July 30, 2008
“I have been in a 5-year very toxic relationship with a married man. Every time I have tried to end it he goes to the extreme to make sure I don’t. He has told friends and customers about his affair with me and that he is in love with me. I have even considered moving out of town to get away from him. He is very controlling and has even threatened to kill himself if I leave him. Please help.”
Every threat of suicide must be taken very seriously. As the “other woman,” even if you were a mental health professional specializing in suicide prevention, you would be unqualified to sustain his life. Get out of the man’s way so he can get the help he needs!
He doesn’t love you. Love doesn’t threaten, control, or manipulate.
I trust you see you are “killing yourself” by staying. I’d suggest you move, that you do cut all ties, and that you do find your freedom at all cost. You cannot be a lifeline for any man, let alone one who demonstrates no respect for his family or for you.
Suicide, by very definition, is self-inflicted, and therefore his killing himself, which would indeed be very sad, would not be your responsibility, or your fault.
July 30, 2008
Letters consistently pour in from men and women in unhealthy relationships. I think often of how much pain could be avoided if people were simply willing to see the warning signs before marriage, before children, before hearts harden, and before bitterness sets in. Here are some, of course not all, of the early warning signs that a relationship will sour short of a miracle. Although cumbersome, I have used “he/she” on each occasion for neither gender appears to be guiltless when it comes to distorting intimate relationships:
He/she does not respect his/her parents.
He/she lies about “little” things.
He/she is in debt at a young age.
He/she sees people as expendable (uses, then “dumps” people).
He/she gets angry very quickly with waiters or servers of any kind.
He/she feels entitled to respect he/she has not earned.
He/she is financially, morally, and sexually unfaithful, and appears unconcerned about the importance of personal integrity in his/her life.
He/she opens your mail, snoops in your business, and thinks you should have no secrets between you.
He/she speaks for you and tells you how you “should” feel, think and speak.
He/she tells you that you are stupid and that he/she knows you better than you know yourself.
He/she believes most other people are idiots and often says so.
July 29, 2008
“I love my husband and I am happy to some degree but he has become so insecure and very doubtful of me. He checks my emails; he checks my phone, my clothing, my iPod, and everything. It is killing our marriage because I don’t know how long I am going to be able to hold on. Everything started with an emotional affair I had, that was only a fantasy on my side. Nothing happened between us, and I regret and wish it never had happened. Now my life is hell. Is there hope or I am just holding onto a dream? Is he ever going to get over it? I am a good wife, a good mother, and a good successful woman, but now all that seems to be crumbling apart. Please help.”
There is always hope. Even the most toxic of relationships can survive if people are willing to seek appropriate help. I assure you that nothing you have done (fantasy or not) triggered your husband’s jealous behavior. You are not sufficiently powerful to elicit the behavior you have described. Don’t let him put this on you. I am not sure you are “holding onto a dream” – it sounds much more like a nightmare to me!
July 27, 2008
In my series entitled “A is for Autonomy,” I have already published A, B and C. Here is D, perhaps the most challenging of all:
“D” is for Differentiation of Self, a concept named by a pioneer in the discipline of Family Therapy, Murray Bowen. The concept is much easier to define than it is to put into practice. Without being too dramatic, it really is a matter of “differentiate or die”– at least on the inside!
Self-differentiation is your capacity to get the best out of your internal battle to be both autonomous and intimate, while achieving your personal and career goals — all at the same time. In other words, can you walk the tight-rope of being fully yourself, while being fully open with, and committed to your family, while also doing all you can to achieve your goals?
Less differentiated (reactive or fused) persons (there are degrees here!) are many. We have all heard about the man who went to the top of his career – at the cost of his marriage and his relationship with his children. Stories are plentiful of the woman who lost herself within her marriage, or became so much a mother that she forgot she and her children were separate people!
July 24, 2008
“My son (27) has moved in with a woman (35) whom he hardly knows. She has two young children who he is now supporting and he expects me to treat them as if they are my grandchildren. I don’t really want anything to do with the woman or her children but I don’t want to be out of sorts with my son. He has a habit of being in and out of relationships but this is the first one that involves children. Please help.” (Letter edited)
As difficult as it might be for you, I’d suggest you offer the mother and her children as gracious a welcome as has your son appears to have offered. There is nothing to gain from giving the woman and her children your cold shoulder even if the relationship proves to be short lived. This is an opportunity for you to create wonderful experiences, and therefore wonderful memories, for two small children and I’d suggest you seize it with all your heart.
July 23, 2008
1. When a person is moving away from you (separating physically, emotionally detaching) to chase, to persuade, to cajole will be counterproductive.
