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July 22, 2014 - Welcome Guest!

Advice » Love

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Question:

I am 23 and have been married to someone for 3 years and dating him for 7 years. Who? I don't have a clue anymore. My husband was sexually, mentally, and physically abused as a child. His father was also an alcoholic and his mother left his father and put him and his brothers in foster care. I met this man and he drank but I thought that it was just a teenage thing.

I fell in love with him and we got married young. This man has a lot of love to give and I can see this, but for the past 5 years we have been having troubles and we can't seem to fix them. He can't seem to explain what his problem is but he knows he has one. I have always stood by him and supported him because I love him, for what I know he is but he has yet to find that out for himself. No matter what happened in our relationship or what kind of trouble he got himself into, I always loved him and supported him. I never let him think any of the things he was doing wrong were O.K. but I supported him to eventually make right decisions so that all would be better for us.

Now after all this time, he has decided that he does not want to be with me anymore, this is making me so confused! He says that I make him feel like nothing and small, and that he needs to find himself and see that he is a good person without me, and he doesn't love me anymore. I cant figure out how all this went wrong! I am afraid that he will go on the rest of his life being unhappy and me as well because he is going to just repress all memories of me like all the past problems he has had in his life before. I don't want this to happen. What should I do? I know that if I decide to move on and get over him then that will be it. I don't think that I will go back to him but that is not what I want to do, I want to stay with him and make things work. One day he said he loved me and the next day he never wanted to be with me again. What could he be thinking, should I let him go or should I keep trying to help him?

Terri (23 year-old woman)

Answer:

Dear Terri,

I read your question several times before formulating this answer. I have to say that the dilemma you describe is unfortunately, a common one. While I recognize that there is little comfort in knowing you are not alone in feeling as you do and having to wrestle with the issues at hand, I can tell you that I have assisted numerous clients in working through this difficult emotional quandary. Through my work with them, they were challenged to examine themselves, their needs and their reasons for wanting their relationships to continue even in the face of serious dysfunction. In the end, these clients experienced tremendous personal growth and left feeling more confident and valued. To that end, I hope I can provide you with the impetus to go down that road.

It is a helpless and lonely feeling to see a relationship come to an end when you still feel committed to it. From what you have stated, it appears that even though your husband says he no longer wants to remain in the relationship, he demonstrates through his actions, his ambivalence and confusion by giving you mixed messages. This, together with your strong feelings toward him as well as your commitment to help him change have left you also feeling confused, powerless and unsure of yourself.

I would like to assist you in clarifying your thinking as well as your feelings by offering the following:

  1. In order for a relationship to thrive (not just exist), it requires the commitment and input of both parties. When only one person is doing all the work, a relationship at best can only be maintained. In such cases, there is no sharing and no mutual support. Over time, the relationship changes from being a balanced partnership between equals to one in which one partner assumes the role of parent/teacher and the other assumes the role of child/student. This situation is unworkable in an intimate relationship. When this occurs (as in your situation), one person is left feeling responsible and resentful when his/her needs are not being met, while the other feels inadequate and resentful at being made to feel that they can do nothing right.

  2. It is important to examine why one feels responsible for their partners' happiness. It is common for people from emotionally disadvantaged backgrounds (similar to that of your husband's) to attach themselves to others who are willing to save them. Based on my experience in working with couples, many "savers" gain their self-esteem from rescuing others. These individuals take responsibility for their partners' happiness because they do not value their own need to seek happiness for themselves. This is a very important concept for you to consider as you reflect upon your relationship.

  3. It is important to recognize the different emotional environments from which people come. These environments, among other things, set the framework for how they view themselves, how they interact with others and how they express their emotions. People who come from emotionally deprived environments that unstable and lack nurturing, often fail to develop the ability to express emotions in an adaptive and healthy manner. Moreover, when people turn to alcohol and/or drugs as a means of coping, their ability to express themselves emotionally is further constrained. Under these conditions, people lack the full range of emotional expression and tend to experience life in black and white terms (This is where your husband's comment, "One day he said he loved me and the next he never wanted to be with me again" comes from). The challenge for couples with very different styles of emotional expression is to be aware of the differences and to carefully examine whether these differences can be managed or accommodated. When there are huge discrepancies, these situations are rarely workable unless one partner makes huge sacrifices and can fulfill his/her needs in other aspects of life such as career/children/sports etc.

You are obviously in a very difficult place emotionally. It is clear that you care very much for this man and have made a large emotional investment in him and the relationship. Unfortunately, it appears as if the choice of continuing the relationship is not yours. While it may be possible to convince your husband to give the relationship another "go", I think it is best that you give him the space he feels he needs. If he is committed to the relationship, he will spend the time away reflecting upon it and the things he needs to do to make it work. If your husband is unable to do this, then any amount of pressuring him to stay will only forestall the inevitable. Use this time to reflect on your own needs and how you can better serve them. If you can, seek therapy with a professional who specializes in codependent relationships.

My best to you.

Reena Sommer

This question has been answered by Dr. Reena Sommer is a family life consultant in private practice in Winnipeg, Canada. She heads Dr. Reena Sommer & Associates, a multidisciplinary group of professionals who offer a broad range of services to individuals, couples and families seeking assistance with interpersonal problems. Dr. Sommer' s area of expertise is working with clients experiencing difficulties during the process of divorce. Dr. Sommer combines a solution focused approach with elements of psycho-education to help clients develop effective coping strategies, manage the challenges of parenting and gain the tools needed to move on in life.

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