Life Advice


Health & Spirit

Concerned about son's relationship with needy woman

Carolyn Hax on

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. They have reached out to her in numerous ways but she is usually tired or busy.

Is there anything useful to say here? Or double down on being as kind and generous as I can be?

-- Anonymous

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It's not either-or. 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.


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