Erica asks: "My baby's father - and my boyfriend - is very controlling, comparing and jealous but I love him even though it's oppressive. He's a good father but I've become so lost, alienated from my family and compromised in my sense of self, style, preferences and sexuality, for so long that I don't know who I am anymore. He rarely touches me anymore and is increasingly distant and angry. Plus, we've got another baby on the way! I'm so unhappy and depressed but I still love him and need him. I don't know what to do. I feel like an idiot. HELP!"
Dear, dear, Erica,
Stories like yours make the protector in me want to rage. I can tell from your dilemma that you are concerned for you and your children's well being and have put yourself in such a compromised predicament that seems impossible to get out of. It's not impossible. You're unhappy; it's time for change.
You've made some mistakes (we all do - forgive yourself) and chosen a path to allow someone else's needs to trump your own. Who knows why this happened - many of us learn to do this at a very young age. While this selflessness can be a virtue it is a virtue that must be reserved for those times when you can afford to give, after you've taken well enough care for yourself and your dependents. This scenario, with a grown man, is not one of those times. As a man, he can take care of himself and you must do the same. Although his behavior is not excusable, you must now step up to take responsibility for your continued role in being in a relationship that is unhealthy for you regardless of blame.
Many couples will have different needs at different times and this calls for compromise but it appears to be that you've gone beyond compromise and stretched yourself through a nightmare of simple incompatibility. If you're like most of us, you probably did it out of a desire to love and be loved. “Love”, a four letter word and an emotion that's both compelling and confusing, dramatic and amazing yet easily mistaken for dependency rather than something more tender. You and your children depend on this man but, are you loved? By him? And more importantly, yourself? Neglect is a form of emotional abuse. You deserve to treat yourself well and to be treated with tender loving care from your partner.
I think you understand that your “love” dynamic for this man is essentially “crushing you”. And ultimately, you will be teaching your children that the price of love is to be oppressed, manipulated, neglected, emotionally abused and ultimately alienated from family. The quick sum? Get out! NOW.
If only it was so simple. Right?
Beyond your emotional bind to him, having his children is a very complicated addition to your situation and those little guys deserve some careful consideration. If you're not able to take the necessary shifts needed for yourself, think about what your children need. You say he is a good father which is fantastic to hear considering that he seems like a very unhealthy fit for you.
You will need to think seriously about taking steps to transition from your current family to something a little more independent. If you can't do it for you, do it for your children. Begin by discussing it with a close and private confidant, a friend or counselor. Check the phone book or online listing for you region - there are many social service organizations that assist with counselling for women in abusive relationships (including emotional abuse) and can help you to create a plan for building self esteem and establishing greater independence. They may even be able to assist with relationship counselling if that's something your partner would be open to. At the very least, they may be able to point you in the right direction of some further literature and guidance on how to help.
Now is the time to start thinking about you and your needs. Take the time for yourself to find clarity, safety and help. Being with creating a safety net for yourself. Family can be an enormous ally in this kind of journey. Perhaps it's time to reconnect? You can do it.
Most importantly, have hope! Try to remember that this is a challenge that has developed slowly over time and will take some time to recover from. Be kind to yourself. You're on a journey though challenging emotional territory that requires grace and patience.
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