How to get Dr. Irene's Advice: Look here!

Ask The Doc Board Archives

The CatBox Archives

Stories Archives


Below is an Interactive Board sampler. A fuller listing is found in the "Stories" menu above.

4/14 Interactive Board: Codependent Partners

3/23 Interactive Board: He's Changing... I'm Not...

3/1 Interactive Board: D/s Lifestyle

1/14 Interactive Board: My Purrrfect Husband

12/12 Interactive Board: What if He Could Have Changed?

10/23 Interactive Board: Quandary Revisited

8/24 Interactive Board: Quandary! What's Going On?

7/20: Dr. Irene on cognitive behavior therapy and mindfulness

6/12 Interactive Board: Unintentional Abuse

11/7 Interactive Board: Is This Abusive?

12/29 Interactive Board: There Goes the Wife...

11/4 Interactive Board: A New Me!

10/8 Interactive Board: Seeming Impossibility

9/8 Interactive Board: My Ex MisTreats Our Son

5/1 Interactive Board: I feel Dead - Towards Him

4/26 Interactive Board: Why is This So Hard?

4/19 Interactive Board: I Lost My Love...

4/7 Interactive Board: Too Guilty!

Interactive: Codependent Partners

Interactive Board:  Your ALT-Text here Codependent Partners

May 14, 2007

Dr. Irene,

I wish this could be short but I will try to be clear about the issues that have emerged between my partner and me. 
My partner and I have been in a committed relationship for the past 8 years.  Although we now are more estranged than together, both of us agree we have had a wonderful and beautiful relationship.  We have had reasonable challenges along the way, with the exception of two (unfortunate) events. 

I guess I will begin at the beginning.  I met my partner in 1999 while still in graduate school.  My partner was already a professor at a local university and we seemed to connect very well together.  Having been in a physical and verbally abusive relationship 3 years prior, I was careful not to jump into anything.  We had long discussions about long term relationships and how we saw ourselves as a couple.  We both recognized we were co-dependent from the beginning. 

At the time, I had been in recovery for 3 years but my partner had not.  I saw no problem (oops).  No Ooops here Sweetie. I read ahead... What's going on here has little to do with her and plenty to do with you! (As usual.) We also agreed that honesty (coupled with emotional fidelity) was the most important component of a relationship above monogamy and decided to take the later issue as we went along. Did you really, honest-with-yourSelf agree that physical infidelity was OK? Or did you enter into that agreement because you wanted her? Both of us are people pleasures and now I realize how detrimental this has been for us.  Anyway, we had very little conflict in the first 3 years of our relationship. 

Our 3rd year was very hectic because I was working on my dissertation, a fulltime employee/advocate at our local domestic violence shelter and admittedly unrelentingly needy THAT is your problem - the neediness...  My partner was my main source of support and validation throughout the process.  Big mistake on my part (recognize this now).  As a result of this, my partner reached out to her ex-lover and spent Memorial Day weekend with her in 2003.  STOP! She did not reach out to her ex because you are needy. She reached out to her ex because she reached out to her ex! It's codependent thinking to think that your neediness is why she did this. (Yes, I agree, you two are very codependent.)

Apart from a little concern, I felt my partner was being honest with me about her reasons for her planned visit (she said that it was purely platonic).  Ummmm... That is like a woman saying it is OK for her husband to spend a weekend with his ex-girlfriend. And, furthermore, why would s/he want to do this? Being in a same-sex relationship does not change the basic values we were brought up with in our serially monogamous society. You were concerned and rightly so. Most men or women, gay or straight, would not permit this. Most of us would not enter into an agreement that physical infidelity is OK!  And frankly, reading between the lines of your letter, I don't believe that you were OK with this aspect of the agreement. I think your codependent denial and wishful thinking that things would be smooth got in your way.

After my partner returned from the visit, she fell apart and told me she had slept with her ex and that she had lied to me over the phone during her stay.  At first I was calm and we discussed her need for a secondary partner.  I told her I understood and assured her we could work it out but didn’t tell her how very devastating her lies were to my since of security in our relationship.  Of course you were devastated! Not only did she lie, breaking your mutual vow, she betrayed you because she had to have her ex. Then she felt guilty. So rather than being mature about it, resolving NEVER EVER to do this again (since it results in guilt and hurt feelings) and simply keep this incident to herself to not upset you, she instead dumped her guilt and told you. Your partner is an immature lady with little self control who runs her life on the pleasure principle. This is OK with you?

Your codependent participation here is that you didn't express your outrage and refuse to live in a relationship where vows can be broken. I can't help but think how little you think of yourself... Why? You are such a kind and unassuming Human Being with such a giving soul. How sad that you don't recognize your worth and treasure all  your wonderful qualities...

Finally, were you willing to put up with a secondary partner? Really? *clears throat* I guess that's fine depending on what culture you live in, but how can you say you are really OK with this when your thoughts and feelings indicate otherwise? To me, this rings of the codependent "sacrifice all for the warm body" routine... Also I didn’t tell her that I felt like she had sabotaged my dissertation defense. Maybe you already know this, but she couldn't sabotage your defense... Only you can do that... Once again, very codependent thinking...

