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updated: 1/13/2013 7:01 AM

No easy way to tell friend you're dating her ex

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Q. How do I break the news to my friend that I have been seeing her (recent) ex-boyfriend? I'm prepared to lose the friendship, but I want to minimize how hurt she gets, if possible. I guess I'm thinking specifically of altering the timeline, so there's more distance between when they broke up and when we started dating.

Anonymous

A. The first three letters of "timeline"? TMI (too much information.)

Oh, close enough.

To be clear, you and he have already taken the action that hurts your friend, so there's no altering history to cover your backsides. There's only consideration of how much of the truth she needs, for her sake, and supplying it accordingly.

Without the details, I can only guess at that magic quantity. However, most in her position need only the fact of your dating. That, and respect; no fibbing.

What your friendship needs, meanwhile, is for her to hear it first from you (though that might spell the end regardless).

Combined, those dictate a simple statement, soon: "Ex and I are seeing each other. I wanted you to hear it from me first."

If she asks when it started, please use this truth instead: "Any time is too close to your breakup, isn't it?" Meaning, admit fault out of integrity and skip the details out of compassion.

If she insists, then she assumes the risk of knowing all, like signing a pain waiver. Honor that with the truth.

Q. My husband's sister conducted a two-year affair and her marriage ended. Sister blames Ex for the failure of their marriage, refuses to admit to the affair (even after moving in with her lover), stalks Ex's dates and otherwise harasses Ex, continually cancels her days with her children and disparages her own children to Ex.

Because Ex has always acted like a brother to my husband, and because we want to be a source of stability for the children, we remain close to Ex.

We also believe Sister's behavior indicates a need for help, but she refuses therapy.

Sister tries to disrupt our time with Ex and children, screaming and crying that our relationship with Ex is "preventing her from moving on with her life." Now she is using social media to tell everyone we have supported Ex's "planned scheme to cut her off from friends and family."

We have never disclosed her affair to anyone. I don't know if revealing some details would sound alarms to others who may also encourage her to seek help. Any advice? Ex's lawyer has all of the details, but Ex (and we) is concerned about taking any steps that would expose the details to the kids.

Balancing Defense and Blame

A. You use "defense" in your signature, but Sister's instability clears your name of her charges. She and the kids are far more at risk than your reputation is.

Enlisting others is a good idea, to help Sister get help. The affair is but one detail of many in her public cry for help, so you can sound the alarm without it.

Please also urge Ex to add a good family therapist to his roster of professionals. Continue updating the lawyer, yes, but a mental-health professional is the one you want making the call on how best to protect these kids.

• Email Carolyn at tellmewashpost.com, follow her on Facebook at www.facebook.com/carolyn.hax or chat with her online at noon Eastern time each Friday at www.washingtonpost.com.

2013 The Washington Post

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