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Christian Living

TheRelationshipCafe 09/09/08

Don't Repeat the Same Mistakes

We are definitely creatures of habit. We do the same things, each and every day, often in patterned behavior. While as much as we espouse being flexible, resilient and adaptable, more often than not we behave the same every day. 

Living in rituals and structure can be a good thing. This provides stability and predictability to our lives. But, it can also be destructive, especially if we are caught in a web of dysfunctional behavior. Sometimes it takes experiencing distress, perhaps even significant distress, to realize that what we’re doing isn’t working. We must stand back, face our patterns, and take a more objective point of view. This was certainly the case of a man who wrote to me recently.

Dear Dr. David. When I first met my girlfriend she was still married, but separated from her husband. At that time she told me she no longer loved him and hadn’t seen him in a long time. Shortly after I met her, I helped her move out of her house and into a rental home. During this time I found out she was still seeing her husband and sleeping with him. She called me crying, telling me she was being abused by him. When I told her to have him arrested, she wouldn’t do it.
Over the past few months I’ve learned that my girlfriend’s ex is an alcoholic and abuses drugs. I learned about her ex’s history of horrible abuse. She always makes excuses for his behavior. While she promises not to see him, she feels pressured by him at times and gives in to his pressure. I don’t trust that she is finished with him, even though they are now divorced.

My girlfriend’s behavior is erratic and I don’t know if I can trust her not to see her ex. Even though she makes promises about her ex, she breaks them again and again. I’m not sure if I should believe her, and put my trust in her, or if I should run. She wants to stay involved with me, and becomes hysterical when I consider leaving. Please help me decide what to do.
     ---Caught in a Mess

Dear Caught,

 One of the most powerful lessons I’ve learned is that the best predictor of future behavior is past behavior. While we are most certainly not forced to repeat old patterns, we generally will do just that if we don’t experience some form of intervention—a spiritual, emotional or physical consequence that brings a new awareness to the situation. In other words, without some “hitting the bottom,” or epiphany, we continue with old, learned behaviors. 

There are many issues to consider in your question. 

First, your girlfriend doesn’t seem to be emotionally finished with her ex. While she claims to be finished and is legally divorced, she doesn’t appear to be emotionally divorced. She remains entangled with him, and thus she is not truly available to you. She is not emotionally free to pursue a new relationship. That puts you in a very precarious situation.

Second, your girlfriend exhibits very poor boundaries. Boundaries are something learned, and if we haven’t learned them—how we treat others and how we allow others to treat us—we’re in for a chaotic life. Your girlfriend’s involvement with her ex-husband not only exhibits poor boundaries, but very questionable judgment. If you remain involved with her, expect more trouble down the road.

Third, your girlfriend is probably not fully aware of her troubled behavior. While she may have moments of insight, she needs separation from both you and her ex, along with counseling, to truly examine her life. As she remains enmeshed with him and you, she is likely to continue to experience confusion. She needs understanding and wisdom that comes from objectivity. You can help give that to her by refusing to participate in her chaotic lifestyle. 

Fourth, while you hope things will be different, you have little reason to believe they will actually be different. Since the best predictor of the future is the past, and she continues to repeat old, troubled behavior, that is sadly what you can expect in the future. If you continue doing what you’re doing, without significant intervention, and expect different results from her, you’re going to be very disappointed. 

Fifth, you cannot stay with her out of guilt. While she needs and wants you, she needs to become healthy. She comes to you with much unfinished business, and if you continue to see her, you’ll be caught in her messy past. Point her in the direction of healing and lovingly step out of her life, at least for the time being. 

Finally, both you and she need to pull back and consider matters from a spiritual perspective. The Scriptures tell us to “Trust in the Lord with all your heart and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge Him, and He will direct your paths.” (Proverbs 3: 5-6) This certainly seems to be a time to pull back, allow your girlfriend to finish business with her ex, learn healthy boundaries, and then in time, determine if she is healthy enough to begin a new relationship. 

Please respond to this column. What would you do if you were in this man’s shoes? What counsel would you give him?

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