Relationship Advice Tips by Dr. Jeanette Raymond, Ph.D.
It was fun when they were dating But living together was suffocating
Debbie was appealing as a girlfriend but became a burden as a live in partner!
It had been fun and exciting dating Debbie over the last year. Now that Debbie had moved in with him things were very different. Jay liked having her companionship but it felt uncomfortable. Having her around all the time made Jay feel like he had to include her into his thoughts and actions on a continuous basis. The excitement of seeing her on dates had disappeared. The sexual thrills diminished into a duty to perform. The affection that they had always enjoyed turned into demands for his exclusive attention which made Jay feel cramped, constricted and caged in a trap from which there was no escape.
Jay wanted Debbie in his life but he didn’t want to feel totally responsible for her well-being and happiness. He liked the idea of her being home when he got back from work, but it also felt like he had come home to his second job. Debbie had become a burden, a pretty, sexy and intelligent burden, but a responsibility nevertheless.
Responsibility was forced on Jay early without his choice
Jay was taken back to his childhood when as the eldest child he had to take care of his three younger siblings after his parents divorced and his mother took up with one boyfriend after another. Jay had put his life on hold to make sure that his brothers and one sister had his focus and attention when his mother was out partying. He had worked early in his teenage life to bring home money for the things he knew meant a lot, because he couldn’t count on his mother putting her kids first. He became a parent before his time and felt guilty when he eventually left home to go to college. He sent money whenever he could and created a home from home for his family when he was a high earning physician.
Can Jay exercise his choice as a grown man or is he ruled by his past?
Having Debbie in his home made it feel like he was the big brother again. But he couldn’t go through all that guilt again like before. He wanted her but didn’t know how to relate to her other than as a parent when the lived in the same house.
As the months went by, Jay felt increasingly irritable and conflicted. He began to withdraw from Debbie and encouraged her to have her own life in addition to the social life they shared together. Debbie saw it as rejection and became more demanding and clingy. Jay felt even more tightly bound up but couldn’t make the break.
Sickness and disease solves Jay’s dilemma
A sudden and debilitating bout of Ulcerative colitis struck Jay out of the blue giving him some emotional relief from this messy conflict. He had to take it easy. It was appropriate for him to focus on his health rather than on the relationship between himself and Debbie. Friends and colleagues came over taking some of the pressure off him to take care of Debbie’s needs. She stopped demanding sex and didn’t complain about lack of affection.
Jay’s painful illness took away his vitality and potency as a man, but it bought him space from his self-imposed care taking responsibilities towards Debbie. In addition, he was able to receive care without feeling guilty or less of a man.
Jay had been a sports and fitness fanatic. He swam and played tennis several time a week. He was a regular at the gym and on the jogging circuit. His energy and agility was a source of pride, making him feel young and potent. He had never been ill in his life. The shock of having his world turned upside down was startling. Ulcerative colitis made his energy dive and he could barely make it through the day. He knew that stress over the relationship was a possible trigger, but he didn’t want to believe that his body could succumb to it.
How did sickness rescue Jay from his conflict?
As the pressure to take care of Debbie wore off, Jay realized that his illness was a painful but necessary saving grace. He couldn’t find a way to keep the relationship and relinquish responsibility for Debbie, so the disease struck at the moment of greatest need.
Jay’s illness let him off the hook of being a father figure to Debbie.
Jay’s colitis helped him accept care on his own behalf, switching roles between himself and Debbie which he would not have been able to tolerate if he was well.
Jay’s disease created a break in the relationship that was causing stress, without abandoning it altogether.
Jay’s physical suffering brought him time and a compromise. He could still have Debbie without breaking up with her.
Balancing pleasure and responsibility makes relationships stable and appealing
What can Jay learn from his disease and the timing of it?
As Jay learns to manage his colitis he can also learn to manage his fear of having to be a father figure if he lives with a woman. He can use his illness to help him find balance between the excitement of having a girlfriend, and the domesticity of a live in partner. That will enable him to both care and be cared for, as one adult partner with another, rather than be trapped in roles that echo his past.
Copyright, Jeanette Raymond, Ph.D.
Disclaimer: this article is for informational and educative purposes only. There is no liability on the part of Dr. Raymond for any reactions you may have while reading the article or implementing the suggestions therein. Interacting with this material does not constitute a therapeutic relationship with Dr. Raymond.