"Ask Dr. Tracy"

3/19/2000 Advice Column

Enable No More
Can't Get Over Her Past or His
Don't Put Anything in Writing

Dear Dr. Tracy,

I am 32 years old and have been separated from my emotionally abusive, controlling and manipulative husband for 2 years. Aside from all the heartache and emotional (as well as spiritual) trauma that decision caused me I have finally begun getting on with my life.

The man I'm currently dating is attentive, loving and one of the best listeners I have ever encountered except when he's been drinking. Then he consistently throws up the fact that I'm not yet officially divorced and tells me that maybe I'm screwed up in the head. Since I've known him he has almost killed himself by running his car into a tree and makes a habit out of staying out until 5 or 6am drinking, yet he doesn't seem to think that he has a problem. I feel as though every problem in our relationship is my fault, which is exactly the way my husband used to treat me. I have tried to keep up with him but that makes me tired all the time because I have more responsibilities than he does and can't sleep the day away.

My problem is that I know I should give him some sort of ultimatum. If I don't then I am only enabling his problem. But he can't continue to say damaging things and then act as though everything is all right the next day. I don't want to be an enabler and I would help him in any way I possibly could. I don't want to lose the wonderful aspects of our relationship but I learned from my marriage that I don't deserve to be treated this way.

How can I help him overcome his problem with alcohol?

Desperate for 12 steps

Dear Desperate for 12 Steps,

There's a pattern here. How could you go from an abusive husband to an abusive boyfriend? Where's your brain? You have traded in one abuser for another one. You don't need 12 steps. You need one. Break up with him and get him out of your life once and for all.

Most drunks and abusers are attentive lovers and great listeners while they're sober. That's how they get you to stay with them when they're drunk. You keep waiting for him to sober up and get back to the loving guy you know he can be. However, you're waiting in vain. Because each time he's nice, he's gonna turn bad soon. So what if you get him to be nice again? You've already suffered the abuse. Your self-esteem has taken the blows and your spiritual self has suffered.

Think! What would you tell your own daughter if she came to you with a problem like yours? You'd tell her to run. Don't wait around for him to get sober. Don't try to help him stop drinking. Help yourself instead.

Read Melanie Beattie's "Codependent No More" and stop enabling him by being there for him when he gets sober. Get it through your head: you can not help him overcome his drinking problem. Only he can do that. The only thing you can do is help yourself. Join a program for relatives of alcoholics like Al Anon. Stop trying to fix him and stop making his problem yours.

You're right, you don't deserve to be treated that way, but you're asking for it by being in a relationship with a drunk who abuses you. The way to fix your life is to break up with Mr. Boozer once and for all. If you won't take care of yourself, you can't possibly help anyone else.

Bite the bullet and lose the wonderful aspects of your relationship. Whatever they are, even if you're getting the world's greatest sex (when he's sober), nothing's worth giving up your good feelings about yourself. You won't be happy and you won't enjoy your life as long as you stay in this relationship.

You can find a man who will treat you well all the time, not just when he's sober. Now that you know you have a fatal attraction for drunks and abusers, find out first if a man drinks too much, and if he does, don't even go on a second date.

Good luck,

Dr. Tracy

Dear Dr. Tracy,

I've been with the same woman for 5 years and love her deeply. I recently asked her to marry her. But there's a problem that's VERY difficult to overcome:

11 Years ago a was raped (I'm a man) in an overnight prison holding cell by 2 black men. I kept this a secret from her for 5 years.

Saturday I learned some shocking news. Recently she had a sexual harassment lawsuit which I knew about but the details of which she kept secret. I found the deposoition from the suit, and from it I learned she had an 8 month affair with 2 black men (group sex included).

Now the rape I experienced seems like it happened yesterday. I've tried to ask her questions about her affair, but she only gets angry with me. I feel like I need to know the details of her affair, but somehow she thinks it's not my business because it was in the past. She gets very upset when I ask her anything substantive (like the specific details of her affair). All she says is that she didn't enjoy it. She lost her lawsuit becuase the jury beleived that the sex was consensual and she was a willing participant. It wasn't once but dozens of times.

