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Auntie Suvanna: When love hurts

Heart surrounded by barbed wireA young man in a troubled relationship seeks advice for Wildmind’s resident advice columnist, Auntie Suvanna. What’s the best path when you’re hooked up to someone who sees you as being the source of all her problems?

Dear Auntie,

I stumbled upon you while searching for Buddhist relationship advice, and I hope you can help me. It is a rather long story, but you did say in the post I read that you need details so here goes…

First, I have not been studying Buddhism for very long now, only a few months, and not very consistently at that. But a lot of it matches my own feelings already.

I have been in a relationship that has been going slowly (or quickly?) down hill for a couple years. The woman I am with (or not with now technically) is the one and only person I have ever had a relationship with, basically at least, but more on that later. We met online when we were both 19, and after only about 8 months she ended up pregnant. She moved two hours to live with me when she was about 6 months pregnant, something she really wanted to do at the time. We had had a few problems before, but I never thought anything of it because I had nothing to base it on so I just took it to be normal though they were probably signs of worse to come. I have always known she had it rough all her life, and for a slightly less time known she suffered from some depression, though it wasn’t until recently I found out just how bad. I always felt like it was my duty to save her and sacrifice some of my happiness to make her happy. I would do almost anything she asked me too and besides school and work she basically has controlled when and where I can go or what I can do for a long time.

She has deep, deep depression and a long history of abuse by both parents, and she is a bit bipolar. She is also deathly afraid of doctors, and is completely against seeking any kind of treatment for it. I have always hoped I could cure her, but I think all I did was give her something to cling to and base her happiness on. I thought that a lot of her emotional instability was due to being pregnant, or hormone imbalance right after, but it never stopped and only got worse. I am not an argumentative person, and though there are many things that have always bothered me, I tend to forget about them rather quickly until they happen again. She likes to start arguments all the time about simple things and then escalate them into larger things like me not appreciating her, or her hating her life and how it is my fault. And she has never been able to accept fault for anything. If there is a problem in our relationship it is never a matter of compromise but of it being all my fault.

But in May I did something I am not proud of and started talking to another girl. Well my fiance found out I was talking to her and was obviously upset and I said I would stop talking to the other girl, but I did something I am even less proud of by continuing and eventually near the end of May had sexual relations with her. Ironically my fiance found out the next day and that of course lead me to where I am today. I know I was wrong in what I did and let my desires bring me and others suffering, and it was a firm lesson to me on that matter. For some reason I didn’t feel I was doing anything wrong, and I guess I just wanted to feel like I was loved again, and felt trapped in my then current situation. And I have never been much of a liar except for that period of time. Well we made up at first but things have been rocky ever since. And only seem to get worse. She of course doesn’t trust me at all and so now she spies on everything I do online or any calls or texts I send, and she will call me at random times to try to catch me . And she becomes more and more suspicious as time goes on. I guess it is from all the other relationships where similar things have happened. I’m NOT doing anything bad anymore, but in addition to making me feel even more distant, she is even more controlling so I get even less freedom.

She has decided that she can’t be with me anymore and is certain she wants to move back home. I really want to be with my son, but I know that we are two very different people. I am rather passive, she is aggressive. I believe in forgiveness and non violence, she holds grudges for a very long time and feels that violence should be used against those that wrong her. I don’t care what other people think, she cares a lot about what others think and is embarrassed by me sometimes. I don’t care about marriage, she cares a great deal about it. I don’t care about the standards society has imposed for life, she wants most of that. My views on relationships are very different from hers. We have little in common as far as interests go either. I am ore about living in the present, and she focuses on the past and the future. And my Buddhist views are completely different from her religious beliefs. There is a lot more so just take my word for it.

I desperately want her to be happy, and to get rid of her depression and learn to love herself. How should I manage this situation so that I can show her compassion but not lead her to stay with me only to continue the same old cycle as before? Am I wrong to want to seek happiness myself, or should I teach myself not to desire anything more than what I have now? I am so confused…

I am sorry that is very long and you probably didn’t need that much detail, but I have a problem with going into too much detail.

Whatever your reply, thank you,
Anonymous


Hi Anonymous,

Ask Auntie Suvanna is a humorous column (or tries to be anyway!), and Auntie thinks your situation sounds rather more serious than what she would usually publish. Perhaps this time Auntie’s advice will be a tad more sober than usual.

Childhood habits of interpreting and responding are deeply ingrained; the deeper and more unconscious they are, the less able we are to see them and work with them. We can’t see how our habits are creating further suffering for ourselves (and usually others). I wonder if loving is what challenges those patterns the most, which is why relationships are often so horribly painful.

Even if you don’t want to be in the relationship anymore, going to counseling might facilitate some healing between you, and for each of you individually. It may be hard to get this going, especially since you say you are more passive than she is and she is very resistant. If this isn’t possible, you could get some individual counseling and work on the parts of the dynamic that are coming from you. For example, perhaps thinking of yourself as someone who can save other people, get rid of their depression for them, is something you could look into.

We often think in relationships that the problem is the other person. The way Buddhism sees such things is that the primary cause of any experience is what we have made of our own mind, and that no matter what we consider to be the reason we are responsible for what we do. Which isn’t to say that we should stay in situations that are obviously unhealthy, or espouse a philosophy of ‘everything is my fault.’ I guess it’s something other than, on the one hand, blaming everything on externals (which of course we ourselves chose at one point), or blaming everything on ourselves, saying if we just fix our mind (for example by not wanting anything) everything will be fine. Some different way of looking at what is causing suffering is needed, all the while cultivating kindness toward this difficult situation (life) we find ourselves trying to navigate.

I hope this is helpful at least in some small way.

Lots of love,
Auntie Suvanna

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About Auntie Suvanna

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Ever despair at how to cultivate lovingkindness for Dick Cheney, or ponder the effect of anti-depressants on Buddha Nature? If so, check out Auntie Suvanna, who applies her unique wisdom and wit to your queries about life, meditation, Dharma, family and relationship issues, or anything else that comes up.

Ask Auntie Suvanna was written by Suvarnaprabha, who practiced at the San Francisco Buddhist Center until she passed away in September, 2013, after an encounter with cancer. Suvanna blogger her way, with humor and good grace, from her diagnosis until shortly before her death, in Crap! I've Got Cancer.

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Comments

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Comment from LadyXs
Time: November 27, 2009, 2:07 am

Dear Auntie Suvanna:
I am a woman who has been in a relationship with another woman (An FtM-transgendered man-in-a-female-body). She has many difficult medical issues, as do I. She is perhaps more likely to die sooner than. (I’m 48). I am her sole-caretaker, along with her elderly mother, as they are mine also.
BUT…I am very unhappy here. I want a sangha. There are no Buddhists here. The town is dying. It was a very small town before; now it is even smaller. There are no study centers, meditation centers, no Temples anywhere close to where I live.
I still love this person as a friend. I feel, though, that if I left. that he would literally die, either from one of his diseases or from suicide. How do I measure being compassionate towards him with being compassionate towards myself? There is a Chinese saying that when you save someone’s life, that person is responsible for you. He saved my life in the beginning; I’ve returned the favor many times, as has he. So, under terms of that saying, we are now responsible for each other.
What is the Buddhist thing to do in this situation?

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Comment from Beth
Time: March 9, 2012, 8:01 am

Wonderful column! So how does one go about staying in a marriage where both a lot of pain and children are involved and any choice we make causes suffering? (to stay is a challenge) but to leave causes both financial and emotional suffering than staying?

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