Dear Annie: My boyfriend, “Joe,” and I have been together for five years. My son (from a previous relationship) and I moved away from family and friends to live with him. Shortly after moving, I became pregnant with our daughter.
At first, our relationship was perfect. Joe was sweet, kind and helpful. Now we get into a lot of disagreements that result in our not speaking for days. Worse, when Joe stops speaking to me, he also ignores my 7-year-old son, who looks up to Joe as a father figure. A year ago, I suggested counseling, but even though Joe agreed to go, he hasn’t found the time. Discussing it doesn’t help. Joe becomes defensive and closed off.
Here’s the current problem: I finally decided to go back to school, which is a wonderful opportunity for me. Although I’d like to move out, I cannot support my children while attending school, and there won’t be any help from family or friends. It means I must rely on Joe for childcare and housing. Is this horribly selfish of me to keep living with Joe for that purpose? How can I explain this awkward arrangement to my two beautiful children?
— Heartbroken in Wisconsin
Dear Wisconsin: People live with each other for a variety of reasons, including financial stability, and you don’t need to explain it to your young children. More importantly, is Joe willing to do this? Is there a chance the two of you will reconcile? Please don’t lie to Joe. He should know that you want to go back to school so you can help support the family.
Ask him again to come with you for counseling to work on your relationship issues, but if he refuses, please go on your own. Your efforts to discuss things lead to defensiveness and entrenchment, and counseling will help you find better ways to communicate. It also will help you learn how to protect your son from Joe’s neglect, and that should be your primary concern.
Dear Annie: My sister, “Beth,” is five years older than I am. While we get along well, we have never been close. She tends to be negative and judgmental. I check in with her monthly, and whenever I go home to visit my parents, I make sure to visit her and her kids. In the 20 years I have lived in my current place, she has never once visited.
I am now in my 50s and plan to marry a wonderful man this summer. I did not ask Beth to be in my wedding party, choosing close friends instead. Beth is now upset and refuses to speak to me. She might not attend the wedding. My parents are heartbroken, and I am at a loss to understand her reaction. Should I have considered my only sister before my friends?
— Surprised Sister
Dear Surprised: While you are not obligated to have your sister in the wedding, it is customary to include siblings — especially since you have only one and there is no enmity that makes her participation unwelcome. For the sake of family harmony (and your mother), please phone Beth and say, “I’m so sorry I didn’t ask you to be in my wedding party. It didn’t occur to me that you would want the fuss. But I would be so honored to have you stand up for me, and I hope you will.” She might refuse, but the gesture itself may mitigate the hard feelings.
Dear Annie: I read the letter from “Just One More Day,” whose family members had all passed away. It reminded me of something a friend said when I was complaining about some insignificant thing my mother had done that irritated me. He simply said, “I wish my mother was still alive so that I could be mad at her.”
— Just One More
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