Thursday, February 01, 2007

Dismaying Story #108: The Mid-Level Manager

Dear Andrew,

I have been with my girlfriend for seven years. We have a child together.

She began cheating on me five years ago, and then it started again two years ago, multiple times. Finally, I had to end the relationship, despite counseling we went through. She continued to have the affair, during 6 months of counseling.

I am a very rational person and chose not to be bitter, for both my sake and my daughter. My partner then proceeded to "lure" me back into the relationship, while still being separated. I began to get back into the relationship carefully. She is living apart from me, but I have been to get her back, despite what she did to me (yes, it is sort of humiliating). She is still having multiple relationships hidden from me, and still wants to keep me as a plan B. She cannot be trusted.

She does have several emotional issues, as a child (raised by alcoholic parents both who were dead before 50 years of age). It seems she is not happy with herself and is addicted to attention. Her outlet is sexual attention from as many guys as she can get. She denies it all. I suggested personal counseling but I don’t feel she is capable of doing it.

I have never been able to discuss emotional issues with her because it hurts, which has been the thrust of some of our problems. I almost consider the way she has disregarded my feelings as emotional abuse.

I really believe anything is possible. I am a Mid-Level Manager and believe in developing employees into positive peak performers. I have been credited with turning around many problematic employees. I guess that’s similar as to what I am trying to do here. However, this is definitely different. I cannot control / influence the actions of this girl. She believes she needs time, but we’re spending time going down a dangerous slope.

The sad thing is, I love her so much and I want my child to have parents who are together. I think I have convinced myself she is right for me, and I fear starting over with someone else.

Why is she still hanging on to me? Why won’t she tell the truth? Am I just another pawn in her game? I could use some advice.

Signed, Unsure What To Do

Dear Unsure,

You ask why she does the things she does, but the issue to me is this -- why do you do the things you do? Why do you stay with in a relationship with so many obvious problems? You’ve suggested a few possibilities, so let’s consider them one at a time.

You want your daughter to have parents who are together. Fair enough. That’s a good thing ... if by staying together you are providing her with positive role models and a healthy, nurturing environment. I question whether this relationship can provide that for her. What will she learn from seeing her mother being unfaithful over and over again, or from seeing you accept poor treatment and a complete lack of commitment from your partner? Children mimic what they see and grow up to emulate what they’ve known. In some cases it can be in the child’s best interest to not maintain a broken home.

You think there’s a chance you can turn her around, which will then turn the relationship around. While your partner may eventually resolve some of her internal issues and change her behavior, you’ve got seven years of recent history that shows how unlikely this is to happen anytime soon. And this is entirely different from managing people in a workplace, for several reasons. Obviously this is personal rather than professional, neither of you have a subordinate role (at least I certainly hope not), and your emotional involvement is monumentally higher. You can think rationally while at work, while that can be much more difficult when it comes to your partner.

You love her. You think she might be “the one” so you should hang on no matter what. Well you can think of love as a feeling or as a behavior. Two people can have all sorts of fuzzy feelings for each other, but it’s their behavior that actually impacts their partner. Is your partner acting in a loving way toward you? Is she acting in a loving way toward your daughter by honoring her parents’ relationship? Clearly not. I don’t know what defines “the one” for you, but I would hope you would have higher ambitions for a life partner than that.

You fear trying again with someone else. I suspect that has more to do with your desire to hang on than any of the other reasons. The future is full of scary unknowns if you walk away. Will the next woman hurt you too? Will you be able to find someone else who doesn’t mind the fact that you are already a father? “Will anyone else even want a person like me?” you ask yourself, and you suspect the answer is “No.” If you can convince yourself that you are worthy of love and commitment (and you are), I suspect this will go a long way toward making it clear how you should move forward.

She hangs onto you because you allow her to do so. She isn’t looking for a committed relationship with all those other guys, and she is clearly incapable of providing one for you. This is not a game to her -- instead I suspect she is an incredibly unhappy person who is engaging in self-destructive behavior for any number of dysfunctional reasons. Telling the truth would mean admitting her problems and, in all probability, losing you.

Your partner has some work to do if she wants to feel better about herself, and I think the same is true of you. Her repeated infidelity has turned your partnership into a mockery. She lies to you and cheats on you. If I were you, I would want more out of a relationship than that. You should seriously consider whether your reasons for staying are valid.

All the best,

This story involves an element of fear, which is the focus of the current Question of the Week. If you haven't yet had a chance to pitch in, I'd appreciate hearing your views on the subject.


  1. wow -- as always, great advice doc!

    and if this guy is sounds like your girl was sexually abused as a child and now is addicted to sex....if you needed a reason why she does what she does...but

    i agree with doc here -- why are you staying with a person whom you might love but is not good for you -- she disrespects you time and time again...

    i was once told -- we teach people how to treat us...

    and you have taught her that she can do what she pleases and you will tolerate it

    if i were you -- and trust me, i've been where you are - get some talk therapy and figure out how to teach people to treat you right! and have visitation with your child but without her mother...get help from a lawyer, if needed

  2. Andrew, as usual, gives stellar advice in the kindest of ways.

    Cheating is such a destroyer of trust and respect in a relationship.

    Beyond your own heartbreak, I think your daughter would end up being damaged seeing that being done to you -- and you accepting it...

    You may be great at fixing things in the workplace, but truly that is separate from intimate personal relationships that are 24/7 and without a paycheck....

    Please take care of yourself and know that you can have a better life without this woman than you could with it.
    Whatever her issues are, are so deep that no-one can love them away.
    Tempting as it may be to think you can rescue her. Rescuing yourself and your daughter may be much better in the long run...

    It may indeed be quite scary to think of going out in the dating world and trying new, but I suspect there a quite a few women who would be thrilled to be monogamous -- and have a partner who is the same...

  3. Run, run fast! You are in a very toxic relationship which is posion to your soul. Time to move on!
    If she is the "one". 5 years from now she will still be the "one", however in that time frame of seperation, she could change, not likley, however she could.
    Time to be you, time to remember who you are and live your life instead of being her doormat and safe harbor.

  4. Wow. Right on. You said it doc. Why do people do what they do? Funny, I am working on a similar column (in a sideways manner, of course.)

    Miss our chats...hope to catch up soon.

  5. I would suggest that the Mid-Level Manager not go out into the dating world yet. Don't even think about it until you find closure on this relationship or the baggage seems to come with you - not an attractive quality.

    You have yourself and your daughter to take care of and the benefits in looking after those needs and bettering yourself and your daughter's lifestyle pays off exponentially.

    Not just that, if you pursue interests that you enjoy in your downtime, then you'll be exposed to like-minded individuals who will likely be more compatible with you, so dating won't be so scary later on.

  6. If you are OK with her cheating on you for your entire relationship, then proceed with her. Some people are content to accept that their partners are not monogamous and their relationship is just "open." They do it all the time, usually for the kids, and usually because it's more convenient.

    But if what you want is monogamy, you're looking in the wrong place, period! If you think she will stop, you're in for a world of disappointment.

    I guess it's not just women who keep going back for more when it just doesn't make sense to anyone else (jerky men, uncomfortable shoes). Men are just as likely to put up with abuse, too (and yes, if cheating on a man makes him feel that horrible, and you know it, but still do it, that is abuse in my opinion).

    I wish you luck, and I think there's someone (several someone's, really) out there who can be "the one" for you and manage not to fall into bed with anyone else. They can also be a better example to your daughter than her mom, and serve to illuminate the destructive qualities in her mom.