Dead-end Love
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 life.

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!