DEAR NATALIE: My husband and I have worked to save for a house for many years. This past year, we finally scraped together enough money and we were excited about the prospect of owning our first home together. In fact, it will be the first time either of us has ever owned a home. We are in our mid-40s and I never thought this day would come. Well, my stepdaughter has decided that she needs to come home. She is 26-years-old and just broke up with her long-time boyfriend. She has never held a steady job and wants to stay with us while she gets her life together. This means we will need to find a bigger house. I have suggested to her that she will need to pay rent to help us offset the cost of a larger home and a slightly bigger mortgage payment. She was really upset by the thought of that. I told her the other options would be that we get the original house we wanted and she would have to either sleep on the sofa until she finds a job and apartment, or she can take over the lease of our current one-bedroom apartment. Neither option appealed to her. I don’t think it is fair for her to assume that she can just disrupt our lives and move home on a whim, without having to pay rent. My husband – of course – is waffling. He said he doesn’t want her to “feel bad” and wants her home with us. I am frustrated because they are teaming up against me on this. How can I convince him that it is in her best interest to get back up on her feet and not baby her? She is his only child, and I think there is a lot of guilt on his end for not being around much when she was growing up. Any suggestions? –NO FREELOADING
DEAR NO FREELOADING: I would reframe this argument. By letting her crash – for as long as she wants – and not having to pay rent, you are both enabling her behavior and therefore not helping her move her life forward. Share with your husband why creating boundaries and expectations is important for his daughter as she becomes more and more independent. You don’t want this cycle of every time there’s a breakup, there’s a knock at the door. Teaching her how to manage her finances and have responsibilities will help improve her self-worth over time. She is not a child. If he treats her as such, she will act as such. The most loving thing you can do for her – which is also pragmatic – is make her stand on her own two feet. You can assist her in that transition, but she needs to sign something that says she will move in on a certain date, contribute X amount of dollars a month while living with you, and then move out on a certain date. Stand your ground, or you will never be rid of this toxic cycle.
DEAR NATALIE: My ex-husband and I have been divorced for seven years. During the early days of COVID, we moved back in with each other because our college-aged kids were staying with us and we all wanted to be under one roof. One night – after a few too many glasses of wine – my ex and I slept together. Neither of us had remarried since our divorce or really dated anyone seriously. I think we always still carried torches for each other in a way, but we just didn’t work as a couple. Living together again was actually really nice and I realized that maybe he just needed time to grow up. We continued sneaking around for months until our kids caught on and realized we were (sort of?) back together. My eldest daughter told me that he is planning on proposing again around Thanksgiving. She was sworn to secrecy but felt that I had a right to know since it would be such a big life change, yet again. She isn’t convinced that we should get re-married and told me that I better "not break dad’s heart again.” I had an affair years ago when she was very small because I was so unhappy. It took a toll on all of us. So now I’m nervous that he may propose, because while I do want to marry him, what if I mess it up again? – OLDER BUT AM I WISER?
DEAR OLDER BUT AM I WISER: It takes two to tango. Infidelity is often a symptom of a larger issue in the marriage not being addressed. You said that you didn’t “work as a couple” and that he “needed time to grow up.” Were you feeling resentful all those years ago, and so you cheated because you were also emotionally immature? Having the tools to communicate more effectively now that you are both older (and I hope a little wiser!) could help head off any of these old red flags. Has he grown up? Have you worked through your infidelity and what drove you to that place? Clearly, he must still love you very much if he is willing to give it another go, based on what you've written here. It is worth fighting for if you feel the same way. You could always seek counseling together prior to formalizing your second marriage together, to work on anything that may be holding you back or that caused past resentments to build. I am excited for you and this second chance of love. Remember to be honest with yourself through this process and to recognize that maybe you both needed to grow up. This can be your chance to prove that you have.
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