Improve Therapy Outcomes For Poor Relationship Patterns: The Data
The full article in which this example’s data is analysed is here.
K and I started dating more than three years ago, with a 50 mile drive between our homes in the SF Bay Area. Soon after, in addition to full time contract work in her previous career, K started going to grad school full time, to herself be trained as a therapist. This would take two years, with weekly evening classes and full weekends in class every three weekends or more often, plus reading and assignments. I have two children who at the time were both school-age and with me alternate weeks. One day a week when I didn’t have them I would work from K’s house so we could have time together at the beginning and at the end of the day. On weekends that I didn’t have my kids I would be at her house, on other weekends, occasionally, she would come over.
Overall, we were very compatible — politically, in our values, sexually, physically and in our interests and activities. Very early on, she said we were different “characterologically”, referring, I think, to how much independence we wanted and how much time we wanted to spend together.
E1. In those first few heady months, there was one business trip I made to India. K came to drop me off at the airport and to pick me up when I returned. I mention this because that has never happened again, and I think it is telling.
E2. Quite early on, K had told me that one of her two brothers had bipolar disorder. Soon after starting grad school, a series of family crises started for her, all centered in a city in the US midwest, “requiring” her presence there: intervention for her brother, possibility of institutionalizing him, deteriorating mental abilities of her step-mom, then her father’s stroke which left him essentially in a coma, her brother’s suicide, her father improving suddenly, her father deteriorating suddenly, her father’s death and the two funerals. The pattern was that I would get a call from her, sometimes I would be able to go and see her and be with her for a night or a few hours as she packed, then she would fly off. Invariably and understandably she would be completely distraught and alone at nights when she got back to her hotel room in the “family” city. Since I could wrangle working remotely occasionally, I offered to accompany her (she never asked me) but she argued, “This would not be a good time to meet my family, it won’t be fun for you …” and get my acquiescence for both that she had to “go immediately” and that it “didn’t make sense” for me to go with her. It seemed that she never understood that “having fun” wasn’t the point of my offering to be there with her, that it was just so she wouldn’t be all alone at night since her family was not a source of comfort to her. Not once, on any of her 10+ trips, was she open to my accompanying her, and at some point she seemed to not want me to even drive her to the airport or pick her up.
E3. After this set of family crises, we had one vacation together to another country. The trip was wonderful and unique and we spent all the time together very connected, the typical romantic thing that should happen often in the early stages of a relationship, the “trip together” that serves as a test. I would say we passed. However, there was a small dark cloud for me: when we planned our trip she said she wanted to stay a couple of extra nights with her cousin who lived there and to hang out with her, so could I not stay the whole time? To me, I could have stayed on, she could have hung out with her cousin while I went off by myself either in the daytime or the evenings, but that wasn’t what she wanted. As it turned out, for the three extra days she was there, she didn’t stay with her cousin, met her once for dinner and the rest of the time did stuff by herself we could easily have done together. A little bit weird, but I accepted that she wanted “space”.
E4. Back home, most of her weekends were spent in school, she was also doing make-up work for the weekends she’d missed due to her family crises, so I kind of felt entitled to her one free weekend a month. We talked about short weekends away etc., but nothing ever happened. Months later, in the middle of summer, she jumped at the opportunity to go to a cabin in the Sierras with her girlfriends for a weekend. Which is of course fine, but I felt deprioritized because, one, she’d avoided sharing her calendar so I could plan, she’d avoided committing to a weekend with me for very long and two, she never stopped to think that with her schedule it would mean two weeks before we would see each other. A few weeks after that trip, it was a trip to Colorado to see her college girlfriends. This is how this went down: First, she didn’t mention it until I asked about plans for a specific weekend she wouldn’t be in school. “Oh, let me check, that might be the weekend I’m going to Colorado.” Then, she didn’t even bother to ask her friends if I could join, because she’d decided it “was a girls’ get-together”. As it turns out, two of the male partners of the women were there. Recently when we discussed that trip, K actually had the cluelessness to wonder why I hadn’t accompanied her!
E5. Another fall and winter came and went during which we did not spend Thanksgiving or any part of winter break together due to her imprescindible family stuff. Plus she took a weekend away at a cabin of a friend to “journal” and think about her book and her brother, and then a long road trip by herself to repeat one she’d done with her brother, together with visits to her mom in another city, the same mom who’d broken up Kim’s family twice. Amongst other things, since time is finite, this translates into lost opportunities for doing things with my children and myself, small day trips to the beach, weekend ski trips with us … ways of “integrating” which she’d claimed were important to her. But somehow, she managed to find time to go on a long ski trip that she was invited to at no cost to her, with her ex-step-family (her mother’s second ex-husband’s children) with whom she has deep personal and political disagreements. At this point, we hadn’t had a vacation away together in a year, and when I brought up planning one for us she mentioned a “weekend family cruise with her ex-step dad’s family in spring”. It turned out to be a week long, not local but in the Caribbean, so she flew out Friday and returned the Monday after next, which translated into three weeks without our seeing each other, and no seeming sadness on her part at the impending separation.
