April 4, 2005
Hi Dr. Irene. Hi Suzie! I would like some help with a relationship I have been in for the past year. I met S through square dancing and we started going out in Apr., 2004. I am 65 years old and had not dated for 15 years mostly because I was not satisfied with the kind of men I was choosing.
I quit dating to "try and get my own self together."
Good for you!
I had a 9-year marriage that ended in divorce. I raised two children myself - only two weeks
ago did I realize I am passive aggressive!
If you are indeed passive
aggressive, that tells me that you are not only not asserting yourSelf, but
it is likely that you are not terribly aware of what you are angry about/
have difficulty tolerating (though I see from this email, you are getting
much better in understanding what you don't tolerate well).
I have always had long talks with guys I dated and now realize those talks were my disguised anger at the guy because
they weren't doing what I "thought" they should be doing!
Good for you for recognizing this issue! Whenever you
try to get the other person to do something to make you feel better (i.e.,
control them), you are giving away your power! You are giving away your power
because by making the other person responsible, you have effectively cut off your
ability to directly handle what's bugging you. Ugh!
Most of my relationships only lasted a few months as a result.
S has had more patience with me than anyone I have ever dated, but he too reached the end of his rope last December. We had a big fight and broke up for 6 weeks even though we still danced at lessons a couple nights a week.
I promised S it would never happen again, but then I would have promised anything to get back together.
You can promise to work on it, but it's unrealistic
to promise it won't ever happen again! You've been doing this for a
long time; it's going to take a while to break your bad habits!
In the two months since, then I have lost my temper three times.
Not bad! (But 3 times to much for him I bet...) Each time, S told me that he could not take the stress anymore and that he was going to break up with me if it continued.
I do not know how to set boundaries and have a tremendous fear of abandonment.
Yes. You seem to step over other people's boundaries, and probably think
it's normal that other people tread into yours.
These are issues you need to deal with, and you can. Good for you for
having a counselor! Any of the boundaries books
here or elsewhere
will assist you in understanding where you begin and other ends. Finally, I began to really take a look at myself & realized I was making S completely responsible for my "happiness" which cannot work with anyone.
You're absolutely right! Every time you let someone
go there, you disempower yourSelf!
S & I go dancing 2 to 5 nights except for the 6 weeks we broke up.
Wow! You guys have to be in great shape!
Our last fight was last Thursday when I told S what I had discovered about myself. He wanted to go dancing with a male friend to a singles club,
and I got so mad, I wouldn't even talk to him. You
made him responsible for your happiness again - instead of being OK with
what he wants to do and dealing internally with your abandonment feelings.
(Yes, you CAN learn to stand those pesky abandonment feelings!)
We have no commitment to each
other and he got equally mad back that I was making him feel guilty for
wanting to do something without me. Well, you can't
make him feel guilty, but I'm sure he didn't appreciate the guilting
attempt, which he bought into. (Here he gave you his power.)
I think S also is passive aggressive - neither of us has the ability to confront a situation - we both stuff our feelings. He keeps telling me he has been down this rode before with other women and he is not going there again.
S and I have never been physical with each other. He told me after about 4 months that there was no "chemistry" for him.
Is this OK with you? He is
also 10 years younger than me, and I do not think he will allow himself to care. He controls his feelings more than anyone I have ever known.
This is about him. Keep in mind you have absolutely
no power here.
The story of our relationship has been that every time we start getting close to each other, he pulls back.
OK, let him. That's about him. Certainly don't try to
"fix" it or insist he "fix" it. I know he was beginning to care for me before we broke up in December. His hugs were getting a lot longer and closer and he was spending more and more time with me. He came back into the relationship, but not to the depth that was there before.
Why have I decided to stay? Because we have developed a very good friendship and we have had so much fun together! We both love to dance and play cards and are officers in the same dance club. S has a very high IQ - genius level.
That along with a strong medical background is very attractive to me. I love to listen to his views on things because I learn so much, and I feel he is right 95% of the time.
It is wonderful to have found a friend you enjoy
being with so much! But, I do think part of the problem is your wishful thinking
that in time he will come to allow himself to be close with you - and perhaps feel physically
interested in you. Wishful thinking can get you into trouble because
instead of accepting and enjoying a relationship for what it is (a good
friendship with common interests in your case), you hope it will transform into something else.
Pay attention to your mind. Do you have these hopes and desires? My guess
is that you do since you are behaving like a jealous lover.
On Monday after the quarrel on Thursday, he told me that now he is thinking of ending the relationship because it is just getting too stressful. I am in counseling and my counselor does not think he really wants to break up
- or he would simply be gone. Yes. Whatever it is,
he is has some kind of connection with you. Also he did not handle the communication the best way, as it comes across as a threat.
