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Let teen stepdaughter keep her privacy — within limits

Adapted from a recent online discussion.

Let teen stepdaughter keep her privacy — within limits

D.C.: I'm a mother to two amazing children who became my family when I married their father.

The older, 16, has her first boyfriend. She thinks her dad and I believe this guy is just a friend. They only get the chance to meet in groups because they don't go to the same school. She e-mails and texts with him daily and he is a growing presence on her Facebook page. Does it matter that she doesn't want to tell us this is her boyfriend? He has actually called her his girlfriend on Facebook. Is it okay for her to be so private?

Carolyn: It doesn't set off my alarms, because having a private life is so important at that age (and hers is visible to you by other means, apparently). However, you still might want to go out of your way — without looking like you're going out of your way, of course — not to have big reactions to things she tells you, about guys or anything else.

That will create a safe environment for her to tell you things — based on trust that you're not going to go overboard with criticism, or say things like, "YOU HAVE A BOYFRIEND?! THAT'S SO CUUUTE."

You also don't want to fuss because you don't want her covering her electronic tracks. If you see other/more disturbing signs of hiding or dishonesty, or if you see the relationship taking an unhealthy turn (coercion, isolation, abuse, etc.), then you'll need to revisit the decision not to say anything. Till then, lie low and keep an open-door, open-mind policy.

Anxiety no excuse to mistreat a spouse

New York: My husband has anxiety — diagnosed by doctors — and most of the time is on medication for it. However, when he's not on medication (which he does not want to be) he says things that are at least borderline emotionally abusive. Things like telling me the anxiety is all my fault, infertility is due to my hobbies, telling me he doesn't want to see me, I take up too much time, etc. How do I reconcile "in sickness and in health" when the "in sickness" part is (probably) abusive?

Carolyn: He "does not want to be" on medication, or off it? Your phrasing is unclear, and it's important. If he takes medication because he feels a duty not to hurt you, then that's an argument for "in sickness and in health." If he takes it grudgingly for some reason besides you — say, his job — and goes off it whenever he feels he can, then that's an argument for the "in sickness, but not abuse" clause.

Anxiety doesn't excuse mistreatment of someone regardless; plenty of people live with anxiety and do not treat their spouses like dirt. That's why the deciding factor here is whether your husband is taking deliberate steps to take care of you by taking care of himself.

You also mention infertility; if you are trying to get pregnant or adopt a child, then I hope you'll think carefully about bringing a child into a situation where s/he might be the target of Daddy's abuse — or just a witness to Mom's. That's not fair. Please get this problem resolved in a sustainable way before you bring little people into it.

Let teen stepdaughter keep her privacy — within limits 03/02/11 [Last modified: Wednesday, March 2, 2011 3:30am]

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