Hello. I’m a 39 year old woman who is dating a 26 year old man. I’m divorced and was single for many years before I met him. I also have a teenaged son who lives with me. My son and boyfriend get on well.

My problem is that I can’t help putting my boyfriend down with snide comments and picking arguments. Sometimes I get myself so wound up that I begin to cry. He is such a sweet man and I really don’t want to lose him. How can I change myself?

A: My guess is that the closer the three of you get to becoming a family, the more scared you become. When people get scared, they try to get away from the thing that scares them. You didn’t tell me what led you to divorce your son’s father but often people who have been hurt in a prior relationship start pushing a new love away when it looks like it’s time to move to a new level of intimacy and commitment. You are most certainly not alone in this. Unfortunately, sometimes the fear sabotages what could be a special relationship.

You and your sweetheart could try to handle this yourselves. Let your boyfriend know that your remarks aren’t really about him; they are about your fear. Figure out together something he could do or say in those moments that would reassure you and comfort you.

It’s a lot to ask of him. You’re asking him to be sweet to you when you’re attacking him. But maybe he can do it if he knows it is your fear talking. If he can’t manage it or if you can’t respond differently, you might find it helpful to talk with a couples therapist for a few sessions to help you move beyond the fear.

I wish you well.
Dr. Marie