DEAR NATALIE: My boyfriend caught me snooping. We just started dating exclusively a few months ago, and I wanted to see if he really had stopped seeing other women. I’ve dated cheaters in the past and didn’t want to fall into old patterns. Recently while he was showering, I grabbed his cell phone and started thumbing through his texts. He came out while I was mid-snoop and got really upset with me. There was no way of lying my way out of it, so I admitted that I was checking his phone for other women. He seemed really hurt. He isn’t chatting any other women up, by the way, which only made it worse. Now he feels as though he can’t trust me. Not only that, but his cell phone is glued to his body which makes me feel like a bigger jerk. What do I do?— SNOOPY
DEAR SNOOPY: This is the classic “I have had bad things happen to me in the past so I’ll project that onto my present even if there’s no evidence to support that” situation. You took your fears and concerns from other relationships--which were legitimate--and have made your current lover pay for the sins of those in your past. You can’t get anywhere this way. I would start with apologizing. Then, explain to him what you just told me. You are scared. You are scared of being hurt, of being cheated on, of being lied to. You are afraid of putting your heart out there just for it to be trampled on. See what he says. My guess is that it will open the door to have a real and meaningful conversation around boundaries. What does “cheating” mean to you? What does it mean to him? Finding out where you stand early on in the relationship can help alleviate confusion down the road. You want to trust your partner. You just need time and it will take both of you working together to build that foundation.
DEAR NATALIE: I recently lost my father to a chronic illness he had been suffering with for many years. While he and my mother had a tempestuous relationship at times, they always seemed very much in love and were married for almost thirty years. Well, my mom has already started dating again, and it hasn’t even been a year since my Dad’s death. When I told her that I thought it was kind of ridiculous that she would jump back into the dating pool so soon, she got really angry with me and said that I should mind my own business. Well, let’s just say that was two weeks ago and we haven’t spoken since. Where do we go from here?— STRAINED LOYALTY
DEAR STRAINED LOYALTY: I’m so sorry to hear that your Dad died. Losing a parent can be incredibly difficult. While I don’t know the dynamics of your relationship with either of your parents, it isn’t unusual for you to feel very protective of your father’s memory. I can completely understand how you may feel as though your mother is moving on too soon. But you never really know what a marriage is like unless you are in it. Some people move on quickly because they had a great marriage and want to recreate that experience. Others move on because they feel unburdened. Some never move on with a new partner or they may feel content alone. Everyone’s reasoning is different for how and when they decide to move forward after the death of a spouse. So perhaps over the years, due to your father’s illness or other intruding factors, the relationship began to change and shift course. Maybe your mother took on more of a caretaker role during the last years of your father’s life. I’m just speculating, of course, but try and see where she is coming from. You have to open the lines of communication with your mother. This means you may have to be the one to apologize first. This argument isn’t worth sacrificing your relationship over. Let her know that you didn’t mean to upset her and that you shouldn’t have gotten involved in her love life. However, explain that it did hurt you that she seemed to have moved on so quickly. Let her open up to you and share the reasoning behind it. Be compassionate in how you respond and truly listen to her. People grieve in their own ways and in their own time.
Coming to a place of understanding may prove to be difficult, but it will be worth it if it means salvaging the relationship with your mother. You may be seeing your mother in a different light now. Not as just “Mom” but as a woman with her own desires, needs and wants. It can be jarring to realize that our parents are just people doing their best with what they have. It may be hard for you to look at your Mom without your Dad, but try to remember that at the end of the day, she is a woman who is still here and has to keep on living. Be supportive, be loving and stay connected to her.
Please send your questions to Natalie Bencivenga to firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @NatalieBenci and on Instagram @NatalieBenci