The Doc Answers 43


January 22, 2012

Dr. Irene,

My boyfriend (36) and I (29) have been in and out of our relationship for two years now. He is abusive towards me in subtle and obvious ways. He has an immense need for personal space and is afraid of closeness – needs to go out by himself or travel often. We are financially independent from one another. He wants me around but only in his ways. He is stingy, rarely pays bills for me when in restaurants or on trips, he thinks that a woman needs not to burden the man with that, and he is a bad gift giver. That hurts me and I have asked him to change. Sad, but it is the way it is. I hope you understand that his greed has nothing to do with you - it is all about him. And this is unlikely to ever change.

But when i question his perceptions he gets furious and verbally abusive, then punishes me with detachment and witholds attention. He denies there is problem with him, and starts blaming me, that I am spoiled and weak for having too many needs which suffocate him. Again, sad.

When I express my desires for anything he starts blaming my character and says I am the one to change and he is like that because of me. There are periods he acts so detached especially when “affected” by my behavior /non conforming to his perceptions. He ignores me when he needs space,then he comes back needing me much. Well, he's not like that because of you. He is the way he is because of him. Yet, in a sense he is right, you are the one that needs to change: either accept him the way he is, or let him go. He is highly unlikely to change. Can you accept that he is the way he is?

On the other hand we have fantastic moments together. We definitely have feelings for each other; sex is amazing and passionate. Since when is fantastic moments and amazing sex enough? Where is the trust, the friendship?

You seem to understand that the way your boyfriend behaves is not OK, otherwise I doubt you would be writing. It is NOT OK! Do not forget that! Also understand that it doesn't matter who is "right" and who is "wrong." There is nothing in the world that will get himor force him to think about changing his ways. So good for you for having the clarity to see that his problems are his problems. Your 50% is hanging around to make him your problem. If you stay, in time you are likely to lose your clarity and begin to doubt yourself.

I tried to leave him many times but came back because I miss him, his gentle side. My question is why do I keep going back to him and cannot let go, he wont change but why do I stay when I suffer so much? I want to be free, I cannot understand myself. What keeps me stuck with him when I am an independent, beautiful woman?

Thank you in advance Dr. Irene!

Regards, Roxy


Dear Roxy,

You continue going back because you get knocked off your path when you let one of your needy, dependent moods take over your life. Your Higher Self is no longer in charge. Your mood is! (Oh no!)

Then, feeling lonley, you're no longer sure about what the "right" thing to do is. You flee the pain of being alone by closing your eyes to what is, remembering the few good times, forgetting the bad. You hope that maybe this time it will be better. And any resolve you had to stay away is lost. You are stuck in a wishful thinking cycle. You deny reality because reality hurts. Yet, pain is a part of life and helps us grow. This is a very common problem!

When your very normal and very Human dependency needs kick in, you buy into them and let yourself stray from your intended path. He may give you j u s t e n o u g h to keep you hanging in, maybe enough to get you to question your decision to leave. You've seen the same thing happen over and over, yet you give in to the needy stuff.

You are the only one in control of your life. Unless you want to find yourself in the same boat five years from now, I suggest you set yourself a direction that makes you proud. Then follow that path, no matter what! You can count on your needy voices (the dependency stuff) to try to knock you off your path. Do not let this happen! Put your goals down on paper. Look at them when in doubt! You may need help doing this. Read Read Read! Post on the CatBox! Join a support group! Learn mindfulness skills! Get a therapist!

You can't contol him, but you can control you. When you really get it and fully accept that the situation is what it is, you will understand that denying reality with wishful thinking only hurts you. Making the goal-driven choice to take the plunge gets a little bit easier.

Think about all this. All the wishing and hoping in the world won't change reality. Set your plan and follow through, especially through the tough times. Persevere, persevere, persevere. And when you mess up, and you will, love yourself for being Human, pick yourself back up and get back to the plan.

You can do this you beautiful, independent woman you!

Wishing you the very best! Dr. Irene

February 15, 2012

Dr. Irene,

I'm male, almost 30 yo and I never had a 'serious relationship' with a woman.

I met this girl year ago, and we started hanging out as friends. I've noticed a few subtle hints that she might be interested in a closer relationship, but I kept telling myself that all I needed is friendship. I think, at the beginning, I was fairly honest with myself and her.

Things gone wrong when I started to feel more attraction. Instead of approaching her in a straightforward way, I expected that she should fall in love with me first (!) My thinking was - if we hang out for few months, and she don't fall in love with me, then probably I'm not THAT attractive for her. This is quite painful to admit, but I think I also had hidden agenda, and expected that if I act cool and distant toward her, she would want me more. I even became angry and slightly passive agressive because she didn't make any moves.

