Q: My boyfriend and I have been dating for a year and we both have daughters from previous relationships. I’m 25 years old.
I recently found out that my boyfriend has a second kid from a different relationship he was in before dating me. He claims he wasn’t sure it was his until he took a DNA test and it turned out to be positive. Even after confirming the child was his, he still kept it a secret from me. I only found out because a family friend told me.
I’m hurt because I once asked my boyfriend whether he and the woman he had the secret child with were ever in a relationship, and he told me no.
I want to be with him, but I can’t really put this lie behind us. Every time I mention how the lie and his once-secret life make me feel, I feel like I act overly emotional and moody towards my boyfriend.
What’s the best way to get past this? Am I just being dramatic?
Considering the dramatic circumstances you’re facing, I’m not sure it’s possible to keep your cool.
Before you decide how to best deal with this bump in the road of your relationship, you should first consider the root of the problem. Is it your boyfriend who makes you feel overly emotional about the situation, or are you putting yourself in that place?
If your boyfriend consistently brushes you off or says your worries regarding the child situation don’t matter, it could mean he’s gaslighting you, either consciously or subconsciously, according to Tribeca Therapy couples therapist Kelly Scott.
Although the term “gaslighting” is a scary-sounding word, it basically means a person, whether a romantic partner, friend, family member or public figure, acts or says certain things that invalidate another person’s experience to the point that they question whether their feelings or perceptions were right in the first place. People who gaslight tend to treat their own opinions as facts and make others believe their opinions are wrong, rather than just different.
Some people who gaslight do it on purpose, but others may do so without realizing it. If your boyfriend rolls his eyes at you, sighs loudly, walks away, or says things like “You’re holding a grudge” or “You’re being too emotional,” when you try to talk to him about how you’re feeling, it could mean he’s gaslighting you.
If that’s the case and you feel safe doing so, Scott recommended confronting him in a firm but calm way.
Say something like, “Whenever I approach you about this, it feels like you’re not open to hearing my experience, but I need that from you,” Scott suggested.
It can be nerve-racking to call a partner out, but try to remind yourself that you’re not alone in your experience.
“It’s common for couples that I work with who are in the gender binary to have a situation like this, where the male invalidates the female partner’s experiences,” Scott said.
A partner invested in your relationship should be open to your opinions
If your boyfriend seems shocked at your statement but says he’s willing to work on hearing you out, you could try an exercise Scott often uses in therapy sessions to ensure both partners are actively listening to each other.
Here’s how it works: When you tell your partner how you feel, ask him to repeat back to you what he heard to ensure he was paying attention. Only once he does that can he share how he’s feeling, and the same goes for you.
A partner who’s truly invested in your relationship should be open to your thoughts, opinions, and suggestions for improving your connection, and if your boyfriend doesn’t seem willing, Scott said it’s a red flag.
“If your relationship can’t tolerate multiple experiences, that’s an emotionally unsafe relationship,” Scott told me. “An invalidating partner isn’t a safe partner because there is no real partnership.”
But if you feel unsafe, whether physically or emotionally, about confronting your partner, it’s a sign you should take steps to move on. Reach out to a trusted friend, family member, or mental health professional who can help you cut ties with your boyfriend.
You should also check your own emotional state
Before you approach your partner, you should also consider whether your highly emotional reactions and mood swings aren’t indicative of underlying trauma from previous relationships you’ve had, Scott said.
For example, if you had a past romantic relationship where a partner lied to you, the fact your partner lied could trigger those previous feelings of untrustworthiness and insecurity, causing you to have an extreme reaction to what he did.
That doesn’t mean what he did was OK, but understanding why you feel the way you do could help you better manage your feelings and move forward. According to Scott, talking with a therapist about your family and previous relationships could help you help yourself.
As Insider’s resident sex and relationships reporter, Julia Naftulin is here to answer all of your questions about dating, love, and doing it – no question is too weird or taboo. Julia regularly consults a panel of health experts including relationship therapists, gynecologists, and urologists to get science-backed answers to your burning questions, with a personal twist.