Ask Natalie

DEAR NATALIE: Major problem. My mother is out of control. I started dating this guy recently. We’ve been together about six months and things are going pretty well. At least they were. Until my mother got involved. I took her out to dinner with my boyfriend and I the other night since she hadn’t met him yet. She waited until I went to the restroom and then told him that I was too good for him and that she wasn’t okay with his less-than-ambitious lifestyle. He told me about this later and I was mortified. I called her and flipped out, and now we aren’t speaking. She said she just wants what is best for me but this was over the line. Now things are rocky between my boyfriend and me because he thinks I put my mom up to this. It’s a mess. Any suggestions on how to fix it? --SMOTHERED

DEAR SMOTHERED: First of all, I would be really irritated about what just happened. Sounds like you need major damage control. Your mother totally overstepped her boundaries. Let things cool down for a few more days before you contact her. When you do reach out, remain calm. Remember that she is your mother and in her own twisted way, she thought she was doing the right thing. Go into the conversation recognizing that there was no maliciousness to her actions. (Or at least I hope not!) Make it very clear that what she did was damaging to not only your relationship with your boyfriend, but your relationship with her, as well. I would say something like this: “Mom, I know you meant well, but you really crossed the line. It was not okay to blindside me like that by criticizing my boyfriend as soon as I left the room for one minute. Now he and I are having problems because of your meddling. I love you, but if you continue to insert yourself into my personal relationships, I will have no choice but to put distance between us.” She really should have shared her thoughts with you about him first before attacking him in public. I’m not sure what she thought would come from doing that other than causing issues with you and her, but she really made a mess. I feel as though she should apologize to your boyfriend, as well. As for your boyfriend, I would just apologize and state that you had absolutely nothing to do with your mother’s comments. Explain to him that she just wants what she thinks is best, but doesn’t always consider other people’s feelings. Hopefully, in time, he can let go and everyone can start again. Remember, it’s your life and you choose what kind of partner you want. As long as they treat you with respect and love, as long as they are trustworthy and thoughtful, and as long as they bring out the best in you and vice versa, that’s all that really matters.

DEAR NATALIE: My wife is a cancer survivor and during her illness I tried to step in as best I could as caregiver, not just husband. Now that she is cancer-free, I am having a hard time letting go of that role and I can tell it’s annoying her. I don’t know how to transition back to being just her husband. It’s causing a strain on our marriage and our love life. I am so grateful to her have healthy again, but I just am not sure what my place is now that we are trying have a “normal” life together. Any thoughts? --HELPLESS HUSBAND

DEAR HELPLESS HUSBAND: According to aarp.org, the divorce rate for couples in which one spouse has a serious chronic illness is as high as 75 percent. So how can you find your way back to one another and transition back to the way things were? The short answer is, you can’t. Not back to the way they were, because things are never going to be the same. You both just survived a war. Your wife is a warrior and you were her knight, who vowed to protect her. But now that she is feeling stronger and healthier, what is your new role? I would start with dating each other again. Try injecting some playfulness and romance back into your relationship. A little getaway, a staycation for just the two of you, or just a romantic walk in the park to kick things off. Remind her that you find her attractive regardless of anything that may feel or be physically different about her. After a serious illness, her sense of identity may be in question and she may be trying to reconnect with herself, as well. This may take time. Don’t be afraid to reach out to a social worker, as well, about support groups for couples who experience chronic illness. I can feel the love from your letter. I know you want things to improve and I believe that you will put in the work. She just overcame a life-changing, but also life-affirming, event. Revel in her health and start exploring your world together again, one step at a time. Honor this chapter of your life by acknowledging the strength it took to be right here together. Mark this moment with something tangible. Plant a tree together as a symbol of a new beginning. The future looks bright so embrace it and each other.

Natalie's Networking Tip of the Week: It’s all about the action steps. Networking is great, but what does it all add up to if you don’t follow through? If someone sparks a connection with you, make sure to follow up with them. Remember, it’s about quality connections and so if you find one, make sure you expand on it and watch it bloom!

Please send your questions to Natalie Bencivenga to her email, nbencivenga@post-gazette.com; or through postal mail to Natalie Bencivenga, 358 North Shore Dr., Pittsburgh, PA 15212. Follow her on Twitter at @NBSeen and on Instagram @NatalieBenci

(This column was originally published by the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.)

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