You are currently browsing all posts tagged with 'boundaries'.

Dear Christine, Snooping in Southfield

  • Posted on July 2, 2018 at 10:27 am

Dear Christine,  I think my girlfriend is cheating on me. We have been together for 4 months, and everything is going well. But sometimes when I’m on her computer, girls message her about the great time that they had the night before, when it was supposed to be our apart night. I can’t help but see the messages because they pop right on the screen. The other day, I was sending an e-mail from her computer, and I accidentally stumbled on a hot and steamy e-mail from another girl, and I recognized her e-mail from the messages. I want to confront her but I’m afraid that she will think that I am snooping, and/or that I am over reacting. What do you think? Should I call her on it? How can I without her thinking I’m a snoop? Am I a Snoop? Dear Snooping in Southfield, This is all about boundaries. Has your girlfriend given you permission to go on her computer, and is she aware that when you or anyone does, these messages from other people pop up? If she has given her permission and is aware, then you are not a snoop and you have a legitimate right…

Anita (a-neat-a) in Ann Arbor

  • Posted on January 10, 2016 at 1:43 pm

Dear Christine, 

I’ve been with my partner for 10 years and we get along great.  I feel the secret to our success has been keeping separate homes.  Every couple years my partner, Alice, really pushes for us to move in together.  I realize it would save us both a ton of money and it’s a pain going back and forth.  Plus, I do love her and plan to spend the rest of my life with her.  What holds me back is one, she’s a slob and I’m a neat freak, and two, I sometimes like my space and really feel the need to go home and sleep in my own bed alone. 

I’ve almost given in at times but I worry it will end us.  If we sell both of our homes and buy a new one and don’t make it, it’ll be a mess.  I have absolutely no one who agrees with me.  My friends, family and partner all think I’m wrong.  So I see you answer questions and I read your columns so I thought I’d ask.  Am I in the wrong? 

Anita in Ann Arbor

 

Dear Anita,

Your conflict is the fodder of comedy, as in The Odd Couple on TV and on stage.  It’s as common as can be in human existence.  And everyone you know likes to weigh in on who is “right” and who is “wrong.”  The only opinions that matter in this situation is yours and Alice’s. My first question is: What’s true about your relationship with Alice?  Do you and she really get along great or does she need you to cohabitate?  Is she just tolerating your quirk or does she also credit the success of your relationship to each of you having your own space?

There’s no right or wrong way to be a couple, so long as you both agree on the boundaries and ground rules.  I once had a client, a gay couple who lived in different houses a mile apart.  They were told by their therapist that they could NOT be a couple if they lived in different residences.  I don’t understand that requirement. One in the couple was fighting his ex for custody of their children, and living with someone out of wedlock was used against his case, so they bought 2 houses.  There’s plenty of straight couples who do not cohabitate, and sometimes live far from each other, one on the East Coast, the other on the West.  How do they manage to still be a couple?  I’m sure there’s a lot of commuting back and forth, phone calls, texting, Skyping and the like!  But no one disputes they are a couple. So, couples can be couples but not cohabitate, if that’s what they both choose.

Opposites attract.  It seems that every couple is made up of a lark and a night owl, and so co-sleeping can be difficult, as described in a New York Times article today:  http://www.nytimes.com/2016/01/10/fashion/sleep-marriage-couples.html.  People actually get better rest when sleeping alone, but report more satisfaction when sleeping next to their partner.  And if that partner snores, or if both of you have different sleeping schedules or work opposite shifts, sleep may suffer and the relationship might be stressed. But it is better for each to sleep as their unique chronotype (https://www.bioinfo.mpg.de/mctq/core_work_life/core/introduction.jsp?language=engdictates).  Forcing a lark to become a night owl may well put more stress on the relationship than sleeping separately.

What’s important is to recognize and accept differences between you and your partner.  That means, you accept Alice’s sloppiness and she has to accept your neatness.  What does acceptance look like?  That can vary considerably.  It might mean having one home, but double the size of either of your houses, so you can divide up the neat areas and the messy areas, and close doors to not see each other’s way of being.  And compromise on the common areas.  It may mean two houses.

