my parents divorced when I was 13. needless to say, it was extremley painful. i was hurting myself all the time and jut sad and angry. i got help (psychologist and pychiatrist) and i thought i was fine. now i am not so sure. i've been in a reltionship with someone for three years. i love him very much. however, for some reason, i cheat on him all the time. he keeps taking me back. i hate how i feel after i cheat but for some reason i keep doing it. not only that, but after thinking about every single relationship i have ever had, i've cheated in those relationships too. i feel empty inside all of the time and sometimes i feel like i have no emotions and just feel cold. it's like sometimes i think i should feel bad about something and i don't. i also find myself lying to cover the cheating. i am also told that i am very selfish which i am beginning to see. i don't know what is wrong with me. i don't know what to do, please help.
It sounds like you don't really want to cheat, but can't stop yourself. Anyone who feels that empty feeling you describe would be overwhelmingly tempted to do something that might give them some relief. This is why people use substances and actions addictively. It may be that you are addicted to cheating, so it is the only thing you have found to give you relief when you are in emotional pain or discomfort. It sounds like this is completely separate from your love for your boyfriend, though addiction ruins relationships and much more eventually. If you can find a Sex and Love Addicts Anonymous meeting near you (or a similar group) it could be very interesting for you to go to a few and see what you think.
You also want to know what is causing the empty feeling (though addiction itself can perpetuate it). This is something therapy could help you with. Your parents' divorce might have something to do with it, but there are so many other possibilities too. Most likely, somewhere in your growing up, you didn't get your normal developmental needs met and you got stuck. Now you are caught in this trap of trying to meet those needs in the only way you know how, but you are seeing that your method for getting relief from pain also has negative consequences. This is a very painful trap. Is therapy an option for you at this point? If you tell me more about your childhood, and about what goes on in your head when you're cheating, I might be able to help you figure out a little more.
My childhood was really good until my parents divorced. They were and still are very loving people. My mom left my dad, and I strongly suspect an affair was taking place, though she denies it. My dad was very open about what he thought was going on and would often cry in front of me and tell me how much he missed my mom. I was so angry at her for leaving me that I stopped speaking to her for about a year. In high school, I moved in permanently with my dad. My sisters and I before that were doing 2 weeks with mom, two with dad. When I lived with my dad, he let me get away with anything I wanted. At my moms, we had all kinds of rules. Speaking to my mom felt like I was saying that it was ok that she left my dad, so I just never did. My dad would talk to me all the time about their finances and their relationship. He would cry all the time. My sisters both got really angry at me for upsetting my mom so much. I ended up feeling so alone and empty that I was burning myself all of the time. I got help at that point and I was put on medication for depression. Then I moved away and went to college. I thought I was all better, I did not need the meds anymore. Now I just feel cold and empty. I wonder a lot if I even know what love means. When I cheat, I feel powerful like I am getting away with something I shouldn't be. Or I wonder if this guy will be someone who could love me. Then when my boyfriend finds out, I want him to leave me because I know I deserve it. But yet he continues to just let me walk all over him. He says I am him best friend and I am all he has and he does not want to lose me. After all the cheating though, I cannot understand how he can even feel the same way about me. It almost angers me that he keeps putting up with me. I do think I need to get some help. I dont want to keep going around feeling so cold.
Let me ask you something. Think about it carefully before answering. When you think about how it felt to be with your father after your mother left, and how it feels to be with your boyfriend, do you notice any similarities in how you feel or in how they are?
Actually, now that you bring it up, and after I have thought about it, there are many similarities in how I feel being with my boyfriend and how it felt to be with my dad. I remember thinking what a spineless wimp he was, chasing after my mother even after she moved out, when the whole thing was her decision to being with! He would send her flowers and call her begging her to come back. I thought it was pathetic. I was so angry at her for causing my dad to act like that. I felt so sorry for him at the same time and didn't blame him for being so upset. All the same, I took advantage of him because I knew he felt bad about the divorce - I figured out how I could get exactly what I wanted from him. I figured I deserved it for him dumping all of his problems on me. I do remember wondering a lot if I was the parent in our relationship or if he was. My boyfriend is a lot like my dad in the respect that he chases after me even after I have done so many bad things. He has no backbone. I feel sorry for him and want to make him happy but I hate how he acts towards me. Today I was thinking about it and I am not even sure if I even love him. I don't know if I have ever really loved anyone. My boyfriend has said to me on more than one occasion that he thinks he is just "filling the shoes."
Wow, you just did some great work! This is a very important discovery you've made. What it means is very complex, but let me try to summarize.
