Conflicting Loyalties

Q: I have a pre-school-aged son and so does the woman I'm seeing. We both have had turbulent relationships with our children's other parent. We have also had some personal instability in the past. For instance, I dropped out of college without having the same major three semesters in a row and am now in the army at age 26. But I think we're both on our way to making it past that. We live in two different cities and hardly get the chance to see each other. Right now I'm deployed in Iraq. The thing is when we do talk or see one another things can go really well. However, I can't help but be afraid of what being in another relationship might do to my relationship with my son and I think she fears the same. Sometimes I even think that maybe I should not do anything at all that will upset my son's mother or take what little time I have with my son away. Am I more wrong to give up on a relationship that both of us, my girlfriend and I, may really need and want or to risk my relationship with my son for a relationship that has problems anyway (mostly distance)? How does anyone ever manage to do both? --Jaron

Dr. Susan: The multiple anxieties you describe are partly a product of being so far away, with so many uncertainties in your life over which you have no say at all. There may be no way to work this all out until you're back within hugging distance of your girlfriend. If you weren't in the military, it would be hard enough to figure out how to balance your son's needs with your own, and how to manage your ambivalence about committing to a woman again.

I'd suggest you try to hang loose, relationship-wise, for the time being. I wouldn't worry so much about upsetting your child's mother (unless you're still married to her, if you ever were). But you're right to question the wisdom of cutting down on the little time you do have with your son in order to spend time with your girlfriend. If the main problem you have with this new woman is that you're far apart, then there's a fair chance the relationship will revive when you're back home. Keep in touch with her, sure, but don't put anyone's life on hold just yet. Remaining in your child's life is very important. People do manage to do it all, but stressing yourself unduly when you're stuck in Iraq won't do much good. Be fair to everyone by staying open to the possibilities that you can only really act on when you're back here. Wisdom, for now, may mean accepting what you can't control.

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