Unable to reciprocate
While I'm away, readers give the advice.
On being unable to reciprocate lavish gifts:
Giving extravagant gifts repeatedly to someone who cannot ever reciprocate can be a form of control -- and manipulation.
I found myself in this situation nearly 20 years ago. Fast forward and I'm just ending a costly and bitter divorce from someone who thinks he's given me too much and doesn't think I deserve anything, despite my years of sacrifice for his career and our children. After a second set of pearls (I don't like jewelry) I was told that I "should have them."
I did mention my discomfort with what seemed to be overly generous gifts during the first few years. He would later say that I was ungrateful.
If you are doing something -- no matter how "generous" it seems -- that is for YOUR benefit rather than for your partner's, well ... time for a big time-out and breathing. These seemingly subtle things ("but I love you so you SHOULD have this!") are controlling, but because they are wrapped in very pretty paper, the recipient can feel guilty for not appreciating them.
Instead, what is needed is balance, and listening. If I cannot give you the moon, but I can (and prefer to) put out a blanket and midnight snack to view the stars, then you need to understand and respect that. On the other hand, if you go forward and surprise me with the moon on my next birthday, what can I possibly do? What if I don't really want the moon anyway, but just your time and attention?
-- Name withheld
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On being divorced by a spouse who comes out of the closet:
As a woman who lived through this scenario myself, I can only say that anger is natural. My ex-husband's parents even blamed me for allowing him to "fall into the arms of another man." (I'm still not quite sure how I did that!)
But with time and some counseling, people can get to a place where they are happy with their new lives and can even forgive their spouses for lying to them for many years.
I remember that a few years after the event, I was preparing Thanksgiving for my new family and I felt such a rush of appreciation that my ex freed me to live the truer, happier life I had always hoped for, that I called to thank him for having the courage to leave. The burden that was lifted off my shoulders that day was profound -- letting go of anger usually is.
-- Been There
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On people's awkwardness at expressing sympathy:
Quite a few years ago, my house burned down. People were all over me with support -- money, dishes, clothing, you name it and I had it.
Two months later my brother committed suicide, and the very same people avoided me or said a brief "I'm sorry" before scurrying away. It taught me that a lot of times people don't express their sympathy because they don't know how to. They couldn't replace my brother like they did my possessions. It left them feeling helpless to ease my pain, even though I knew from their prior behavior that they would have.
Email Carolyn at tellme(at)washpost.com, follow her on Facebook at www.facebook.com/carolyn.hax or chat with her online at noon Eastern time each Friday at www.washingtonpost.com.
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