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Wedding attire debate triggers chain reaction of resentment

‘I don’t know how we lost our ability to agree and just get along’

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gay marriage, marriage lawsuit, gay marriage, marriage equality, gay news, Washington Blade

lesbian marriage, gay news, Washington Blade

Michael,
 
My wife and I got married last August. We were such a happy couple until the wedding. Our friends used to say they were going to get diabetes from being around us because we were so gooey. Now we are arguing way too often.
 
And it really started with the wedding, over a ridiculous disagreement. Were we both going to wear white dresses? Jen had her heart set on that, but I thought it was a dumb lesbian cliché and wore a tux (which I guess is another dumb lesbian cliché but more my style). I felt Jen’s anger and disappointment during the whole wedding.
 
Since then all sorts of things set us off. What route to take when we visit her parents? Can you please turn down the TV volume? Whose turn it is to change the cat litter? Please don’t look at your phone when I’m talking to you. How should we celebrate our first anniversary (which we don’t actually feel like doing anymore)?  Why do you have that tone in your voice?
 
The problem is, sometimes I do have a tone in my voice. She’ll seem angry at me and then I’m on edge and angry at her. She’ll seem pissed off and I get fed up and don’t want to keep being conciliatory. Probably if you asked her, she’d say I start it. And sometimes I’m sure I do. I don’t want to be angry, but I don’t want to always have to say “yes” to keep the peace.
 
I think we’re both miserable that things are going so badly after less than a year. I don’t know how we lost our ability to agree and just get along. We used to always see things the same way and now it sometimes feels like we hate each other.
 
I’m beginning to wonder if this relationship is doomed, though everything seemed so wonderful at the beginning. Do other couples go through things like this and survive? If so, how do we get to the other side?

Michael replies:

Most couples are really gooey when they first get together. The idyll of new love renders us starry-eyed, gives us butterflies and leaves us feeling so blissful that we are happy to think everything the other person says and does is wonderful. We feel super connected and it’s easy to be on the same page all the time.

This gooey period is a great stage, because it creates a loving foundation on which to build a relationship.

But it’s just a stage. After a while, you find that you can’t always agree. You’re two different people and sometimes you’re going to have very different opinions. This is where you two now are.

Your anger at each other is a waste of energy. If you want to stay happily married, you should instead strive to embrace, with some humor, that you will sometimes disagree with each other over matters both small and profound.

This will require giving up the fantasy that you should always be able to agree, and giving up the belief that something is wrong if you don’t.

It will also require accepting that you aren’t right: you just have a different opinion from your spouse. Trust me on this: if you are trying to prove that you’re right, then you’re trying to prove that she’s wrong. And once you start down that road, it’s all downhill.

So in place of browbeating each other in an effort to get your way when you want two different things, take on the never-ending challenge of figuring out what you might do instead.

Do you agree to go along with what Jen wants? Do you stand your ground, even if it means that she stays home while you go to that movie she doesn’t want to see, or you skip her family reunion because you can’t stand her parents? And what happens when you disagree over a really big issue like what city to live in?

I can’t give you a rule book for how to resolve any of these scenarios, but here are some guiding principles: if you and Jen want to build a strong relationship that can tolerate your not always seeing eye to eye, you will both need plenty of generosity. You’re also going to have to accept that sometimes you will be disappointed in each other’s choices. That’s life.

Your first move, regardless of what Jen does, could be to stop being so wedded to your own positions. While there will be times that it is important that you do not yield, save that for more important matters than cat litter.

Michael Radkowsky, Psy.D. is a licensed psychologist who works with LGBT couples and individuals in D.C. He can be found online at michaelradkowsky.com. All identifying information has been changed for reasons of confidentiality. Have a question? Send it to [email protected].

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Advice

Making excuses to stay single

You don’t have to settle, but you should set realistic expectations

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Michael,

I am a 43-year-old gay guy and single. I’ve never been in a relationship for more than a few weeks.

