Murphy's Love: Advice on Intimacy and Relationships
Dear Stacy: My sister, “Sally,” is going through a separation. She and her husband of 19 years, “Tim,” split up last fall – it was a shock to her and to all of us when he moved out. He offered no reason for leaving and won’t go to counseling. He says he’s just fallen out of love with her and needs his space. They have two kids in elementary school. Through a complicated set of circumstances I won’t go into, my wife and I have become aware that Tim actually is dating someone, and it is very serious. Sally has no idea. She still believes this is a mid-life crisis, and is being very accommodating about their financial arrangements (dismal) and family events (she still goes to his pretending nothing bad is happening between them; he refuses to go to hers, forcing her to explain everything to her side of the family). I think she hopes that if she plays along and holds her breath, he will snap out of this and the family will get back to normal. My question is this, do we share our information with her? What good does telling do? I’m conflicted because I know I would want to know this important detail, but I also want to protect her feelings. –To Tell or Not to Tell
Dear Tell: I’m sure this is not news to you, but this is a very tight spot you’re in, and there really is no obvious answer here. If you don’t tell Sally and hold the secret for Tim, you are colluding with his deception. If you do tell but are incorrect that the relationship is “very serious,” you could ignite more of a firestorm between them. If you try the typical Advice Column Recipe for such situations and inform Tim that you know he’s dating someone, and that you will clue Sally in unless he tells her first, then you are inserting yourself into their relationship – a place you don’t want to be. If you keep asking other people for advice (doubting a monthly column is the first place you took this question, but if so, I’m shocked flattered), this is going to spread like wildfire. In that case, you are in the unenviable position of either lying to Sally when she “breaks” the news to you, or making her feel more foolish by admitting you knew all along. I’m exhausted just thinking about this. But let’s be honest, Sally already knows. At least on some level, she knows that middle-aged men don’t run away from their wives and families for “more space” unless they are undergoing a serious psychological episode (which would already be apparent) or they have someone/something to run to. In sharing your information you are not revealing something that she doesn’t already know in her heart. Meanwhile, in sharing it, you avoid infantilizing her – she is a grown woman, and a mother, she can handle this. Keep it short, let Sally know you love her, and then get out of the way. She may not want witnesses when she processes the information. Sit back and let her tell you how you can support her.
Dear Stacy: I need some advice for dealing with unwelcome inquiries about my fertility. I know that sounds blunt, but there’s really no other way of describing it when people ask me, point blank, why my husband and I have not had a baby. We have been married for three wonderful years and have been trying to get pregnant for most of that time. It hasn’t happened yet and I’m 40. It seems an obvious inference that we might be having trouble, and yet acquaintances/relatives/coworkers seem completely unabashed about asking me, “Why the hold up? Don’t you want to have a family?” I’m a confident, successful woman in a very happy marriage with a partner I love and respect – but these questions pull the rug out from under me and I am tired of being self-deprecating and pleasant when responding to something that is absolutely no one else’s business. Ideas? –Wishing They’d Leave Well Enough Alone
Dear Wishing: How I wish that I could explore this topic with a question from one of your “Askers.” I imagine it would go something like this:
Dear Stacy: How can I convince my neighbor/niece/manager that she is wasting her life by not having a baby? She doesn’t realize that she’s old and that her time is running out. How can I tell her in the right way, because I know this is definitely my responsibility. –Insensitive and Out of Touch
My answer would be something along the lines of “WAKE UP, YOU SELF-CENTERED IDIOT. THIS IS NONE OF YOUR BUSINESS AND YOU ARE BEING HURTFUL AND THOUGHTLESS.”
Ok, that felt good. Now onto something more helpful.
You want something to say to these “Askers,” nosy folks who have little or no involvement in your personal life. While I grant you full license to use my previous quote, you may want to apply a more diplomatic response, one that doesn’t open the door to further intimate conversation with these non-intimates. This is the problem, while the Askers’ inquiries are definitely hurtful; it’s more likely that these people are being thoughtless, not judgmental and calculating. They simply are not thinking about the monumental decision that is the choice to become a parent. The Askers are not thinking about the very common and well-reported facts of fertility struggles for women above age 35 (how they could miss this, I do not know – but let’s spin this positively, you must look incredibly young for your age). Askers are not thinking that you might view their question in any other way than in which it was intended: idol, self-centered chatter.
So if your intention is to teach them a lesson, I’m all for a strongly-worded sound bite about obtuseness and discretion. But if you simply want to shutdown the conversation so you don’t have to share any more of yourself with this person, then I’d go with, “Thanks for your interest, but this is not something I want to talk about.” Then ask the Asker about her new sweater/car/laugh lines. Best of luck.
Stacy Notaras Murphy is a licensed professional counselor and certified Imago Relationship therapist practicing in Georgetown. Her website is www.stacymurphyLPC.com and you can follow her on twitter @StacyMurphyLPC. This column is meant for entertainment only, and should not be considered a substitute for professional counseling. Send your confidential question to firstname.lastname@example.org.