I am the 49-year-old product of a violent, alcoholic home. It has taken me many, many years to let go of the shame and rage. Not to mention having to learn normal competence. At this stage it has been my life’s work.

I’ve been married twice and have three children to my second marriage.

My reason for writing is this. My second husband (we recently divorced after seven years of separation) was unexpectedly kind and caring towards me last week, as I was suddenly very sick. I couldn’t get out of bed for a few days, and he really helped. Unasked, I might add. On top of which he stopped colluding with our son. These things are like miracles to me.

I just don’t know if it means anything. I worshipped this man. I thought I loved him. We were awful together—a lot of conflict and heartache. I was insecure and reactive. He was and is a workaholic of mind boggling proportions. What he did feels like the one, solitary act of selfless kindness towards me in the twenty years of knowing him.

He has had a succession of girlfriends in the time we’ve been separated while I have struggled to make another connection. I thought with the divorce might come the psychological freedom for me to move on properly but this “crumb” has affected me.

Any advice gratefully received.

~ Kitty

Kitty, rewards rarely given are far more powerful than rewards given regularly. That may seem strange but it is part of our biology. The other part of this is, while you don’t have anyone, your husband’s attention is the cracker given to a starving man. It seems like more than what it is.

The question to ask yourself is, if my ex is actually a workaholic of mind boggling proportions, weren’t I as alone then as I am now?

This crumble he gave you could be a hiccup in his psyche. One robin does not spring make. One good joke doesn’t make you a comedian. One good deed doesn’t make him a saint. One small moment away from his normal state doesn’t make him a changed man.

You call it a crumb, but you would like to give it the weight of a feast. It’s a trick of the mind.

You don’t say much in your letter. What you do say is he’s had a succession of girlfriends and you haven’t found anyone. You are writing from seven years of not finding anyone. That is why he is starting to look attractive.

Now with the children older, consider if you have really been out there in the world and given yourself a chance. The life you had with him, full of conflict, is that better than what you have now? Or are you considering falling back into what was intolerable before?

I tried snails. I didn’t like them. I tried snails again. I didn’t like them. Now I think I will try them again and like them. Or at least be able to swallow them.

Your best hope lies in being out there, really out there, in the world.

You’ve struggled hard to find normal competence after growing up with a drunk. Going back to your ex appears to be a step back.

~ Wayne & Tamara

Catch And Release

I dated a man two years and wanted more than anything to be engaged, but when he proposed, everything felt completely wrong. I didn’t want to tell anyone he proposed and didn’t want to show anyone the ring.

We had persistent problems throughout the entire course of our relationship. The minute we got engaged I knew I couldn’t go through with it. Why?

~ Erica

Erica, while you were hoping to get engaged, you were in a wishful fantasy. When you actually got the ring, you realized the relationship was too flawed to continue. You realized marriage doesn’t make a relationship better; it makes it permanent.

~ Wayne & Tamara

Column for the week of September 22, 2014

Send letters to: [email protected] , or Direct Answers, PO Box 964, Springfield MO 65801.


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