‘Mid-life crisis’ doesn’t excuse cheating

Dear Ms. Behavior: My partner Eleanor is going through a midlife crisis. I’ve tried to be patient with her extravagant purchases, cosmetic surgery and flashy cars. I’ve endured her flirtations with women from work. I’ve even humored her by buying her tiny little hip huggers that look ridiculous on her because I know she likes to look like she’s 22 even though she’s 44.

But now she’s gotten into a habit of not coming home at least twice a week. She goes out with friends after work and then calls at midnight and says she’s had too much to drink and she can’t drive. She declines my offers to pick her up. She stays with her “friend” Stacey from work. At this point I believe they’re having a full-blown affair.

I have waited for this all to just blow over, thinking that it’s better not to make waves and that Eleanor would just get it out of her system. I’ve chosen to act as if everything is normal and have gone on with life as usual. I’ve continued doing Eleanor’s laundry, making her meals and taking care of the house. I also care for our five pets and our garden. My two closest friends say that maybe this is what I think I deserve because this is what my mother did when my father didn’t come home. But now I’m starting to feel like an idiot.

Should I continue to wait it out? Or should I let Eleanor know that her behavior is “unacceptable,” which is what my friends are encouraging? — Eleanor’s Wife

Dear Eleanor’s Wife:

It’s “unacceptable” if your partner clips her toenails on your pillow or talks about vaginitis at a family barbeque. But if she’s too busy throwing back rusty nails and nailing her coworker to even come home, you’re way beyond the “unacceptable” conversation.

It’s time to muster up your courage and tell Eleanor to cut the crap or leave. Don’t cook her dinner or press her shirts or take care of her in any way (especially pretending that hip huggers look good on her). If she wants to keep your relationship, let her show you that it matters to her.

You suggest that a little twist in your personality was established way back when your mother was a doormat, and perhaps that’s why you don’t feel that you deserve anything better from your relationship. Maybe your mother’s self-esteem was crushed by your father’s philandering, and her pretense that everything was normal was somehow comforting to you during that time. But you’re a grown-up now and you don’t have to sign up to be victimized by your partner’s second adolescence.

Tough love.

Dear Ms. Behavior:

Ed and I have been together for 11 years. We both are financially comfortable, and we share everything. Or so I thought. We finally got around to sitting down with an estate planner a couple of weeks ago. I thought it would all be straightforward, but was shocked to learn that Ed intends to leave his share of the house to his two kids, not to me.

Ed doesn’t have much money; his half of the house is most of what he owns. I know that his kids are important to him, but I don’t understand how he could expect me to either leave our home or liquidate my assets to buy out his kids. Ed’s argument is that I have enough without his half of the house, and his kids don’t own anything. However, I feel that he doesn’t understand the emotional component of this discussion, how it makes me feel when he demonstrates that his kids are more important to him than I am.

I don’t think we’ll be able to work this out. I feel that the choices he’s making are unforgivable. What should we do? — Pissed Off

Dear Pissed Off:

It’s surprising that you and Ed haven’t had this conversation before the 11-year mark. On the other hand, fear of conflict sometimes scares people into silence, which ultimately creates a crisis when the topic of money does finally come up. At this point, you need a third party (a shrink or a mediator) to help you figure out how to discuss this sensitive topic without tearing your relationship apart.

Ultimately, part of working things out will mean that you’ll need to understand Ed’s wish to protect his kids. One suggestion that might be worth considering is an arrangement where Ed leaves the house to his kids with the provision that you’re free to live there until you die. Of course, it won’t be pretty if they stand around and wait for that to happen.

Meryl Cohn is the author of “‘Do What I Say’: Ms. Behavior’s Guide to Gay and Lesbian Etiquette” (Houghton Mifflin). E-mail her at [email protected] or visit www.msbehavior.com.