Ask Gynomite!

October 27, 2009 at 10:42 am (ask gynomite) (, , , , , , , , )

Gynomite is a licensed therapist in 2 1/2 states and she would love to take a crack at your emotional dilemmas.  Write her at all emails stay confidential.  Today, Gynomite takes on being someone’s parent/lover.

My girlfriend and I have been together for about a year, and I love her.  We get along great, but I feel like I’m kinda running her life at this point.  She never remembers to pay her bills, or take lunch with her, or do laundry, and I end up doing all this stuff for her.  Not paying for her bills, just literally opening her mail and getting stuff organized.  And she sometimes gets too drunk when we’re out together and I have to get her home safe.  We don’t live together but I think she wants to move in together soon.  I love her but I don’t think this is fair to me.  What do I do?

Oh my, you are in a pickle.  In my previous life in North Carolina, I worked with mainly children and their parents, and I became pretty well-versed in parenting skills.  So let me impart some of them onto you now, because you have effectively become this girl’s daddy.

This guy Dreikurs had this fantastic theory for dealing with children who misbehave called Natural and Logical Consequences.  The idea is that the natural consequences of maladaptive actions are way more memorable than whatever punishment (or rescuing) that you do.  So if a kid refuses to wear a coat on a cold day, instead of forcing the kid to wear the coat, let them go out and be freezing.  Then they’ll remember to wear a coat.

In your case, it’s like if a kid doesn’t want to do his homework and you do the homework for her every night.  She isn’t learning, except she is learning that you’ll rescue her.  In grown up language we call this enabling.

You are enabling your girlfriend’s ridiculously childlike lifestyle, and it has to stop.  Now.  Whether or not you love her, you are only harming her.

Tell her, very kindly but very firmly, that you feel like your love for her is being compromised by the fact that you’ve started doing all these things for her.  Blame yourself. (Gynomite says it’s always better to make it about your reaction rather than telling the other person what they’re doing wrong.)   Say that you started doing it because you care about her, but you realize that it’s not fair to her.

Hopefully she will be understanding.  She may get defensive and say that she’s an adult.  That’s fine.  It may make things weird for a bit.  That’s fine.  If she decides she doesn’t want to be with you anymore because of this, it may be for the best.  But you don’t need to make any of those decisions.  Here’s what you do.

You stop.  Stop paying her bills.  Stop doing her laundry.  Let her fall on her face.  Don’t leave her in a dangerous situation if she’s drunk, but let her miss her bill payments.  Let her run out of clean clothes.  This is not your job. You want to be someone’s lover, not their caretaker.

It will be painful, but it is necessary.

I would also think hard about being in a relationship with someone where you slide so easily into the parent role.  Being with a person who needs you isn’t always unhealthy, but it can be easily.  She didn’t force you to do her laundry, that is something you started doing, so in order for change to happen, you both will need to change.  Not just her.

Good luck.

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