“Should I Stay With My Partner For My Son’s Sake?”

I’m a 35-year-old woman in a 15-year relationship with a man named “Bob.” I decided seven years ago that I wanted out. We aren’t compatible, among many other reasons. We haven’t slept in the same bed for 12 years. I have two children – our son, who is 11, and my daughter, who is 17. I met Bob when my daughter was only two years old. During these 15 years, we haven’t had much of a relationship. He has always worked and then just come home only to drink with neighbors in the garage until bed while I have taken care of the children, the house, etc. We have never even talked much. When I have tried to talk about anything at all, he’s walked out of the house. I have spent every day, week, month, year taking care of the kids as if I were a single parent. Every memory with my children is of just myself and them.

Seven years ago I decided I wanted a better life, and I’ve worked every single day to make it happen. I was a stay-at-home mom, but I went back to school and earned my teaching degree during the past five and a half years. I have worked seven years to establish my credit. And now I have finally received a teaching position at my son’s school. And I found a house after months of searching, only to tell the landlord today I wouldn’t be renting because Bob wants us to “work things out.” Four weeks ago I told him I was done, and since that day he has stopped drinking, helps with everything, and is finally being the father both my children should have always had. But it’s way too late. He has been begging for a chance and I’m trying. But, I don’t want to….at all. I made my mind up seven years ago. My daughter has known and is excited about the change. She has begged me for four years to leave. On the other hand, my son found out a few days ago. While I was at work, he overheard his dad on the phone to the loan company explaining our split. My son was devastated. He already suffers from anxiety and has obsessive compulsive tendencies. When I came home, my little boy begged me to stay. There was no reasoning. He said he wanted to die, he’d never be happy again, and he’d give me all his money he has saved for months if “I tried to be happy and stay.” I caved in and told him I would try but I couldn’t promise him I could be happy.

Bob knows I’m only staying for our son and he’s using him as a weapon. For instance, tonight he had our son ask me if he could sleep in my bed (after 12 years!). He shouldn’t send his child to ask if he can sleep with me.

I guess my question is, if this doesn’t work, how do I prepare my son to tell him that his mom and dad are splitting without permanently causing damage? I am devastated by how difficult this is. Bob told me today he’d rather die or have his parents pass away than for me to leave. The things that are being said and done are making me feel guilty. I am absolutely at a loss for how I can build up the courage to do what needs to be done if this doesn’t work out. — Feeling Guilty

There’s no “if this doesn’t work out.” This – your relationship with Bob – is not going to suddenly “work out” after 15 years of it not working out simply because you’ve threatened to move. Bob might play nice for a few weeks and act like a father, but it won’t last, and as soon as he feels confident and comfortable that you’ve been manipulated to give up everything you’ve worked so hard and so long to attain, he will go back to being a deadbeat, leaving you lonely and solely responsibly to meet your children’s needs. How does this benefit your son? And why are you letting an 11-year-old call the shots here?

I understand that you love your kids, that it’s heartbreaking to see them upset and sad, and that when they say things like they want to die, the maternal instinct is to remove whatever obstacle is standing in the way of their happiness. But in staying with Bob, you aren’t removing the obstacle. BOB is the obstacle. Your relationship with Bob is the obstacle. It’s depleting you of your humanity and keeping you from living to your potential and being the best version of yourself that you can be. Continuing to share a home with a man you don’t love and who has shown no interest in being a father for the past 15 years will create far more long-lasting damage than moving yourself and your kids out and modeling for them independence, setting goals, and being a strong and loving mother.

You’ve worked so hard to move to the next step – a step you know in your heart is best for you and your kids. If you’re struggling in the face of resistance from your son, who mistakenly believes his fantasy of a happy family can only be met if you stay with his deadbeat dad, I urge you to seek counseling for both of you to get you through this transition. With the help and guidance of a trained professional, any life-long effects of your move out will be only positive, the short-term challenges will be manageable, and the damage from years of neglect by an emotionally-absent father can begin to be healed. Please, please continue on the path you set off on seven years ago. See if the house you found is still available for rent, and if it’s not, look for another. You’re so close to reaching your goal; don’t let Bob’s manipulation set you off-course.

I’ve been in a happy and committed relationship for the last seven years. My boyfriend “Brad” and I started dating in our early twenties, and while our relationship isn’t perfect, we have a strong emotional connection and communicate well. I’d say our relationship just keeps getting better and stronger, although we’ve lost some fire in the intimacy department. About one year ago, one of my boyfriend’s male friends, Tony, stated at a party that he thought I was very beautiful. I heard the comment, but it wasn’t directed at me. And I hate to admit how much I enjoyed hearing it. I realized that I’ve become more insecure about my body and physical appearance as I’m getting older, and hearing that someone thought I was attractive was really soothing to that anxiety.

