DEAR NATALIE: My fiancé and I have been together for a little more than three years and I’ve never been to his hometown or met his parents. He always comes up with some excuse as to why we can’t meet up. Finally, I convinced him to let me come home with him during his last trip to visit his parents. They are separated but live in the same home because they are very poor and can’t afford to divorce. They have been separated for years and seem to get along well enough. Neither are in good health and it seems as though they lean on each other as somewhat friends. His childhood home is basically a shack and he never told me how bad things must have been for him growing up. I felt incredibly sad and wished he would have shared this part of his life with me. His family was nice to me, but you could tell they were also uncomfortable and kept making excuses for why the home looked the way it did. After we left, I told him that I would be happy to help his parents once we are married. I don’t want them to worry about having enough money for basic necessities like groceries. I make a lot more money than my fiancé, who works in the public school system. He was taken aback by my suggestion and things have been awkward ever since. I love him and want him to know that I just want to be there for him. We haven’t talked much about the visit since. How do I break the ice? –JUST TRYING TO HELP
DEAR JUST TRYING TO HELP: Your heart is in the right place and I commend you for immediately wanting to jump into action to help his family. However, the dynamics with his parents may be trickier than you realize. Perhaps there are reasons he doesn’t go home or talk about them that go beyond what you have witnessed. Follow your fiancé’s lead on this. If he is open to you bringing them meals on occasion, start with that. But if he is adamant against that, you may need to have a heart-to-heart to further understand his perspective. Perhaps he doesn’t want them to feel embarrassed and is just looking out for them. Perhaps he was neglected as a child and now he’s resentful. There could be a dozen reasons why he’s uncomfortable with you reaching out to them in that way, so be mindful and respect his boundaries with them. Use this as an opportunity to learn more about his story so that you can deepen your connection to one another. The knowledge you've gained can't change his past, but it can help you shape your future together in a more compassionate way.
DEAR NATALIE: My husband cheated on me last year and is very remorseful about the whole thing. It was (supposedly) a one night stand that happened when he was away for work. We just had a baby and he said he felt “neglected” by me. Ever since then, I’ve been trying to move forward with my marriage, but find it very difficult to be intimate with him. The realization that he strayed so easily makes me very anxious about having any more children together. I worry that this pattern will continue and he’ll just expect me to deal with it. I know people would say, “Just leave him,” but I love him and our family. I don’t know how to get over this hurdle. He wants to make this marriage work and so do I. Any advice on how to get back the spark? –UNHAPPY WIFE
DEAR UNHAPPY WIFE: What an incredibly traumatizing experience you had. I am so sorry you went through that and continue to feel the ripple effects of that in your relationship because of his selfish and impulsive decision. I don’t blame you at all for feeling hesitant about growing your family with someone who is so self-centered. If you want to try and salvage your marriage, I would recommend seeking couples counseling with a therapist who specializes in infidelity. I would also recommend you see someone on your own and encourage him to do the same. In fact, if he won’t seek help, use that as further indication that he isn’t actually willing to change. Actions are going to speak much louder than words, and if you feel it in the very pit of your stomach that you just can’t trust him, listen to that voice. You have every right to be happy and you don’t have to settle for someone you can’t rely on.
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