Immediately after this, she decided she needed to live alone but wanted us to still be together.  How did you feel about this? It couldn't have been good... She took a job in another state (and so did I) and we moved to separate homes.    She did say a few things during this period that would be borderline abusive.  The abusive is what you inflicted upon yourself for not hearing your inner self and  putting up with her distancing behavior. Was your wishful thinking - that she would get past this eventually - what got in your way? For example, I had been frantically trying to find a job while completing my dissertation but to no avail.  I remember her telling me that she was going to be very disappointed in me if I didn’t have a job before we left - which is actually what led me to take a temporary position I ended up with.  Anyway, we moved to separate parts of the state and saw each other on weekends for about 8 months.  Our relationship actually improved with us living apart, and she ended the relationship with the other person.  *groan*

Although I was actively working on my codependency issues and trying to respect her need for lots of alone time and less talking, I now see that I wasn’t completely aware of how dependent I was on her.  Yes. But I think a more direct route to emotional health is to work on putting yourSelf first. To pay attention to what your body is trying to tell you. To focus on behaving in ways that will result in increased Self respect (with little concern over meeting dependency needs. Everything flows from there. After 8 months, we moved back in together and actually bought a home in the summer of 2005.  Between 2003 and 2005, I did nothing to change my behavior other than what I had done during our 2003 separation.  Over time, she started picking apart everything I did or did not do around the house or in any other area in which we interacted (should have seen it as a sign but didn’t).  Wishful thinking in the way again... Over-riding Self respect... She would get irritated because I was not getting dressed fast enough or that I had washed a load of clothes (her domain).  During this time, she was also diagnosed with hyperthyroidism and I thought that some (but not all) of our interactions were affected by it.  

Meanwhile, I grew more and more dependent upon her to meet my every need.  Having lost trust in her after the affair, I also began to ask way too many questions concerning what she did and with whom.  I will forever regret this.  Please instead regret having compromised your Self esteem. You sold out your Self to your dependency stuff. I have so much guilt about this.  You need to understand that the only person you did anything to was yourSelf!

I was also very unhappy due to the lack of full-time university positions available in the area and eventually worked for 2 different community colleges.  The job of my dreams just happened to be at the university where my partner worked.  I had applied for a position there at least 4 times until I actually was offered a tenure track position beginning this August.  Congratulations!!! Of course I thought my partner would be very happy for me concerning my new position.  I was wrong.  My partner only recently expressed any unhappiness or resentment.  Why do you keep calling her your "partner?" A partner is any ally; an individual with equal power who collaborates to a common aim. Doesn't seem to me your "friend" gave one hoot about your welfare if your welfare got in the way of her escapades.

As of  February, my life has been a steady sequence of nightmare events that have left me feeling nothing less than eviscerated.  I'm so sorry... After hearing of my new position,  my partner turned into someone I don’ know.  She told me that she didn’t want me coming on campus and invading her space.  Too bad. Don't you dare give up your dream job! That while she was at work, I was not too spend much time with her.  on another note, think about it: why in the world would you want to spend any time with someone who treats you like a toy?  Immediately after my I accepted my new position, my partner went to a conference out of town.  While out of town, she sent me an email telling me of her feelings for another person with whom she worked. No surprise here. As I say over and over on these pages, past behavior is the best predictor of future behavior. (For the past year and even up until the day she left she assured me that she was absolutely sure they were just friends).   She also notified me of her intentions to pursue a relationship with her but assured me that she wanted to continue our long-term commitment. Sure... This makes sense. She is as dependent as you are and won't give you up unless she knows the other one is a certainty.  You are in effect her security blanket. Not OK.

Our relationship has gone down hill since then. Your relationship went downhill on Memorial Day weekend of 2003. I have expressed my desire for her to not pursue this person (would not stop) and she even admitted she didn’t respect me anymore.  Along with this behavior, she started criticizing my hair, the cologne (which was her favorite for 8 years) and sometimes my all around appearance. This is OK with you? Can you hear that part of you that not only screams in pain, but also feels anger? Can you hear that tiny little voice that is telling you that you don't need this? It's there. Promise! You have to listen very hard to hear it over the roar of your longing, sense of misguided loyalty, and wishing that she will be loving as she once used to be.

I have never thought of myself as verbally abusive until now. You're not.  Over the past 3 weeks, our arguments got more and more heated up until the point I expressed the need to leave.  Yay! After that, she would convince me of how irrational I was being and I would decide to stay.  Last week the fights started and I asked her to stop seeing the person again.  Again, she said no.  That it was not about the person so much as the fact she saw giving up the relationship as giving up her freedom. Wonderful convoluted reasoning. In committed relationships, we voluntarily give up our freedom. Because we want to.

