Wife Strife: I do, or un-do?

Dear Carolyn:
     Our daughter, 27 and married for just over two years, is feeling she "is living the wrong life, like, I'm not in the right place." We are very fond of our son-in-law, but our primary concern is our daughter.
     He is 10 years older and wanted to start a family, but his, "When do you think you will be ready?" has caused her to put the brakes on and have a rethink – of where she is, where they are as a couple, etc. Bottom line is that she doesn't love him the way you would expect a "newly" married couple to feel for each other. There has been no passion, she states, for a long time.
     I believe they have laid everything on the table for discussion, but I can tell from my daughter's personality, etc., that she has basically decided that she doesn't love him the way a wife should, rather thinks of him as a wonderful friend. She is very worried about his reaction toward a separation. He has had some trust issues from the past.
     I have suggested professional counseling, to help her figure out what she does want and need, but she is hesitant and/or embarrassed with the notion of being a "statistic" and "stupid" for such a serious lack of judgment.
     – Concerned Mother and Mother-in-Law
   
     I answer you with some misgivings, because while this is your daughter and your heartache, it is not your problem to solve. It sounds as if you're admirably close, but already over-involved.
     From one sometimes-can't-help-it meddler to another, though, I do have one suggestion for you that I think is both important and in-bounds: Please challenge her implied rationale for her less-than-full reckoning with the problem here. If she defers to feeling "embarrassed" or "stupid," then she passively makes a priority of avoiding difficult feelings, putting a facade on difficult appearances, and postponing any difficult decisions that will create difficult scenes.
     In essence, that passive decision-making would put her right back where she was when she made the decision to marry this man despite what she now recognizes (right?) as serious doubts. Surely she chose marriage then because what can feel more awkward, painful, embarrassing and scene-y than pulling the plug on a wedding?
     That's a rhetorical question, but I'll answer it anyway: pulling the plug on a new-ish, ill-fitting marriage.
     As is always true, deferring pain only compounds it to the point where it can't be deferred any more.
     You can't make your daughter do, think or feel anything she doesn't choose on her own, but you can point out at a crucial time in her life that the only way any of us can make sound decisions is to be honest about and accountable to our own needs. The therapist – the implied public – she is apparently ashamed to face doesn't have to live her life. She does.
     I hope she summons the strength to follow through on admitting and serving her own needs – since authenticity best serves her husband as well, even if it makes him an ex.
     His "trust issues" are his to manage, not hers, of course, but his (and anyone's) need for honesty is hers to respect; suppressing her own needs to mollify him is just a well-meaning kind of deceit.

Dear Carolyn:
     I have been living with my boyfriend for 10 years. He moved here from out east and has an adult son there. He has been divorced for 16 years.
     I have put up with his ex-wife's texting and calling every time the boy upset her. I tolerated it because the boy was young and I understood it was painful to be separated from him.
     The boy is now 23 and she seems to be texting and calling more and more. It's not always about their son, but instead about how lonely she is, how she hates her job or how she has no money.
     We have had several very heated arguments about it. He dismisses my feelings as childish and jealous and always vehemently defends her: She is my son's mother, it's the only way I can find out about my son, she doesn't have any friends, and so forth. She divorced him!
     I feel she has no right to continually interfere in his life here with things that are not always about an adult son. I think it's very selfish of her. She even calls him when she can't get a hold of the boy. What should he do thousands of miles away?
     He does have a relationship with his son, they talk and text, so she really doesn't need to be involved.
     He said he will not stop texting with her. Some of their conversations are very personal and some of the things he says to her are hurtful to me. He says he only says things to make her feel better. Is it right that she feels better at my expense?
     I feel there is more going on with his feelings for her, which he denies. I am tired of this coming between us. It is the only time we ever argue. Am I being childish and unreasonable?
     – F.
   
     Worse. Impractical.
     Whether you have grounds to feel threatened and invaded by the texting ex, and hurt by your enabling boyfriend – and I suspect the majority who read this will agree with you that you do – is no longer the point. The point now is, what are you going to do about this?
     You've tried explaining your feelings to your boyfriend. He dismisses them.
     You've tried digging for a deeper explanation. He denies there is one.
     You've tried, apparently, asking him to stop or reduce his contact with her. He refuses.
     Any fight you have with him at this point is a failure to recognize that he's not the one who will fix this.
     He has made his choice, and it's to change nothing about his own actions. That means it's on you now. If you want things to change, then you're the one who is going to have to change them. And that means the pressing question for you to answer isn't "Am I being unreasonable?"; it's "Is staying in this relationship worth it to me on these terms?"
     You have to decide if your boyfriend's indulgence of the ex – and the side of him this conflict has revealed to you – has damaged your home life to the point where you'd rather live on your own. If no, then you need to figure out a way you can make peace with the ex-relationship. If yes, then that speaks for itself.


Hi, Carolyn:
     I recently became fed up with a family member's habit of making rude comments about others, generally about appearance. I decided to confront her about it via email. I was very careful to stay only on that subject and not attack her (a la, "I don't like your hair either!"). It basically said, "You were rude. This is a pattern. Maybe you should think about trying to change this."
     Her response was to become defensive and go on the attack, via email. I wrote back that she was right about some things, but this was about her and the hurtful things she says to people. I haven't heard anything since and I'm not sure how to proceed. This is a family member who I also consider a close friend.
     – Anonymous
   
     Call her, apologize for hiding behind email, and learn from this.
     Your message and motives might have been straight from the angels, but when you chose to scold her at electronic-arm's length, you ceded the high ground in one stroke.
     And, you did attack her. How would you like to open that same email from a "close friend"?
     The best way to speak up was in person and right when you witnessed any rudeness. "Hey, why so rough on Auntie Em?" Next best (for next time): in person, and what's-up? curious vs. stop-that! accusatory.
     Whether to accept any peace overtures is up to her, but you need to make them, now. "I thought I was helping, but obviously wasn't. I hope you'll forgive me."
   
  
     Email Carolyn at tellme@washpost.com, follow her on Facebook at www.facebook.com/carolyn.hax or chat with her online at noon Eastern time each Friday at www.washingtonpost.com.
   
     (c) 2013, Washington Post Writers Group

3 comments

Awesome advice!!!!

#1: Your daughter's "starter marriage" is over. She should act on her realization.
#2: Don't be a stupid Bee&%$. Your boyfriend's ex has become a life friend, which is a good thing. Are you afraid he'll leave you for her? Grow up and come to terms with it or break up and see how good the "pickins" are out there.
#3 Blew up in your face did it? That's what happens when you get presumptuous with people, even family. Confucious say: The Devil gives us our relatives and God gives us our friends.

Toni H is light years ahead of Carolyn. Right on the money, and without all the vacuous rambling. Hook, give Toni a column! At least a test drive once in a while!