Dr. Love,About 10 months ago, I changed jobs and met an incredible man at a time where I had long since contemplated ending a 4 year, yet very unhappy relationship. At that time I wasn’t quite emotionally ready to end it, but 4 months later after exhausting all alternatives I finally did.While my casual relationship with this new man was not by any means the reason for my breakup, which was over long before I left it. . . I could consider him to be a catalyst to helping me to realize how unhappy I really was. We grew very close during this time and have continued to grow closer since then.We no longer work in the same office together, but correspond daily and have gotten together once or twice a month to visit with one another. My problem is this. . . this man is in a very similar situation as I was in previously, and he has been for over a year. He’s been in a relationship of 8 years where he’s very unhappy and wants to leave, (they’ve discussed breaking up many times)yet stays because his girlfriend is co-dependent and cannot live or support her 2 children (not by him) on her own.He feels a sense of responsibility for them, as I can’t blame him for feeling. . and while I do my best to understand where he’s coming from and respect what he feels he needs to do, the nature of our relationship has changed dramatically over the past year and now we find ourselves on the verge of a very complicated romantic relationship.This man has touched my heart in a way no person has before, and while I understand this is a no win situation of sorts. . I cant bring myself to break off communications with him.I’d like to stay a safe distance and wait awhile to see what will happen; whether he’ll leave the relationship and find a way to do it with as little guilt as possible (as it tends to be inevitable) or decide to work things out with her.I’d obviously prefer to be with him myself, but if working things out with her makes him happy then that ‘s what I want for him. At the same time I don’t want to put my own life on hold in the process while he’s sorting things out. He’s made it clear to me that he has strong feelings for me as I do for him, but I find myself needing to hold back due to our situation, and the closer I get to him the harder that gets.I want to talk to him about this but don’t for fear of adding more pressure to his already complicated situation. Am I wrong to want him to try to decide what he wants to do about this or should I just gracefully bow out?I truly believe that if given the opportunity we could have a great relationship as we have such a solid mental and emotional connection to one another already. We’ve just recently come to the point where we can speak openly regardless of topic and without fear of reprocussions, but I hesitate to question him on what his intentions are in this case. (The true evolution of our relationship has just recently been acknowledged)I’m trying to be realistic in my thinking of the many ways this story could end, but cant help but want the opportunity to have a relationship with him myself. . . The closer we get emotionally, the harder it becomes for me to stay silent. The more I contemplate what I should do. . . the more confused I become. I could use some advice. . .
I can see how complicated this situation is. You are this man’s friend, and I think that, if nothing else, he needs a good friend to set him straight. He needs to look at the fact that he is allowing himself to be ruled by guilt, to the point that he is sacrificing his own needs in the process.You might explain to him that this isn’t even about whether you end up together or not. It’s about his own sanity. He needs to find out why he is mistreating himself this way. He needs to know that one is supposed to take care of himself first. Putting oneself behind the needs of others may sound like a religious ideal, but in real life it isn’t a healthy practice at all.If nothing else, he must find out why he’s being a martyr. Was he raised in a religious family? You know that many religions champion self-sacrifice. If this is his case, he will find it very difficult to move past these teachings.Were his mother or father self-sacrificers? If so, he learned that this type of behavior is the ideal.Is he sacrificing and punishing himself because he feels that he deserves to suffer. A common reason for punishing the self is unrecognized rage that is rattling around inside the psyche.Is he driven by rescue fantasies? I’ve said before that people who need to caren’take others secretly wish to be taken care of. The most common reason for this is inadequate nurturing in childhood. By caren’taking someone else, the rescuer thinks that he is going to fill the void inside himself. This never works, since all the rescuer does is deplete himself by excessive caren’taking of others.I wonder if he’s scared of being close to an equal partner. People who are afraid of closeness can feel safer hooking up with someone who needs them. This sense of imbalance, leaves the caren’taker feeling in control and less vulnerable.On a related note, people who are afraid to be abandoned may choose a helpless dependent partner who will never leave them.Last but not least. He may be afraid of his dependencies needs. By choosing such a helpless woman, he can let her ‘carry’all his own unwanted feelings. Instead of his feeling weak, helpless and dependent, she gets to be all those things. Then, he can feel strong and in charge, which allows him to kill off those unwanted aspects of himself.I have given some possible reasons why he hangs on to this woman. He needs to find out what he gets out of this relationship? And, yes, it is serving a purpose. He wouldn’t be hanging on to it unless it did.Meanwhile, there’s you. If he is in therapy and working to free himself from the emotional chains that bind him, you might decide to hang around. But, if he isn’t actively working on his issues, then what you see is what you get. Time will not resolve his issues. He needs to actively work at it.So, in order to protect yourself, you would be wise to put the theories out there and see if he bites. Is he interested in working on himself or does he want to remain stuck? You can make your decision based on his response.