Carolyn Hax

Carolyn Hax

DEAR CAROLYN: I am a 70-year-old dating a 71-year-old widower. He divorced his first wife for infidelity, and the second marriage was not terribly happy either, though he says "at least she was faithful."

I have been divorced for more than 20 years, after an abusive marriage of 20-plus years. I was hospitalized twice in mental facilities for depression. I will always have to take medication, and suffer post-traumatic stress.

The problem is my boyfriend can't tolerate hearing anything about my past. If he so much as sees a photo of when I was young, he is wracked with jealousy.

Before his first marriage he had a happy life with his parents and sister. However, I suspect he has always felt that he didn't measure up to other men. He seems overly concerned with his appearance and very concerned that he be taller than me. I don't dare wear shoes with heels when I am with him.

While he is constantly talking about his past, his travels, his former wives, if I say anything at all about my past, he agonizes with jealousy. I am not talking about relating dating stories or intimate details.

He sulks when he is "in a bad mood." I have tried arguing with him, ignoring him and reasoning with him. He says he is trying to not be that way, and prays about it. But the problem persists. I am wondering if this relationship even has a chance at this point. I spent many years recovering from the abusive marriage and don't want to jeopardize my health and sanity!

— E.

He doesn't sound like a new boyfriend so much as Former Marriage Part 2.

Maybe he doesn't fit a narrow definition of "abusive," but he is plainly more invested in controlling you than appreciating you.

But don't take my word for it: Where would you say your health and sanity fall on your boyfriend's priority list? Above or below his ego?

It's sad. It's especially sad for him, since his preoccupation with appearances — and with your doing exactly as he expects in order to maintain them — dictates priorities that make it impossible for him to love or be loved fully.

However, as long as his primary goal is to avoid looking bad, he will sulk and agonize and work his puppet strings to get the behavior he wants from you. And as long as you are tailoring your behaviors to please him, you are not giving yourself — your health and sanity — what you need.

And what is the point of an intimate relationship if not your mutual emotional satisfaction? When that is not your shared goal, what remains is each of you looking out for your individual goals. The man you describe is plainly looking out for himself.

Someone with a strong track record of independent good health might withstand second-class status and find other ways to get her needs met (why anyone would want such an arrangement is another matter), but your history says you need supportive partners, because the only way you can help manage another's well-being is if your partner helps take care of you in return. We all benefit from mutual caretaking, but some people flat-out need it. No shame, just fact — a key one come mate-choosing time.

Email Carolyn Hax at tellme@washpost.com, follow her on Facebook at facebook.com/carolyn.hax