Kids Say the Darndest Things / Politics Strikes Again
Dear Dr. Hurd,
I have raised my son by myself since my divorce eight years ago. He has no real issue with the fact that my coming out gay was one of the primary reasons for the divorce. Though I have dated on and off in the past, I finally met a man with whom I am truly compatible. And my son hates him.
I’ve tried to talk to my son about it and all I get is things like, “Dad, he’s not good for you” or, “You can find better.” Frankly, in my mid-40s, the likelihood of that diminishes with every year. Do I just lay the law down to my son (it won’t be pretty) or break up with my great new friend?
Dr. Hurd replies,
I wouldn’t quite call it “laying down the law,” but it is your life nonetheless. Your son does not get to choose your spouse or romantic partner, any more than you get to choose his. I don’t know your son’s age, but obviously you still have responsibilities toward him. But just how far do those responsibilities go? In my view, not to the point of sacrificing your personal happiness.
And even if you did, what kind of lesson would that teach him, anyway? That it’s healthy and rational to be a martyr? That sounds to me like a good way to foster a sociopath or a narcissist. Or a guilt-ridden sad sack who spends his life feeling, “My father gave up the love of his life and it’s all my fault.” Not good!
Rather than laying down the law, just be kind, tolerant and patient—while firmly holding your ground. Treat it as a process. Have boundaries. No nonsense. He doesn’t get to treat your loved one with nastiness. Encourage him to candidly (and privately) tell you what he thinks and feels, and why. Don’t censor him, but definitely don’t budge on the fact that he has to respect your choice, just as you will have to respect his someday.
Don’t hold your happiness hostage to your son’s issues or developmental growth. Problems like this truly are opportunities. You now have a chance to show—not just teach, but actually show—your son the virtues of integrity and standing by your own happiness and convictions. Perhaps he will learn to do the same for himself as he matures. And don’t take any of it personally. His reaction is a normal part of his personal growth.
Dear Dr. Hurd,
My partner and I have been together over 20 years. We have always been amused by the fact that we are dedicated to different political parties. And up to now that has not been an issue in the slightest. But recently she has taken to insults, parroting that day’s “news” back to me (much of which I know is false) and making militantly snide comments. Nothing political is worth losing the love of my life, but she’s drifting away from me nonetheless. It’s like she’s a different person and it’s making me very sad.
Dr. Hurd replies,
I can tell you this much: The main issue isn’t politics. The issue is respect. If you don’t respect someone, you cannot be friends with her, much less love her. Rather than dwell on the political issues, I suggest that you ask her what’s really going on. It’s up to her to tell you; she may be hiding it, or perhaps she hasn’t yet articulated it to herself, and consequently not to you.
Politics is a branch of philosophy. Any view of politics stems directly from one’s view of ethics. And while it’s possible to claim no opinion about politics, it’s impossible to escape an opinion about ethics. “What should I do? What’s the right thing to do, and why?” These are ethical questions one is faced with nearly every day. And any action one takes is, in some form, an answer to those questions.
When you disagree with someone while still respecting them, it means you trust and agree with their basic goals. “I understand you want liberty and justice. I do too. But I don’t think you get there this or that way, and here’s why.” Everyone can agree that rational discussion about politics has collapsed in our society. Why? Either people no longer want the same outcomes, or they’ve lost sight of the fact that they still do. For that reason, friends and associates are cutting each other off over politics as I have never seen before.
People who claim to be big on tolerance do not always display it when they deal with dissenters. Their attitude seems to be, “You don’t agree with me, so that makes you horrible and evil. I’m done with you.” However, it’s not quite so easy in a romantic relationship. One doesn’t have the luxury of simply clicking delete, blocking, or cyber-unfriending one’s spouse of 20 years. In a way, that’s good. Maybe there’s still hope here. No matter how this plays out, at least you’ll have resolution.
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.