Make us your home page

Assess your relationship as it is, without baggage of past guilt

Assess your relationship as it is, without baggage of past guilt

Q: I am a divorced father of two college-age children, and my girlfriend is single and childless. I ended a long marriage several years ago to be with my girlfriend, whom I consider the love of my life. However, she lives several hundred miles away, and we fly back and forth every few weeks to be together.

The long-distance aspect is getting more and more difficult, and I feel we will soon need to "fish or cut bait," that is, be together full time or have things come to a sad end. She wants me to move, and it probably makes more sense, as she has a better job, nicer home, etc., but I am torn at the prospect of giving up proximity to my children and other family, friends in the area, and local lifestyle.

She is much more social and outgoing than I, and has a substantially larger circle of friends, albeit scattered.

I recently learned my ex has a serious illness that may or may not be treatable.

Can you help me make sense of this issue? I am losing sleep and feeling depressed over the whole situation, and still carrying a not insignificant amount of guilt over breaking up my family.


A: You're already feeling heavy guilt for choosing your girlfriend over your marriage. Can you project how you'll feel if you double down, and choose your girlfriend's "better job, nicer home" over all the other emotional connections you've formed over the years?

Your misery is telling you something that you tune out at your peril. The message could be, of course, that your conscience has already absorbed more than it can handle. That's the simple explanation, and it's certainly enough on its own.

It could also be, though, that with the distance straining your relationship, you're staring at the prospect of having given up so much in your pursuit of this shiny thing — and coming away empty. Neither family nor shiny thing, neither wife nor "love of your life." That'll certainly leave a mark — though full disentanglement might be your one chance to heal.

And don't rule out that your misery is your girlfriend herself. You split your family for her, you torched your integrity for her, and now you're to uproot completely for her? So she can keep her house?

I am a staunch nonbeliever in bean-counting in relationships. For intimacy to develop, grow and flourish, each partner has to give freely, without regard for fairness, and both have to receive gratefully, without tap-tapping their feet for more.

Such balance isn't something you can just decide unilaterally to have; each of you has to establish your side of the equation, ungrudgingly, on faith, at a pace that feels right. Then, you watch for it be reciprocated to the point where it feels only natural to entrust yourselves to each other. Then, you fly.

That said: I hope you're at least asking yourself at what point this life-love plans to give up something for you.

It might be hard to read your current relationship accurately with your conscience screaming in your ear. So, imagine that the home-wrecking never happened, and take your relationship strictly for what it is now. Is she giving to you as freely — and significantly — as you give to her?

Assess your relationship as it is, without baggage of past guilt 10/28/10 [Last modified: Thursday, October 28, 2010 4:30am]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

Copyright: For copyright information, please check with the distributor of this item, Washington Post.

Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours