Hard to Say is This Recording’s weekly advice column. It will appear every Wednesday until the Earth perishes in a fiery blaze, or until North West turns 40. Get no-nonsense answers to all of your most pressing questions by writing to firstname.lastname@example.org.
My fiance Edward has a very complicated relationship with his extended family. He spends a lot of time explaining all their various inadequacies, including how terrible they have made him feel at various times in the past and present. Sometimes when I agree with him on his observations, he concurs with what I have been saying to him and seems to appreciate my commiserating, but other times he seems upset that I am criticizing them — usually in far milder terms than he himself has offered.
Sometimes I wonder whether he would be better off putting major distance between himself and them, and other times I am not sure what the right decision would be, but I do wonder if I am going to be punished at some later date for agreeing that some of the things they do are unhealthy and emotionally abusive. At the same time, I am not willing to keep my mouth shut about this. What are my options?
Assessing the quality of the relationship with Edward’s family is the key issue. If there is nothing positive there or if we are talking about one seriously destructive family member, then you can absolutely attempt to cut this off like it is an abscess, especially if you have emotional leverage on Edward. He has already shown himself to be a vulnerable weakling who is easily taken advantage of by those who claim to love him, so why not put him through this all over again?
I am joking, although we do have considerable power over those we care about. In order to use your power over Edward for good instead of ill, you must think about what would truly be best for his emotional long-term well-being. Once you have come to a conclusion about that, you need to go full steam ahead in pursuit of your goal. The key aspect of handling this that will make it easier for both of you is being open about your aims from the start.
Explaining to Edward that you are going to do what you can to bring him closer to his family and make it work, and that you will not be sympathizing with any of his complaints since it is destructive to that goal will probably have the desirable effect of making him complain less and perhaps focus more on the housework.
I have been dating my girlfriend Randi for over four years. I have noticed that recently I have become less attracted to her. She has been going through some life changes and hasn’t had as much time to take care of herself, and as superficial as that is, I feel that is having an effect on how I view her. I really wish that this were not the case. I find myself fantasizing about being with other women when I am intimate with her. I know that is shameful, but I don’t know what else to do and I don’t feel I can tell her.
Excepting the rare type of person who is not really concerned about the role of exciting sex in their lives, once you lose the desire to be intimate with your partner, you need to try to get it back, or you should move on. Any couple that is not having sex is missing the second most important aspect of their relationship, and it is very difficult to make things work after that.
Your instinct not to tell Randi about this is also dead on balls accurate. Nothing good will come of her realizing that you view her as a bag of effluvium. Four years in, she probably thinks you love her so much that you truly don’t care how she looks, but really everything here is telling you it is best to peace out. It is possible to bring that attraction back, but you’re not married and you presumably don’t have kids, so the incentive to make this work is just not there.
Illustrations by Mia Nguyen.