Be true to you
How to take care of a relationship without seriously shortchanging yourself or those you care about
By Patti Carmalt-Vener 06/12/2013
Two years ago, my mother passed away. Coupled with the sadness of losing her, I was not only in the process of retiring but also developed a serious health problem. I’m usually very independent and happy, but I think everything caught up with me and I plunged into a deep depression. My best friend, Cathy, moved in to take care of me when I really needed her. She’s not as well off financially and so the move was good for her. I love her dearly, regard her as family and enjoy spending time with her, but now that I’m emotionally stronger, I realize I want to live alone.
Having moved directly from my parents’ house and into marriage and later becoming my mother’s caregiver, I’ve always lived with someone else and never just by myself. I’m afraid Cathy might feel like I’m throwing her away, which isn’t the case. God bless her, but she can be very dependent, a lot of work, and oftentimes, without saying anything, disapproving of my habits and behavior. I also want the freedom to have a man over if I want to; if Cathy and I are living together, I don’t feel comfortable doing so.
I’m willing to pay for her move and even provide financial assistance, especially when we travel together. I’m just concerned I’m being selfish and thinking only of myself. I’m also worried that the minute she hears this, she’ll get angry, shut down and move out of state to live with her adult kids and their families. We both read your column all the time and I want your opinion.
I understand your dilemma. The friendship you’ve created over the years is a very special one and not to be taken lightly. On the other hand, you’ve been taking care of someone — or compromising when living with someone — your whole life and it’s not selfish just because you want the experience of living on your own. How do you take care of the relationship without seriously shortchanging yourself or those you care about?
For starters, make sure this isn’t an impulsive decision and you’re not just wanting a temporary break, then changing your mind and inviting her back. Could you be happy living with Cathy if you learned how to live as you please in spite of her nonverbal disapproval? That could be a valuable lesson, regardless of whether you end up living together. You might want to find ways to stay living together but take more space from Cathy on a day-to-day basis as well as taking day or weekend trips on your own. You must also be clear in your mind that you’re not just irritated with Cathy for a minor reason that will likely pass or that could be cleared up with open communication.
Having said all of that, if you know that experiencing living on your own is the healthy choice for you at this time in your life, then you need to be true to you. Being true to yourself means being authentic and genuine. As long as you’re keeping your real feelings from Cathy, it will be difficult to maintain an honest and healthy relationship. It’s not always easy, but you’ve already demonstrated a strong commitment to one another’s well being; this close friendship is a good foundation for an honest talk.
Sit down with Cathy and explain to her everything you’ve shared in this letter. She already knows your history of taking care of your mother. Since you know her so well, bring up your concern that she may get angry, shut down and abruptly move away and that you don’t want that. Listen to her feelings, wants and needs. Since Cathy is like family to you, ask yourself what contribution back feels right. At what point would you feel taken advantage of? Cathy’s needs might be different than yours and it might actually be what’s best for her to live with others. If she wants to live with her kids, support her in doing so. Since she was there for you in your time of need, what is appropriate to give back? Could you help pay for the move out of state? Fly there to visit Cathy and her family? Help pay for your trips together? Trust your heart and contribute what truly feels right to you.
Patti Carmalt-Vener, a faculty member with the Southern California Society for Intensive Short Term Psychotherapy, has been a psychotherapist in private practice for 23 years and has offices in Pasadena, Santa Monica and Canoga Park. Contact her at (626) 584-8582 or email email@example.com. Visit her Web site, patticarmalt-vener.com.