My Boyfriend is Overwhelmed with Parenting. Is this a Deal-Breaker?

Traci writes:

Greetings Dr. Chalmer,

This morning, as I lay in bed, dreading the day (or weekend) ahead of me, I decided to google “help with a troubled relationship” and your YouTube channel came up.  I made some coffee, grabbed a journal and pen and listened to all your videos and took some notes! Thank you for posting them—sometimes something free/accessible/spontaneous is more valuable than gold. 

At the end of your videos you encourage folks to drop you a line, and after hearing that invitation 8 or nine times, I decided I’d write!

I’m feeling so stuck right now in a situation that is all too familiar to me. I’m a female in my mid 40s; no stranger to therapy, as I was physically/verbally abused by my stepfather as a teenager. As you can guess intimate relationships have been a really tough thing for me to hold onto my entire life—and at the same time it’s all I’ve ever yearned for. I have a really hard time with boundaries and decisions and that is why I’m working on “deal breakers and growing pains” but I have a question, and I cannot decide if this is a deal breaker or not.

My boyfriend of 17 months has recently distanced himself from the relationship and we are both going through difficult times, triggering each other and struggling to hold on to the relationship. His situation: he is a 2.5-year sober recovering alcoholic with an out of control 5-year-old son with an alcoholic mother, and he is just drowning in his life right now (trying to get custody/therapy for the child, working to make ends meet, trying to find time for the child, etc.). He is working VERY hard at doing the right things, struggling so much. My situation: I have no children and have a very simple life (stressless job, house in the country, etc.). My life is actually pretty empty without my boyfriend (don’t worry—I do have friends :)), and I probably unknowingly put too much pressure on him to give me more of his time. 

My feeling is that because we are in a relationship, I want to be there to help him and work through this together and I want to support him however I can. He, on the other hand feels that he needs to do all of this on his own and does not want to “burden me with his burdens”. So, he is isolating and struggling to “fix” his life while I’m sitting out here alone suffering through feelings of grief and loss that I cannot work through with him because he has too much of his own stuff going on. He says he does not want to break up but I feel like that’s exactly what is happening anyway because of the distance.  He says he needs space/time to fix things with his child (and in reality he really doesn’t have time for a girlfriend) and I need reassurance and time with him to feel ok about us. There’s no way we can both get our needs met—at least I cannot see a way, when he wants distance and I want closeness.

LONG LONG LONG story to get to that…my apologies! (I didn’t know how much info to include.)

Do you think that’s a deal breaker? Or is this something people can work through? (In this moment it feels like a deal breaker.)

Thank you for your time. And thank you for the insightful videos! Again, my apologies for so much of a backstory.

Best,
Traci

Dr. Chalmer answers:

Traci, thanks for your question, and the kind words about my videos. (Readers, you can find links to all my videos on my practice website here.)

Alas, I think you’re right that this is a deal breaker. What you want from your boyfriend isn’t wrong or unreasonable—it’s just unavailable. Your boyfriend sounds like a good man, struggling to be the best father he can be in very difficult circumstances, and the situation doesn’t leave him enough time, energy, or emotional bandwidth to be a boyfriend too.

I think you’ve already realized that. I’m glad you have friends, therapy, and a simple life (I’d love to hear about your stressless job—please comment!) to help you through the grief of a breakup. Wish him well, enjoy your simple life, and take care of yourself.

Readers, have you been in a situation like this?