Q: I am really in a place. My boyfriend of seven years will not confront or upset his ex. He is on disability, gives her a grand a month for spousal and child support, but he can’t spend $2.99 on me. I am torn. It’s way more than he is supposed to give her. He will not go to the court because he is afraid to upset the ex-wife — yet can’t even buy me flowers.

A: So many red flags! You’re right, you are “in a place” and you’re going to stay there if you don’t change how you are looking at this. Let’s see if I can help you get this into perspective. First thing — stop comparing. It’s the most destructive thing you can do — to your psyche as well as your relationship.

Let’s get down to it — the basis behind ex-etiquette. Yours is not like a first-time relationship and the rules are not based on the fairy tales we grew up with. There may be a Prince Charming, but in this day and age, he mostly likely has had a serious relationship before. Doesn’t mean he’s less of the guy for you, it just means he has a past. Today remnants of the past often flow into the present. Spousal support and child support are perfect examples.

If he’s paying spousal support, that means he was most likely married for longer than 10 years. Unless he ran off and had children while you were dating, in which case I would wonder why you were with him, he has the same obligations now as he did seven years ago when you started this relationship. And, if he’s paying more to the ex than he is required to by law, here’s something else to consider — it’s because he wants to — and that, in a nutshell, could be exactly why you are so upset. Could it be that translates into him thinking she’s more important than you? And, after seven years, when will you be the most important?

If I am reading into your question, it’s because your dilemma is quite common. Everyone wants to be the most important person to their partner — but think about it — would you really want to be with a guy who doesn’t put his kids first (ex-etiquette rule No. 1)? You are right, he could go back to court if the child support is exorbitant, but more than that, this seems to be a comparison problem and that’s what’s putting you “in a place.” The key is to find your own sense of self, not in comparison to anything or anyone else — and certainly not in relationship to how much money your boyfriend gives his ex and his children. If you need a commitment, tell him so, but in your own mind, strive to keep that issue separate from his obligation to his children and their mother.

Dr. Jann Blackstone is the author of “Ex-etiquette for Parents: Good Behavior After Divorce or Separation,” and the founder of Bonus Families, www.bonusfamilies.com. Reach her at:

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