Double Take

'When you've seen beyond yourself, then you may find peace of mind is waiting there. And the time will come when you see we're all one, and life flows on within you and without you – George Harrison


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‘Friends say I am in an abusive relationship…’

Q
All my friends tell me that I am in an “abusive relationship”, but I think they are wrong and they just don’t understand. I love my partner because he is deeply caring towards me, as well as being a wonderful lover and companion. He is also extremely intelligent and creative and generous. His downside is that he is prone to sudden mood swings and has a violent temper. He has never hit me – although, if I am honest, I suppose sometimes I have been frightened that he might do so – but he does shout at me and sometimes uses quite horrible language. As I say, I love him and feel that I understand him, and when things are good between us, they are really good. Is there anything that I can do to avoid provoking him (he often loses his temper because I have said something that he doesn’t agree with) or, more importantly, to help him stop behaving like this?

RJR
My feeling is that even though we all adapt our behavior sometimes within a relationship, to handle each other when we are out of balance, it is useful to really identify what is ours and what are our partner’s issues and whose responsibility it is in any given situation to step back or step up. For you to feel you have to avoid provoking your partner into anger, for me feels like you are taking on too much responsibility. I can understand your compassion, your love and your understanding for your partner, but I am also hearing your fear and your tendency for him to take advantage of your good nature at times. You can’t stop him behaving in any particular way. That will be his choice and is his responsibility. You can examine your role in the relationship, as you are, and ask yourself what advice you would give a friend if this were their scenario.

NS
Do your friends say that you deserve something better than this? I’d be surprised if they don’t. You sound willing to take responsibility for your partner’s lapses into abusive behaviour (yes, that is what this seems to be) and you want to see what you can do to prevent it happening. Shouldn’t your partner be the one looking into stopping this happening? Fear of being assaulted (verbally or physically) should not be part of a loving relationship, and I am sure that you know that. Look at whether you are having to sacrifice too much of yourself in this relationship. And look at whether you are selling yourself short.

RJR/NS
The key really does seem to be to step back and ask what you would say to a friend who was in this position. And also to look at whether you love your partner or whether you love only part of them (or an idea of them that you have). And are you being treated with love and respect? When you are able to answer these questions clearly and honestly, you should see a course of action. When you are able to, try to talk (or write) to your partner to spell out how you see things and how you feel. Your situation does not seem to be a happy one, and so you need it to change in some way. In the end, only you can find that way, through truthful reflection.

 

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‘My daughter is a nightmare…’

Q
My daughter has become a nightmare child. She was always so easy going and well behaved. She is now 12 and everything seems to have changed. She is moody, argumentative, demanding sometimes and distant the rest of the time, up in her room listening to music and shutting off from the rest of the family. She has become one of those irritable, difficult daughters that I have only heard about, and I can’t believe this has happened to me and my little girl. I have tried reasoning with her, punishing her, shouting at her – but everything I try doesn’t work. I am guessing she is just about to start her periods and this is because of her hormones. I really haven’t got a clue how to be her parent anymore. She is always arguing with her father too, and he just tells me to ignore her, but we both see that doesn’t help either. Advice welcome!

NS
It feels very much as you are upset about losing “your little girl”, but “your little girl” is about to become a young woman – and she is not exactly “yours”, she is her own person. This is a tough time for her – and for you too – because it’s a time of huge change. The fact that she is asserting herself as an individual and starting to go her own way should, in theory, be a cause for celebration, but in reality it is an extremely difficult time for any parent. Reasoning, punishing and shouting, as you have found, don’t achieve anything. Did you really think they would? Expressing your love for your daughter – either by staying distant or getting close, depending on her mood – may be the only thing that will work. Is it possible that you can remember how you felt when you were your daughter’s age and when you were on the verge of starting to have periods? Perhaps by doing that you might find a way to get close to her. Whatever you do, you do need to let her know that she can talk to you – and you probably need to talk to her to give her some practical advice.