What do you and Alice need to do to make your 10 year relationship work for you as you go into your 11th year? Talk openly and honestly about each of your needs.  Are there any points or areas of overlap?  Is there any sane way to live together in one house and have both of you feel comfortable and at home without resentment?  In the NYT sleep-marriage article, Bruce Feiler recommends that you accept your differences and not force the other to sleep or wake at your schedule, as that will cause the other to be tired, irritable, less focused and less able to function at work, and the demanding partner will be blamed.  Instead, carve out time when you both are alert and make sure that is quality time.  At least when it comes to sleep.

So, I’m not in the business of telling you if you are right or wrong.  😉   I just want you and Alice to negotiate with each other without benefit or detraction from family and friends’ opinions.  Be honest with each other about who you really are and what you must have and absolutely cannot have in the relationship.  I know you’ll figure out what is best for the two of you as individuals and as a couple.

Christine Cantrell, PhD,

Psychologist

christineccantrellphd@gmail.com

Left Out in Lathrup Village

  • Posted on December 21, 2015 at 5:00 am

Dear Christine,

My girlfriend and I have been together since last July. It’s been a pretty easy four months for us. We have a lot of fun together, talk like we’re best friends and respect each other a great deal.

HOWEVER, she too, has an ex boyfriend whom always gets brought up at least once in every conversation.  She’s usually bitching about him because he still texts, emails and calls her, but it seems like she’s living in the past and isn’t truly over him. They had a very on-off relationship for four years and brought out the worst in each other, so I can’t figure it out.

Another thing is that she has a lot of friends who say they’re in love with her and yet she still hangs out with them (even alone at her house) like they’re just regular friends. Is this normal? Should I tell her she can’t?  I’ve tried to inform her many times that in order for a new relationship to work, we need to try to eliminate the things that’ll make us insecure, meaning all of the past and would-be romances of her life.  She says I’m more than welcome to talk and hang out with my exes, but it’s clear that she’s saying this so she can have a guilt-free permission slip to do the same.

We’re so close in many ways, but I just don’t know if I can fight for a relationship when the other person doesn’t take it as serious as I do.

Left Out in Lathrup Village

 

Dear Left Out,

You didn’t mention how long ago your girlfriend broke up with this ex boyfriend or how long they were together.  It sounds like it lasted long enough for her to have some strong ties, though they don’t sound very healthy.  It seems that however long it was since they broke up for the last time, she hasn’t finished processing her feelings, hurts and experiences with him.  She needs time to work through all this, though it isn’t helpful for her to do that with you.  So, in a sense, she’s not fully available to be in a new relationship, fully, because she hasn’t completely left the last one.

I’m not sure what to make of the friends who say they are in love with her.  Do they tell you that?  Do they tell her that?  Is she leading them on?  Does she interact with these friends in any way that violates your agreement with each other in your new relationship?  Have you talked together about what boundaries you each need in your current relationship.  It sounds like you have, at least about you wanting both of you to leave past and would be romances of your lives.  What exactly do you mean:  that there can be no contact with someone either of you loved, were in a relationship with, or who is loved by others, friends?  The relationships that happened and the love that occurred are how we grow and learn about ourselves and about each other.  It’s fair to express your feelings about her friends and relationships and you need to find out how she feels about your friends and past relationships too.  If you made a request that she cut off contact with her exes and would-bes, did she agree or was this something you said in anger? It doesn’t sound like you both are on the same page yet about where those boundaries need to be.
It’s ok for her to have unresolved feelings about her ex, but it’s also ok for you to request that she not process all of that with you.  It’s also good to share your feelings with each other about your needs, expectations and what works for you and what doesn’t work for you.  That’s a two-way street.  You may not see eye to eye on some things, so ask yourself before you make a request:  “is this something I need to be emotionally safe in this relationship or is this something I like but can be more flexible about?”  Knowing eachother’s needs and communicating those critical for any relationship to work.

