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Dr. Mark
Dr. Mark, Psychotherapist
Category: Relationship
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Experience:  Dr. Mark is a PhD in psychology helping with relationships
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My boyfriend says that he wants to marry me and loves me tremendously.

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My boyfriend says that he wants to marry me and loves me tremendously. We have been friends for 5 years but have been dating for 7 months. However, he keeps in touch with his ex's and past love interests on a regular basis every month (by texts or phone calls) I've told him that it bothers me that he doesn't let go of his past. He has said in many occasions he will let go of them. However, he hasn't done so. When I bring up the subject, he says that he doesn't have feelings for them anymore and they are just friends. He also would like to meet up with them when they come into town. What does that mean? I'm I being out of line by asking him not to talk every month to his exes and to leave the past in the past in order for us to embark on a future?

Hi! I believe I can be of help with this issue.

First, let me say I can imagine how confusing this situation must be for you. Your boyfriend has moved, in speech at least, from boyfriend/girlfriend to talking about being your fiance. He wants to make this relationship his marriage. You are clearly a normal, caring, loving person. So you hear this and you understand it to mean a very specific type of commitment: marriage is a total commitment to each other. That is indeed how our society has always understood what marriage means traditionally.

And this is actually the key to my answer to you that you need to consider and think about. In fact, you may decide it will be worthwhile to print it out and read it together with your fiance at a Starbucks or some other neutral site. This is not an issue of right or wrong. It is an issue of values. You understand the emotional commitment and exclusivity of marriage to be exactly what it says and you are concerned that he does not.

You are treating engagement as a warm up to the marriage. If he is going to say he wants to marry you and loves you, he needs to show you that this is true and real, now, not just after the wedding ceremony. All the rules apply in your eyes. There is an exclusive level of commitment in that relationship.

He is expressing different values. It is possible that he will feel differently when you two are married, but that is not certain. It could well be that his values are different on the level of monogamy that marriage requires. He might feel that close platonic friendships with members of the opposite sex, and even with ex-lovers, are allowed and not a violation.

He may agree with you that marriage does preclude these relationships and that he shares your values. But he may believe that the period before marriage is not a period of commitment. That is also a values question: you do not see the wedding ceremony as an on/off switch. And so you are concerned that if he is going to feel it is permissible to have these relationships now, this will not suddenly change when he is wearing a ring.

So, this is going to be a very pivotal discussion. I want you each to spend some time thinking about what marriage means to you and what your VALUES are. And see if they match. Because if there is a mismatch in the values between you, you need to know that now and decide if this problem is going to pop up continually and erode the closeness of your marriage. That one person sees the relationship to be one thing and require certain things and the other person sees it to be a different thing and require different things is not a good basis for a strong marriage.

BOTH of you need to understand that the central issue is that marriage is a BESTOWING of one's "specialness" to one human being. That includes sex, but is not just sex. It is emotional fulfillment, comfort, etc. It is the things that make a relationship "special". That means exclusivity. That means to you and to most people with traditional values that close friendships with people of the opposite sex are a violation. Now for the important point:

When one partner in a marriage feels that the other person has done something to lessen that relationship, the other person is actually being called upon to REAFFIRM the bond of "specialness" I refer to. I often see it in my office when husbands or wives are flirtatious at social events. Or that the spouse has a “friend” of the opposite gender that they feel is “just” a friend. The other spouse gets hurt. The real question is, even if the flirtation is innocent fun, why would the husband or fiance be MORE attached to that need for flirtatious fun than to their spouse’s discomfort with it? Even if the friend is just a friend, why would the husband or fiance be MORE attached to that need for the friend than to their spouse’s discomfort with it?

That's our question here. For this period of time, your fiance is acting more attached to these relationships than to your needs. Why? Your needs are the needs of his future wife. That is supposed to be special. You see, this is why these are values issues.

Hopefully, going over my answer together in that discussion will help the two of you see what are the values that have to be weighed and what values you want to live by can be agreed to.

Okay, I wish you the very best!

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