Unequal Relationships: When One Person is Trying Harder Than the Other

Dear Neil: I am very much in love with this man who lost his wife to suicide 5 years ago. We have had a long distance relationship the past 2 years (he lives in Libya, I live in Malta). He has finally started talking about his guilt feelings relating to his wife’s death. His moods go up and down, and he has told me that he has been escaping his feelings, but is now ready to face them, and he’s trying to do so on his own. A couple of days ago, he told me he wanted to end our relationship, saying he didn’t want to put me into this complicated story.

But I’m already in it. He just isn’t letting me in very far. I wish he would open up more. I’d like to be his listener, but I don’t know how to go about it. I am not confident he is going to be able to pull all this off on his own—his feeling are still going to be suppressed inside. I don’t want to lose him—he is a really lovely man. What can I do for him?

Wanting to Help in Malta

Dear Malta: You can offer to be his friend, his sounding board and his helpmate. But you cannot fix this, regardless of what you do. Fixing his emotions and healing his wounds have to come from him. No doubt you’re correct when you say that he would be greatly assisted by going to a grief counselor or a psychologist.

He may be trying to tell you he isn’t ready to give his heart to you at this time, but he may also be saying that he isn’t prepared to let himself get terribly close or vulnerable with any woman, period. Pay close attention to this, because it will tell you whether you should stay or leave.

Dear Neil: Can someone love you deeply, but not value you?

Puzzled in Elizabeth, Colorado

Dear Puzzled: The short answer is no.

A relationship has to work for both of you, and it requires that your partner act (and talk) as if your needs, your feelings and your wishes matter. Unless you have a partnership of equals and are supportive, compassionate and friendly of each other, you will feel that you’re in an unequal relationship, and you’ll be unhappy and dissatisfied with your partner (and yourself for being willing to accept so little).

A relationship takes two. If you don’t feel valued, you will also not feel loved, cherished, cared about or even liked. Who wants to be in such a relationship? It gives you too little, it’s hard on the ego, it’s painful and it feels like rejection.

Dear Neil: I am a single mom, and my 26 year old daughter and her 4 year old son have moved back into my home. How do I handle this situation, especially regarding boundaries, expectations and obligations?

Mothering Again in Longmont, Colorado

Dear Longmont: As you well know, your daughter no doubt has her own levels of neatness and cleanliness, noise tolerance, parenting style, hours she keeps and perhaps lots of other differences from the way you do things. But she is in your household, and will have to adapt to your needs and requirements, at least most of the time.

Decide what you think are the most important expectations, duties and obligations you would like your daughter and grandson to live up to, and when you’re alone with her, present them. Be willing to not be too exacting or unbending. You being flexible will greatly assist your daughter in not feeling like she is your “child” again, and will hopefully allow the two of you to reach an agreement you can both live with. But present what you need in order to live comfortably with her.

Then review this agreement every so often, and address problem areas together. (But don’t scold her. Your daughter is now an adult, and will be very sensitive to feeling like she is being treated like a child again.) The upside of this is that you get to spend more time with your now grown daughter, and it gives you additional time to bond with your grandson and watch him grow up.

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