So, if your boundaries of things you need in the relationship include her not processing about her ex with you, and not leading on her friends that are in love with her, tell her that.  If it’s a non-negotiable that you can’t deal with her having any contact with her ex, after telling her your feelings and listening carefully to hers, then make your request.  If it is a need, like water, like air, be very clear about that.  And then be willing to walk away if she can’t abide by the boundaries that you need.  It’s not about right and wrong, it’s all about what each of you need to feel safe and vulnerable with each other so that you can grow closer together and create a committed, stronger relationship.
So, is this relationship worth fighting for?  Do you both agree on the boundaries, knowing what each other must have and cannot tolerate in a relationship?  Can you give her the space to have friends and exes in a different way from your friendships?  Do you need her to cut off all contact with her ex? Figure out where you stand, then share your feelings and listen to her feelings.  Make your request and be willing to live with whatever happens next.  Good luck.
Christine Cantrell, PhD

Psychologist

christineccantrellphd@gmail.com

Sneaking Around in Southfield

  • Posted on December 6, 2015 at 5:00 am

Dear Christine, 

I am a 37 year old lesbian who has only been deeply in love one time when I was 23.  She loved me too and it was so intense.  She had a lot of pressure from her family and religion and eventually broke my heart and hers and she left me and married a man.   I have tried to move on and I just haven’t been able to feel that strongly about anyone else.  Recently I met someone who I could see myself growing old with.  There is love and comfort although not the same deep passion I once felt.  I am on the verge of having a good life with a good person and then,  “the one” finds me out of the blue.  She is married, has 3 kids, super active in her Baptist church, and apparently has never stopped thinking about me either.   She will not leave her husband, tell her family or let on to anyone at all that she still loves me but wants to see me “privately”  We did spend one amazing afternoon together and the passion is still there.  Unlike her, I can’t keep the wife and have a mistress. I know this sounds nuts and in my mind I know the right answer is to not be tempted by empty promises.  Do I choose a life sneaking around to have the love of my life in bits and pieces, or do I choose safe and comfort even if I may never feel the intense kind of love again.   I seriously think I may make the wrong choice.  Thanks for listening and if you have any thoughts, I’d love to hear from you. 

Signed, Sneaking Around in Southfield

 

Dear Sneaking Around,
Wow! Look what you have created!  Yes, you are in charge of your life and you can make your life work for you the way you want, or you can drift from one happening to another, being victim to other people’s actions.  You didn’t expect your ex to reappear, but here she is, creating earthquakes in your otherwise calm life.

How wonderful that you have had that incredible passionate love experience at least once in your life.  That’s an amazing feeling, but you know by this point in your life, it never lasts.  It is hormones, chemistry, timing and is fleeting.  It’s also a lot of projection:  putting your hopes and dreams of the perfect relationship on a human being you don’t know well who is frail, contradictory and has faults that you are not seeing or acknowledging yet.  The Japanese call it “love psychosis” and if it lasts 3 years, that’s unusual.  During that passion, you have an opportunity to form a deeper emotional connection with that person from shared values, trust, honesty, openness and vulnerability and mutual goals.  Or the passion fades and the relationship cannot be sustained.
So, your choices at this point are:  What sort of relationship do you want?  Passion that is hidden?  Being someone else’s mistress? Cheat on your partner you are growing old with?   Trust your ex who broke your heart  and promises nothing of substance now?  Honesty with friends and family who care about your happiness?  Or sneaking around, taking whatever crumbs of passion your ex has for you, all the while keeping a huge secret from your partner, and everyone else you interact with?  And if you choose your ex, what happens when her husband or your partner learns the truth?

