Q: “My girlfriend was abused in a previous relationship. We’ve been together for almost three years. In the very beginning, she was open, loving, and receptive to my attention. I do an awful lot for her to prove my love — pay her rent (and mine) and all her bills, cook our meals, do the laundry, and I even paid off her car. She says she loves me, but she withholds intimacy (sometimes for months) until I’ve had enough and walk out. Then she will call and apologize, and we start the cycle all over again. She tells me her heart is on guard. She’s gone to counseling intermittently, but nothing seems to help. How can I convince her I am not going to bring harm to her so that we can move forward? I really would like to marry her someday.”
Joyce’s FIX: When one is only taking and the other only giving, there is no real relationship. Rather, it is a “using” proposition.
Memories of abuse can linger for a lifetime. However, the effects should not be transferred to every person who attempts to love its victim. Each of us needs someone to love us; that’s no great mystery. When one is caught up in a romantic relationship where he/she is giving the love but not receiving it to the degree it is dispensed, someone is bound to suffer. Who will that be, and for how long should it last?
There are definitely some actions that must be taken here. I would encourage you to be the assertive one in order to gain some clarity to your future with her. Here are some tips to get you started:
- Give it a break. Sometimes we need to step back and assess the relationship. You’re off to a great start, but take it a step further. Make a list of pros and cons of your association with her. Who’s giving more and who’s taking more? It’s an important aspect of your future together.
- Get some willpower. Walking away is a tough thing to do when we love someone deeply. However, it is sometimes the best thing we can do for both involved. When you walk away, you can’t go back…not for a “moment.” She needs to see what life is like without you. You’ve developed a pattern, and she knows your every move. Don’t respond to her messages other than saying, “We’re taking a break. We have to figure out some things about each other and ourselves.”
- Stop paying for everything. What a great deal for anyone. There are thousands of women who would love to be taken care of to the degree you are doing, and your investment would reap a wonderful return. Bank away what you are paying toward her commitments each month. Whether you marry her or someone else, you’ll have a nice nest egg to begin a bright future.
- Cease the enabling. You are an enabler, but I’m sure you already knew that. She has little reason to rid herself of the ghosts of yesterday’s abuse because you allow her to transfer her anger, bitterness, and resentment to you. Refuse to take it on any longer. She must, once and for all, get help, regardless of how long it takes. Intermittent counseling is not the answer, obviously. If she truly wants to break free, she will do the work to make it happen.
- Ask yourself: Who’s being abused now? As I said, the transfer is happening. I’m unsure how long she stuck around for her abuse, but you’ve been at it for an extended period yourself. As a child, I had no choice but to stick around and be abused. When I became an adult, it no longer happened unless I allowed it — and it hasn’t ever again.
Loving and respecting yourself are going to be critical ingredients in your answer to this rocky relationship. I’m convinced you love her; I’m not so convinced she loves you. At least, not enough to work through her difficulty and to understand that you are not the man who abused her — you are the man who came to rescue her. If she doesn’t grab your lifeline, toss it to someone who is looking for the kind of love you have to offer. If she doesn’t want to be saved, you, too, will be lost in the process.
Struggling with a relationship issue? Write Joyce Oglesby, Family Life FIX-IT Pro at firstname.lastname@example.org and find a solution for life.
P.S. How to protect yourself from an abusive partner.
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