Ask Amy Amy Dickinson, Ask Amy

Amy Dickinson is a general advice columnist.

DEAR AMY: My boyfriend (going on four years) and I have three children together. He's the only man I've ever been with. Our relationship is great. We get along well and we're always out with the kids. We are a family but I want to be married; he talks about marriage like it's a bad thing. I understand that almost everyone in his and my family is divorced (or has cheated), but we are not them. I get so angry when we talk about marriage because he speaks of it like it's a bad idea. He wants more kids but is not ready to get married. I'm not having any more children until I have my ring. He never said he won't marry me, but he never said he would, either. Do we need papers to prove that we love each other and that we want to spend the rest of our lives together?

Sad Girlfriend

DEAR SAD: I have news for you: You don't need a piece of paper to prove your love to each other, but not being married does not protect you from all of the negatives your guy has experienced in his own family. People who aren't married can cheat and leave and lay waste to their kids' lives, just as easily as -- actually, more easily than -- people who are married.

Both you and your partner have legal rights and responsibilities as parents. Your partner must be listed on birth certificates, for instance. There are also legal implications of two unrelated people living together. Who owns what? What are your prospective financial obligations? To learn more, you can read the book, "Living Together: A Legal Guide for Unmarried Couples," by Frederick Hertz, Ralph Warner and Toni Ihara, published by NOLO (2013).

Aside from this, there are important emotional components to consider. If you won't have another child without "putting a ring on it," then why have you already had three children without this consideration? And -- most important -- why are you so desperate to marry someone who doesn't want to marry you? One immediate suggestion is that you stop referring to the father of your children as your "boyfriend." Parenthood is not a job for "boys." At the least, you should start thinking of this person as your partner.

DEAR AMY: I have been married for almost a year and a half. My wife is my entire life. We are very open and honest. I've never cared about someone's past (exes or past boyfriends). I'm a huge believer that if you keep looking at the past, you are going to run into something big ahead of you. My wife constantly brings up my past, at random times. I tell her every time that I love her and only her. That I don't want to focus on the past, just on my present and future. We have had many arguments over this issue. I have had all I can handle.

Help Me!

DEAR HELP: You should answer any questions your wife has about your past. "I love you and don't want to talk about it" is not an answer.

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If, after receiving truthful answers to questions, she continues to bring up your past -- especially during stressful moments -- you have a relationship problem that a marriage counselor can help with.

Bringing up a person's past -- either during an argument or as a way to start an argument -- is extremely destructive to the relationship. This may spring from deep insecurity on your wife's part, but it is very unfair to you, and she needs to train herself to stop.

DEAR AMY: Responding to "K's" frustration over people on their phones during dinners out -- I am in the "cellphone generation" and even I hate when people are always on their phone at dinner. We have an ongoing rule that really helps with this. When we dine as a group, the first person to take out the phone pays the bill for everyone! It's a great rule that keeps us connected with one another and not with the alluring glow of social media.

Jen

DEAR JEN: Brilliant. Thank you.