RJR
Being 12 is a difficult time for young people, particular in this day and age. There are many demands, and it is quite different from when we were young. Our world used to be a much more innocent one, with far less, or perhaps, very different pressures in many ways. So whereas it is useful to identify with our children, as it helps to put ourselves in their shoes and remember what it feels like, it is also very easy to project our own experiences on to them, and this can cause great difficulties as our kids can feel judged by us and misunderstood. This can lead on to what can be perceived by us as ‘difficult behaviour’. I see a great deal of young people in my practice and often the parents present with similar situations and feel it is for the child to resolve and be ‘treated’, they are the one with ‘the problem’. I find that by seeing the issue as a family one, which can be resolved by listening, true empathy, communicating and collaborating, this important part of a family’s journey together can be transcended with ease.

NS/RJR
Your daughter is a developing individual in her own right, at a time of huge change in her life. Trying to cajole her into behaving or conforming will not work, as you have found. Somehow you need to let her know you are with her not against her. She is not ‘the problem’ and nor are you; but there is a problem, and it is a family matter. Her father should be part of looking at this too; he may be right in standing back to a degree, but totally ignoring what is happening is unlikely to be the way forward. This is a family problem (and a common one) and somehow the family needs to look at it together. Ideally, sit down and talk and listen to each other. But if that is ultimately difficult for one or all of you, then consider family counselling – if you can all agree on this path. You came into this difficult time together – and you can come through it together.


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‘I fear that I will lose everything…’

Q
I came across your Double Take website by accident. I wouldn’t normally write to a problem page, but I liked the way that you seem to look at the different angles to a problem – and you don’t dictate to your readers. What’s my problem? Well, in theory, I don’t have any problems. I’m 35 and in a really well paid job with a financial services company. I earn enough that my wife doesn’t need to work – which is good because she’s just about to give birth to our second child. Our son is two years old, and the new baby should sort of complete our family. The trouble is that my work is really demanding – to do it well and to continue to be thought of quite highly in the company, I have to work long hours, I sometimes have to travel and be away overnight, and my wife complains that I never seem to be at home. And when I am at home, I tend to be exhausted. The thing is that if I don’t work flat out, then I won’t have the money coming in to keep paying the bills and keep the sort of comfortable lifestyle that we’ve become accustomed too. I’m not really the type to downsize or drop out of the ‘rat race’, nor do I think that my wife would want to live in a smaller house and manage with a smaller car. It’s difficult to explain, but I have a fear that I’m going to lose everything – my job and my family. What can I do to make myself feel ok about all this?

RJR
It is interesting that you use the expression ‘rat race’. Is that how you see it? I can see that you have thought through various options. I am wondering what other ways you can look at your life, including the grey areas, in order to reach a perspective that will work for you and your family. To live in fear of losing everything must feel like a very heavy burden to carry. I am wondering also, what you do to relieve your stress and how much you are running on adrenaline, which will be detrimental to your health long term. In the short term, your exhaustion is probably linked to that. Your fear is your mind and body sending you a warning sign that something needs to change. And the process starts with communication with your wife, discussing your priorities as a family, and how you together, as a team, maintain your individual and family health and happiness.

NS
It sounds more of a ‘rat trap’ than a ‘rat race’.You seem to have got into a situation that is not only likely to be damaging to you, but also one that is not easy to extricate yourself from (if you wanted to). There is no doubt that you are in a ‘good’ job – but is it really good for you and your family? In purely material terms, it seems to be worthwhile. But your own anxiety seems to be a warning from yourself to yourself that this situation cannot be sustained in the long term. Something is going to have to give – and it could be your health, your relationship with your wife or your relationship with your children. Everyone seems to be benefiting from what you are doing – but are they really benefiting? And perhaps you also need to ask why you are driving yourself so hard – is it really just for your family, or is there something in your psychological make-up that is responsible for your working in the way that you do?

RJR/NS
There seems no doubt that you are putting your health in danger. Human beings who find themselves in rat traps or rat races don’t fare very well, either physically or mentally. Your anxiety and stress are alarm bells that some sort of change is necessary – because this situation can’t last. If you care about your family, you need to take care of yourself. Talking everything through is a large part of the solution – talking between you and your wife, and possibly also the two of you talking with a couples counsellor. You are lucky in that it is not too late – yet – to avoid an unhappy outcome.