Does your Partner Have your Back or Cause You to Watch your Back?

Here’s he latest article from Shrink4Men Forum moderator, Mellaril. Good stuff! – Dr T

When you think about your partner, do you feel she has your back or do you feel like you have to watch your back? In your relationship, who do you depend on and who depends on you?

I’m a big fan of Attachment Theory for a couple of reasons. First, I think it provides a bridge between who and what someone is and their observable behavior.

When I began to peel the onion in an effort to understand my relationship with my ex-girlfriend, I found references on Personality Disorders. While a lot of the information about personality disorders appears to apply to my ex-girlfriend, that information, in itself, didn’t explain particular aspects of her behavior. When I began studying Attachment Theory, things became a lot clearer.

I’ll never know whether my ex-girlfriend has a personality disorder or not, I know specific things she said and did. These are facts. Attachment Theory helped me put those her behaviors into context.  Another reason I like Attachment Theory is that it’s applicable to my marriage. Attachment Theory not only helped explain my relationship with my ex-girlfriend, it explained a lot of things about my marriage to a woman who doesn’t have a personality disorder, but has some quirks.

While I was researching Attachment Theory, I came across the book Attached: The New Science of Adult Attachment and How It Can Help You Find and Keep Love by Amir Levine and Rachel Heller.  In one section, the authors discuss the “Dependency Paradox”  and conclude, “If you want to take the road to independence and happiness, find the right (italics added) person to depend on and travel down it with that person (p. 29)”.

Their contention is that having someone in your corner is important, if not essential, to growth and happiness as an individual.  If you want to hear it expressed in song, listen to The Beach Boys Don’t Worry, Baby. The context may be a drag race, but what he gets from knowing his girl is behind him is priceless. If you want to hear it from the perspective of someone who has your back, check out You’ve Got Me to Hold on To by Tanya Tucker. I think of my wife when I hear it.

In the pages leading up to this statement, the authors discuss the “Codependency Myth” (pp 25 – 26), touching on familiar topics of avoiding enmeshment, establishing boundaries, and developing a “greater sense of self,” (p 26) etc. Their discussion reminds me of something I read on Shrink4Men, The Secret to Happy, Long Lasting Relationships (March 9, 2009) where Dr T pretty closely describes what Heller and Levine challenge. In Hostile Dependency: Is your Wife, Girlfriend or Ex a Child Masquerading in the Body of a Woman? (June 7, 2011), Dr T talks about the negative side of dependency and the resentment being dependent on someone can cause. It also reminded me of Healthy Self-Love: The Foundation of Good Relationships (January 4, 2010).

This was a problem. I found two apparently contradictory ideas that I think have merit and are based on solid research. On the surface, it appeared they both couldn’t be right.

Heller and Levine’s statement is elegant in its simplicity and, for a lot of us, a lot harder than it looks. Shrink4Men is a testimony to how difficult finding the right person to travel with can be. I spent some time thinking about the differences in my marriage and my past relationship in light of Heller and Levine’s statement.

It became clear, my wife has my back. My ex-girlfriend never did, at least not completely. While I never doubted my ex-girlfriend’s fidelity, she was inconsistent in the little things that instill confidence in a relationship, those things that you may take for granted since they’re always there and automatic. As I pulled that string, it led me to the question of what it means to “depend” on someone.  It’s an interesting word, full of nuance depending on who you’re talking about.  The Free Dictionary gives six definitions, two of which are relevant:

  1. To rely, especially for support or maintenance: Children must depend on their parents.
  2. To place trust or confidence: You can depend on his honesty.

One definition has positive connotations, one definition can have very negative connotations. Another definition for “depend” is “subordinate.” How we define what it means to depend on someone can tell us a lot of how we view the world and how we see ourselves.

The first definition implies need. Most of us who frequent Shrink4Men have come to learn that need is, oftentimes, not a good thing.  If someone wants you or you want someone it’s because of who you are or they are, qualities you have and qualities they have in them. If you need someone or someone needs you (i.e., depends on you as in definition #1) it’s because of something you or they lack or can’t do yourself/themselves.

There’s a huge difference between “dependent” and “dependable.”  My wife isn’t dependent on me, she’s dependable to me.  Also, subordinates are never equals. Any relationship where subordinate is the definition of depending on someone is inherently unequal. Trust and confidence can be mutual, you can’t be mutually subordinate. When you think about your relationship, does that person have your back or are they causing you to watch your back?