I really would like to be with someone. I have a clear image of the life I would like to have. Kind, sexy husband, beautiful home, travel, definitely a kid, maybe a few.

I’ve been dreaming of this my whole life and feel the clock ticking. Why am I still single?

I’ve gone on many, many, many dates. But I haven’t found “the one.”

My friends tell me I am too picky and they also say I don’t really want to be in a relationship, or I would be in one by now. I completely disagree. I know I want to spend my life with someone.

But what they keep saying really bothers me and I am afraid they might be right, even though I don’t think it’s true.

Somehow, no one I have met is on the same wavelength as I am, in major ways. Some guys don’t want kids. Some only focus on partying.  Some don’t pay attention to having a decent body. Some never read anything but Instagram.

Overall, I’m a flexible guy, but I have a few bottom lines. Serious, intelligent, wants a family, takes care of himself. These are deal breakers for me and I can’t settle.

I broke up with a guy last week who is really a great, sweet guy. We actually lasted almost two months. My friends love him. He wants a family, is completely a sincere individual. But the sex really was mediocre.  

I’d love your feedback.

Michael replies: 

My hunch is that you are finding reasons to reject potential partners so that you don’t have to deal with the realities of being in a relationship.

Yes, it’s possible you haven’t yet met a guy you really click with. Of course you want to spend your life with someone who wants the same general outline of life that you do. And of course, you want to like that person a lot and find them attractive. 

But I think it’s more likely that you are rejecting guys with whom you could have the life you dream about. The big clue, of course, is that last guy you broke up with. He checked so many of your boxes—but the sex was mediocre.

Well, sex isn’t always amazing, even with someone you care about and to whom you’re attracted. It’s often possible to improve sex (did you talk to him about doing so?). And seven weeks doesn’t give you a lot of data, or the relationship much of a chance.

So why are you in such a rush to get out of relationships? If you’re interested in being in a long-term relationship in the future, explore this question. A few general points to consider: 

What was your parents’ relationship like when you were growing up? The relationships we see, growing up, influence us. When those relationships were angry, tense, or problematic in some big way, we may not find relationships all that appealing on a deep level, even if we think we want one.

How do you feel about being gay, and about being in a relationship with another guy? Many gay men are uncomfortable in relationships, for many reasons. We may have negative feelings about ourselves, so we feel we don’t deserve much. We may have all sorts of judgments about other gay men, so we reject potential partners. We may think gay relationships are less-than. We may not see a lot of role models for healthy long-term gay relationships around us.

How do you feel about striving to be close to another person with no guarantee of how it will go? The combination of intimacy and vulnerability that a close relationship requires can feel scary. My guess is, you avoid it—and if you didn’t talk to your last guy about the sex issue, I’m right. 

Vulnerability is unavoidable if you want closeness. They go together. If you aren’t willing to be vulnerable, you will be alone, or in a distant relationship.

One more angle to consider: Accepting a less-than-perfect partner.

In our culture, which promotes images of perfect bodies, homes, vacations, partners, and lives, it can be hard to accept the reality that perfection is not reality. A flawed partner can feel like a reflection of our own worth. What will people think of me if I’m with this guy? Why should I have to settle?

You don’t have to settle, but again, if you’re not willing to, you’ll likely be alone. And keep in mind that even if you find someone whom you think is perfect, something will come up — or he will change over time (just as you will).

Beyond the wonderful times of joy and companionship that you are seeking, great relationships push us to tolerate all sorts of experiences far outside of our comfort zone.  Enduring these experiences is frequently hard work and sometimes painful. It’s also a path to growth, resilience, and a meaningful, deeply lived life.

Michael Radkowsky, Psy.D. is a licensed psychologist who works with couples and individuals in D.C. He can be found online at michaelradkowsky.com. All identifying information has been changed for reasons of confidentiality. Have a question? Send it to [email protected].

