Today’s article is in response to a question from a reader (via Ask Melissa!) about what to do when you feel like you’re always second to his ex and his kids in your relationship and whether you’re being impatient. In my response, I provide guidance on how to approach this question, key indicators for long-term relationship success, and steps you can take to stop feeling second in your relationship.
My guy is getting divorced. He still lives in the same house as his soon-to-be ex. They have worked everything out: who’s having the kids when and she is waiting for her house sale to go through before she moves out.
She still wants to do family stuff (they have two young kids under 10 years old) together and he obliges – he says “to keep things amicable.” The negotiations have all been relatively amicable so far, but they are not final.
In the midst of this, our time is limited which on one hand is great as we are not rushing in. We manage two evenings a week and perhaps a lunch date.
She doesn’t know about me, and we discussed that it’s easier until the divorce is final. Basically he wants her to sign on the dotted line first before everything gets out in the open. She was the one who ended things (she was having an affair, but not sure if she still is).
Although we go out in town, it’s likely she may have heard about me. We get on amazingly well, talk about our future, seem to want the same things, share the same values in a relationship, have open and honest conversations.
Am I being impatient? I just want our relationship to be more normal to really find out if we have a chance to make it work. But I hate waiting.
I was healing from a previous long term relationship when we met, but was feeling happy.
I love my life and have an active social life that doesn’t include him, as well as my own kids. They have met him and are happy with the situation. I’m ready to move the relationship on, spend more time together, but it could be three to four months before we can do that (we’ve been dating five months now).
I don’t know what the dynamic with his ex is going to be once they are separate, so I can’t assess the situation yet.
Dear Always Worrying,
Thank you for reaching out. I feel your concern.
You bring up a few questions:
Am I being impatient?
Is this relationship going to work out? Is this worth it?
And you’re tired of feeling second in the relationship and concerned that he might not be over his ex-wife.
Are You Being Impatient in Your Relationship?
I know it can be really hard when you’re frustrated with the pace of your relationship.
I’ve felt that sense of frustration and impatience when my boyfriend at the time (now husband) was finalizing his divorce.
I wanted to have a “normal” relationship…the kind where I could spend time with him and his kids, or call him while he’s visiting his mom without him having to let my call go to voicemail.
I totally feel you. It’s like relationship limbo when you’re dating a divorcing man.
But here’s the question to consider about impatience: Impatient according to whom?
Who is the judge?
Your significant other might say you’re impatient or you might feel you’re being impatient.
But at the end of the day, you get to decide how long you want to wait.
You get decide whether or not he is worth the wait.
It really depends on your needs, wants and relationship requirements and whether those needs are being met.
Our sense of happiness in a relationship is directly related to whether our needs and relationship requirements are being met in the relationship.
And because he is not yet divorced, he is probably not 100% available to meet some of those needs and relationship requirements because he is still working on dissolving his marriage, and divorce has its own timeline.
But you get to decide how long you want to wait.
What would make waiting worth it to you?
What would not make it NOT worth it to you?
Find the line between those two scenarios and see where you are at.
I wrote an article on whether you should wait for him to finalize his divorce that you might find helpful.
How Long to Wait Until Your Relationship Is “Normal”
It may take some time after the divorce for the relationship to “normalize.”
There is no given length of time out there for how long it takes someone to get over a divorce. It really depends on a lot of factors.
According to psychologist Susan Pease Gadoua L.C.S.W:
“How long it takes to “recover” from a divorce depends on a number of factors, including how long [they] were together, how good the relationship was and how committed [they] were to [each other], whether the divorce was a surprise to [one spouse] or not, whether [they] have children together, whether [they] are involved in a new relationship, [their] personalities, [their] ages, [their] socio-economic status and on and on.”
In general, post-divorce recovery can take a year or longer for him to really make the transitions and adjustments to being a single dad and healing from the dissolution of his marriage.
Will This Relationship Work out for You?
Basically, the biggest indicators of long-term relationship success are whether you’re aligned in your vision, needs and relationship requirements.
When You Feel “Second” in the Relationship
Feeling “second” to his kids and his ex is a common feeling among women who are dating a recently divorced man or a single dad. You’re not alone if you’ve experienced this.
Maybe your date night plans get cut short because he drops everything to respond to his ex’s demands.
Or maybe you’re unhappy about the how often he attends to his kids at the expense of quality time with you.
I feel you.
It’s hard when it feels like you’re not just dealing with him, but you’re also contending with his ex-wife and his kids.
How to Stop Feeling Second to His Kids and His Ex
Whenever we experience relationship issues—like feeling as though our partner isn’t prioritizing our relationship—it points to a relationship need or requirement that we have that’s not being met.
Needs are the things that need to happen in our relationship in order for us to feel loved and in order for the relationship to work for us.
relationship requirements are our non-negotiables—what we absolutely require in a relationship (or the relationship will not work).
