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Ask Dr. Norman Brown Your Own Question

Dr. Norman Brown
Dr. Norman Brown, Marriage Therapist
Category: Relationship
Satisfied Customers: 839
Experience:  Family Therapist & teacher 35+ yrs; PhD research in couples
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My boyfriend whom i just got engaged to l week ago , sent

Customer Question

My boyfriend whom i just got engaged to "l week ago", sent an -email to his x x girlfriend, begining with the words "hey sweetie",,,,,,he had contact via facebook a couple a months ago with her and he promised me he would not speak to her again as she was saying things that were more than friendly...He claims she contacted him...this time he contacted her....he cried and begged me for forgivness this time and said he didn't know what got into him...but I am having a hard time with the whole thing...Is this a character flaw? He is twenty nine, and quite mature...I have mixed emotions as he is extremely loving towards me and otherwise we have a great relationship....I don't feel good about what he has done, my heart is aching even though we made amends....what should I really do? Pls be honest as my future is at steak....
Submitted: 2 years ago.
Category: Relationship
Expert:  Dr. Norman Brown replied 2 years ago.

nphbrown :

What he has done is actually not unusual for people who are newly engaged. It's an unconscious fear of commitment shutting the door to all the old girlfriends he's ever had--and it should indeed shut that door. Germans call it Torschlusspanik: Doorclosingpanic. It doesn't mean he has misgivings about getting married, but it does mean he's a bit scared of taking that one more step closer to commiting to what he expects will be a lifetime. It's actually not silly to be scared of this step (and setting a date is another one). It's giving the meaning of his actions the awesomeness they really have.

nphbrown :

I'm concerned though if you only show him the rule-maker in you and not the hurt eager bride-to-be. For the bride to be is the person he can feel Remorse for hurting, and the "you're being disrespectful" person sounds more like a mother teaching her boy. If you're angry and righteous (and angry people usually have to believe they're absolutely RIGHT) he can feel diminished as a bad-man. But if you show him your hurt side, then he can comfort you and feel bad that he did it and want to take care of your feelings by learning the new ways to show he's a proud husband-to-be and to show you how happy he is to have you as his bride.

nphbrown :

Every once in a while we get a question here by a fiancee who's husband to be has flirted or worse with somebody he used to be close with. It's an unconscious panic: "I really have to say goodbye to all that? And I can't even keep a little digital contact?" The digital contact is today's new erosion of privacy and normal boundaries between lovers and everybody else either of them has ever shared love with. I'll be there are hundreds of engaged and newly married partners who "slip up" every week. I think their unconscious message to the ex ex is "don't forget me, I'll never forget you. In an alternate universe we could be just as close as ever, but just friends and remembering the good old times."

Customer:

what about his promise not speak to her again,,,,I feel I can't trust him if he has broken his promise to me less than a month ago....as far as me wanting respect, i think that is one of the most important parts of a relationship. Do you think when you leave your mom or dad there should be no rules or boundries??? I totally disagree with you

Customer:

In his last relationship he also kept in touch with the same girl.

nphbrown :

I'm NOT assuming there should be no rules or boundaries. I'm saying those boundaries are very important, and it's harder to police them now that there's an Internet that is SO easy to dial up an old partner "just to say hi." What I mean when I said rules is that SOUNDING like you're most interested in making sure he doesn't break rules is not showing him how much your heart is aching. It's your aching heart that he will want to cuddle and protect once he knows it is really aching. Showing him your hurt is a better way to bring him in closer, and that's what you both want and what will make him not want to keep in touch. --but you just wrote that he has kept in touch with her before.

nphbrown :

If it weren't for the "sweetie" his "hi" to her could mean he just wants her to still "be there for him" whenever he needs a good woman's advice and comfort. And that's definitely something he should give up on, the sooner the better.

nphbrown :

The fact that she's been a stable support (in fantasy or in reality) does mean that he has to get clearer on what that does to you inside. Many young men don't think THEY could feel hurt over something as trivial as that. Well, suppose you had a guy you were really close and hot with for a few years 5 years ago. Ask your fiance whether he'd like you to keep regular contact with that guy, who happens to have found you on facebook and wants to be friendly again. If he says that wouldn't bother him at all, then you have a more interesting problem. Then you need to let him know that you're not the same inside as he is, and you need to know you are his one and only love. Another thing men in every new generation of mariages have to learn anew is that 'best old friend' girlfriends are naturally experienced by a wife as a threat, especially if they were once way more than just friends. I found with my wife (now of 25 years) that she knew which of my ex girlfriends were a threat and which were not, by how much my ways of talking about them reflected a really strong love, versus an experiment that really didn't hit the spot. But even with the not-so-threatening old girlfriends, I wouldn't want to see or telephone any particular one more often than once every 5 years. But that was before the Internet. Now it's SO easy to have little tendrils of communication lines dangling everywhere, so former romantics can test the temperature of their exes any time they want, and they can still keep "plausible deniability" meaning keep the appearance up that they're just saying Hi and don't mean anything by it.

Customer:

I read your answer again and again and I get where you are coming from....I am still a little hurt and yes you are coming from a loving place.and i am coming from an unreasonable place. It is the SWEETIE that gets to me, as it sounds so loving and caring. He is that way and really doesn't want to hurt me but I hope this is not a character flaw....People do have those as you know.....you sound very well spoken and I know that you have given me some food for thought. I guess I don't want him to still want her to "be there for him"....apparently this girl has been a problem for him in his past relationship. We live hundreds of miles from her so he feels safe, and I am not anything like a mommy to him...we can talk and I do let him know how hurt I was about the whole situation...I appreciate your input and your advice. I am happy your answer was quite professional...it was quite refreshing...thank you

nphbrown :

This ex girl IS a threat because you experience her that way, and his mistake of dialing her up again shows he has some reluctance to cut the telephone line. Perhaps you can ask him to talk to one of his friends or relatives who's been married for a while and find out what that guy has learned about keeping "say hey" contacts with exgirlfriends in action. Then you don't look like the only woman around who's feeling and acting like a woman normally feels and acts. I'll send this and then read yours.

nphbrown :

You are NOT unreasonable at all. Your limit is the right one to set. It's just the way you talked about it that could have backfired. It's a fundamental principle of good relationships that IF ONE PARTNER FEELS THREATENED BY the other's connection to ANYBODY except a sister, then the other needs to put his beloved's feelings above his own and cut the uncomfortable intruder OUT. Sometimes he needs to send her a brief note that he won't be keeping up friendly relations anymore, but only if that's necessary. Normally people send that message by just NOT responding to any messages or sending any messages anymore.

Customer:

You still haven't answered me about it being a character flaw....do you think that is possible. as In my faith we do not believe in extra activity outside our marriage...and to me an affair does not mean you actually have to be sleeping with the person.

nphbrown :

FAIRNESS IS NOT THE UPPERMOST PRINCIPLE (if I'm not bothered, then you shouldn't be bothered) but learning the uniqueness of your partner's feelings is more specific and related.

Customer:

You are right about that. I really am that person you seem to be talking about....right now I am just not showing it..

Dr. Norman Brown, Marriage Therapist
Category: Relationship
Satisfied Customers: 839
Experience: Family Therapist & teacher 35+ yrs; PhD research in couples
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