E6. I did bring up with her that if this was how she wanted to live her life that was fine, but that I didn’t want to be part of it. She assured me these were all exceptions, and how could I begrudge her time with her only remaining family (which, as her actual family died off, kept expanding). She even mentioned being aware that her frequent trips as an international journalist were what had led to her estrangement from her ex-husband and their rapid disconnection. “Connection” was a very important word to her. I asked in response whether she wanted a repeat of that situation, and she assured me no, what she wanted was a “fully integrated life together” and blah blah. In case you were wondering, from her cruise, not a single pic from her, just texts that she was actually “really busy working” and would call me when her phone had battery, or when she had connection or after her family dinner etc.
E7. Meanwhile she was pestering me to consider moving to a geographically halfway place so we could live together, though she should have understood that moving would be hard for me since I had school age children and joint custody.
E8. That spring she unilaterally initiated an application to foster a child. This was something she’d told me about very early on and my reaction had been that “I understood and if we became a partnership I would knowingly fully support her.” She continued to mention it frequently, as a deep need, together with how her previous ex had repeatedly promised but thwarted her desire for a biological child, an adopted child and then a foster child.
E9. Somewhere in the middle of this, after a family discussion, my kids got a shelter kitten. A week later, K got a rescue dog, large, with fence-jumping, running-away and other issues, not under voice control and not feline friendly! It almost seemed like a revenge dog, but I got gaslit into believing she’d been planning this all along, and well if I could get a cat she could get a dog. The cat isn’t my primary responsibility, which was part of the agreement with my kids, and didn’t interfere with my ability to spend time away from home. That dog is incompatible with not just our cat, but with every other cat and with other dogs. So her visiting us became immensely complicated.
E10. As K’s graduation approached, and I started expecting some more time with her between the end of her school and her starting work in a practise, she started trimming the wick (I don’t know what other term to use for a form of pre-gas-lighting — a mixture of dubious timelines and “I have to do this” and “best for you” that got my feeling-scammed acquiescence in her plans). As an example: “This is my moment to solidify my Spanish through a total immersion program in Mexico for three months, in the middle of which of course you can visit me, you’ve always wanted to visit Mexico, won’t that be fun! So it won’t be that long after all that we wouldn’t see each other. It will be important professionally since I want to work with the large Spanish speaking population in the East Bay.” Then she brings up some special training program for working with refugees that takes place in Italy and that it too will be a big credential for her career, “only a couple of weeks” (a month all told!), but “of course” she would be back before the winter holidays and would spend them with me before starting work.
E10a. Each time she made a decision (not having to do with family health crises) to spend time away from me, I let her know how I felt, the immediate hurt, the cumulative damage I thought it was doing to the relationship, and that each time it would be a slightly bigger disconnect we would have to surmount. To no avail.
E11. Back to the aftermath of her graduation: The day after she graduated, we went away for one night, when we returned she spent 3 days packing during which she didn’t want me to visit her: since “parting is difficult”, she didn’t want to prolong goodbyes. Then she went to LA with her rescue dog, took a week road-trip to drive to TX with the friend she would dump the dog on, stayed there another week to “settle the dog in” and eventually took three weeks to get to her effing immersion class in Mexico. After two years of her school, she could have spent more than a single night with me out of the three weeks she had before buzzing off.
E11a. I know enough about language acquisition to know that immersion only works for consolidation when your vocabulary and grammar and reading skills are top notch, all that immersion helps you do is to break down your barriers to talking and to force you to listen and practise in natural settings with native speakers. She hadn’t cracked open her old textbooks or anything to even warm-up, nor bothered to ask any of myself or my children to talk to her in Spanish!
E12. After she got there, as I was making my plans excitedly to visit her, expecting to take 5 days off work and to be with her for 9 days, she asked me to change my schedule and to shorten it because she’d signed up for a “weekend cooking class”. The days I was actually with her in MX were great, I worked in the morning, wandered around during the day by myself and then K and I spent the later half of the day together. On the day before I was due to leave, she learned about her brother’s “heart surgery” scheduled for 3 days later. She learned of this from her mom — who herself couldn’t be bothered to be with her son but expected K to be there — not from her man-child brother who’d kept it from her for incomprehensible-to-me reasons. The simplest hypothesis is that he didn’t want her there. So, as with everything else, she made a spur of the moment emotion driven instant gratification decision to fly back to the midwest, dropping the rest of the pre-paid immersion course and the cooking lesson. My last day was spent in her travel planning turmoil. After her brother’s surgery, which turned out to be totally routine, it was off to Italy to the Save The Refugees program.
On none of her trips did I get a picture of her or regular phone calls — most communication was that she was busy, going into hospital, coming out of a meeting, phone was dead, there was no coverage, the group was going for dinner or it was late and she had to go to bed. I had coverage when I went to Ladakh in the very north of India for F’s sake!
