DEAR AMY: My fiance is a perpetual graduate student. He's been working on his master's degree for five years. His program will finally kick him out this May, and it looks as if he will finish his degree requirements in time. He has half-heartedly looked for a job over the last six months, to no avail. His parents, friends, and I have all tried to help him in his search.
I love him with all my heart, but I'm starting to question if I am enabling him to continue down his path of least resistance and if I can marry him next September if he still doesn't have a job. He's brilliant and works really hard on research for his adviser (everything but his thesis work) but gets paralyzed by his fear of failure.
We've had many discussions about this in which he promises to try harder, and does for a while, but nothing concrete ever comes of it. I don't like the idea of an ultimatum but I'm at my wits' end.
— Distressed in Baltimore
DEAR DISTRESSED: An ultimatum wouldn't work for your fiance, but you should give yourself one.
Tell him, "I can't force you to get a job, but I have expectations for myself and for you and if we're going to get married we need to face our future together. I don't want to plan a wedding unless you're securely employed."
Give yourself a deadline to make your own choice based on what is best for you.
Promising to do better isn't useful unless the promise is buoyed by action. Don't prompt a promise from him and don't hang your hopes on one.
Your guy needs professional help — not only job counseling but also personal counseling. His paralysis and self-sabotage might be a pattern of behavior that goes back into his past.
He sounds like a smart guy. Figuring out what's really going on would change his life. He should seek counseling while he's in school and has access to mental health services.
DEAR AMY: I moved away from my hometown when I was very young. I have been married for more than 37 years and my husband and I have three grown children who are all decent people.
The problem is my extended family. Both of my sisters have problem children (drug users, thieves, lazy, etc.). These relatives find no problem with calling us "educated fools" and my children "nerds" or "weird," but they resent being reminded of the very real criminal problems of their own children and spouses.
They have no moral compass. They all have the same small-mindedness that was a factor in my moving away. Whenever there is a family get-together, I make up my mind to get through it without trouble, but I cannot seem to control myself when they are so out of control themselves.
Still, they're family and we have an aging father who lives in their town. I don't even want to be around them anymore, but I do want to see my father. Any suggestions?
— One That Got Away
DEAR ONE: Responding to verbal jabs by verbally jabbing back doesn't work — this only turns up the heat.
If you can't control yourself, then you are behaving just as badly as they are. Even if you can control yourself, you might not have much impact on their behavior, but the great thing about working on your own behavior is that at least you know you're a work in progress.
If you can't avoid these people, engage with them on only one topic — your father's health.
DEAR AMY: As a six-year member of Al-Anon, I am so pleased to read that you refer people to this worldwide fellowship. It saved my life at a time when I could not figure out where to go for help. The people in the rooms understood my story and it continues to help me grow. I hope your recommendation touches readers.
— Lisa in Boise, ID
DEAR LISA: Al-Anon probably doesn't work for everybody. But I really appreciate the simple message and supportive environment this group offers to friends and family of people in the throes of addiction.