Dear Wendy: “We Broke Up. Should I Return My Birthday Gift?”

I got out of a very rocky two-year LDR about a month ago. About two months prior to the breakup (and while I was desperately trying to make the relationship work), I visited him for my birthday and he gave me an Xbox 360. When I finally managed to break up with him — after trying at least five times — he took it very poorly. We talked the next day and he told me he’d broken or thrown away everything I’d given him. We didn’t talk again until yesterday, when I got a text from him saying, “Send me back the Xbox.” Flustered, I responded, “So you can break it, too?” He called me and said he’d tell the police I’d stolen it, and his mom was “willing to be a witness” of the theft. Now, I have no idea if the police would get involved (especially since we live in different states), and I probably shouldn’t have accepted it knowing the relationship was doomed, but should I give it back now? I’d prefer to keep it — I’ve bought games for it already and I can’t afford a new one — but I also don’t want to be arrested! — Hopefully Not a Thief

Your ex sounds nuts, and I can’t imagine anyone would take someone like him or his accusations of theft seriously. Let him make a fool of himself if that’s what he wants to do. Nothing will come of it. I’d keep the Xbox and wouldn’t engage him anymore via text, email, phone calls or anything else. And you should in no way feel guilty for keeping the Xbox. People aren’t obligated to return gifts when their relationships end. If it were an engagement ring or some family heirloom of his that he gave you, that would be different. But the Xbox is yours to keep guilt-free. Consider it a reward for dealing with a maniac for two years.

I have been married close to eight years to a kind, sweet man. We have worked very hard and sacrificed a lot to establish a good, stable life. However, throughout our relationship, I have concluded that he’s a workaholic. There have been plenty of nights that I could not extract an hour of time from his busy work schedule to just talk to him. His devotion to work put me in a far second place to his career. Early this year, I was dealt some difficult news that triggered me to reevaluate my life. I got in shape and made some great new friendships, but couldn’t help but slowly notice that something was drastically wrong in my marriage. I actually decided that I didn’t want children with him, figuring that I would have to do everything related to child-rearing. The problem is that I don’t know if I can accurately identify what our disconnect even is at this point. I feel like our paths might have diverged somewhere over the last three years.

Now I am healthy, fit, positive and I love where I live. I feel so different and so, so far away from him. Sex is not something I look forward to. I am afraid to be around him when we are alone because I do not know how to get past the feeling that something is wrong. I love him and care for him deeply but I question if I have romantic feelings toward him anymore. I also feel like I have put so much effort into building this life and now if I walk away, I have wasted so much time, while he will learn his lessons from the first marriage, marry a great woman and have a wonderful family. I’ll be left with less fiscal stability, a ticking biological clock, the humiliation of a wrecked marriage and shrunken dating pool. Most of my friends tell me that I am the lucky one to get someone as successful and sweet as him. I just can’t shrug the feeling that love has died within our relationship. I am just lost and have no idea what to do next. — Lost in a Shaky Marriage

If you’re interested in trying to salvage your relationship, you need to go to marriage counseling. Your issues sound too deep and the two of you too disconnected to try to fix things on your own. You don’t even know what “things” need to be fixed. A professional can help you identify the issues and help you address them in a healthy, functional way.

If you aren’t interested in salvaging the relationship, that’s something else altogether. You have to ask yourself what would be worse: living in what is basically a sham of a marriage, feeling lonely, and perhaps even eventually cheating or being cheated on because you and your partner are so desperate for an emotional connection to someone, or leaving your marriage now and being, as you say, left with “less fiscal stability, a ticking biological clock, the humiliation of a wrecked marriage and shrunken dating pool.” You’ve already said you don’t want to have kids with your husband — at least, not the way things are now — so if you left him, you may have a ticking biological clock and no husband to have kids with, but you don’t really have that now. At least if you were divorced, you’d have the option of finding a good partner and a good father for your children. It might be easier to start over than try to work with what you have. But that’s a decision for you to make. If you want to try to make things work with your husband, I highly, highly recommend counseling.

Even if you forgo couples counseling, you would benefit from personal one-on-one counseling. The way you mentally set up your husband to be so successful post-divorce, while you lament how bad things would be for you suggests poor self-esteem at best, and could be a sign of something more serious. Why do you think you’d suffer the “humiliation of a wrecked marriage and shrunken dating pool” and he wouldn’t? Why would he learn lessons from your marriage and go on to marry a great woman and have a wonderful family and you wouldn’t? This is definitely an issue you should explore with a professional as it points to issues of esteem, and the value you give yourself as a woman.

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