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Hello Dr. Hartman,

I have been dating a guy for 6 years. We’re in our 50s. We both have children: his are grown, mine are teenagers. He has been divorced for over ten years. My dilemma: after the first couple of years, things were fine. His ex, that has also still loved him and never got over the divorce, was diagnosed with breast cancer and he allowed her to move in while she recovered, which I understood the compassion. He allowed her to stay while she completed a degree in college. She has recovered, but let her house deteriorate, has no job and refuses to go on with her life. She has stayed with other family members but finds fault and moves back with him.  He says she has nowhere to go and he won’t move on with our relationship until she is gone. We have talked marriage, but he won’t do it until she is gone. I have suggested eloping and perhaps that may encourage her to move on with her life, but he says no, he wants to marry correctly, inform family, etc. Obviously she has no intention of leaving and he had lost another girlfriend years before me with the ex-meddling. One son also lives with him until he finishes school. I can’t really visit or go over as she makes it a point to be there. As in we went fishing once and she invited herself and he said nothing. She also makes comments as if to discourage me away.  So he only sees me two weekends a month at my house.

I have met his family, been on vacations with him and when we are together is a normal relationship, except it’s two weekends a month and generally phone calls daily in the morning when she is not around or when he is shopping alone or late at night. He has promised every year she is leaving and gives a date, then she doesnt leave for a myriad of excuses, no car, no money, waiting on money, etc.  And he just can’t put a poor person out. I personally think she stays with her plight to stay with him. Her other son offered her a place to stay with him, but she doesn’t like her son’s wife and she would have to move to another state. I love my boyfriend, of course, but am thinking this is not right. I really am not sure what i should do. I have told him I really need to move on until he fixes his problem, but he assures me it will be next month, then next month, etc. This has been going on for 3 years now. Any advice would be appreciated.



Dear CC,

Ugh. With each story I get from a woman in a difficult relationship with a divorced man, I mentally create 2 lists: one with the problems and another with the positive points. Unfortunately, CC, the 2nd list is going to be pretty short.

On the positive side, your partner is a caring guy. He’s taken care of the mother of his children during a very difficult time in her life. In a world where people badmouth their exes and fight over custody, this isn’t a bad thing.

But the positives end there.

Of all the clients I serve, despite having widely varying problems, most have one thing in common – their partner has one foot in a new relationship and one foot in his former marriage. As I discuss in Dating the Divorced Man, they won’t let go of the old and embrace the new. I would have zero problem with a man subsidizing his ex-wife in the way that your boyfriend has if he didn’t have a girlfriend, especially a girlfriend of SIX YEARS. Unfortunately, CC, your boyfriend is still married. Not in the legal sense, but in pretty much every other sense. Even if he isn’t sleeping with his ex (and it’s possible that he is, although I hope not), he is still emotionally tied to her in a pretty significant way.

That’s the thing about divorce – you don’t have to take care of each other anymore. Married people take care of each other. Divorced people move on to look for someone new to take care of. If you want to live together and have one person supporting the other, that’s a relationship, and there’s no room for a second one.

There’s no room for you in your boyfriend’s life. He’s made it clear his troubled ex is more important to him than you are. She lives with him; you don’t. She gets his financial support; you don’t. She determines when he sees you and talks to you; you don’t. She sees him every day; you only see him two weekends per month! Two weekends per month isn’t enough to sustain a relationship.

This man is truly unavailable (and like most unavailable people in relationships, full of excuses). He refuses to marry you until she leaves, but does nothing to ensure that she leaves. He refuses to elope because he wants a “proper” wedding, but makes no plans for one. There are other people she could live with, but he lets her stay with him. She’s recovered now from her illness, but she’s still there. She has no job and doesn’t seem to be in a hurry to get one, and he is fine with that. He lost a previous relationship over this situation. He even lets her join you on a date – yuck.

You mentioned in a second email how much this is upsetting you. I’m not at all surprised. There isn’t a woman on Planet Earth who would want this kind of situation! Not only are you sharing your man with his ex, it’s clear she’s more important to him than you are! I tell women that when dating a separated man, to some extent they have to “share” a man with his ex – at least on some level – until his divorce finalizes. But this man is long divorced, his kids are grown, and he owes her nothing other than his moral support and maybe a little financial help here and there if he’s up for it.

CC, your boyfriend his made his choice. His ex comes first, before you or any other woman. That’s his choice. Your only option is to tell him you want to be the only woman in a man’s life, and leave. Only when he’s deprived of the companionship and hope that comes from having one foot in a relationship with someone other than his ex will he see the consequences of the choice he’s made. As long as you stick around, he won’t have to. Now he has it both ways, so show him what life will be like with only his ex to comfort him.

Dump him. Let this guy have his ex-wife while you go and find a man who’s fully available. They’re out there – I promise! And be sure to pick up Dating the Divorced Man.

Keep us posted…



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