April 27, 2007
Reader: I believe I am slowly dying. My partner permanently believes every outing, whether to work or business, is a sex one. She has carried on like this for ten years but it is getting worse. Sometimes, when I return from outside, she shouts, barges me down and even hit me. Other times, she drives me back out, and I would have to negotiate my way through neighbors to get back in. She denies me keys and facilities and abuses me, curses me, and calls me names. If I dare call friends and family she will say all sorts of unprintable things. She has even threatens to harm herself if I am not careful, and will say I did it. The only time she is at peace with me is when I sit at home for hours on end. I have suggested therapy, but this has resulted into more abuses. Getting out seems an option but I am in the middle of an academic program and that could be distracting. Please help. (Letter edited)
Rod’s Response: Until you are prepared to make drastic changes in your behavior, your partner will have no reason to improve her behavior. This unusual dance must be rewarding you in some manner. Why else would you endure such bizarre behavior?
April 25, 2007
Some “small” events pay me regular visits even twenty-five years later. I had been on a short holiday in Cape Town, and, on my return, took a dozen rolls of film to the CNA at La Lucia mall for processing.
After a prolonged wait in the line (queue), it was finally my turn at the cash register:
“You’ve got a lot of pictures. Have you been on holiday?” said the friendly woman while she rang up my purchases.
“Yes,” was probably my terse reply.
“Where did you go?”
“Can I see your pictures? I have never been to Cape Town,” she said.
“No,” I said, “they are my pictures and I am in a hurry.”
Before I reached my home in Sunningdale I heard the still small voice announce that I really did not need to be quite so cold and unfriendly.
“Go back. Apologize. Show her your pictures,” said the voice within my deepest psyche.
Sheepishly I returned and apologized. I offered to show the woman my pictures. She’d not lost her enthusiasm to see the pictures of my holiday despite having been the brunt of my unearned cold-shoulder.
Please send your “Moment of Learning” to Rod@DifficultRelationships.com. Please limit your story to 200 words.
April 24, 2007
A short word about guilt…
There are a lot of guilty people “out there.” I get letters all the time from people carrying huge burdens of guilt, for all manner of mishaps and sins and things done or left undone.
As can be expected I get letters from people who are guilty about things over which they would have had absolutely no power at all (the emotional equivalent of “I am so sorry it is rained on your vacation”) and this misplaced, or assumed guilt has followed them around like a large and burdensome backpack for decades.
Guilt, any kind of guilt, is not a very good motivator. When it pushes (guides, motivates, “inspires” or propels) a person to any act of goodness or kindness, that act is usually sullied or jaundiced because it is not propelled by pure intention. It is propelled by the need to make right, to settle a score or to un-burden.
Getting rid of guilt (even misplaced guilt) is not easy for some – but it can be found through confession, through wise divulgence of that inner turmoil to a trusted friend or a paid professional.
Freedom from guilt is a wonderful, powerful state. And when, by faith, you are made free, you will indeed be free.
April 23, 2007
READER QUESTION: My mother died recently after a long illness. People I hardly know want to be told every little detail about her final months. I do not feel comfortable talking about this with anyone apart from immediate family or close friends. These virtual strangers say to me: “What’s wrong with you? You have to share your grief.” Is there anything wrong with wanting privacy at this time?
ROD’S RESPONSE: Your grief is your business. You decide how you will (or will not) handle your loss and with whom you will share it. I’d suggest you inform “interested” (inquisitive) strangers that you will willingly remain out of their personal affairs and you’d prefer similar treatment in return.
April 20, 2007
Thought it time to provide some more feedback – if only to reassure you that you are still a vital daily family read for us. (Our son’s away at University now [oh boy, yes, severe empty nest syndrome!] and we have to cut out your columns and keep them in date order neatly on his desk for his returns on vacations!)
Disagree strongly about your views on living together before marriage: we’ve recently celebrated our 21st wedding anniversary, having lived together for about 9 months beforehand. An essential further commitment, we think, before taking the final, binding plunge.
Then again, we broke other societal rules too: My now wife was my secretary and we had a clandestine office affair. It soon became untenable and I had to “fire” her from the large corporation we then worked for. (She still teases me about that when in the mood, threatening legal action for sexual discrimination). Not great for productivity perhaps, but an exciting start to what’s been the most fulfilling relationship of a lifetime.
April 17, 2007
I have had a number of letters about “living together.” With a few edits, here is a column published some years ago….
