February 2018

What Does it Take to Get Out of a Bad Relationship?

By David Rottman


Michelle came to therapy in the midst of a crisis of doubt and anxiety about her relationship with a man who was not treating her well. She was in her mid-30s and was worried that although she wanted very much to have a child, her current boyfriend was not “husband or father material,” as she put it. Yet she’d been seeing this boyfriend for more than two years.


With her biological clock ticking louder and louder, she felt a sense of pressure and urgency. In many sessions at the beginning of our work together, she didn’t talk about herself but instead complained bitterly about the mistreatment from her boyfriend. He sometimes didn’t return texts or phone calls, hea showed up late for dinner dates and occasionally didn’t show up at all, he didn’t remember her birthday and then didn’t get a gift, he was rude to one of her girlfriends. And on one memorable cold and snowy night he said he would pick her up but left her shivering at a street corner, far from any place to wait inside.


Michelle’s mother frequently berated Michelle for allowing herself to be treated this way. “Why do you let him get away with it?” her mother demanded. “How can you do that to yourself?”


“I stopped telling my mother about him,” Michelle told me. “I just can’t listen to her preaching anymore.”


What could be the source of Michelle’s very disturbing dilemma? After all, she was attractive, highly intelligent, had a job that paid well, and had a loyal circle of women friends.


At a crucial session, after once again describing the usual disappointments with her boyfriend, she was ready to drop down into a reflective mood. “I guess he’s who he is and he’s not going to change, is he? Complaining isn’t getting me anywhere, is it?”

That was the moment when it was apparent that she was ready for a change. She said: “What you think of yourself really determines what kind of man you’re with? Is that it?”


“How could it be otherwise?” I replied.


That had been a difficult idea for Michelle to get her arms around.


“I guess I haven’t thought much of myself,” she said. “I must think I deserve to be treated this way.”


“Bravo,” I said. “It took courage to say that, don’t you think?”


From that moment on--building steadily with courage to face truths about herself--Michelle arrived at the determination she needed to end the unhappy relationship. She’d found something genuine to esteem about herself. When she finally called a halt to the relationship, the boyfriend was surprised and expressed some regret at his actions, and tried to convince her to go back to the status quo. But Michelle had found the determination she needed. With a rueful smile, she said: “If I have a bad relationship with myself, I can’t expect a guy to fix me. I hate to admit it, I really hate to admit it, but in this case my mother was right.”


David Rottman is a psychotherapist with a practice in Westchester and Manhattan. 917 589 0277. david.rottman@gmail.com @copyright 2018 David Rottman



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