Soon later our contact became less frequent. She never mentioned it but I supposed that she is seeing someone else. This made me clingy and terribly frustrated.

Just recently she admitted that she has boyfriend.

I confessed her my feelings, apologized for 'weird behaviour' and told her that I can't accept this situation and need a break in contact.

She told me that she never noticed that I'm acting bad or weird. And she had absolutly no idea that I might be romantically interested in her.

Despite feelings of rejection and hurt I was able to end this relationship in quite civilized manner. But I'm really not proud of my manipulative behaviour and anger.

What can I do to become healthier person?

You are spot on in identifying where you went wrong.

At first, you convinced yourself you only wanted a friend, but as your attachment grew, so did your fear. She never had a clue that you were interested in her! You never let her know. Lack of assertion skills? Fear of rejection? All of the above?

As you clearly see now, you came up with a 'test' based in your insecurity. You ran with it. While it is entirely understandable and Human to want to avoid pain, it is neither productive nor healthy!

Your avoidanced kept the fantasy going, and tacked on some more pieces, the 'hidden agenda.' And when she did not respond favorably, your behavior became mildly icky (according to your standards) because you were acting out in response to your pain.

In other words, you were unwilling to experience the pain reality might have thrown your way. Instead, fear and wishful thinking ran you. Ouch!

Life is full of pain. Good for you for having the courage to face it! Good for you for recognizing something is wrong! Good for you for owning up to your thoughts, feelings, and behaviors! Your admissions were difficult, but set you on a direct path to healthier living. Yay!

Maybe you struggle with snyness, or lack opposite-sex interaction skills. Certainly you are frightened. That is all OK. You can learn requisite skills, and you can learn to better tolerate fear/pain/ rejection/etc. as you gain experience with the opposite sex. (I have a hunch that you avoid guy/girl interaction a lot.)

Maybe you have a mild bipolar disorder, so your judgment and sense of reality slipped a little during that time period. If so, that is treatable as well.

Certainly you are dealing with avoidance. Underlying issues, such as the above, may or may not have contributed to this incident. Regardless, get professional help to help you figure it all out.

I strongly recommend a 'third wave behavior therapist' (e.g., Acceptance and Commitment Therapy, Dialectic Behavior Therapy, mindfulness-based therapies, etc.). These providers will teach you to use evidence- based mindfulness skills so that one day, your fears and wishful thinking are no longer running your life. You are!

The good news is that you get that something is wrong, and you want to fix it. Bravo! Best wishes, Dr. Irene

March 26, 2012

Dr. Irene,

My partner of 2 and one-half years understands through therapy that she is codependent.

This happened after I moved out 6 months ago and cut off all contact. She has apologized for the horrible ways she has treated me and has taken responsibility. She has confronted her family and no longer wants to go along with everything they say, she has even had a few disagreements with her mother, a first for her. She reads books about her behavior daily and does exercises.

Here is the bad part:

She has said she will listen to me talk about the abuse, but when I do she gets angry and says she wants to just move forward.

There is merit to the idea of talking about the incident. There is also merit in wanting to move forward. But if she tells you she wants to hear what you have to say, and then won't listen, unless you are dragging it on, she needs to learn to curb her temper.

She says I am resentful about our past, which is not true.

Hmmm. If you are being honest with yourself, her projecting her own emotions onto you is not a good sign. Smacks of narcissism.

I have infinite ability to forgive and I'm not resentmentful. I need to talk about the abuse so she understands how I felt, and so it will not happen again. We live apart and only began to reconcile 6 weeks ago! Just 4 weeks ago she had an abusive episode. I admit that I am testing her but only because I do not trust her reactions. She usually fails. She still interrupts and yells when we argue. She is the one who is resentful. There is an issue that occurred over 2 years ago that we have talked about endlessly. It was something I did wrong, I apologized for it over and over. At the time she said it was OK. But she is codependent. Much to my dismay she brought it up again last night and said I had been abusive to her. Not good.

No, not good.

There is merit to the idea of talking about the incident. There is also merit in wanting to move forward.

There's a lot of good and bad here. How do I know if she really is changing? Maybe there are stages to change and I expect them to happen all at once.

Thanks, Kaelyn

Change is a process. It takes time. I am glad she has made some significant gains, but given what you say, you are right not to trust her yet. Trust is not a right. Trust is earned.

Don't purposefully test her. Sit with the fact that you don't trust her. It is OK to be where you are. Let time and the ordinary stuff life brings guide your ongoing assessment. While I understand your motivation, avoid provoking her to see how she will react. Such behavior is not trustworthy and contributes to destroying trust on her side.

