“Background: dating for 9 months now. We hardly see each other in person because of work and school. He lives about 30 mins across the border (Washington State) and I live about the same from the border (BC) in the other direction. We talk and chat and video all the time, everyday. But get to meet and spend time together very rarely. Sometimes just once a month.
He’s a very caring guy. I fell for him so hard. Everything is genuine and natural. He tells me he loves me and cares about me a lot and wants a future together. I always asked him to show me with actions instead of words. I think it’s more important what you do, rather than what you say.
Cut to: having a nice date and he tells me about how his brother’s wife (newly married for a few months) gets lonely all by herself at home. His brother, (her husband) works all the time. She’s new to the country. Doesn’t get around or have anyone here. I believe that he genuinely cares about people a lot and that he is trying to help his family.
He does that with everything and everyone, but me. It’s hard to listen to a guy say he cares and not show up to do the work. The situation with his sister in law feels like my last straw. How are you so aware of this other woman’s needs and wants and prioritize her, but not the woman you want to spend your life with?
… Out of anger, I’ve said some hurtful things about his sister in law. I don’t know if the hurt and anger will fade. I want to leave the relationship. However, he’s convinced I will get over it and we can build a future together. I don’t want to live with the sister in law and be looking over my shoulder for the rest of our lives.
What to do in this situation?”
Let’s remove your boyfriend’s sister-in-law from the equation for now. It is a relevant issue here and we will come back to this in a bit.
Dr. Gary Chapman published his book “Five Love Languages” back in 1992. The book outlines how there are five different ways in which different people express affection and love. And they are:
- Words of Affirmation – Verbal and/or written expression for partners.
- Acts of Service – Doing something for partners (i.e. washing dishes, cooking dinner).
- Receiving Gifts – Thoughtful present or favor for partners.
- Physical Touch – Intimate or physical display of affection (i.e. hugs, cuddles).
- Quality Time – Focused and dedicated one-on-one time with no distractions.
Dr. Chapman goes into further detail about what each of those languages mean and what happens when different people express their love differently without reciprocation in the same medium. Dr. Chapman theorized that it’s important to appreciate even in different love languages that your partner might be more proficient in, so that you can remain more in tune with your partner’s level of emotional investment.
Based on your post, it sounds like there is a major gap between how you prefer to express your affection (quality time) and how he prefers to express his affection (words of affirmation).
I also think that it is important to determine and openly discuss your own needs in a healthy relationship. Even though you only live an hour apart, you two find it very difficult to make time for each other in more substantial way. That warrants a heavy discussion on how much more and what kind of quality time you need from your partner and what they can provide for you. Be honest but firm about what kind of emotional investment you are looking for in your partnership with your boyfriend.
And do not allow him to just sweep your hurt feelings under the rug.
Now let’s revisit the issue with the sister-in-law.
Your boyfriend does sound like a very compassionate and deeply caring person. He can empathize with his sister-in-law about what a difficult time she is having in transition. But I also see that he is too close to or at least unintentionally obtuse about his current situation with you. He needs to understand that it is not at all his responsibility whether or not his SIL is not lonely at home. That is her own responsibility. She’s a grown woman. She can figure it out and forge her own connections. Even if she couldn’t figure it out herself, her main source of support should be his brother and her newlywed husband. Not your boyfriend’s responsibility or realm of agency no matter how deeply compassionate and caring he is.
I also have a feeling that he was communicating his feelings about her transition as a way to connect with you and vent to you about his sorry feelings for her predicament. Not necessarily that he wanted to hurt you, but he wanted you to understand and unconsciously re-emphasize why you fell for him the first time around. It is natural to feel jealous, especially when your needs are not getting met.
But the problem isn’t about her at all. It is about your needs not being met.
So rephrase it with him. And communicate with him how important it is for your needs to be met. Whether that is in more frequent dates or different types of spending time together, he needs to understand that you are seriously considering leaving this relationship because of your unmet needs.
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