- girlfriend. She’s his wife. You’re his mistress. Is that who you want to be? Leave. Don’t waste another moment of your life with an adulterer.

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  • 000 December 4, 2021, 5:40 pm

    First of all, the fact that you’ve never met his wife means you two have never been able to compare notes. I bet her understanding of the situation is very different from yours, and your boyfriend would like to keep it that way.

    Second of all, do you know what property laws might apply with this flat you’re considering? If one of the owners is married to someone else, can that spouse make any claim to it in the event that either they divorce, or you break up?

    All the other points have already been made well.

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