So, what’s the point? The point is I think both Dr. T and Heller and Levine are correct. Before you can depend on someone else, you have to be able to depend on yourself. After that, we may have what it takes to find the right person upon whom to depend.

Thanks again to Mellaril for some excellent food for thought. – Dr T

Shrink4Men Coaching and Consultation Services:

Dr Tara J. Palmatier provides confidential, fee-for-service, consultation/coaching services to help both men and women work through their relationship issues via telephone and/or Skype chat. Her practice combines practical advice, support, reality testing and goal-oriented outcomes. Please visit the Shrink4Men Services page for professional inquiries.

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  1. Micksbabe says

    I’m going to read up on Attachment Theory. Thanks for the recommendation. I’ve been in relationships (business as well as personal) where I felt my team “had my back” in the form of a sharp blade.

    And FWIW, I think it doesn’t matter whether or not a PDI has an official diagnosis or not. If they’re exhibiting the behaviors, those of us who are queued in, should know to get far away.

    • Jason says

      Your last point is extremely important. I think too many people become obsessed with placing a label on the behavior. This applies to physical abuse as well. I find sociology and human behavior fascinating, but when you are being abused, I’ve learned through sad experience that you need to act and worry about explanations later.

    • TheGirlInside says

      Amen on that!! Sometimes, knowing someone has a ‘disorder’ (in my language, is one of 4 types of A-holes) gives the abused a reason or the abuser an excuse to play victim, to keep their meal-ticket / whipping dog from leaving, because to do so at that point, would be to leave someone ‘in sickness…”

      Bleah. No excuses.

  2. Jason says

    I believe Attachment Theory partly explains how cluster ‘B’ personalities are formed (the other part being a genetic predisposition–not everyone who had parental abandonment as a child turns into a Borderline.)

    I’ve learned that lack attachment from my parents, especially my mother, played a major role in my life choices, including marrying my ex-wife and putting up with her abuse for 25 years. I’m not excusing either of them–their behavior was evil–only saying that attachment theory has done a marvelous job at helping me understand and heal myself (I can’t heal or even help them and learned through painful experience that trying to even reason with them only made them more abusive.)

    • Jason says

      I should point out that I like the basic ideas and concepts of Attachment Theory, but have issue with many of the conclusions. For example, I strongly dislike the formalized attachment styles–I find them too rigid and artificial. I also think the field of psychology has fallen short in examining late childhood and adolescent attachment (roughly eight to seventeen, depending on the person) and its effect on developing cluster ‘B’ and sociopathic personalities.

      • Mellaril says

        I don’t agree with everything in Attachment Theory, either but it does explain things from a different perspective. The formalized attachment styles may come up short but they seem to be based on solid research. I found it explained things looking at them from a more PD oriented didn’t.

        For example, if I look at things from a PD perspective based on what you can learn from Shari Schreiber’s articles, my exgf would appear to be a Borderline Waif and I would skew heavily N (self-reliant to the point of arrogance, liking to be needed but not needing anybody). Based on that, we should have been able to craft a long-term, repetitive, and dysfunctional relationship. But, it didn’t. It collapsed relatively quickly when the circumstances that allowed us to maintain a virtual long term relationship changed.

        When I looked at things from the perspective of Attachment Theory, her behavior became a lot easier to understand. She may have been a Borderline Waif but she had a distinctly avoidant attachment style that explained a lot of things in our relationship, including why after accusing me of a lack of commitment and I asked her to marry me, she left town. I think Attachment Theory also better explains why she kept coming back better than PD theory does.

        Dr T did an article on the dark side of Attachment Theory awhile back,

        •Female Stalkers, Part 4: Attachment Style as a Predictor of Who is More Likely to Stalk and Abuse and Who is More Likely to Be Stalked and Abused (February 23, 2011)

        • Jason says

          You’re probably right and I was being a little harsh.

          Your comment reminds me of a point my marriage counselor made when I brought up Borderline Personality Disorder. She said that low to no self-esteem explained my ex’s most harmful behavior sufficiently. She also observed that attachment theory was an important part in how I approached the relationship. I’ve learned that she was right on both counts.