The trouble is that I haven’t been able to stop thinking about Tony and that comment. Tony is not someone I’d typically be attracted to, but I think I might have developed a small crush on him. Rationally, I know that I wouldn’t want to ever be in a relationship with Tony and that I’m very happy with my relationship with Brad. But I feel guilty about how much I think about it. Brad knows I am insecure about my physical appearance, and he tells me I’m beautiful, but…

Should I take this as a sign that something is off with my current relationship? Do you have advice for how to get something like this out of my head and behind me? — Crushing on Tony

Ew, who makes a comment about a friend’s girlfriend’s appearance to someone else in front of her? Tony sounds like a cad. He was disrespectful to you and disrespectful to your boyfriend. But look, if you’re still thinking about a comment like that made a whole year ago and you’re still feeling insecure about your appearance and you feel like you’ve lost some fire in the intimacy department in your relationship, then you know, yeah, maybe there is something here worth exploring (NOT Tony, though). It sounds like you’re not feeling very sexy, so what can you do to improve that? You could work on spicing up your sex life (there are tons of tips and books you can Google), you can communicate with your boyfriend that this is something you’d like to work on together, you could experiment with different clothing and makeup and hairstyling that makes you feel confident, and you could work out to release feel-good endorphins. All of this takes effort. You know what doesn’t take any effort? Nursing a year-old crush on a guy you know you have zero interest in having a relationship with. Maybe the real issue here is that you’ve gotten lazy. Lucky for you, there’s a pretty easy fix for that.

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


  1. Bittergaymark says:

    Sorry, but I think LW1 sounds like a total user. She has used Bob shamelessly for years and years. Even had a baby long after the relationship was dead in her eyes. Instead of moving on then, she used this sap as a meal ticket. No affection. No wonder he’d rather be out drinking with friends.

    LW2). Telling somebody that their girlfriend is beautiful (ONE TIME!) somehow doesn’t strike me as THAT awful. Sorry, Wendy. But it simply doesn’t. That said — LW2 has really gone wayyyyyy over the top in her reaction. Paying somebody a compliment does not mean that it is the sign of undying love. Your reaction here, LW, is bizarrely childlike.

    1. Avatar photo Guy Friday says:

      I agree with BGM on LW2. There’s absolutely no context in the letter as to the circumstances that prompted that comment. Given what she said about feeling insecure about her looks, I imagine she hasn’t hidden her disappointment as well as she thinks she has, and I could see the conversation going something like this:
      Other Friend: I’m a little worried about LW2. She told me she hates what she sees when she looks in the mirror.
      Tony: Seriously? That’s ridiculous. She’s beautiful!

      “Beautiful” isn’t in and of itself a romantic or sexual comment. We find sunsets and paintings beautiful (to name two things), and no one we talk to about them would assume that means we had any kind of sexual feelings toward them.

      1. The context of the comment is a party. The LW was at a party and overheard Tony tell someone else that she’s very beautiful. He made the comment not to her, but about her, to someone else, loud enough for her to hear. It’s objectifying (even if she was flattered by it). That Tony is the LW’s boyfriend’s friend makes the comment even more inappropriate. That the two people here who have so far suggested that there’s nothing at all wrong with this scenario are both men isn’t a surprise to me. That said, it wouldn’t surprise me if some women don’t find anything wrong with it either. We all grew up under the male gaze, where we’ve been encouraged to observe, comment and judge a woman’s appearance. it is so common and so encouraged, that some even considere it complimentary when a male’s opinion is shared as long as it’s a positive opinion. Complimentary or not, it’s still objectifying and inappropriate in most contexts, including and especially, at a party among friends and when the comment isn’t even directed to the person being objectified, but said loudly enough for her – and presumably others – to hear.

      2. Yeah, I agree it’s a weird thing for an adult man to say to someone else at a party within her earshot.

        I remember being 17 and my bf stopped to gas up his truck and the guy pumping gas was some kid he knew, and that guy was like “dude, she’s fuckin beautiful!” in a full Masshole accent, and I was flattered by it. As a KID.

        As an adult, if some guy is telling someone else he thinks I’m beautiful loud enough for me to hear, and my partner is there too, I would kind of have to wonder what game he’s playing. It seems flirty in a way that’s not aboveboard. Would I be flattered to the point of developing a crush? No, but I’m not at all vulnerable. I think guys can sniff out vulnerable women and do stuff like this to try and get them interested.

        I mean, hey, maybe Tony is just a suuuuper sweet sensitive guy who doesn’t think the LW should be down on herself, but even so, why is he talking ABOUT her within earshot and not to her?

