boy screaming at cowering girl

In our Psychological & Spiritual Therapy column, therapist Jack Surguy is offering professional advice to The Mindful Word readers for all those questions and problems you have wanted to discuss with someone qualified and caring.

If you would like Jack to assist you in any areas of your life and relationships, fill out this form. He will respond to your questions through this column, normally published every Tuesday.

QUESTION


I‘ve been in a relationship with a guy I’ve known since December. We’ve been dating since January. He tells me things and claims to love me. However, he’s still talking to his ex, who’s also named Jessica. He tells her how I’m just an addict and he’s pissy about having to buy me drugs.

The drugs are why I know him and honestly, he has the addiction and I don’t. Meth is not something you can bounce back from. It takes at least 21 days or so for you to snap out of feeling like you need it to accomplish anything.

Why do I put up with it—tell people I’m doing well and in a great relationship? I put him before everything and also do everything he asks me to. Is it because I feel indebted to him? What should I do? Please help me see things more clearly.

Marvin, 30, U.S.

ANSWER


Dear Marvin (AKA also named Jessica),

Thank you for your question. If I understood correctly, your desire to see things more clearly pertains to a relationship you’re in that also involves an ex-girlfriend and evidently, some substance use.

There’s a lot to unpack, but I believe the best place to start is with your request to help you see things in a better light.

Let’s talk straight


At times, I believe the most effective way of offering any form of assistance to another is to proceed in a direct, straightforward manner that doesn’t seek to water down or sugarcoat any statements. In this case, I believe this approach is likely the most effective choice.

First, your request is somewhat problematic. In what way do you want to see things better or more clearly? From what you included in your question, you see things just fine. You’re in a relationship with a person who has regular contact with his ex, and during their conversations he evidently degrades you and expresses his frustration with having to financially support your recreational drug use.

What facet are you not seeing clearly?

You state that you lie to your friends about the relationship, which suggests that you indeed see things clearly and wish to hide those aspects from your friends. Again, it sounds as if you see things very clearly!

Choosing to stay in an unhealthy relationship


For whatever reasons, you’ve decided to stay in this relationship. Perhaps that’s what you’re asking to see in a better light—you seemingly want to discover the underlying reasons you’re choosing to stay in an unhealthy relationship.

There are times when reasons mean little. There are times when action is what’s most vitally important.

I have two responses to this:

First, you’re staying because a need is being met through this relationship. If a need wasn’t being met, you wouldn’t stay.

Second, why does knowing the reason matter? There are times when reasons mean little. There are times when action is what’s most vitally important, regardless of any possible reason.

Put out the fire


firemen putting out a fire in a buildingA few years ago, I was renting a small apartment from an older couple who lived in an adjacent apartment. One afternoon, I decided to take a short nap, and as I started to drift off to sleep, I heard what sounded like popcorn popping. Curious, I got up and looked around the corner into the kitchen, but noticed nothing out of the ordinary.

I went back into the living room to resume my nap. However, I again heard what sounded like popcorn popping. I entered the kitchen again, listened, and then heard the strange popping sounds coming from the restroom across the kitchen from me. I walked over and peered into the restroom, and to my horror, saw that the ceiling was on fire and the flames were quickly spreading across the entire ceiling. I ran and grabbed the fire extinguisher that was under the kitchen sink, then ran back to the bathroom and started shooting the flames with the extinguisher.

My fear intensified when I realized the extinguisher wasn’t fully charged and had stopped working before I could extinguish all the flames. I had to think quickly! I ran back to the kitchen sink, turned the water on high, and used the spray hose attached to the sink in place of the extinguisher. Thankfully, the hose was very long and the water pressure was high enough to effectively douse the flames.

As I continued to shoot water at the ceiling, I grabbed my phone that was thankfully in my pocket, and dialled 911 to report the fire. The fire department arrived within minutes and took over. The cause of the fire was a small fan in the bathroom light that had evidently jammed up before I’d moved into the apartment. When the light was on, the fan tried to work, but was unable to turn the blades. Eventually, it short-circuited and caught fire.

