A Future Worth Investing In?

Hara Estroff Marano gives advice on jealousy, cyber-romance, whining teen daughters, travel anxiety and family turmoil.

By Hara Estroff Marano, published on May 1, 2006 - last reviewed on June 9, 2016

A Future Worth Investing In?

I've been dating a man for almost two years. But in addition to the good times, there are bad times. Because of his jealousy, I've had to avoid friendships with men (and their wives). Also, we've made a few purchases together, and he hasn't paid me back. He promised to pay me on the first of the month, then he forgot. After I argued with him, he agreed to a payment plan that will take longer. While I am getting money back from him, the plan inconveniences me. I'm not sure I can rely on him financially in the long term. Also, I'm not sure if he will tell me what is going on with him. I love him but need to know what can be worked on and what cannot.

Kudos to you for making your beau stick to his repayment promise. Generally, partners are on their best behavior before marriage, and that's when there's the most leverage for change. So it's wise not to sweep any signs of problems under the rug. The possibility of economic instability does not suggest a great foundation for starting a family. But the specter of jealousy may be even worse. Jealousy is a reaction to a perceived threat—real or imagined—to a valued relationship. Jealousy can make your life a nightmare of restrictions and has driven men to some very dangerous behavior. There's no reason to believe that jealousy will improve with time or marriage. It commonly reflects a weak sense of self and arises from fear of loss. It may, in fact, have its origins in an actual experience of loss earlier in life. That doesn't make it right or useful in a relationship. Because jealousy goes right to the core of the self and its roots are deep, it's not something that can be banished by wishful thinking. Here's where counseling with a good therapist can make life better for both of you. It's best to put off any investments or long-term plans until he gets help. If he refuses, it's a clear sign you'll be better off without him.

Seduced By Her Own Dreams

I am a 21-year-old college student in the Philippines. I met a guy from Montana on the Internet recently. He's 35, divorced and seems to be a nice, good person. I really don't know him that well, but I have a special feeling for him, and I let him know it. Should I trust my feelings for this guy? We are both open to each other. Though we are oceans apart, it seems as if we've been friends for a long time.

Internet communications collapse time and space so that it's easy to feel connected to a stranger. Even more seductive is the way romantic feelings can develop through online exchanges. Putting yourself into words, then getting replies while you're still in the emotional state of the original message, and relying heavily on imagination to fill in the blanks about Montanaman have encouraged an attachment to form, literally with the speed of light. In his book Love Online: Emotions on the Internet, Aaron Ben-Ze'ev calls cyberspace a kind of "mentally nude commune" where people often strip off their masks. And what nudity leaves undone, imagination finishes. Imagination paints cyberspace in very intense and seductive colors. While cyber relationships can be sincere and open, they also leave a great deal of room for deception—by your own dreams. What really happens, says Ben-Ze'ev, is that you're "captured by your own desire." Enjoy the cyberflirtation but don't take it seriously. You'd be better off looking for a real relationship offline. College is the perfect time and place; never again will you be among so many age-appropriate eligible people.

Old Whine in New Battles

My fiance and I are both single parents of teenagers. We have been in a long-distance relationship for four years and plan to marry when the kids are older. My dilemma: His teenage daughter whines a lot. Her voice becomes very baby-like when she wants something from him. It's hard to listen to. In fact, one time I had to leave the room, much to his disappointment. What should I do, if anything? I'm not willing to insert myself.

You are wise not to insert yourself directly. Unfortunately, Daddy isn't willing to put himself on the line, so he gets caught up in the emotional urgency of a whine. Daughter has learned the shortcut to getting what she wants, a bad pattern that's better to break now before she carries it into other relationships. As Daddy's partner and ally, you can help behind the scenes. It might be good to quietly tape one such conversation to have an objective record of what goes on. Then choose a time when you and your fiance can sit down and talk privately and kindly. Best to begin by reminding him how hard it is to raise teens and asking if he is happy with father-daughter encounters. You could ask if he really hears how much she whines. If he doesn't, offer to play the recording or give it to him to listen to on his own. The goal isn't to humiliate but to provide objective feedback, often an incentive for change all by itself. Then help him come up with constructive scripts for handling the next whining incident—maybe even by helping him rehearse them, with you role-playing the daughter. The words have to be his own, but the gist has to be something like: "You know, I just realized how much whining goes on and I don't think it's good for either of us. How about from here on you ask for things in your normal voice. I will respond to all your requests as quickly and reasonably as possible, although the answer won't always be yes." Your role will be to compliment him when things go right and to generally give feedback (in private) that keeps him on course.

Sleeping Sickness

Whenever I go on trips with my family, friends or boyfriend, I get sick. I am completely fine until my head hits the pillow at night. As soon as the lights go out, I feel very nauseated and I'm up vomiting the whole night. I have been taking Nyquil for a couple years now to make me tired enough so that I don't feel the sickness. My parents and my boyfriend say that this sudden nausea is all in my head, but I can't stop it! It can't be homesickness, because I am always with my loved ones.

Of course the nausea is in your head; that's where we keep all records of past experience. It would be nice if your parents could help you figure out why you feel sick when the lights go out. Maybe something happened that scared you a long time ago when you were away. It may not have been an especially momentous event, but the brain has a way of making those connections anyway. Absent the help of your family or friends, you can sit down and ask yourself what is the worst that could possibly happen while away from home when the lights go out. It's worth probing what you fear, because it's probably something that is most unlikely to happen in reality or that can easily be prevented from occurring. If you make no headway on your own, seek out a therapist skilled at short-term cognitive behavioral therapy. You may want to check out Psychology Today's Therapy Directory for qualified helpers.

Legacy of Abuse

I come from a nightmare of a family, with two alcoholic parents. My father committed suicide when I was 16. My mother physically and emotionally abused me, as did three older sisters, especially after my father's death. With the advice of my family doctor, I divorced myself from my family six years ago. I'm now 34. I have found out that my mother badmouths me, and my sisters and older brother (who is battered by his wife) openly blame me. I was hoping to have a relationship with my nieces and nephews in the future, but they have been banned from talking to me.

It's sad that your family has used you as a scapegoat. Perhaps when your nieces and nephews are older, they will realize that there are two sides to every story and will take an interest in yours and then make up their own minds. Self-vindication should not be your goal. Restoring healthy relationships to a family that sorely needs them should be. If you can't pull it off, don't blame yourself. You're working against formidable opposition and a reputation your siblings have gone out of their way to destroy. It's not something you can fix on your own. What you can do is take pride in the obvious strengths you have and seek out friends who support your resilience.

Send your questions to: askhara@psychologytoday.com.