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Is a separation cruel?

Carolyn Hax
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Dear Carolyn:

Is a separation cruel? Prolonging the inevitable? In counseling now but I feel claustrophobic, like we can’t have a conversation without the weight of his fear and my frustration overshadowing everything. If I don’t get some space, there’s no way we’ll make it. If I do, we still might not.

I feel I have no choice here — stay in the marriage and make everyone else happy, or leave and make them all miserable. How do you develop your swimming skills when you are sinking in quicksand? Is it wrong to get out and see if you can make your way back?

— Separating

No. It is wrong to act with ulterior motives, but it is not wrong to save yourself first if that is the only way you can envision saving your marriage.

Your calculation is clear — staying will kill the marriage, leaving might kill the marriage — and it says to go. But you can’t take yourself so easily at your own word, not yet. You need to be fiercely honest with yourself about your true goal: Do you want a chance at reconciliation, or do you want out? Both can be valid; this is just not the time to be disingenuous. Or timid.

Also keep in mind: Whether separation ultimately saves your marriage is irrelevant. You don’t justify the choice through the outcome, but instead through the careful consideration of your present conditions — which sound bad for you and “everyone else.”

If by “everyone” you mean children, too, then don’t assume staying makes everyone “happy.” Kids’ needs are abundant and clear and best served by stability, yes. An intact home, however, can also be unstable; make decisions toward a family that functions emotionally, not just one that shares space. Push through the weight to say what you

Dear Carolyn:

I have three friends, two with money and one poorer. The poorer one borrowed money from both of my richer friends and has not paid them back. She has gotten some money together, and told me she wants to buy her boyfriend an expensive watch for Christmas.

I would like to tell her to pay back our two friends. She doesn’t know that I know she owes them money.

Can I ask her nicely to pay them back or should I just stay quiet? I feel awkward every time I talk to her.

— Pennsylvania

What a seductive question. Its answers are all so simple: You can potentially salvage two friendships just by saying, “Pay them back first.” You can give responsible money advice against frills. You can avoid exposing your friends’ indiscretion just by biting your tongue.

But combined these get complicated, and not just because they’re obviously contradictory; they also involve “fixing” something that isn’t yours to fix.

So make that your true north.

The borrower gets to make her choices and live with the consequences. The lenders made choices, too, and are free to give and receive consequences of their own. As are you: To the borrower’s dubious priorities and to the lenders’ indiscretion, just respond as you see fit. Ignore the impulse to fix.

Unless your friend actually asks you what you think. Then: “If it were my money, I’d invest it — not just throw it away.”

Email Carolyn at [email protected], follow her on Facebook at www.facebook.com/carolyn.hax or chat with her online at noon Eastern time each Friday at www.washingtonpost.com.

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