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Dear Captain Awkward,

I’ve been reading your blog for awhile and just love it! Your answers and the community here are both awesome. So thanks. My question is really tough and I’m afraid your answer is going to be “there is no actual compromise possible here.” But I’m going to try.

My husband and I were both raised as extremely religious Catholics. When we were dating (courting??) we both agreed that we wanted to have lots of kids, like a dozen, and homeschool them all. Over eight years of marriage, we’ve both changed a lot. We’re both a lot more liberal and our kids are going to public school. After the third kid, we both agreed that we no longer wanted to have any more kids. But, being Catholic, there are only two allowed solutions: NFP (natural family planning, also known as Vatican Roulette), and total abstinence. We did that for a miserable year and a half and then, predictably, got pregnant with our fourth.

I cannot describe how horrible this has all been to me. Four kids is A LOT OF KIDS, especially given that the oldest is only seven. I loathe being pregnant with the fiery heat of a thousand suns. All of them have been high needs. I haven’t slept well since 2009. My husband is exhausted too; he cried like a baby when he found out we were having the fourth and I believe he is still depressed about it four months after she was born.

And I no longer see any point to this punishingly difficult lifestyle since I am no longer Catholic. Between kid 3 and kid 4, I did a lot of studying and am now entirely agnostic. My husband was really upset by my deconversion and mostly prefers not to talk about it at all. He’s become a lot more skeptical about his faith, but he does think it’s true and it worries him to think I might be going to hell. Meanwhile I now think that birth control is definitely the greatest thing since indoor plumbing.

Our birth control method now, given that NFP so obviously does not work, is abstinence. Every couple of weeks my husband can’t stand it anymore so we have non-PIV sex. Only there is zero communication about this. I think his perspective is that, if he’s got to “sin,” at least he’s not going to make it worse by premeditating it. The problem is that it’s obvious both of us want to take it further and I know from experience how hard it is to think clearly when you’re horny. I am terrified that sooner or later we’re going to get pregnant again. I cannot, CANNOT go through pregnancy again; I get the shakes just thinking about it. Meanwhile our sex life is completely screwed up from the NFP and then the whatever-this-is we’re doing now, so that neither of us is really enjoying it that much and we both kinda feel like roommates. It sucks and the thought of doing this till menopause is awful.

I want to go on birth control. He doesn’t even want to discuss it. He told me some time ago that if I did go on birth control, he’d continue to feel obligated to never have sex again because contracepted sex is a sin. I don’t want to do something unilaterally if it truly would upset him, but on the other hand I feel like his religion will make it impossible for him ever to agree to it, even if he WERE okay with it, because that would implicate him in the “sin.” So I can’t find out how he really feels about it. And then there’s the money issue … we don’t have insurance and all the really effective birth control methods are pretty expensive. With his cooperation we could easily save up the money for it in a couple of months, but since I’m a full-time carer for the kids, I don’t have much in the way of my own separate money. And it’s not like a couple thousand dollars are sitting around in the bank right now for me to just take and use … even if I would feel okay unilaterally spending that amount of money, given that normally all major purchases have to be okayed by both of us. And I have almost no one in my life who isn’t fanatically Catholic, certainly no one I could call on to drive me home from getting my tubes tied.

What, dear Captain, would you do? Can you help me come up with a script for “seriously, we need to actually TALK about what we’re doing and your Catholic guilt and denial are not helping”? I have been quietly waiting for the past two years or so for him to come around, but he hasn’t, and I feel our disastrous fourth pregnancy is my fault for agreeing to rely on the broken fire escape that is NFP instead of going behind his back and somehow getting an IUD. Yet I still hesitate to make such a big decision unilaterally; I’m equally scared to tell him (and face his hurt feelings) or not tell him (and have a big whopping secret looming over my head). And of course there are the practical issues.

Thanks for reading my lengthy novel,

Offred (Just Kidding) (Mostly)

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Hi Captain! All names have been changed to protect the guilty. Sorry this is long, but the backstory is rather necessary.

