Advice columnist

Adapted from a recent online discussion.

Hi, Carolyn:

What do you think I should know before jumping into a relationship with someone who has been the victim of multiple cases of spousal/partner abuse? She is seeing a therapist and working on addressing the tendencies that lead her to choose violent partners. I am not violent at all, but I often worry about taking advantage of her without meaning to, now that I realize she is drawn to mistreatment.

San Francisco

That’s something to watch for, but I think the higher percentage risk is that she is starting a relationship with you as a way of escaping the bad feelings that come with “working on addressing the tendencies that lead her to choose violent partners.” It’s like having ice cream instead of going for a jog — it’s immediate gratification that will at best postpone getting healthy, if not actively make it harder.

For a relationship to be healthy, the people in it need to feel (more or less) complete on their own, because that allows them both to see each other as an added benefit, vs. an answer to a need.

Dear Carolyn:

My sister-in-law cheated on my brother with multiple men, apparently over many years of their marriage. My brother caught her in the act, and she confessed to the other affairs. They are now getting divorced.

Here’s my problem: My wife still hangs out with my (soon to be ex-) sister-in-law. They have lunch or dinner once a month and chat on the phone regularly. I asked my wife to stop hanging out with her, because she’s hurt my brother so badly. I also asked her why she’d want to be friends with someone who could be so reckless and hurtful.

My wife doesn’t see a problem with it. She said that no one’s all bad (I agree) and that she’s not getting marital advice from her, just having fun. I know I can’t control who my wife hangs out with, so can you give me some advice about how to not feel betrayed by my wife’s actions?

For what it’s worth, my wife really likes my brother, but she said if her staying in touch with his ex hurts him, that’s basically his problem to deal with.

Ostracizing Ex-Spouses?

I’m not sure “betrayed” is the right word, since you and she have framed it around your brother’s feelings — but, “bankrupt” seems to fit. “Damn cold,” if you have two blanks to fill in.

Not to go too crazy, but the “just having fun” rationale only makes it worse; she’s defending her right to cozy up to your brother’s tormenter, and the lofty principle she’s defending is . . . the right to a coupla yuks? How’s that for a mind-blowing amount of depth?

You have, basically, two unwelcome choices: You can really try to see what your wife values in this woman, or you can reiterate your request — not demand — that she taper off the friendship. This time, though, present an arguably more honest rationale: Her staying in touch with this ex hurts your feelings. Doesn’t it? Because her every play date with the soon-to-be-ex is a kiss-off to you? And scares you a little bit about your wife’s compass? “All bad,” no, but cause for valid concern.

Write to Carolyn Hax, Style, 1150 15th St. NW, Washington, D.C. 20071, or tellme@washpost.
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