DEAR HARRIETTE: There's an issue of trust, or perhaps control, in the relationship I have with my wife. She often says she can't tell me something about friends, family or work because I will tell others. I understand keeping confidences, but what's frustrating is when she hangs out teasers about things that everyone knows or that are irrelevant.
What really bothers me is that she once told me about abuse she experienced as a child. I've told absolutely no one. She was able to unload this, and I've kept silent. At every holiday, I treat her brothers the same as I treat everyone else, even though I'd like to do otherwise. I've never betrayed her trust on that or any other issue. Plus, I have friends in positions of influence who rely on me for counsel. They wouldn't trust me if I were loose-lipped.
I used to ask if she had any idea how her actions made me feel, and she said she didn't care; I should be a man and grow up. I'm tired of this. If I'm not trustworthy, why would she have married me? Why would she stay married to me? -- Venting, Chicago
DEAR VENTING: As a victim of abuse -- seemingly by family members, based on your letter -- it sounds like your wife has serious issues with violations of trust. It's likely that her extreme concern about your ability to keep a secret has less to do with you than it has to do with her unresolved trauma.
Rather than pressing her about why she won't confide in you, invite her to go to counseling with you. Tell her that you feel the two of you are having communication challenges and that you want to strengthen your relationship. Tell her that many couples go to marriage counseling, which can be a useful tool for learning how to handle conflicts that arise. If she balks and says she doesn't need to go, ask her to do it for the benefit of your marriage.
Ultimately, if you do go to counseling, you may discover ways to better trust one another, and she may be able to unpack what's under the surface of her emotions that's making it difficult for her to confide in you.
DEAR HARRIETTE: I make considerably more money than my siblings and have for many years. I have been generous with them and their children, in particular on holidays and birthdays. On occasion, one of them will ask for a loan if he or she is struggling.
The latest is a bigger challenge for me. My brother asked if I could pay his mortgage for the rest of the year because he is having a hard time financially. I'm wary of taking over his mortgage for an extended time. I don't want to set that precedent. I do want to be a good brother, though. How can I handle this? -- Benefactor Brother, Racine, Wis.
DEAR BENEFACTOR BROTHER: Give your brother a lump sum and tell him you are happy to help him with that amount. You may also want to talk to him about his finances. Perhaps your advice on how to manage money could be even more valuable than an occasional gift.