I’m a 45 year old pansexual poly woman. I’ve been with Wolfie since I was 18, married him at 23, and had two sons with him, who are now both out of the house. We’re also kinky, both dominants. I met Jon through a kink website, and while our relationship started as purely D/s play partners with friendship, we’ve fallen in love over time. Jon wears my collar. Wolfie’s known about the relationship with Jon from the beginning. Wolfie and Jon get along really well. Over the last four years, Jon and I have gotten much closer. And he confessed last fall that he wants to marry me when Wolfie dies.

Wolfie’s ten years older than me, so he’s 55, and while I knew demographics suggested I’d outlive him, it’s another thing to have it brought home to you when you’re still feeling young. He smoked for most of our marriage and well before, has worked a lot of physical jobs, gotten in a lot of fights, and…. the outcome is congestive heart failure, COPD, arthritis in all his joints, and diabetes. He’s on disability. I could wake up to him dead in bed beside me tomorrow, to put it bluntly. As it is, I’m pretty sure he won’t make it to 60. He is not trying to manage his conditions. He is in total denial of all of this. As far as he’s concerned, he has about thirty years of happy retirement to look forward to.

I had been going down (it’s an hour drive, we live on opposite sides of a large metropolitan area) to see Jon for the weekend once a month for about eight months of 2016/17. Jon developed a drinking problem last fall, and in the course of his achieving sobriety, I spent a week with him on a couple of different occasions, and that blew away any reservations we had about our eventual future. We also grew close enough, and our relationship deepened enough, that I now view myself as having two primary partners. We three decided that Wolfie and I should come down to Jon’s place and spend the weekend, unless Wolfie was busy, in which case he’d drop me off or Jon would come get me and Jon and I would have the weekend alone.

Well, I’ve done two weekends with Jon alone, and one weekend with Jon and Wolfie, and Jon said to me that Saturday night, “Next weekend, I’d rather have neither of you come than both of you come.” And I understood why. Wolfie likes to be the center of attention. He has needs. Actually, he has NEEDS. It’s hard for him to get up and down, and the arthritis makes it hard for him to stand very long at all. And he has no wind, so he gets out of breath at the slightest exertion. So it’s, “Get me a glass of tea. Get me the ketchup. Pick up the fork I dropped. Help me on with my shoes. Take my socks off.” He also needs to be the most important man in my life, flattered and reassured constantly. It honestly feels like having a child hanging off me. When I’m at home, it even interferes with the housework and cooking; he wants me to be right there within view.

This is newish behavior. He’s never been the same after the hospitalization in 2015 when they found out he had congestive heart failure and drained 30 pounds of fluid. He’s King Baby all the time now. It’s interfering with his relationship with his sons, and it’s building up a lot of unhappiness in me. Needless to say, our sex life is non existent. I have my time with Jon as a safety valve…. 50 or so hours where I get to be a beloved and adored adult woman with her own needs and desires sweetly catered to, and then back to the rest of the week of caregiving for someone who never says “Thank you.” I can stand it, because I don’t have to stand it for another five years, even. He’s already showing signs of the heart failure getting worse.

I know that I should hold a firm boundary with him about my weekends with Jon. But if I am firm about this, he will get tremendously hurt, yell, and start talking about how maybe he should go talk to a lawyer about a divorce. I don’t want to divorce him. I love him, and have loved him, for more than half my life. It matters to me to be beside him when he goes. And while Wolfie knows (we did have this conversation last fall) that Jon wants to marry me someday, so “he doesn’t have to worry about me”, he’s not willing to do some other things that need to be done. I’d like him to write down the stories about his firearm collection so his sons can have them, for example. I’d like to clean out the basement. And I can’t talk about this stuff because he’s totally in denial.

So how do I hold my boundary without destroying my marriage or damaging my other relationship? And how do I cope with the denial without going insane?

