Learn about yourself; accept emotional risks that come along
Q: My girlfriend and I have been together for over a year. I really love her, and she is just a great person to be around. She went off to college 12 hours from where we used to live, and for four long months we missed each other and also realized a long-distance relationship is hard. We managed to pull through it, and I feel we have great potential.
Next semester, I plan to study in Spain. Knowing how hard it is to be in a long-distance relationship, my partner says that if I go we might break up. I feel hurt that she's threatening the relationship. When she left for college, I never did that. So what seems to be more important, a girlfriend or a trip to Spain?
A: The rich, warm and human way: You and your girlfriend sound like bright young adults fresh out of your hometown and early in a world- and self-exploration phase. She didn't go to college 12 hours away to see whether her family looked funny on Skype, and you're not going to Spain because you want to tack airfare to your tuition costs. The whole point of such phases is to broaden minds — i.e., change people.
Welcome the changes, and you likely grow apart. Fight the changes, and you likely grow restless or, worse, resentful.
So, as long as you're taking brave steps to learn about yourselves and the world, really take them. Take the emotional risks that come with them, since avoiding them will cost you, too — in not broadening your world, not challenging yourselves, not seizing opportunities. If you're right about your potential, then you two will still be good together after you've grown more comfortable in your adult skin.
And if she is indeed "a great person," she won't make good on her threat to take something (i.e., your blessing for her to move far away for no reason but her own enlightenment) that she's not also willing to give.
Strike a deal: Let husband avoid mom; characterize it as you wish
Q: My mother is a narcissist. My husband of 13 years is tired of dealing with her at family holidays. He never has to see her at any other time. He thinks she should be made aware that it is her fault he isn't there rather than make excuses like, "He had to work." I think it would hurt her to be told that, and I want him to just suck it up. He thinks I'm too afraid of her to tell her the truth. I feel like it would harm my relationship with her, which I try to keep cordial. I tell him a lot of people find a way to deal with their in-laws for the sake of their spouses, but he doesn't believe me. I told him we should ask around, so I'm asking you.
A: Pinning fault on someone serves only two purposes: to request a change, or to punish. Your husband hasn't the slightest interest in having your mom try to treat him better, right? He just wants out (while, ahem, not owning that decision)?
So, that's where he budges: by admitting, and dropping, his campaign to punish her. Next, you budge by counting the decade-plus that your husband has already endured your mother's negativity as time served. Then you package these two concessions: You release him from any obligation to see your mom (emergencies excepted), and in return, you handle his absence as you see fit. Deal?