Jewish Journal


January 22, 1998

Dear Deborah


Barbed Words

Dear Deborah,

I don't understand, and I'm feeling hurt. I wasdating someone who, when she became upset, would say things that notonly didn't express how she felt but were verbally abusive. How can Iwork with someone who glibly says, "I never have any fun with you?" Ifound that difficult to listen to, considering her kisses theprevious week didn't indicate any discontent with me.

What hurts me is that I know that what she meantisn't what she said. Furthermore, what she did say nullifieseverything I have done for her in the past, and discourages me fromdoing anything for her or with her in the future. One of thepleasures I enjoy is making the woman I care about happy and safe.Not only does she take this pleasure away from me, she ensures thatany spark is killed in the relationship. I guess this is really amessage to all the other women (and men) out there to please bemindful of your words: Don't use blameful and destructive language.If he (or she) makes a mistake, it's one thing to expressdisappointment, and it's quite another to blame and attack.

Feeling Beat Up

Dear Feeling Beat Up,

While I appreciate you sharing your feelings abouthow words can hurt, the importance of thinking before speaking, andthe significance of stating how one feels rather than blaminganother, I am left curious. Have you expressed all this to yourgirlfriend, or has she become a member of the Ex-Files? In otherwords, how are you doing at the most difficult part of a relationship-- you know, the part after you've been kidnapped by the RomanceFairy, the ransom has been paid, and you've returned to theplanet?

If you and she have not parted ways, you havebegun the nitty-gritty of communicating what's wrong and how toresolve it. While the romance part of any relationship is purepoetry, the rest is mostly prose -- and, if you're doing it right,good editing.

The Awakening

Dear Deborah,

I recently had a life-altering experience. I hadcancer -- a year of treatment, pain and hope. My prognosis, although"so far, so good," is uncertain. Because of it, I have become awareof my life -- the past for sure, but mostly the present. Who knowsabout the future?

Today, I feel a new clarity and a sense ofvitality that I never had. As a result, I decided not to wasteanother moment of my life by living it only half-alive. I have beenclear of cancer for eight months and getting back my strengthphysically. I have quit the job I had for nine years, moved out of my16-year marriage and home, and am living modestly off savings in aone-room apartment. I attend classes, am involved in Jewish spirituallife, hang out with my daughter quite a bit, and take fullresponsibility for my choices.

The problem is that my family thinks I've gonecrazy; but I know I have never been less crazy. I was in therapy foryears, individual and marriage, always trying to make myself stay inunhappy situations (both marriage and job) for the sake of my child,family and community. Although I waste no time on regrets, I realizethat I was truly miserable. Now that I feel better, the quality of myrelationship with my daughter has greatly improved, and I relishevery moment spent with her. The problem is that family members, myex-wife, my former in-laws and even my daughter are constantlypushing me to reconcile with my ex-wife, to see a psychiatrist and totalk with the rabbi. How do I convince them that I am notnuts?

Free At Last

Dear Free,

You don't. It is difficult to adequately explainthe effects of a major life change to another human being. No matterwhat anyone ever told you, for example, could you have anticipatedthe effects upon your life of having a child? The same is true withany great change, such as your illness.

What you do not make clear is specifically whythey think you are crazy. Is it because you've always been one wayand now you are another? Or might it perhaps have something to dowith responsibility? Although you made it clear that you are spendingtime with your daughter, are you still paying for some or all of herexpenses? If you are being honest with yourself and others andassuming your fair share of responsibility for your child, then youmay have to live with others thinking you mad. But if you have handedover the reins of life over to your true self with honesty,responsibility and consciousness, then mount that crazy horse andgo.

Lip Service

Dear Deborah,

Regarding "Not On The Lips" (Dec. 26), why notjust avoid the issue altogether by not even moving to kiss his cheek?Why risk an unnecessary confrontation when a warm handshake -- sanskiss, and maybe two-handed -- will do? I think either of yoursuggested comments risks offending and embarrassing everyone --including her old friend. A firm handshake, which does not allow himto "move in," plus clear eye contact should do the trick, at least asa first step.


Dear S,

Good point. Start small and then escalate ifnecessary. I admit that I was temporarily carried away by the fantasyof publicly humiliating so brazen a schlemiel that I escalatedstraight from the kiss to the diss. I stand corrected. So, "Not OnThe Lips," if you have not yet committed any act of social mayhem, dowe agree that there is no need to move directly from sticks andstones to small thermonuclear devices? Let's shake on it.

Deborah Berger-Reiss is a West Los Angelespsychotherapist.

All rights reserved by author.

All letters to DearDeborah require a name, address andtelephone number for purposes of verification. Names will, of course,be withheld upon request. Our readers should know that when names areused in a letter, they are fictitious.

Dear Deborah welcomes your letters. Responses canbe given only in the newspaper. Send letters to Deborah Berger-Reiss,1800 S. Robertson Blvd., Ste. 927, Los Angeles, CA 90035. You canalso send E-mail: deborahb@primenet.com

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