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Carolyn Hax:

Dear Carolyn: My wife and I have supported our son and his fiancée, financially and otherwise, for years. Including legal issues for her. Prior to our retirement from two careers to one pension, our son asked us to sell him our car, which we did contractually. His fiancée objected because she thought they should have it for free.

Since then they have stopped making payments and have been out of contact for months. My wife wants to avoid confrontation because of the grands. I feel my son should step up, be a man and not be influenced. Although I remain cordial, am I being the bad guy here? I believe their next move is to come visit and pretend like there is nothing between us.

– J.

A: Your wife wants to avoid, you want to confront … but what about the middle ground, where you actually talk? One-on-one, without his fiancée around: “It isn’t like you to go back on a promise. Are you OK?”

There’s also something in the way you state your case. “Be a man and not be influenced” tells me you don’t believe a (real) man can be abused or controlled by a woman. But the fact of an intimate relationship means a person is vulnerable to abuse, period, without regard for gender or gender role. You mention “the grands,” which I assume means your son and his fiancée have children; what more powerful instrument of control is there? “Do this or I’ll make sure you never see the kids” can be either stated or implied. Women arguably use this weapon more effectively against men than the reverse, given that society is slower to side against them – and, ahem, quicker to judge a man for getting caught in that trap.

If all you imply in your letter is true – that the fiancée is of poor character and is psychologically holding the strings – then what your son needs is a safe, nonjudgmental place to admit what’s going on at home.

Possibly even more important, family members who don’t judge him can, over time, allow him to recall who he was before the unhealthy relationship formed. It’s a long shot, perhaps, but it’s a chance – and you can be that chance for him if you choose not to accept appearances as the last word.

Don’t expect reciprocal invite

Dear Carolyn: Am I being petty? My daughter was married two months ago. We invited the parents of our son-in-law’s brother’s fiancée.

The brother is now getting married and we are not invited. My son-in law is the best man. I feel disrespected by this omission. Should I just accept it as bad manners?

– Roamer

A: Inviting them as part of an unspoken quid-pro-quo, and then judging them harshly for not holding up their end, sounds like bad manners to me.

You went above and beyond in your inclusion, and that’s lovely. Don’t de-lovely it by bad-mouthing people you don’t even know. Wish them all well. Look for reasons to feel joy, versus excuses to take offense.