First it means that you had lots of painful feelings about your Dad and your relationship with him after your Mom left. You needed him, but he wasn't available--as a parent, he abandoned you emotionally, even though his body was there. You felt disappointed in him and resentful because he wasn't able to comfort himself and find the resources he needed and so tried to get the emotional supplies he needed from you. This was an unfair use of you--it was his job as parent to take care of his own emotional needs and also yours, and he reversed it. This left a hole in your development at that point, and you got stuck there. That disappointment in him, the loss of a strong parent you could lean on when you needed to, the resentment about being used, and probably much more didn't get resolved and stayed with you. This is unfortunately not at all unusual--many many kids don't get their normal needs met and grow up stuck at the age/level of development when their needs stopped getting met.
Secondly, what everyone does with unresolved feelings like you had is to reconstruct the situation as adults and try again to resolve the feelings. So this is how we end up in relationships that are similar to the ones we have with our parents. This can allow us to re-play the scene and make it turn out differently, finally getting those needs met from the original scene and resolving the stuckness and the symptoms from the stuckness (in your case cheating and the empty feeling are examples of symptoms of stuck feelings/needs. The problem with this method is that setting up a similar scene often results in similar results, rather than resolution. Over time and usually multiple relationships this solution can work, but this is where therapy comes in. Therapy speeds up that process so that resolution can come much sooner.
Ok, so I have another question for you. Do what you did with the last one, or you might even want to write about this. Think about what it was like to be with your Dad and what it's been like to be with your boyfriend, and tell me everything you can think of that is different about them.
Interesting. So why is this all coming up now? My parents divorced when I was 13, and I am 25 now. I guess there is something to be said for long term affects of divorces.
Here's another thing I feel in my relationship with my boyfriend: hostility and resentment. It's almost like I want to break it off with him, but I feel compelled to stay with him. In fact, this has been the case with every major relationship I have ever had. I have never been the dumper - always the dumpee. I always stay with the person because I just can't bring myself to break up with them, even when I know it isn't working. So, I don't know if my boyfriend is right for me - I've been having a lot of second thoughts, but when I bring it up, he gets very upset and I feel so bad that we stay together. More recently, when I cheated on him, it was different than the other times. Normally, when I cheat on him, I do it just to do it. This time, it was different. Maybe this is a different topic?
About my dad and boyfriends differences - my boyfriend always goes out of his way to take care of me. He calls me all the time, whereas my dad never calls me. Which is weird because we used to be so close. He takes care of me when I am sick, he buys me little presents, sends me flowers, etc. I guess the major differece is my boyfriend pays attention to me. It seems like since I went to college, my dad lost interest in even talking to me regularly.
Thank you for helping me.
Last Edited by on Feb 27, 2007 7:27 PM
Actually, I don't believe divorce in and of itself causes children inevitable damage. What happened for you was that your Dad's behavior in response to the divorce hurt you and your adult relationships. If your parents had been able to meet your needs at the time, you would still have had feelings of sadness and anger, as anyone does in response to any loss, but you would probably not have experienced a major impact on your relationships.
Every adult love relationship faces the challenge at some point of separating out what is the person they are with and what is an overlay of each partner's relationship with their own parents. For example, If your father had been away on business most of the time, and you grew up missing him terribly most of the time, you would probably pick partners who were in some way physically and/or emotionally absent. Then when your partner left you, you would feel the pain of that and all the pain of your father leaving you. Your experience with your father would be like a slide projected onto the screen of your partner, so when you looked at your partner, you would think you were seeing him, but actually would be seeing a blend of him and your father.
The way relationships generally progress is that when we start feeling attracted to someone, we see some of the person and some of the best aspects of our childhood caretakers. Within a couple of years, though, we begin to see the worst aspects of our caretakers in this person. Then we have to separate out what is the actual person and what is the filter of one's parents obscuring the partner. This is a very difficult task in relationships and many don't survive it. Those that do become healing of old childhood wounds.
So when I asked you what the differences are, I was inviting you to begin to do that separating of your boyfriend from the left over hurts that came from your relationship with your father. If there are positive differences, this can help this separation process, and the healing. If your boyfriend is nearly a clone of your father, you are not likely to get happier in the relationship, unless he grows beyond his stuck places too.
Keep in mind, that while you are playing out this potentially healing drama of feeling disappointed and resentful about having a boyfriend/father who doesn't offer the strength and self-awareness and ability to self-soothe, etc that you need/needed, he is also playing out his own childhood drama in which he was apparently some kind of passive character. Complicated huh? Is it any wonder that so many relationships don't survive.
If your boyfriend is like your father when you were a teen, but better able to meet your needs than your father was, there is potential for healing in this relationship. If you'd like to read more about all this, read Getting the Love You Want, by Harville Hendricks. He wrote this classic book to help people understand their relationships and how to work through the hard spots.
My guess about your not leaving relationships before is that being trapped with your father was part of the experience for you. You probably felt emotionally trapped by his neediness--afraid that if you pulled away, he would fall apart.
You asked why this is coming up now, 12 yrs after the divorce. I would guess these dynamics have been present in previous relationships too. Or, sometimes people get into relationships with the dynamics they had with one parent and into others with the dynamics they had with the other parent. So you could have been working on your Mom stuff previously.