DEAR ABBY: I have been faithfully married for more than 20 years. My wife and I are known as the "cute couple" who still hold hands in public, take time to play together, and never say a negative word about each other in public.
My son, who has just turned 19, wants to marry somebody "just like Mom," whom he views as the world's greatest wife and mother. He's making good on this and has begun getting serious with a young woman who is much like his mother in many crucial ways.
At this point, how do I tell my son that the biggest mistake of my life was marrying his mother, and his future happiness depends on getting away from this girl before it's too late? The girl he is dating shows the same severe anxiety disorders as my wife, and manipulates him through learned helplessness and (presumably) the same psychosomatic chronic illnesses. She displays the severe mood swings that have made my wife completely ineffectual as a mother and companion.
My wife's disorders completely dominate our lives, as she refuses any therapy. I have had no choice but to surrender and make do, abandoning a wonderful career -- Ph.D. from a top business school, lots of international travel and high ambitions -- to live in squalor and relative poverty, hating my life and longing for the freedom that will come from one or the other of us passing on.
I have done a good job of hiding my agony from my wife and children, accepting that which I cannot change, and I have been careful to be as supportive as possible and never undercut her position in her eyes or the kids'. My son shows the same potential that I once had. How do I help him not ruin his life as I have ruined mine? -- MISERABLE IN THE NORTHEAST
DEAR MISERABLE: First, remind your son that marriage should be postponed until he completes his education. Then realize that although you want to help him avoid the disappointment and frustration that you have experienced, you may not be able to save him after keeping him blindfolded all these years.
A giant step in the right direction would be to sit him down and tell him exactly what you have told me. And when you do, point out that because you did not confront the problem and insist that your wife get treatment for her emotional problems, you became her enabler, because in addition to her illness, your failure to intervene is what ruined your marriage.