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I Don't Want to be Third Wheel -
Boyfriend has Six Month Old Baby

QUESTION: My boyfriend and I have had an on-and-off relationship for six years and we recently decided to stay together. However, during an "off" time, he fathered a baby with another women. He's crazy about his baby (now six-months-old), but I feel no affection towards him. My boyfriend promised me his baby and I could both be his top priority, but I feel like a third-wheel. We can't plan our future because he has so much kid's stuff to deal with. I never dated men with children for this very reason ... and I'm growing impatient.

ANSWER: Your boyfriend sounds like he wants to have his cake and eat it too! And perhaps you are vulnerable to believing in the impossible when it is something you want. Both of you need to take stock of the situation, not only for yourselves, but for the child and stepchildren involved. It is time for a deep and honest look at your own motivations and the impact of such complications on other people.

Your lack of feeling towards your boyfriend's baby is no doubt a sign of your anger and pain at your boyfriend for the turn of circumstances that arose during the "off" part of your relationship. You did not want this child. This child is not yours. Why would your feelings ever change? And what are the effects on other innocent children? Given your initial feelings of not even wanting to date men who had children, aren't you selling yourself short to accept such a situation now? Ask yourself why you would do such a thing to yourself when being "number one" has always been so important to you.

Your feelings of being a "third wheel" in this specific situation with the uniquely challenging features it presents are likely to be borne out. Your circumstances spell pain, big time! Your boyfriend's promise to make you and his new child he is not living with (and who is not connected to you) both "number one" sounds like a desperate attempt to meet his own needs at the expense of yours! Examine the past carefully, to determine whether his "making deals" is something that repeats itself. Perhaps this kind of character flaw has contributed to your previous relationship difficulties. Do you have a pattern of overaccommodation in relationships? Was this the nature of your parents' marriage? If so, it may be easier to see the facts and act in your own best interests this time.

Review your own sense of worth and desire to have what you want in your life. Is there anything in your childhood or past experience that would cause you to believe that you cannot have what you want? Anything that makes you feel unworthy of the uncomplicated love you seek? Or is it the case that your willingness to consider your boyfriend's unrealistic "deal" to share being "number one" with his new child from another relationship is your attempt to escape the imminent grief of saying "good-bye".

As one friend advised me when I was mourning a love relationship, "It may be the best milk it town, but it's spilled." Making doomed agreements may hurt less in the short run, but make you ineligible for the happiness in the future you so desire. If you choose to say "good-bye," remember that it will hurt, and you will grieve the loss of the dreams you had for your relationship. And you will miss your boyfriend. But remember, too, that "what could have been" has already changed irrevocably.

Consider getting help to clarify your present situation and the realistic impact on your future. Perhaps your tendency to overcompromise your needs in the relationship has eroded your self-esteem. Identify what your requirements are in a marriage. It is your job to take care of yourself. If you do not take charge of your decision, you most likely increase the chance that you will feel victimized. Take the courage to look inside for answers. If you have lost yourself in the relationship, reclaiming your sense of self is the first order of business.

If you decide to walk away from the relationship, consider seeking professional and/or peer support to weather the pain of loss and explore your own motivations for being in this relationship. Remember that you are making a decision that will affect your experience of feeling loved for the rest of your life. Do you really want to marry a man who is now immersed in the life of a woman he had an affair with during the "off" period in your relationship????


Gayle Peterson, MSSW, LCSW, PhD is a family therapist specializing in prenatal and family development. She trains professionals in her prenatal counseling model and is the author of An Easier Childbirth, Birthing Normally and her latest book, Making Healthy Families. Her articles on family relationships appear in professional journals and she is an oft-quoted expert in popular magazines such as Woman's Day, Mothering and Parenting. . She also serves on the advisory board for Fit Pregnancy Magazine.

Dr. Gayle Peterson has written family columns for ParentsPlace.com, igrandparents.com, the Bay Area's Parents Press newspaper and the Sierra Foothill's Family Post. She has also hosted a live radio show, "Ask Dr. Gayle" on www.ivillage.com, answering questions on family relationships and parenting. Dr. Peterson has appeared on numerous radio and television interviews including Canadian broadcast as a family and communications expert in the twelve part documentary "Baby's Best Chance". She is former clinical director of the Holistic Health Program at John F. Kennedy University in Northern California and adjunct faculty at the California Institute for Integral Studies in San Francisco. A national public speaker on women's issues and family development, Gayle Peterson practices psychotherapy in Oakland, California and Nevada City, California. She also offers an online certification training program in Prenatal Counseling and Birth Hypnosis. Gayle and is a wife, mother of two adult children and a proud grandmother of three lively boys and one sparkling granddaughter.

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