Ask Amy: Boundaries promote relationship balance

February 7, 2013

DEAR AMY: I am a young professional, and I am having a difficult time balancing my long-term romantic relationship and the close relationship I have with my family.

Both relationships demand a lot of time, and planning a weekend gives me a headache because everyone feels entitled to my time!

I try to arrange my weekends so no one feels excluded, but I ultimately feel guilty no matter what I do. At least one of these relationships will certainly suffer (if it hasn’t already). How should I handle this without really hurting someone? -- Weekend Woes

DEAR WOES: This issue will revisit you throughout your life, especially if you choose to have children, creating more relationships that you must manage. The primary relationship is the one you have with yourself, and until you value your lifelong friendship with yours truly, you will never be able to balance the ancillary relationships in your life.

So put yourself first. You will have to train yourself to value your own time, and then you’ll have to retrain everyone in your life to respect your choices.

You will need to learn to say a firm, friendly and confident “no thank you” to time demands that you can’t (or don’t want to) fulfill. If you are respectful and consistent, you won’t be hurting anyone; if you continue to turn yourself inside out to please and accommodate everyone else in your life, you will hurt yourself.

DEAR AMY: I have been in a serious relationship with my girlfriend for over a year now. Our relationship has been very strong because we seem so good for each other.

My girlfriend revealed that several months ago, she had a conversation with an ex. It was not sexual, but he was a big part of her life for a long time, and she felt the need to have a conversation with him regarding her feelings.

I don’t like that she waited several months to reveal this. I had made it clear that I wish to know about any dealings with him, and she lied to me for months through omission.

Since the time she came clean, I have lost some trust. I looked through her phone several times to see if they have been continuing their conversations. She occasionally looks through my phone too, and I don’t have a problem with that because I have nothing to hide.

I saw there was a text conversation between them recently. It was platonic but she hadn’t mentioned it to me. I now realize she feels my looking through her phone is a violation of privacy (even though she looks at mine). I respect this and won’t do it again.

There is now an underlying resentment on both sides. I would hate to see what is an otherwise wonderful relationship be ruined because of this. How can I help resolve this in a healthy way? -- Insecure

DEAR INSECURE: Honesty, disclosure and transparency are important, but you need to decide: Is any contact with this ex a deal-breaker, even if you know your girlfriend is not reviving a relationship with him? If so, you better make it crystal clear to her.

And if the relationship is over, then how many conversations must they have before they run out of things to say to each other? She needs to disclose her intentions.

You must then do a very challenging thing: Choose to trust. Tell your girlfriend, “It’s obvious that your contact with him hurts me. I’d like you to keep that in mind.” After that, stay out of each other’s phones. With no evidence of cheating, this surveillance seems more like a trigger than a cure.

DEAR AMY: Your answer to “Divorced Dad” was off base. Dad did not give up his obligations to his children just because he divorced their mom. When “grandma” dies, he should be available to emotionally support his kids. Everyone is “uncomfortable” at a funeral, so it is not a reason to skip the event. -- Son of a Divorced Dad

DEAR SON: I appreciate your perspective — and correction. Thank you.

Write to Amy Dickinson at askamy@tribune.com or Ask Amy, Chicago Tribune, TT500, 435 N. Michigan Ave., Chicago, Ill. 60611.

by the Chicago Tribune

Distributed by Tribune Media Services

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