Telling someone the truth when it can cost you their love forever16 may 2013, 14:38
If you really love someone, sometimes you have to be prepared to lose them by telling them an unpleasant truth.
Some weeks ago my friend Ryan told his girlfriend Zhanna that he believed she had a mental condition that required treatment.
“Zhanna is headstrong and very sensitive to criticism,” Ryan said, “and I knew she wouldn’t like what I was going to say.”
But he felt it was imperative that he say something, that Zhanna’s future happiness depended on it.
If she believed him, and sought treatment, she would have a much better life, he was convinced.
He knew that the chances were good that she’d be so upset by what he’d say that she’d leave him. And, sadly, as it turned out, that’s exactly what happened.
“I asked her to get a diagnosis, so if she had a problem, she’d know it – and could take steps to deal with it,” Ryan told me at a coffee shop recently. “But the only thing she did was get angry with me for suggesting it.”
He told Zhanna that he believed she had borderline personality disorder, a condition with a number of dysfunctional behaviors. They include excessive jealousy, quick shifts between euphoria and depression, displays of explosive anger for little or no reason, the use of foul, abusive language with loved ones, and splitting, or idealizing a person one moment and demonizing them the next.
As Zhanna’s boyfriend – the person closest to her except her family members – Ryan had experienced many of the behaviors firsthand.
They were perplexing and often devastating.
For him, the worst was the abusive language. “She learned English in the States for two years,” he said. “When she got angry with me, she’d call me the foulest things imaginable in English. Even men have never called me the things she did.”
Ryan hung in with her because he loved her.
“Zhanna is the smartest woman I’ve ever known,” he said. “Having conversations with her was pure joy.”
That’s saying something because Ryan is one of the brightest guys I know.
“When I lost her, it was doubly bad because not only was Zhanna the woman I loved, but she was also my best friend,” he said. “I wandered around for days not knowing who to talk to. I have a lot of friends but I can’t talk to any of them the way I could talk with Zhanna.”
“If you love her so much, why don’t you try to win her back,” I said. “Maybe she’ll come around about a diagnosis and therapy.”
“I haven’t told you everything that’s happened with us since I suggested she had borderline personality disorder,” he replied. “I made some mistakes with her, pushed her too hard to change behavior that I considered self-destructive. She became resentful, accusing me of being judgmental. It’s all too complicated right now.”
“Maybe you just need a cooling-off period,” I said. “If she has time to think, without pressure from you, she may acknowledge that she has borderline personality disorder and do something about it. Especially if she realizes you brought it up because you love her.”
“It could go that way – you’re right,” he said. “But it could also go another way: She could find a new boyfriend, and I lose her forever.”
Ryan looked miserable over that prospect, so I was silent for a few moments.
“You know, Ryan,” I said, “we don’t know what God’s going to do in this situation. He may make her realize how courageous you were -- how much you loved her -- when you brought up the possibility of a disorder with her. If that’s the case, she’ll come back to you.
“The other possibility,” I continued, “is that she WILL find another man – but that she’ll realize later on that what you said was true, and that it came from your heart. And she’ll do something about it then. In that case, you will have lost her, but you will also have given her a new life.”
“I’ve thought about that second possibility,” he said. “It would make me feel a little better, but it would be bittersweet because I love her so much.”
“In any case, I salute your courage,” I said. “Not many men would have been brave enough to tell a difficult truth to the woman they love when they knew it could cost them that woman forever.”
“I guess we’ll just have to see what the next few weeks bring,” Ryan said. His furrowed brow indicated he was clearly worried about it.
“Ryan,” I said, “if there is justice, goodness and right in this world, she’ll come back to you, she’ll go to therapy, and you’ll have a really happy life together.”
“That’s one of the things I’ve always liked about you – your optimism,” he said.
But he said it without conviction. And I could tell from the resignation in his voice that he feared he’d already lost Zhanna forever.
There was nothing else I could say. The two of us drank our coffee in silence and went our separate ways.