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Advice

My girlfriend drinks too much. What do I do?

A tricky problem to navigate in relationship of equals

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Dear Michael, 

My girlfriend drinks way too much and it worries me a lot. We’ve been together for three years and I’d like to make it forever, but only if she stops.

I’ve explained to her that her drinking is especially scary to me because my older brother died of of an overdose when I was a teen, long before I met Lucy. I can’t lose someone I love like that again.

Lucy tells me that I’m making a big deal out of nothing. She says she doesn’t drink any more than her friends, and it’s mostly just a fun weekend thing.

I don’t agree with her about any of this. Sometimes she drinks to black out. I’ve had to clean her when she’s thrown up all over herself after a night out with her friends, at least three times in the last six months, which is a really disgusting thing to have to do. And just last week she came home on a work night so drunk that I couldn’t get her up for work the next morning.  I’m worried this behavior is going to endanger her job.

I know that Lucy had a really tough time growing up. Her parents are anti-gay and cut her off. She has no contact with any of her family. I am pretty sure she’s depressed from all this, and I think drinking is a way to cope. I keep encouraging her to talk to me about all of this but she usually shuts down when I ask.  

I’ve urged Lucy to go to therapy to help her deal with her family stuff and I’ve also begged her to consider an alcohol treatment program. She gets annoyed with me whenever I bring this up and has told me that I’m overreacting because I lost my brother.

I don’t want to leave her because she’s a fantastic girlfriend in so many ways. But I can’t deal with her drinking.  

How do you get through to someone who can’t see their own self-destructive behavior?

Michael replies:

I’m sorry, I know it feels awful when you can’t help someone you love who is having a hard time.

The reality, though, is that you can’t force Lucy to address her drinking. You should bring up your concerns, as you’ve done; but what she does is up to her.

If you are willing to stay with Lucy as she is, perhaps you can take better care of yourself in this relationship and change some of your behaviors to help you be less resentful. While there are no guarantees, your actions may influence Lucy to take more responsibility for herself.

For example, if you don’t like cleaning her up, why continue to do so? You might think I’m picking on a small point, but I’m not. Lucy chooses to drink and she is responsible for the consequences. When you do her work for her, she doesn’t have to deal with some of those consequences. And you wind up feeling like a resentful victim, although you’re putting yourself in that position.

I’ve heard from many clients in similar predicaments over the years, and they usually tell me that they “have to” help the person they love to get out of whatever awful spot they’ve gotten themselves into. I understand that leaving Lucy in a mess may seem heartless (and disgusting), but the fact remains that you’re letting Lucy off the hook when you step in. (Of course, I’m not advocating that you leave her in any dangerous or life-threatening situation).

Another example: Spending time trying to wake Lucy up so that she won’t be late for her job. If Lucy has to deal with the consequences of her drinking, she may (again, no guarantee) decide to cut back.

Regarding Lucy’s suggestion that you are blowing her drinking out of proportion, that’s a matter of opinion, and you get to have your own opinion here. Lucy’s drinking is a problem for you, but evidently not for Lucy.

So where does this leave you?

If you aren’t willing to have a girlfriend who drinks to the extent that Lucy does, let her know. But please don’t say this unless you mean it. Threatening consequences to get someone to change is an ugly way to behave in a relationship. On the other hand, telling someone what you aren’t willing to live with is part of constructing an honest and respectful relationship.

Three more points: First, your continuing to argue with Lucy about this issue gives her someone to fight with about how much she drinks, instead of possibly confronting herself. This includes hypothesizing to Lucy about why she drinks as much as she does.

Second, in your efforts to rescue Lucy, you are positioning yourself as her superior in the relationship rather than her peer. If you want a relationship of two equal partners, this is not a good move.

Finally, you might consider attending Al-Anon, a group for people who are concerned about a loved one’s drinking. This could help you feel less alone, get some clarity about why you are making the choices you are making, think of ways to support Lucy without telling her what to do, and decide what you want to do going forward.