          • Cousin Dave says

            I’ll have to read up on Attachment Theory. I agree that we do sometimes get obsessed with trying to pigeonhole a diagnosis, and we forget about what actually matters. The same is true of physiological diseases: not all people who get a certain disease experience the same symptoms, and doctors know that characteristics of a patient, plus circumstances, can sometimes confound a diagnosis to the point where all you can do is treat the symptoms and hope for the best.

            I label my ex as a BPD, but in some respects she was atypical. For example, she was seldom directly confrontational, and if she experienced the near-perpetual anger that most BPDs experience, she did a good job of covering it up. But what eventually mattered was that she was almost totally untrustworthy; eventually I caught her in so many lies that I couldn’t trust anything she said, and I had to constantly watch my six. Regarding Attachment Theory, she did often tell me about experiencing parental abandonment when she was growing up. However, some of what she told me was contradicted by family and friends that I talked to about it, so I’m not sure how much of it I can actually believe. It would be consistent for a Cluster B to make up a narrative of childhood abandonment to rationalize their behavior.

          • Mellaril says

            Your ex sounds a lot like mine, except for the untrustworthy part. When I started grinding through things, I sent a friend who was an LCSW a history of relationship. She said what I described was a trauma survivor who had symptoms of PTSD and NPD. She said there was a good chance my exgf had been abused or molested as a child and from what I described about her family, it indicated her mother had known about it and didn’t intervene on her behalf. My friend’s comments led me to the works of Marion Solomon that described the possible clinical basis for things. Solomon reference Attachment Theory in her works.

            My exgf was a runner vice a fighter. She had what appears to be a distrust of men. In her world view, it wasn’t if she would be betrayed, it was when she’d be betrayed. She was the classic “abandon them before they abandon you.” Her twist to the game was to have her partner cheat on her as the justification. She’d throw the flag, claim moral high ground and leave as a martyr. I saw the process in action with my successor. She picked a guy for certain characteristics, set up an intolerable environment, and when he cheated on her, she opened up on him and came back to me looking for a shoulder to cry on. I pointed it out to her and she honestly told me she didn’t know what I was talking about.

            When I made counselling a condition of re-engaging with her after we broke up, she declined. For a long time, it really hurt that we weren’t worth at least fighting for. After grinding through PD references, Attachment Theory references and whatever else I thought applied, my take is maybe it wasn’t so much she didn’t want to fight, it was whatever held her back was too frightening for her to take on. Avoidant attachments explain the running pretty well. If she had been abused or molested, that would have meant confronting her parents in some manner and she couldn’t bring herself to do it so she avoided it. I don’t know that she ever did. Her subsequent failed relationship and marriage imply she didn’t.

            Unlike many others here, my exgf was never vindictive or malicious. I don’t remember one thing she ever did to intentionally hurt me. However, she(and I) had problems that we weren’t able to overcome together. I was #4 of 6 in her series of failed relationships I know of so she could have cut a hefty trail of destruction.

          • Jason says

            I don’t think your BPD was atypical. My ex was rarely confrontational and rarely overtly angry. Her rage mode was to criticize me intensely for several minutes and when I said anything would she scream “you always turn it back on me”, or something similar, and storm out of the room.

            A mild version of this happened once almost right after we were married (I kick myself for not following my instincts when that happened) and then not again until the last five years of our marriage and only once a year or so. She would actually show more anger to other people while ranting about me.

            (Six months after the divorce, my ex apparently went in full rage mode when our oldest child confronted her about several things, including the vicious lies my ex had spread toward the end of our marriage.)

  3. SineNomine says

    I have never heard of attachment theory before this article, but I’ll look into it. I can certainly say, unfortunately, that I ended up having to watch my back. I should have started watching it a lot earlier, sad to say, and ended up with a few knives in it.

  4. cuatezon says

    Yes more good stuff this is nearly Biblical or Divine reading. I don’t know what Attachment Theory is I’ll read up on it.

    I do know one thing, learned it a bit late, yet now know it…and that’s when there is pain there is no gain. Emotional and/or physical abuse of any kind should never be tolerated. Period. It doesn’t matter why the other person is doing it. Not my f—— problem. Its theirs. Its so much better to be alone and have some serenity than living with an emotional bully/sociopath. Took me years and some lumps to learn this lesson.

  5. mr says

    So, for the last nearly 14 years, I have suffered with a BPD. Now, I have finally done it – filed for divorce. The constant blaming, put-downs, excuses, hysteria, etc., I know, will not go away. Neither will comparing me negatively with her father or with her friends’ husbands.

