His children despise me, and his ex is still around

What are your dating/relationship/marriage/single issues? Let us try to make sense of them. Email [email protected] or send your letter here.

Season 8 of the Love Letters podcast starts today. It features someone who has commented on this column. Enjoy.

Dear Meredith,

I have been dating a man 25 years older than me for about a year now. Some of the challenges we face are expected. His two children don't like me and attempted to break us up in December. More recently, my boyfriend went away to visit his daughter in another city and I wasn't invited because of his children's dislike of me. I feel like I don't have a future with my boyfriend as I am not included in family activities with his kids. (I have a great relationship with his brother and mother, which has been so helpful for me.)

To make matters worse, my boyfriend said he still loves his ex, but claims they are friends. He texts her daily and is often eager to call her. He almost gave her a spouse visa to live and work in the country. He cleared out a spare room in the home for her to move in with us. I express my concerns to him; this has caused me to be so anxious that I get sick often. He said a spouse visa is just a piece of paper and means nothing. I am concerned because at the beginning of our relationship, he broke up with me to be with her again. I try to support his friendship with this ex but I struggle with it. It has affected my self-esteem. I caught a text from her asking why he is with a younger woman. I expressed why I didn't like her comment. Now he turns his phone away from me and texts her in private.

He complains – often – about his age and the age gap we have. There was a time he would not be affectionate in public. I find myself slowly drifting from the relationship because of our lack of good communication. I don't feel like he hasn't done enough to make me feel comfortable and loved and valued.

I feel unable to express my feelings and concerns as I feel like they get dismissed as overthinking, or he gets upset and withdraws from me. I don't know what to do. I have spent so much time being anxious, getting myself sick, and crying. When we do talk about all of this, he tells me he doesn't know what to do and that I can't tell him not to be friends with his ex because he will resent me. I feel second best. Please advise.

– Anxious

This letter reads like a list of reasons to break up. That probably wasn't your intention – to make your own case for dissolving the relationship – but that's what you did. There isn't much here about why you want to be with this man. The best reviews go to his brother and mom.

My advice is to get therapy to talk about your feelings and how they affect your body. You're getting sick because of relationship stress. You need help figuring out how to relieve the pressure, and a place where someone is focusing on what you say – because you're the priority. Ask your doctor about mental health services and where you can go for anxiety.

Also, consider taking a trip to see someone who makes you feel wildly content. An old best friend. A cousin who lives in another state. Any person who's made you feel safe – and laugh – for a long time. I do this when I feel overwhelmed or have to make a big decision. If I can't see beyond the problems in front of me, I visit someone who's a big part of my history. That helps me remember that the new issues aren't the whole picture, and that I existed quite happily before they showed up. Then I have the clarity I need to figure out what to do next.

The challenge, in your case, will be taking this kind of trip without making it all about your significant other. If you call him every day and talk about him the whole time, it defeats the purpose. This getaway has to be about you and the person you're visiting.

Remember, you're only a year into this romantic relationship and you know it doesn't feel good. He's told you he won't change, and that his ex is part of the package. What you see is what you get.

You can do better for yourself. Get away to figure out how.

– Meredith

Readers? We've had a lot of letters recently from people in bad situations who seem to want to stick around. Why? Any other ideas to help this LW get some perspective?