I have been married to my husband, whom I love dearly, for three years. The problem is his smoking. I knew he was a smoker when I married him (I was adamantly against dating smokers, but he was very persistent), but he would almost always smoke outside when he came to visit me. Once we got married, he said that he shouldn't have to smoke outside in his own house. I have had bronchitis three or four times in the past three years, and the doctor recommended I avoid cigarette smoke. I have tried reasoning, crying, screaming, and threatening, but nothing seems to work. I'm not sure if my husband doesn't believe that his smoking affects my health and eventually could kill me, or if he doesn't care. I believe he loves me, but he loves his cigarettes more. I will feel like an idiot if I have to divorce him over this since he smoked when I met him, but I am obsessing about getting cancer or some other horrible disease. What do you suggest?
You are already heading for a horrible disease: chronic bronchitis. You will note this NIH Web site mentions that one cause of this illness is secondhand smoke. Show your husband this, then tell him that despite his addiction, you can no longer allow your health to be compromised by it. You may love your husband dearly, but he's a major jerk. As far as demanding the right to smoke in his home—what does he tell flight attendants? "I paid for this seat and I'm smoking!" I agree with you there is something crazy about contemplating ending an otherwise good marriage over his smoking, but there's also something crazy about contemplating a future in which you're attached to a rolling oxygen tank because of his smoking. I'm afraid it's time for an ultimatum. He takes his habit outside, or you take a hike.
I just had my three-year anniversary with my boyfriend. He was married when we first met, and we eventually had a very brief affair before he left his wife. He has two children with her, whom I have a great relationship with and love very much. I am beginning to think it was a mistake and we rushed too quickly into getting serious. Now that we have settled into our life together (we bought a house), I find we have less and less in common and am starting to see that our long-term goals and dreams are vastly different. Thoughts of breaking up have crossed my mind. Although at the time I believed he left his wife because his marriage was over, I now know that I played a much greater role in bringing about the end of their marriage. I have so much guilt over how our relationship started and now feel even more guilt that I effectively stole someone else's life, a life that they wanted, and now I don't want it anymore. I also find it increasingly harder to deal with the fact that friends and family will always see me as the other woman or him as a scoundrel. I'm sure his ex would love to see our relationship fail as she hates my guts and I know that hearing about me from her children is torture. Sometimes I wish he would leave me and get back together with her. Am I entitled to familial happiness after what I did? I don't want to hurt him, and I especially don't want to hurt his children any more than I already have. I can't reach the decision to leave but am not happy staying. Is this my punishment for what I did?
—Guilty and Confused
Imagine that you and your boyfriend were meeting now as single people—would you want to get involved with him? If you think back to when it began, was there anything drawing you two together besides the thrill of an illicit relationship? It sounds as if you wouldn't choose him now, and you're sorry you chose him then. That makes your current restlessness perfectly understandable. You wanted a fling. But flings have a way of setting off chain reactions, and his marriage blew up. And now—oh the irony—you are living the cozy, if dull, domestic life you both destroyed. Generally, I am in favor of people working on saving less-than-perfect marriages, especially if there are children involved. It sounds as if you have come to that belated conclusion, too, because you wish the time machine would whisk him back to his ex-wife. But you're not married and these aren't your children. It's good that you love them and don't want to cause more pain. But your letter leads me to believe you can't stay because of them, either. If you do, you'll probably just find yourself having another affair as a way of getting out. You need to make a real decision about what you want, instead of getting swept along by events. If you do go, it's unlikely he will get back together with his wife. It happens on occasion, but usually that relationship is so broken it can't be repaired. But if you want a little sop for your guilt, you're right that your leaving will make his ex-wife happy.
I have a good working relationship with most of my male colleagues. However, recently I found myself uncomfortably but also undeniably very much attracted to one of my married colleagues. He and I joke around quite a bit because we both have an offbeat sense of humor. But then he asked me to go to dinner with him, just us. It was a very casual request in the line of, "We're both working late, let's grab something to eat ..." Now I can't get him out of my mind. Aside from the fact that he's married, he also works in the office next to me, and I cringe at workplace romance. What should I do the next time he asks me to dinner? And am I a bad person to be so attracted to a married man? I feel like a home-wrecker even though nothing has happened.
—Sleepless and Sad
See the previous letter. There is nothing wrong with workplace crushes—they can make life more fun—as long as you keep them in the realm of private daydream. Your colleague may truly have asked you out in the same way he would have had a quick, late dinner with a male colleague, or he may be exploring whether you have a mutual attraction. Since you have a strong one for him and feel somewhat out of control, make an effort to keep your relationship more professional. Take a pass on any future dinners. That way you won't stand too close to each other as you get to the car, and then find yourself three years down the road wondering how you broke up a marriage and ended up living with a guy you were never actually that crazy about.
I am a single mom, neighbor to a woman across the street who has a daughter close in age to my 4-year-old son. She is on psychiatric medications, so I must attribute some of her strange behavior to mental problems. I could write volumes about some of the bizarre encounters I've had with her, but most recently, she came to my door unannounced at dinnertime. I told her I was very busy and couldn't visit just then, which hurt her feelings, so I let her come in with her daughter. I kept hinting that they should leave, and several hours later, just when I thought they would finally go, she asked if she could take a shower so as not to wake up her husband. Like a dummy, I said OK. She paraded around the house naked as she prepared to take a shower. Then she asked for a change of clothes, and finally left. She has also made several allusions to being sexually attracted to me, which I find very distasteful. I think this woman means no harm, but I have avoided her for months at a time. She is so pathetic that I feel sorry for her and guilty about rejecting her. So, I allow her antics because I don't want an enemy right across the street, and our kids like each other.
Since this woman has a husband—even though he sounds rather checked out—you should talk to him about the behavior she's been exhibiting and the need to re-evaluate her treatment and her compliance with it. Emphasize that you are concerned about the well-being of his daughter. If he is uninterested and you're worried the girl is at risk, you may want to consider calling your local mental-health service. Otherwise, even though she has problems, you should treat her more as you would anyone else. You would not let another neighbor barge in announced and stay for hours (let alone parade naked and take a shower). Yes, she is sad, and her daughter's situation is heartbreaking, but no one is helped when you indulge her anti-social behavior and let her take advantage of you. Since she has made sexual overtures to you, do as you would with someone you wanted to rebuff: When she comes calling, politely but firmly tell her you're busy.