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Dependency, attachment, and relationships

(Advice: “Just Ask Me”…Originally published on The Daily Muse)

Hi Fran,

I have been in individual therapy for a few years. I have been dealing with depression for four years, with a few seasons of “remission.”

I also have issues with loss and abandonment. I have also gone to group therapy and learned some tools for relating to others in a healthier way. Yet, it seems that depression sneaks up and overtakes me at times.

I pay cash for therapy, and I have had times when finances have caused me to go every two weeks, or sometimes three weeks or more between sessions. I have considered canceling therapy altogether a few times. Mostly due to finances, but also because I get so upset at the idea of not meeting for therapy that I think I am too dependent on my therapist. I have read a few articles that talk about the therapeutic relationship and unconditional positive regard, blah, blah, blah. My therapist reassures me that it is OK and that having someone hear me—someone to bear witness—is healing. I just wonder if I will ever not get teary at the idea of terminating therapy.

How long does dependency, neediness, attachment, whatever it is, last?

Truly,

Dependent

Dear Dependent,

How wonderful that you’ve allowed yourself to become attached to your therapist. Attachment (i.e., “loving”) is always a risk after loss, partly because when you love someone, you risk another loss. But aren’t our relationships and attachments what make us human, what sustain and drive us, what nurture us? In that sense, shouldn’t our relationships be long-lasting?

Your letter brings up many questions. First, you say you have “loss and abandonment issues.” You don’t say what these are, but certainly loss experienced in early childhood can be quite traumatic and can have lifetime consequences. These types of losses can interfere with the basic security needed to have confidence that others are there for us and we are there for them; that we “belong” in this world, that we are loved and can love.

A second question has to do not with your relationship with your therapist, but rather with your relationships with others in your life. You say you have been in group therapy and learned “tools to relate to others in a healthier way.” That is terrific, and I would encourage you to keep using them. In therapy, we also learn to observe our own behavior and reactions in the presence of someone who offers “unconditional positive regard,” as you say. I am amused by the “blah, blah, blah” that follows the phrase in your letter. It strikes me as a certain cynicism on your part about this very important aspect of therapy.

In real life, unconditional positive regard is very hard to come by, except perhaps with a parent. In therapy, we work out these issues in a place where the neediness and dependency created by our earlier life experiences don’t interfere with the relationship. In other words, a therapist will offer you unconditional positive regard no matter how dependent on her you are, whereas if you approach your other relationships with excessive neediness and dependency, it will interfere with the relationships. Think about that.

The hard part is moving beyond neediness and dependency on another person into relationships in which both people are mutually dependent on each other, while each knows how to cope with the reality that nothing really does last forever. As we mature, we aim to make friends, love and hold people close, enjoy what we have, and know that when and if there comes a time, we are whole enough to go on without them, too.

I would also like to comment on your therapist’s statement that it is healing just to have someone hear us and bear witness. I agree with that 150%. The Buddhists say: Compassion is willingness to be close to suffering. To simply listen to someone, to “be with” suffering, or to bear witness to it, is honestly the greatest gift we can give someone. A great deal of research has shown, and I have seen in my work with therapeutic writing, that just writing about trauma is healing, but more healing comes with having another person hear—bear witness to—what we have written.

I feel I would be remiss if I didn’t mention your depression. You don’t really say much about this, what you think its source is, or even what issues in your life it centers around, but I would encourage you to keep talking about your dependency and neediness with your therapist, as well as any other issues you have that seem related to your depression. At the same time, you might think about whether medication might help. You can discuss it with your therapist or and possibly consult a psychiatrist.

I think you’re doing fine, and quite honestly, given your loss and abandonment issues, I would be more concerned if you didn’t feel somewhat dependent on your therapist.

I wish you peace and happiness, along with many mutual, long-lasting relationships, and thanks for asking.

Fran

Advice: Am I in an Abusive Relationship?

 Just Ask Me, by Fran Dorf (Originally published on The Daily Muse.)

Dear Fran,

I’ve been dating a guy for almost two years, and lately we’ve been talking about living together, leading to marriage. We both have great jobs, love outdoor sports, and dogs (we each have one). He’s in finance, and I’m an account executive at an advertising agency. We seem perfectly matched, and I’m thrilled that we’re going to make a life together.

