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Not Quite Out in Oxford

  • Posted on December 30, 2015 at 6:56 pm

Dear Christine:  

 My girlfriend and I have been together for a year, and maybe I moved in too fast(second date…) but I’m having a hard time with her relationships with her family. Her two daughters live with us half of the time and half with their father. I am very close to the girls and they talk with me all the time, and tell me that they love me and even come into our bedroom at night to kiss their mom goodnight, and me! My girlfriend isn’t gay, and she’s isn’t comfortable telling the girls, or anyone else in the family, that we are in love and we are a couple, and with the girls, we really are a family. Her family is involved with Christmas, and last year, we pretended I was just living there for a while, to help them out. She wants me to move out of the bedroom, so her sister and brother-in-law can have her bedroom when they visit for Christmas. That’s the living end for me! I’ve been out and proud for over 20 years, and I just feel like a maid. I’m “the help”, helping with the household, cooking, driving kids around etc, but not given the respect of being family! My girlfriend has been telling me all year that she wants to tell her family, but that she’s not ready. I’m afraid she’s never going to be ready, and I feel like I’m going crazy. Help! What do I do to not feel like a maid, but be a part of this family? Signed,  Not quite out in Oxford

Dear  Not Quite Out in Oxford,

The holidays are such a stressful time, even without the pressures of coming out to family! Sounds like you have a very loving and good relationship with your girlfriend and her children, and that’s wonderful. Since you’ve been out forever, and she never saw herself as lesbian before, it’s really important to give her space and time to figure out how to acknowledge this relationship with her family. I would be surprised if the kids haven’t figured out that the two of you are a couple, saying good night to both of you in your bedroom! Kids are pretty sophisticated and aware these days. They may not know the labels, but clearly they feel connected to you, and treat you like family, not a maid. I’m not recommending you move out of the bedroom for visitors, as I don’t recommend a couple in their own home give up their private space to others. One example of why, is the story I heard recently. A man stayed overnight at a friend’s house, and she let him use her bedroom. He opened a bedside drawer, looking for a clock, and he found some handcuffs! Clearly, she hadn’t expected him to go in the drawer! He found it very embarrassing to see her the next morning, thinking “Good morning Mrs. Handcuffs” but tried to keep cool and be appropriate. When he thinks of that friend, the handcuffs are the first thing that comes to mind. So, keeping your privacy is important, both yours and your girlfriend’s. Keep talking with your girlfriend about her process, but back off of any ultimatums. Listen to her thoughts and feelings, and trust the love that you and she and her children share. Love conquers fear, always. Trust your girlfriend’s process and hopefully she will tell her family directly, soon.

Good luck!

Christine C. 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

Not Sure in Novi

  • Posted on November 1, 2015 at 10:58 pm

Dear Christine, 

I met someone new through Match and I have a question  I’m going really slow with her because on our second date, she told me about her childhood, which was horrific!  I don’t want to share the details of that but she told me she was diagnosed with multiple personality disorder.   I’m not sure I believe that really exists and fortunately, I’ve seen no sign of it in her.  I know she is damaged and that I do see.  I’m concerned about going forward in a relationship and considering steering us towards just friendship.  Is there any advice you can give me about dealing with someone who is still recovering from a horrible past… and does MPD really exist?   Thanks for your thoughts on this. 

Signed, Not Sure in Novi

Dear Not Sure,

It is wise to move slowly in this friendship or relationship or whatever it develops into.  All of us emerge from our childhoods and families with scars and wounds and part of our responsibility in adulthood is to work on healing from those traumas that befell us as children through no fault of our own.  Dating is a time to learn about each other and find out who each other is and if you are compatible, if you share the same values, needs, goals and approach to life.  It takes time to get to know each other well enough to find all this out.  Don’t rush it!

Multiple Personality Disorder diagnosis does exist, though it is currently called Dissociative Identity Disorder, (DID) which is one of several Dissociative Disorders.  DID involves the person experiencing two or more distinct personality states and gaps in recall that is more serious than could be attributed to ordinary forgetfulness and are not induced by medical issues or substances.

Everyone dissociates to some degree.  Marathon runners and other athletes will separate themselves from their physical pain to complete their goal, for example.  You might “get lost” in a book, or find that 3 hours have passed without notice while playing a game on the Internet.  Most people don’t feel like they are two or more distinct personality states, though most of us will talk of our “inner child” or “inner parent”.  We all wear different hats in our life, depending on whether we are at work, with family of origin or with friends, for example.  But most of us are completely aware of their personal history or feel a sense of self and of agency even as we switch one hat for another.

People with DID creatively figured out how to dissociate, even to the point of having different personalities, in order to survive great horror, chaos, trauma or abuse in the first 5 years of life. Try not to be skeptical  or judgmental, but instead have compassion.  You heard her story on the second date, and I’m sure that was pretty rough for you to hear, and for her to tell.  Perhaps she told you early on so if you couldn’t handle what she is about, neither of you would be too deeply invested.

I hope that she is in therapy and working on her own healing and integration of the fragments of her self.  I hope you can be honest with yourself, as well as her, to  supportive of her chosen path for healing.   Ask her questions in a non-judgmental way.  Find out if she has got a handle on her particular constellation of issues, personalities, needs and ways to cope with all of this.  Does she have a therapist and a supportive network of friends that she can call in a crisis?  You should not set yourself up to be her one and only support.