My counselor thinks he is just at the end of his stress level at my temper and trying to control him.
Sounds plausible. He probably does not know what to do.
I agree. My counselor says I cannot promise that it will never happen again
Right., but we can come up with a signal so S can alert me when I am out of line.
This is an excellent strategy! I will definitely rein my actions in. I want to quit doing this with anyone, not just S.
A little anger management may help you here. Take a
look at this book (it's short and easy to read), or any other anger
management title you find interesting:
I have ordered several of the books that you suggest for the pa person. I want to become a healthy person and live my life to my fullest potential. I am willing to do whatever is necessary to grow and change and become as healthy a person as possible. I do not want to be a victim anymore.
The relationship with S is hanging by a thread and I honestly would not blame S if he did not want to stay. I finally realize I am totally responsible for the consequences of my actions. It seems so strange that I could have deluded myself for so long. I am a reasonable, intelligent person and yet I rationalized that all these long talks with guys was just "my attempt to communicate." Wrong! Wrong!
We all do the best we can at the time we do it. Then,
if we're lucky, we get new information and that gives us room to grow. You
were lucky: go for it!
My counselor says S & I absolutely need to talk, but to be certain and let him know this will be different from other talks.
Yes! I did call him and he said he would talk but did not know when he could. I just
asked him to let me know when he could make time.
Don't push him on this talk.
We are supposed to go dancing this Saturday and possibly Friday, but I will not call again until Sat because that was a definite date.
Hopefully he will call me; he usually is very good about that.
I really, really care for this guy and have learned a great deal from him. I just hope the price of that learning is not an end of the relationship.
How do you change a lifetime of behavior fast? I am not beating myself up - I am glad I have discovered what I now know
Excellent! - I just feel numb that I have watched Sís caring go further and further underground and then to realize I am responsible for that change is a hard pill to swallow--any advice welcomed.
Suzie. Your behavior may have prodded him in the
direction of going underground, but rest assured: you did not make him
go underground. Nobody has that kind of power over another person! He
did that of his own accord!
Dear Suzie, the very hardest part of
changing is recognizing that which needs to change as you go through
your day. You have been having the same automatic reactions for sooo long,
these icky thoughts and behaviors seem totally "normal" to you! The problem
is much of the time you don't even realize that you're doing "it" again!
So, a Signal from S would be an excellent
start. You would have to hold your mouth, just listen to him, not defend
yourself or show him how he doesn't understand. You will find it hard to
accept that whether he understand or not is not the issue! You will
have to sit with these uncomfortable feelings and deal with the abandonment
and/or other issues that come for you, and behaviorally and mentally just
let them be. The idea is to simply notice you have them, and allow yourSelf
to feel the feeling, then let it go - without doing anything about it.
We call this "mindfullness," and this is a
wonderful little book that will help you improve your mindfulness skills:
Believe it or not, just allowing yourself to
feel these feelings without running away from from them - or bashing
yourself for having them - will help you integrate them with the rest of
your psyche. Your therapist can help you here, no matter what techniques he
or she uses.
Please consider allowing yourSelf to have
simply a friendship with S, assuming of course that he wants the
relationship to continue at all. You are the one insisting on the
romantic aspect, and it's clearly not working for either of you, at least
now. Why not work at enjoying the relationship for what it is: a
wonderful friendship and dance partnership. He simply may not want a
romantic relationship, and probably feels angry with you at pressuring him
to engage romantically. If this guy is PA, insisting on a romantic
direction is about the worse thing you can do! He'll just dig his heels in
and not go this way simply because you want him to! (And, to make things
worse, he may want you to insist on a romantic direction so he can fight
you by digging his heels in!)
Whether he does or doesn't want a romantic
relationship now, why not remove the romantic angle in your head? This
doesn't mean that there will or won't be romance down the road, but you
certainly remove a huge barrier for both of you.
You will have fewer expectations of him
(good practice tolerating stuff for you), the relationship will be
perceived as less stressful by him, and if he's PA, he won't have to
"retaliate" by making sure your relationship never gets romantic! Win, win,
win! Think about it!
Suzie, think about all this. Certainly talk
to your therapist about this, and consider showing S this board. Post any
comments or questions you have below. I'll be back in about a week to
answer your comments.
Hang in there and God bless you for wanting
to make yourSelf a better You! Dr. Irene
Dear Readers, You can no longer post, but click here if
you just want to read the posts. Many
thanks, Dr. Irene.