    She will probably become even more dysfunctional. The question is, what I will need to do when the electricity gets turned off, the phone and Internet gets cancelled, there is no food in the refrigerator, etc. because of a failure to temper wasteful habits or a failure to correctly use the money that I will give her for child support and maintenance? Or her failure to get a job (despite two degrees with honors from very reputable universities – in Psychology, no less).

    And, I am sure that I will continue to hear multiple soliloquies about how she is who she is because there was a bad match with her mother (i.e. they did not get along – her mother is a kind, sweet, gregarious woman), and she was left with caretakers for a year as a small child due to a parental illness). Or, about how I do not fulfill her needs, or about how I am a poor provider. But, as with many high intelligence BPs, she comes across for short periods as extremely charismatic, thoughtful and caring – just ask our neighbors whom she cooked for post-pregnancy, while at the same time leaving a filth house and not properly feeding her own kids.

    And, maybe it is my fault, to a certain extent, for tolerating her behavior for so long, for letting her call me too many times at work, for letting her put me down in front of my kids for “not earning enough,” when my salary is significantly higher than the average, where we live (I am a lawyer living in Israel who works for a US company). Who knows…

    But the next stage of the show is just beginning!

    • Jason says

      A word of warning. Your statement “She will probably become even more dysfunctional” may not be true right away. BPDs are incredibly adaptable. She may go so far as “proving” you were worthless, by becoming functional (in ways you plead for her to be when married.)

      It won’t last. It can’t last. When I moved, as I packed, my ex suddenly started cleaning her crap up for the first time in years. It didn’t last. I expected my ex to hold out longer than a few months, but am not particularly surprised she didn’t.

      “failure to correctly use the money that I will give her for child support and maintenance?”

      Been there. By law, I’m paying a huge amount in child support and she only uses a fraction of that for the kids. They are low maintenance, so I suck it up, but were they younger (the two youngest were 15 and 17 at the time of the divorce) I would have gone to the ends of the earth to get full custody and likely would have won in my state.

      As for alimony/maintenance, acting helpless and feeding my potential guilt was one manipulation my ex used to keep me around. It’s now her problem, though I’m baffled as to what she thinks she’s going to live on when the alimony runs out. Unlike your soon to be ex, my ex has no college degree and goes nuts when someone suggests she get further education, if only in a certificate or trade sense.

      “maybe it is my fault, to a certain extent, for tolerating her behavior for so long”

      Allowing ourselves to be abused to so long is our responsibility, but her behavior is most certainly not. The mistake spouses of BPDs often make is assuming their good behavior is how they really are and the bad behavior an aberration. It’s exactly the opposite and worse; their good behavior is often a total lie, a facade. It isn’t genuine.

      “I am a lawyer living in Israel”

      Ten years ago, I had an extended business trip to Israel. I had an incredibly wonderful time. It is still my favorite business trip. Once my youngest graduates high school, I’d go back in a heartbeat.

      • mr says

        Jason, thank you very much for these insights. As far as the higher functioning bit, I suspect (and hope) that you may be right. She is extremely skilled at drama, and has performed on an amateur level, both recently and in high school (she calls it work).

        Also, you are right that it is largely my fault for tolerating it for so long. The breakthrough came when I found a marriage therapist who pointed out the problem (and who, after a while, refused to see her, and we then switched to individual therapy with the goal of extrication).

        My kids are 5, 11 and 13. The 2 older ones expect it, to the point of my oldest already picking out a bedroom in my office (she is a girl and needs a private bathroom, and my office is a 4 bedroom apartment that I share with a few others [who have been given notice]. I am moving about a 20 minute walk from the home, in between all of my kids’ schools.

        As far as the good behavior being a facade, the major issue is that she believes it to be true, and is wholly convinced of her righteousness.

  6. cuatezon says

    Jason & MR, you’ve verbalized something I’ve forgotten about lately, and that’s the highly intelligent BPD/sociopath. I often view these types as less-than-smart and bumbling, and some are that way. Yet my ex is extremely savvy and very intelligent. She was physically very pretty, charming, sociable. She came from a well-to-do family (her parents, both doctors, gave her everything, paid for all her college, she never worked a day in her life when we got together, which I believe further enhanced her little princess syndrome). I can’t go into all the detail here, nor can I even verbalize all of the intricate webs she weaved, the smaller, subtle things that do matter – the emotional betrayals, backstabbing, alienating my family from me, major invalidations…and so on. You know something is terribly wrong yet cannot fathom what exactly it is and often surreal experiences that leave you dumbfounded, in shock.

