May Not Be Worth It
Dear Neil: I’ve been involved in a relationship with a woman who is 25, and has a three year old daughter. In the span of our relationship she has flip-flopped back and forth on a decision of whether to be in a relationship with me. Today she could be talking about making wedding plans with me, and tomorrow she’ll want to end the relationship. She has done that nine different times in our two years together, and within a month or two she has always come back.
She gets influenced by others very easily, especially by her mother, who she lives with and who is a pastor. She also lies, is manipulative, can be reckless, is very indecisive, has occasional substance abuse issues and she lacks the ability to resolve conflicts in a healthy manner. She has told her mother that I am a sex addict, that sex is all I want from her, that I don’t believe in God and that I pretend to be somebody different around them, all of which are exaggerations. Her mother told me that our relationship is in bad shape because we left God out of the relationship. I truly believe that this girl has deep issues that have never been resolved. Am I far off with my sense of reality?
See-Sawing Forever in the Heart of Texas
Dear See-Saw: What you’re describing is an extremely ambivalent woman who is not confident that she wants to marry you. She also sounds extremely dependent upon her mother’s approval, and her mother clearly does not want her to end up with you—which is why your girlfriend told her mother things that she thought her mother would be pleased to hear. The daughter is trying to absolve herself of wrongdoing in her mother’s eyes.
If this were my problem, I would quit talking about marriage with her—she isn’t at all ready to marry you—and begin talking about what’s in her way of feeling happy, peaceful and content around you. But are you sure you want this woman? She sounds very screwed up. Are you prepared to live with these problems indefinitely?
Dear Neil: My boyfriend doesn’t argue. He yells instead. He screams when he doesn’t like something—like a dish in the sink, or when I talk with a girlfriend on the phone or when he has to wait for me. He is so loud that I get overwhelmed and then don’t respond. He is also 64 years old, so it’s not like he needs to grow up and mature. How do you change a bully?
Yelled at in Vail, Colorado
Dear Vail: The only reason a 64 year old man acts like a bully is that he has been allowed to get away with that behavior over time. If you did not allow him such indulgent responses, his behavior would quickly change, or the two of you would part company. It sounds as if he is very unskilled in give and take conversation, compromising, negotiating, joint problem solving and with feeling empathy and compassion—which is to say that he is very unskilled in being in or in keeping a good relationship.
So what do you wish to do with this? This will not get any better until you adopt the attitude that his behavior is disrespectful, rude, obnoxious, immature and unloving, and until you refuse to tolerate such responses in the future. If you do not take a radically intolerant attitude toward his bullying—and soundly and repeatedly reject him for doing it—you are allowing yourself to be mistreated, and it will continue indefinitely.