Saturday, May 19, 2007

Should Friends Tell Friends Their Lovers Are Cheaters??

Marilyn and I are casual friends who have been bumping into each other for years at the same veterinarian. After not seeing each other for a long time, we finally met again at the supermarket—and decided to have lunch to catch up. Marilyn has been divorced for 5 years, and while her breakup was going on, I had lent her my ear a few times on the telephone when she needed it. During one of our conversations, she confessed that she had been having an affair for 7 years with a married man. I asked if that was the reason her marriage was breaking up. She insisted, “No, my marriage was dead years before that.” I just listened, since that’s what I sensed my friend needed most.

Now 5 years later, Marilyn has dumped her married lover, has had a few relationships, and is alone and fairly lonely. During our lunch, she said she recently connected with a former crush from her seventh grade class! He’s a highly paid attorney, working for a large law firm. At this point, they have seen each other a few times and have enjoyed each other’s company. He told her he’s in the midst of a divorce.

I know people at this company, so I asked around. The buzz on this guy from more than one very reliable source is that he’s a player. For all I know he’s “seeing” lots of women while he’s courting my friend. Rumor is that he’s been “going through a divorce” for the past 10 years, he’s had multiple affairs with women, single and married, at the firm, he’s got 6 kids, he’s a very devout Catholic who doesn’t believe in divorce, and besides all that, he’ll never leave his wife because alimony and child support would financially wipe him out. But I note that he sees Marilyn on Saturday nights, so there certainly must be some bona fide breakdown in his communications at home.

What do I do? Do I tell Marilyn about my findings? If so, I could be implicating my own sources, and also, there are laws about libeling someone’s reputation. Would Marilyn even want to hear about what I know, or would she want to "kill the messenger"? I also secretly wonder if this is Marilyn’s spirit-world retribution for cheating on her own husband years earlier. After all, what goes around comes around. Marilyn has said she’s keeping this relationship purely platonic until this guy decides what he truly wants to do at home. So obviously, there has been discussion between the two of them that he is uncertain of his next steps. Is she fooling herself into believing that anything will EVER change with this guy’s home life? Marilyn is not one of my clients who has commissioned me to ask significant questions. What do I do?

Clients often ask me what they should do after they find a friend's lover cheating. Often, they are burning to do something—anything—to save their friend. My best advice is to speak directly to the cheater and let him/her know s/he’s been spotted on the make. Sometimes this is the impetus that gets him/her to clean up his/her act, and the person who caught him/her in the act is off the hook as a troublemaker. But I don’t even know this guy. Although I’d like to protect my friend, is it really my business to do that?

So many people are faced with this dilemma, I thought I’d open it up to your comments. For the first time in all my psychotherapeutic years, I am asking YOU, my readers and loyal fans, for HELP!
Dr. Gilda

Wednesday, May 9, 2007

Why Giving Back Is Feeling Good

The other day, one of my long-time friends, Mary, and I were catching up on the telephone. Her wonderful and devoted husband had been diagnosed with two forms of cancer within the year, one after the other. She literally nursed him back to health during each scary episode. Now her 85-year-old mother has dementia, and is quickly fading. Just days before, Mary had to take her mom’s car away from her because she was increasingly becoming a hazard on the road. Without the independence to get around on her own, her mother was feeling like a caged animal, and was calling Mary non-stop, every 5 minutes, at home and at her work place. My poor friend was at her wit’s end.

Meanwhile, Mary’s next door neighbor, who is in a wheel chair, had recently been widowed. As random kindness, Mary would routinely pick up her newspaper from the front of her house, and run errands for the elderly lady. But on this day, when the neighbor asked where her paper was, my friend lost it. She told me irately, “This woman has a son. Let him take care of her.” Mary was drained and she simply had nothing more to give. She had been taking care of others from the basic core of the stuff she needed to sustain her own well-being. As Chapter 5 in “Don’t Bet on the Prince!” is titled, “Give from the Overflow, Not from the Core.” We need our core energies to nurture ourselves before we nurture others. That’s why one of my Gilda-Grams insists that we “Live the Capital ‘I’ Life.”

I advised Mary to do something terrific for herself NOW. With everyone grabbing for her attention, she didn’t know how to do that. She filled a low-dose prescription for a psychotropic drug to calm her nerves, as a short-term remedy.

It has happened to all of us. The rubberband gets stretched, and then it suddenly snaps. Usually, the snapping event occurs at the wrong time, at the wrong place, with the wrong person. But it’s usually the result of all the stress we chose not to deal with earlier. Mary and her husband have a great marriage, and with no children, they have only each other on whom to lavish love. With each of her husband’s diagnoses, Mary had acted on autopilot. She was familiar with this kind of caretaking. Over the years, before her husband had gotten ill, she became the official caretaker for his mother, then his father, then her father, and now her mom. Mary is overweight, obviously skilled at stuffing her anguish into her body. For as long as I know her, she has never taken the time to love Mary.

I shared my own week with my friend. My elderly neighbor needed a colonoscopy and asked me to pick her up from the hospital. One of my close friends needed her car repaired, and asked me to pick her up from the auto mechanic. And a close girlfriend was going on a job interview, and I volunteered to watch her infant while she dazzled a prospective employer. Despite all my media interviews, appearances, speeches, columns, coaching, and personal commitments, I offered my support to the people I love who needed me during that week because it made me feel good! I admit that doing things for people I love is purely self-driven. But the reason I was able to do it with aplomb that week was because, unlike Mary, my basic core felt solid; I had already siphoned off what I needed for me. I’m not always in such a secure place.

Most people don’t perfect self-care because it doesn’t always make them the most popular person on the block. For example, while having a business lunch with a colleague in an elegant restaurant, the young waiter interrupted our intense conversation with a recitation of the menu. I said, “Excuse me. I was just in the middle of my sentence.” My colleague, who is boundary-challenged herself, gasped at my outspokenness. The waiter quickly about-faced, and replaced himself with another server. While communicating your boundaries may have its drawbacks, it will protect you from energy drainers by letting them know your needs. Without enunciating your needs, like my friend, Mary, you will barely be able to give to yourself, much less give to others.

Giving back is a great feel-good therapy. American Idol’s Give-Back Night, and Bono’s ONE Campaign to Make Poverty History are examples of give-backs from the surplus of what these folks possess in their core. If we all optimized our time management, we could surely squeeze out a little something extra for those in need. But we must first provide for OURSELVES.

Just one caveat: While you're stealing precious me-time, people may call you “selfish.” Assertively correct them with the more accurate term, “self-caring.” And continue doing what you’re doing. This way, those you love will truly benefit from a stronger you!

Dr. Gilda