2. When every move, every expressed thought, every action, on the part of another person has the capacity to upset you or derail you, you are probably too close, too intensely involved with that person in an unhealthy manner. Given time, one or the other of you will begin to act (consciously or unconsciously) in ways to reduce the closeness.
3. When a person seeks a so-called “father-figure” or “mother-figure” in an intimate relationship, intimacy will whither surprisingly quickly once the couple marries.
4. Unresolved conflicts from childhood and adolescence will re-appear later in life within a person’s most intimate relationships, and, as a result, he or she will fight yesterday’s battles, in the present, with the “wrong” people.
5. Intimacy is an individual pursuit and not dependent on the participation of a partner or the partner’s willingness to be equally intimate. A woman, for example, may experience a powerful moment of intimacy when telling her partner about her day without the partner having to share one iota about his day, Of course intimacy is intensified when there is mutual participation but it is not dependent on the participation of both partners.
July 22, 2008
Six voices from six different families…
“My wife is my closest friend. She knows me better than anyone has ever known me. She doesn’t reject me even when she finds out things about me I thought I could hide.”
“I like it when my wife is playful. Childlike. Funny. I like it when things are not always serious and when not everything is about money or the children.”
“My dad is like a big kid. He likes to set up booby traps for my mom and splash her with water and when we all join in we make a mess and it’s lots of fun.”
“My mother likes me. It’s like we are friends as well as being mom and daughter.”
“My husband is like a rock. You can trust everything he says. I have never known him to tell even the smallest lie to me except when it comes to birthdays and surprises!”
“My husband took on my three children and me, and you’d think it was never any different for us all. It’s been tough sometimes but never because of him. The tough times were always because I wasn’t used to trusting anyone.”
July 21, 2008
“My son, because of his wife and her wishes, is closer to his in-laws than he is to me. This is very painful for me and I find myself being jealous when I hear how much time he spends with her family. I am 72 and feel like I am too old for this kind of petty jealousy. I think I have been a good mother and I really do not want to see him or his family too much. I would just like to be more included in his life. Please help.” (Edited)
Your jealous stirrings, and your discomfort with them, are completely understandable. I hope your son and his wife will read your poignant plea, and respond appropriately. If you have not told your son and daughter-in-law of your wants as clearly as you have communicated them to me, I’d suggest you do so as soon as possible.
July 16, 2008
“I have been with my husband for 8 years although be only got married this May. I was attracted to him because of the way he was direct. I met him when I was on a very steep cliff ready to jump and he showed interest in me, which was strange because he didn’t want a relationship. I have worked tirelessly to be with him. A week after we got married I left him. He stalked me, begging me to meet. I did. He promised me the world and I fell for it. He is controlling doesn’t want me to see my family. Nothing I do is good enough, I cook, clean, mow grass, clean gutters and organize the office. We haven’t had sex in two years. I am dying inside. Why doesn’t he want me? One of the biggest things that bothers me is I sing and we have a studio in our house and I have been asking him to burn music for me and he doesn’t. I just want to be loved and respected.” (Letter shortened)
You said he “didn’t want a relationship” and nothing has changed. You want something he appears unable to offer. Figure out what YOU want. Being loved and respected begins with YOU, not with him.
Contact Rod Smith (even while “one the road”) at Rod@DifficultRelationships.com or visit http://www.DifficultRelationships.com
July 16, 2008
Thank you for your faithful readership in newspapers and anywhere you might access this column. Readers frequently ask personal questions about what I am doing. I think Fridays are good days for such divulgences!
This past two weeks I’ve driven across the USA. We – two adults, two children (aged 10 and 6), packed everything we need (and more!) and set off in our Ford truck on the 7000-kilometer (4400 mile) return journey. I plan to get us home mid-August, a week before the children will return to school.
Over the ten days we have camped, we’ve slept in a side-less, door–less shelter at an outward-bound facility, and spent three nights in a luxury guest house overlooking Scottsdale and Phoenix, Arizona. Now, while in Los Angeles, we are guest of a community training college students to serve the world’s poor.
On Friday we’ll fly to Hawaii where I will rest for a week before I speak for a week to an audience of 50 Korean adults about the ins-and-outs of family therapy. Then we’ll fly to the “mainland” and begin our long drive from LA, via San Francisco, back to our home in the Midwest.
At every stop along the way I scurry for Internet access that I may catch up with readers and ensure I meet my Mercury and other submission deadlines.
Rod Smith is a Family Therapist, contact him (even while “one the road”) at Rod@DiffiulctRelationships.com or visit http://www.DifficultRelationships.com