The difference between needs and relationship requirements are that needs are negotiable (there are different ways to meet a need), whereas relationship requirements are non-negotiable, they’re black and white.
Here are some approaches you can take:
Understand What’s Going On
You Have Needs
When you feel like you’re second to his ex and his kids, there is a need or requirement that you have that is not getting met.
So I would encourage you to take a look at what is going on in your relationship when you feel like you’re being treated second.
Get really clear on: What need isn’t being met?
And is there a way that you could negotiate with him to meet that need?
His Kids Have Needs
The reality is, if he’s a single dad, his kids have defined needs that cannot be compromised. And it’s his role as a parent to fulfill those needs.
But often, the biological parent and significant other (you, as his girlfriend) have strong differences of opinion on what constitutes the needs of his kids and how those needs get met.
But, as Yvonne Kelly says in her Step-Dating Report at the Step and Blended Family Institute:
“…a guilt-ridden bio parent may insist on meeting all of the ‘wants’ or preferences of the child under the guise of meeting their needs, at the expense of meeting any of his/her own needs or the needs of the couple.
Or, on the flip side of that, a childless step dating partner or stepparent, may not be able to fully appreciate the scope of needs that the child has and may choose to see the biological parent as indulgent and overprotective at the cost of meeting the couple’s needs.”
While the true needs of his kids must come first and it’s his job as a parent to make sure those needs are met, the reality is that a relationship will not last if your needs continue to go unmet, especially the need to have time together as a couple.
If needs go unmet in a relationship (for anyone in the relationship), resentment will build and undermine your sense of connection to each other.
His Relationship with His Ex Has Needs
If he is going through a divorce, he has issues that he has to resolve with regard to the dissolution of his marriage (such as issues with regard to their estate, finances or kids) and that could be interfering with his readiness for a new relationship.
While he is in the midst of a divorce, he might not be physically or emotionally available to meet your needs because his priority may be to finalize his divorce.
Or, if he is already divorced and co-parenting with his ex, there may be instances where he needs to spend time with, communicate with and/or collaborate with his ex in order to successfully co-parent their kids.
Another possibility is, it could be that he still harbors a lot of unresolved feelings for his ex (whether it be anger or affection), in which case he is probably not over his ex.
He Might Have Boundary Issues
If he’s always responding to his kids’ requests out of guilt (rather than their true needs), or responding to his ex’s requests out of fear or guilt, it could be that he struggles with maintaining healthy boundaries.
Boundaries are the limits a person decides on how people can treat them, how they can behave around them, and what they can expect from them.
When people struggle with healthy boundaries, they bend to other people’s wants and demands—other people’s expectations—to the exclusion of their own well-being or the well-being of other important areas of their own life.
In order for him to honor his boundaries, he first needs to get really clear on what he wants (what are his boundaries) and overcome any fear or guilt that are inhibiting healthy relationships.
Communicate Your Concerns
When you get clear on what could be happening in your relationship (what needs aren’t being met) that’s causing you to feel like you’re second, it’s important to communicate your concerns.
If he doesn’t know how you feel, and you don’t tell him how you feel, you don’t give him the opportunity to change his behavior.
When you’re communicating, I encourage you to use “I” and “me” language instead of “you” language.
For example, “it hurt me when…” or “I felt….” because framing it that way is less threatening and lessens the likelihood that other person will get defensive. “You” language can feel like you’re pointing fingers and accusing them. (“You never…”, “You always…”)
When you communicate your concerns in a non-threatening way, you increase the likelihood that your concerns will be truly heard and that the other person will be open to changing his behavior.
Assess Your Needs and Whether They Are Being Met
When you’ve communicated your concerns and made him aware of your needs, and when you’ve negotiated with your partner how those needs could be met in the relationship, it’s fair to give it some time to see if things change in your relationship.
How much time to allow? You get to decide how much time you want to give it.
You always empowered with the option to choose with whom and for how long you’re in a relationship.
It’s sometimes not an easy choice. It’s sometimes really complicated.
But know that you always have that choice.
Adjust Your Expectations…Or Consider Moving On
If you’ve worked out a way where everyone’s needs can be met, that’s great!
But if your needs are continually being unmet, it could be that his circumstances…and the choices he’s making in his life right now…are preventing him from meeting your needs.
If he’s not available or unwilling to meet your needs, (which I know can be really frustrating and heartbreaking) you have some choices to make.
For example, you can adjust your needs and expectations. And you can do that by letting go of some of your needs (temporarily or indefinitely).
The difficult part about letting go of some of your needs is that you might always feel like something is missing or a certain degree of dissatisfaction.
After all, you have those needs for a reason; you have them because they are important to you.
The other option is to consider moving on from the relationship, with the mindset that you’d rather be single than settle.
I know this is a lot of think about but I hope this provides you with 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.