A while back, I received an inquiry from an avid reader of my blog articles that I thought was quite revealing. With the questioner’s permission, and some alterations to preserve anonymity, I’d like to share it:
I have been in a long-distance relationship with a guy who would like me to drop everything in my life, travel a great distance, and move in with him. This would mean leaving my family and friends, finding new work, and putting increased distance between my son and his father. Because we can’t see each other all that often, I communicate with this guy by phone and online every day. I can see from his social networking sites that he talks to other women online quite often and that his conversations are often quite seductive. I’ve told him that I’m uncomfortable with this and have asked him to acknowledge our relationship to his friends but he says I’m just trying to control him. Recently, on a visit, I happened to see some emails on his computer that clearly indicated that he is still actively involved with several women and has never mentioned having a relationship with me.
It seems he is selfish and is not willing to give up anything for me but still wants me to change my whole life for him. Lately, when we talk by phone, he won’t even tell me what’s going on in his life because I will only “get mad” if he does. I feel anxiety about the way he’s treating me but somehow I end up feeling like I’m in the wrong. Why would he be keeping things from me? I feel a lack of communication. And he doesn’t seem to care about my feelings. I don’t get any sense of fairness or equality in this relationship.
What should I do? I don’t want to control him, but I certainly want my feelings to be considered and for him to care about me as much as he wants me to care for him.
I suggested this person make a list of all the positive vs. negative aspects of her relationship. While there were numerous items on the negative side, there was only one thing she could think of as positive: that he desired her enough to want her to move in with him. She also thought it at least possible that things would change once she made that level of commitment to him. Still, she questioned why he would respect her wishes then if he weren’t willing to respect them now. So, the biggest question of all was why, after knowing all she knows about him, she still had any investment in the relationship.
In my book Character Disturbance, I make the point that in our time, more folks experience unhappiness and turmoil in their lives because of their dysfunctional ways of coping than they do because of levels of anxiety so high that they cause debilitating psychosomatic symptoms. As a result, what really needs to change are the very ways they tend to look at life and go about satisfying their wants and needs. And in my book In Sheep’s Clothing, I assert that the most important keys to personal empowerment are honestly assessing one’s own character – especially those aspects of character that might allow one to enter or remain in an unhealthy relationship – as well as well the true character of others. Many folks have come to mistrust their intuition when it comes to character assessment. Sometimes they’re blinded by the things they’ve been wrongly taught about why people do the insensitive things they sometimes do, while other times they’re blinded by their own unmet needs, insecurities, and level of denial.
Fortunately, in this person’s case, she became willing to trust her inner, better judgment. She had to ask herself why she would even consider hooking up with someone who appeared to be so self-centered. And she was honest enough with herself to find the answer. The answer she got wasn’t pretty and reflected her own insecurities, which prompted her to seek some counseling. But in the end, she’s a much happier person for having the courage to honestly reflect on her own character issues and thereby avert what could easily have been a personal disaster. Having already experienced a failed marriage, and nearly succumbing to what would likely have been a one-sided relationship, she now feels fortunate not to have her better judgment and not her unmet needs and insecurities guide her decisions. She knows that saying “no” to a one-sided relationship is a testament to healthy self-awareness.