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Ask Dr. Norman Brown Your Own Question

Dr. Norman Brown
Dr. Norman Brown, Marriage Therapist
Category: Relationship
Satisfied Customers: 830
Experience:  Family Therapist & teacher 35+ yrs; PhD research in couples
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My current boyfriend, who Ive known for 6 years, recently

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My current boyfriend, who I've known for 6 years, recently told me how many sexual partners he's had. I'm 21, he's 24, and we dated for about a year and half when we were 17 and 21. So, essentially we spent about 3 years apart before we tried things out again and we're both really happy. He is the only person I've ever slept with and I lost my virginity to him, and when he told me that he's had 13 sexual partners in the span of the 3 years that we were apart, I felt terrible. It's almost that I feel like my sexual relationship with him is now invalidated or less special, and it surely doesn't make me feel good. I'm not sure how to let him know that it bothers me without making him feel judged.
Submitted: 1 year ago.
Category: Relationship
Expert:  Dr. Norman Brown replied 1 year ago.

Dr. Norman Brown :

Welcome to my couples workshop, where people 18-80 of diverse cultures & orientations have come to explore their questions and find a path of heart. Clearly it bruises your heart to know and dwell on the knowledge that he's had many sexual partners. So now you wish you didn't know it.

Dr. Norman Brown :

This issue comes up frequently in committed couples. And the problem is that when one partner tells the other about a prior relationship, the reality of that relationship seems to arise right then for the person who's hearing it for the first time--even though it may be long gone and even forgotten for the person who had the relationship.

Customer:

Yes, that is true. I wish that I didn't know because it makes me feel uneasy and somewhat insecure about how special my relationship is with him, even though he reassures me that I am important to him.

Dr. Norman Brown :

So clearly, you want him to STOP telling you anything about his other relationships, most of which must have been quite short. None of them need to concern you at all, but they do as long as you're thinking about him and imagine anything about what he has told you recently about other women. Believe me, EVERYBODY feels more or less the way you do, though others have figured out various ways to rationalize away the hurt they felt about not being the only one their partner has ever been with.

Dr. Norman Brown :

One way that my wife rationalizes about her knowledge that I've been with other women before her, is to hear me say that NONE of them ever measured up to her, and then I list some ways that are important to me that they didn't measure up to her.

Dr. Norman Brown :

So you're going to need to figure out a way to change your thinking about his short connections in between your first dating and now. And you need him to help with that by not saying more of the wrong things and getting you thinking in ways that poison you again.

Dr. Norman Brown :

I can't tell you exactly what I think you should do or say to him, because I am not you. But I will suggest one or two ways to go about it, so you can begin thinking about it from there. then you can write me back and we can brainstorm together until it feels good enough to you to try it.

Customer:

I know that he cannot change the past and I do not want to fault him for it. Any suggestions will help.

Dr. Norman Brown :

First, I'd suggest that whatever you do, you do in writing in an email, not a text--but you could use a text message to point him toward reading an email you've written to him.

Customer:

Based on the short conversations we have had about it thus far, I can sense that he feels that I am over-analyzing the situation but has not said so outright. I wonder if a long email might make him feel defensive.

Dr. Norman Brown :

Here's first approximation: "Dear H, I don't want to hear any more about other girls you have slept with, because I want you to sleep with me only, and only want to sleep with me. The only details I ever want to hear are why I'm the one you want over all the rest, because that's the way I feel about you. I don't blame you for being honest with me about what happened in those 3 years in between then and now. But from now on I only want to hear about why you want me above anybody else. It's embarrassing for me to say this, so that's why I'm doing it in a letter. And I don't want a reply."

Dr. Norman Brown :

Here's a second way you could go about it: Create imaginary scenarios in your mind of how you could handle it with him, and keep looking for and collecting the moments and replies in each scene that make you feel the best, XXXXX XXXXX soothe the hurt from what he said about his big numbers. Like "almost all were just one-night-stands with alcohol, and they're just a blur." or "Not a one of them was even worth remembering." or "I found out I didn't want anybody else, because every time I was just reminded of you."

Customer:

Those are both good options. I should also add that prior to him telling me, he did ask me if I truly wanted to know, and I said yes. The reason is because I expected the number to be much lower, but I suppose that is my own issue. That is why I feel in the wrong to feel upset about it or judge him. Asking him to only talk to me about how much he wants me is not too much to ask, thus I think he would understand.

Dr. Norman Brown :

Social scientific research into extra-relationship affairs (and that's not even what he had) has found that males get up set to hear that their partner has even touched, kissed, fooled around or had sex with another guy. But females are much less bothered by learning that their partner has had sex (esp.just 1 time) than be learning that their partner has had FEELINGS for the person they cheated with. So the main thing you'd be relieved to hear about them is (1. no specific names or details of relationships) and (2. "they didn't mean anything to me")

Customer:

That's very interesting, and it makes sense to me. It not necessarily the number, rather the nature of the relationships, which he mentioned were unimportant. I hope that he was being truthful in that description, rather than just saying it to make me feel better at the time. It is something I will see if I can determine for myself based on the nature of our own relationship going forward, without bringing up any past liaisons.

Dr. Norman Brown, Marriage Therapist
Category: Relationship
Satisfied Customers: 830
Experience: Family Therapist & teacher 35+ yrs; PhD research in couples
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