by Lesli Musicar, M.Ed., R.P.
Have you ever been in an unhappy relationship
where you kept wishing that your partner would change? This
was the story of one woman’s life—I’ll call
her Greta. She had had one three-year relationship after another
ever since she was twenty.
Greta was now 38 years old and she found herself ending yet
another dead-end relationship. This one had been frighteningly
abusive and Greta was shaken up. For the first time, she paused
to reflect on her history of bad relationships. Yes, these men
all had problems. But she had gotten together with them. And
she had stayed far longer than she should have. It was only
now that Greta asked herself: why have I been doing this and
how can I stop?
For so many years Greta had been avoiding her problems by focusing
on those of others around her. Now she was going to look at
her own. To her surprise, Greta found she was insecure. She
was not the strong, independent person she had thought she was.
Greta discovered that she lacked self-confidence and had little
self-esteem. No wonder she had never pursued the men she found
interesting. She had never felt worthy enough. In each of her
failed relationships, Greta had succumbed to the flattery of
being pursued. But then, after finding out what they were really
like, why had she stayed?
Once Greta had committed her affections, she felt trapped.
Suddenly, their feelings became more important than her own.
Somehow, Greta now felt responsible for their happiness. She
couldn’t bear to hurt them—or so she told herself.
Even at the outset when Greta knew the relationships were doomed,
she felt helpless to end them. So she simply made the best of
it until, inevitably, they fell apart.
With the help of a counsellor, Greta began
to make sense of her pattern of unsuccessful relationships.
On an unconscious level, it was as though these boyfriends were
her parents. And Greta, once again, was a powerless child stuck
in a situation she could neither change nor leave. In her effort
to heal this very old wound, Greta unknowingly sought a fantasy
outcome. She wanted to change these men into who she needed
them to be. This was no more possible than changing her parents
into the loving caregivers she had needed as a child.
Greta now came to realize that it was she who needed to change
all along. Greta had to face the pain of her childhood abuse
and neglect. She had to acknowledge the crisis she had been
in ever since. She had to grieve the countless losses and missed
opportunities; the damaged self-image she had hidden, even from
herself. And finally, she had to stop blaming others for her
misfortunes. Greta had to take responsibility for her adult
That was a tall order. In fact, it still is. Greta would like
to hold those boyfriends responsible for ruining her life. But
she knows it was not their fault. The damage was done long before
she knew what a boyfriend was. Her childhood history had set
the stage for her adult failures. Does that mean her caregivers,
her teachers, her childhood community, were responsible? Well,
yes, it does. But as an adult, Greta knows it is her challenge
to heal her wounds, not theirs.
Greta discovered old pain, resentment and a simmering rage
deep inside of her. Up until now, these had been misdirected,
often sabotaging her own best interests. With the help of her
counsellor, Greta is finding safe, effective ways to vent. Unfinished
business from the past is being resolved. Her worries about
forgiving others have dissipated as Greta has begun to forgive
herself. As she reflects on her life, Greta now feels sorry
for having settled for less. She regrets allowing herself to
be mistreated. She feels badly for not having valued herself
more. Greta is learning to take better care of herself, to be
her own good parent. And this is hard work.
Growing up on your own when you are already
an adult is not easy. It was difficult for Greta to give up
the fantasy of finding that “special someone” to
make her dreams come true. She resents having to go through
the pain of healing, while at the same time, having to learn
new ways of being in the world. And she especially resents having
to pay for the damage others did to her life. Nevertheless,
as time goes on, the pain grows less acute. Taking care of herself
is getting easier. And the cost of counselling—well, Greta
has decided she is worth it!