      3. katmich15 says:

        So for me the intent here matters, I guess that is how I have always been when it comes to men commenting on my looks. I have overheard comments at parties about my looks that I’m pretty sure I wasn’t supposed to hear, but I have also heard comments that were said loudly enough that I KNOW were intended for my ears. I can’t tell from the wording which was the case with Tony. The intent matters to me as well when it comes to comments made directly to me. I’ve had friends of my husband say “you look beautiful tonight” and I consider that a compliment and it doesn’t bother me. But I have also had men come up to me and say “wow are you beautiful” and that is offensive to me as they are trying to make me feel uncomfortable, or at the very least don’t care if I am. That’s my two cents!

    2. “That Tony is the LW’s boyfriend makes the comment even more inappropriate.”
      But Tony isn’t her boyfriend? I don’t think a compliment is necessarily objectifying. We have no idea how it was said.
      Anyway it doesn’t matter what Tony is doing, the incident is an opportunity for LW to grow up.

      1. No, Brad is her boyfriend and Tony is brad’s friend.

      2. Must’ve been a typo in your comment above.

      3. Bittergaymark says:

        This conversation is absurd. You are all projecting a lot of bullshit onto a guy saying one thing at a party. One thing — and it was so non-creepy the LW is now fucking obsessed with him. Now THAT’s fucking creepy.

        If some guy wrote in saying he overheard a friend of his wife telling her he looked handsome and he was now constantly forever crushing on her you’d all right say the guy was seriously off his rocker. And somehow I really don’t imagine anybody would be taking the friend to task for disrespecting their relationship.

        I mean. Come on. Let’s get real here.

      4. I think if we were projecting, that would mean we’re putting our own motives into this guy, which we’re not. I think Wendy (and myself) just have developed a finely tuned bullshit meter over time for the weird shit straight men do, that we detect weirdness. It does seem weird for my boyfriend’s friend to be commenting on my looks where I can hear him. I’ve been around enough guys and been in enough relationships to say, “hmm, there might be something off about that.”

        The LW needs to figure her shit out, absolutely, but that’s a separate issue.

      5. I don’t think one comment makes him a sleazeball, esp when we have ZERO idea what was said or how it was said.

      6. I didn’t say sleazeball or creep, I said “hmm, weird.” Wendy said “cad,” which is pretty mild. You guys are getting worked up here about defending this guy Tony.

      7. Bittergaymark says:

        Agreed. It’s simply a real reach.

      8. Maybe it’s a reach for a nearly-50-year-old gay man raised in a patriarchal society where the male gaze has always been such a prevalent part of the culture that it’s normal. But Normal doesn’t it make it not weird and “off.” As a 43-year-old woman who has had experience being an object of the straight male gaze for at least 30 years and has a finely tuned bullshit detector, I say with 100% confidence that tony is a cad. If it were my boyfriend’s friend commenting on my appearance to someone else at a party loud enough for me to hear, I would consider it a red flag and would, at the very least, be suspicious of the guy and watch my back around him.

      9. Women always have to be on some kind of alert, and the better you are at picking up weird signals, the better chance you have of finding a healthy relationship instead of wasting time with duds. Because we literally have to pick up on this stuff for our own survival, we notice things. Again, I know you love Tony here, and I’m not saying he’s *dangerous*, but something is probably off with him.

      10. I mean, definitely keep telling women how to feel, because it’s a great look, but we unfortunately can’t afford to give any rando the benefit of the doubt.

      11. Bittergaymark says:

        Kate: and you keep on telling men how to act as it’s equally great look. ?

        The LW is clearly off her rocker — but REALLY! — it’s all the guy’s fault for some onetime, bland, random, overheard comment.

      12. Who do I tell how to act? Tony?

      13. Also, Wendy told the LW she was being foolish and lazy. Not sure how that turned into “Tony’s fault.”

    3. maybe the boyfriend isnt a total loser maybe he wasnt shown the affection needed to keep the fire in the relationship maybe she should give him a chance to make a happy family

  2. LW 1 you are not helping your son’s anxiety by being guilted into an unhappy relationship. He’s going to carry this unhealthy lack of coping into future relationships. Imagine him in 10 years going through a breakup and clinging to his partner saying he’ll never be happy again if they leave. And really believing that he won’t be happy. Please model what a healthy life and relationships look like. There’s so much manipulation & exploitation going on you & your son need a therapist to get through this transition. And a good divorce lawyer.

  3. “I realized that I’ve become more insecure about my body and physical appearance as I’m getting older…”
    Seriously?! Sorry, but you’re not even 30 yet? You can try to feel sexier, I guess, but I would focus more on becoming a deeper person. Become an activist, learn a language or skill, become an expert at something substantial. Get an identity that has nothing to do with your current relationship. It’s odd that you immediately wonder if something is wrong with your relationship because YOU feel insecure. It’s not your boyfriend’s job to buoy your self-worth.

