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Parallax - Advice            November 6, 2000



  Four years of fighting and they're still together?

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I have been with my present girlfriend for almost four years. Six months after we met I had a fling with another woman for a period of four months. I love my girlfriend very much, but our relationship is tempestuous. She would say things to deliberately hurt me and I would 'escape' to the other woman rather than deal with the problems in the relationship with my partner.

After we stopped sleeping together we didn't meet again for six months. At that time we became friends and continued our friendship for almost eighteen months. Last year, after a particularly unpleasant fight, my partner and I broke up for three months. During this period, my 'friend' and I began to see each other more frequently, and we ended up sleeping together once (even though she has a man-friend). Otherwise we've been platonic friends - she has helped me deal with problems, though I never detailed any problems I was having with my partner.

I never told my partner about the other woman because I was scared of the consequences, including horrendous fights. Six weeks ago, in a burst of misplaced honesty, I told her everything. She was hurt, but decided to stay with me. I told the other woman that, regretfully, I could no longer see her, as I wanted to put my partner's mind at ease. However, my partner now takes every opportunity to punish me, sometimes resorting to physical violence. She says she doesn't know if she wants to continue the relationship, but insists I must take whatever physical and verbal abuse she dishes out, if I am to stay with her.

I know I've done a terrible thing, but I love this woman very much and want to work through this, although I don't know if it will result in any kind of worthwhile relationship. Any advice?

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Her view:

Dear Fisticuffs,

Wow, you need to decide how much you really love this woman. It sounds like a very destructive relationship. I think you need to have a clear discussion with her. Get a translator if you need one. You should tell her that abuse is not a part of any relationship and is completely unacceptable - zero tolerance. Tell her that you love her completely and want to be with her forever (if this is true). However, her abuse means you need to enact zero tolerance - you will not stay under abusive, hurtful, or intentionally mean conditions.

Acknowledge the bad thing you've done (which, by the way, was really quite bad). You must also tell her, 'This must be in the past and forgotten - it is the only way we can survive. If you cannot let it go, then we need to let go of this relationship now and move on with our lives.'

Tell her not to respond instantly, but that you'd like to give her time to think about this, and what she would like to do. Tell her, 'It's a lot to digest so let's take a few weeks apart to think it over - and at that point we either commit to a healthy relationship or we part ways.' Agree that you will not speak for a set amount of time that you both deem appropriate. This will allow her time to really think it over, mull life without you, and decide what she wants, because right now it doesn't sound like she wants you very much.

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His view:

Dear Fisticuffs,

I am constantly amazed by the things people will do in the name of love. I wonder if you have ever been in a 'normal' relationship - one that doesn't orbit around a queasy masochistic core? There is - trust me - a better way.

Okay, so it's easy to be so blunt from an external point of view. I'm sure I can't even imagine the undercurrents of guilt and dependency and frustration that define your relationship. I'm sure you really think you are in love - love can have many shapes. However, love can also become 'twisted.'

If you think sleeping around with your 'friend' was a terrible thing, you're missing so many pieces of this picture you might as well be watching a different movie. In the context you describe, having your 'escape' was probably the healthiest thing you could have done. It's too bad you let her go.

I'd tell you to skip out of there, but I don't think you could, even if you thought you wanted to. I suggest you get a new 'friend' or reinstate your old one. Spend more time with her, rather than with your physically-abusive, completely unhealthy girlfriend. Let this thought put your guilt-stricken mind at ease: the point of 'escaping' is not going back.

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