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Lazy boyfriends? Rude family members? Divorcing friends? We've got answers.

Our sex and relationship columnist Claudia Dey gives real advice when you need it most.

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Photo, Masterfile.

My boyfriend has been out of work for almost a year. I was really supportive in the beginning, but now I’m struggling with it. He isn’t even trying to find work anymore and doesn’t seem to be bothered by his unemployment. I work hard and find I’m losing respect for him. What can I do?

Dear Breadwinner,

There is nothing less sexy than laziness. Give me mediocre dance moves in tight satin shorts over loafing any day. This is a tricky one because not only has your boyfriend abandoned his efforts but — the greater offence? — he doesn’t care. This is where I’m afraid I must worry you: Your industriousness, your enthusiasm for your work and your supportiveness may not have an impact on him — ever. Instead, he needs to foster his own ambition.

Have a heart-to-heart. Rather than retreating into judgment (doomed), talk to him. Share your concerns. Ask him what his plans are and get him to articulate his goals. He needs to come up with a definitive strategy for getting back in the game; as tempting as it might be, don’t script it for him. This is work that he needs to do — and he must understand that your respect, and your relationship, hang in the balance.

 

Dear Claudia

My family is complicated because I have both step-siblings and half-siblings. Most of us get along very well, but one of my half-sisters and her mother are exceptions. They’re so rude and nasty to my mother and me. We see them only at birthday parties for my half-sister’s children, whom I adore. I don’t want to back out of their lives, but I can’t stand the stress!

Dear Stressed,

With a complicated family, there are plenty of dynamics to manage — between the halves, the steps and the bios. The fact that most of your relationships with these people are strong is highly commendable. It is no easy feat, and worthy of medals all around. Except, of course, for Rude and Nasty.

I hate to be the bearer of rotten news, but Rude and Nasty will never adjust their behaviour — even if you adjust and readjust yours. How to preserve your sanity while strengthening your bond with the children you adore?

First, limit contact with the offending relatives and create space away from them wherever possible. When in the same room, expect their bad behaviour and don’t be surprised by cutting remarks, disrespect and condescension. Just shrug it off and remember what matters: maintaining a presence in those children’s lives. The enduring relationships you’ll build with them by persevering will be well worth the effort!

 

Dear Claudia

Good friends of mine are getting divorced, and things are getting ugly. I was close with both of them, but I can’t believe how badly the soon-to-be-ex-husband is behaving. (He’s using their kids as pawns, trying to take the house away from her and generally acting like a complete bully.) Our other friends feel like we need to be there for both of them, but I don’t know if I can. I’m Team Ex-Wife all the way. Am I making a mistake?

Dear Team Ex-Wife,

You are not making a mistake. You are bravely taking a stand by throwing your support behind a woman who not only is facing the end of her marriage but must also contend with a husband turned Hulk who would leave her homeless and pull their children onto his warpath. This is not Gwyneth’s “conscious uncoupling.”

Your friends have decided on their approach: Team Everyone. This is an understandable, and sometimes graceful, strategy — but you don’t need your Team Everyone friends to cross the floor to join you. Instead, focus on your ex-wife friend. Offer to babysit, or accompany her when she is going to mediation or her lawyer’s office. Restock her fridge. Invite her to dinner parties. Ensure she never feels alone.

This is a grim time — yes, of spite and loathsome behaviour, but mostly of heartbreak. The children need to be protected, which means ensuring their infrastructure remains as intact as possible. And because this largely depends upon the strength of their mother, don’t be afraid to throw all your support behind Team Ex-Wife.

Submit your questions to Dear Claudia here.

Claudia Dey is a novelist, columnist and Governor General’s Award–nominated playwright. She is the author of How to Be a Bush Pilot: A Field Guide to Getting Luckier and has written about sex and relationships in the Globe and Mail and Toro.