You should not have to apologize over and over for an event. She should not keep digging up the past. You need to learn how to redirect her when the conversation goes back there. There is certainly enough going on in the present to deal with! The recent abusive episode merits discussion so not only she may understand how you felt, but also so she can better identify her own pitfall. Perhaps she does understand, or feels she does. Perhaps she is unable to handle the feelings associated with the event. From what you say, it is impossible to know.

Interrupting and yelling are not OK. I hope you are not participating. It is hard to continue yelling and interrupting if your partner is not reciprocating. :)

By the way, being codependent is no excuse. Codependeny does not make one disrespectful.

Apparently this lady is important to you, otherwise you would not be writing.

I would be doing you a diservice if I were to recommend anything short of couples counseling, probably a different provider than her own. There is waaaaay too much going on here!

Hope this helped. Wishing you both the very best! Dr. Irene

March 26, 2012

Dr. Irene,

My husband and I have been married for 3 years. He suffers from PTSD and has an emotionally abusive family. I don not have an abuse history. Since just before our marriage, he began calling me names when he got very angry, which he had never done before. I have repeatedly asked him to stop, and I have told him that it is incredibly disrespectful to me. He apologizes, but gets angry again. The cycle repeats.

This happens every 2-3 months. I stand up for myself each time, and he says the so called right things, like name calling is not justified and it will not happen again, etc. The name calling is limited to huge fights and he is not abusive in any way otherwise (not that it makes it better). We have gone to counseling, and they told me to watch out for his trigger signs and that he should use certain terminology when he is getting upset, like 'The train is leaving,' so I can leave the room. We have done both with some success.

But there are times when I do not hear that he is getting upset, and times when he does not give me warning signs. In those instances, he calls me names, and I get very aggressive in telling him to stop. I tell him that he is in charge of his own emotions, not me, He apologizes, but I cannot accept it and then escalate by crying and yelling at him to stop this behavior.

He then gets angry and says, 'I would not have called you a name if you had not made me so angry.' He, in turn, gets upset and threatens divorce. Then suddenly, the roles have shifted, and I am the one apologizing to him for things getting so out of control during his apology. Truthfully, there is blame on both sides because I cannot accept his apologies based on its repetition, but what do I do? I despise the names!

First of all, congratulations to both of you on the good progress you guys are making!

You are so right in telling your husband that names are not acceptable. You are also right in telling him that he is in charge of his emotions, not you. You cannot 'make' him do anything!

It is NOT your job to watch for his trigger signs. That is his job. Again, you cannot make him do anything. Only he can.

Your counselor gave you some good suggestions, but go back if you must and clarify whose responsibility it is to catch one's own triggers! His triggers are HIS triggers! Not yours! When you do call out his triggers, think of it as a courtesy to him and the marriage, not an obligation on your part. Catching a trigger and walking out of the room is the role of the individual who has the anger.

Now, for you: of course you despise the names! But you have NO control over your husband's words. However, you do have control over your own words. Do not allow his angry words to become your trigger! Now it is your job to catch your anger and leave the room. Anger management goes both ways! When you find yourself angry, leave the room. Take responsibility for your own behavior, even if he does not.

Before either of you get to the point of name-calling / anger, try making up a silly word you both agree on. This should be a word not ordinarily used in the house, so it gets attention. Like 'Pink Orangatang." If it is a funny word, even better! The word is used when either of you notices oneself or the partner getting upset. When EITHER person says this word, it means TIME OUT! Nobody is wrong; just stop for now. We need to cool it a bit. Never, ever argue when either party is even a little angry!

Practice some basic anger management yourself. Make an effort to notice and ignore the silly things he says while hot under the collar. We all say things we do not mean when we are angry.

Anger management 101: If you find yourself getting upset, zip your mouth and leave the room. Do it as politely as possible. Run around the block a couple times until you are calm. (Exercise helps burn up the anger chemicals more quickly.) Once you are calm, grab a pencil and write down exactly what bothered you. Share this information with your parter only when you are BOTH calm.

Very important: Make it clear to your husband that if he really wants a divorce, he should just do it. Never threaten divorce, especially as a way of 'being heard.' Few things are as painful to a spouse as the D Word. It undermines the entire partnership.

Self control takes practice, practice, practice. Be patient. You will each fail many times. But keep at it! The more you practice, the easier it gets. And nothing beats that boost in self-esteem you get after you have behaved gracefully!

Good luck! Dr. Irene

May 13, 2012

My question is:

My ex-husband and I have been divorced for 12 years now. He and I still talk due to the children. His verbal attacks on me however still have not stopped. They have died down a lot because I don't talk to him as much as I used to, which was deliberate on my part.

Good. Be even more deliberate. The more you can resist reacting to him, the more he is likely to lose interest in trying to rile you. Because he knows it doesn't work! Plus you won't convince him of anything anyway, and you don't need his approval. Keep that in mind.

