Dear Annie: I’m a 60-year-old male about to reenter the dating world. I’m being treated for Kahler’s disease — multiple myeloma — with a daily maintenance of a low-dose chemotherapy pill. I have no outward appearance of having cancer, and there have been no lifestyle challenges.
At some point, this disease will relapse and eventually be terminal. When is the time to bring up this difficult subject?
I think being open and honest early on is best. Some of my friends say it may appear I’m playing the sympathy card or disclosing a very personal subject too soon.
Others say to wait and see if a serious relationship starts developing and then disclose it. That option seems to me like I’m hiding something and not a way to start a healthy relationship.
What is your opinion on this subject? — Unsure What To Do.
Dear Unsure: If being open and honest feels best to you, then your future partner will appreciate that and like the fact that you are trustworthy from the beginning. Any potential love interest who thought you were playing the sympathy card by telling them about what you have gone through is not a good potential partner. Better to weed out people who won’t love ALL of you sooner rather than later so that you can find the right love.
Dear Annie: I’ve been reading and enjoying your column for a while now and see a lot of letters from individuals who long for a relationship with toxic parents but don’t know how or whether to set limits with them, cut them off or try to forgive them. A good example was the column from April 15 from “Trying to Heal,” who grew up in an extremely abusive household with a functioning (mean, abusive) alcoholic for a mother.
I am an academic psychiatrist and therapist who has been writing about how to handle such situations in a way that is very effective if a patient can get up the nerve to do it. It involves researching the family over several generations using a “genogram” to come to an understanding about how shared mental conflicts, leading to the problematic interactions, develop in family members in response to historical circumstances and the proclivities of the involved individuals.
The goal is for the client to develop empathy for the parent’s obnoxious behavior, which is often far more ambivalent and regretful than it may seem to be. I have come up with several strategies for helping people get past the parent’s defensiveness to discuss the problem in a way that leads to active problem-solving rather than fighting. The goal is not to “fix” the parent but to “fix” the relationship.
I don’t know if you’d be interested, but I think you would be. I’m sure you get many self-help book authors trying to get plugs, but I believe my approach is very different from what’s out there. For cases that do not involve a history of sexual or severe physical child abuse, I have a book out for the public that outlines the procedures involved. It’s called “Coping With Critical, Demanding, and Dysfunctional Parents.” For the more severe cases (I specialized in people with borderline personality disorder), a therapist would be needed (I also have books out for therapists).
Thank you, and keep up the good work! — David M. Allen, M.D.
Dear Dr. Allen: Your approach is fascinating, and your use of a “genogram” sounds very clever for understanding parental abuse. Thank you for sharing your insights.
“How Can I Forgive My Cheating Partner?” is out now! Annie Lane’s second anthology — featuring favorite columns on marriage, infidelity, communication and reconciliation — is available as a paperback and e-book. Visit http://www.creatorspublishing.com for more information. Send your questions for Annie Lane to [email protected]