When people enter into a partnership, there will always be issues that they will have to accept about the other person. However, when one person blatantly disregards the feelings of his or her spouse, it becomes a serious problem. It is difficult to watch people repeatedly put up with substandard behavior from their loved ones. All too often, I see one partner who mistreats the other by verbally or emotionally berating him or her. Frequently there are indiscretions that contaminate the relationship.
It is easy to blame the irresponsible “perpetrator” who is not committed to the relationship. However, a seasoned professional knows that the “victim” holds the power card because they ultimately have the choice to stop the insanity. It is up to this person who is repeatedly disappointed to decide how much abuse or neglect she will take before the decision is made to move out of the relationship.
I remember a client whose spouse had been staying out late, drinking with the guys and philandering on a regular basis. He seemed to have a total disregard for their relationship. To make matters worse, my client complained that she was receiving one to two calls per week from strange women who wanted to talk to her husband. She found this intolerable.
As she told her story, you could see her anger, hurt, and disgust. She became empowered, made statements about not putting up with this any longer, and declared her intentions to set limits and boundaries. But the next week she would revert back to her old behaviors which lacked empowerment. She would return to denial and say, “But he swears they are only friends” or “I don’t think he would have had time to sleep with her.” It was as if her anger had motivated her to stand up for herself and then she slipped back into that passive state where it seemed easier to tolerate the behavior than to take a stand of self-respect.
She knew that she was in therapy to become accountable for what she was willing to put up with emotionally. She needed to look at the pros and cons of staying in the relationship, the trade-offs and the toll it was taking on her emotional health.
After she rationally assessed her situation, she began to look at her options. She recognized her choices and took back her power. My client had initially come in feeling helpless because she couldn’t make her husband stop his behavior. She knew that she needed to learn assertiveness and share her feelings even though it didn’t change him. She learned that she needed to be more independent and stand on her own two feet, even if but it didn’t stop him from cheating. She developed more relationships and became less dependent on him even though it didn’t alter his behavior. As she got stronger it became inevitable that she would need to make the ultimate decision. She eventually separated which resulted in a divorce.
Two years later she married a wonderful man who adores her. She still has a soft spot in her heart for her ex, but she knows that she deserved a better life for herself. She heard from friends that her ex-husband continues to cheat despite his new marriage. It appeared that nothing would change. She felt gratitude that although she could not change the way he treated her, she could stand up for herself and create the dignity she deserved.