The problem? Last week we got into a fight about his older brother, who I can’t stand. My boyfriend wants him to be his best man and I can barely stand to be in the same room with the guy. He’s loud, uncouth, and I hate the way he talks to his wife. Anyway, I said some things I shouldn’t have said, and everything got heated and my boyfriend ended up pushing me against the wall. I hit my head, but I’m fine.

My best girlfriend says she thinks my boyfriend is “abusive,” even though he’s never touched me before. I do love him, but sometimes he can be stubborn, which drives me crazy, and I say things I know I shouldn’t say, which gets him upset, and that’s why he gets out of control. He apologized profusely, and the next day sent me beautiful long stemmed yellow roses.   

What should I do? I love him, but I really think I’m right—don’t I get to have a say in who will be the best man at my own wedding?

Upset

Dear Upset,

I’m sorry to have to rain on your parade, but I think you may be asking the wrong question. I understand that you love your boyfriend, but before you marry him or even consent to live with him, I suggest you get some serious couples counseling. In a way, I’m glad this pushing incident happened before you got married rather than after, because it gives you a chance to see if he’s so stubborn that he’s unwilling to address this very serious matter.

I have several reasons for saying this.

First, I agree with your girlfriend: Pushing someone—even one time—is abusive. What’s more, past behavior is a good indicator of future behavior, and unless he gets some help learning to deal more appropriately with his emotions, it’s likely that this abusive behavior will continue, and possibly even worsen.

Next, you say he “gets out of control,” as if it happens often. I suspect you mean that he becomes verbally abusive when he is frustrated or angry. It also sounds as if you do, too, since you admit you “say things you know you shouldn’t.”

One of the things you will learn (or should learn) through counseling is that “anger” is an internal state that everyone experiences. This is a different issue from aggressive behavior, which is a result of anger. Aggression is saying or doing things that hurt another person to try to control, humiliate, or get what you want. Frequent or intense bouts of anger, along with verbal, emotional, or physical abuse or aggression, need to be addressed in therapy, where you will not only discuss the root causes of this anger, you’ll learn some alternative behaviors to cope with it.

(As a side note: The fact that his brother is abusive to his own wife may mean that anger and frustration was handled this way in the household where they both grew up, and this is what was modeled for them. All the more reason that you should be addressing this in therapy.)

Now, it may make you feel better temporarily that he apologized. But unfortunately, that behavior is part of the cyclical four-stage process of domestic violence.

In Stage I, tension builds as the abuser becomes edgy and reacts in a more hostile or psychologically abusive way. Stage II is the explosion, represented in this case by pushing. And Stage III is the reconciliation, often called the “Honeymoon Stage,” in which the abuser becomes remorseful, sometimes overly so, apologizes for harming the victim, and assures her that it will never happen again. After the violence, it is very common for abusers to shower their victims with love and affection, buy expensive gifts, send flowers, and so on.

And finally, there could be the calm stage, in which the abuser really tries to control him or herself. But if he (or she) hasn’t learned coping skills and alternative methods to deal with anger and frustration, or faced the reasons and antecedents for the anger, conflicts will inevitably arise and the cycle will start all over again.

Look, it’s possible an incident like this will never happen again, and your boyfriend will be a model husband who never pushes or hurts you or gets out of control again. It’s possible, too, that you’ll be a model wife who never again says things she doesn’t mean. But my question is: Do you really want to take that chance? I am not saying you need to break up this man, but I am saying, again, that you need to deal with these very serious issues, and sooner rather than later.

As for your question about whether you have a right to a say in who the best man is at your wedding, I think it’s not a matter of whether something is universally right or wrong. In a healthy marriage, decisions are made based on mutual respect, compromise, and communication. You must be able to calmly discuss the conflicts that inevitably arise, and come to an agreement that works for both of you.

In this case, your boyfriend may learn in counseling that his brother’s behavior toward his wife is inappropriate. You may in fact actually need to say that to him, not because he can change his brother, but because you need him to know that you won’t put up with such behavior from him. Similarly, he needs to know that you’re going to make an effort to curtail your own inappropriate behavior. Maybe, once your husband sees how inappropriate some of his own behavior is, he may begin to agree with you about his brother.

