Today’s article is in response to a question from a reader (via Ask Melissa!) about how to figure out if this relationship is worth sticking it out, especially if there are issues in the relationship. In my response, I provide guidance on how to tackle that question and I also point out a big red flag that you should never overlook:
I’m so stuck here, please help. A couple of months ago, I met this guy at a church, I had a strong attraction towards him, and I suppose he felt the same way. There was a chance for us to meet again at a pizza party (coordinated by him). He reached out to me on Facebook the night before because I was still up. I guess the pizza party was a way for him to determine if he likes me and if we should keep going.
I’m in college and he offered to take me back the next day. It’s about an hour or two away depending on the drive. I generally come back and forth every week. I asked my mom and she was okay with it, surprisingly. But a problem occurred. He drove me there, ate lunch with me, sat through two classes with me, had dinner with me. And later that night confessed to me before he went home. We continued to text.
I find out that he’s divorced. He is also 13 years older than me. That, I don’t mind. I believe that attraction and interaction is more important than age. I’m religious so I wonder if I would ever marry in the church if it was him, and for his situation, his marriage was annulled, hooray.
I decided to date him, and it was smooth up until this point. I say this now because I don’t know if I should continue or not. He says he did not love his wife, but he spent six years with her. He says he was with her to keep her sane. His parents didn’t approve of her because of the language barrier, but he moved out and took care of her anyway.
Awhile back, he moved out of his apartment and there was furniture from his previous marriage. Most importantly, the bed. He’s moving back home with his parents. His parents know how much he spent on the bed, and they thought it was a waste of money to throw it away, so he was going to bring it back. It kind of slipped, and I was upset. He said he lives with his parents, so he has to abide to their rules. However, that’s different, in my opinion, at least. I told him I’m fine with him listening to his parents, but this is different. If you’re in a relationship with me now, you should start fresh and leave everything behind. I told him money isn’t the problem, it’s more of respect towards the person you’re dating. In the end, he threw it away but I feel like that shouldn’t have happened at all.
A couple of weeks later, he went on vacation with my family to attend a wedding. When we got back, I saw his wife at the airport but his sister handed him the paperwork. He got served at the airport. BUT, he told me he didn’t contact her and he doesn’t know how she even knew about his whereabouts. He said she can look into it because he still hasn’t gotten served and it has to be done in order for it to be official. But at the time, I was wondering why he never told me his divorce wasn’t completely over to begin with. I feel like I deserve the truth from the start. Or maybe they’re just all bad coincidences.
Lastly, I went to the mall with him yesterday. I asked him what his address was (filling out slip at a store), and he accidentally said his old address, where they used to live. Not the full thing, but just the number. He hasn’t moved back to his house not too long ago. I don’t know if I’m making small things into a big deal, or he doesn’t like me as much as he says.
However, he’s 31 and he’s done with school. He knows I want to marry a doctor. He says he’s serious about me and wants to be with me. Right now, he’s going back to school. He says he’s changing his lifestyle for me. Do I continue to pursue him? Or is this just going to hurt me in the future? They say people don’t change, but I don’t know if it’s because I’m insecure and just overthinking.
I really need help. I really don’t know if he’s with me because he’s lonely, or if I’m someone that he actually wants.
Dear Feeling Stuck,
Thanks so much for reaching out. I feel your concern and frustration.
When people ask “Is this relationship worth it?” they’re really asking “Should I stay or should I go?”
What I tell people is: it’s entirely up to you.
It’s a very personal decision. So I would encourage you to think about:
What would make staying in (or leaving) the relationship worth it to you?
Or what do you need to know about the relationship or experience in the relationship in order to be confident that this relationship is (or isn’t) right for you?
Should You Stay with Him?
See, everyone has a different definition of what’s “worth it” to them in a relationship.
So the key to deciding whether or not a relationship is worth it is to first decide what actually makes a relationship “worth it” to you.
Usually that means finding out:
- What are your relationship needs and relationship requirements?
- What needs to happen in your relationship in order for you to feel loved?
- What do you need in a relationship in order to be happy?
- What do you need in a relationship in order for the relationship to work for you?
- Are you getting your needs met in this relationship?
- What is your ultimate vision for your life? What would be a fulfilling life for you?
- And does your relationship with him support that vision?
- And if he says he’s changing, is there evidence of change?
- If not, what would be sufficient evidence of change for you? What would you need to see happen? By when? And for how long?
Whether you’re getting your needs and relationship requirements met and whether there’s alignment in your life visions are the biggest indicators of long-term relationship happiness.
If you’re not getting your needs met and your life vision doesn’t align with his life vision (or he doesn’t or isn’t able to support your life vision), you have some choices to make: you can try and problem-solve those issues or you can choose to move on.
What If There Are Issues in the Relationship?
You mentioned, though, in your message that you had some serious disagreements on some issues, like the issue of him keeping the furniture that he and his ex-wife had shared and the fact that he wasn’t completely divorced when you started seeing each other.
When we have a strong emotional reaction to something happening in our relationship, 100% of our emotional reaction is our “baggage.”
In other words, that issue or incident is triggering a reaction in us.
And it triggers a reaction in us because of the meaning that we attribute to the incident or issue.
For example, his feelings about keeping the bed that he and his ex-wife had shared were not a strong as your reaction.
It sounds like, to him and his parents, the bed is simply a piece of furniture, and he didn’t think it was practical get rid of a working piece of furniture.
But to you, the fact that he initially keep the furniture felt disrespectful because you believe that “if you’re in a relationship with [someone new], you should start fresh and leave everything behind.”
The same goes for when he mistakenly said his old address when you were at the store. You had a reaction to him bringing up things from his past.
The bottom line is, when you have a strong emotional reaction to something, feeling a lot of insecurity, or you’re really clashing with your partner, it’s important to examine why that reaction is coming up for you.
We all have baggage.
We all have a past.
So having a past and having baggage is not a bad thing.
But being aware of it—and learning how to manage it—is really important so that it doesn’t negatively interfere with our relationship.
I recently recorded a teleclass on dealing with baggage, where I go deeper into how to manage dating a guy with a past. You might find it really helpful.
And again, I encourage you to go back to your needs and relationship requirements.
If there are issues in the relationship that are going against your relationship requirements or causing your needs to go unmet, take a close look at what your choices are.
Could you problem-solve those issues or do you think you would be better off if you moved on?
Red Flags to Watch out For
But there was one thing you mentioned that really stood out to me: the fact that he was actually separated when he said that he was divorced.
Lying to you about his marital status, not being real with you, is a big red flag.
Lying is a very serious thing because it’s basically a form of manipulation.
It’s a big red flag because lying to you causes you to operate on a set of information that actually isn’t true—therefore robbing you of choices.
Sure, he might have been scared to reveal his true status for fear of turning you off.
But staying in integrity—telling the truth even if it’s ugly, even if we’re ashamed of it—takes a degree of vulnerability.
And vulnerability takes emotional maturity.
It takes a willingness to show our true self even if it feels risky.
But he wasn’t willing to do that.
So if he’s not being forthright with you, this may be an area of growth for him.
If you find that lying is a pattern of his or he really struggles with being real with you, he might not be ready for a relationship right now.
Until he can get over those fears and be real with you, it’s going to interfere with his ability to have a successful relationship.
I know these are big issues that take some time to consider, but I hope this helps provide some guidance!
Please feel free to reach out if you need any other support.
All the best,
Have a burning relationship question? Send me your question here.