Group Therapy is a relationship advice column that asks readers to contribute their wisdom. Each week, we offer up a problem for you to weigh in on, then publish the most lively responses, with a final word on the matter delivered by our columnist, Lynn Coady.
A reader writes: Four days after my husband of 10 years served me with divorce papers, I met the man of my dreams. Believe me, I was not looking for this. Problem: He's married. For 30 years. She is wealthy, brilliant, controls the purse strings, and they have two grown children. My two young daughters adore him, as do I. I don't necessarily want him to live with me, but I would like him to get his own apartment and stop depending on her. What do I do? Break it off? Hope he will leave her?
Deal with the past first
Quite bluntly, after 30 years of marriage, it seems unlikely your new man is going to leave his wife. And you may not be the first entanglement he has encountered over the years. He is married, so until he makes his decision on his own two feet, you need to focus on your girls and yourself. If he is indeed the man of your dreams - he may just be the man showing you attention for the first time in a long while. Give yourself some time to digest your past versus entangling your future again so soon.
- Karla Lees, Aurora, Ont.
Your kids take priority
Gee, what a coincidence that you met the man of your dreams days after being served divorce papers. And that this "dream" is married with, seemingly, no intention of leaving his superachieving wife! But none of this even matters, because your kids are the issue here. If you bring this guy into your life, they will end up confused, resentful and eventually imprinted with the belief that this is how you rebound from a difficult situation.
- Christine Woodley, Aurora
Snap out of it
Let's imagine that it is 30 years from now and one of your daughters presents the exact same dilemma to you. What would you advise her? I would hope that you would give her a slap upside the head and tell her to snap out of it.
- Carlo Iaboni, Toronto
The final word
When my colleagues are making with the tough love here at Group Therapy, I usually do my best not to pile on. Mostly I grab my referee whistle and try to stand apart from the blood sport. Today I'm afraid I must wade in.
Your story contains so many holes it's no wonder our friends Karla, Christine and Carlo can see through it so easily. And everything you've left unsaid makes up the most telling portion of your letter. In my experience, advice seekers, when spinning their tales of woe, leave out the details they most want to avoid examining.
I once had a friend who was miserable in her relationship, who kept telling me how inconsiderate her partner was. I never understood why she couldn't just talk to him. We spent hours going over the minutiae of their lives together, but I was never able to help because I never understood the real issue. Only after they parted did my friend reveal to me her boyfriend's multiple flirtations, confessing: I knew if I told you, you'd tell me to break up with him.
What you have and haven't said: You haven't said if you've initiated a full-fledged relationship with this man. Yet your daughters adore him, which indicates not only are you involved, he's become such a part of your life he's likely helping with the homework after dinner. You say you weren't looking for this, but if the relationship has arrived at this point it's pretty clear you jumped in with both feet once it was under way. So you knew he was married and you went for it anyway. Meaning you kind of brought this problem upon yourself, yes?
The biggest hole in your narrative, however, happens to be man-sized - you've told us jack squat about your paramour other than his marital status. Does he still love his wife? Does he want to leave his wife? Do they exist in some kind of sterile brother-sister/roommate/handyman relationship after 30 years together? It's tough to advise you on where this relationship is going when you provide no indication whatsoever what the male half of the equation happens to think about it.
It's pretty clear where you need to look for answers - the places you least want to. Likely they've been staring you in the face all along.
Lynn Coady is the award-winning author of the novels Strange Heaven and Mean Boy , with another one currently in the oven.
Next week's question
I have been married for 35 years. My wife and I have two married children and appear to be a successful couple. But in the past 10 years, we've been through many stressful events, and I have been called upon to be the strong one, supporting her, putting my own needs on hold. Our marriage has become sexless, but when I tell her how unhappy I am, her attitude is that I am a silly dirty old man. I believe couples counselling at this stage will be useless. I can choose to remain miserable or I can initiate a separation in order to try to find a loving happy sexual relationship. But if I pull the trigger, I will devastate her and send shock waves through my family. Thoughts?
Let's hear from you
Do you have an answer to this question or a dilemma of your own that you'd like readers to help solve? Weigh in at firstname.lastname@example.org, and be sure to include your hometown and a daytime contact number so we can follow up with any queries. (We will not publish your name if you submit a personal dilemma.)