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A fiancé's fear of failure

December 28, 2009

Dear Amy: My fiancé is a perpetual graduate student. He's been working on his master's degree for five years.

His program will finally kick him out this May, and it looks as if he will finish his degree. He has halfheartedly looked for a job, to no avail. His parents, friends and I have all tried to help him in his search.

I love him, but I'm starting to question if I am enabling him to continue down his path of least resistance and if I can marry him if he still doesn't have a job.

He's brilliant and works hard for his advisor but gets paralyzed by his fear of failure. We've had discussions about this in which he promises to try harder, but nothing concrete ever comes of it. I don't like the idea of an ultimatum, but I'm at my wits' end.

Distressed in Baltimore

Dear Distressed: An ultimatum wouldn't work for your fiancé, but you should give yourself one. Tell him, "I can't force you to get a job, but I have expectations for myself and for you and if we're going to get married we need to face our future together. I don't want to plan a wedding unless you're securely employed."

Give yourself a deadline to make your own choice based on what is best for you.

Promising to do better isn't useful unless it is buoyed by action. Don't prompt a promise from him and don't hang your hopes on one.

Your guy needs professional help -- not only job counseling but also personal counseling.

Figuring out what's really going on would change his life. He should seek counseling while he's in school and has access to mental health services.

Send questions to Amy Dickinson to askamy@tribune.com or to Ask Amy, Chicago Tribune, TT500, 435 N. Michigan Ave., Chicago, IL 60611.

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