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Tell Me About It: Girlfriend’s punitive nature raises red flag

By Carolyn Hax, Washington Post
Published: March 8, 2018

Q: I am getting ready to propose to my girlfriend of three years. "Mary" is just great ó beautiful, funny, successful ó but she has major forgiveness issues. None of this behavior has ever been directed at me but itís so extreme that I have to wonder about it.

For example, her dad cheated on her mom and married the other woman many years ago. Mary has never forgiven him and never sees him ó never even met his new wife or her half sister.

Mary admits she can never forgive people who "seriously wrong" her but says itís the way she is and she canít change that. Is this a red flag?

Have to Wonder

A: Sheís right, this is the way she is ó because she has no interest in being otherwise.

The thornier issue is whether itís a red flag, and to that my answer is a definitive yes. And no.

You know the "yes" as well as I do. When someone is that punitive, that immovable by the remorse of others, that capable of seeing black-and-white in the roiling gray of human experience, then you must heed the alarm.

The threat that, boom, one day Mary will be done with you is bound to hover between you. It hints at a fragility in Mary, too, where she reaches a point of suffering beyond which she wonít risk further harm.

But it also hints at a reason not to treat her "major forgiveness issues" as a deal-breaker: Her breaking point is actually quite reasonable.

When you cheat, divorce, then marry your paramour, you can reasonably expect to alienate your children, maybe for good.

We all have and reach breaking points. Most just handle future encounters with a tight-smiley "hello" to the people who are emotionally dead to them ó mustering a superficial connection while leaving the rift intact.

Mary doesnít. She lives and wears the rift, and thatís the real difference. Do I recommend this? No. But at least people know where they stand. So if you marry Mary, be nice.