Posted by fxckfeelings on May 11, 2015Share This Post
Humans have long struggled to control strong emotions—to put limits on our heart’s desires or angry thirst for justice—but those emotions can become even more dangerous when they push us to try to control other people. You may want to control someone because you love him, or you may hate someone because she’s trying to control you, but in any battle for control, be it over passions, loved ones, or central Asia, there are very few victories. If you can tolerate those urges without allowing them to drive your priorities and control your mouth, however, you can avoid an epic struggle. You might not be in control, but at least you’ll be free.
My stepfather recently went to the doctor and got diagnosed with pre-diabetes and some other things. This means that he would have to stop drinking and smoking. It’s been a month or two since then though and he hasn’t done a thing. I feel so angry and scared for him whenever I see him making a drink or smoking because it’s like he’s just pretending it will go away. Some of his logic is that some people smoke and drink for years and they live to be 90, but his parents deal with some pretty life-threatening health risks. I think to myself, “doesn’t he realize how serious these issues can get?” I talked to my mother about it and she says that he said he won’t give up drinking entirely, if at all. I feel so incensed because he is making us watch him ruin his body and his health. I know it would be hard for him but I feel like he should just suck it up, because if he doesn’t want to do it for himself, shouldn’t he be doing it for us? We’ve talked to him about it and he just blows us off. I think he is an alcoholic and I don’t know what to do. I can barely look at him but I want to help him. I don’t think he will ever admit to his problem and he won’t ever go get help for it. My goal is to figure out a plan because I can’t stand to see him kill himself like this.
When you share a strong bond with someone, you don’t just have feelings for them, but with them; it’s hard to watch someone you love suffering because, when you really care about him, you’ll experience his suffering, as well. The pain you feel if you lose him, however, will be yours to bear alone.
Trying to steer him away from possible distress, however, often makes your own distress worse, because you can’t control his decisions, addictions, or decisions about addictions, and pushing usually causes push back. You can share each other’s pain, even if it comes from accidentally hurting each other.
The first of the twelve steps towards recovery is to admit your helplessness with addiction, but, since you can’t make that admission on your stepfather’s behalf, you instead need to admit that you’re helpless to change his addiction, and to helping him in a concrete, meaningful way until he’s willing to take the first step himself.
So instead of holding yourself responsible for changing something or someone you have no control over, give yourself a break and take credit for loving him and caring about his health without obliging yourself to rescue him. Of course, accepting that his addiction may kill him is unavoidably painful, but accepting responsibility for his choices is even more painful, detrimental to your relationship, and utterly unfair to both of you.
Once you’ve accepted the pain of worrying about him, ask him about his situation, i.e., what the doctor told him, how much damage the smoking and drinking have done/could possibly do in the future, and how hard it is for him to stop. Zero in on what you would need to know, or consider important, if you yourself were trying to decide whether or not to try to control a powerful habit.
Push him to consider what’s important in decision-making without pushing him to make the decision you want; if you can accept his right to make his own decision and control your fear of losing him, you’ll retain a positive influence over what happens next. Then he’ll be more likely to come to smart conclusions on his own than avoid them because they’re being forced upon him.
Remember, you don’t demonstrate love by saving someone’s life or forcing them to save themselves. You demonstrate it by accepting their decisions, even if the result causes you pain, and then doing your best to make the most of your time, and bond, together.
“I can’t stand watching my stepfather smoke and drink himself to death, but I love him and will learn to manage my fears. I will discuss his choices with respect and find other topics and activities we can share.”
I wish I could find some way to get my sister-in-law off my back. I’ve heard from other family members that she doesn’t like me, but she never tells me to my face. Instead, she makes snide, passive-aggressive comments, and when somebody else calls her on her attitude, she says it’s “just a joke.” The problem is that jokes are funny, and the things she says are bitchy and rude. My wife knows she doesn’t like me, but wishes we could be nicer to each other so our relationship would improve. I feel like I am being nice, because I never take the bait when she says something nasty, but if I called her out on her attitude then at least our relationship would be honest and she’d know where I stand. My goal is to find the right way to tell her off so we can clear up the dishonesty in this relationship and either get along better or not have to pretend we like one another anymore.
It sucks spending time with someone who’s openly/passively nasty to you, and it’s natural to want to stop having to go through the same thing again and again. Short of divorce or homicide, however, your current wish cannot be granted. What you can get, however, is a way to manage family relationships so as to reinforce your partnership and keep family conflict at a minimum.
You might say family relationships shouldn’t be like this, and if your wife would just grow a pair and take a stand, it wouldn’t be. In a fair world, you’d be right, but in this one, this is the family you chose to marry into and no magic words, confrontations, or balls are going to make things better. Not surprisingly, if you do insist on protesting, you’ll make your life worse.
Assuming your wife is worth staying married to and that family get-togethers are good for the kids and helpful for the family, accept the pain that goes with them. Try to make them more bearable by hitting your sister-in-law with niceness and then finding an excuse to talk to others, elsewhere, hopefully with many walls between you two.
Keep your exchanges pleasant, but brief, and when she tries to say something mean and dumb continue to play deaf; without lying, keep your deeper feelings to yourself. Admire her good qualities, cite the good things your families have done together, and refuse to complain to anyone but trusted friends who are willing to hear you complain, offer their sympathies, and push you to change the subject.
Don’t struggle to maintain family diplomacy because your wife tells you to make nice; do it if you think it’s necessary to avoid marital and other conflict and to keep family relationships moving smoothly. Then respect yourself for smiling through your rage, because it might be painful, but nowhere near as painful as prison.
“I hate my fucking sister-in-law, but I like my family and a feud with the rest of the family will help no one. I will keep things friendly between me and my sister-in-law if my smile requires plastic surgery to keep in place.”
More advice from Dr. Lastname