Long-Distance Woes / All You Can Change is Yourself
Dear Dr. Hurd,
My girlfriend and I have been seeing one another all through high school. We are about to graduate and I am going to college in another state. She is convinced that we will definitely break up. But I feel we can make it work even over long distance. I really love her, and I am ready to work hard to keep us together until I can come home again. What can I say to her?
Dr. Hurd replies,
Nothing. What she wants is a guarantee that neither of you will ever change. And nobody, no matter how motivated, can promise that 100%. What you can do is tell her how you feel about her now. You’ve probably already done that, but just the same, you can’t do it too much.
I wonder why she’s so convinced you two will break up. Does she think you will want to break up with her, or vice versa? Attempting to forecast the future is a major cause of mental and mood disorders. Why? Because we can’t do it. While in some fields it’s possible to make rational projections, e.g., the weather, medical science, etc., when it comes to romantic love there are simply too many variables.
I always say that some loves are right for their time, and other loves are right for all time. A relationship that lasts fifty years is special, but it’s not necessarily superior to all other relationships. We humans are growing, thinking creatures, and we’re not necessarily the same throughout our lives. Sometimes we find a partner with whom we can grow, and that’s certainly special when we do. But love is wonderful, regardless of how long it lasts.
Celebrate the moment. Be glad you’ve found love, at least for now. If it lasts, then even better. If it doesn’t, you’ll deal with it when—or if—it happens. But once you’ve found love even once, you know it’s possible, and it stands to reason things will only get better from there.
Dear Dr. Hurd,
My husband of three years has started drinking heavily pretty much every night. He changed jobs recently (for somewhat lower pay), but we are still quite comfortable and he knows that. He becomes snippy and verbally abusive after a couple or three gins, and I am very frustrated. When he is not drinking, things are totally perfect between us—unless I bring up his drinking and then he simply ignores me and changes the subject. I really want to stay in this relationship, but his excessive drinking every night is getting to be just too much. How can I fix this?
Dr. Hurd replies,
I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: You cannot change other people. So don’t think like a victim. Don’t dwell on thoughts like, “I don’t deserve this. Why is this happening to me?” I’m sure you don’t deserve it, but that won’t change him or anyone else. Alcohol abuse is a self-reinforcing mechanism: The more you abuse alcohol to escape problems, the more problems you create and the more you drink to escape them.
What you can do is create a crisis, in a good way. Try to generate a turning point in your husband’s life by generating one of your own. Decide that you will no longer live like this. Before informing him of this fact, sit down and think about the consequences. What will you do differently from what you’re doing now? You can’t change the fact that he might choose to keep drinking; but you can choose to navigate your life around that.
Yes, you can leave him. You have to prepare for that option. Don’t be afraid to think, and let him know, that he can and eventually will lose you over this. This isn’t control—it’s simply a statement that you no longer want to live this way. Say it over and over to yourself, and write it down: “I’m not living this way. And I don’t have to live this way.” When he’s drunk, walk away. Spend your time with other people or by yourself. Don’t drink with him, and don’t try to reason with him about any of this while he’s under the influence. When or if he gets sober, then you can try to talk.
What I’m suggesting will be harder than it sounds. But in principle, it’s the simplest thing in the world. The hard part is applying it every day of your life. Your husband has forced you to take your own life more seriously. Quietly thank him for giving you the opportunity to increase your self-respect. In the best case, he’ll be inspired and he’ll get the help he needs. In the worst case, he won’t, and you will have to leave him behind. But your life should not be held hostage to his self-inflicted problems and self-generated emergencies. No matter how much you love someone, and I expect you love him a lot, you don’t ever have to sacrifice your life for someone who’s undermining himself in such an unnecessary way.
Michael J. Hurd, Ph.D., LCSW is a psychotherapist and author. His office can be reached at 302-227-2829. Email questions or comments to Dr. Hurd.