Dr. Tracy's Advice Column

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"Needing Space"
Stand By Your Man
Will He Change?

"Needing Space"

Dear Dr. Tracy,

I've never written to anything like this so here goes. I'm impressed with the quality of your advice and I hope you can help me too. My girlfriend and I have been in a long distance relationship for over two years. Two weeks ago she told me that she needs some "space". She explained that she wants to see other people, cut down on our phone conversations, and not travel to see each other as much. But at the same time she wants us to continue our friendship. I don't know what to do? I don't want to lose her but this new situation is soooo painful.

Although we have been a thousand miles apart we are very dependant on each other. I speak to her every night for at least an hour, travel to see her at least once a month, and we spend the summers together. I love her and was planning on asking her to marry me. Something she said she has wanted for over a year now. We have sacrificed our social, financial, and emotional lives to continue our relationship. Neither of us regrets those decisions but it has been getting more difficult lately. The long distance was always been more tough on her because emotionally she is very needy. She needs to be constantly touched, loved, and given total attention. I was never like that, but I was happy to fill that need.

This Spring I was planning to move to the Midwest to live with her. I applied to graduate schools and although I haven't been accepted yet, I was going to leave my job for her. She feels guilty about me leaving a job I love to live in the cold Midwest. Just when we were finally making plans to be together-she changes her mind about me moving and says she needs space. I was about to ask her to marry me too.

My problem is this. If she wanted to break up I could handle it, although it would be hard. I'm 25, smart, and have a great career ahead of me. I could move on. But, I don't want to push her away while she's confused, especially since she says we still have a chance. The last two weeks have been hell. I wait for her phone calls and I can't truly move on because I'm clinging to some sort of hope. Hope can be dangerous. It's more difficult because I can't see her in person to understand how she's feeling. I feel like if I could see her and hold her it would all be ok. Should I travel to see her this weekend even though she says she needs space?

Our communication has always been great. We've talked all of this out but I feel like she may be holding something back. She says she is confused but doesn't want to lose me either. Help! What can I do?

Dear Hopeful,

"Needing space" is usually the first step in breaking up. Maybe she's found someone else she wants to date, or maybe she just doesn't want to be with you anymore. You've apparently worn out your welcome in her life, at least for now, even though you've attempted to fill her neediness with your love. Think twice about a woman who's so needy. Can anyone ever fill such a void?

Now she wants to keep you hanging while she shops around. Don't be a dummy. Don't try to give more and tell her she has your undying devotion. There's only one thing you should do: tell her okay, you were thinking you need space too.

That sounds harsh and hard to do, but if you let yourself just be there waiting, she'll surely begin to take you for granted and lose respect for you. She says she wants to continue your friendship, but if you were going to ask her to marry you, you obviously want a lot more than friendship.

It's only by losing you that she may appreciate you again. Stop calling every night. Stop visiting. Tell her you too want to date other people. If she begins to fear losing you, she may start wanting you again - sadly that's human nature. We never fully appreciate something or someone until they're gone.

Of course she doesn't want to lose you, but she's certain you'll be there, good old guy, waiting for her. That gives her the freedom to merrily go out with others without worrying, because she's got you to fall back on. Don't be her fallback guy. Start dating other women. She'll figure out what's going on, and if there's any long-term hope here, she'll be knocking down your door to get you back. It's time to stop talking and take action.

Good luck,

Dr. Tracy

Stand By Your Man

Dear Dr. Tracy,

I have been seeing the same guy for almost a year now. For the most part our relationship is very good. Not to long ago we started discussing more serious, permanent future plans. Actually it was him that brought up the subject of us getting engaged sometime soon and having kids once we are married. It all sounds great, wonderful and happy right? Wrong!

Since we have started talking about all this stuff, he all of a sudden has started thinking about his ex-girlfriend alot and he even looked her up and has spoke to her a few times on the phone. Now he does not keep any of this a secret. He tells me all about it and most of the time I am present when they speak. Also she knows about me and knows we've been together awhile and we live together. But that doesn't stop them from talking to each other. She also asked him if they could get together, he said no, but I still think it was wrong of her to ask such a thing. He has assured me that he has no intentions of going back to her. He says he loves me and is very happy right where he is. But if that is true why can't he let her go and just admit it's over?

Should I bail and give up the last wonderful year we've been together? Or should I stand by my man? Is there any logical reason why all of a sudden he is thinking about her now and should I be worried? He even thinks to ease my mind, her and I should talk to each other. Do you think that is a good idea? Hey, I'm open to any suggestions that will help. He knows I'm uncomfortable with the whole situation.

