Carolyn Hax is away. In her absence, we are offering columns from her archive.
Dear Carolyn: Is there any way (other than videotaping their conversations) to explain to your 21-year-old daughter that you think her boyfriend is verbally abusive and manipulative? I don’t see every instance, but I see enough to know that he manipulates her and punishes her, by pouting and going off with friends and drinking, when she disagrees with him or doesn’t go along with his plans. Her sisters have seen them interact more directly, and we all have explained our concerns. She says we only see the bad things and don’t realize how good he is to her in between their fights.
There is no meaning in “how good he is to her in between their fights.” People have facets to their characters, of course, and they have good qualities separate from their bad ones, but you don’t date (or marry or befriend or raise) facets of a person. A relationship is with a whole person.
And this whole person, your daughter’s boyfriend, by turns (apparently) dotes on and punishes your daughter. You can point out to her, accurately, that this is the classic hot-and-cold cycle of an abuser. The cold spells keep victims scared, and the hot spells keep them from leaving, by fueling hope that this time, the good time will last, though it never actually does.
You can also tell her that, abusive or not, her boyfriend makes her miserable on a regular basis — and that people who love without agendas simply don’t do that to each other.
Your goal needn’t be to persuade her, since that so rarely works anyway, but instead to plant the seed. You want a little voice saying to her during every good time, “This is how he keeps me in line.” And you want that voice sending her to you when she’s ready to leave.
Dear Carolyn: A few months out of a several-year relationship – and not very far into the healing and moving on part — I met a great guy. We’ve been seeing each other, but he questions how ready I am for a new relationship, and obviously wants my thoughts to be on him, not the last guy.
However, I lived with the last guy, and so there are things I do not notice, like household items, that seem to bug him a lot. Is there something I can do to assure him? Trying to purge every item from a long relationship would mean I have nothing left to live on!
He chose someone who is just months out of living with a serious boyfriend. He can’t make that go away. Any effort you make to appear unencumbered will produce just that — appearances.
Please stop assuring him you’re ready. For starters, you probably aren’t. And, this new relationship will either survive on its own merits, or it won’t. You can’t assure him of something you don’t even know yet.
It’s not as if everyone meets just the right person at just the right time, though, so there’s nothing wrong with giving it an honest good try. But “honest” means both of you freely accept where you are emotionally right now, and all the turbulence that comes with it. I don’t like your chances if either one of you tries to force this new romance to work.
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