    Then insult to injury most ‘therapists’ and mental health professionals are in complete denial of the sociopathology of these women. Thankfully, we too went to a therapist who actually recognized the signs of mental illness and wanted my ex to see a psychiatrist, but was too afraid to tell my ex for fear of scaring her off. That therapist eventually abandoned us as things got so out of control and it was just f——- hopeless. Shaking my head right now as I type.

    I’m rambling here I’m just so thankful for this website and for people who truly understand what I went through. I have most of my sanity & some serenity.

    • Jason says

      My ex is actually of slightly less-than-average intelligence in most areas and can’t handle logic beyond simple black and white statements. For a long time, I thought this was a conscious way of her handling things didn’t want to handle, but eventually it became clear that was how she was to the core.

      But, and here’s the big caveat, my ex has an incredible gift of mimicry. I noticed this soon after we were married, but didn’t understand the full significance of this until just before our divorce. Looking back, I’ve realized that she got much better–scary better–at it over time.

      The most important point with this mimicry is that is it NOT conscious or deliberate; there is no intelligence or conscious logic behind it, just pure emotion and pure instinct. I think this is typical of BPD, if not one of its defining symptoms. In many ways, this is the most disturbing aspect of cluster “B”s; their lack of cognition makes them impervious to both reason and moral standards.

      • says

        I had a similar experience, slightly below average intelligence, or at the very least significantly below average intellectual curiosity. But she was able to mimic and socialize with the best of them. What I did not see until after marriage was how much she changed with each person she interacted with, which person was the real her?

        What I saw though, was that this mimicry has an amazing ability to create rapport and make people instantly feel more comfortable with you. Its almost scary what a trap it can be… because people trust those that mimic their traits more than average and then that can so easily be used against them.

    • ssscrambled says

      Howdy cuatezon, yes I describe my ex as highly intelligent/sociopath as well. She was very good at making a good impression on people, and at the same time intimidating them into not trying to get too close to her. She had suffered some horrendous abuse from her parents, but with the help of a pile of feminist literature the size of mount Everest had taught herself social skills, and had I think almost convinced herself that she was ok, and capable of healthy social functioning. Needless to say this wasn’t the case in her more intimate relationships, and right from the start I got an intuitive sense that something was deeply amiss with her, but I also felt that surreal experience you’re talking about when things started to go wrong because by that time I had been drawn sufficiently into seeing things her way, and through the elaborate rationale that she had created for herself, that I started to wonder whether she was right after all. Looking back though I see that what went “wrong” – ie when I started challenging her about her behaviours having her go into extreme “fight” mode, telling me I was “abusive”, false accusations and defamation, having her women’s studies chronies harrass me etc – was essentially as a sort of “shock and awe” type attempt to appear to herself and others as though there was nothing wrong with her, and that it was all my fault. (and one very strong impression I am left with is that sufferers have a constant need to reassure themselves that they are ok/right/acceptable, whereas for a healthy person this is a given/default).

      And on theme, I quite like the construct of “Complex PTSD”, which differentiates the effects of a single event with those of chronic trauma such as abuse in childhood. The thing about complex PTSD is that it casts the behaviours also seen in BPD – like an unstable identity, splitting, lack of empathy or capacity tor self-reflection etc as quite natural effects of the trauma, as it allows someone to grow up and survive in an extremely adverse situation.

      But to cut a long story short, I basically agree with the slant of Mellaril’s article, that it boils down to attachment styles – in terms of the extent to which you are on the spectrum between “dependent” and “dependable” – that are often the result of very early life experiences

      …Ok and while I’m at it, I like the theory that the etiology or origin of words instills a meaning that it retains even when the original context is lost, and in the latin/romance language sense, “depend” litteraly means to “hang off”…which eventually morphed into the way we understand the word today. But I still think there’s an element of the original meaning in there 😉

  7. mr says

    Jason, I think that the lack of oonsciousness is the scariest part. She got served on Friday, and immediately freaked out, begging me to give her another month to prove herself. Then, she started saying how we both needed to change.
    Literally, throwing herself at me.

