Carolyn Hax: Parents choose sides as love triangle rips family apart

2013-04-07T00:00:00Z Carolyn Hax: Parents choose sides as love triangle rips family apartCarolyn Hax Washington Post Writers Group Arizona Daily Star

Dear Carolyn,

Our oldest son, "Jay," lived with a girl I'll call "Stephanie." He and our youngest son, "Sean," were the best of friends and went everywhere together - camping, fishing, gun range, out to different clubs. Both young men are thirtyish and have their own places.

Jay and Stephanie didn't work out, and she broke up with him. The breakup was pretty rough on Jay, and he wanted Sean to unfriend Stephanie and not hang around with her anymore. Sean refused and the two of them fell out over it, and still don't get together anymore except here at Christmas and important holidays.

Fast-forward two years, and now Sean has started to "see" Stephanie as something better than just a friend. He has told me he wants to have her move in with him and see where it goes from there.

I have told him what I believe will happen if he does: All hell will break loose and my wife and I will be right in the middle of it with no clear winner on either side.

I understand there is nothing to be done for affairs of the heart, but couldn't he have chosen another girl? I mean, of all the women in this world, he had to pick this one! We are at our wits' end trying to figure out what to say and what position to take on this. Any thoughts?

- St. Louis Dad

Clearly the easiest thing for all of you, even Sean, would be for Sean to break up with Stephanie and live happily ever after.

Just as clearly, that's an outcome you don't have the power to choose, you have already requested nonetheless and Sean has already rejected.

Plan B time. To start, look at the angle you and Jay took from the beginning. Both of you reflexively blamed Sean. He's the one who didn't drop Stephanie out of respect for his brother, and he's the one who, as you noted, "had to pick this one." It's a path well-worn by the many people who find themselves in your position.

Have you ever asked yourself, though, why your mind didn't go straight here: Why couldn't Jay himself be the bigger man, and recognize that his wounded feelings didn't - and don't - give him the right to ask his brother to surrender a friend? Had Stephanie abused Jay, I'd take that back. But if the Jay-Stephanie breakup was merely a matter of dwindling affection, then Jay is the one who owes it to Sean to reach across the chasm between them. Cheating is a betrayal; getting along then falling in love is not.

It's taken almost as an absolute that these love triangles must be broken in favor of the family (as in this case) or the original-friendship bond. Yet it's also treated as a near-absolute that one must back one's close friends or partner against meddling, pressure, etc., from one's overbearing family of origin. So which is it?

Remember, Jay and Sean exist as brothers because of such non-blood loyalty.

So how about this for an alternative absolute: When it crosses your mind to ask a loved one to cut ties with someone on your behalf, stop yourself and ask how many of your affections you'd drop cold at someone else's behest. What would it take from someone you love - a sibling, parent, one of your sons maybe - for you to divorce your wife?

Email Carolyn Hax at tellme@washpost.com, follow her on Facebook at facebook.com/carolyn.hax

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