That's one of the good things about us, we do discuss anything and everything. But he still has this bond with his ex-girlfriend. He has told me they broke up several times and tried again several times and they are just not ment for each other. Apparently their relationship was very rocky and mostly bad. He does not ever want to be with her in a relationship ever again. So is it healthy to still want to be close friends with someone who supposedly ruined your life? How long should I allow this to go on before putting my foot down and saying enough is enough? It's her or me. Or should I even be so cruel as to give him an ultimatum? Am I just over reacting? Because I do know some people who have stayed friends with their exs. Especially ex husbands and wives who have kids, still get together with their new spouse and all four go out for dinner! Maybe talking to her would make me feel better.

I could really use some advice before this whole thing eats me live. My friends who are single say to the curb with him, but my friends who are in committed relationships and realize nothing is ever prefect say hang in there for awhile it may just be a passing phase. What do you think? Could this just be his weird way of dealing with serious commitment, cold feet sort of thing? Will it blow over? When I told him all this bothered me and I didn't know what to do. He was really concerned that I was thinking of leaving him. That upset him and he reassured me that his heart is here with me, him and her are just friends. So what do I believe? And how much of a time period do I give this thing? I really would like to keep him, because other than this ex-girlfriend issue, we get along great, we're close and no one has ever made me feel as unique as he does. Please respond soon!

Hangin' On

Dear Hangin' On,

I agree with your married friends. It's not such a terrible thing that your guy thinks about his old girlfriend. Just because people break up doesn't mean they've had a lobotomy on the part of their brain that fondly remembers the good times -- and the bad -- of prior relationships.

The fact that he is thinking of making a permanent relationship with you may have gotten him thinking of the ex, and how that never could work with her. Lots of people make decisions by comparing. This is not a big deal -- unless you make it one.

He tells you all about it, and you're there when he talks to her. He obviously isn't sneaking around. There's no reason that people we once loved can't be friends even though they can't be "the one." Lots of people, including me, are friends with their husbands ex's. And yes, it's healthy to be friends with someone who supposedly ruined your life, especially since it's obvious that his life isn't ruined. It's much healthier than hating that person, and it shows that you can forgive and move on.

Don't be a fool. Stop ruining your perfectly wonderful relationship over this. Don't give him a "her-or-me" ultimatum. Show that you are secure and have a generous spirit. After all, you have him; she doesn't. He's committed to you. He spends nearly 100% of his time with you. So if he needs to spend a few minutes thinking about his past and even talking to his ex, no big deal.

Actually, you can learn a lot about a man from his ex. So get to know his ex-girlfriend. Have lunch with her and get over your discomfort. She's probably a pretty nice person. After all, he chose her and he chose you. He must have good taste, and so does she.

Since he and she tried and tried to be together and kept breaking up, chances of them ever getting together are really very remote. Why would he go from his wonderful relationship with you back to his awful one with her? He's not a complete fool. Give him credit for making the right decision - breaking up with her and staying with you.

You have everything to lose if you continue this jealous behavior, and a lifetime of happiness to gain if you act like a grownup and accept that other grownups have people they care about in their lives.

Good luck,

Dr. Tracy

Will He Change?

Dear Dr. Tracy,

I don't know where else to turn and I hope you can help me find some answers. I have been married to an emotionally, verbally and physically abusive man for the past fifteen years.

The emotional abuse and controlling behavior has occurred almost daily, and the physical abuse occurred sporadically. For the first years, I cried, begged, pleaded, wondered what was wrong with me, tried to win his approval and acquiesced to his whims and wishes.

After our daughter was born (she is now 10), my heart began to close off to him. I spent all my time, energy and emotion caring for our baby, doing volunteer work,tending to our home, being the "perfect wife" in public and filling up my time with lots of activity.I ceased being vulnerable to him and shut him out. I basically just went through the motions of life with him, sleeping with him only when I had to and avoiding conflict at all costs.

Whenever I would try to confide in a family member for help, they would tell me to stay with him for the sake of our daughter. In their eyes, I needed to learn how to deal with him so I wouldn't break apart our family.

He has continued over the years to be very critical, tempermental, and neglectful. Anytime I would accomplish something (win an award for the work I do, successfully complete a fundraising project, etc.) he would go on a tirade. He told me he was jealous of the time I spent away from him and wanted me at home. I became more and more emotionally distant.

