She Gets Bad Treatment
Q: Dear Dr. Susan: For two years, I've been dating a man who does not treat me very well, and yet I keep going back for more. I wish I could understand why. After all, I'm an educated and well-rounded person. I have noticed my self-esteem has taken a blow with this treatment. It's not that I mind being alone; in fact, I'm self-employed and alone a lot. Could the reason I put up with his abuse be as simple as the fact that I was emotionally abused by my father?
I have helped this man with his children (he has custody), and yet I feel his ex-wife gets more consideration and respect from him than I do. Is there a way to make him understand how I feel? I have told him how I feel, but he seems to think he is already giving his all for his children. I understand that, but I feel as if I am always last on the list. I feel like a fool.
Dr. Susan: Why is it so important to know why you stick around for this sub-par treatment? Do you think that if you understood why, you'd be more likely to leave? Allow me to suggest that you make your decision based on the here-and-now: you've told your man friend that you feel underappreciated, to put it mildly, and he's responded by saying, in effect, "Tough luck. My kids come first and there's nothing left for you. End of story." It's not a matter of getting him to understand. If he speaks English, is old enough to have been married and had kids and gotten divorced, we can assume he does understand. What he doesn't do is CARE. You're handy for a variety of purposes, you're a big help with the kids, and you stick around no matter how you're treated. So why should he change?
Your father's emotional abuse probably did have an effect on your life choices. So often we unconsciously expect to work out those old quandaries in our current relationships. But it sounds like you're not working it out: you're letting the old patterns repeat. Only now you're an adult and have free will, as scary as it may be to make full use of it. What's usually required in cases of emotional abuse and disrespect is for you to reflect deeply on what you are willing to accept (for now or forever), and to state those boundaries clearly to him. If he refuses to help meet your reasonable needs, then you have to decide if your self-esteem and self-respect are worth giving up for the cold comfort of inertia. Don't just try to bluff, though, but rather run through your options before you make your stand. If you feel like a fool now, imagine how that feeling will intensify as the months and years pass with no change.
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Advice for Her
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Susan K. Perry, Ph.D.
Susan K. Perry, Ph.D., is a social psychologist, relationship expert, and bestselling and award-winning author. Her books include Loving in Flow: How the Happiest Couples Get and Stay That Way, and Kylie's Heel, a novel for adults.
Pamela G. Chollet, Ph.D.
Dr. Pamela Chollet has a Ph.D. in clinical psychology and Master degrees in educational psychology and fine arts. Her passion has been helping people face and get through those times when they feel trapped and unable to move forward.
Anna Charbonneau, Ph.D.
Anna Charbonneau, Ph.D., is a clinical psychologist, stress management expert, and author. If you're feeling overwhelmed, stressed out, or struggling to make changes in your life, Anna can help.