by Neil Rosenthal
Dear Neil: This is a story of two men. One is a gentle man who genuinely likes me and who nurtures me, is wonderfully caretaking, kind, emotionally healthy and sweet. The other man is totally self-absorbed and self-centered, jealous, insecure, controlling, manipulative, mean-spirited, dishonest and he treats me like dirt. Oh, did I mention that he has a drinking problem? Or that he calls me every demeaning name in the dictionary?
So why would I reject the sweet guy and choose the insecure, selfish, mean-spirited one and then not be able to stay away from him, even though I know he’s unwise and unhealthy for me?
-Needing To Know in Canada
Dear Canada: Why would you reject the right man and have an addiction to the wrong man? Four answers: 1) Choosing what you’re familiar with; 2) Feeling that you don’t deserve or are not worthy of a caring, nurturing, sweet guy; 3) Getting hooked on the drama and the chaos that comes with being with an insecure, unhealthy and addicted man who “needs you”; and 4) Being a habitual people-pleaser.
In the first scenario, look at the way your parents treated each other and how the kids were treated growing up. Did one of your parents-or did you-feel as if what you wanted or needed wasn’t valued? If you grew up feeling that your needs weren’t taken seriously or considered important, you may be-as an adult-uncomfortable with a intimate partner who is caretaking, nurturing or generous. You may be more comfortable with what you are used to or familiar with. And what you grew up with – or how previous romantic partners have behaved toward you-or how your parents treated each other, is what you’re familiar with. Most of us choose what we’re familiar with, even if it’s downright destructive.
Second, in your heart, do you feel that you are worthy of a nurturing, giving, attentive, emotionally available guy? Yes, I know that is what you’ve always said that you wanted-but deep down do you feel you deserve such a man? It may be that this feels foreign and even unsafe to you. Do you fear that if you give your heart to a wonderful guy, he will eventually find you unworthy or inadequate, and then reject you? If you don’t feel deep down as if you deserve to be loved and spoiled, you are far more likely to choose intimate partners who can’t or won’t love you because your self-image tells you that you don’t deserve any better.
Third, the drama and the chaos created by a guy who is always on the edge of losing control-or who is addicted, needy, jealous, selfish, controlling or perhaps desperate – creates enormous intensity, which is easily mistaken by many people for love. But this is not love. It is drama, being on the verge of losing control and emotional intensity. Learn the difference between love and dramatic intensity. They are not the same.
Finally, what is the advantage of continuously trying to please a person who is never pleased except in a very temporary way? You wind up feeling as if you are beating your head against the wall. If you’re a people pleaser, choose someone you can actually succeed with, not someone who is impossible to win over.
As sad as it seems, many people can’t handle a good relationship with an emotionally healthy giving person. It’s too unfamiliar and threatening.
Neil Rosenthal is a licensed marriage and family therapist in Denver and Boulder, Colorado, specializing in how people strengthen their intimate relationships. He can be reached at 303.758.8777, or e-mail him from his website, www.heartrelationships.com