I am wrong to ask her? Can this relationship survive? Images constantly flash through my mind about both her affair and the rape (which I thougt I had recovered from). I'm seeing a pychaiatrist and a pyscotherapist, but only have just begun the process. 50 minutes a week is too slow. I don't want her to leave me, but I have to know. She says she will leave me rather than answer my questions.

I know this isn't the proper forum to advise on Rape Trauma Syndrome, but I'm desperate for any kind of answer. Please Please Please, If you have anything to say, say it.

I'm not ashamed anymore of being a male rape survivor. I just can't stop the horrible pictures in my head of me being forced and her performing those sex acts voluntarily. I also fear that she really wants a black man is settling for me becuase I'm white. I really do want to marry this woman but don't know that this relationship will survive.

Dear Shocked,

The shocking news you learned about the woman you love should have absolutely no bearing on your love for her. Your past is your past and you have to work it out in therapy as you are doing. You can't blame her for what happened to you and you can't blame her for her past either.

Stop asking her about her past affairs. Forget about who it was with or what color they were. If you can't stop asking, you are going to kill your relationship. She's right. It's none of your business. She says she didn't enjoy it and what really matters in life is today, not yesterday. Don't be a fool. Don't let the terrible experience you've both had ruin what could be a wonderful life together.

Life is full of terrible things. Shit happens. If you can't get over it, you'll give power to the rapists, and destroy your own power. Why would you want to do something like that? She's been through enough trauma having a sexual harassment lawsuit and losing it. She's suffered enough. Why make her suffer more by going over it and over it?

She's not your psychiatrist and you're not hers. If you're in therapy, keep your problems there. Don't let them reach out into your relationship and ruin it.

Learn to replace the ugly images in your mind with good ones. When you have a flash of the horrible pictures you've been having, use "thought-stopping." Put a rubber band around your wrist and snap it when you have the unfortunate thoughts. Or sniff an inhaler with rotten egg in it. Use self-behavior modification in this way to stop the ugly thoughts. Then replace the negative thoughts with positive ones. Think about the good times you've had with the woman you love deeply. Picture the two of you together enjoying life.

You don't have to know anything more about her past than you already know. Your relationship can survive, but only if you stop demanding that she wallow in the ugliness that you can't let go of. Her past is her business, not yours. Don't throw love away. Use your head and save your relationship.

Good luck,

Dr. Tracy

Dear Dr. Tracy,

One week. That's all I needed. Had I found your site one week ago, I wouldn't be where I am. I'm one of the "give too much too early" guys. I did, and don't know where it'll end up. I've read just about all of your library, and know that time with me backing off is going to make it or break it now. But here's my question: Is it better to write a short (and I mean short) note saying, "I realize I came on like a freight train and shouldn't have, and just want to say I'm sorry" and leave it at that? My thoughts are that it is better to let her know I know the mistake I made while I'm letting time run its course, rather than to just back off and leave her thinking I'm still clueless. This isn't covered in your library.

Dear Giver,

Giving too much too soon, or even too late, is one of the worst mistakes you can make in a relationship. It makes you seem needy and nerdy and without anything else to do in your life. It also makes the recipient think, "Yuck, get him off me." It also tempts people to take unfair advantage of you.

When you give too much, it's so hard to stop. You want to write one more letter, to explain to her one more time, but that would also be giving too much. Giving too much doesn't necessarily refer to material things - giving too much of your time or attention is also giving too much.

Stop apologizing. Saying you're sorry can be such a turn-off to a woman, especially when you're apologizing for coming on too strong and giving too much. The only way to fix this situation is with your actions, not your words.

Stop calling her. Stop writing her. Stop doing things for her. Stop communicating with her altogether. Don't write one more note, no matter how short. She'll just think, "Oh boy, he just can't leave me alone."

She may notice that you're gone and may regain some interest. It's better to leave her wondering than to let her know exactly what's going on with you.

Good luck,

Dr. Tracy

Submitting a Question to this column

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(Featured art from cover of Letting Go, by Zev Wanderer and Tracy Cabot, published by "Bitan" Publishers, Tel-Aviv, Israel)
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