Thanks in advance to all.
The Lady Perplexed

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Hi Captain,

I am an adult (early 30’s) child of two wonderful people who are going through some turbulence in their marriage–that thing of having an empty nest/rediscovering each other/discovering they have communication issues that have just been sitting there for 30+ years and are now blowing up. They’re going to get counseling, which hopefully is step one of getting this all resolved, but in the meantime, I need some advice about navigating things with my mom. We live in different parts of the country, but we are on very good terms with one another, and talk on the phone a couple of times a week.

The current problem I have is that my mom calls me to vent about how hurt and despairing she is about her marriage, how my dad unintentionally really got under her skin or triggered her PTSD (she grew up in an abusive home). I should clarify that neither she nor I think that my dad is abusive; he just sometimes doesn’t understand what’s wrong or how to fix it. He gets hurt that she’s mad at him for reasons he doesn’t understand, then she gets hurt that he doesn’t understand, which restarts the spiral, etc. etc. etc. And then I get to hear all about the fight and how upset she is. The fighting is not constant, but it cycles around from time to time, and when it happens, it’s pretty intense.

She has been talking to me about this stuff for years–starting from when I was honestly probably still too young to deal with it–and it is super, super hard for me. I love, like, and respect both of my parents, and it feels like a punch in the gut to hear about them hurting each other, especially because I know they both deeply love each other and are trying to do right by each other. I don’t want to deny my mom the basic emotional support that friends show each other when going through a rough time. But when she talks about her marriage, it’s so hard for me, because that’s my dad. I guess for this part I feel like I need to get better at either a) not getting so rocked when we talk about this, or b) asking my mom to leave me out of it in a way that won’t absolutely crush her–especially in light of the fact that it’s been going on so long.

So that’s the current problem; the potential future one is that my mom has floated the idea of leaving my dad if things don’t get better, and she would want to come move in with me. She is disabled–still pretty independent, but unable to work, and living on her own would be a real struggle. My other sibling is kinda flaking out on the world right now and is not an option; my mom’s side of the family is the reason she has PTSD and is therefore also not an option. And as much as I love (and like!) my mom, and as much as I’d love to live in the same state again, it hurts so much to think of her moving in with me because of leaving my dad. And it would substantially disrupt my life to accommodate her. It’s not completely unworkable–but man it would be hard. If my dad died–or abused her or cheated on her–I would take her in a heartbeat with no complaints and no hesitation. But knowing that she was staying with me because she and dad gave up on each other feels very different. I worry about what it would do to my relationship with my dad. I worry about what it would do for my financial and living situation. If she decides she would be happier living with me, well, maybe she’d be right–but I’m pretty sure I’d be less happy, and I’m not sure she’s done the math on that, and I’m not sure how to tell her without making her feel rejected.

They’re adults, and are not beholden to me, so I know that pulling a “think of your (grown) children” talk would be beyond inappropriate. But–it would directly affect me. And of course I want them to work it out. I can’t tell where healthy boundaries end and selfishness begins here for me.

I guess the biggest underlying struggle I have is that I am my mom’s closest friend, and the person she trusts most in the entire world. I know this because she has told me so, repeatedly–starting when I was probably a bit too young for that to be entirely cool. And as much as I am grateful that she believes I love her and like her, it kinda scares me to be the only one she really trusts. She’s recently been seeing a therapist (thank GOD–seriously, that took years to talk her into), so I am no longer the only person she talks to at all, but I’m still the one she trusts most.

Practically speaking, I am almost certainly her only option for somewhere else to live, and I’m not sure there’s much to be done about that. Emotionally speaking, I am the only one she’s fully willing to lean on–and I feel like that part is not quite so inevitable, and also not spectacularly healthy, but I don’t know how to fix it without being really devastating to her.

Again, I love and like my mom so, so much, and I’m willing to knuckle down and do the right thing even if it’s costly to me–but I also don’t want to be shouldering burdens that I shouldn’t be taking on.

Any advice/scripts are greatly appreciated.

