‘My girlfriend shows her kids more love and attention than I think I will ever get’

Tell Me About It: ‘Sometimes I want to leave to let her finish raising her grown kids’

PROBLEM: My girlfriend of 12 years has three kids from her previous relationship – two 20-plus-year-olds and a teenager. It’s been so hard to have time for ourselves, because she wants to attend to them and finish raising them – sometimes I feel like I’m no one to her.

And now we have a child of our own, he is four years old. Nothing changed, she still puts her kids before me, eg organising holidays and all events around them. I thought that having a child of our own would change something. It hasn’t changed anything really. She still shows them more love and attention than I think I will ever get. I thought that at a certain age and time they would live their lives and we would start our own.

I don’t know, sometimes I want to leave to let her finish raising her grown kids, but I realise we have four-year-old son that needs us, so for now I’m just humble and patient.

ADVICE: It seems that your self-awareness could do with some work, as perhaps could your confidence. You have been with this woman for 12 years and have a child together so I am wondering what more commitment would show you that you are a needed and permanent part of her life?

It may well be that the romantic side of your relationship could do with attention, but all couples face this as the demands of child-rearing take precedence. There is no doubt that you could work on introducing more romance and flirtation into your relationship but first perhaps you should try to understand what is going on in yourself. It seems that you are looking for your partner to validate your existence and this says two things.

Firstly, you hold her in high esteem and want her attention and secondly you feel resentful that she is not giving you what you want. The good thing is that you value her in your life but the resentment you feel will not endear you to her or allow you to foster a sense of mutual love and admiration. In terms of addressing these things could you take stock of your own self? What was your self-esteem like growing up? What place did you occupy in your own family and were you given the attention you needed? What model of parenting did you receive and what did your parents model in terms of a solid relationship?

In particular, what role did your father play and was he given esteem by the family and what are your expectations around this. It can happen that if we are not fully aware of the patterns and habits of our families of origin, we can either replay the mould we grew up in or blame our current families for not treating us as our un-examined expectations decree.

It is when someone feels fully heard and understood that they can return the same to others

In any case, your unhappiness is palpable and this needs to be addressed, not least for the sake of all the children in your care. From your letter it could be that the older children are growing up with a male role model who is actively waiting for them to leave, and you can imagine the impact could have on them. Therefore, for everyone involved, it would be a gift for you to devote time and attention to your own emotional wellbeing.

Could you start with the Aware online life skills programme, aware.ie, this will help you toward self-understanding and help you begin to assemble the building blocks of self-esteem and the capacity to foster empathy towards others. The other thing you might consider is to have a series of very open conversations with your partner about the meaning of life and love.

These conversations should start with you listening fully to what she has to say, and you should approach the process with a sense of curiosity and by asking questions to try to understand fully where she is coming from. It is when someone feels fully heard and understood that they can return the same to others, so by you listening to her there is a greater chance that she will then be able to hear you.

The aim of these conversations should not be to get her to agree with you but rather for you both to connect and wonder at another’s being. This approach will have the added benefit of being very romantic. There is nothing more enchanting than someone being interested and fascinated at every little thing about us and it is always wrong to think we know them fully and have nothing more to find out.

You are searching for intensity and romance so put effort and energy behind this and you may just get exactly what you desire. What do you know about what your partner considers alluring? Act on this but also at the same time know that there is nothing more attractive than a confident person who is fully sharing the road with you. This means participating fully in the role of family man, take joy in the children’s successes and shoulder the responsibilities with their mother. Work on your own self-esteem and do not rely on your partner to bolster it for you. Try the best you can to create the romantic environment you so desire.

There is so much you can do to make your life happier so do not put it off for some mythical time in the future.

Start now and you might achieve what you want rather than arrive at that future place full of bitterness and resentment.