Let son confide about difficult girlfriend, offer support

Posted: March 8, 2018 at 1:40 a.m.

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

DEAR READER: 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.

So when you demonstrate you aren't judging him or siding against her, you offer him a safe place for him to explore his own thinking. Just keep posing ideas as questions -- "Do you think ... ?" In so many dark places, it's having the courage to follow the scary or unthinkable train of thought that finally leads to the light.

DEAR CAROLYN: This is a question about family and money in which everyone gets along, no one is upset, no one is likely to get upset regardless of the outcome, and yet still no one knows what to do.

I have two young children. My brother has one young child. Neither will have more children. If our parents give equal amounts to each grandchild, then my family will get twice what my brother's family gets. If our parents give equal amounts to each of their children, then my children will each get half of what my brother's child gets. Neither feels right.

We all independently realized the problem. We've talked about it. There doesn't seem to be a right answer.

-- Fortunate No Matter What

DEAR READER: Consult an estate attorney, please.

Families don't spend and save and bequeath money -- individuals do. So I'd vote: some for you and brother, plus equal trusts for each grandchild. Arguably your nephew inherits more this way, but who knows what will be left by then? Such vagaries are facts of life.

Chat online with Carolyn at 11 a.m. each Friday at washingtonpost.com. Write to Tell Me About It in care of The Washington Post, Style Plus, 1150 15th St. N.W., Washington, D.C. 20071; or email

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Weekend on 03/08/2018