I then realized how horrible and controlling I must have been. Huh? Later on we got into another argument and I got angry and starting throwing my pictures in the trash can, loading clothes in my vehicle and telling her that I hated her and that she was never a friend to me.  I also slammed doors, even the refrigerator door. Sounds normal to me. What did you think you should do? Be happy she would not give up the other?  Being abusive is not about losing it in frustration. You just blew a fuse because you simply refuse to listen to your internal self, which is realistically and validly very unhappy with your partner.

After I realized I had nowhere to go, I was then begging (not the first time) to come back and for her to take me back.  Temporarily, I hope; until you find a place to live. That you have no place to go does not negate the very real hurt and outrage you allowed yourself to experience earlier. Why are you now "trying" to go back into denial?

She said she still loved me and I could live here but she did not want to be my partner until she could trust that I would not do this again. This is nuts! You finally had a normal - repeat: normal - reaction to her stuff... But instead of trusting your body and getting the heck out of that destructive, codependent relationship, you now have to somehow convince her to trust that you will recede permanently into your codependent shell of denial. Huh? What is wrong with this picture?

 Since then, I have started going out more, attending support group meetings and honestly taking a look at myself.  We have also started communicating more and she wants to work on our relationship. Oh yes, and it is not her that needs to trust in you - as much as you need to trust in her ability to remain faithful to you! (Unless, of course, you've gone from codependency to cosmic consciousness overnight, which I seriously doubt.)

However, her behavior was out of character last night when she got absolutely sick at her stomach when I was not here when she got home.  She had told me she was meeting this other person to discuss a crisis but promised to be home by 8 p.m.  When she didn’t arrive at 8:00 p.m., I decided to go across the street for a quick walk in the park ( I did not leave a not thinking she was going to out late again).  She was still angry at me when she left for work this morning.  This situation confuses me the most.  I guess she's gotten used to having her little sidekick around. Hey, we all need doormat, don't we? How dare you go out and be your own person - instead of sit home worrying and waiting as proof of your unending love and devotion!  Tip: She may not have liked this, but this small step in the direction of your own Self / Personal Power may have upset her, angered her, threatened her - but it also increased her respect for you just a little bit. And this is something you need far more of!


Additionally, I have asked her to think about whether the decision to see the other person was sabotage due to long held resentments and she absolutely denies it.  I have now accepted the fact that I cannot change her.  Good! You can't. But you can change you!

My main concern is whether or not I am abusive.  No! If anyone is abusive, she is. She is the one with the power here. She is the one who has the affair yet you are the one who ends up looking bad because you appropriate react to it.

I am deeply sickened by my behavior and am doing everything I can to make amends.  Please help?  Sabrina


Dear Sabrina,

Most people in our culture do not accept physical infidelity. Those who truly can would have to be highly emotionally evolved, highly advanced, Buddha-like or Christ-like in their attachment to that which is worldly. On the other hand, individuals like yourself accept infidelity out of pure denial. Denial of feelings. Denial of Self. Your need to meet your dependency urges has led you to sell out your soul, despite your body's healthy protest.

In your denial of Self, you've now nearly succeeded in convincing yourself that you are abusive because you've thrown a hissy fit trying to get her to change. Don't you see? The hissy fit is normal. You simply do not accept the conditions of the relationship - your body and soul is screaming! And you won't hear it. Instead you will twist reality to blame yourself so you can remain embedded in a relationship which is abusive - where you are the victim. No, she's not violent. No, she's not yelling. There is some criticism. But the worst part is that she insists on partial commitment, and even though you hate it, you don't make the moves you need to get out. You are victimizing yourSelf by settling for crumbs.

You can go a couple of ways, or of course, somewhere in-between, wherever that is. Better yet, pursue both:

Learn to radically accept that she is who she is, and truly be OK with it - so you stop creating agony for yourself, stop fighting yourself internally , stop having to deny the reality and pain of your feelings because you "can't stand" it.


Get out. Learn to overcome your neediness. Do not permit your emotional dependency to over-ride your Self. You are the only thing you've got; you are the only person you have any control over. You are worth it.

How cool would it be to be able to do both! Wow! That would be freedom!

To start, please get a therapist. Please post in The CatBox.   You've succeeded in confusing your Self so well that you think you are abusive!

Learn too about "radical acceptance" a concept popularized by Marsha Linehan in her excellent Dialectic Behavior Therapy (DBT) approach to treating Borderline Personality Disorder. However, you don't have to be borderline to benefit from the concept. I recently found a web page I really like and that I've begun using with my clients to help them understand the concept. Look here: Oh no! Website is gone!

So, think about all this. Think about radically accepting that she is who she is.  Think about whether or not who she is is really OK with you. Think about what I said regarding your denying reality because you don't want to deny your dependency needs - and think about what that does to your self esteem. Seriously think about getting a therapist. And post all you want. I'll be back in about a week to reply to you.

Readers, any comments for Sabrina? I know many of you can identify with this distortion of reality for the sake of the warm body...

May God bless all of you. Dr. Irene

Read the posts here without posting.