On the other hand, it is his brother, and it may cause a lifelong rift in all of your relationships to take a stand on whether he should be your husband’s best man.

I wish you the best, and thanks for asking,

Fran

Read more: http://www.thedailymuse.com/health/am-i-in-an-abusive-relationship/#ixzz2KqKQwD5L
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Just Ask Me: Help! My Work Friend Got Promoted—and I’m Jealous

Dear Fran, 

I’m 31 years old and have been working in the engineering and project management industry for a little over 10 years, five at my current company. A good friend of mine started working at my company about two years ago but in the business development sector. It’s been great to have her here because we can grab lunch or a quick chat anytime.

Here’s the issue—I’ve had the same position for my entire time at this company and after only a couple of years, she recently got a huge promotion. Window office, director title, six-figure salary, the whole bit. I know I should be happy for her, but I can’t help but feel extremely jealous of her situation. She’s making more than I am by a good $30K and at her age, she is bound to keep on rising up the ranks.

I guess I also worry about our friendship. How are we going to keep up break time chats and water-cooler talk when she’s in a whole different hierarchy? How can I handle this whole thing more gracefully?

Thanks,

Don’t want to be envious

Dear Envious:

Ah, envy: that little green monster that often seems to cause so much pain. It can rear its ugly head at friends, colleagues, celebrities, bosses, family members, and perfect strangers (in no particular order). It can glom on to someone else’s courage, clarity of vision, emotional serenity, compassion, persistence, intelligence, quick wit, or success.

Let me give you a personal example. As a writer, my most powerful envy comes when I’m in the middle of a book and I suddenly find myself so profoundly moved or deeply amused by the words on the page that I have to stop and take a breath to contemplate (and envy) the author’s skill. Here are a couple of random examples that stopped me this way: Emma Donoghue’sRoomShira Nayman’s Awake in the DarkPatrick Suskind’s PerfumeJeffrey Eugenides’Middlesex; and Cynthia Kaplan’s book of personal essays, Why I’m Like This.

Now I want you to notice that, of the books that have stirred my green monster, some are bestsellers, some only sold a few thousand copies; some were recently published, some years ago; some were lauded by critics, some not so much. The truth is that while I might occasionally envy someone’s “success,” what I envy most powerfully is what I most value, certain qualities of character, and what I aspire to as a writer.

So first, I want you to be clear about what it is that you’re envying. Is it your friend’s success? The fact that she got chosen for a promotion and you didn’t? That she got a lucky break and you didn’t? The six-figure salary? Or does your envy stem from your fear she’s more skilled at her job than you are at yours?

I ask you these questions because I think it will help you to separate that which is mostly beyond your control and concentrate on that which is primarily in your control. Life is certainly not fair and your friend’s success may well be due to sheer good luck, which is painfully beyond your control.

What is in your control, and what you can concentrate on, is how to be the best you can be atyour job. Identify things that would make you promotable and work on those skills. Separate what is going on with your friend’s promotion from the realities of your position and the likelihood of moving up. If you truly feel that a promotion is due, pursue it with your manager.

Another worthwhile consideration is whether you actually enjoy and are stimulated by your current position. If you’re bored, or find yourself eyeing your friend’s (or another) field that seems more interesting or presents more opportunities for advancement, take some steps in that direction. Maybe her job change will prove to be a catalyst for you to make some changes for yourself. You don’t necessarily need to wait around for management to give you a bump up the ladder; maybe it’s time for you to pursue a new industry or a new company that will provide the opportunities that you are seeking.

Next, you call this woman a “good friend,” but I wonder if she’s a real friend. Is she someone you can actually talk to, or is your relationship merely centered around the water cooler chat? Are you worried about her throwing her new position in the hierarchy around because she already has? If so, then I’d stop thinking of her as your “good friend” and try to gracefully back away while continuing with the superficial water cooler chat.

My standards for a “good friendship,” however, are a little different. I root for my friends to reach their goals, I applaud their achievements, and I expect them to do the same for me. A quality friendship is based on whether I can talk to and confide in my friends, and whether they they can talk to and confide in me. I feel that friends are real friends because they share honest feelings with each other, and can allow themselves to be or appear vulnerable.

