Editor’s Note: This is from “The Best of Neil Rosenthal.”
Dear Neil: Three years ago, I got married after a short courtship. There were a few early signals that all was not well. I paid off all his debts, bought him things and moved him into my home. He contributed nothing financially, and didn’t help with the running of the home, and he wasn’t putting me and our marriage first. Without notice, he would tell me he was leaving for a night on the town with his single friends, and frequently he wouldn’t come home until the next morning after 4 a.m. He didn’t understand why I was unhappy being left alone at home.
I never knew whether Mr. Nasty or Mr. Nice would come home from work. I’ve had four miscarriages, and he wasn’t there for me. One time, he preferred to go to a rugby game and barbecue rather than come with me to the hospital, and on another occasion, he dropped me off at home and went to his sister’s for dinner.
We have been separated for three months now. How do I get this man out of my heart and head?
Ill Used in Auckland, New Zealand
Dear Auckland: In every relationship, there are two people with wants, needs, desires and expectations — and if either person feels as if they are not getting their needs met, then you need to address and resolve that right away. You must speak up and clearly identify what it is that you need and want, and you cannot allow yourself to be run over, ignored, dismissed or taken advantage of. Such behaviors, if allowed, will destroy love.
Clear boundaries communicate that we have limits on behaviors that we deem impermissible. If I let someone abuse me, act indifferent to my feelings or wishes, repeatedly ignore me or act as if I’m less important than they are, then I am being ineffective in communicating my boundaries. We teach others about our boundaries by the way we allow them to treat us. If we do not have healthy boundaries, then we find ourselves repeatedly controlled, manipulated or bullied, and we start allowing or agreeing to behaviors that are unacceptable, hurtful and insulting to us.
Regarding your question about how you get your husband out of your heart, I have several suggestions for you. First, explore each of the following emotions thoroughly: anger, guilt, shame, joy, passion, love, grief, loneliness, depression, happiness, hate, blame, resistance and fear. Those are the emotions you are likely carrying around, and it will help you to be in touch with the emotions that are driving your feelings and behaviors.
Second, look carefully at what warning signs you missed in the beginning of this relationship. Why were you willing to hang in there when it became obvious that you had no voice around him?
Third, look closely at what your role was in helping the relationship to fail, or in not speaking up more forcefully for what you were needing from him. In hindsight, what could you have done differently to address and resolve the problems that began developing? Why were you so unassertive and weak around him, and why were you not requiring something from him in return?
Fourth, what did you gain from the relationship? How are you wiser because of this experience? Now that you know what you don’t want, do you have a better idea of what you do want from an intimate relationship?
Fifth, what are you willing to forgive yourself for? What are you willing to forgive him for?
Lastly, what are the lessons you’re taking from this experience, and what can you promise yourself that you’ll do differently the next time around?
Neil Rosenthal is a licensed marriage and family therapist in Westminster and Boulder. His column is in its 23rd year of publication and is syndicated around the world. You can reach him at 303-758-8777 or email him through his website, www.heartrelationships.com. He is not able to respond individually to queries.