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Posted on Sun, Dec 11, 2011 : 5 a.m.

Girlfriend threatens break up over plans to study in Spain

By Carolyn Hax

Dear Carolyn:

My girlfriend and I have been together for over a year. I really love her, and she is just a great person to be around. She went off to college 12 hours from where we used to live, and for four long months we missed each other and also realized a long-distance relationship is hard.

We managed to pull through it, and I feel we have great potential.

Next semester, I plan to study in Spain. Knowing how hard it is to be in a long-distance relationship, my partner says that if I go we might break up.

I feel hurt that she's threatening the relationship. When she left for college, I never did that. So what seems to be more important, a girlfriend or a trip to Spain?

-- Anonymous

Well, if you choose the girlfriend over Spain, you probably won't want the girlfriend anymore.

And if you choose Spain over the girlfriend, you probably won't want the girlfriend anymore, either -- but at least you'll have Spain.

That's the cold way of spelling it out.

The rich, warm and human way: You and your girlfriend sound like bright young adults fresh out of your hometown and early in a world- and self-exploration phase. She didn't go to college 12 hours away to see whether her family looked funny on Skype, and you're not going to Spain because you want to tack airfare to your tuition costs. The whole point of such phases is to broaden minds -- i.e., change people.

Welcome the changes, and you likely grow apart. Fight the changes, and you likely grow restless or, worse, resentful.

So, as long as you're taking brave steps to learn about yourselves and the world, really take them. Take the emotional risks that come with them, since avoiding them will cost you, too -- in not broadening your world, not challenging yourselves, not seizing opportunities. If you're right about your potential, then you two will still be good together after you've grown more comfortable in your adult skin.

And if she is indeed "a great person," she won't make good on her threat to take something (i.e., your blessing for her to move far away for no reason but her own enlightenment) that she's not also willing to give.

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Dear Carolyn:

My mother is a narcissist. My husband of 13 years is tired of dealing with her at family holidays. He never has to see her at any other time, even though we live 30 minutes away. He wants me to tell her he doesn't like her so she understands why he's not at holidays and the occasional birthday. He thinks she should be made aware that it is her fault he isn't there rather than make excuses like, "He had to work."

I think it would hurt her to be told that, and I want him to just suck it up for approximately 15 hours a year. He thinks I'm too afraid of her to tell her the truth. I feel like it would harm my relationship with her, which I try to keep as cordial as possible. I am getting pretty good at calling her on the inappropriate things she says, but he doesn't feel like he can call her out on stuff in her own house, and so he just doesn't want to be there.

Whenever I bring it up, his standard reply is a frustrated "I just don't want to be around your mother!" I tell him a lot of people find a way to deal with their in-laws for the sake of their spouses, but he doesn't believe me. I told him we should ask around, so I'm asking you.

-- K.

If he needs proof that other spouses put up with in-laws, then don't look for him to respond to reason (or to the entirety of Western dramatic output since Clement Moore's "A Visit from St. Nicholas") on the subject. He's insulting your intelligence.

Since there is ample room for a reasonable solution here, you're about to learn whether he's willing to be reasonable (i.e., whether you married your mother).

Pinning fault on someone serves only two purposes: to request a change, or to punish. Your husband hasn't the slightest interest in having your mom try to treat him better, right? He just wants out (while, ahem, not owning that decision)?

So, that's where he budges: by admitting, and dropping, his campaign to punish her.

Next, you budge by counting the decade-plus that your husband has already endured of your mother's negativity as time served. Detente was your choice, not his.

Then you package these two concessions: You release him from any obligation to see your mom (emergencies excepted), and in return, you handle his absence as you see fit. Deal?

Email Carolyn at tellme(at), follow her on Facebook at or chat with her online at noon Eastern time each Friday at

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