If this were me, and I thought she was my good friend, I’d find a time when she and I weren’t at work, and share some of my feelings surrounding her promotion. I might casually say that I’d been hoping for a promotion, too, or even confess how envious I am! I might ask her how or why she thinks she got the promotion, and maybe even ask her for some suggestions. And then I’d watch very carefully to see how she handled the situation. This is a tricky time for your friendship. If she’s really your friend, she’ll offer her support and hear out your disappointments in a loving way. If a candid conversation like that didn’t go smoothly, I’d seriously think about how close of a friend she really is.

I wish you the best of luck in your career and your friendship, and I’m glad you wrote in and asked.

Fran

Originally posted on The Daily Muse

Read More From Fran

How to Calm and Be Clear

Just Ask Me: Letter from a worried mother who worries me

Children "learn" what we model for them.

Dear Bruised Muse readers, I’m posting this email series between me and “T,” because, although I found her response to some of my recent writing kind of lovely and sweet (if somewhat misguided), I also found our exchange quite thought provoking and worrying.  In my anger management classes, I’ve heard people express similar “spare the rod, spoil the child” ideas.  “T” has given me permission to post this anonymously, and I hope readers will find it interesting too.  

Dear Ms. Dorf,

I have no idea how I started reading about you, but somehow I stumbled across two posts written by you in one day. One was on McSweeney’s site (Open Letter to the Radio Lady) and one was on your own site about bereavement. As I write this, I sit here with a gigantic lump in my throat and tears in my eyes. I cannot breathe. Nothing I can say about the loss of your son can sound anything other than trite and simplistic. I cannot offer you condolences that mean anything, I do not know you, I did not know your son. Please bear with me. I am aware that what I am about to write is not entirely appropriate and may even stray over the border-line of “this woman needs help.”

I have a son. I remember waiting, almost with baited breath, until he turned seven months old. For me, at that time, that was the magic number. Once he was seven months old, nothing could possibly happen to him. Of course, as soon as he turned seven months old the magic number became 12 months. And then 15 months. And so on… He is now 26 months old. I cannot imagine my life without him. I do not want to. The thing is, ever since I became a mother, stories about children, ANY children, affect me almost as if they were my own. Happy stories make me tear up in joy, and think of ways I could somehow transfer that joy to my son’s life. Sad stories make me cry to the point of depression, and then I just want to encase him in a bubble and protect him forever. I do not know if this is ‘normal’. I know that this is MY ‘normal’.

My own childhood was complicated and abusive. I spend every day caught in a tailspin of endless second-guessing, analysing, terrified of somehow unknowingly abusing my son.

I wanted to write to you because I want to give you a hug. I really do. I want to give Michael a hug and tell him he has an amazing mom. Who, even after spending 21 years in a cycle of grief that I cannot even begin to comprehend, managed to reach out over hundreds and thousands of miles to a complete stranger and touch her life, and maybe even save it.  

I don’t know what it is about your story about Michael and dealing with the tragedy that has prompted this email to you. I know that even on the worst of my days, what I go through is nothing compared to what you deal with on a daily basis. And that puts a lot of things into perspective for me.

I apologize if any of this has offended you. If nothing else, please re-read the part in bold and delete the rest. I’m not the best at explaining what’s going on in my head and heart.

Thank you for sharing your story.

BIG hugs,

T

* * *

Dear T.

Thanks for reaching out.  I’m so glad you find me, and my resilience, and my writing inspiring.  I’m glad you feel I’ve been able to touch your life, although I would deny that a stranger (or anyone) can “save” it.  Only you can do that.

I think you may misunderstand my writing to some degree, perhaps because I’m sometimes able to take on the “voice” of bereavement, which only means it’s effective writing, not that I’m still suffering and need condolence, although I certainly thank you anyway.  Let me assure you I haven’t spent 21 years in a “cycle of grief.”  (Or even 17 years, since my son died when he was three and a half in 1994.)  Even though my loss is always with me, one way or another, I have a full, rich, happy life.  Much of my healing has been and remains in my writing.  I have found some sort of meaning in the loss, partly by starting (with my husband) a program for toddlers with special needs in memory of our son, partly by becoming a more compassionate person, and partly by studying, training, and making myself available to help others look at their pain, trauma, whatever they struggle with. One of my special gifts is to be able to help people articulate their story through writing, although I use other techniques as well, like more traditional talk therapy.

