I Can’t Live This Way! and What Have You Got to Lose?
Dear Dr. Hurd,
My partner and I moved in together four years ago, and all has been well. Up until now. He has become Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. He’s fine one minute, then, in response to the slightest thing, he gets terribly angry and lashes out at whoever happens to be there.
There is no physical attack, but he says the most hateful things then storms off. Later on, he acts as if nothing happened. You never know what will set him off. Before I walk out on him during his next childish tirade, I’m wondering if there’s any advice you can give.
Dr. Hurd replies,
Repeat after me: “I can’t live this way.” Powerful words, yes, and you have to mean them. Say them to your partner repeatedly. And be prepared to put them into practice.
Obviously, he has something on his mind. Don’t drive yourself crazy trying to guess, and don’t waste energy begging him to tell you. Do make sure he knows that he’s hurting you. Say, “If I’m really important to you, this is not the way to treat me.” If he keeps it up, then you have your answer: He doesn’t care. Ouch! That won’t be easy to take. But it’s the truth and that’s all you’ve got. Either you misjudged him, or there are sides to him you didn’t know until now. It happens. All the time.
Some people will make excuses for him. The amateur psychiatrists will say, “He has a chemical imbalance. Get him on medication!” The amateur substance abuse professionals will say, “Poor thing, he has a drug problem.” Maybe so, maybe not. But the fact remains: If he won’t take responsibility for his actions, then he’s telling you that he doesn’t care about himself any more than he cares about you.
This way of thinking is not fashionable in our daytime TV-soaked society. In these times of walking on eggshells, we are piously chided to “never offend anyone.” Ridiculous! We have to hold people accountable at least some of the time. If he’s ruining a good thing, make sure he knows you know it.
Start making space in your mind for a new beginning. Unless you can live under the shadow of his tantrums, you’re going to have to move on. You wouldn’t have written, “…before I walk out on him” if you thought it was tolerable.
If you need a professional’s permission to say it’s OK to not live this way, consider it granted. But know that you don’t need anyone’s permission to live your life the way you see fit.
Dear Dr. Hurd,
This is so boring that you probably won’t even print it. My husband and I divorced over 15 years ago, and I have since taken up with a wonderful woman. We are “living the lifestyle” here in Rehoboth Beach. Though my daughter (she’s 33) seems fine with this, she doesn’t call or contact me nearly as much as she used to. When I do manage to get her on the phone, she’s always in a hurry, and never calls back. I feel that this is hurtful and rather selfish on her part.
Dr. Hurd replies,
Let’s not talk about why your daughter is acting this way. Sadly, people often act on their feelings, rather than facts or logic. This naturally leads to illogical behavior. We can’t get into her head and “make” her logical.
Your daughter has made her choice, so you have nothing to lose by telling her exactly what you think of her behavior. The risk? (1) She won’t take it well. Or (2) she’ll claim, “Nothing is wrong. I’m just busy.” But are these really risks? As things stand now, what do you have to lose?
And she’s anything but “selfish.” She’s not acting in her self-interest. Unless I’m missing something, she’s sacrificing a relationship with a mother who loves her. Not exactly self-preservation, is it?
So it comes down to this: Are you willing to let yourself be happy even if she is distant? I know you want to be close with her, but she seems unwilling to do that. You might consider just giving her the distance she wants, and not make any initiatives. This might give her a chance to miss you, or appreciate what she’s lost.
She’s your child, and you’ll always relate to her that way. But she’s an adult too, for better or worse. Just as friends and spouses sometimes go their separate ways, this can happen with parents and children too. It’s fine to be sad about it, but must it be a disaster?
Yes, I’m questioning the most sacred of cows, but we both know it’s the truth: You’re not entitled to closeness with somebody just because you’re related.
Gays and lesbians understand, probably better than most, that family is what you make it to be. Instead of crippling your life because your daughter won’t be your friend, choose to cherish the friendships that you do have.
Michael J. Hurd, Ph.D. is a psychotherapist, life coach and author. His office can be reached at 302-227-2829. Email Dr Hurd