    Then, the next day, she starts yelling how much she loves me and how much I am a giver and she a taker, and how only she needs to change.

    Then, she demands an hour of my time tomorrow to listen to her (almost feels like a cult indoctrination through sheer attempts at wearing down). I told her I would give 5 minutes.

    I am sure tomorrow will be different and interesting. But, the hope of ever reaching an agreement with her and avoiding litigation seems increasingly sparse.

    The question is whether, if I give in, will I end up like that fawn who made “friends” with the leopard. It is getting increasingly difficult to stonewall on this one.

        • Cousin Dave says

          mr, we’ve discussed this here before, but in your case I think it bears repeating. You need to start being able to account for your whereabouts and activities as much as possible. Start a diary and note all of your comings and goings — where you went, when you got there, when you left, who you saw there, your mode of transportation, date and time on everything. Pay for things as much as possible with credit cards so that you create a paper trail. Keep friends and relatives appraised as to your whereabouts. And in any public place, try to note where there are security cameras and make sure they see you, in case you need the video later. And by all means, do not be alone with your ex or any of her friends.

  8. Sluggo says

    I have read basically all the entries and comments on this site over the last few weeks. I would really appreciate some input or comments from anyone here, so I just found an article, and am posting a comment to see what happens.
    I have been involved with my gf for almost 18 tumultuous months. I am posting, because there are 2 issues or facts relating to her that I have not seen addressed here. (Maybe the fact that I am here at all should speak volumes.) Much of the traits of NPD-BPD apply to her, but not all. If anyone here has a wife-GF who is a physician or otherwise “life-saver”, please comment. Mine is a primary care provider and part-time ER doc. She saves lives. She gets so much praise/thank-yous/worship from patients, that it is hard for me to compete with this on a daily basis. I dont know if it is her lack of being able to separate work from home. I can say she is never wrong. About anything. When I bring up an issue, I have to agree with her opinion, or there is an argument. After all, she saves lives. I just deal with money (banker) which can be replaced. I cannot upset her before work (or any other time) because I cause her to be hurt (as usual) and it could ruin a life and then her career because she is distracted-distraught. I can somewhat agree with this. If I talk about anything other than what to do this weekend, where to eat,etc, or have any conversation that is not routine, it is critical of her, she gets upset, and “I” have either threatened someones life, ruined a weekend, vacation, birthday, etc. This physician and god complex issue is number 1. Number 2 is the fact that her prior relationship was with an absolute loser. (I know him – pothead- controlling, screaming, used car salesman kinda dude who has mind fucked her 3 teenagers.) Not trying to make excuses for her, but trying to figure it out. She was nothing but a paycheck, housekeeper, etc, for almost 17 years. I know she was involved with crazy. I have witnessed it. Is it possible she has made the pendulum swing the other way? Going from out of control marriage to overly controlled relationship. There has been stability of sorts. The kind where we do talk about marriage. (I have been divorced for 15 years – which makes me set in my ways, according to her.)
    When we split after a major blowout, there is no hoovering. She simply goes on and gets her fulfillment socially. She is adored. Everyone wants to be her friend. She can go to the pool at her condo and be surrounded by adoration from neighbors, many of whom are patients. I am always the one taking the high road and contacting her with humility and apologize for my reaction to her behavior. No humility in return. I cant figure this out. I want to be with her, but I want the stable episodes to last more than a few weeks.
    Obviously, there is much more to this story, but for the sake of time and space, this is a general outline. I forgot to mention the insane jealousy. I have to watch out for not “staring” at a woman in a bikini on the beach, or there is hell. She is almost 45. (me, 44). The sex life has never been a problem- other than work hours, etc, it is great.
    Any commentary? I am thinking of stopping this cycle. My hesitation is that it does seem to be stabilizing, but when it is bad, it is very bad.

    • Jason says

      This sounds all too familiar. Doesn’t matter the profession. My ex had no profession, but did volunteer work and is adored by those with whom she dealt. It finally occurred to me that due to the nature of her volunteer work, she rarely deals with the same people for an extended period and certainly not at a personal level and that this isn’t accidental. Being able to get praise and adoration from people who have no chance of ever getting to know you is a good way to cover up serious insecurities.

