Life Advice



Ask Anna: My girlfriend is still married: How to handle a separated relationship

Anna Pulley, Tribune News Service on

Published in Dating Advice

Dear Anna,

I have been seeing a woman who’s been separated from her husband for 14 months. We met through work and have known each other for over 10 years. The past 14 months we have been intimate and I have gotten a place for us to live. However, she recently told me that her gut is telling her not to divorce her husband over my concerns. She has been married for 20 years. She has mentioned on several occasions that she’s concerned about the costs of divorcing, even though I’m currently paying for 80% of our living expenses. She has two kids ages 12 and 13. I have not met them.

She has told me I have changed and I agree that I have and have explained to her my feelings and thoughts about the whole situation. I don't want to give her an ultimatum, but I’m not sure how to move forward if she can’t let go and move on with me. I feel she does not want a future with me and is not committed to me, even though she tells me and shows me that she loves me daily. I don't know what my next step is. I do love her a lot and have helped her leave from where she was living, as she had no money to leave him. They co-parent equally, but she says she’s not ready to divorce him. I need advice. Thank you. — Seeking Experience Pertaining to Acute Refusal And Tepid Enough Divorce


This sounds like a challenging and emotionally taxing situation. It's clear that you care deeply for this woman and have invested a lot of time, energy and love into your relationship. Navigating such complex emotions and circumstances is never easy, and your feelings are completely valid.

While I can tell you’re greatly frustrated by this situation, here are a few key points to consider as you move forward and decide next steps.

Divorce is f—ing expensive. The national average puts the cost at about $15,000. Sure, she might get lucky — if her one-day ex-husband is very, very cooperative — and pay only a $435 filing fee, but more likely, she may end up in a court battle costing tens or even hundreds of thousands of dollars.

I’m not saying that the exorbitant price tag is a reason not to get divorced, just giving you something to think about. It’s not a one-and-done situation. It takes years and is incredibly emotionally and financially taxing. Plus, your girlfriend is dealing with a lot — the fallout of a 20-year marriage, financial instability and the well-being of her children. These factors are undoubtedly weighing heavily on her mind. Acknowledge these challenges and try to understand her hesitation. It might not be a reflection of her feelings for you but rather a complex web of obligations and emotions she needs to untangle.

Keep in mind, also, that it’s not uncommon for people to need time to rediscover themselves and really understand what they want next after a long-term relationship. Sometimes that’s even harder when a person jumps from one relationship immediately to the next, which it sounds like she did with you.


That said, you’re feeling stuck in your relationship and waiting is hardly satisfying advice. If filing for divorce is not currently on the table, brainstorm some other ways your relationship can move forward that don’t involve that one thing. For instance, perhaps it’s meeting her children. Perhaps it’s moving in with you. Perhaps it’s spending more nights a week together. Work together with your girlfriend and see where you can coincide on next steps.

While you’re doing that, it’s important to set clear boundaries and communicate your expectations for the future. Discuss what you need in terms of commitment and a timeline that feels fair to both of you. This can help both of you understand what the next steps might look like. You can start with something like: "I feel anxious that there’s no clear plan for our future. I need to understand where our relationship is headed."

If you really can’t agree on any potential ways to move forward, then you might have to issue that ultimatum, after all — for your own well-being as well as hers. Some people just aren’t ready to be where we are. It sucks, but it happens. If you’re not in a relationship that’s meeting your needs, then it’s time to get out of that relationship. Sometimes, loving someone means making difficult choices that honor your own needs too.

While you’re brainstorming and boundary-ing, reflect on what you need and want from this relationship. Are you willing to wait, and if so, for how long? Ensure that you are taking care of your own emotional health and well-being.

And while it’s important to hope for the best, it’s also wise to prepare for all possibilities. Think about what steps you might need to take if she decides not to proceed with a divorce. Having a plan can provide a sense of control and peace of mind.

Remember, relationships are about mutual growth, understanding and support. You deserve to be in a relationship where you feel valued and where there is a shared vision for the future.

As you navigate this difficult path, keep in mind this adage: "Sometimes the hardest thing and the right thing are the same." Trust your instincts and know that you have the strength to find the best path forward for both of you.

©2024 Tribune Content Agency, LLC.



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