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If your partner fears divorce, explore skills that make a strong marriage first

Exploring marriage preparation courses can eliminate cold feet

Q: I've been dating my boyfriend for two years (he's 29, I'm 30). I'm the first person he's imagined living with or marrying, and we've been talking about moving in together, as well as marriage. I'm a little reluctant to go all-in for living together without a firm commitment to each other, but he views it as a necessary first step to make sure we're compatible.

He also recently revealed that he is terrified of divorce, which I had some suspicion about because his parents split when he was 12, his brother just announced his divorce after seven years, and several of his good friends have gotten divorced.

He told me he has serious commitment issues, which he is just beginning to realize, and that in his mind, "marriage" means "divorce." He usually has a "look-at-the-positive" mind-set, except for this, which he acknowledges.

I do want to live with him, but I don't think of living together as a trial run; I see it as something two people do when they are completely ready to commit to each other. I don't know what to do.

Not scared by divorce

A: You just made a pristine case for pre-marriage prep. Not counseling, but an education tailored to making your choice of life partner an informed one, vs. wishfully thought.

Given his exposure to marriage, what would it say about him if he were steadfast in his belief that divorce wouldn't/couldn't/shouldn't happen to him? Your boyfriend gave both of you a gift with his honesty about his misgivings.

So use it well. You can give the marriage idea thought and research just by exploring the various programs available to couples considering marriage. Secular or religious, quickie seminar or course, group or private, legit or cult-ish — vetting programs can be the first of many exercises in thinking strategically, sharing deeply and functioning jointly. See what your experience (and others' insight) tells you is your next logical step.

Too commonly, people see marriage as the objective to achieve (or avoid) when a marriage is only as good as the skills you bring to it. Acquiring those skills will support your vision of commitment, and lessen his fear of his.

It's hard to teach old phone junkies new tricks

Q: My mother-in-law is a phone junkie. It rules her life.

Her worst habit, though, is when anyone comes to visit, she takes all calls, and talks as if she were alone. Extended phone calls, lasting way longer than needed, while the visitor waits. Any advice?

Son-in-law

A: Two choices. (1) Kindly note your disappointment when an extended call essentially shortens your visit with her. (2) Stop waiting. Come equipped (book, Zen garden, a sharp pencil and your favorite Millennium Prize Problem) to busy yourself while she yaks, and/or keep visits to a fixed length, so if she talks through most of one, she loses out.

Even if you opt for No. 1, come prepared to employ the second anyway; becoming a phone junkie requires disregard for one's analog surroundings paired with impulse-control problems, which means you'll regret not bringing your Jenga set.

If your partner fears divorce, explore skills that make a strong marriage first 06/28/11 [Last modified: Tuesday, June 28, 2011 5:30am]
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