Carolyn Hax: Advice

Concerned about son’s relationship with needy woman

Carolyn Hax
Carolyn Hax

Dear Carolyn: Our son is in a serious relationship and I believe an engagement is in the offing. We like this young woman, but have reservations that I am struggling with.

It’s clear our son spends a great deal of time and energy taking care of his girlfriend and making her feel secure and content, although she is rarely content for long. He makes all the food, goes out for her coffee, makes all the reservations, plans trips, etc. This never-ending support over her workplace and social worries seems awfully one-sided, and my son has confided that it can be exhausting and frustrating. He has suggested she see a therapist for anxiety or depression.

His siblings share my concerns.

Anonymous

Dear Anonymous: Double down on being as kind and generous as you can be, yes — but also take the opportunities your son is giving you when he confides in you. “You do sound drained, yes. What do you think you'll do?”

This both validates him and poses a leading question that, appropriately, doesn’t offer any opinion. It just props open the door for him to think about this out loud with you.

To love someone who makes your life harder is to be conflicted, and too often that comes with guilt or shame — some sense he’s not a good person for wanting out when she might be ailing. This is especially true if he has internalized the idea that she “needs” him. That of course is a fiction but it’s a tempting one, because who doesn’t want to be helpful?

With few exceptions, though, wanting out is enough, especially from someone refusing help, changes, treatment.

So when you demonstrate you aren’t judging him or siding against her, you offer him a safe place for him to explore his own thinking. Just keep posing ideas as questions — “Do you think … ?” In so many dark places, it’s having the courage to follow the scary or unthinkable train of thought that finally leads to the light.

Email Carolyn at tellme@washpost.com or chat with her online at 10 a.m. each Friday at www.washingtonpost.com.

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