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Broken couple pretends to be ‘whole’ for family
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Broken couple pretends to be ‘whole’ for family

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Amy Dickinson

Amy Dickinson

Dear Amy: I have been married for over 30 years. At our 25th anniversary dinner, my wife told me she was interested in trying an “open marriage.” I was shocked, thinking that we still had a strong desire for each other. Later, at a counseling session, when asked if she was physically attracted to me, she said flippantly, “Not now, never was.”

That opened a chasm in our marriage that has grown, and we no longer see a viable way forward. Counseling didn’t help us figure out how to recapture our love. We decided that it would be better for us if we could try a “trial separation.”

Then our daughter (the youngest of four children and in her 20s) suddenly exhibited some alarming mental health issues. Thus began a journey of hospitalizations, brushes with the law, and significant behavioral issues. Following two years of treatment, and on meds, our daughter has stabilized to the point she can work, but she is very dependent upon us.

We put our separation on hold and worked relatively well together during the height of the crisis, but ultimately, this has not brought us closer.

We are both unhappy. We only discuss our daughter; we have had no intimate relations, and often our tension creates volatile arguments.

If we separate, we are terribly afraid of how our daughter will react. We fear destabilizing her.

What should I/we do? Should we still try to separate and thus create a chance for happiness with another person, or do we just continue to pretend to be “whole” for our children?

– In a Quandary

Dear Quandary: In terms of your daughter’s situation, I am not qualified to predict the impact of your choices on her.

However, broadly speaking, you are not bound to remain together in a volatile and unhappy marriage for your daughter’s sake. Part of your careful parenting through her illness should be the underlying message that she is capable, that she can recover, and that as an adult she can begin to assume responsibility for her health care and happiness.

It can be truly terrifying to love someone wrestling with mental illness, but your fear sends her a message that you truly believe that she cannot cope.

Most children see through any pretense of “wholeness.” By insisting on staying together for your daughter’s sake, you might be burdening her by making her responsible for your relationship.

I believe it should be possible to quietly and peacefully part, while still being involved and devoted to your daughter and very much in her corner.

Either one of you quickly bringing new partners into the mix would NOT be wise, but her therapist might help to coach all of you through this.

Dear Amy: A friend of mine keeps changing doctors because they all tell her to lose weight. She says that people should accept her for how she is.

Unfortunately, she’s having weight-related health issues, and obesity killed her parents.

I pointed out that any doctor would tell her to lose weight, and now she’s mad at me. I’m not in favor of fat shaming, but I do believe in exercise and a healthy lifestyle.

The two of us exercising together is not an option. She once tried to get her parents to eat better and exercise, but they wouldn’t listen. Now my friend is waddling down the same path to an early grave and throwing tantrums at anyone who tries to help.

– Trying to Stay Healthy

Dear Trying: Your friend has accurate information regarding the health risks of her obesity. She is rejecting it, and this is painful for you to watch – but this is often how people behave when they are confronted with their worst fears.

People throw tantrums when they are extremely uncomfortable or freaked out by the truth.

Now that you have endured this challenge, you might say, “I care about you too much to enable you or lie to you but even if you reject my input, I want you to know that I’ll never stop caring.” But do stop interfering.

Dear Amy: I was so disappointed in your response to “Upset Guest,” whose hosts did not offer him as much as a cup of water during his stay. You seemed to blame him for their rudeness!

I believe in hospitality – but then again, I am a Southerner.

– Proud

Dear Proud: Without question, these hosts were extremely inhospitable. I tried to offer suggestions to “Upset Guest” for ways to prepare for this unhappy possibility.

You can email Amy Dickinson at askamy@amydickinson.com or send a letter to Ask Amy, P.O. Box 194, Freeville, NY 13068.

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