Tell Me About It

Relationship must live or die on its own merits

Washington Post Writers GroupNovember 4, 2012 

Dear Carolyn: Two years ago my husband died of cancer. He was much older, and our marriage was never easy. Yet I loved my husband, he loved me, and I believe that, ultimately, our marriage was a success. I grieved hard for two years.

But back in July, something changed in me (long story), and I feel great – free, open, alive! And I decided I am ready to date.

Strangely enough, my first time out of the gate I met someone with whom I am extremely compatible – age, interests, values, etc. I fell. Head. Over. Heels. He likes me, too – a lot.

But, in his own words, he is terrified because he believes he is my transition guy and, in his mind, “transition guy” can never be “long-term guy.” He thinks I simply don’t know what else is out there and I need to explore.

Eh, I’m not that interested in exploring. Money is tight, and I could use more friends, but I have a really good life in almost every way. I am still doing things to expand my circle of friends, so it’s not like I have turned my life over to him. Yet, he pulls back and is very guarded.

I should add that he split from his second wife a year ago, so he is in a transition, too.

Can a transition relationship never become a real relationship? I think it can but I don’t know how to help my friend see this. – Anonymous

Carolyn Says: Yes, of course, transitions can become permanent.

A funny thing happens when your goal becomes one of persuasion, though: Where you might once have been open to letting this relationship run its natural course, whatever that may be, you’re now invested in having it become a long-term committed relationship. How else will you prove your point? If you break up, won’t he have been “right” all along?

It’s impossible to have a relationship without any external concerns, hopes or influences, but you still want to get as close as you reasonably can to creating conditions where the relationship lives or dies on its own merits. You stay because you enjoy each other. You leave because you don’t. Period.

Please don’t mess with that important process by investing yourself in being the great transition exception. Instead, embrace the fact that neither of you can think for the other, or know where things are going, or know who’s right, if anyone, about whether the transition issue is even relevant. Then use that as the root of your positions on this subject.

Such as, “Maybe you’re right that “transition guy” can never be “long-term guy.” Let’s find out by giving it a shot instead of quitting before we start.”

Or, “I get the ‘see what’s out there’ idea. I just don’t feel that urge myself.”

Or, “Sure, you don’t want to get hurt – or maybe this is really about me as “transition girl”? What do you say we move slowly?”

Validating someone’s concerns tends to be a lot more productive than reaching for ways to disprove them. And if he never drops his guard, then that’s who he is, not whom you made him be.

Can you help yourselves?

Dear Carolyn: My husband and I both want another child, but despite our best efforts to be thrifty, we find ourselves in ever-deepening debt after having our first baby a year ago, buying our first house, and buying a (used) car after someone totaled our old one.

We have options for making more money, but we both get so stressed just looking at our budget situation, we avoid it.

I know this is untenable, and an irresponsible place from which to consider having a second child. Can you help? – H.

Carolyn Says: Dunno. Can you help yourselves?

Can you sit down and decide which of those potential new income sources to pursue, and how best to pursue them, while ensuring good care for your baby, and how quickly you can start? Can you recognize that your budget situation is too stressful to face alone, and make an appointment for help through the National Foundation for Credit Counseling ( www.nfcc.org)? Can you stick to the resulting debt-management plan? Can you recognize that all this is essential, right now, even if you decide not to add to your family?

Assuming you can do all this, will you?

If one of you doesn’t budge, then will the other one be strong and proceed anyway?

You framed this as a parenting question – to me it’s more of a self-discipline, financial and marriage one – but the strongest parental element has nothing to do with yea-or-nay on a second child. It’s about doing what stresses, scares, royally inconveniences and (no doubt) embarrasses you, because doing it will keep the home stable and the future opportunities intact for the child you already have. Will you do that? That “yes” unlocks the door to others.

Send email to Carolyn Hax at tellme@washpost.com.

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