It’s all in your hands.  Who you choose reflects your values and your character.  Be fully yourself and be confident in your choices.  Write me again and let me know what you decide.
Christine Cantrell, PhD

Psychologist

christineccantrellphd@gmail.com

Outsider in Ortonville

  • Posted on November 15, 2015 at 8:00 am

Dear Christine
I’m new to the LGBT community and about a year ago established myself with a fun group of lesbian friends and it was great. Then I started dating one of them and I’ll admit, I thought it would lead to forever. After 2 months, she broke it off and now I’m out of the group. One person from the group who still talks to me a bit told me that’s the way it is in this community. Is this what I have to look forward to? Ugh!
Outsider in Ortonville

Dear Outsider,
I’m sorry that you’ve been dumped not just from your girlfriend, but also from this circle of “friends.” I imagine she’s been a part of this group for a long time, so it isn’t too surprising that her friends welcomed you at first, but they also are following her lead as far as friendship goes. Not all lesbians are like this, but friends usually “side” with the friend they have known the longest and the best. This happens with straight couples all the time. Last week I answered a question about someone wanting to date someone at work. The same dangers apply to a group of friends as to a group of colleagues. There’s a lot of dynamics at play here, and a lot of long term friendships and connections. To date one person when you’re fairly new in a social group and have the relationship end, can cost you that circle of friends. Perhaps once the emotional dust has settled, you will be able to be friends with some in that circle again. Perhaps not.

Go out and keep meeting new people and several new circles of friends. This one group is not all of the metro Detroit LGBT community. Try events listed in GOAL/WOA and at Affirmations, or at the local Metropolitan Community Church in Ferndale. Be open, not bitter. Be at peace with that group’s response to the break up, rather than angry. If they can’t be friends with you after one of their own broke up with you, it’s probably saved you years of grief and drama!

What you have to look forward to is whatever you create in your life. Your attitude and your approach will pave the way for future friendships or tensions. There are a lot of people who are open to meeting new friends all the time. Get out, get involved in something that interests you and go have fun. Meet new friends and remember that living well is the best revenge!
Take care,
Christine Cantrell, PhD
Psychologist
christineccantrellphd@gmail.com

Used in Union Lake

  • Posted on October 25, 2015 at 10:00 am

 

Dear Christine,

How do I tell my best friend she needs to move out of my house?  She moved in about a year ago when she ran into some financial trouble. She said at the time that she would be out in 3 months tops.  She has no job and doesn’t seem interested in finding one.  She’s always working on some get rich quick scheme that she swears will pay off.   For a while I believed in her but now I’m thinking of her as a freeloader and I don’t want to feel that way about her.  I’m afraid that if I give her a deadline or ask her to move out that it will ruin our friendship and I really love her and don’t want to hurt her of be mean.   I’m a wimp and a pushover but I want my house back. 

Thanks, Used in Union Lake

 

Dear Used,
I’m not sure there’s much of a friendship left after she’s ignored your agreement and whatever hints you’ve been dropping for so long.  There are consequences for not meeting expectations in friendship, housing and jobs.  In college I learned it’s best not to be roommates with my best friend, as being in each other’s space, putting up with each other’s patterns and habits can destroy an otherwise wonderful friendship.  Anytime you give to a friend, it’s wise to set boundaries before they move in or receive a loan from you.  As Robert Frost said:  “Good fences make good neighbors.”

It’s time to have a direct conversation.  Tell her your expectations:  set a new timeline that feels reasonable and fair to both of you.  If she’s been getting her mail at your address and established residency, this could go all the way to an eviction, dragging the process out 6 months.  Hopefully, there’s enough friendship left for her to honor the deadline without having to involve the courts.  If she agrees to your demands but takes no initiative to get a job, save money, pay rent or look for another place, then be ready to back up your agreement with the eviction.

Good luck to you both.

Christine C. Cantrell, PhD

christineccantrellphd@gmail.com

Freaked Out in Fenton

  • Posted on October 18, 2015 at 11:41 am

Dear Christine,   

I am dating an amazing woman.  We met just 2 months ago at the Womyn’s Music Festival.   Maybe I’m just overly sensitive to this as my family rarely showed any physical affection but I am really freaked out about my girlfriend’s odd relationship with her brother.   When we’ve been out with him people often think they are a couple and not us!  When he is at our house they seem to have no boundaries when it comes to even private bathroom time.   I’ve made some subtle remarks and she just says her whole family is that way.   I had always wished for a closer family but this stuff is way over the top.  Is this normal for some families?  We are visiting her family for Thanksgiving which will be the first time meeting them.  Perhaps I’ll see how that goes before I make a decision. 

