The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Ask Amy: Should I deal with his behavior because he’s terminally ill?

4 min

Dear Amy: I recently reconnected with a fellow I loved many years ago.

Our previous relationship ended because a misunderstanding caused him to become violent with me. Fast forward many, many years, and he is just as angry, but now has a terminal illness.

I fell in love with him again and tried to be supportive, knowing that he didn't have long to live.

After six months of enduring love bombing, narcissism, threats of suicide, uncontrolled crying and extreme anger from him, I decided to break it off.

Now I’m left feeling guilty because he is nearing the end of his life.

My question is: Should I put his behavior on the back burner because of his illness, or did I do the healthier thing by breaking it off with him?

Please help!

— Grieving in Pa.

Grieving: A “misunderstanding” should not cause anyone to become violent. You excused this man’s behavior of many years ago because of a “misunderstanding,” and you are excusing his behavior now because of his illness.

Reading deeply into your question, I intuit that — aside from this man’s unfortunate prognosis — you have an ongoing problem.

Excusing his violence and then diving into another relationship with him might indicate that on some level you believe you have the power to fix people.

Externally, this seems kindly and generous.

Actually, it is a function of your own ego and anxieties, and it is something for you to work on moving forward.

When you recognize with some humility that you don’t have the power to fix, but only to forgive, then you should liberate both this man and yourself from this dysfunctional cycle.

Engaging with someone who creates so much turmoil for both of you isn’t good for either of you. Yes, you should break things off with him.

Take responsibility for your own actions, but not his.

Dear Amy: My husband and I have been married for 18 years.

He had a (female) co-worker who left the area and moved to another state — around five years ago. I was not aware of this, but I recently learned that he calls her quite often to talk about his problems. I’m concerned that he shares his problems with her and not with me. She is also married.

He and this woman were even sending gifts back and forth without my knowledge. I found this out when I noted her mailing address listed in my Amazon account.

I was wondering if this was normal behavior, or if I should be worried. He seems to think there’s nothing wrong with it, but I’m furious.

Could you weigh in?

— Worried Wife

Worried: My opinion about this depends somewhat on what kinds of problems your husband shares with his former co-worker, and what kind of gifts they are exchanging.

If he calls her to discuss the Peterson account or to exchange ideas about how to navigate through a thorny company problem, that's one thing.

If he is sharing intimate and private details about his — or your — life, that's another.

If he is sending her bottles of Shalimar or a gift pack from Victoria's Secret, I'd say that was a clear “tell.” (You can double-check the order history through your (or his) Amazon account.)

Partners absolutely can have friendships outside of the marriage — but it is important that these friendships not interfere with the marriage.

I hope you and your husband can really talk about this. He should be transparent and reassuring, rather than dismissive or defensive.

Dear Amy: I was absolutely shocked by your response to “Protective fiance,” whose guy was sexually harassed by a woman at a bar.

You are normally so anti-male — I was surprised when you called out the double-standard when women sexually harass men.

— Call Me Surprised

Surprised: Gee, thanks!

©2022 by Amy Dickinson distributed by Tribune Content Agency