If you’re in a long-term relationship that you only tolerate, and constantly feel stress, conflict and resentment toward your partner, but don’t want to leave, I want to talk to you. I want to say that, believe it or not, there’s still a chance to have a positive relationship. You may assure me to the contrary, but I believe the possibility is there, so I’d have you consider whether or not you want to stay together the way you are, or devote your effort toward making your relationship a meaningful and joyful one.
Let me tell you about a couple who were together twenty-eight years, twenty-four of which were filled with conflict. It was no wonder that they had both given up and resigned themselves to living the way they were. Then, a large fight ensued, during which the wife totally lost control and said all the things she had stored up for the past twenty-odd years; essentially, that she no longer wanted to live with a critical s.o.b. who pushed her away, constantly called her fat, controlled their finances, and found every excuse to keep her off balance emotionally. After three or four sessions, she turned to me and said, “You’re the fourth counselor we’ve seen. Is it worth it?”
My answer was, “I don’t know. You tell me. Do you want him? If you don’t, let’s talk about divorcing, and ending a situation in which neither one of you is getting what you want or deserve.”
Without hesitation, she said, “I want it, but I’m afraid that if I start to change, he’ll leave. Can you guarantee that won’t happen?”
My response was, “No. I can only guarantee that, if you do what I suggest, there is a possibility you’ll wind up with a good relationship and that he’ll come to appreciate you for having taken the initiative and dealing with him directly and honestly. It will require you to stand up for you, by saying - not screaming, controlling or threatening - that you can no longer accept the destructive communication and behavioral pattern that has existed between the two of you.”
She said she had to think it over.
A week later, after they had another fight. She said, “Dr. Ed, he’s a good man, but I can’t live with it any more. I’m already thinking “out” would be better than “in”. But it still scares me.”
“Well, let me give you six steps you can take to try to help your relationship before you decide whether you want to stay in the marriage unhappy, angry and resentful, and continue to live the way you have, or leave.”
1. Above everything else, for this to work, you have to honestly determine if you want it to. Think about it because, up until now, you’ve said “yes”, but lived “no”
2. Consider the possibility that throughout your marriage, you used fat to ward him off. You knew that, if there was one thing he didn’t like, it was your weight, and you made the decision to be fat. Was it your way of keeping him at a distance? Was it also your way of giving him ammunition to argue with you about, while still retaining some degree of interaction between you? If so, then you forfeit the right to be angry about it. If you still are, it should be at yourself, not him.
3. Recognize that he is an emotional child, who is still rebelling against his mother, but directing his resentment toward a safer object: you. So he constantly pushes you away, using fat as an excuse, working late hours, etc.. It’s got to stop, but it won’t until you stop reacting to it.
4. Know that “rebellious children” engage in their rebellion for two primary reasons:
a) to break their umbilical cord by resisting being controlled.
b) because they desperately want your affection and attention, even if it’s negative.
If that’s so, you need to give him the love he desires without controlling, no matter his behavior.
5. Knowing that you have something to offer that he wants can give you considerable power. But, understand that for years, you have chosen to live under his control, and change isn’t easy.
a) You need to develop a new mantra, consisting of , “I love you and despite your depreciating behavior, I’m not going to leave or stop loving you, unless it becomes so hurtful that I can’t take it anymore.”
b) Act abnormally to his pushing you away, i.e., instead of going away, get closer. Run toward his fears and yours.
c) Be aware that the closer you get to him, the more he’ll initially attempt to push you away. Not because he doesn’t love you, but because he’s scared.
Let me explain: If he was excessively controlled by his mother, either physically or emotionally, he’s going to fear being controlled by you. That’s one reason he pushes you away. On the other hand, if he had a mother who, in ways rejected him, or wasn’t able to be emotionally there for him, he’ll fear getting close to you, anticipating that you’ll reject him, as well. Lastly, if his mother who was too close and lived life through him, he’ll want your love, yet run from it because of his fear that you’ll swallow him up emotionally. In all three instances, his desire for a healthy relationship is there, but under the surface. He just needs to be convinced you’re not there to control, reject or emotionally drain him, you’re there to love, trust and give him support, not take it.
These steps are extremely difficult. It will require that you behave out of what you know, not out of what you’re emotionally wired to do. To maintain that state of awareness, you must remember, he’s frightened. Consequently, he’s going to put up a wall and you have to go through that wall in a loving manner. One way to do so is to ask him to recognize that you’re just as scared and damaged from your childhood as he is, that you need him as much as he needs you, and that you will try not to push him away, because it will be your loss as much as his. It’s a slow, difficult road to traverse, but it can work.
To learn more about Dr. Reitman, read more of his articles, or to obtain copies for family or friends, please visit his website, dredreitman.com.