First, as adults, you can do whatever you both decide. But “living together” is deceptive for both persons. There is no commitment even if you say there is. Commitment is making vows in the presence of witnesses and signing a legal, marriage contact. When either of you can “walk” without legal consequence – there is no commitment.
Try buying a house using the same approach. Tell the bank manager (mortgage company) you want to know if you and the house “click,” are compatible. Tell him you love the house and are very committed. Then tell him you are not ready to sign. The obvious will happen: no signature on a contract, no bond (mortgage) on a house in your name.
Living together is no “trial run” on marriage any more than baby-sitting is the same as rearing a child. If you are not ready for marriage, you are not ready. Living together will not make you ready, nor will it tell you what marriage will be like. People who are willing to live together, even by mutual agreement, offer each other no security – which hardly sounds like love!
Write to Rod@DifficultRelationships.com
April 16, 2007
Reader: My elderly mother, who has a nice home and everything she needs, is very unkind to me. Sometimes she is cruel and uses a lot of guilt to keep me visiting her. I am in my forties and would prefer not to see her. What do you suggest I do? (Situation abbreviated from longer letter)
Rod Response: There is no good reason to tolerate cruelty from anyone source – not even your mother. If you cannot do it face-to-face, tell her in a brief letter that you will visit her on condition that she keeps the rule of regarding you with utmost respect and kindness.
When, and if, you decide to visit, make a polite exit the very moment she engages in unacceptable behavior.
While your mother is elderly, she is yet highly functional in so many areas of her life, and therefore also capable of monitoring her unacceptable behavior. Allowing your mother to inflict abusive behavior upon you is honoring to neither of you. Remember, a person cannot get rid of behavior that he or she continues to feed.
Contact: Rod@DifficultRelationships.com or http://www.DifficultRelationships.com
April 13, 2007
1. Invite your family to a meeting and thank each person for their love.
2. Leave your mobile phone at home and spend a full day with your children (or grandchildren).
3. Consult with the librarian of your old school and buy the library a dozen books.
4. Leave a box of groceries for a family whom you know is in need.
5. Tip waiters three times your normal tip.
6. Take a street person to lunch.
7. Make house calls on people who have enriched your life and express your gratitude.
8. While remaining anonymous, pay for a stranger’s meal in a restaurant.
9. Help others succeed.
10. Don’t screen your phone calls.
11. Make positive referrals if you have a good business experience. Report negative business experiences only to those empowered to make changes.
12. If you occupy a position of authority (business owner, school principal, government official) make random phone calls to people who’d least expect to hear from you. People in “power” positions can make someone’s day by being friendly and “normal.”
April 11, 2007
(Please note not all difficult relationships are necessarily also toxic)
Toxic (poisoned) relationships are tiring to say the least. Apart from requiring mounds of energy, they can be filled with threats, unnecessary silence, manipulation, domination and intimidation. Toxic couples often attempt to drown their pain in drinking, drugs and lustful, or vengeful, sexual activity.
Toxicity is apparent when “old” arguments frequently resurface, feelings of loyalty and disloyalty rage within you, anger seems to come from nowhere and you have a very short fuse. Life feels like a giant game of chess that’s impossible to win.
Often toxic relationships start with intensely sexual experiences. A new person seemingly offers you everything you ever wanted and so you quickly invest yourself completely. After a short while it feels as if you have been handed a script where the entrances and exits are seldom within your power. You feel as if you an unwilling actor in someone else’s play.
Remember there are always more options available for your life than it might appear.
Problems play hide-and-seek before they become full-blown and begin to make life unmanageable. It is helpful to identify some of these issues before they become a debilitating.
April 11, 2007
When your child (13 to 15) becomes involved in his/her first romantic attachment, with a person of similar age, please remember:
1. The experience is authentic for your child, and, while you might consider it “puppy love” the relationship ought to be given due respect.
2. If you trivialize his or her experience by your words or your deeds (make jokes about it) your child will probably go into hiding about what he or she is experiencing. This will put you “out of the loop” completely.
3. Embrace your child’s romantic interests, and be willing to talk about them to the degree to which your child seems willing to talk.
4. It is quite common for a child to become very focused on the whereabouts and activities of the person of his or her romantic interest. If you allow no contact (by phone or Email) you are likely to drive the relationship underground, and therefore be teaching your child to conduct a most important part of his or her life in secret.
Evaluate your resistance to your son or daughter falling in love:
What is it that you fear?
Are your fears related to your own experience as a younger person?
Is your response reasonable or loaded with your own unresolved baggage?