Signed,
Boundary-Challenged Adult Daughter

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Hello Captain and fellow Awkward travelers,

My husband and I, along with our 16-month-old daughter, moved to a new city on Saturday. The reason for our move is that I just finished medical school and will be beginning residency in June.

Husband woke up this morning and said he’s not sure he can stay in our new rental because his allergies have been worse. He feels like he can’t breathe or sleep. He has a long list of tasks he wants me to do to banish all possible allergens from our home, but says there’s a possibility that he’ll want to move anyway. I’m now so stressed thinking about the financial and logistical costs of a second move that I can barely put words together.

That’s the short version. Here is some other relevant information, in no very thoughtful order:

  • There was nothing about this rental that would have indicated it was a hotbed of allergens before we signed the 12-month lease. It’s about 15 years old, appears well-kept, and by the landlord’s report was previously occupied by a non-pet-owner.
  • There’s no reason to expect another place would be a better bet from an allergy perspective unless it were a brand new construction, which is quite expensive in our area.
  • We have no savings.
  • Husband has a number of chronic, uncomfortable-but-not-life-threatening physical health issues that require considerable effort on his part to manage.
  • He also has (and acknowledges that he has) anxiety that presents as and amplifies physical symptoms. He’s been doing much better from this perspective over the past few months, but during my pregnancy and maternity leave, he was basically in a sustained crisis (frequent visits to the ER and different kinds of specialists; lots of money spent on vitamins and supplements; multiple restrictive diets attempted; physical activity, including things like preparing his own food or holding the baby, extremely limited). 
  • He also is in recovery from dependence on prescription drugs, to which he attributes the bulk of his ongoing health problems; because of this, he has a deep distrust of physicians.
  • During my pregnancy, we moved into a brand new apartment and then broke our lease after a month because there was loud construction noise that worsened his symptoms. We fought a lot about that decision, and I found it pretty traumatizing.
  • The division of domestic labor that was established when I was on leave and husband was incapable of holding the baby has proved distressingly stable. To put it bluntly, I don’t feel I can rely on him to do more than occasional daycare drop-offs and pickups, and even with those I expect a lot of complaining.
  • When people hear that I have a young toddler and am finishing medical school, they often assume I’m extremely competent and type-A, but in fact I’m pretty limited by anxiety, lack of energy, and attention problems. Most days I’m home I find it hard to do anything other than feed, clean up after, and play with my daughter.
  • Most of the time I’m utterly incapable of applying my medical curiosity or compassion to my husband’s suffering. If I’m honest, what I truly feel, deep in my body, is that I wish he would just suck it up. Sometimes I’m so unmoored by this feeling that I worry I’ll be a bad doctor.
  • I certainly don’t want to move, but I’d much rather move now than after I start work. I’m stressed out dealing with my husband, but I’m not done with the relationship, and I need even the limited help with parenting that he gives

Captain, I’m well aware of the codependency that screams from every sentence in my letter – but that seems like something that it takes years to get free of, and I need to get these things sorted now. What do I do?

-Desperate for Roots (she/her pronouns)

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Dear Captain Awkward,

I hope you’ll be able to help me out with this one, because it’s driving me batty. I suspect I already know what I should do, but wouldn’t mind confirmation.

To be succinct, my boyfriend who is learning to drive has a problem with receiving my criticism when he is driving my car. To the point where I do not want to say anything and want to just drive the car instead of giving him the experience.

Backstory: Boyfriend got his driver’s learner’s permit about 2 years ago (it’s at least a 2 – 5 year process where we live). He’s in his late 30’s, and he never got it before because he felt that he could walk everywhere, and, as he worded it, “Didn’t want the responsibility at the time.” Fast-forward to now, and he got the learner’s permit because he is realizing that in a rural area a car is a necessity.

I have had my full license since I was 18 (in my 40s now). I’ve owned multiple cars since then, and have paid for car insurance. Because of his type of learner’s permit, Boyfriend does not need to be on my insurance policy when he’s driving the car. He will pay for gas for the car, but that is about it for financial contributions.

