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Counseling/How do I help my fiance??


Okay, well... I'm 20, and my fiance Paul is 22. Him and I have been together for a little over 3 years, and he lives with my mom and I. My mom agreed to let him move in last year around this time because his father is a drunk and would verbally abuse him constantly and smack him around when he was drunk. One time he came over my house with a nasty black eye and marks all over him and my mom offered to let him move in because she knows he's a good kid. Honestly, we would move out but him and I are both full time students and cannot really swing it right now. He pays her rent, and he's really helpful around the house. He does all of the yard work for us, cleans up around the house and helps take care of our animals.

We actually just got engaged, because we were just in Disney World, and he proposed to me there. Well, we got home Tuesday night and my mom told me that there was a message for Paul on the answering machine but that she had just skipped past it when she heard it was for him. Well, his aunt called and told him that his father died that morning. Apparently he took a bunch of medication, downed a bunch of alcohol and died in his sleep. Paul was silent for the rest of the night. I hardly knew what to say to him except for "I'm sorry." He has hardly spoken since then and he just seems void of any emotion. When he got home from work yesterday afternoon, I asked him if he wanted to talk about it and he just said "No thanks, hun. It's fine." and went to take a shower. He seemed upset afterwards and I asked him again if he wanted to talk about it and he started cursing and shouting about how he just "wanted to forget the bastard, but he didn't have to die." He went on for a few minutes before calming down and he apologized for going off and gave me a kiss. I didn't expect him to go off like that because he's normally very quiet. Never talks more than he sees necessary and always has a very calm, even tone to his voice. I've never seen him get angry like that. I don't know what to do or say.

I don't even know how he's feeling, because I know he hated his father, and quite honestly, his father was a terrible person. But on the other hand, he was still his father. I don't know if he's sad or angry or a combination of both, or something else entirely. I don't even know how to approach the situation. I don't know if he's even planning on going to the funeral. I don't know what to do. I'm just really worried about him because he's hardly spoken. Last night he went up to bed really early, and I came up to lay with him. When I got upstairs, he was just laying in the dark looking at the ceiling, and when I laid down next to him, he turned over and put his arm around me. So I assume that means he wants me there? But I also don't know if he wants to be alone more, and whether I should be giving him more space. Can someone help me? I don't know what to do for him. I'm worried. What should I do?

Hi Sara - I suggest several things:

1] Learn about losses and healthy grief -

2] learn about addictions, and encourage Paul to read this when he's able to:

3] search the web for "ACoA" and "NACOA" and suggest that Paul read and discuss what what you find. See if there's an ACoA support group in your community or go online.

4] Read "It Will Never Happen To Me ," by Claudia Black, then invite him to read it.  It's about him.

5] Read and discuss this - it's probably about both of you:

6] Read and discuss this about your relationship:

This is a LOT, so take your time. You have a LOT of options! - Pete


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Peter Gerlach, MSW


I can answer questions about mood disorders, depression, suicide, relationships, communication skills, problem solving, clear thinking, bonding disorders, trauma recovery, addiction management, grieving, shame, guilt, fear, reality distortion, and trust disorders; courtship, family functioning, "problem kids," mediation, (re)marriage, divorce, stepfamilies, stepparenting, boundaries, self-neglect, abuse, parental neglect, personality subselves, ("parts work"). I cannot answer legal or medical questions.


I maintained a private therapy practice near Chicago for 27 years, and have worked with over 1,000 men, women, couples, and families on a wide range of personal and family problems. I have been in personal recovery from growing up in an alcoholic family since 1986, and have worked with five therapists to heal my own psychological wounds. I maintained a "warm (phone) line" for callers on the topics above for 20 years, and have taught over 200 seminars and classes in midwestern universities, churches, support groups, and schools since 1981. I have practiced internal-family therapy ("parts work") with trauma-recoverers since 1991.

National Stepfamily Resource Center (NSRC) Experts Council; Compassion and Choices, and Final Exit Network

# Several hundred articles in my non-profit "Break the Cycle!" Web site at These articles are augmented by over 150 educational YouTube videos .

# six books on childhood-trauma recovery, effective communication, and stepfamily courtship, coparenting, and management.

A bachelors degree in mechanical engineering (BSME, 1959) from Stanford University, a Masters degree in clinical Social Work, (MSW, 1981), and over 500 hours of post-grad training in the topics above - including clinical hypnosis, spirituality, codependence, addicrtion-management, and guided imagery. My post-grad traning includes two 9-month internships on doing internal-family therapy at the University of Illinois.

Awards and Honors
Hundreds of grateful emails and comments from students and clients all over the world.

Past/Present Clients
Over 1,000 average Midwestern-US women, men, couples, and families. A physical disability limits me to doing telephone and Skype counseling now.

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