Q: Our son "Bill," 28, has been married for five years to a woman we are starting to resent. "Jennifer" is working on earning an advanced degree in Italian. She took the opportunity to study abroad for a year in Italy, and Bill suspended his own career path to go to Italy as well. They ended up living in separate cities. After returning to the United States she took a job as a flight attendant, spending days at a time away from home. She has recently received two scholarships for study, one in another city for three months and the other to return to Italy for a year. Bill will not leave his job for either one. We're finding it hard to shake the feeling that she prefers to spend time away from Bill.
In addition, her father is fairly wealthy and has bought their two homes for them; Bill's name does not appear on either. She calls and visits her family regularly, but we see her maybe once a year.
Bill is very intelligent, personable and hardworking (as is she), but we're wondering if he's just "settling" for someone who doesn't seem to give him or his family much of her attention. He says they're doing "fine" but doesn't want to talk in any more detail about their marriage. Thoughts?
A: Your son is precious to you, and to watch him be treated as an apparent afterthought — by the person he chose to cherish him most — must be a steady source of anguish. I'm sorry. I'm also sympathetic to your wife in wanting to take action to fix the situation. But it's neither your place, nor hers, to do that; in fact, you can't even say for certain that anything needs fixing.
Your job is to treat things as "fine" unless he tells you otherwise. Don't push for more from him. Instead, give more to him: Check in a little more often, unobtrusively. Get him talking about non-charged topics. Love him, respect him, listen to him, stand by him. These confer strength, and strength is something you can be sure he'll need.