High maintenance friend
Several years ago, I was in a bad relationship. He begged, borrowed, and stole from me. He couldn't afford a place of his own, so he lived with me rent-free. I admit my idiocy in the whole thing. I didn't want to give him anything, but he was so persistent, and I just wanted to shut him up. Also, I felt I needed proof of his stealing (which I never got of course) before I could do anything about it. I didn't want to risk punishing him for something he didn't do. His attentive and affectionate treatment toward me just didn't match the act of stealing from me. I desperately wanted to get rid of him but was unable to.
I finally broke off the relationship after several months of counseling. Even though I broke off the relationship, he was determined to be best friends with me. He seemed to have improved, and I guess I just have a hard time staying mad. However, this friendship is also getting on my nerves. He tells me that I am his savior and am the only one who really cares about him. He complains that I don't want to see him as often as he wants to see me, which is true. I get highly irritated when he is around me for too long. There is a permanent rift in my trust. He is the first to blame any time I am missing something or it is apparent that someone has ripped me off.
He never really has gotten his life back together (that balance of home, job, transportation) - not for lack of trying. I am so tired of hearing about his bad luck, because I have long realized that I am not able to help him and because I associate this behavior with a request for a favor. He doesn't take my advice to seek professional help, and he threatens suicide.
Apparently, I am not and cannot be the best friend that he thinks I am or wants me to be. I really do want what is best for him, but this doesn't seem to be a healthy situation. It is so difficult to break it off or tone it down when he is so dependent on me. Should I a) break it off or b) change my attitude to be a better friend? If a) How could I do so compassionately and to discourage him from trying to make up with me? Might this prompt him to get that professional help? If b) How do I do that?
Thanks for your letter. You are an intelligent adult woman. You identify and express your situation clearly and succinctly, writing to a qualified person who may be able to give you some direction and guidance. Your observation and communication talents are strong, as you:
- ask what you should do, and,
- how you should do it.
Apparently, though, these organization skills allude you when it comes to:
- this man and,
- this friendship.
Now, why is that?
I'm simply suggesting that you probably have been able to set some clear boundaries with other exploitative and manipulative people in your life. The world is full of folks who expect others to do for them, and blame others for the problem-filled lives they create; chances are good that you have been successful setting limits with difficult, demanding people before. What makes this man different?
My guess is that your history with him causes you to not see this situation clearly, and that, in order to fully understand why this relationship is so confusing for you now, you may need to examine who you were in that relationship several years ago. In other words, you may still be resolving something which was left unsaid or done in the counseling you received back then.
My recommendation is that you go back into counseling to finish this work, so that you can uncover the psychological bond this relationship presents to you. Although you have done a lot to explore the attachment need he represents, you did not completely finish this work. You will be looking to discover more about you and what you want and need from life, so, this is definitely worth doing, plus, you will arrive at your own authentic answers to questions a and b (above) when you do.
You might also be helped by CoDA meetings, where members learn to focus on prioritizing their own needs in relationships with others so that they can ultimately be more genuine and loving to themselves and others.
In the meantime, follow your intuition.
Margaret "Peg" Burr , MA, MFT
This question was answered by Andy Bernay-Roman, RN, MS, LMHC, NCC, LMT. He is a nationally certified counselor in private psychotherapy practice in South Florida working with individuals, couples, and families with a deep-feeling therapy approach. Andy's medical background as an ICU nurse contributes to his success with clients with difficult medical diagnoses and/or chronic physical conditions. He also serves as head of the Psychological Support Department of West Palm Beach's Hippocrates Health Institute.For more information visit: http://www.deepfeeling.com/