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Advice – How can I support my boyfriend through a big life change?

My (32f) boyfriend (34m) just had a bomb dropped on him by his wife (38f) of 10 years. She confessed that she doesn’t love him anymore, not like she used to. She doesn’t yet know what she wants to do, and he’s terrified. He doesn’t have any family here in the US, he emigrated here to be with her, and all his friends are her friends too. I’ve made it abundantly clear that I will support him in any way I can, even going as far as letting him move into my spare room if need be even though I’ve only been seeing him for 2 months.

Anybody have any advice on helping him through this? I’ve helped partners through breakups before but never something this heavy before. I’m feeling really apprehensive about everything, but I’m also feeling very protective of him and I want to be as much help as I can.

/u/BomberBootBabe88, Reddit.

Dear Bomber Boot Babe,

Your boyfriend is going through a tremendous relational traumatic experience in his decade-long relationship with his wife falling apart.

There is something even more terrifying in the uncertainty of what she will do next once she figures out her next steps whether that is a drawn-out divorce process or mutual efforts to rekindle their marriage. And the most challenging part of all this is that from what you have shared, what happens in their marriage appears completely out of your boyfriend’s control. That precise lack of control (or even ability to scope out what his next several months could look like) is further compounded by his lack of support network here in the States – other than his relationship with you.

That lack of scope and inability to anticipate also applies to your own future as well. Helping a partner through any kind of trauma can be a very draining experience for the supportive partner, especially if you are still romantically engaged with the person resolving trauma.

Two months is not a long time to get to know someone. While the decision to offer your spare room to your boyfriend came from a place of deep compassion and empathy, it is possible that you might want to think more about what that could look like. Is it a temporary offer for while he resolves separation and divorce? Or is it a semi-permanent offer for until he can get back on his own two feet? If he does decide to take you up on the offer to live together, what does that mean for both of you?

In short, what does your support entail?

Let’s talk more about the different divergent paths.

There is three likely possibilities in the current situation, not directly accounting for any changes to your relationship with him.

First is that they decide work on their relationship together. Whether that is through couple’s counseling or through individual therapy, they will each need to work on why and how they became so disconnected in their respective experiences within their relationship. That is most likely to impact your relationship with him in the amount of energy he has available to be present in his distinct relationship with you. If he is already sharing with you about the types of intimate conflicts he has with his wife, then I would guess that he already struggles with compartmentalizing relationship experiences between different relationships. As such, you will get more exposure into why their relationship has struggled as he struggles to selectively filter information that is both honest and compassionate to you.

Another more drastic option is that they decide to separate and pursue a formal divorce process. Divorce in most US states take months (if not years) and thousands of dollars in legal fees to just to get to the settlement point. Your boyfriend will likely experience significant grief and loss in his discordant past and unrealized future with his now-ex-wife. And even if the divorce itself is finalized, it could be possible that he might struggle to be in a healthy mental headspace to be a good partner to you (or anyone else). Even if we assume that he was on the same page as his wife about the end of their marriage together, you can’t just wipe away a ten-year history with another with a penstroke. He’ll have to find his footing on his own, even if you are there for the initial support to help him get back on his feet. One thing to keep in mind is that polyamorous relationships are not recognized in the court of law. Many courts do not look kindly upon a divorcing partner residing with their other partner while the divorce is being finalized, and his living with you will definitively negatively impact his divorce proceeding.

The third option is that they stay married but de-escalate. This option is the most likely if they already have kids but lack the financial reserves to go through an official divorce process. This means, that he’ll have to continue to encounter his partner in close encounter while still passing as a loving couple in front of all others, especially so in front of his kids. That is an immense emotional labor to undertake, especially so since this wouldn’t be his decision, but a decision his wife would have thrust upon him. Like the first two options, he’ll have a lot less emotional capital available here as he’ll have to compartmentalize and manage his grief and loss.

Regardless of what happens, it is important for you to keep supporting yourself.

It can be very easy to fall into codependent habits when supporting a grieving partner. And the best way to ground yourself in reality is to take care of yourself and make sure that you are in a place of mind to be able to support someone else.

That could mean regularly checking in with yourself to see if you have the support necessary to be able to support another. If you are dating anyone other than this particular boyfriend, you are going to have to creatively carve out spaces that are entirely your own. If you decide or realize that you cannot support your partner, the best thing you can do is to be honest with him about the support you can no longer provide. Doing anything less than that is dishonest.

If he decides to move in with you, you two should have a very honest conversation about what that means for each of you, and what your respective expectations are going to be. Setting a timeline will be a must.

Good luck!

Tea Time with Tomato is an informative relationship and sex advice column for both monogamous and polyamorous folks. By submitting your post, you agree to let me use your story in part or in full. You also agree to let me edit or elaborate for clarity.

I want to hear your thoughts and feedback! Please feel free to send me your questions and comments at teatimetomato@gmail.com. If you liked my advice for this post, please subscribe below to get alerted when my next advice column is published!

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