Carolyn Hax: Is it bad-mouthing to discuss ex’s poor mental health?


Adapted from two online discussions, here and here.

Hi, Carolyn: I have been divorced for five-plus years, co-parenting three kids in a very small town. It has been okay for the most part after a very acrimonious start. Two of the children are now off in college; one is still home. Their dad is going through some severe mental health challenges and is no longer speaking to me. He won’t do family counseling, refuses to attend joint events, sends unpleasant text messages, stuff like that. There wasn’t any big trigger or event between us; he just is not being as good a parenting partner as he has been in the past.

My children have noticed and asked me questions. I don’t want to bad-mouth their dad, but I’d like them to know I have actively tried to repair the relationship and been rebuffed many times. How much, if anything, do I share with them?

Divorced: It is not “bad-mouthing” the dad to say he has severe mental health challenges, if indeed he has severe mental health challenges. That is fact, and your kids deserve facts. Also, presumably, you would tell them if he missed joint events because he was immune compromised or had a chemo appointment — so, don’t treat some health problems as too shameful to say out loud. “Dad is dealing with ____, and right now he is not able to do things or interact as he has in the past. I am rooting for him and doing what I can. Please feel free to come to me if you have questions or need help with anything.”

Dear Carolyn: I’ve been dating my boyfriend, “E,” for about four months. We got close and became intimate much more quickly than I have done in previous relationships.

About six weeks in, I realized I loved him, and eventually was IN love with him. I am actually worried my feelings are too strong. As a thought experiment, I started considering what I would do if he broke up with me, and I got so upset just thinking about it. My life at this point is largely structured around him.

It’s fun to feel this way about somebody — especially at my ripe old age, I’m not exactly a teenager — but also very scary to be at this stage of emotional dependency so soon. How do I slow things down inside myself?

Anonymous: Keep your own home. Wait till about the two-year mark before agreeing to anything permanent, because that’s generally when the new-attraction fog starts to clear. Keep things on your schedule that are yours alone — friends, hobbies, family visits, activities that you enjoy and have kept you steady, any people or things you’ve leaned on before when you’ve gone through a tough time.

Tell us: What’s your favorite Carolyn Hax column about friendship?

The best part about these steps is that in trusting them to be your safety net, they can free you to let go otherwise, and really be present in this great feeling instead of worrying that it’s too much or all about to crash. Because you’ll start to trust you can handle it if it does crash. Congrats, and continued good luck.



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