Carolyn Hax: Longtime beau is a growing concern

The Washington PostMay 13, 2014 

Adapted from a recent online discussion.

Carolyn: When, if ever, is it advisable to tell a loved one you are concerned her relationship is not worth staying in, assuming no abuse?

My 30-year-old, wonderful sister-in-law has long wanted to marry her boyfriend of 12 years. They live together, she supports him financially, but he seems totally lazy or genuinely uninterested in marrying her.

I think she deserves so much better, but I'm sure the idea of breaking up with him is terrifying to her. Neither my husband nor I have really expressed these concerns to her. Should we, or should we just trust that she will do what's best for her?

CONCERNED

Is she happy? Stranger pairings have happened.

Expressing concerns and trusting her are not mutually exclusive. Turn it around on yourself for a moment: You know you've got most things covered, right? But don't you occasionally appreciate when someone you respect, and who respects you, offers some useful perspective?

We rant plenty about the nuisance of judgmental bystanders and unsolicited advisers, and it's often warranted.

But when the foundation of trust and respect is there, and you think the value of your view outweighs the risk it'll be poorly received, it's important to speak up.

Also, concentrate on what you do know instead of undermining yourself with what you don't know. In this case, you don't know "the idea of breaking up … is terrifying to her." That's just you talking.

Instead, her concerned sibling can say, "I'm worried about you. I've noticed X and Y in the past few years, when your norm has always been Z."

It doesn't explicitly indict the boyfriend, which helps by not forcing her to defend him. You're just saying, "I care, and here's what I'm seeing, and here's a mirror."

Then you back off and let her figure it out.

Email tellme@washpost.com. Chat online at 10 a.m. Fridays at www.washingtonpost.com.

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