      A second point is that your conviction that she was married to an absolute loser may be unfair and possibly completely untrue. Perhaps he’s unstable, but has it occurred to you that his behavior may have been an unstable response to her behavior? That SHE mind fucked her 3 teenagers, not him? Of all the things my ex-wife did, the three I still have a hard time getting over are a) the lies she told about me to our children and family and b) the lies she told me about a and c) how much of the distance and problems I had with my oldest son were greatly exacerbated by my ex due to her lies (parental alienation.)

      Here’s the thing about c. My ex adamantly denies it and in her mind, she’s right. That’s how cluster B’s are. Until we went to marriage counseling, I thought my ex remembered the things she did to me and was pretending not to out of shame. The counselor helped me realize that she has no shame and has been disassociates herself so completely from these events that she truly doesn’t remember them. In relation to your comment, this means that the story of our life together as told by my ex-wife is, and always will be, true only inasmuch as it makes HER look good.

      (This self-deception is so complete that during our one post-divorce argument, she lost track of the lies she had told and used things I had said almost verbatim as being her side of the story.)

      One of my most important epiphanies was to realize that my ex-wife’s “stable moments” were ultimately a lie, which is why she couldn’t sustain them. They were longer at the beginning, as yours are, but then shortened, as yours will. Yet, I can predict now that you will begin to place truly aberrant behavior in the “stable” category. Later, you will be pissed at yourself for doing so and not facing reality.

      My suggestion: suggest counseling. I predict that she will lose it. Odds are she will lecture you about how she’s educated and doesn’t need anyone telling her what’s normal. If she does do this, leave immediately. Any psychologically healthy person will accept couples counseling. (I’ll go so far as to say that even non-cluster B’s boyfriends/girlfriends/spouses who refuse counseling should be dropped immediately.)

      If she does acquiesce, find a good counselor and hold your girlfriend accountable by forcing her to agree to do specific things with the counselor. Eventually, your girlfriend will lose it in counseling and/or break her promises. (It took six weeks for my ex to do the former and just over ten for the latter. Be aware, though, that many can hold on pretty damn long and during that time, things WILL be great. If your girlfriend is a genuine cluster B, when it falls apart, and it will, it will be bad, so be prepared.)

      PS. My ex does no hoovering. Neither do two friends of my best friend who were married/engaged to BPDs. One said something very helpful to me: “I’m now just a page in her scrapbook.” Meaning that he feels the emotional pain of their relationship while she feels nothing. My ex is that way. It hurts, but I’ll still take it over hoovering.

    • TI85 says

      Maybe some of my own situation will help you.

      (1) Need For Praise. My wife (we’re getting divorced) has LOTS of friends. None of whom she sees on a daily or even weekly basis. Or live anywhere near us. They all love her . . . for that time they spent together in college (more than 15 years ago). She is a prosecuting attorney who focuses on vicitim-crimes, and she is very good at her job. One of the main subjects of discussion about her job is repeated stories of the praise heaped upon her by judges, colleagues, opponents, supervisors, etc. She is very, very nice to people and has carefully cultivated her personality so that even causal acquaintances are fascinated by her and drawn to her.

      That said, in the confines of our home, she is absolutely vicious in her criticism of certain people. Her grudges against people are deep and the things she will say about these people (only to me, I think) are rather disturbing. She hates. I didn’t see this until we had been married for a couple of years. I’m personally pessimistic about things, but in a practical way, but I don’t actually hate anyone. Not even my wife. And imagining holding on to the kind of hate I see my wife display privately is very upsetting to me.

      There is a small group of people who have criticized my wife after they witnessed small glimpses of bad behavior by her. She has either decided to let these people go as friends (including people who she had been very good friends with for more than 10 years), or she suffers them at family holidays (because they are my relatives). There is a third group of people who have seen her bad behavior, too. These people are her immediate family. They don’t discuss any of this with her. Her mother exhibits the same behavior, as does her grandmother. The bad behaviors are discussed in hushed voices and acknowledged with askance glances, but nobody actually approaches any of these three about their behavior. Strangely, my wife will be critical of her mother’s behavior, her mother critical of the grandmother’s behavior, the grandmother of my wife’s behavior, etc. But nobody ever addresses the person acting badly. Ever. It’s like they are afraid.

      (2) Correlating Her Job And Your Alleged Responsibility For Her Emotional Well-Being. As a general proposition, she proceeds from a false premise, and you should stop accepting it. You are not responsible for her emotinoal well-being. Every time she complains that your behavior needs to be contained because it upsets her and people will die, she is just trying to control you. She chose to be a doctor. Her preparation for her daily duties should not include blaming you for her inability to regulate her emotions.