    1. Lead with empathy. says:

      Your comment implies that you think LW2 is shallow because she’s insecure about her looks. But in my experience, interesting, successful, substantive women can also have insecurities, whether about physical traits or other.

      1. Yes, I 100% read this as shallow.

        She talks solely in terms of her physical attractiveness and feeling as though it’s fading when she hasn’t even turned 30 yet. Substantive women know what real magnetism and sexiness is about. Maybe you have a different definition of “substantive.”

  4. I agree with Bittergaymark. I get that your husband failed you. But your approach of a dysfunctional marriage is secretive, not upfront, not honest, and your kids feel that. If you were unhappy seven years ago and decided to leave the marriage, why didn’t you act then? Or why not try a couple’s therapy? Why maintain a relationship during 7 years in the secret purpose to leave the marriage as soon as you get your degree and your job? For the money? I find that hypocritical. And why get a flat and then, announce the divorce? Why not the other way round? Why not announce it to your husband, but also to your children, before organising the next step? Are you afraid of your husband? Or afraid to assert your needs, to set your boundaries, to negociate and discuss properly the problems?
    Your son learned your project in the worst manner.
    But anyway, I think most divorce are a bit messy. Children react strongly, but they can go through it, they are resilient. Your task is to be honest now. Don’t let your son act as a go-between for his parents. Just don’t. And organise the divorce with your husband. Go to a family therapist and to a divorce attorney. Be honest.

  5. There is no mention of a marriage just a 15 year relationship for LW1. My take is that she had no skills and knew that that the hopefully soon to be ex would make her life a living hell and she would have no protection since there was no marriage and no resources. She should not give into blackmail. It’s healthier to leave now and be clear to the son that this is going to happen. Do not “try to work it out”. It’s telling that the daughter for years was telling her to leave. Abuse here.

  6. Feeling Guilty says:

    Oracle, you are correct! I am not married. Nothing is in my name. I have nothing except my children. As far as Bittergaymark’s comment, I have not been looking for a meal ticket. If I would have been selfish, I would have left years ago instead of spending years taking care of my children on my own. My son is 11! I did not see the relationship dead when my son was conceived. It is a little difficult to maintain a physical relationship with someone who goes to neighbors’ houses to watch porn when you have a really difficult pregnancy 6 with their son. It kills any kind of intimacy. As far as keeping everything a secret and me not giving any clues as to how our relationship was in danger, I did. I used to spend so many nights trying to talk to him and begging for help in raising our family and he would shake his head and walk out of the house. He used to say its not that hard to clean toilets. Any time he was around, he would just scream all the time at the kids. Half way through school, I begged him to help me get help. I told him I did not want to live anymore and I could not finish school with the mindset I had. He looked at me and said I was finishing and walked out the door while I literally lost it. Regardless, of our relationship, nothing should come in between parenting. Nothing. My son has a lot of emotional issues. At one point, he was going to be admitted into the hospital. I called his father and he came home to drop off our son’s charger and said he had to go back to work. That day, packing my 7 year old’s belongings to admit him by myself was one of the most difficult things I have ever done. Yet, he walked out of the house again. I literally fell to my bedroom floor and lost it. My daughter was 13 years old at the time, and she was the one that told me it would be okay. My daughter is the one that has unfortunately seen all of this. I do know I have tried to the best of my ability disregarding my feelings and taking care of everyone but myself. There comes a point in life, you must choose happiness among anything else.

  7. LW1 has the relatioship ever been abusive .you say he quit drinking have you noticed any real changes in him is he truly trying to make things better. or is he a total dead beat loser because god can change things for the better divorce is not always the answer maybe you can try couples therapy talk to him see what his true feelings are sometimes when there is no affection given people can drown their feelings with drinking them away but if you can tell he is truly trying which may take some time maybe it is worth trying to work it out you say you have 15 years together thats a long time to just completely give up if you truly loved him if you still have any love for him give him a shot to prove he has really changed sometimes extreme measures such as telling hhim you are gonne leave actually clears their mind to focus on what really matters instead of drinking with neighbors drowning what he is missing at home with his wife and children

  8. LW2: I don’t think calling someone beautiful is objectifying them but straight culture can be very prudish and on guard. My partner and I, often discuss who is hot and who is not; and even tell each other if there is some other guy who we suspect fancy one of us. And this happens in other gay couples too. May be it is possible, that what’s happening between Brad and her is just the end of honeymoon period, and sex life naturally dips a little bit in that case. But if her sex life has regressed a lot, I wonder why Brad hasn’t made any comments on that?

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