Dear Patti, 

My wife divorced me at age 50. Not long after, I developed a serious health problem. I’m the kind of guy that’s usually in a pretty good mood, but everything caught up with me and I plunged into a deep depression.

My younger sister, Jenna, moved in to take care of me when I really needed her. She has never married and is not well off financially so the move was helpful for her, too. I’m aware it was challenging to care for me when I was sick — including staying with me night and day during hospital stays — and I love her dearly for it. I enjoy spending time with Jenna but now that I’m physically and emotionally stronger, I realize I want to live alone. I never intended for us living together to become a way of life.

Having moved directly from my parents’ house and into my marriage as a young man, I’ve always lived with someone else; never just myself. I’m afraid Jenna might feel like I’m throwing her away, which isn’t the case. God bless her, but she can be kind of dependent on me and oftentimes, without saying anything, disapproving of my habits. I want the freedom to have a woman over when I want to; if Jenna and I are living together, I’d never feel comfortable doing so.

I’m willing to pay for her move and even provide financial assistance. I’m just concerned I’m being selfish. I haven’t shared any of my thoughts and feelings, partly because I’m worried she’ll get angry, shut down and move out of state to live with her old knucklehead boyfriend. I don’t want her to do that. It’s not the right life for her, I’m sure of it.

    

  — Chester

Dear Chester,

I understand your dilemma. The relationship you’ve created over the years with Jenna sounds like a very special one and not to be taken lightly. On the other hand, you’ve been living with someone your whole life. It’s not selfish just because you want the experience of living on your own. How do you take care of the relationship without seriously shortchanging yourself or someone you care about? 

For starters, make sure this isn’t an impulsive decision and you’re not just wanting a temporary break, then changing your mind and inviting her back. Could you be happy living with Jenna if you learned how to live as you please in spite of her nonverbal disapproval? That could be a valuable lesson regardless of whether you end up living together. You might want to find ways to stay living together but take more space from Jenna on a day-to-day basis as well as taking day or weekend trips on your own. You must also be clear in your mind that you’re not just irritated with Jenna for a minor reason that will likely pass or that could be resolved with open communication.

Having said all that, if you know that experiencing living on your own is the best choice for you then you need to be true to yourself. This means being authentic and genuine. As long as you’re keeping your real feelings from Jenna, it will be difficult to maintain a close, honest and healthy relationship. It’s not always easy, but you’ve already demonstrated a strong commitment to each other’s well-being. This close friendship is a good foundation for an honest talk. 

Sit down with Jenna and explain to her everything you’ve shared with me. She already knows your history and that you’ve never lived on your own. Since you know her so well, bring up your concern that she may get angry, shut down and abruptly move away and that you don’t want her to. Listen to her feelings, wants and needs.  

Since Jenna has done so much for you, ask yourself what contribution back feels right. Her needs might be different than yours and it might actually be what’s best for her to live with another person. If she decides to live with her old boyfriend, respect her doing so. Since she was there for you in your time of need, what’s appropriate to give back? Six months’ rent on a new place close by? Could you help pay for her out-of-state move if she decides to do so?  Trust your heart and contribute what truly feels right to you. 


Patti Carmalt-Vener, a faculty member with the Southern California Society for Intensive Short Term Psychotherapy, has been a psychotherapist in private practice for 23 years and has offices in Pasadena, Santa Monica and Canoga Park. Contact her at (626) 584-8582 or email pcarmalt@aol.com. Visit her website, patticarmalt-vener.com.