Michael Radkowsky, Psy.D. is a licensed psychologist who works with couples and individuals in D.C. He can be found online at michaelradkowsky.com. All identifying information has been changed for reasons of confidentiality. Have a question? Send it to [email protected].

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Advice

Gay clone wonders if he’s part of an ant colony

Why do we cede control of our social lives to others?

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(Image by Tamara Luiza/Bigstock)

Michael,

Looking at some photos from my weekends at the beach this summer, it struck me that me and my friends (gay men in our 30s-40s) all pretty much look alike. Practically the same haircut, gym body, swimwear, smile. I almost couldn’t tell who was who.

This got me thinking. I live in the same apartment building as a lot of my friends. We all have similar furniture and watch the same shows and eat at the same restaurants and go to the same clubs and dance to the same music and drink the same drinks and vacation in the same places and work out at the same gym and belong to the same sports leagues and go to the same concerts and have the same routines.

I’m not even sure who makes the decisions about what to do. Something is popular, or becomes popular, and it seems like fun and we’re all doing it. Then it’s on to the next thing. But who is deciding what all of us are doing, not doing, or no longer doing?

I think I’m happy, generally, having fun, but I have this strange feeling like I’m part of an ant colony instead of being an individual.

Is this just the way it is? We find our tribe and then we’re all going through life together like this?

Michael replies:

I think you are facing an unavoidable dilemma that comes with being human. How much do you give up your own individuality to fit in? Put differently, what price are you willing to pay, to live an honest life and be known as the person you really are?

Did you come out—which takes great effort and brings some risks—to live a life that is right for you? Or to live pretty much the same life that your friends are living?

If you are happy doing all the same things as your friends, without even knowing for sure why you’re spending your time (that is, your life) doing these things, no problem.

But you feel like you’re part of an ant colony. So clearly, this way of living doesn’t sit all that well with you.

What would you be doing if you weren’t following the group agenda? How would you cut your hair? Would you go to the gym as much? What shows would you like (or not like) to watch? Where would you vacation? Do you like the drinks you’re ordering?

And some more important questions: What do you deeply care about? What are your values? What are the sorts of things you want to dedicate your life to? Are you living in a way that reflects any of this?

This may be the only life you get. Using it well (in my view, at least) means deciding for yourself who you want to be and how you want to live.

Sometimes people are afraid to be different out of fear that they won’t fit in with their friend group. People often tell me they’re worried they will be criticized or viewed negatively for wanting to do things that are different from what “everyone” likes to do. No one wants to be left out of parties or dinners or vacation plans.

Do you think your friends would still want to spend time with you if you weren’t always on board with “the plan,” or suggested some new ideas for activities that you were genuinely interested in?

It’s possible that if you start developing more of an individual identity, you might fit in less with some (or even all) of your friends. Feeling lonely or unpopular is not fun. You may have to decide if that’s better or worse than putting on a persona to fit in and be accepted.

It’s also possible that you can be more thoughtful about what you do, sometimes say “no” and still be part of your friend group.

Even if your friends aren’t always on the same page, I’m hopeful you can continue to have close relationships with at least some of them. A real friendship should be able to tolerate different views and different interests. How could it be otherwise, when all of us are different in some big ways, even from our closest friends?

Thinking about your dilemma through this lens, you could view sharing more of yourself with your friends and letting them know you better as an invitation for greater closeness.

If you make any moves along these lines, perhaps you will find that some of your friends have similar feelings. You might be less alone than you think.

In any case, you will be choosing a more honest life and the opportunity to be known for whom you really are.

(Michael Radkowsky, Psy.D. is a licensed psychologist who works with couples and individuals in D.C. He can be found online at michaelradkowsky.com. All identifying information has been changed for reasons of confidentiality. Have a question? Send it to [email protected].)

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