      That said, I’ve heard my wife complain that she can’t understand why I argue with her at home (for example, about how I’m not cleaning something “the right way”), because I’ve told her that I admire and support her career choices. It makes no sense. To me or anyone else I’ve asked. But it apparently makes sense to her.

      (3) She Is Always Right. Yes, I’m familiar with this. After years of experience, all I can say is, yes, she actually believes this. I’m firmly in the camp that this makes her somewhat unbalanced. They were right in kindergarten — nobody’s perfect. Don’t believe anyone who tells you otherwise.

      Therapists have suggested that she needs to believe that she is always right because this is a coping mechanism for some unknown early childhood trauma. That may be true. But my wife is not the least bit curious about digging through the alleged defense mechanism to get to the trauma at her soft gooey center. So I’m married to the defense mechanism who thinks that she’s right all the time. So, really, it’s a question for me about whether I’m ever going to married to the person I thought was my wife, rather than this alleged defense mechanism. Like I said, I’m getting divorced.

      (4) Good Time Cycles. I’m familiar with this, too. Here’s what I did. I went to counseling (marriage and individual), grew my backbone back, and started voicing my opinion about my own wants. It quickly became a simple numbers game. The frequency of our minor disagreements about things like which movie to see increased, and since I was not automatically capitulating, friction increased. The Good Times quickly dropped to zero.

      I’d encourage you to try something similar. It’ll help you for yourself, and you might gain the perspective you are asking about.

      (5) Jealousy. All the time. I was regularly accused of having affairs with co-workers. This could not have been further from the truth. She freely admitted that her accusations were baseless, and that they were prompted by her own irrational jealousy. I asked her to stop. She shifted to making jokes about it. I told her they weren’t funny, and asked her to stop. She did not stop. We would fight about this. I eventually decided that I don’t need to put up with this.

      Only you can make your own decision. I think the advice you will find here will generally tell you that the situation is probably not going to end with the two of you together. I struggled against this for a long time. I ended up throwing in the towel. But I wouldn’t have done that without the struggle. Change is hard. I’d agree, the fact that you are here is probably significant.

      Good luck in the process.

    • cuatezon says

      Sluggo, first things first: Get the f— out. Now. End it. You’ve got a train-wreck-waiting-to-happen girlfriend.

      I recently dated a doctor for almost a year. Neurologist/neuropsychiatrist. Head games, mind fucking, invalidation techniques, extreme immaturity, and golden uterus-divinity complex, to name a few issues. Lies, manipulation, bullshit. We’d be on the phone for 2hrs; 115 minutes her talking, 5 minutes me. I’d put the phone down, go to the bathroom, get a drink from the fridge, and come back & she’d still be talking.

      She would also talk/gossip about her friends and acquaintances constantly. She also constantly made herself to be the victim of boundary-violating, ignorant masses of people in the world.

      It was difficult for me to gauge & comprehend all this; she’s a doctor, she has to be high quality and a good person. NOT!

      I don’t know if its the profession, or what the deal is, all I know is I’m so happy I got out with only some emotional scars. It could have been worse.

  9. Mellaril says

    I recommend you check out Shari Schreiber’s site using the link on the right and check out her article, “DO YOU LOVE TO BE NEEDED, OR NEED TO BE LOVED?” If you’re still interested, check out the Forum here.

    My exgf was a critical care unit nurse.

  10. TheGirlInside says


    I think you have found a root or at least contributing cause…our relationship with ourselves = the relationships we play out with others.

    Because I had so much self-loathing (unbeknownst to me for years), I sought out relationships that reinforced the self loathing. In other Words, finding someone who treated me like I was worthless, in order to dysfunctionally feel ‘comfortable.’

    Stephen Covey, in “7 Habits of Highly Effective People” demonstrates the difference between dependence (I need you), independence (I don’t need anyone but me), and interdependence (I need some things from you, just as you need some things from me).
    Also, he talks about people’s beliefs when it comes to ‘win-win'(lets come to a solution that makes us both happy), win-lose (in order for me to win, I must make you lose), win (I’m going to win no matter what, whether you win with me or not) and lose-win (whatever it takes to make the other person happy / codependent).

    Even that two-day seminar was helpful in seeing the difference between an abusive person and a non-abusive one.

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