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…)

Who Owns the Problem?

When a persistent problem like an illness or an addiction comes between a couple, no one wants it. It’s your Problem, one says to the other. No, the other says, you brought it here; the Problem belongs to you. The couple comes to marriage counseling and asks, who owns the Problem? 

No one owns the Problem, I say. The Problem owns you. (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…)