I’m not offended by your letter, but I am worried about you and your son.  I do see that you may be suffering. Of course you want to protect your son.  Every mother does.  But it does sounds to me as if you have a whole lot of debilitating fear and anxiety around your son’s safety and well-being that may come from some childhood issues you haven’t dealt with.  How difficult for you to “spend every day caught in a tailspin of endless second-guessing, analyzing, and being terrified of somehow unknowingly abusing your son.”

Here are two options:

1. With your permission, I can post your letter on my blog anonymously, maybe give a little fuller answer.  That would be interesting for my blog, maybe for you too.  However, no quick answer could possibly tackle what you’ve described.

2. Much more importantly, have you ever talked to a therapist or other counselor?   Or perhaps, if you like to write, we could figure out a way for me to help you articulate your story in writing, which might help you work through some of your pain, anxiety, and issues related to the trauma of growing up in an abusive home.  Or perhaps there’s someone in your area? Really, I recommend you do some sort of therapeutic work.

Best,

Fran Dorf

*******

Hi Ms. Dorf,

Thank you for replying to my email. To be honest, my email may have sounded a tad dramatic. A little background – my hubby has been out of town for the past couple of weeks on work, I’m exhausted with looking after my son and trying to work from home (I’m a web designer) and the day I read your posts I was just wrecked. I was extremely affected by your writing, and the loss of your son upset me greatly. Your writing moved me – and I am amazed by your strength and resilience. And to build on that by being a therapist and helping others  is truly inspiring.

Of course you can post my letter on your blog, but please do remove my son’s name as well as my own.

I think maybe I did misunderstand your post. I was thinking about the closure one, how someone who has lost a child cannot really get closure, but I think you were saying that it is possible to move on without HAVING to have closure? Is this closer to the mark?

I saw a psychologist when I was younger, (I think I was fifteen or so) and because of the way I was then, I basically manipulated her into thinking I was okay with the abuse (also because I wasn’t entirely sure she wasn’t sharing everything with my mom). My issues stem from my mother, with whom I have a very complicated relationship – I love her to bits but am so incredibly angry with her for what she did to me and my brother during our childhood. I cannot confront her about this, because she has blacked it out (she was on a cocktail of pills at the time) and because she had her own issues. I come from an Indian background where going against your parents is sort of out of the question, let alone confronting them on any level. The abuse we endured was physical (beatings) and emotional (she would sometimes make us hit her or say things like, ‘if you do this it means you don’t love me’ – this being stupid things like walking on cracks in the sidewalk).

I’ve seen a counselor more recently which has helped quite a bit. My husband and I started seeing him after I found some emails that indicated that my husband was having an emotional relationship with another woman. This started a year or so after our son was born and devastated me – I was already quite depressed from PPS, and my husband and I decided to see a counselor together. I also sought help in single sessions for my anger management (I lash out verbally when I’m angry, which is part of the problem between my hubby and I). I would have liked to have continued with these sessions but we moved to a different city. There is no English-speaking counsellor here, and the psychiatrists/psychologists all charge upwards of 150 euros an hour which I cannot afford. We live in Germany by the way. My husband is Irish and I’m Indian.

About the tailspin: I make it a point to not hit my son in anger, EVER. If I get that mad or frustrated I leave the room for a bit. When he does get smacked he gets smacked on the hand, and it’s usually the third strike rule. However, at the end of the day, I find myself analysing and picking apart my behaviour to make sure I haven’t abused him. Of course, I may well be doing it all wrong (God knows, my mom probably thought she was doing the right thing at the time) and not knowing it. What keeps me sane is my son’s behaviour. He is a cheerful, adventurous and gentle little boy, and his caregivers at the play group he goes to just love him to bits. So I take that as encouragement that I’m on the right track. I try not to let my anxiety spill over into his life.

Good grief, I really have rambled on, haven’t I? In short, I have good days and bad days, on the bad days I think of people like you, and a couple of other writers and it snaps me out of my funk. In essence, that is what I wanted to tell you.

Thank you again for your kind words.

All the best,

T.

******

Dear T.