I finally got the courage to confront him about my unhappiness. He went on a complete rampage, throwing objects, breaking glass, plates, antiques and whatever he could destroy. He pushed me into the wall and left a bruise shaped like a palm print on my chest. He grabbed my arms so hard he left hand and finger imprints around them.

This wasn't his first violent episode, but it was definitely his worst. He actually called my mother and my sister in the middle of this rampage and told them to come get me, he didn't want me! Believe it or not, my mother and sister took his side and told me I needed to find a way to work this out and I was just being selfish!

We have been separated for seven months and he has gone to counseling. Several told him not to come back until he got on medication. Mostly they told him that I wasn't the problem. One therapist finally told him I was probably just having a midlife crisis, and that's the only advice/statement he chooses to believe.

He cries, pleads, tells me he has always loved me and didn't know I felt neglected or abused. He says he used physical force with me to keep ME away from HIM! He says he never "hit" me or "slapped" me, so I couldn't possibly be an abused wife. His mind is so twisted up, he actually believes all of this! He tells me I will ruin his life, our daughters life, my life and my families life if I divorce him. He constantly sends me cards, flowers, gifts, and comes over often, begging me to love him. He tells me he is physically ill, overwhelmed and distraught without me.

During our estrangement, I became close friends with another man who treats me with kindness and compassion. He has shown me unconditional love and understanding, and I would like to pursue this relationship further. I have thought about relocating to another state with my daughter to be closer to my friend and to gain some independence in a new environment.

My husband knows about "the other man" and believes it is because of HIM that I want a divorce! He wants me to cut off all communication with my friend, truly believing that would solve all of our problems. He actually told me he wants to stay married to me even if I never want to sleep in the same bed with him again! It's like he wants to own me rather than share life with me.

Instead of feeling mad at him for all the things he's done (and there are many), I start feeling empathetic and sorry for him. He cries, and I feel like the villain for bringing on the tears. I go back to my same pattern of avoiding issues to keep him from demonstrating erratic/violent/abusive behavior in front of our daughter. I have no support from my family. They say to wait until my daughter is 18 and then do something! They are fearful I will leave the state and the town I was born and raised in. I want to change my life, but am afraid of what he'll do, what my family will think, and the effect it will have on my daughter.

I am a university educated, professional woman. I am attractive and in shape and I have tried to always nurture myself emotionally and spiritually. I love the person I am and I know I have the potential to be even better and more productive, but I remain in a state of limbo. I can't believe my personal life has me so paralyzed.

Please, please, please help me. Thank you for listening.

Paralyzed and Confused

Dear Paralyzed and Confused,

Nobody who's been abused should stay in the relationship. You have done the right thing by moving on and finding someone else.

Your husband's refusal to acknowledge his problem proves that the problem won't go away. As long as he thinks he's done nothing wrong, he won't improve. If you take him back, I guarantee you he'll be abusive again. Your husband has an out-of-control anger problem that needs therapy and perhaps medication as well, but as long as he's in denial about it, he won't get the help he needs.

Give yourself a break. See a divorce lawyer and start taking control of your life back. Don't let this controlling, angry, abusive man back in your life no matter what your family says. You can't live to make your family happy. You can only make yourself happy.

As for your daughter, it does her no good to live in a household with an emotionally abusive controlling man. No matter what you're telling her, it's your actions that are teaching her. So what she might be learning is that men are allowed to act that way and it's accepted. Then, when she goes to find a man, she could wind up with exactly the same kind of man. This happens all the time.

If you care for your daughter and yourself, move as far away as possible as quickly as possible. Show your daughter that no woman has to put up with that kind of abuse. It's a good lesson for her to learn.

Don't let yourself get caught in the "victim/persecutor/rescuer triangle." You are abused, so you get angry and persecute him. Then he cries and you feel bad, so you rescue him (take him back or feel sorry for him). Then you realize you have become the victim again, and so you persecute him again. The whole thing is a vicious circle, and if you're not careful, you could be trapped in it for life.

You are only teaching your daughter to pacify the monster who abuses you, instead of kicking him out of your life. Change your life. It can only have a wonderful effect on your daughter's future happiness as well as your own.

Good luck,

Dr. Tracy

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(Featured art from cover of Letting Go, by Zev Wanderer and Tracy Cabot, published by "Bitan" Publishers, Tel-Aviv, Israel)
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