Ask Elizabeth

“My best friend is going out with a girl who is just ‘bad news’. How do I break it to her that I think her new love is a total user?”

Oh, how cruel life can be at times!  The adult one we love – friend, partner, sister, brother, daughter, son – is keeping company, in a relationship, with a person who, in our eyes, is so blatantly ‘bad news’, a ‘total user’, a person who is going to break our loved one’s heart – and possibly life. How do we prevent, what seems to us, utter destruction of the person so close to us.

Is there a simple answer? Maybe there is: Love. Simple – but definitely not easy!

True love – real ‘down in the earth’ love – is the most powerful tool we possess, the tool that allows us humans the ability to survive in relationships, in community, in whatever way we live out our daily lives.  In his well-known book, The Road Less Traveled, M. Scott Peck, MD emphasises the inherent need for love to contain, amongst other dynamics, the willingness and ability to accept.  To accept that our loved one has the right to make her/his own choices; to accept that she/he must ultimately face the consequences of such choice; to accept that, in the end, all we can do is continue to love, even if this means having to let go.

We are not responsible for those we love, with those with whom we form community. However, we are responsible to them. We are responsible to respect them; to acknowledge individual rights; to help and support; to accept that we cannot change anybody; to be honest and truthful; to share our true ‘self’, and to listen. As long as we meet our responsibilities to others, and not deplete such attempt with the misguided belief that we are responsible for, we have the best chance of helping and assisting.

Nonetheless, we are also responsible to self. We cannot love others unless we truly love self. It is on this pathway – in acknowledging the difference between to and for; in walking tall along The Road Less Traveled – that we find the power to continue to love, to possibly assist – both others and self. As hard and as painful as it may be, sometimes, in our sincere endeavour to adhere to a belief that we are responsible to and not for, the only solution in meeting that responsibility is to let go. But the letting go does not involve a cessation of love; it an acceptance that there is nothing more we can do – but continue to love.

Continue to love your friend – be responsible to her, share your concerns without judgement. Listen to her. Love her without restriction or conditions.

 “My partner is from Singapore; we’ve been together for eight months and have lived together for five months. Next month, his family is visiting but he hasn’t told them that he is gay. He’s asked me to pretend to be just his good mate for the two weeks his family is visiting and even suggested that maybe I should move out for the two week period. I think it’s time he manned up and just came out, he’s in his mid-twenties.”

When does one ‘come out’ to family/friends?  This is one of those timeless questions which cause countless numbers of people extreme grief, doubt, confusion – and conflict. Is it as easy as suggesting that by a certain age, people should just go for it, do it – ‘come out’? Is there a concrete time line? And who should monitor that line, control it? Mike Mills’ beautiful movie, Beginners, in which Christopher Plummer received an Oscar in 2011 for his role of a man who  ‘came out’ in his 70s, was actually based on the true story of the director’s own dad. As a committee member of PFLAG WA, I know firsthand this question is the one that most baffles people. Why now?  Why not then? When? Why at all?

It is also the crux of conflict: when the differing needs of two individuals rub up against each other. Whose needs are more important?

Unfortunately, in our society the word ‘conflict’ conjures up images of a relationship struggling. In actual fact, conflict is inevitable in any relationship for the simple reason that everyone has the right to his/her own needs.  Embraced as an opportunity to enrich a relationship, the facing and managing of conflict presents the possibility to bring two people closer together and thus deepen levels of intimacy.

Conflict is not a matter of who is right or who is wrong.  Conflict is about recognising each partner’s individual needs – and attempting to find a solution in which each person’s needs are acknowledged and respected.

Your need is for you to live with your partner openly and honestly and respectfully.  His needs?  Have you asked him what they are?  Without admonishing him or suggesting there is a ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ time, have you asked him to share his fears about ‘coming out’ to his family? Can the two of you spend some quality time sharing and accepting each other’s needs and exploring alternative ways in which both can be honoured in a way you both agree?

It’s not a question of right or wrong.  It’s a question of how do you respect each other’s own needs. Make the time to talk and listen to each other. You won’t regret it.

Relationships Australia is a non-profit organisation offering education, counselling and other services to people of all backgrounds including sexual preference. The website  gives information on services. Elizabeth has over 30 years experience in relationship education and counselling.

Please send questions on relationships to Elizabeth Brennan, Relationships Australia, PO Box  1206, West Leederville, WA 6901, or email [email protected]

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