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Q. What do you do if your family knows that something is wrong, but you are not ready to talk to them about it yet? Specifically, my husband is now in treatment for compulsive gambling. It just about wrecked our marriage but we are hanging on. My relatives — who live a few states away but we talk by email and phone every week — can tell that something is up and are asking me about it. And we will see them at the holidays. But I am still sorting out my feelings and am not ready to talk about it (which will invite unwanted advice from them).
Boundary-laden honesty has the best chance here: “I know you can tell we’re going through some stuff. Thanks for your thoughts. We’re OK, but not ready to hash it all out yet. I will definitely let you know when we are.” Yes, this may invite more questions, but then you can feel free to be more firm, since you’ve already thrown them a bone. “I know you must be curious. But it’s not helpful for me to talk about it at this point; a lot is still in flux. I know I’m asking a lot, but all I need is a little space for now. I hope you’ll understand.” If they persist, then you get a free pass to start talking football.
In the shadow of the ex-wife
Q. I am dating someone who was divorced a couple of years ago. I have never been married. Problem is, I keep feeling like a little kid when I compare myself to my boyfriend’s ex-wife. She is a few years older than me, much more advanced in her career, much more recognized in her community, and they owned a home together, had a lot more financial resources together than I do, etc. I love my boyfriend but almost have this impostor syndrome about whether I could step into this grown-up ex-wife’s shoes. I know it sounds silly.
But you don’t have to step into this grown-up ex-wife’s shoes. If what he needed were a replica of his ex, then they wouldn’t have gotten divorced. It doesn’t sound silly, though — and your assuming so is just another way for you to make yourself feel small. It’s natural to compare yourself to someone who looms as large as an ex-spouse of a current partner. But here’s the thing: Her marriage to your boyfriend didn’t work. It fell short, and it full stopped. (Full stop.) And being that the match matters even more than the individual — thank goodness, or everyone nationwide would be lining up to date the same dozen folks — there’s no yardstick that means anything at all besides what your relationship is like with your boyfriend. Try to be open to that, breathe through it and just be. Remind yourself that you may have an adventurousness and flexibility that an older, more established person may not. Then spend more time wondering if this relationship meets your needs, rather than whether you win some checklist-style face-off with a woman who’s already failed the match test.