Signed, Freaked out in Fenton

 

Dear Freaked Out,

Boundaries are critical to a successful relationship.  Understanding and accepting each other’s boundaries provides emotional and physical safety for intimacy to grow and deepen. But individual needs of boundaries can be very different.  Think of the Saturday Night Live recurring skit of Virginia and Roger Klarvin, (played by Rachel Dratch and Will Farrell) insist on being overly affectionate in social situations and dominate the conversation about sex and their expanded boundaries, making everyone else uncomfortable.  It’s great fodder for comedy, as we all have been on one side or the other!

You don’t have to have the same open boundaries as your girlfriend and her family, but you do have to be comfortable around them when you visit.  There may be ways to do that without breaking up.  You might need to stay in a hotel and be at the family house for limited times during the visit.  Think about your needs and comfort, share those with your girlfriend.  If any of your needs are non-negotiables, please make that abundantly clear, as that may be what helps you decide if this relationship is for you or not.  Non-negotiables are those things that you have to have or cannot have to be in the relationship.  Don’t compromise on your needs.

I remember working with a couple long ago.  The husband’s mother would come into their bedroom and climb into bed with them when they visited her home.  The wife found this creepy and uncomfortable, but the husband thought it was normal.  Later, this differing definitions of boundaries was one of several non-negotiables that the wife had tried to ignore to stay married.  They eventually divorced.

Your number one job is to take care of you and your needs.  Likewise, your girlfriend needs to take care of her self and her needs.  What’s left over is what you create a relationship with.  If she’s undermining your needs, it doesn’t bode well for a future together.

Happy Thanksgiving, where ever you celebrate it.

Christine Cantrell, PhD

christineccantrellphd@gmail.com

Snooping in Springfield

  • Posted on September 28, 2015 at 9:03 am

Dear Christine,

My girlfriend hardly ever uses the computer so I guess that is how I first got suspicious.  We’ve lived together for 3 years now and I was the one who suggested we maintain respect for each others privacy. When she first moved in she started opening all the mail even if it was just addressed to me.  I have nothing to hide but I didn’t like the feeling so we talked about boundaries and since then have been doing fine.  “Mary” I’ll call her Mary but that’s not her name, hardly ever touches her computer at home since she’s on it all week at work.
For the past few weeks she has been on it all the time.  So, I got to wondering why and I snooped when she wasn’t home.   
She has been talking to a former girlfriend and it’s mostly catching each other up on their lives over the past years.  There is some talk of their past relationship and trying to hide it from parents and other friends before they were out. 
This ex lives out of state somewhere it seems and they’ve talked about a potential trip to visit in the future.   I’ve found nothing to prove that the intention is to get back together and even if I did I wouldn’t be able to confront her because of our agreement to respect privacy.  She hasn’t told me she’s emailing an ex even though I did make a comment asking why she’s always on her computer at home. 
Do I wait it out? Do I tell her I snooped?  Should I stop snooping? 

Signed, Snooping in Springfield

 

Dear Snooping,

This someecards sums up your problem pretty well.  You were the one with the privacy issue, and yet you are the one breaking the agreement.  If this information you gained is truly insignificant, then let the whole issue go, and resolve to not snoop again!

If it is significant to you, then it’s time to have a conversation with “Mary.” The only way to create a foundation of trust is to be trustworthy and honest. Mary probably suspects nothing, unless you are acting guilty around her. Snooping is how reporting is done.  It definitely can crack open doors for you to push on.  You can orchestrate this snooping into Mary eventually telling you why she has been on the computer so much lately.  And then you can have a discussion about boundaries about being friends with/travelling with your exes.

Or you can confess to Mary that you had hinted around, asking her about her extra time on the computer, stoking your curiosity and your snooping. Confession is good for the soul.  However, then Mary knows a truth about you that may be uncomfortable for both of you to acknowledge.  No one is perfect, and perhaps what Martin Amis writes is a deeper truth:  “Are snoopers snooping on their own pain? Probably.”

