I’m waiting for a Quicktime Render from Hell to finish. Here’s a question.
Dear Captain Awkward,
I’m in a messy and unhappy situation, which isn’t really what I’m writing about. The awkward kind of comes in with how I’m handling it. A member of my boyfriend’s immediate family has a terminal illness and in addition, this is (unsurprisingly) leading to meltdowns among other members of the family. He lives quite a long way from them and is doing a lot of back and forth traveling and trying to keep up at work as well and generally is stretched pretty thin. I’m also in a lousy situation at work, with a demanding boss and people quitting and having to take on their stuff. The combination of this means we hardly ever get to see each other. If we manage to carve out several hours to ourselves – and we both do try really hard, but it often doesn’t work out, a lot of the time something comes up at the last minute – then everything is good and we can relax a bit and just enjoy each other’s company. But most of the time all it seems like we can do is grab an hour here or there, on the way to the airport, from the airport, late at night when we’re both tired. And then in those times we either talk logistics or – and this is kind of my problem – I pick a fight.
I try to be supportive and take a backseat and provide him with what he seems to need. But the longer we go without getting to spend some time together the more unhappy, and honestly kind of resentful, I start to feel. I try to tell myself that I’m being selfish and he’s under a lot of strain, and I also try as much as possible to ask for reasonable things that would help a bit, and he’s good at listening and trying to accommodate me. But still I eventually start saying to myself, “We haven’t had dinner together in two weeks, we haven’t had a proper conversation in three, we were supposed to have two!whole!hours! on Monday morning and the plane was delayed – ” and on and on. And then the next time we talk I’m surly or snappy or else I just burst into tears.
He usually handles my freakouts pretty well, and I wind up feeling better about the situation. But then I just hate myself for not being able to deal without having to subject both of us to my feelings!bomb, and making this crappy situation all about me. This is turning into a pattern and nothing I’ve tried so far is stopping it. I try to make sure to eat properly and get exercise, and hang out with other people if he’s not around, but when I get into this spiral it’s just a slow drop into negative thinking and eventually losing it. I’d love some advice on how to deflect myself or learn better coping skills…
Thanks and sorry this is way longer than it probably needs to be
The Only Way Out Is Through?
Man, that sounds like rough going.
First, I suggest you seek out a therapist or other structured environment (maybe your work has an Employee Assistance Program or hotline?) where you can talk about your stress. If you could get some of the feelings that are coming out in the form of meltdowns at your boyfriend out in a safe, more structured environment, it might make you feel more in control when he’s around. There are meds that help with anxiety. Maybe you should investigate them. I’m serious – I know therapy isn’t the solution for everyone and meds aren’t the solution/don’t work for everyone, but if it *might* work for you why not look into it? I think you should do anything and everything to take care of yourself right now.
Here’s why I really feel for you and your situation. I think what you’re looking for here is a time-frame. If you knew it would only be this awful for, like, another month, you could ride it out, right? It’s only a month. But what a horrible, guilt-inducing thought! You can’t root for someone to die quicker so you can get your boyfriend back. What if it’s like this for 6 more months? A year? More years would be good news, the best! And yet your poor hearts will break in the meantime.
So there are no boundaries because you don’t know how long it will be like this. And he has a hard time setting boundaries (with work, family, travel, etc.) because HE doesn’t know how long it will be like this. I’m sure it’s impossible for him to really plan anything ahead or schedule time off from work, etc.
Instead of reacting to events as they unfold, I wonder if you guys could sit down and make a 6 month plan. It starts with each of you making a list:
- Stuff that NEEDS to get done (at work, at home, travel, etc.)
- Stuff that you would LIKE to do/get done.
- Stuff that you can just let go and not worry about right now.
Ideally you would try to move as much stuff from the “should/would like to” list down to the “let go” list and stick with the stuff that needs to happen. But it might help just to have the list and see it all in one place and think about the next 6 months as one big chunk. In 5.5 months you can re-evaluate and plan the next six months.
Now, are there steps you can each take to mitigate your workload and outside commitments?
- Can he ask for help at work and get some projects reassigned?
- Can he take a bigger chunk of time off from work, go home for a good spell, and handle as much as he can there all at once? Is it time for him to move home for a while? (Not ideal for you, but a real possibility, yes?)
- Can you ask for help at work?
- Is it time for you to look for a new job?
- Could you guys agree that every 2 weeks you get one sacred evening to be completely unplugged from phone, email, work, etc.?
- Could you guys figure out small daily rituals to keep you connected when you are apart? I’m not even suffering through any kind of crisis and I saw my boyfriend yesterday for many hours but I still find that “How is your day?” and/or “Good night” text or two to be an anchor.
I don’t know if these questions are even helpful, I’m just thinking about how to get you both out of Crisis Reaction mode and into We Are A Team Who Can Face Anything Together mode.
Does it help to think of this as a “Our Grandparents and Great-Grandparents Wrote Love Letters As They Risked Death In War” situation? Or does that just add more guilt? Because I think the chips are pretty much down, and “meltdowns” and you picking fights can’t be sustainable for him. You not getting any of your needs met is not sustainable for you.
I don’t know how to help you get there, but I think the answer lies somewhere in being fully present for each other when you are together. It’s not the last two weeks, when you couldn’t even sit down for dinner, it’s right now, right here, you’re both in the same room with dinner in front of you and saying “What do you need, right now, from me to feel happy and okay?” You should ask him that sometimes. And he should ask you that sometimes. And as much as possible you should answer that question with immediate concrete possible actions.
Do you need to touch?
To not touch?
To talk about serious things?
To talk about anything but serious things?
To fall asleep watching a stupid TV show?
So those are my suggestions.
1. Put a support system in place for yourself to manage your stress and anxiety and give you a safe place to unload your difficult emotions while ride this out.
2. Make a 6-month plan where you fully acknowledge exactly how much you have going on and look for ways to get a handle on it.
3. Find some kind of ritual or rituals that allow you to stay connected when you’re apart and reconnect when you do have time to get together.
I know we have a lot of long distance lovers here, and military families, and people who met and came together over long distances and through real hard times, so I’m hoping they have some concrete suggestions and stories of encouragement for you.
I really wish both of you well.