You do sound as if you’ve had a lot to deal with in your life. I’m very glad you got some counseling and feel that it has helped.  I’m very sorry you feel counseling is too expensive now; perhaps there’s a public clinic that would cost less but still provide you with the treatment and support you may need.  Or maybe you can find a good clinician who’s willing to take a reduced fee.

It’s great that you walk away from your son when you’re feeling angry.  This is what we call taking a “timeout,” and it’s a great practice for anger control.

Now obviously there are cultural differences in the world around child rearing, but I can’t let this go without saying that I do not believe in spanking children no matter what they do, either hitting them on the buttocks, the face, the arm, the hands, or any other way.   Here are a few other of many reasons.  (Much of this is taken from here (www.naturalchild.org/) and here (http://www.askdrsears.com):

1. Children learn what parents model for them. Dr. Sears tells the  classic story about the mother who believed in spanking as a necessary part of discipline until one day she observed her three- year-old daughter hitting her one-year-old son. When confronted, her daughter said, “I’m just playing mommy.” This mother never spanked another child. Hitting children teaches them to become hitters themselves. Witness your own situation. Your mother beat you and now you hit your child and worry about abusing him.

2. Spanking demonstrates that it’s all right for people to hit people, and especially for big people to hit little people, and stronger people to hit weaker people, and you solve a problem with a good swat. A child whose behavior is controlled by spanking is likely to carry on this mode of interaction into other relationships with siblings and peers, and eventually a spouse and offspring.

3. Research supports a direct correlation between corporal punishment in childhood and aggressive or violent behavior in the teenage and adult years. Virtually all of the most dangerous criminals were regularly threatened and punished in childhood. It is nature’s plan that children learn attitudes and behaviors through observation and imitation of their parents’ actions, for good or ill. Thus it is the responsibility of parents to set an example of empathy and wisdom.

4. Punishment distracts children from learning how to resolve conflict in an effective and humane way.  A punished child becomes preoccupied with feelings of anger and fantasies of revenge, and is thus deprived of the opportunity to learn more effective methods of solving the problem at hand. Thus, a punished child learns little about how to handle or prevent similar situations in the future.

5. Punishment disrupts the parent and child bond, as it is not human nature to feel loving toward someone who hurts us. The true spirit of cooperation which every parent desires can arise only through a strong bond based on mutual feelings of love and respect. Punishment, even when it appears to work, can produce only superficially good behavior based on fear, which can only take place until the child is old enough to resist. In contrast, cooperation based on respect will last permanently, bringing many years of mutual happiness as the child and parent grow older.

6. Many parents never learned in their own childhood that there are positive ways of relating to children. When punishment does not accomplish the desired goals, and if the parent is unaware of alternative methods, punishment can escalate to more frequent and dangerous actions against the child.

7. Anger and frustration which cannot be safely expressed by a child become stored inside; angry teenagers do not fall from the sky. Anger that has been accumulating for many years can come as a shock to parents whose child now feels strong enough to express this rage. Punishment may appear to produce “good behavior” in the early years, but always at a high price, paid by parents and by society as a whole, as the child enters adolescence and early adulthood.

On hitting a child’s hand, Dr. Sears says: How tempting it is to slap those daring little hands! Many parents do it without thinking, but consider the consequences. Maria Montessori, one of the earliest opponents of slapping children’s hands, believed that children’s hands are tools for exploring, an extension of the child’s natural curiosity. Slapping them sends a powerful negative message.  Psychologists studied a group of sixteen fourteen-month-olds playing with their mothers. When one group of toddlers tried to grab a forbidden object, they received a slap on the hand; the other group of toddlers did not receive physical punishment. In follow-up studies of these children seven months later, the punished babies were found to be less skilled at exploring their environment. Better to separate the child from the object or supervise his exploration and leave little hands unhurt.

And furthermore, Dr. Sears says, Hitting Devalues the parent: Parents who spank-control or otherwise abusively punish their children often feel devalued themselves because deep down they don’t feel right about their way of discipline. Often they spank (or yell) in desperation because they don’t know what else to do, but afterward feel more powerless when they find it doesn’t work. As one mother who dropped spanking from her correction list put it, “I won the battle, but lost the war. My child now fears me, and I feel I’ve lost something precious.”

