Feed the Person, Starve the Problem 

One Halloween when I was a kid, I came home from trick-or-treating with a plastic pumpkin full of chocolate. My mouth had been watering ever since the second doorbell but my costume prohibited taking an early snack. As soon as I got home, the mask came off and I had my first piece of chocolate. The taste of that chocolate was so exquisite that I can still recall it. If I wasn’t a kid and didn’t know anything about it, I would have said I was having an orgasm over that piece of chocolate. It was so good that I had another and another and another, until, before I knew it, or my parents knew it, the entire pumpkin was gone and I was so sick I barfed all the chocolate right back into the pumpkin where it came from. (Continue reading…)

Create Problem-Free Zones

If you’ve been hurt and the Problem has taken over your relationship, there’s plenty that you can do, other than succumb to the Problem yourself. Just because your boyfriend wants to get stinking drunk every time he goes out, doesn’t mean you have to clean him up when he comes home. If your girlfriend picks fights with everyone, it doesn’t mean you have to make excuses for her. If your husband choses to gamble away his paycheck, it doesn’t mean he has to spend yours, too. Get out a little, be healthy, let your partner clean up his or her own mess. Create a Problem-Free Zone. (Continue reading…)

Where Problems Come From

Chances are, neither you nor your loved one asked for a persistent problem. Illnesses happen beyond anyone’s control. Some diseases are inherited, like Huntington’s; others are transmitted, like Ebola. Mental illness and addiction are thought to involve a multi-factor genesis called the Diathesis-Stress Hypothesis. (Continue reading…)

How Problems Get Power

Persistent problems like an addiction or a chronic illness can take a couple into a dangerous territory where clarity turns gray and selfishness rules the day. This is a place where individuals disappear and are replaced by need; where loved ones are objectified, resented, and manipulated; where wedding vows, conceived to guide people to be the best they can be, are subverted into an evil parody no one intended. They take you into madness. It all starts when a Problem demands special accommodations. (Continue reading…)

When Problems Take Over: Persistent Problems

Even when people are firing on all cylinders, relationships can be tricky. When there’s a persistent problem, like an illness or an addiction, in the mix, they can be impossible. Persistent problems can be the source of much harm. The alcoholic you can’t rely on. The gambler you can’t trust with money. The depressive who won’t do anything. The phobic who won’t go anywhere. The narcissist who makes everything about her. The guy who can’t seem to keep his dick in his pants. When problems like alcoholism, compulsive gambling, depression, phobias, narcissism, or compulsive sex take over, it takes hard work to eradicate them and eternal vigilance to keep them away. Relapse can be expected. When we’re talking about addiction, it takes an average of seven real attempts before recovery feels solid and, even then, you won’t know if he’s going to need eight. Mental illness also tends to be episodic, and, if nothing is done about it, each new episode is worse than the last. People who have succumbed once to the allure of violence, sexual recklessness, self harm, suicide attempts, or self pity are more likely to do it again. Moreover, problems will often go into hiding when they feel threatened, so that what appears to be recovery is really a more pernicious hidden phase of the same problem that caused so much trouble before.

If you’ve been traveling this road to reconciliation and don’t believe you’re getting anywhere, maybe your partner is looking at everything differently. What’s black to you, is white to him. Up is down and in is out. When you think you’re heading towards reconciliation, he thinks you’re pointing the other way.  (Continue reading…)

The Road to Reconciliation: Get Help to Defeat the Problem

In the last few posts, we’ve been seeing what happens when a problem takes over a relationship and hurts people. The people in the relationship disappear and the needs of the problem consume everything. If you’re the person with the problem, your job is to recover. If you’re the other person, your job is to recognize the problematic portion of the relationship, stay connected with the healthy parts, and get help.

Once a problem begins to take over a relationship, never try to take care of a problem yourself. It’s too dangerous. It took possession of your loved one and now it’s coming for you. You need someone objective, preferably someone who understands the problem and its effect on relationships. Someone who isn’t afraid to tell the hard truth, but also someone who can say it delicately so people can listen.

It might be obvious that a sick person needs a doctor, but when problem is in charge, sick people don’t go. Problems don’t like what doctors have to say. (Although there are some special conditions like hypochondria and addiction to prescription medication that try to enlist doctors in the pathology.) Problems would rather everyone be in denial, so that they can work their evil in secret. You can tell how much your loved one has succumbed to the problem by how cooperatively he works with the people meant to help him. If it seems like he’s always fighting with them, it’s really the problem trying to defend itself.

If the problem-ridden person is working with a doctor, then the other partner needs to, also. You both need to understand the problem and treatment. The doctor may need information about the condition that only onlookers can provide. You, your partner, and the professionals need to form a team that works together, not in isolation from each other.

There are several factors that get in the way of a treatment team effectively working together.

The first is when the people who are supposed to treat the problem fall under its spell. Anyone who has ever been around an anxious person knows that anxiety is contagious. People dealing with the depressed often fall into despair. It’s easy to get inflexible when you try to cope with a rigid person. Parents of addicts have been known to score drugs for their darlings, to keep them safe. Wives will wait on a husband hand and foot when he is supposed to get up and be active. Divisions are created between the people who are attempting to treat the problem and the ones facilitating it.

The second most common barrier is put up by partners who attempt to protect the sanctity of their relationship. They believe it’s a betrayal of their partner to get help, a violation of boundaries. To be sure, some partners will see it that way. He may be angry if you tell on him. However, the sanctity of the relationship has already been violated when the problem moved in and refused to leave. You’re not telling on him, you are informing on the problem. You’re not betraying your loved one when you send him to the emergency room, suicidal; you’re protecting him from a common enemy that has him bamboozled.

If your ill partner will get help to combat problem, that’s very good. If she won’t, then that should not stop you from getting help yourself. Remember, you’re next in line to succumb to the madness. Create Problem-Free Zones. Meet your friend for coffee, unload to your family, make an appointment with that counselor, if only so you can keep things straight and stay in contact with a rational world.