As Valentine’s Day approaches couples become more mindful of the ways in which they can show their love through caring gestures and gifts. Flowers, cards, candy, and jewelry often communicate feelings of affection and gratitude. It’s easy to acknowledge and celebrate a meaningful relationship, especially when it’s uncomplicated and fulfilling. However, many people are in a relationship with a significant other who is grappling with some form of self-destructive behavior. This can manifest as an eating disorder, substance abuse, alcohol abuse, other kinds of addictive behaviors, or acts of self-mutilation such as cutting or burning the body. If you relate to this, you’ll understand that there can be a deeper and even desperate desire to “fix” or “change” your partner in an attempt to help them stop their destructive behavior. Here are some useful Do’s and Don’ts that can help you navigate this challenging issue without personally burning out.
- Obsessively worry about your partner’s behaviors. This has no actual impact on their actions and can emotionally, physically, and mentally deplete you.
- Attempt to motivate them through guilt by saying things like, “If you loved me enough you’d stop.” This always backfires and creates even more guilt that can fuel the self-destructive behavior.
- Use shame or humiliation in an attempt to change your partner’s behavior.
- Take their actions personally. It’s not about you, it’s about your partner’s own unresolved issues and pain.
- Tell your partner that they are “sick” or “need help” as this can make them even more defensive.
- Ignore your own responsibilities or right to self-care in order to “cover up” for your partner and the consequences of their self-destructive acts.
- Collude with secret keeping.
- Take on the role of being your partner’s therapist. You couldn’t possibly have the objectivity to be effective, and it’s not your job!
- Let your partner know you love them and you care about their well-being.
- Show compassion by letting them know you see the struggle they are grappling with, and how challenging it can feel to let go of something they experience as helpful in the short-term.
- Tell your partner that “they deserve support” rather than “they need help” when attempting to connect them to resources.
- Communicate your belief in their ability to learn new ways to cope and to genuinely heal with professional guidance.
- Be clear that it is not your problem to fix and you don’t have the power to change another human being.
- Get the support that you deserve to safely process any legitimate feelings that surface for you, and to learn how to set and hold appropriate boundaries.
- Know that you have the right to end a relationship when it is abusive, unfulfilling, one-sided, or when your partner adamantly refuses to do what they need to do to be healthy.
What “Do’s” or “Don’ts” would you add to this list?