This Conversation Should Be Between You and Your Partner
Dear Dr. Hurd,
My boyfriend and I have been living together for eight years. Overall, we’re happy (or at least I thought we were). A couple of months ago he started seeing a therapist. I have no idea why. Now, every time we have a disagreement, he says things like, “My therapist says that you should….” Or, “Well, my therapist said you’d act like this….” Blah, blah, blah…and I’m sick of it. This therapist guy doesn’t even know me—and he’s talking about what I should do? I’m thinking of calling him. You’re a therapist. Tell me what to do.
Dr. Hurd replies,
Don’t call the therapist. He won’t talk to you without the written permission of your partner. Furthermore, this isn’t a conversation you and the therapist need to have. It’s a conversation you and your partner need to have.
Much of the time, people hear what they want to hear. When you talk to a therapist, there’s a lot of listening and validation going on. Some of it is explicit, like, “Yes, you’re right.” But some of it is subject to interpretation. In some cases, the client will misinterpret the therapist’s generally supportive stance as agreement—even when it isn’t. I’m always surprised when a client says, “I know you think such-and-such,” or, “I know you said such-and-such” when, in fact, I never thought or said such a thing. A lot of misinterpretation stems from wishful thinking.
This is not to suggest that your boyfriend is lying. It might even be possible that the therapist did say whatever your boyfriend says he said. But it really doesn’t matter: It’s not about what the therapist thinks anyway—it’s about what your boyfriend thinks. For example, if he said, “My therapist thinks I should open my own business,” it really doesn’t matter (to you) whether the therapist actually thinks it or not. What matters is that your boyfriend thinks it.
I advise my clients against handling things the way your boyfriend has. We all need to “own” our opinions and conclusions. If a therapist agrees with him, fine—but he still has to take responsibility for the idea, and not hide behind some authority figure. If there’s any conflict, it’s between you and your boyfriend. Work it out with him.
Dear Dr. Hurd,
I’ve been in a relationship with the same woman for 10 years. I love her, but I’ve met another woman who has swept me off my feet. We’ve been discreetly seeing one another in dark restaurants, and enjoying nighttime walks on the beach. The “old feeling” is back and I like it, but living a lie is stressing me big time. I don’t even want to go home at night. To top it off, I’m pretty sure that one of her friends witnessed one of our little restaurant trysts a couple of weeks ago. I don’t want to hurt her, but this could blow up at any time. Help!
Dr. Hurd replies,
The first rule of sanity applied to relationships is: Never start a new relationship until you finish with the old one. “Starting” a relationship doesn’t necessarily mean having sex; it means allowing yourself to become emotionally entangled.
As I see it, you have two options. First, you must decide if you want to save your long-term relationship, or start a new one. It’s got to be one or the other, and you have to move quickly. If you want to save what you have now, then you must come clean with your partner. Dealing with her reaction and giving up the affair will naturally go with the territory. There’s no guarantee that she’ll want to stay with you, but that’s a risk you have to take. The other option is to set yourself free. You still have to come clean with your long-time girlfriend and tell her you want to break up. It’s one or the other.
You might feel that this is too “black-and-white,” but you can’t “wish” some other alternative into existence. Coming clean to your partner? “Too painful. Please provide another suggestion,” you might say. OK, then: Continue to live a lie? “Unacceptable!” Unfortunately, you’re out of options—and, as you said, your partner’s friend might expose you at any moment.
You will probably lose the respect of your partner—and certainly her trust. The challenge will be to rebuild your own self-respect, since you have to live with yourself. Think about why you wanted this affair. Maybe you were finished with your partner anyway. It seems unlikely a new person would hold such a great appeal unless you felt something big was missing from your relationship. Now’s the time to be honest and candid with yourself. It’s too late to undo the damage you’ve already done, but there’s still time to clean up the mess in the most honorable way possible. Step up to the plate, face reality and make a decision—quickly.
Michael J. Hurd, Ph.D. is a psychotherapist, life coach and author. His office can be reached at 302-227-2829. Email your questions or comments to DrHurd@DrHurd.com.