Dear Harlan: I married a man in the military; we are 900 miles apart. We have been together for six years but have been married for only four months. He has been gone for longer than a year. We have always had our problems, but he has begun to treat me badly.
He's still very sweet at times, but he lies to me and tries to control me. He still brings up things that I did wrong in the beginning of our relationship. We've talked about divorce and separation. I have to say that this doesn't feel right, he doesn't make me happy the way things are now.
He cries and cries when we talk about divorce. I don't want to make the biggest mistake of my life and leave him to never feel love as I do now, but he hurts me all the time. —Sad Newlywed
Dear Sad: In the spirit of the Thanksgiving season, be thankful you're not yet alienated, isolated and emotionally bruised to the point that you think this is normal — you still know that this is wrong.
In three words: He's an ABUSER. Here's how it works: An abuser is sweet, hurtful, apologetic; sweet, hurtful, apologetic. The cycle continues for years. Each time around, he chips away a piece of you and replaces it with a seed of self-doubt. When you do find the courage to threaten leaving, he does the only thing an abuser can do: He cries. By appearing vulnerable, he gets you to then take him back.
Here's your future: Expect him to continue to isolate you, alienate you and make you feel more inadequate. The goal is to make you feel as if you're so unattractive that no one else but him could ever love you. If he succeeds in isolating and controlling you enough, you'll have no one around you to tell you that he's toxic and dangerous. The biggest mistake of your life would be thinking that this love is worth keeping. It's bad and about to get REALLY bad. He's been saving his best stuff for marriage, because now he knows he's got you.
Hey Harlan: I think my two close friends are excluding me. They always know what the other is talking about and don't clue me in. They walk and talk to each other about something that I don't know about because obviously they don't feel as if I'm important enough to be told.
Whenever I say I like something, they don't like it, or if I like someone, they'll put him down. I don't feel like they want me around them anymore. I think I'm just a tagalong, pathetic puppy. I feel really upset and excluded. I need some advice. Can you help? —Third Wheel
Dear Third Wheel: Two things to do: Find new friends and give the friends you already have permission to not always be your best friend. I'm not saying that you should give them permission to disrespect you (never). It's just that you can't always be the best friend in a three-person friendship. Once you can appreciate this, you can relieve some of the pressure and not feel so hurt when you're not the best friend.
Then you can bring up the things that bother you without feeling as defensive or uncomfortable. The other thing you can do is find more friends. The more friends you have, the more options you have. The more options you have, the less you have to put up with friends who treat you poorly or put pressure on you to do things you don't want to do. There are plenty of other "wheels" waiting to hang out with you.
Harlan is the author of "The Naked Roommate: And 107 Other Issues You Might Run Into in College" (Sourcebooks). Write Harlan at firstname.lastname@example.org or visit online: www.helpmeharlan.com. All letters submitted become property of the author. Send paper to Help Me, Harlan! 2506 N. Clark St., Ste. 223, Chicago, IL 60614. © Harlan Cohen 2005 Dist. by King Features Syndicate Inc.