Nevertheless, even if he and I talk like we did yesterday by text, he only has to say something and I shrivel down into that broken down truck I was when he left.

I thought I was over the past , but it is obvious that there is still something in me I need to fix that doesn't allow him to have that power over me.

That's not unusual. You are still reacting to the PTSD stuff, those thoughts and feelings and images that come up in response to what he's saying. What are you thinking? What are you feeling during those times? Can you jot it down? What comes up for you? Guilt? Anger? What else? Just not it.

Whatever comes up for you, it is OK to have it. Those feelings and thoughts are your mind acting normally in response to abuse. Your pain tells you he has violated something important to you. Would you purposely treat someone that way?

Question is what is it and why does he still do it? What do you see here that I might not be seeing from me and/or from him?

He does it because he sees it still works. And if he can make you react, he likes that. It makes him feel momentarily powerful. How empty and how sad. Instead of feeling good about himself because he has valued another person; instead of increasing his integrity, he only knows to resort to the short-lived and empty ego boost that making another react gives him. While his ego is boosted for a short time, his integrity drops.

Try to react normally on the outside in any communication with him. Let him think he can't get to you anymore, so he evntually stops. (He may escalate before he stops though... Will try harder to get that rise out of you.) But if it consistently doesn't work, he'll eventually lose interest.

For yourself, get a little help to learn how to accept those feelings on the inside. So you accept them, and they no longer make you shrivle!

Keep at it! Dr. Irene

Dear Dr. Irene,

I've lived with my boyfriend for 6 years. We co-own a house. Things have been rocky for a long time, and I've been wanting to leave for several years, but I can't seem to get up the courage to do it. He questions or counteracts everything I say. He insists on "accuracy", which he has a unique monopoly on somehow. If I say there were 15 people at a party, he'll say "No, there were 12 people". Even tiny interactions that start out happy often go south. For instance, just this morning, he came into our room, full of happy energy and said:

Him: Whew! I'm am ready to go today!

Me: Wow! What gave you so much energy? (happy tone)

Him: What's that supposed to mean? (tense tone)

Me: You just came in and said {and then I repeated his first sentence] (neutral tone).

Him: I didn't say it like that. Why are you embellishing things?

Me: Okay, never mind. Have a good day today

Him: Yeah, that's better.

Those conversations are really perplexing to me, and they occur in some form or another every day. There is gaslighting going on as well.

I'm not sure what his gain is except power. Either way, I want out. What is tripping me up is that I still have positive regard for him, and I feel that I owe him an explanation for why I want out. However, knowing his tendencies and behaviors, that conversation is going to be drawn out, painful, and never really 'over'. I need to maintain some type of relationship with him due to our mutual financial obligations. I need to be able to talk to him. I guess I'm feeling guilty about leaving and afraid of how I will handle his reactions. So my question is, How do I summon the courage to engage in this conversation?

Thank you very much, Sara

Dear Sara,

Of course you have positive regard for him! Nobody is all bad except characters in 50's movies! There are good parts and bad parts in all of us. But sometimes the bad outweighs the good...

It is plain courtesy to offer an explanation of why the relationship is not working for you. But, you have no obligation to convince him of it's merit. He will not understand and he will press you to explain your position. Perhaps he is likely to argue it and tell you why you are mistaken. Do not go here!

Write down your reasons in advance. Stick to them. Do not try to get him to understand your reasons or agree with your reasons. You do not need his permission, his OK, or his understanding to leave. The reason you are leaving likely includeS his inability to understand!

You might consider leaving him a letter once you have left. He will still have questions, but it is not your reponsibility to get him to understand.

It is OK to feel guilty and sad and afraid and whatever feelings you are feeling. Just because you feel guilty doesn't mean you have to do anything to get rid of the feeling. Feel what you feel but act as though you feel otherwise! It will hurt. You will second guess yourself. You will want him to understand. Do your best to deal with these natural feelings and not give in to acting out in the world in ways that will relieve the bad feelings - but be to your future detriment!

How do you get the courage? This life is your life! And it is the only chance you get to make it what you want it to be! Of course you can stay because you don't want to face his reactions or your guilt, etc. But is this a good decision for you? What is in your long term interest? You have a decision to make.

As an analogy, if you are addicted to chocolate cake, and your clothes no longer fit, you have a choice. Buy chocolate or buy new clothes. We can't have it both ways. You will crave chocolate, but if you act out on that craving, it is likely you will be buying new clothes!

Besides understanding that only YOU can make your life what you want it to be, enlist the support of friends or family. It is your choice! Where do you want to be in a year from now?

Wishing you courage and self-control, Dr. Irene