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Do I have to choose between drugs and love?

Can different lifestyle views truly doom a relationship? Possibly, says Dr. Gail Saltz. Here, she explains to a distressed woman why some divisive issues, even for people who love each other, are non-negotiable.
/ Source: TODAY contributor

Q. I have been in a relationship with a man for two years. We fell hard for each other very quickly. He leads an organized, straight-laced lifestyle. I enjoy smoking pot from time to time. In the time that I have been with him, I have not used it nearly as much, but the times that I did have been hidden from him. He knows about the drugs in my past, but I do not consider pot to be a drug other than the fact that it is illegal. It is not a huge part of my life, but he has made it clear that he will not be with someone who “does drugs.”

I have tried to talk with him about it and find compromise, but we just have two completely different views of the issue. The one time I told him I took part in a joint while he was not around, he freaked out. I think that if I tell him I smoke or will smoke in the future, he will look down on me and ultimately cut me out of his life.

If I leave someone based on this fact, does it mean I am choosing a drug over someone who truly loves me? And does he truly love me if I cannot tell him everything about myself? I have been struggling with this for a while. We get along great and I deeply care for him, but this is something I have a very hard time sharing with him because of the way he has expressed his disapproval. What are my options?

A. As you hinted, your options do include choosing an illegal drug over a man who loves you.

If your boyfriend doesn’t want to be with someone who does drugs, he is hardly following an extreme moral code. You are engaging in an illegal activity.

You want your boyfriend to be OK with that. This issue might not be negotiable for him. He can truly love you and still feel extremely uncomfortable and disapproving over your decision to use pot. What’s more, he can truly love you and choose not to be with you.

I think you are really minimizing the problem, and are likely in denial. The question — which goes for both of you — is whether this difference is surmountable for the sake of your relationship.

If you and this man are so in love, and your activity is illegal and carries real risk, then why do you insist on continuing? Why is it so important for you to keep smoking? It brings you into contact with drug dealers and a harmful underworld. You risk arrest or real physical harm.

Marijuana is psychologically addictive, and can become a truly debilitating problem, in some cases necessitating rehab. It sometimes leads to the use of other drugs that are even more addictive. It’s possible you are already addicted and need outside help to stop. Many smokers aren’t aware of their own addiction.

You should take a look at your life to see why you need to be in an altered state of consciousness. Are you quelling anxiety or depression? Is something wrong with your daily life? Are you being truly honest with yourself that this is no big deal?

People under the influence of marijuana often act very differently — either paranoid or relaxed to the point of apathy — and this can be unpleasant for the people around them. It is unhealthy in terms of lung function, as well.

Your options are to stop being a drug user or to break up with this man and look for somebody who feels the way you do. I don’t think you are going to convince your boyfriend you are in the right. Chances are, if you continue to smoke, it will drive a bigger wedge between you and create an ever-increasing problem.

Your question sounds defensive, probably because you don’t want to admit your attachment to drugs. I also wonder whether there is something about your boyfriend’s moral stance, separate from this, that is a problem for you. Possibly you feel you are a bit of a free-spirited rebel while he is too authoritarian, in which case the drug situation is merely masking the real problem.

Dr. Gail’s Bottom Line: Some divisive issues, even for people who love each other, are non-negotiable.

Dr. Gail Saltz is a psychiatrist with New York Presbyterian Hospital and a regular contributor to TODAY. Her latest book is “Anatomy of a Secret Life: The Psychology of Living a Lie.” She is also the author of “Amazing You! Getting Smart About Your Private Parts,” which helps parents deal with preschoolers’ questions about sex and reproduction. Her first book, “Becoming Real: Overcoming the Stories We Tell Ourselves That Hold Us Back,” was published in 2004 by Riverhead Books. It is now available in a paperback version. For more information, you can visit her Web site, .