None of that mattered, though, when I first saw the flames—none of it. In fact, I don’t recall any thought of how the fire started passing through my mind the entire time I was fighting the flames. My only focus was extinguishing the flames and the threat they presented.

I later discovered that the older gentleman who lived adjacent to me was sleeping during the fire and required assistance to get out of bed. The firemen told me that if I hadn’t been home, the older gentlemen would’ve likely been killed in the fire because the ceilings of our apartments were attached.

When a person sees a fire, action is called for—instead of an attempt to discover what may have started the flame! 

The fear of taking action


The same principle can be applied to your situation. You know the relationship isn’t healthy, and you know it’s a waste of time, so the reasons for your compulsion to stay don’t matter. Action is what’s needed, and after action, you can then try to understand the underlying psychological reasons.

Yet, taking action is where the main problem lies—the issue isn’t seeing things more clearly, the issue is your fear of taking action in regard to what you already know you need to do. Trying to uncover some psychological motives for your desire to stay in the relationship will simply allow you more time to stall, instead of acting to improve your situation.

Again, you see things clearly, you’re just too afraid to act.

Emotionally and psychologically safe


That being said, there may be a couple of insights that could motivate you to take the action you likely fear. You stated in your question, “I put him before everything and also do everything he asks me to.”

I doubt this is due to you feeling indebted to him. Instead, if we step back and look at the situation carefully, what we see is a person involved in a relationship with someone they know can’t be trusted or depended upon. This is someone you know you can’t emotionally invest yourself in, and you know that in the long run, this relationship won’t work out. In a very unconventional way, the relationship is actually emotionally safe for you.

You know you can never allow yourself to become emotionally vulnerable with this person, and perhaps that’s where your need is being met in this relationship. The relationship allows you to remain emotionally and psychologically safe, while real, authentic love relationships require vulnerability and a willingness to give power to another who has the ability to crush you emotionally if they choose.

Real, authentic love relationships require vulnerability and a willingness to give power to another.

Love is risk.

However, you’ve created a situation that allows you to avoid all the risk and vulnerability. In fact, the relationship even provides you psychological protection from the inevitable breakup. How could the relationship ending be your fault when you’ve put him before everything and have done everything he asks you to? Who could blame you?! He was obviously an ungrateful jerk who didn’t realize what he had.

With this line of thought, you’ll then be able to move into the next unhealthy relationship bearing no fault, no burdens and no responsibility for the failed one before.

Work on the relationship you have with yourself


Now, I fully acknowledge that much of what I’ve said here is based on assumption, but those assumptions are based on the experiences of many people I’ve worked with in similar situations. Their actions, or lack thereof, were born out of a fear of being alone, and at the same time, a fear of being in a real, authentic relationship that required vulnerability. Their solution was to become involved in a series of relationships with individuals they knew were untrustworthy, so becoming vulnerable wasn’t a concern.

I don’t know if this helps you see things better or more clearly. My hope is that you’ll see that your fear of being in a real, loving relationship is likely the reason you put up with your current one.

Breaking this cycle requires action—you’ll have to act and move in the direction that’s in your best interest. Then, you’ll need to face the doubts and emotional demons that dwell within.

When working with others in similar situations, I’ve always advised staying out of any romantic relationships. The main relationship you must work on is the one you have with yourself. Once that relationship changes and improves, you’ll no longer tolerate people who engage in the kind of behaviour you described in your question.

Remember, love is risk.    

P.S. As you probably noticed, I avoided the entire issue of drug use. While I fully acknowledge the devastating consequences that can occur as a result of drug abuse, the way it was mentioned seemed odd to me—almost as if it were mentioned as a way to draw attention away from your relationship issues. If you’re struggling with addiction, I highly recommend seeing a professional to help you with those issues as well.

images: 1. Pixabay 2. When the sun went down by Gideon Wright via Flickr (Creative Commons BY)

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