Don’t ask, don’t tell

Joey Garcia

I haven’t told my girlfriend the complete truth. In my defense, she hasn’t asked either. We get along great and I can see this relationship heading into forever. But I am afraid of losing her because of my past. I was engaged to two women before but backed out. Once I just realized that we fought too much, but she just wanted to get married, and I buckled. The other time, we both cheated, so I bailed. That’s legit, right? I also have a criminal record, but it’s from some stupid stuff I did as a teenager. So, help me out. What do I say?

It depends on what kind of relationship you want with her and yourself. If you prefer to be a conscious human being in an intimate, loving relationship leading to a long-term commitment capable of beating the 50 percent divorce rate, tell her the truth. If you simply want to play politics by pretending to be perfect, trying to deny that you have a history and staying unconscious about your demons, stay silent. Of course, being honest allows you to evolve; keeping your history to yourself doesn’t. But some people believe that a superficial connection, one that doesn’t require them to engage their spirit, mind, emotions and body, is best because it demands so little of their love, awareness, attention and potential.

If you tell your girlfriend about your past, do it when the relationship is on an even keel. Relate the stories of the juvenile crime record and the two failed engagements as matter-of-factly as possible. Remember, they are just signs that you didn’t know yourself well enough to chose a good partner for yourself or, as a teenager, how to manage anger. Hopefully, you have better tools now. If not, a psychologist can help.

Let your girlfriend ask questions if she needs to. Before you answer, identify the feelings that each question elicits. Then begin your response to her question with that feeling. For example: “I notice that I’m really nervous about answering that question. But here’s what happened.” This will invite you to be more conscious of your internal world and will deepen the developing emotional intimacy between the two of you.

My sister is divorced and vows never to remarry. Now she’s dating a married man and says it’s perfect because she has time to herself but gets sex and attention. She’s been a bitch since the affair started. When the guy’s wife called and asked her to stop, my sister threatened her. What is going on? I haven’t said anything except that I hope she is happy. I thought sarcasm would relay my disapproval, but she doesn’t get it. She also flirts with my husband and that makes both him and me really uncomfortable.

Sarcasm is the form of humor favored by adolescents. It’s time that you and your sister communicated like adults. She is clearly insecure about her worth and centers her value in her sexuality. That’s a common behavior among teenagers and the newly divorced. A mature response would be to tell her in person that you are concerned about her choices. Be specific but kind about the changes you have observed in her character, and don’t call her a bitch. She may feel powerful because she imagines that she is more desirable than this man’s wife, but remind her that her need for attention stems from unresolved feelings from her own marriage and divorce. Then have your husband join you. Together ask her to stop flirting and to respect the boundaries between the three of you. You may have to hold several of these conversations before she sees herself as she really is—so be patient and love her through it.

Meditation of the week
“We work on ourselves in order to help others, but also we help others in order to work on ourselves,” says author/teacher Pema Chödrön. Are you still trying to live for yourself? What’ll it take for you to see that you are most alive when you are authentically yourself?

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