“T,” I’m sure you have a wonderful son, but it seems to me that you and your son both would be much better off if you made a serious effort to figure out the ways your childhood is still affecting you, emotionally disengage your childhood trauma from your current life, and learn other, more effective, less putative or damaging methods to deal with your son.

On the matter of closure, I think you’re much closer to accuracy with the statement that we can move on WITHOUT having to find closure.  Closer still would be the statement that instead of looking for “closure” on a loss, we can try to find meaning in the loss.  This however, does not mean that we should go around telling the seriously bereaved that they should find meaning, which could well be offensive to them.  Rather, we should allow people the space and time to take their own journey and discover what they need to discover.  We can see the proof that people do eventually find, or try to find meaning in loss in the way they so often take up causes related to the lost one, find ways to honor the lost one.  For example, Candy Lightner creates the organization MADD. (Mother’s Against Drunk Driving.)  The Dorfs start a program for toddlers with special needs called Jumpstart in memory of their son.  Another family plants a tree, or starts a local giveaway of bicycle helmets in memory of their son who was fatally injured when he fell off his bicycle.

Thank you again for sharing your story, T, and I hope you’ll consider what I’ve said about learning other ways than hitting to deal with your son. Do it for your son, in memory of my son. While I don’t think I’d call hand-slapping “abusive,” I think there are much better ways to deal with your beautiful little boy.  How about a timeout for him?  Or a system of positive reinforcement.  So, for example, if he listens to mommy three times he gets a star, if he gets three stars, he gets something (little) he wants.

I wish you both the best, and I stand by my original suggestion that you get some counseling, individual rather than couple.

Just Ask Me: Uh-oh. Her love is probably headed for law school 3000 miles away

Originally posted in THE DAILY MUSE

Dear Fran,

I’m 23 and I’ve been dating my boyfriend for three years. We went to college together and, right afterwards, both got jobs in LA. We have an amazing relationship, I’m so happy, and I’m pretty sure that this is the guy I want to marry.

The problem: He just got accepted to law school—in New York. He applied to mainly California schools, but he decided to apply to Columbia and NYU on a whim, and he got in to both. It would be huge for him to go to a top 10 law school, but I can’t help but wish that he would stay here. I don’t want to hold him back from this amazing opportunity, but I can’t imagine life without him! 

Me moving there with him isn’t really an option either—I just started a Master’s program here. But the truth is, even when I finish it, I don’t want to move to New York! I love it in LA, all my family and friends are here, and I really see a future staying at my job.

What do we do? If he stays, I feel like he will resent me for missing out on a great opportunity. And if he goes, I’ll resent him for putting us in a long-distance relationship (not to mention, we’ll both be pretty miserable apart). How do we make the right decision for our relationship and for our careers?

In Love in California

Dear In Love in California,

Let’s get the only easy solution out of the way first. Did he also apply to a top school close by? Is going there an option?

If not, I’m afraid there is no “right” decision, partly because every option you have risks something. Assuming you want to remain a couple, all you can do is weigh the choices and try to take the least threatening alternative.

One possibility is to let him decide based on what’s best for him, vow to try not to punish him emotionally, deal with his choice (perhaps with emotional support from family, friends, even a therapist), and hope for the best. Or he could do the same for you.

But here’s my real answer. Long-term, mature, healthy relationships require at the very least the three “C’s”: communication, compromise, and compatible goals.

Your current goals may not be completely compatible, but keep in mind that couples do sustain long distance relationships all the time. You’ll communicate regularly through the magic of video technology, you’ll split the plane rides, and you’ll reunite in a few years.

Or you’ll compromise, which means one of you might have to take both an emotional and a career risk. Remember, it’s possible his career will be great no matter where he goes. And you could end up loving New York and having an even better career there. Unfortunately, this isn’t a science experiment with a control group that tells you what would have happened if you’d made the other choice. Which of course is why it’s a risk. And why it’s life.

This issue appears, however, to have uncovered communication problems between you. It strikes me that he applied “on a whim” to not one, but two practically must-attend schools 3,000 miles away. That’s some whim. Did he keep it a secret, or fail to mention it until he got in? Is that his M.O.? Or did he say, “I won’t get in, so don’t worry?” (And did you really believe this, given that he’s obviously smart enough to get into both?) Did he say, “I’m applying on a whim, but if I get in, I’m going?” Did either of you say, “but what about us?”

