DEAR NATALIE: My husband has been a serial cheater throughout our entire marriage. I have accepted this and love him, but I’ve turned a blind eye for many, many years. They have all just been physical relationships, but recently he has been seeing someone and I think it may be turning into something more. We have five kids together and the youngest just turned three. I was hoping that his cheating would stop now that I am done with having children, but I am not sure that he is going to stop seeing this woman. I am extremely uncomfortable and don’t want to be with him if he is going to continue to see her. I want to call her and tell her what is going on. I don’t believe that she knows about me. Part of the reason that I “allow” this behavior is because I am not a very sexual person. I wanted to have a big family, but I am not very interested in sex, otherwise. We have a great relationship other than the sex part, and while this seemed to have worked for a while, I realize that I don’t want to be with someone who is cheating all of the time. What message does this send to our children – especially our youngest who is a girl? How do I get him to change his ways? I don’t work and couldn’t afford to divorce him. We live a very comfortable life and I want my kids to have their father around. I know this is complicated. Any thoughts? –UNHAPPY AT HOME
DEAR UNHAPPY AT HOME: Working on this relationship in any meaningful way is going to take buy-in, sacrifice, and effort from both of you. You can’t expect things to change overnight, and he can’t expect you to become a different person, either. Are you open to having more sex for recreation, not procreation? Is he willing to stop stepping out on you? Do you think your lack of interest could actually be tied to his lack of connection to you? The fact that you have looked the other way for years could be playing a larger role in how you feel about him overall. Was he cheating when you first met or did this happen when you became married? There are a lot of threads to untangle here and both of you must be willing to put in the work to save your marriage. Not only should you seek marital counseling, but I would recommend that both of you talk to someone individually, as well. The dynamic at play here is unhealthy and could lead to the demise of your relationship. While it appears as though you don’t want to divorce, you clearly don’t want to be in this place, either. It seems as though neither of you are getting your needs met by the other person, which is leading to resentment and isolation. Until you have a true heart-to-heart about where you are and what you need in order to move forward in your marriage, things won’t change. I hope for your sake and the sake of your children that you are able to work through this – but if not, you don’t have to stay in an unhappy marriage, either.
DEAR NATALIE: My partner recently gave up drinking. They didn’t have a “problem” but I think it could have headed down that road. They stopped drinking three months ago and have stuck to it. I am a social drinker and had a martini when we were at dinner the other night. My partner was really annoyed with me. I haven’t drank in front of them since they quit, but I thought after three months I could have one cocktail in front of them. They told me I was being “unsupportive” and “needed to respect them.” When I first met them, they weren’t sober, and used to drink way more than I do. The frustrating part is – they have the problem – not me. So why do I have to be sober around them? How do I address this? I was really annoyed. –DRINKING BUDDY DRIED UP
DEAR DRINKING PARTNER DRIED UP: People evolve and so do relationships. The ways in which you interacted when you first met may not work in this moment. But both parties need to be on the same page with the same vision of the future for the relationship to be sustainable and to thrive in the long run. I would sit down with them and have a conversation around what happened at dinner the other night. Let them know that you didn’t realize it made them uncomfortable for you to drink in front of them. Talk about how that experience made you both feel. If they aren’t comfortable with you drinking when they are around, is that okay with you? What do you need in order to have this new dynamic work? Can they also understand your perspective and why this could be frustrating for you? Neither of you are wrong in how you want to live your lives. But how you compromise on this issue – or if you even can – may be what makes or breaks you. Perhaps one night a week you go out with your friends, without your partner, so that you can let your hair down and enjoy a cocktail sans side-eye. Perhaps they recognize that over time, they may have to accept you drinking in front of them – but not right now. What does that timeline look like? Can you revisit this conversation six months from now? Let this unfold before you with honesty and acceptance of where you are. They shouldn’t be judging you, either. You’re allowed to have a cocktail and they are allowed to be cocktail-free. Both of you have the right to be where you are. The question is – can you be there together?
Please send your questions to Natalie Bencivenga to
email@example.com. Follow her on Twitter
@NatalieBenci and on Instagram @NatalieBenci