My boyfriend's relationship with his coworker makes me uncomfortable : Life Kit My partner is constantly texting his former coworker and even spent the night at her house. He says they're just friends, but I don't like it. How can I trust him when he ignores my boundaries?

Dear Life Kit: My boyfriend's relationship with his coworker makes me uncomfortable

Dear Life Kit: My boyfriend's relationship with his coworker makes me uncomfortable

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Photographs by Kelli McClintock, Fayiz Musthafa/Unsplash; Collage by Becky Harlan/NPR
Photo collage of a woman holding a phone texting, showing only her torso and hands holding the phone and then a man texting, showing only his toro and hands holding the phone. The image is crossed over with a big red &quot;X&quot; against a green backdrop and surrounded by a collaged fame of letters, envelopes and stamps.
Photographs by Kelli McClintock, Fayiz Musthafa/Unsplash; Collage by Becky Harlan/NPR

Need some really good advice? Look no further than Dear Life Kit. In each episode, we pose one of your most pressing questions to an expert. This question was answered by Shaun Galanos, a relationship coach and host of The Love Drive, a podcast that helps people improve communication and intimacy in relationships. This conversation has been edited for length and clarity.

Dear Life Kit,

My boyfriend and I have lived together for a year now and dated for two years before that. About a year ago, he told me he wanted to go to a concert. I offered to go with him, but he said he'd rather go by himself. I later found out he took a woman he used to work with to the show. I was hurt and we had a big argument. I've never met this coworker, but he texts her every day. I try to not act jealous and accept that they're just close friends.

Recently, though, he decided to go visit her. Before he left, he said he planned to stay overnight because he didn't want to drive back late. I told him it made me uncomfortable, but he decided to stay anyway. When he got back, he couldn't stop talking about what a great weekend he had. I've never felt so heartbroken. I told him how hard it was that he disregarded my feelings. He immediately got angry and said it was my fault for not trusting him and that he wanted to break up. We ended up staying together, but I'm struggling. I don't understand how I can trust him when he completely ignores my boundaries. — Heartbroken

Shaun Galanos is a relationship coach and host of The Love Drive podcast. Photograph by Fernando Landin; Collage by NPR hide caption

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Photograph by Fernando Landin; Collage by NPR

I have a list of the red flags that came up for me here. Now, a red flag doesn't mean you're at an unresolvable impasse. It can often be an opportunity to deepen understanding around a behavior.

The first red flag is that he misled Heartbroken into thinking he was going to the concert alone, when in fact, he didn't. Why didn't he feel comfortable telling her that he was going with his coworker? Why did he feel like he needed to lie?

How he responds to this [confrontation] will be telling about the [state of the] relationship. If he says something like, "You're totally right. I'm sorry," that's one way of dealing with [the issue]. If he says, "It's not a big deal. You don't have anything to worry about," that's very dismissive.

Red flag No. 2 is that he ignored Heartbroken's discomfort and decided to spend the night at his former coworker's house anyway.

And red flag No. 3 is that he gaslit her into thinking that his behavior was her fault. He essentially said, "If only you trusted me, I wouldn't have had to lie to you or [feel bad about] spending the night. You're making me act this way." Gaslighting is a form of emotional abuse. It's hard to build a loving foundation when there is this kind of behavior in a relationship.

Couples need to talk early and often about what kind of relationship structure makes sense for them. So the conversation might look like, "I'd love to talk about what works for our relationship when it comes to flirting or spending time with the gender we're attracted to."

They also need to set boundaries. If one person says "no sleeping over at another woman's house" and their partner violates that boundary, there has to be a consequence. That might mean spending some time away from each other.

Heartbroken, you deserve a relationship where you're being considered as an equal partner, where your challenges or struggles are being heard. And you deserve someone who is kind and loving and respectful.

Relationships are about two or more people coming together for a common goal. And usually, we're talking about emotional, physical, intellectual and spiritual closeness. And there isn't a lot of that going on here.

Listen to Shaun Galanos's full response in the audio at the top of the page or on Apple Podcasts and Spotify.

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Dear Life Kit is hosted by Andee Tagle and produced by Beck Harlan and Sylvie Douglis with help from our intern Jamal Michel. Bronson Arcuri is the managing producer and Meghan Keane is the supervising editor. Alicia Zheng produces the Dear Life Kit video series for Instagram.

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