Tuesday, August 10, 2021

When You Can Never Be Content If You’re Contented


I could find somebody   new somebody who'd be true

But honey I'm stickin' to you just to torture myself

Say it out loud I'm sick and I'm proud

~ Kacey Jones, “Just to Torture Myself”

Way back in March of 2012, I wrote a post about members of couples who complain about a lack of affection from their long-term partners, and in response quoted advice columnist Amy Dickenson: "In relationships, if you always do what you always did, you'll always get what you always got." I opined that, because these people continue to either put up with or needlessly inflict frustration on their partners, then each member of the couple believes the other member of the couple really wants the relationship to continue in its current form no matter how much they may complain about it.

Each member of the couple discounts their own compulsive behavior as indicating that they, too, want the current parameters of the relationship to continue because they are playing a role in their own family of origin that requires denying that they are playing that role. For a fuller explanation, see this post. In actuality, both members of the couple are highly ambivalent about making any changes. They really do hate the current situation, but this negative feeling dwarfs in comparison to their fear of having a better one, due to anticipated consequences to their respective families-of-origin.

Does this state of affairs also pertain to relationships that are chronically and significantly neglectful or abusive, or to those characterized by repeated infidelity, rather than just to those that are merely chronically frustrating? Absolutely. The ability of people to put up with ongoing pain in these situations is impressive. People who do that often act as if they are too stupid or evil to even know that this is what’s going on, but those appearances are con jobs.

This can easily be seen in two letters recently published in the Ask Annie advice column:

6/4/21. Dear Annie: I have dated a guy for the last six years, always long-distance. I have loved this man with my whole heart. The issue is we have not met each other's families. He has never met my kids and doesn't even want to. He will not acknowledge our relationship on his social media profiles. His parents know nothing of me. We do not spend holidays or birthdays together. We do not go on dates. The last time we saw each other in person was two years ago. He barely even texts me. There is always an excuse as to why he is unavailable. Yet he claims that he loves me. I just don't get it. I want to leave, but I care about him so much. What do I do? -- Mixed Signals

6/5/21. Dear Annie: I met a man about four years ago. We started dating a week after we met, upon his insistence. Well, after we were together a year, I found out that he was messaging with a girl online and had been for several months. She didn't want him. Then, a month after that, I heard he cheated on me with someone from work who was in her early 20s, the same age as his daughter. I confronted him, but he refused to admit he was guilty. However, I've caught him exchanging sexual messages with a couple of other girls online since then. He says he's never actually hooked up with them in person. I guess my question for you is, is it worth trying to keep this man in my life? I love him, and he says he loves me, but part of me is no longer in love with him. If I'm being honest, I've felt this way ever since I heard of his cheating with that young woman. What do you think, Annie: Should I set him on the curb on trash day? My heart is telling me to stay, but my mind is wanting me to tell him to get lost. -- Confused Girlfriend

Of course, in both cases the advice columnist advised breaking off the relationship. In other cases, advice columnists have also recommended psychotherapy if the letter writer couldn’t seem to do that.

I submit that both of these letter writers already knew exactly what the advice columnist would recommend, but are just acting so stupid that they can’t see the obvious. In fact, I would guess that they both will stay in the relationship anyway, giving the partner even more evidence that that is what they really wanted to do all along! I mean, how could they not know what advice they would get. The way they word their letters practically begs for that ever-so-obvious advice.

If I were seeing them in therapy, hearing this would be the perfect opportunity for me to ask the Adlerian question: So what would be the downside of being in a relationship with someone who was actually there for you?