E13. When K came back from gallivanting about the world, she could barely spend 3 days with me before my concerns and wanting to talk became too difficult for her to handle. I asked her if she still wanted a relationship, to think about what she wanted from life, and if she wanted it, to dedicate attention and time to the relationship, tabling some of her other incessant “have-to”s. Then, more family illness and deaths followed (in total, three ex-spouses of her biological parents) and the associated crisis travelling meant no winter break together, no ski trips with me or my kids, more depression and weirdness and weird decision-making on her part, her mom staying with her for support (which I’d suggested) for ever-extending periods and increasing dependency. This limited contact between K and myself due to COVID concerns. There was also K’s senseless insistence on proceeding with the application for fostering a refugee child in the midst of this shit-show.
E14. We started couples counselling, with my complete and active involvement starting with selecting one. We had three sessions before K missed a session. Days later, K wanted to come see me to “talk”. I said, “You don’t have to come here all the way just to break up.” Two days later, she started sending incessant texts and e-mails about how miserable she was and couldn’t sleep and how she regretted breaking up and could we get back together. All this after not being able to handle the couples counselling and avoiding the homework of thinking about what she wanted.
A lot of cultures have some version of going into an allegorical cave and confronting yourself. In Star Wars, this is the scene of Luke Skywalker’s cave on Yoda’s swamp planet. I wish for once there were a Hollywood movie or ancient wisdom story about those who fail to enter. (Oh, there is one and it is a boring movie “Don’t mind the eternal bullshit of the spot-stain”.) What people fail to realise is that if you refuse to go into the cave, you will never come out, because you’ll never realise that thinking you were “outside the cave” was itself an illusion.
E15. I agreed to step back in with three conditions: that she be all-in this time, continue work on herself in individual therapy and that she take fostering off the table till our relationship was better. Even after a serious discussion about the absolute need to prioritize our relationship and what my three conditions meant, the moment she felt comfortable, she put off a backpacking trip with me for two months, during which she found time to do her own trips (friend’s cabin a couple of times and get this, backpacking with girlfriends, backpacking by herself — both ostensibly as “practise” for our trip as part of the “wick-trimming” I’d mentioned before). She then cancelled our planned trips twice on the last day, eventually postponing it to after the start of school (disrespectful of and complicating my co-parenting schedule) and days before she was due to start her new job.
E16. During those last two months, during which I couldn’t visit her house (she let herself get pushed around by her renter!), she did spend time at my house (her counselling work was all online by this point), but even so, “stay the week” translated into showing up a day later than she said she would and then last minute going back days earlier than promised to walk the plants or water the dog or whatever.
E17. Unknown to me, she’d continued with moving the fostering process forward. So of course, weeks after her commitments to me, the organization proffered an urgent, specific, sob-story case, which, now, became hard to refuse and created obvious stress for her. It is like I told my single friends in the 1990s, “Do not walk into a dating agency with your checkbook, they will dangle a lollipop in front of you and make you an offer your dick will find hard to refuse.”
E18. In the last few days, with her increasing insomnia, anxiety, depression, melatonin, CBD, THC, ASMR etc. she went back to her therapist, who told her she was in no position to foster a child, to have a relationship without hurting people or to even have a job counselling others. So we broke up, very calmly. But get this, even after this second break, she asked me if we could go backpacking together so she could live up to her promise! Like WTF? WTF? WTF? Do I need to spell it out WTF?
E19. Another bit of data: I’ve never met anybody from her family, all of whom live in the US and have visited the Bay Area often. This also meant that when they were visiting, I couldn’t see her. On the other hand, she’s met my local cousin, uncle and aunt, and my family most of whom live two continents away, she’s met all who’ve visited. Over those first two years, I spent a lot of time in her circles, with her friends, her “tribe”. When she went away on her world jaunt for 4 months, guess how many called me to check in and see how I was doing. One, yes one (1) single one of her friends who asked how I was. Is this natural?
E20. Sex. It was great. When we had it. And she would initiate, sometimes. But the timing was off. At night, after dinner, by the time she was done with her chores (by the way, I was doing the majority of cooking and clean up) and answering one more e-mail from work etc., it would be late and she would just want to go to bed. Often she would hold out the promise of the next morning, before we got out of bed, but only once was this actually fulfilled. How about during the day? Even when we were at home (working or on the weekend), sex during the day would be put off — walk the dog, water the garden, answer work e-mails, project, hike before it gets dark, yoga … then shop, cook and have dinner, by which time it would be too late. The problem was that she would rarely put any of the inessentials aside to make time for us.
Sorry to overwhelm any of you with all this personal stuff, and what is basically my perspective of events. I am glossing over all the real difficulties she’s been through, focussing on my own perspective because I suspect it is missing in what she tells her therapist, which casts doubt on the validity of the diagnosis. I am not adding anything about what I do feel I’ve done to support her, because it is not germane to the point of this article. But feel free to ask.