Dear Prudence

Help! My Fiancé Keeps Gloating That He Will “Win” Couples Therapy

I postponed the wedding to work some things out. He’s convinced the therapist will side with him.

A couple undergoes therapy; an illustrated cell phone overlays the image.
Photo illustration by Slate. Photo by fizkes/iStock/Getty Images Plus. 

Dear Prudence is Slate’s advice column. Submit questions here. (It’s anonymous!)

Dear Prudence,

I have been with my fiancé for three and a half years, engaged for one year. We have been through a lot together (both good and bad) and have sacrificed things for each other (family, friends, time, money, etc.). We are opposites, and disagree on much, but have a deep and profound emotional connection.

I called off our wedding because I went through his phone and found him sexting many women, complete with pictures and videos. (It should be noted that in the begging of our relationship he flirted with someone he used to have casual sex with on the phone also.) He also was inappropriate with a female friend, sending her pictures of himself in panties.

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He has since stopped talking to other women and the friend, but I’m worried about his future behavior. He claims he only did these things because I was acting like a zombie at home, being quiet and distant. He won’t promise me he won’t do these things anymore unless I promise I won’t resent him again. We are actively seeking couples’ therapy, but he’s constantly saying he can’t wait until the therapist tells me I’m wrong on everything. I’m tired of him blowing up on me and acting spiteful during our constant fights, and I’m not sure if he’s worth being with anymore, even though we both love each other so much.

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— Loyal to the End

Dear Loyal,

You are opposites, he’s cheated on you, you’re worried about your future, he blows up on you, and he’s only going to therapy to prove you wrong. I hate to bore readers by repeating everything that’s been said in a letter, but I think you need to read that sentence. If you care about yourself at all or ever hope to be happy, break up. I know you think you “love each other so much,” but I promise you if you cut off contact you’ll look back in five years and realize your definition of love may have been flawed and you dodged a bullet by not marrying this terrible guy.

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Dear Prudence,

I am a new mom of a 2-month-old little girl. My mom is in the middle of a long overdue divorce with my dad, and recently moved back from Europe to “help me with the baby.” However, she battles with Borderline Personality Disorder, no longer takes medication, and in fact denies that any type of mental illness exists. She is also unvaccinated, a huge believer of COVID conspiracies, and refuses to wear masks in public. She is constantly guilting me about not letting her stay with us and not going to visit her, even though I actually let her come to see me and my daughter for outside visits. She constantly “forgets” to keep her mask on, and whines about not being able to hold the baby, even though I clearly spelled that out as part of the rules of visitation for unvaxed folks. Last time she was here, she was raging and literally screamed at me about various paranoias while I begged her to leave for my baby’s sake, who was thankfully sleeping through the whole ordeal. My husband has been very patient of my biological need for my mother, but now understandably has barred her from the house and banned her from seeing her granddaughter at all.

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My question is this; how can I keep my mom in my life while keeping me sane and my daughter safe? Is it even possible? Video calls are not out of the question, but they have always turned into guilt trips in the past. Cutting her out entirely is also not ideal; I’m both afraid of what she might do physically and worried about losing my relationships with her side of the family, who she is very good at hiding her true self from, and I truly believe that I only have a problem with her because of the impending divorce. Also, truth be told, I could really use my mom right now, but she’s so unavailable it is painful. I feel like cutting ties completely would only deepen those wounds.

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— Mom Who Needs Her Mom

Dear Needs Her Mom,

I think you can keep your mom in your life, at least through outdoor and video visits, but to do so without making yourself miserable, you’ll have to lower your expectations of her basically to the floor. And you’ll have to give up on and mourn the vision of the kind of grandmother you hoped she would be. This isn’t as simple as communicating, negotiating, and setting boundaries—she has a diagnosed mental illness, for which she’s not receiving treatment. Nothing you say or do (including cutting her off) is going to change her or make her behave in a way that seems reasonable to you.

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Focus on you and your baby for now. The first order of business is to replace some of the support that you’re not getting from your mother. Do you have an aunt or friend or neighbor who can fill some of the gaps left by your mom being unable to give you what you need?

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When you feel ready, I think you’ll get the best results by encouraging her to seek treatment. Maybe your husband or other relatives can help out with this. Even if she does agree to try therapy and medication, there’s no guarantee that she’ll improve, so you should also seek support for yourself through organizations designed to help people with family members who are living with BPD. Connecting with others who are in similar situations might remind you that the way your mom is behaving doesn’t mean she doesn’t love you—and keeping your distance for the safety of your child doesn’t mean you don’t love her.

Dear Prudence,

I’m kind of in the classic “in love with your best friend but not” situation.

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I met “Micheal” in 7th grade, in an elective class where most kids got shoved in and didn’t care about doing anything, and I made friends with him at first because I expected he’d do the work. He had a best friend “Max,” and the three of us spent the next two years very close, always partnering together, texting, etc. We did all split when we went to high school, but I maintain a relationship with Micheal now that I’m an 18-year-old senior. He’s 17 and in college because his parents pushed him to graduate early.

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Micheal has never been very emotionally clear or detailed with anyone, including me. I once started to cry in class, and he alerted everyone else instead of comforting me and later admitted he didn’t know what to do when I cried. Anything offensive or upsetting you say to him, in any way, just rolls right off his back. He’s a steel vault on how he feels, most of the time, and is often aloof, even in the face of other’s emotions.

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I, on the other hand, have always been an emotional and energetic rollercoaster of a person, having anxiety, perfectionism, and an abusive/codependent home life. I strive to achieve the highest standard and stress about everything, and try to be as sensitive to others emotions and needs as possible. Our very opposite personalities have made us a good team over time—me, with endless motivation, and him, with realism. He’s capable of taking over for me when I’m unable, and I’m great at getting things started and pushing him to put effort into things he doesn’t want but has to do. He’s very much a bare-minimum kind of guy, but he’s capable of a lot and he knows I want to see the best of him if he’s able. Simultaneously, I’m a “push until you break” kinda person, and he keeps me from burning out or takes care of me when I do.

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I won’t lie, I’ve had issues with certain boundaries and nuances in relationships in the past, and I text him about most everything—my family, emergencies, school, what I saw outside, what someone said, etc. Sometimes I feel like I’ve bullied him into liking me, or put something too heavy on him, and I definitely think it’s affected our relationship. Sometimes I think he feels obligated to talk to me, but he’s denied that before. I know I could stop, but I’m unsure if I’m actually currently crossing any lines or relying on him too much.

Would it ethical, emotionally to try and progress our relationship to romance at some point? Should I let him take the lead, even if I think it’ll take ages and might not happen? Do I just need to steadily and slowly try to increase our communication skills like we have before, by slowly focusing more on him and his feelings and showing him affection the way he likes? Is this just an after-effect of me being abused and latching on to him? Is he lying, and have I created inescapable emotional pressure to talk to me by texting him daily and about my homelife, even though he can go weeks without responding? I know no relationship is perfect and they all take work, but could this destroy what little consistent safety and love I feel I have? Or does it not even exist, and this is all just the effect of being a teenager?

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— Wondering If I Should

Dear Wondering,

You included a great deal more detail in your letter than we had room to print, but I did consider all of it, and my advice is: Don’t do this. You’re trying to force something just because he’s there. This relationship sounds tiring and troubled, and it hasn’t even started. Push yourself to go out and meet and connect with other people, and keep Michael in your life as your (largely emotionally unavailable) BFF.

Catch up on this week’s Prudie.

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