DEAR CAROLYN: My dad fell in love with someone else and left my mom, who thought their 30-year marriage was great, as did we. They had lived apart for a few years due to work, and my father said they had grown apart for years and he wasn’t in love.
Obviously leaving for another person was wrong, but should he have left my mom when he knew there was no love left? He acknowledges that he should have tried years earlier. And he says he is deeply in love with this woman, although none of us kids want to hear about it.
DEAR ANONYMOUS: He says he should have left earlier, so I’m not sure what I can add with my opinion.
Here’s how I suggest looking at this whole situation: There were no good answers.
What everyone wanted, presumably, was for your parents to keep loving each other to the end. That didn’t happen, and it’s not surprising because — all things being equal — lasting affection is always a combination of effort and luck.
The effort part, of course, is what you put into it, including your self-knowledge throughout your time together, the wisdom of your choice of mate, and the energy you devote to each other and to your shared lives.
The luck part includes the things you can’t control, which are mainly the obstacles you run across — be they boredom or tragedy or anything in between — and your mate’s responses and reactions to these.
So, maybe they chose wrong upfront, or your dad’s effort flagged, or your mom’s did, or both, and the few-year absence came into play, and the new woman presented herself …
And there you are. Your dad either remains in his marriage with his heart elsewhere; or he remains and makes an effort to love your mom again as he once did (or in some new and improved way); or leaves the marriage.
While it looks as if the two “stay” options are the better ones than leaving, I advise anyone processing news like this to put themselves not in the position of the person who left, but of the person left behind: Would you want a spouse who doesn’t love you anymore to return to you solely out of duty? In some circumstances I suppose I might, but in general I think, “Don’t do me any favors.”
It’s normal to have all these questions going through your mind, normal to be angry at your dad, normal not to want to hear of his new love – but for your long-term well-being, do try on the “there were no good answers” idea.
Even if you decide it doesn’t apply here, I think it’ll come in handy another time. We humans tend to create so many uses for it.
TO ANONYMOUS: You’re gonna fall out of love, or stop loving someone, and people are going to stop loving you, maybe many times. It’ll happen to you; it happens to others; it happened to your parents.
And you don’t know the whole story.
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