Ask Elizabeth: Old Flame
My husband has been trying to find his first love from high school. It all started when he found some of his friends on Facebook and they told him she is divorced. He has searched and searched for her, he spends hours on the computer and even contacted a people search company to try and find her. I know he looks for her every day because I can see the history on his computer. He is quite open about trying to find her and tells me she was his first love, he misses her, and wonders how things might have been if he had made different choices. I told him how much it hurts me and he said he would stop obsessing over her – but I see the computer history and know he is still looking for her. It has been years since he has seen her and we have been married for 20 years and have two kids. I feel like he doesn’t love me anymore and all our time together is worth nothing. I feel like the second choice and he would leave me in an instant if he found her. They never even dated….I don’t get it. How can I get him to come back to me?
Thank you for your question
How heartbreaking for you that your partner would behave this way towards you after you have been together for such a long time. It is normal for men in middle age to start to reflect on their lives and wonder how things might have been if they had made different choices in their life. Middle age is when we review where we have been for the first half of our lives and think about what we would like for the second half. Part of this reflection can be looking up old girlfriends on Facebook because social media now makes it so easy to find each other.
What isn’t normal is to obsess about this girl so much. I wonder if she knows that your husband is searching for her. If these friends have told him, she is divorced word may have got back to her that your husband wants to make contact. Clearly, she doesn’t want to contact him or she would have searched for him by now. If the two of them didn’t even date, then it appears the obsession seems to be coming from him.
However, this doesn’t change the fact that your husband is putting someone else front of mind and I can understand why you would find this so upsetting. Especially, as you have a long history with him and have three children. You have done exactly what I would suggest you have called your boundaries and told him that you are not happy with his behaviour. The problem is your husband is disregarding you.
This seems to indicate to me that there are some deeper issues in your marriage. If you find yourself obsessing over someone else, it is an escape from reality. It is like having an emotional affair, except that for your husband he is escaping into a fantasy of what might have been. Being in a relationship over the long-term is hard. You know all there is to know about each other and boredom and taking each other for granted can creep into the relationship.
The problem is your husband seems to be very caught up in this fantasy about this past flame. When you speak to your husband rather than saying “you need to stop chasing this girl’ focus on you and how you feel. When we highlight the impact of someone’s behaviour towards us, it can be effective in bringing about change. Say something like “I know you are still searching for this girl. It really hurts me when you do this as it makes me feel like our relationship and all the time we have had together doesn’t mean anything to you.” If this still doesn’t bring about change, then it may be helpful for you to have some counselling. The counsellor will help you to reach the deeper issues in your relationship and come to a resolution. If your husband will not go to counselling, then your only option is to communicate how you feel and call your boundaries about what you will and will not accept in the relationship. If you are struggling with thinking about how you can handle this situation some personal counselling or speaking with a trusted friend may help you work through what you want from the relationship moving forward.
Remember if you state that you will leave the relationship if the behaviour continues you must follow through. Empty threats where you do not do what you say you will do only dilute the threat and cause your partner not to listen. So do not say anything you do not intend to carry through. Sometimes just the smallest consequence can be enough to create a disruption in the relationship. This might cause your partner to stop and reconsider his behaviour, realising he may, in fact, be losing you.
The most important thing here is that you look after your own emotions. It is so hurtful that your husband has put you to one side while he pursues a fantasy searching for someone else. This tells me he does not believe that he might lose his relationship with you. This is why following through on boundaries is so important.
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