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Managing problem attachments can work with a dose of maturity

Managing problem attachments can work with dose of maturity

Q: I recently got engaged to an amazing girl. We have been dating 10 months, and for the past couple of months she has been talking to her ex. It kind of bugs me. They would write letters back and forth while he was in rehab. She says she loves only me but that he needs support. I agree, but in many of his letters he tells her he loves her, and that totally bugs me. She says that's just the way he is, and she has no feelings for him.

I think he is trying to mess us up. She disagrees, and it has been putting a lot of strain on our relationship. On her own, she told him she didn't want to be friends anymore, but she didn't like it, and two days later she is back to talking to him.

I know I don't choose her friends. So the question is, can exes be friends, even though the other wants more?

Totally Confused

A: Just about any type of friendship is possible, which I realize isn't the answer you were looking for.

Fortunately, yours isn't the question I was looking for. Here's the real issue: Does your future marriage stand a chance, with someone else still pulling her strings?

Of course this recently rehabbed man needs support. But it's a stretch to suggest the support has to come from the ex-girlfriend with whom he's still smitten.

No, wait, not "stretch." "Howler."

For these exchanges between addict and ex to be healthy, they would have to serve as a reward for his making productive choices, and leaving old behaviors — the kind that landed him in rehab in the first place — behind. How are love letters to an engaged ex-girlfriend productive? Unless he and your fiancee are partners in some element of his logistical stability, like running a business or raising a child together, she's "supportive" like a crutch.

And that's the rosier scenario; if he's manipulating her (ahem), then her involvement could be giving him a neat little escape from the hard work of getting well. He plays to her sympathies, she says what he wants to hear, he avoids a difficult truth. It's a dance as old as we are, done by friends, mates, exes, anyone — and yet few people admit doing it. Both parties have such strong incentives to deny their roles.

As a third party, you can't make them stop. You can, however, call your fiancee's attention to the problem and hope she's ready to see.

You can also direct your own attention to the prematurity of your engagement, wonderful though your fiancee may be.

And so back to my original answer to your original question: Yes, people can manage problematic attachments, as long as they're mature enough to remain realistic and transparent. But since you're not comfortable with this friendship, your fiancee's assurances haven't been persuasive to you, and you suspect the ex of insidious motives, you have three indications that you, your fiancee and/or your relationship aren't mature enough — yet — to negotiate a needy outside presence.

Real intimacy means knowing where each other's soft spots and bad habits are. And maturity means dealing with these honestly — by staying together if it works, or splitting if you must. It's not a recurring fight.

Managing problem attachments can work with a dose of maturity 01/17/09 [Last modified: Saturday, January 17, 2009 3:30am]

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