When I was learning to drive on my parents’ cars, it was understood that driving was a privilege, not a right, and that if I adjusted the car for me, then I was to put it back as best as possible for either of my parents. When I ask my boyfriend to do something similar, I get pushback. Likewise, if my Dad told me to stop riding the white line, that was my cue to stop it immediately. I never gave them lip about it in return.

I don’t think I’m being unreasonable in my requests/critisms, but I’m at the point of stopping the driving training with him because it frustrates me and irritates me when he gives me this pushback about a request.

Am I being unreasonable? Any advice to try to stop the lessons?

Thanks,
Driving me crazy

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Captain,

My partner (he/him pronouns) and I (she/her) have been together for 7 years and are getting married this summer. Our wedding will be a week away in a different state than we live, and we are so excited to spend the time with our family and friends. My partner’s sister is an alcoholic and drug addict with many coexisting conditions. She is abusive to my partner when she feels he isn’t “there for her,” and he went no-contact a while ago and told her to get sober if she wanted a relationship with him. She tried to kill herself on a camping trip with us one summer, and someone nearly drowned trying to save her. We cannot have her at the wedding. She is a danger to herself and others when alcohol is involved, and we do not trust her not to drink. She has made no efforts towards recovery and just last month got a DUI. She has been hospitalized multiple times in the last year on involuntary mental health holds, and was arrested for attacking a nurse. In our state, she has gotten off relatively easy. The state we plan to marry in is much less forgiving. If anything happened over the week the family is staying, she would be stuck very far from home and possibly imprisoned. She trashed her last apartment and was evicted, but was taken in by their mother. Due to her living with mom, we have seen her on rare occasion. At the last family gathering, she spoke as though she was coming to our wedding, and not wanting to rock the boat at their mother’s engagement dinner, we did not correct her. I feel some degree of manipulation is involved, as she was *not invited to the wedding*. Now we plan to write a letter to her laying out the reasons she can’t come along, but she will be crushed and angry. We intend to word it in the most respectful terms possible — on one hand we are dealing with a textbook addict, but on the other we have a family member with severe mental health issues that we want to be sensitive to. I am also afraid of the fallout. Mom wants to do a family sit-down and give it to her, but that seems cruel to me as there is nothing up for discussion. I would rather she process our decision on her own. How do we break it to her?

Signed,
Just want to relax during my wedding

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Dear Captain Awkward,

I’m a decade younger than my sister, who is in her mid-30s. After moving cross country, I feel so liberated and energized with the distance in place between me and my entire family.

I have played many roles for my sister…it was a draining pattern. Even as I have put distance between us, a good friend back home let me know my sister seems to have a new man in her life (spoiler: she doesn’t). How do I know she does not? With this latest new man, she’s forwarded me their exchanges. My sister is enthralled by striking up emotional affairs with male co-workers. She boasts how much these men reveal to her; how little they talk to their wives and girlfriends; or how these men don’t mention their wives/girlfriends to her. She’ll forward unsolicited text exchanges (I don’t want to see them, ever). The exchanges are basic who/what/where updates. She withholds communication (which is a relief, frankly) when I point out things like…ummm why should you know about their SOs in the first place? All of this strikes me as bananas. I work long hours in a male-dominated work place…I’m never privy to or pry for SO updates or information.

I’m at the point where I feel like I will lash out and say something that will really hurt my sister. Am I overreacting? Maybe this is an entertaining way to pass the hours while at work? Yet I want to broadcast: “Go pay for pricey therapy like I did! ” How do I communicate I’m no longer interested in hearing about her fantasy relationships and imaginary play-by-plays? Now I’m being judgmental, but I also think it’s sad to carry on a series of unfulfilling relationships. I don’t think there’s actually a way to help her, especially as I have spoon-fed her therapy resources and information, at her request. This was entertaining when, you know, I was in middle school and she was in college. She has never had a relationship and says she hates dating even though she was 18 when she went on her last date.

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