There’s several excellent books you could read for your own understanding.  Robert B. Oxnam wrote his autobiography:  A Fractured Mind.  My Life with Multiple Personality Disorder, 2006.  He was a successful man, scholar, world traveler and sought after expert on Asia appearing on television.  His story is of his treatment and recovery from MPD.

A couple of other helpful books are:
*The Stranger in the Mirror, Dissociation–The Hidden Epidemic, by Marlene Steinberg and Maxine Schnall, 2001.

*The Body Keeps the Score, Bessel Van Der Kolk,  2015.  Dr. Van Der Kolk is one of the leading experts in trauma and dissociation diagnosis and treatment since the 1970s.  This book is filled with neuroscientific research findings as well as stories of resilience of his patients.

*Amongst Ourselves:  A Self-Help Guide to Living with Dissociative Identity Disorder, by Tracy Alderman, Karen Marshall, 1998

*Coping with Trauma Related Dissociation, Skills Training for Patients and Therapists by Suzette Boon, Kathy Steel, Onno Van Der Hart. This is a manual for patients with trauma related dissociation disorders, including exercises and homework sheets.

Movies such as The Three Faces of Eve and Sybil are dramatic and not helpful to understanding what DID is or how to be in a relationship with someone with DID.

This is an opportunity for you to learn about yourself and what you can handle and where your limits are.  Take your time.  Enjoy this friendship and whatever else it might become.
Christine Cantrell, PhD,
christineccantrellphd@gmail.com

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

 

 

Missing Him In Metamora

  • Posted on July 30, 2015 at 6:03 pm

Dear Christine,

I never thought I’d be in this situation and can’t believe I’m writing to you for advice on this matter.
My husband and I were high school sweethearts, graduated in 92 and have been together ever since. We’ve been raising 2 children that we first fostered, then adopted. Life has been pretty good for two gay men. In the last 5 years, my sweetheart started drinking more than usual and acting totally out of character. Last month he lost his job due to his drinking and because he is a mean and verbally abusive drunk, I have asked him to move out. He is living in his parents basement now and they are at their wits end too and don’t know what to do or how to help him. They want him to leave but fear what will happen to him if he has no one. He refuses help or to admit he even needs help. I still love him.Is there something I or his parents could do to get him the help he needs? I want my old love back.

Missing him in Metamora

P.S. Second question. How could something like this come on when he was never like this before? I never saw it coming.

Dear Missing Him,

I am sorry to hear of the difficulties you and your sweetheart are going through right now.  It sounds like your partner has developed alcoholism later in life than many.  Two thirds of alcoholics begin drinking at an early age, say starting at age 14 compared to 21.  However, that leaves one third who are older adults when they become alcoholic.  These are called “late onset drinkers.”  Having alcoholism in the family can be a predictor of a higher prevalence of lifetime alcohol dependence, but it can happen to anyone.  There are all sorts of triggers and no single answer, but major life-changes often precede social drinking becoming alcohol abuse or alcohol dependence.  The high stress events of divorce, being fired from a job, death of a parent, death of a spouse, retirement, a major change in health status or other perceived losses (income, mobility, social, social network losses) all can contribute to Late Onset Alcoholism.  People who had substance abuse problems early in life are at higher risk of developing drinking problems even after decades of abstinence. (http://www.choosehelp.com/topics/rehab-older-adults/late-onset-alcoholism-treatment-needs)
The hardest fact for you as the partner of a late onset alcoholic is that there is very little you can do.  You are doing the right things:  Set clear boundaries.  Make sure there are consequences for his drinking, abuse and unwillingness to get help for this problem.  Something happened five years ago when he began to drink more heavily and whatever it is has developed into a huge loss for the entire family and his job.  I understand that his parents are fed up with his behavior too.  It is excruciating to watch someone you love destroy his life and refuse to do anything to slow or reverse that process.
Try as you might, you, nor his parents, cannot make him do anything!  You can continue to be clear about the consequences of choices and behaviors, meanwhile suggesting, encouraging and urging him to get treatment for this disease.  It is very hard for parents to throw their middle age son out of the house for continuing to drink and not get treatment, but that may be necessary. He may need to “hit bottom” before he is willing to change. There are treatment programs, from individual counseling to inpatient treatment to make sure that he does not die from a sudden withdrawal of alcohol by the delirium tremens (DTs).  Someone I know recently turned her life around by entering the Salvation Army program, and by avoiding the people who trigger her drinking and working while living in a half-way house, is managing to be employed and sober.  This person seemed ready to live under a bridge rather than get help, and the family is grateful it didn’t come to that.
I wish I could encourage you to believe your old sweetheart will come back, but there are no guarantees.  There is a saying by Heraclitus “No man ever steps in the same river twice, for it’s not the same river and he’s not the same man.”  The relationship you had, the family you and your partner and kids were is irretrievably changed.  Hopefully, there can be growth, healing and reconciliation, but each of you will be marked by what has occurred in this time, and all of you will be different.
I wish you and him and your family the best.  May he see the light and enter treatment with an open and willing heart.  Christine Cantrell, PhD, Psychologist