Tell me about it: A fantastic job offer may end up costing my relationship
Kate Holmquist answers your life and relationship problems
Q I’ve been offered a great job within my industry. I work in a very competitive area, where everyone knows everyone else, so to be head-hunted in the current climate is a real vote of confidence.
My problem is this: I will be working with my ex. We met working in the industry, were together for several years and have a lot of friends in common. When I met my current partner, he wasn’t keen on me socialising with my ex in my group of colleagues/friends.
I have found this both isolating and awkward, as I have to hide this contact from my partner. I’ve tried telling my partner that there’s no reason to be threatened by my ex – I’m so over him and actually instigated the break-up.
My partner thinks that where there was feeling there always will be, and we’ve had several arguments. He has even suggested that my ex orchestrated the job to get me back, which is ridiculous – not to mention insulting, as I got it on merit.
I’m afraid that if I take the job, my relationship will suffer. If I turn the job down, I’ll resent my partner.
A The ex-factor has you stuck between a rock and a hard place. How you and your partner handle this trust issue will lay the groundwork for your future together.
It doesn’t seem healthy for you to be responding to your partner’s insecurities by disguising the way you keep in touch with people from your past. It could make you look untrustworthy, were he to discover this. You need to feel safe enough in your relationship to know you can be transparent and honest.
Whether to take this job is your choice alone. Peter Ledden, psychotherapist and managing director of Abate, specialists in workplace psychology, says: “Many people in your situation would feel an insecurity and resentment but this can be minimised if you both take time to honestly bring out your concerns, needs, desires and wants into the open.
“It is essential for you both to communicate openly and honestly discuss any negative emotions or concerns which exist regarding this dilemma.”
You need a win-win outcome, where you can accept this dream job and still have a happy relationship.
To achieve this, “it is important to remember that in any conflict there is never a right or wrong position and all parties can aim for a win-win outcome. This can be influenced by the previous personal experiences of each individual and, in your case, it depends if either party views the current issue as a crisis or an opportunity.”
Try reassuring your partner that he has nothing to fear by you taking the job and that you need him to trust you. If he is overreacting, explore why.
Accept his feelings, but be honest and assertive about your own needs. The solution here will require give and take. The only alternative is to turn down the job, which would be difficult for you to live with.
Q I can’t deal with my mother. Nobody can. My siblings have washed their hands of her, leaving her to me. That was manageable when our father was alive and she was in good health.
Now that she’s a widow with chronic ill health (both real and imagined), I’m devoting more and more of my life to her without support from my siblings.
They roll their eyes to heaven at the mere suggestion of seeing her.
I understand. I don’t like her either. She is nasty and selfish. She is verbally abusive and I feel exhausted every time I see her.
She calls me in the middle of the night with one “crisis” after the next, even though she knows I have a busy work schedule and a family of my own. She thinks the world revolves around her.
My siblings say they’re preserving their mental health by staying away. They think I’m the strong one and don’t realise that I have to psyche myself up for hours before I see her. It’s not fair that I should be left holding this big baby.
A You’re describing a monster. And from a child’s perspective, she is one.
From an adult perspective, she’s a vulnerable frightened old woman who is lucky to have you to still care about her.
You describe having to “psyche” yourself up before seeing her and feeling exhausted when you do. Could it be that your child self is still looking for the love and approval that will never be forthcoming?
Against the odds, the child you were has grown up to be a responsible adult who is doing the right thing by supporting an elderly parent.
Your siblings have to step up to the plate, but it sounds like they have some issues of their own to deal with first.
The entire family needs to sit down and talk sensibly and dispassionately about what is needed for your mother’s care; a mediator may help.
Little child inside
People with difficult parents often grow to realise that for their own sanity they need to acknowledge the little child inside looking for unconditional love, and realise that the parent figure is never going to answer the need.
In her book, Coping with Un-Cope-Able Parents: Loving Action for Eldercare , Carol-Ann Hamilton says that only other people with difficult parents really understand how bad it can be.
She used to turn into “little Carol-Ann” whenever she visited her difficult elderly father. She had to learn not to leave herself vulnerable and exposed.
“When I approach my father’s neighbourhood these days, though not a Star Trek fan myself, I’ve adopted from Captain Picard: ‘Shields up!’
“Kooky as it might sound, I find the expression serves as a helpful declaration and reminder to maintain my boundaries around him. Otherwise I’m in danger of coming away even more weakened,” she writes.
It’s not about you
Hamilton believes that you can be loving and take action without allowing the difficult parent to upset you. “Try not to take your parents’ bad behaviour personally. It’s not about you. It’s about a tough situation.”
Perhaps, without moaning, you need to tell your siblings how tough it is for you and that your mental health is as important as theirs.
You have a choice not to be your mother’s sole carer and to do this you must get the others on board – no excuses. They have a responsibility to deal with their own emotions around your mother, no matter how exasperating she is.
The alternative is for you to pull away and abandon your mother to social services. Is that what your siblings want?
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