Dear Carolyn: Is it odd when your spouse doesn’t want to share details about her life from before you met? I’ve been an open book about myself from the beginning and she has been rather secretive, even lying about previous relationships. She lets slip insights about previous experiences and when I ask her, “That sounds interesting, when did you do that?” She generally clams up. It does bother me. – Open Book
And it’s not odd that it bothers you.
But it is odd of you to ask after you already married a known liar whose dishonesty bothers you, and when your core values include openness and candor.
So now that you realize you can’t follow both, I’m not sure which of these two contradictory paths you prefer to commit to here – with “here” being the corner you’ve married yourself into. The path of secrets, or the path of transparency.
As with the paint version, you can stay right where you are, in your corner; you can get a lot of good thinking done as you’re waiting for paint to dry. Maybe you’ll decide you’re OK with occupying a marriage you know has secrets you’re not in on; maybe with close attention you will come to understand more about who your wife really is and why.
Or you can walk through the wet paint to the door, ruining the finish and maybe your shoes, because you decide getting out of the corner is worth making a mess of your own handiwork.
I wish I had a more satisfying answer for you besides, “I don’t know – do you want this kind of life?” A skilled therapist might be able to help you understand your own reasoning for making the choices you did, and maybe even offer the kind of insight on your wife she’s so adamant that you don’t get.
Hi, Carolyn: Can you will yourself to like someone? My sister is dating someone who annoys me. I don’t think I’ll ever like him. I’m hoping they break up but it’s stressful for my sister because she wants all of us to hang out. She can sense I don’t like him, but I don’t want to tell her when she asks me. Any advice? – Virginia
Well, you can try. And there’s a lot of love in the trying.
I suggest you be honest about both with your sister. Stress thrives in uncertainty, and she has a lot of that right now: She has one-big-happy-family expectations she’s not certain her people can meet; she has a sense you don’t like him that she’s not certain is founded; she’s probably unsure whether to ask you outright or wait to see how things play out. Stress.
So give her something solid to build on: “I know you want us all to hang out. You can probably also tell I’m holding back a bit.” See what she says here, because that will tell you how much she wants to know. If she asks outright what you think of him, then, kindly and without judging: “It hasn’t been like at first sight – but I’m not dating him, you are. I will always rally for people who make you happy.”
Perhaps it’s not something to “build on,” but instead “build with.” Your truth is raw material for her to create more realistic expectations. If this guy is her priority, then he might come at the cost of her familial kumbaya; if happy group hangouts are her priority, then that might cost her this guy. The sooner she knows what her options are, the better equipped she will be to make her decisions – during which you can, and should, try in earnest to see in him what she sees.
Dear Carolyn: I have been going to a therapist for the last six weeks. Since a very young age I have dealt with intrusive suicidal thoughts. I have just functioned with them in secrecy – I’m a perfectionist and overachiever – and have carried quite a bit of shame surrounding these feelings.
My spouse is one of very few people in my life who know about them, and has encouraged me for years to see someone. Well I finally did, and it turns out I have OCD and there are ways to help reduce these thoughts. I needlessly suffered in silence for decades.
It’s going to be a long road and a lot of work, but I am encouraged that I will eventually find relief with the help of this mental health provider.
I just wanted to submit this note in case a reader has been on the fence about getting mental health help. If you think you need it, do it. – Invest in Yourself
I’m so grateful you did, thank you.
Email Carolyn at email@example.com.
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