Search your soul and see what you need to do for you, and for Mary and for the relationship.  Perhaps this is a reminder that you need to have more frequent honest conversation.  When your fears get the best of you and you snoop, sometimes it backfires.  Learn from this, do whatever you need to, to let it go or make amends, and then move on.  Take care,
Christine Cantrell, PhD, Psychologist

 

Red Flag in Roseville

  • Posted on September 21, 2015 at 3:46 pm

Dear Christine,

I am newly dating someone I met through Match and I must say, I am falling hard.  I am a romantic and have been deeply in love twice in my life.  In getting to know one another, we have talked about our past relationships and I have told her about mine and she has shared hers. The troubling part for me is that she is 47 years old and says she has never been in love even though she has had several relationships.  How can that be?  It makes me question whether she can fall in love and will she with me.  We have already talked about a future together and she seems excited about it.  I wonder if she just settles for less than.  I can’t and will not just settle and if we move forward, I want to believe she will be in love with me and not just settle.  Is this a red flag?

Signed, Red Flag in Roseville

 

Dear Red Flag,

Red flags are those things which warn you to move slowly and check out whether or not they are non-negotiables or whether you can be in the relationship without them.  Non negotiables are like water and air, or food.  You can go a month or more without food, but you can only go a few minutes without air, so some of these non-negotiables will weigh differently for you.  But they are those things you MUST have or CANNOT have in a relationship for it to work for you.

I met a 47 year old man several years ago who claimed to have never fallen in love, despite several relationships.  He recognized that he never really let himself feel vulnerable and seemed to keep 2 or 3 possible lovers on the side, so as to never be too deeply disappointed if one backed away.  Finally, he was forced with a choice.  “Choose me and me only or I’m leaving. ”  He thought long and hard, but finally chose that person, cutting off his back ups.  He reported feeling much more love than he’d felt before.  I speculate, however, that no one at 47 falls in love like someone who is 17.

First love is something ultra romantic, where we project everything we want on someone else, and since we don’t know ourselves very well, much less the one we fall in love with, the relationship is intense, highly emotional and when it ends can feel like the end of the world.  Through these love relationships and break ups, and just from living more years, we gain experience and self awareness.  And we learn to choose partners who tend not to be quite so completely opposite to our own personality.  Young relationships tend to be opposites:  one is extroverted, the other introverted, and so forth.  In older relationships, we tend to find someone who fits us more closely, recognizing that we have to each take care of our own needs and our own self.  The relationship works when we take care of each other only after meeting our own needs.   It sounds less romantic and more practical, but it goes deeper emotionally and intimately and has the more solid foundation to last the ups and downs of life.

So, you may be seeing red flags.  Do you need your partner to be as romantic as you?  fall as hard as you?  Or do you need a partner who can accept that you are like that even if she is not quite the same?  Remember that you can’t change someone else, and to change yourself is very hard work when you truly are committed to changing whatever you find flawed in yourself.  Trust her to reveal her true self to you, and if you don’t like what you see, pay attention!  That would be where the red flags wave!

Keep talking to her, as you are getting to know each other through words, which are symbols.  We all use words like “love” differently.  Ancient Greek had 6 words for love, and English has only one.  In Greek:  philia or deep friendship (Philadelphia), eros or sexual passion (erotic), agape or love for everyone, universal loving kindness or charity, often used in spiritual groups from Christianity to Buddhism), ludus, or playful love, laughing with friends,  pragma, (pragmatic) or longstanding love or the compromises made with patience and tolerance overtime, as in a marriage, and finally  philautia, which is love of the self.  There are two types of philautia:  the healthy self-compassion and narcissism.

Hopefully, both of you have philia and ludus and will be looking for eros, and agape, as well as creating pragma from both of you having healthy philautia.

I wish you both the best, where ever this shared journey takes you and however long or short it lasts.
Take care,
Christine Cantrell, PhD

To read more on these 6 worlds of love:http://www.yesmagazine.org/happiness/the-ancient-greeks-6-words-for-love-and-why-knowing-them-can-change-your-life