The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Carolyn Hax: Is it stupid to stay with someone after an ‘unforgivable’ deception?

(Nick Galifianakis/For The Washington Post)

Adapted from an online discussion.

Dear Carolyn: My significant other deceived me in a way that should probably be unforgivable, and I feel certain I would encourage any friend to cut and run in the same circumstances.

Yet I am considering trying to work through this if they can explain why this happened and articulate a plan to ensure that such an action would not occur in the future. I've expressed that this will require a lot of difficult work on their part, and even if they do this work, I can't guarantee that in the end it'll be enough for me to trust them again. But I love them, and am not ready to run just yet.

I don’t know if I’m stupid, or if the world is more complicated than it feels when you’re watching other people’s lives and not your own. I also don’t know what my question actually is here, except maybe, “So which is it?”

— Should Go, Might Stay

Should Go, Might Stay: It’s your life. You get to be as stupid as you want to be with your trust and your feelings.

This might be the only thing on Earth I can claim any authority on: It’s a lot easier to see the solutions to everyone else’s problems than it is our own.

When you're the one living the problems, all the absolutes have feelings attached that make them qualified and equivocal and malleable.

So just promise me you’ll promise yourself this: to base your decisions on how you feel about yourself through this period, not how you feel about your significant other or anyone else. That’s the most reliable indicator — what we see in the mirror. You can love someone utterly and if you don’t love yourself with them, then it’s time to go.

Good luck, and I hope your significant other decides to be worthy of you.

Re: Trust: Please remember that at no time during the process do you owe your significant other anything just because he/she made some effort or even a lot of effort. This is about what you owe yourself, not what you owe anyone or what anyone owes you.

— Anonymous

Dear Carolyn: My two adult daughters are estranged and off doing their own things. Now they’re having children of their own. Neither wants to hear about the other.

At this point I have accepted my role as the mother of two children in two separate worlds, but it’s so hard to abide by their rules — don’t share this (news), don’t accept that (gifts). How do parents deal with this?

— Mother

Mother: Set your own rules: You will conduct your relationships with each of your children as you see fit. You won’t go out of your way to share news but won’t keep secrets, either, or constantly monitor what you say.

They decide how to conduct themselves, but don't get to tell you what to do.

If you’re afraid taking this stand will make you the next estrangement in line, then it’s time to talk to a therapist. Actually, it’s that time already. Respecting their decisions and standing up for your own is healthy as far as it goes — but estrangement itself could be a symptom of a family-wide boundary problem, in which case you might benefit from understanding it better. If it’s not, then therapy could help you just with the grief.

I’m sorry. This must be heartbreaking for you.