J. Peirano: The secret code of love: Is my younger boyfriend just using me as a mother for his children?

Dear Ms.

J. Peirano: The secret code of love: Is my younger boyfriend just using me as a mother for his children?

Dear Ms. Peirano,

I was single for a long time after my loveless marriage and felt a bit lonely at times, especially when my children moved out. A year ago, when I was just starting to take a more active approach to my life again, I met Lars, who is 15 years younger than me. I am 51, Lars is 36. He has two small children (3 and 5) and has been separated from his ex-partner for a year and a half. The children are with him half the time.

At the beginning I was incredibly happy that an attractive, younger man chose me. I used to be a very good-looking woman, dress size 34/36, blonde curls and bright blue eyes, sporty. But over the years I unfortunately ended up with a dress size of 40/42, I have a bit of orange peel and my hair has also become thinner. I'm no longer really happy when I stand in front of the mirror and compare myself to how I used to be.

Lars assured me from the start that I was the right one for him and showered me with compliments. He constantly mentioned my life experience, my view of things, my attractiveness, my warmth and my style - and admired all of it. I come from a "good" family, both parents are academics and I grew up in the suburbs and still live there Well situated. Lars comes from a working class background and tries not to let it show.

For me, the admiration and his reliability were balm for my soul after the years with my husband in which I often felt like I was in a desert. I was happy to have small children in my life again thanks to him that I could look after. It's relatively easy to have a good time, especially with small children, because they accept everything gratefully and are happy about everything. His children immediately fell on my neck and I am the one they want to be with them when they are sick. They tell me more, they want me to put them to bed.

But at some point my friends started asking critical questions. A friend said she discovered him on Tinder, which he denied when I asked. Another friend thinks that he is using me as a free babysitter for the children. And then I had doubts. To be honest, I often look after him and stay with his children when he works late or wants to play sports. It's not particularly comfortable at his place. I turned the apartment into a home, with flowers, nice bed linen for the children, sofa cushions, candles, pictures.

Lars was also very happy about it, and the children love it.

But at some point I asked myself whether he really loves me and desires me, or whether I am something like an aunt or grandma to the children (depending on age) and should just take on the role of looking after everyone to take care of them and give them warmth. This assumption would be consistent with the fact that Lars does not desire me sexually. He had problems with his erection from the start, but put it down to stress.

Lars also does very little for me on a romantic level. After a few months he promised me that we would go to Rome, but so far he has put it off. His gifts for me so far have been warm, checked sheets (because I freeze at night) and an eBook reader. So no particularly personal or romantic gifts, which reminded me of my loveless marriage.

Lars wants to do a lot of things with me, but preferably when his children are there. We then play board games (if that's possible with the little one), go to the zoo, I do crafts with the children and he often does a little bit of work. On the weekends when he doesn't have his children, he hesitates to meet me because he has to meet his friends, rest, and visit his parents. When we meet, we often "just" go for a walk or have a coffee.

Sometimes I wonder if I'm falling short in meeting my needs. I have so much need to catch up on tenderness and love. I would like to lie in bed with him at the weekend and kiss him, I would like to go on short trips with him or have the freedom that a couple without children has. After all, I raised children myself for 22 years and never had this togetherness.

I haven't talked to him about it yet because I'm afraid of ruining everything. He is also not always very reflective and honest... How could I deal with this conflict?

Best regards, Corinna P.

I work as a behavioral therapist and love coach in private practice in Hamburg-Blankenese and St. Pauli. During my doctorate, I researched the connection between relationship personality and happiness in love and then wrote two books about love.

Information about my therapeutic work can be found at www.julia-peirano.info.

Do you have questions, problems or heartache? Please write to me (maximum one A4 page). I would like to point out that inquiries and answers can be published anonymously on stern.de.

Dear Corinna P.,

I think it's good that you've carefully considered what needs are most important to you in a relationship. You are very clear: you want togetherness, tenderness and closeness, especially because you feel like you have been starved of this for many years. You write that you also felt lonely after your children moved out.

When you met Lars, you had hope that there was now a man in your life who loved you, admired you and with whom you could fulfill your needs for love and togetherness.

And now, about a year later, you find yourself in a situation that you know well from before. You have children around you again, take care of their wishes and prepare a comfortable home for them. You keep your partner's back free so that he can work or do sports. Are you familiar with this scenario from your first marriage?

In addition, you feel like you are missing out when it comes to your needs. Lars promises you a trip to Rome, but leaves it at lip service. This is an unpleasant and somewhat embarrassing situation for you, because you should be happy and grateful about a gift. But lip service is not a gift, but an empty promise, and of course you can't be happy about that. In addition, it does not create trust.

My advice would be that you definitely ask at this point when you are going to Rome, and if he avoids it, look at the calendar with him and get things done. Only then will it become clear whether he ever really intended to go to Rome with you. If he continues to avoid you, you can tell him that you are annoyed and that you no longer want such voucher gifts in the future.

I generally have the impression that you quickly find yourself in the role of anticipating other people's wishes or remembering their preferences and pleasing everyone. The children want to do crafts, but you actually want closeness and sex? You take care of the children, but on child-free weekends you don't have the togetherness that you are primarily interested in. Rather, Lars demands consideration and understanding from you in order to pursue his own interests without you. This is also called a loss deal. And yes, it is absolutely justified to make sure that you get what you want in a relationship.

Where did you learn to take a step back and focus on your family first? Was it like that in your family of origin, and why?

And what were the roles like in your marriage? Did your husband behave fairly on the partnership level and share the child-free times with you fairly (a great privilege!)? Or did you have his back like Lars is now and your needs were ignored?

I can imagine that with the patterns you have learned, you will find it difficult to talk openly about this topic with Lars. You also express that your self-esteem has been damaged, perhaps because you no longer like yourself on the outside, or perhaps because you allow yourself to be treated carelessly. But this creates vicious circles: I don't think I'm particularly beautiful or lovable, so I let myself be taken advantage of in relationships and don't set boundaries - and because I let myself be treated like that, my self-esteem becomes even lower. Because you can see what I must be worth if I let myself be treated like that...

A recommended book on the topic: Friederike Potreck-Rose: On the joy of strengthening self-esteem.

Nevertheless, my suggestion would be that you tell Lars again and again how you feel in the relationship: that on the one hand you are happy to be well integrated and needed by him and his children. And that, on the other hand, you don't just want to be a surrogate mother who takes care of everyone, but first and foremost a woman who is loved and desired by him. Here you could also remind him that these are HIS children and not yours. You have already raised your own.

In my opinion, you can safely express your suspicion that Lars chose you primarily because of your mothering skills, and clearly show him why you believe that. (Erection problems, possibly Tinder, no trip to Rome, little emphasis on togetherness). Ask him how he sees your relationship and what he really appreciates about you. Also pay attention to HOW he says it and what your gut feeling tells you.

Ultimately, it's not just lip service that matters, but whether and how he puts it into practice. I would recommend that you always talk to him about your needs and tell him that you want to spend loving and intimate time with him as a couple. Lars also speaks about his needs and prioritizes them by asserting his freedom with the help of your support.

And try in front of the mirror what it sounds like to your own ears when you say to him: "I'll look at this for a while and hope that it changes. But if we can't work it out, then leave it we do it." I hope you can become better advocates for yourself and break out of the pattern of putting yourself last.

Herzlich GrüßeJulia Peirano

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