Feud­ing par­ents hurt­ing kids

Arkansas Democrat-Gazette - - STYLE - CAROLYN HAX Chat on­line with Carolyn at 11 a.m. each Fri­day at wash­ing­ton­post.com. Write to Tell Me About It in care of The Wash­ing­ton Post, Style Plus, 1150 15th St. N.W., Wash­ing­ton, D.C. 20071; or email [email protected]­post.com

DEAR CAROLYN: My brother and sis­ter-in-law have two lit­tle girls, 5 and 2, and I love the four of them very much.

My brother is a doc­tor and works many ir­reg­u­lar and overnight shifts; my sis­ter-in­law must nec­es­sar­ily man­age the girls by her­self a lot.

My brother and sis­ter-in­law fight fre­quently. Typ­i­cally at very low vol­umes, and never ever phys­i­cally, but I tend to wit­ness at least one fight per day when I visit.

Dur­ing the last visit, I was color­ing with my nieces in one room while their par­ents fought in the other. The 5-yearold looked at me and said, “We’ll just be quiet, Aun­tie. I see this a lot.” That broke my heart.

My hus­band and I were in cou­ple’s ther­apy re­cently, and it helped us so much — some­thing I’ve shared with my brother and sis­ter-in-law. I des­per­ately want to sug­gest they be­gin see­ing a ther­a­pist be­cause their small chil­dren are very clearly be­ing af­fected by their fights — but I don’t know how to do this, or if I should bring up what my niece said to me. Any ad­vice?

— L. DEAR READER: Ugh. You have to tell your brother what your niece said.

Only a par­ent who is openly pro-de­nial wouldn’t want to know. Though he might still re­spond to you with some­thing short of grat­i­tude for telling him; the two aren’t mu­tu­ally ex­clu­sive.

Any­way, as you ap­proach this dif­fi­cult task, stay fo­cused on these three essen­tial el­e­ments: truth, com­pas­sion and dis­cre­tion. Tell your brother ex­actly what you wit­nessed, tell him pri­vately, and tell him you don’t judge — re­mind­ing him of your re­cent go-round with cou­ple’s coun­sel­ing.

Then say you’ve shared your one re­portable fact and are of­fi­cially butting back out, un­less and un­til he re­quests oth­er­wise.

I hope your mes­sage gets through.

DEAR CAROLYN: I met a woman through a friend, and we soon be­gan a fun and in­ter­est­ing re­la­tion­ship. Af­ter we went out a few times, she told me she had a se­ri­ous, chronic ill­ness that makes her ex­tremely fa­tigued.

Now, that ill­ness has got­ten worse, and she sleeps ba­si­cally all day and is awake only in the evenings. For­tu­nately she has enough money to sup­port her­self — but as her con­di­tion has wors­ened, her per­son­al­ity has soured, and the per­son I en­joyed at the be­gin­ning is rarely seen.

I want to help, but I also didn’t sign up for this. The life I had en­vi­sioned for my­self — and us — isn’t pos­si­ble, and there’s no end in sight. She’s told me that if I leave her, it would wreck her.

I have dreams and as­pi­ra­tions too, and she won’t be able to have chil­dren or to lead a nor­mal life. I be­lieve in sup­port­ing a mar­ried part­ner, but this is a re­la­tion­ship of less than a year where I’d like to think I still have some choice.

Do I stay with some­one out of duty when we are not mar­ried and do­ing so takes my own dreams away? I’m torn be­tween what is self­ish and what is sen­si­ble.

— B. DEAR READER: I’m sorry. Some­times there is no good an­swer.

There is only a bad an­swer, and a worse one.

The bad an­swer is that you break up with your se­ri­ously ill girl­friend.

The worse an­swer is that you stay with some­one you don’t love and have not com­mit­ted to, just out of guilt.

You do have some choice, still and al­ways. You al­ways have the pre­rog­a­tive to choose a path that’s right for you and sits right with you. Just know the con­se­quences be­fore­hand, to the ex­tent you can, and ac­cept them.

The con­se­quence of break­ing up will be to in­flict pain on some­one al­ready in pain. You will also be, to some, al­ways, the per­son who dumped a sick girl­friend.

This mat­ters.

The con­se­quence of stay­ing will be that, as long as you stay, nei­ther of you will ex­pe­ri­ence the joys of be­ing in love, or the per­va­sive warmth of know­ing your part­ner could be any­where else but wants to be with you.

These mat­ter, too. This isn’t to say either of you will go on to ex­pe­ri­ence this kind of love if you break up, or those feel­ings won’t de­velop if you stay to­gether; life has its own ideas. But your only ap­pro­pri­ate course is to see where things are go­ing and de­cide ac­cord­ingly.

Sharp pain now, or — at best — dull ache al­ways.

She has choices too, by the way. It takes real strength, ad­mit­tedly, but I’ve seen it my­self: She can rec­og­nize you didn’t sign up for this be­fore and aren’t in­vested enough to sign up now — and lov­ingly set you free. That she hasn’t done this, and in fact chose in­stead to ap­ply heavy stay-with-me pres­sure, would mat­ter to me if I were in your place. Ill­ness doesn’t jus­tify threats.

Wash­ing­ton Post Writ­ers Group/NICK GALIFIANAKIS

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