Analyze whatever happened for clues of his character, nature, maturity level, values, and commitment to your relationship. What does it say about him if he kept it a secret? About you if you’ve been afraid to express your concerns?

It’s possible your boyfriend loves you with all his heart, wants to marry you, and did this innocently. (I know he didn’t do it because he’s not very smart.) Perhaps he even believes that 3,000 miles won’t put a serious strain on your relationship.

But I would be remiss if I didn’t point out that he seems to have set you both up for this, which may mean your commitment levels are unequal or he has underlying doubts, even if he can’t or won’t admit it, or doesn’t realize it.

The two of you must talk, talk, talk. Hash this out together, openly, honestly. Think about things you may not have previously considered. How will you feel if you invest years in this relationship, and he decides he wants to stay there, or he finds someone else there (a possibility that may increase when there’s such a distance)? It’s relatively easy to make promises, but is it realistic to think that a long distance relationship will satisfy your needs? Is losing him because of that a risk you’re willing to take? Does it outweigh your other concerns, such as your love of California and your job?

Also, law school is hard, especially the first year. Maybe you not being there will be a good thing and will help him concentrate. Maybe him being in law school in California would put a strain on your relationship, too.

And you say that you’re unwilling to move. But it’s possible that a separation may change your mind, and I’d encourage you to be open to that idea. In the film Going the Distance, Justin Long’s character eventually quits his job in New York to move to California to be with the lovely Drew Barrymore. There, true love wins out. But real life isn’t a movie. And I’ve found that women often feel they have do most of the compromising. (Readers, feel free to disagree.)

You two have a lot to discuss. If you do so honestly, eventually the path will become clear. Whatever happens, I do hope you’ve learned that in healthy relationships, communication and compromise are key, and that neither person ever makes unilateral decisions that are going to affect both.

I wish you (both) luck in your relationship and careers,

Fran

Gratitude: Five Things that Made My Week

1. I’m grateful for the study that came out this week that showed that  approximately 50% of Americans who get government aid in the form of social security disability, child and dependent care tax credits, unemployment insurance, Medicare, and student loans, believe they don’t. (To read more click here.)  Apparently the guy I saw on television at a Tea Party rally a few years back carrying a sign that said GET YOUR GOVERNMENT HANDS OFF MY MEDICARE wasn’t just some lone guy with a marker and a misguided brain. It’s not that I’m so happy that so many Americans seem to have swallowed the nonsense being dished out by the Republican party for the last thirty years.  But at least I can try to be hopeful that SOMEONE, ANYONE, will be able to educate these people, to use this new, actual data to help these Americans find their way again, and to maybe stop voting against their own pocketbooks.  I realize this is probably a naive hope, since faith-based beliefs are obviously not subject to actual facts but I can hope if I want to.  Seriously, folks.  The other night I was watching the hilarious Jon Stewart, and I actually heard his guest, Bruce Bartlett, who was none other than Ronald Reagan’s budget guy, call the current Republican party insane!  You can’t make this stuff up.

2. I’m grateful for Jon Stewart.  Any time. Always.  The guy is a comic genius.  (Bill Maher is also a genius, albeit slightly more disturbing one.)

3. I’m grateful for the wonderful Paul Anka. Now THAT man could croon.  We met some friends at a fantastic, authentic Italian restaurant in the Bronx, and every so often during the meal, the waiters would present someone with birthday cupcakes, while on the speakers on at top decibel there would be the memorable opening strains of Anka weeping out,”Did you have a happy birthday? Even though I wasn’t there.”  Okay, so I’m old.  But for atmosphere, this musical choice was a winner.  To hear this classic on youtube, click here.

4. I’m grateful that my two-year-old grandaughter, after trying and trying, was finally able to balance a spoon on her nose.

5. I’m grateful that after putting up a new tab in my blog (Need Advice? Just Ask Me.  Click the tab above to check it out.), I’ve received my first letter.  I’ll post that, and my answer, soon.

Survival Tip of the Day for Moms

Survival Tip for Moms:

Don’t assume that your daughter’s path will be the same as yours and then try to foist that opinion on her. We’re all entitled to learn our own lessons, take our own journey.
A great question from a Daily Muse reader. Just Ask Me.