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April 21, 2016

Let’s Get Intimate: The Downside to Being Self-sufficient. {Adult Q&A}

Esra Erben/Flickr

Do you have questions about creating intimacy or developing mindful relationships?

Confusing questions? Awkward ones? Deep, dark scary ones? 

I want them. Email your questions to: [email protected].

All authors remain anonymous. No judgments, just soulful answers.

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Q. I met a man through a family friend eight years ago. He asked me to never leave him and said he would take care of me. I’ve always been self-sufficient.

I moved from my town to his town. Four months later we got married. Right after we got married he got a DUI and lost his job. We were both in our 50s. He always treated me like a queen. We worked through the DUI with attorneys, treatment and driving him around everywhere he needed to go (sometimes he drove with no license, and he was still drinking).

We bought a house, and he got another job, but his drinking really bothered me. After about four years, he started doing things without me. He started doing everything with his family and excluding me. Again, I’m very independent, so it didn’t bother me. I kept telling him I was leaving because it didn’t seem like he even liked me anymore. He let his family disrespect me, and day to day they told me there was something wrong with me.

I went to counseling (he wouldn’t go), then he filed for divorce. He wanted to stay friends and live together and he said he wanted to take the divorce off the table, but he never did. Four months later he moved out and took stuff that was joint property.

Five months later we settled and are now trying to sell our house, which I’m living in. He keeps wanting to stay friends and keeps throwing money my way. He says he still loves me, compliments me and says he wants to see me succeed. He says I’m the first thing he thinks about when he wakes up and the last thing when he goes to sleep, even though he’s got a girlfriend.

My question is: How do I learn to trust another man? I want to, but I really hate men—all men. When I look at them I feel sick. It’s been over a year since I’ve been with anyone.

A. Self-sufficiency is a beautiful and necessary thing. When we are living at the top of our game, we have the resources to offer others.

In fact, after long periods of self-sufficiency, it makes sense that we feel ready to take on a partnership with someone else. We’ve done work on our psyches, spent enough solitary time taking great care of ourselves, and have a pretty good idea of how to enter couplehood without losing ourselves.

How could we? We’re all we’ve relied on for years!

The problem with entering a relationship with an “I’ve got my own back” attitude is that we let our partner off the hook from his or her responsibilities—to us and to the union itself. In your case, your husband was able to function with his alcoholism because there was the safe space of your self-agency to do so. Once you expressed concern, his stability was shaken, but not enough for him to seek help (e.g. get counseling with or without you). This explains why he wanted to take divorce off the table and remain friends. Likely, he loves you and loves your company, but more importantly, you are the safe place where he can continue to live in an unhealthy way.

Having a strong sense of self-agency, as you do, means that you present a powerful life force to those who encounter you. There are dangers to this power, however.

You are not someone else’s shelter. 

You worked hard on yourself in order to be the woman you are. Your partners in life—whether they are lovers, friends, family members or colleagues—need to do their own self work. You cannot be expected to carry anyone’s life but your own. You can, of course, share life experiences. However, it is not your responsibility to care for another human being fully (unless that human being is a child you are raising).

You are not an island.

Having said the above, your strength and self-sufficiency are not an excuse to isolate yourself from others. We live and grow best as human beings when we are in relationship with others. Sharing experiences and views of life strengthens our self work and helps to support our partners. Likely, you knew this when you began seeing this man, if not consciously, then somewhere deep within you.

When we are strong, we believe that we can take whatever life throws our way. You clearly received some benefits from this relationship, and maybe even figured that what he was incapable of bringing to the table you would provide yourself. Nice idea, but it doesn’t hold water.

Being self-sufficient means being vulnerable.

What is vulnerability in this case? It’s saying to your partner that what he or she is doing is unacceptable, because it hurts you. You do have feelings, and those feelings need to be honored. Sometimes those feelings include the need to be emotionally held and supported. This is not weakness. This is absolute strength.

When we say to our partner, “You are hurting me with your behavior,” we need to know that this is yet another way we function from a place of self-love and self-care. What makes us vulnerable is the fact that we are sharing our needs. We are not tapping into our own pool of strength to receive support; we are asking our partner to be a partner—to take responsibility for his or her half of the relationship.

I invite you to consider that you do not hate all men. Rather, you hate what happened with this man. I don’t blame you. In the future, when you bring your full self to a relationship, you will realize that you need your partner to be his full self as well. Otherwise, there is an unhealthy balance.

If your husband wishes to meet you where you are, he needs to get into counseling to help him through whatever pain he is self-medicating with alcohol and masking with controlling behaviors. Once he begins his own self work, he will be better able to be a friend—to you, to others and to himself.

Meanwhile, your work is to remember that strength does not mean isolation or radical self-protection. The Gentle Warrior is mighty even without her armor. Be open to the right partner for you. He is there. Maybe in the form of your husband, maybe someone else. Maybe no one for now.

Listen to that self you’ve been caring for all these years. Remind her that she is worthy of an equal.

Happy loving!

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Relephant Read:

Let’s Get Intimate: Why We Run from Love (& How to Stop). {Adult Q&A}

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Author: Rachel Astarte

Editor: Toby Israel

Image: Esra Erben/Flickr

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