Dear Carolyn: I am very concerned about my adult son and his relationship with his second wife.

Bear with me — I know he’s an adult! But: His first marriage failed, more to do with her, but he wasn’t blameless. Now he’s married to a fabulous woman, and there are two adorable babies, as well.

So I see him doing the same kinds of things as before, and wife No. 2 has shared with me her growing frustration. They’ve done some couple’s counseling, but it’s erratic. He promises to do things differently but then doesn’t follow through. His wife has bent over backward to come up with solutions around their issues — she is really trying.

I see her frustration increasing a lot; I don’t know how much more time she’s willing to put into this.

I know this isn’t my marriage, I know they are adults, but would it be completely terrible if I had a private talk with my son and pointed out how close he is to losing everything? Or should I just butt out and be there to pick up the pieces when things fall apart?

Carolyn says: Parents have outsize power, so they must be mindful of that and know their place, especially since it changes over the course of their children’s lives.

Their place when children are grown is not to avoid using that power altogether, though — not necessarily. It’s to use it judiciously and unselfishly.

If you were to speak up here, it would not be because you want your son to do X or Y to please you. It would be purely for him: to wake him up to the soon-to-be runaway train of his wife’s frustration, and to the consequences of his not cooperating fully in calming things down.

As always when meddling like this, you get to use your power clearly, compassionately, where it really counts, and only once. “It’s your life, but it’s also our shared history, so humor me. Your wife is trying to get your attention and close to losing her patience. She has said as much, but I’d seen it myself.

“If she does lose it, then you lose everything.

“It would be on my conscience if that happened because you didn’t see it coming. So, I’m speaking up. But now it’s up to you.”

Then you butt out — and hope there’s no more falling apart to clean up.

Money for marriage?

Dear Carolyn: Our granddaughters are working, and living with their boyfriends, seemingly in loving relationships. Is there a way of giving money to encourage them to get married?

Carolyn says: Giving money to grandchildren is a great way to build your bond and secure their future.

Social-engineering your grandchildren through money is a great way to strain your bond and have little effect on their future.

Maybe my memory fails me, but I can’t think of a single occasion where loving and judging someone actually produced the intended outcome. The judging always infuses the love with a bitter aftertaste.

Meanwhile, couples who believe they have a good reason not to be married ... have a good reason not to be married. Trust that, please.

Per your brief description, your granddaughters are not in crisis; trust them, too, to sort things out on their own.

 

E-mail Carolyn Hax at tellme@washpost.com, or chat with her at 11 a.m. Friday at washingtonpost.com.