Adapted from a recent online discussion …
DEAR CAROLYN: My boyfriend of a year and a half and I are breaking up. Our fights have turned into World War III, and he was tired of my being upset because I caught him lying to me a half-dozen times.
The kicker is that none of the lies were deal-breaker issues or worthy of the brawls they caused. He feels like the lies might keep a fight at bay, and I feel like lying over insignificant matters just adds fuel to my fire.
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We have a great time outside of the fighting. We’ve been talking about dating more casually in hopes that a little space + no relationship title = less pressure and accountability to each other. We want to keep spending time together, but without the commitment. Is this a terrible idea? I love him and I’d like to find a way to move forward with this man.
— Lover Not a Fighter
DEAR LOVER NOT A FIGHTER: If you’re going to hang on, then try this: He practices radical honesty, and you practice radical laid-backness in the face of such truth.
I actually think fear of telling the truth, to the point of lying to smooth things over, is one of the more deal-breakery of deal-breakers. But, again, you seem to want this, so by all means try easing the pressure to stay together and emphasizing honesty.
If you promise him — and deliver — a golden zone of safety to say whatever he really thinks without risk that you’ll lose your cool, and if he doesn’t actually stop lying, then he’s not going to do the growing up necessary to make him a good partner.
It’ll be good for you, too, to see if you can learn to respond calmly to bad news, instead of just fighting. If you think about it, there’s no fight to have here. There’s just truth, which you deal with accordingly, or lies, which you break up with decisively. Fighting is just a way to try to rewrite what’s happening into something more palatable for you. Time to grow out of that, too.
DEAR CAROLYN: Last year, my husband asked me for a divorce. I got a job right out of undergrad as a nurse and supported our living expenses while he was in law school (third year). This was devastating for me because I did not see any warning signs. He is already engaged to a girl from his law-school class.
His new fiancée interviewed in the legal department of the hospital where I work. She knows I work there because we were casual acquaintances before the divorce.
Part of me wants to write a note to the hiring committee explaining how difficult it would be for me to work with her. Another part of me thinks the adult thing would be let this go and deal. Any advice?
DEAR ANONYMOUS: Painful; I’m sorry. Please do listen, though, to your adults-suck-it-up voice. A note to the committee would draw attention to you that you don’t want.
I realize this will be singularly unconvincing, but your divorce wasn’t about this woman, it was about you and (mainly) your husband — about the atrophy in intimacy that law school likely disguised. Knowing this won’t ever make it pleasant to see her at work, but it might just help you detach.