Boomerangst: Turning Dilemmas Into Discoveries – Dealing With Emotional Baggage

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Finding a new relationship later in life often involves taking on another person’s baggage. Here, a reader looks for advice for when the load seems too heavy.


Q. I’ve been dating a man for two years, and we really love each other. We’re both in our 50s and met online. Here’s the problem. He has a 21-year-old son who is a recovering heroin addict and alcoholic (my sweetie paid a lot of money for his rehab). The problem is he constantly enables his son by making excuses for him every time he relapses or makes bad choices, which is often. He also gives him money (always saying “it’s the last time”) and never seems to hold him accountable for his own actions. I’ve raised three children myself and I know a parent’s love is powerful but I think what he’s doing is wrong, and it’s a HUGE issue for me. We fight about it often. I love this man but I hesitate to plan a future with him. He sees a therapist but ignores his advice. I know we all have baggage at our age, but I wonder if this load is too heavy for me.

Liz, Toronto


A. Ultimately, this is a question only you can answer. But there are things to consider that might help you make a decision. Dr. Guy Grenier, a London, Ont.-based clinical psychologist and author, is well-acquainted with addiction issues, and he warns against oversimplifying the cure. He has clients who’ve been struggling with addiction for more than 10 years.

“Addiction is extremely complex, and it’s never a one-size-fits-all solution. Only when the addict decides it’s time to change is there real hope. Until then, money, family, public perception – all those things don’t mean a thing.”

So it’s not as simple as putting a stop to the “enabling,” according to Dr. Grenier. He advises that instead of seeing the issue as being about the addicted son and his father, you “reconceptualize the problem” as your own. In other words, reframe the issue as having to decide if living with this unstable situation is something you’re prepared to do.

As much as you love this man, you’re going to have to decide if it’s enough of a relationship for you. In other words, is this the way you want to live your life together? And if the situation doesn’t change – which it may not – can you find happiness in spite of the father-son-addiction issues?

As Dr. Grenier so aptly puts it: “Ask yourself – do you see getting the kind of stability in this relationship that you really want, knowing that on a good day with the wind behind your back you have but a small degree of influence on what the addicted son does or doesn’t do?” You may well be facing a future of broken promises and “last times,” so only you can set the limits and only you know what you’re prepared to endure. It’s a difficult decision but one you would be well advised to make sooner rather than later.


Send Diane a brief description of your dilemma, along with your first name and where you live, to [email protected]

A professional journalist for more than 25 years, Diane Sewell has written for some of the top newspapers and magazines in Canada and is a baby boomer herself. Her new blog “Boomerangst: Turning Dilemmas into Discoveries” is interactive with readers and focuses on life issues – like aging, dating, second marriages, sex, death, family and fashion. Diane will use her expertise to find the right expert to help solve your predicament, unearthing kernels of truth and quickly getting to the heart of the issue.