Adapted from a recent online discussion.
Set limits on 'being there' for manipulative ex-husband
Anonymous: My ex-husband and I split seven years ago when he realized he was gay. I'm remarried now with small children, and he is an important part of our lives.
Here's the thing. My ex always tended toward depression, and for years I was, in his words, "the one good thing in my life." That was a lot of pressure even when we were married. Now, his life is not in a good place — bad job, chronic illness, no relationship — and he posts the most depressing status updates, texts me with hints to invite him over, says I'm his best/only friend.
My heart breaks for him, but I'm frustrated, too — he's been in a horrible job for years and hasn't updated his resume. He doesn't eat well, doesn't exercise, and his dating life is a mess (through his own doing). I don't have it in me anymore to be his one-woman cheerleading squad. He is really a wonderful person and I constantly feel guilty that I don't have more to give — or more accurately, I'm not sure I want to. Thoughts?
Carolyn: He's manipulating you; that's both why you feel guilty and why you've had enough.
This needs to be your mantra when he leans on you harder than you think is appropriate: "I can be your friend, but I can't be your therapist. Please take these things to a professional; I'll help you find one."
Your steadfast support of him crosses over into enabling. It's one thing to be "there for" someone; it's another to let someone assign you the responsibilities of "only friend." An appointment or two with a therapist could help you, too, with discerning the difference.
Re: "There for" someone
Anonymous 2: How do you react to "If you cared about me you'd want to listen rather than send me to a therapist. Listening is what friends are for"? I've heard a few variations of this statement and I feel like I can't get the answer into words.
Carolyn: "Yes, listening is what friends are for, but I can't help you just by listening — we've tried that. I'm neither trained nor objective. A good therapist is."
If you continue to get pressure, hold your ground, and say you're suggesting this because you care.
Dealing with manipulative people is very difficult, and it helps if you know upfront where you want to draw lines. That way, even if you don't have the words, you do have decisions made on what you will and won't agree to do. Stick to those.
Re: "If you cared . . ."
Anonymous 3: If she doesn't get it, then stop trying to explain it. That's you accepting responsibility for her reaction. She's somebody who has decided what "caring" means, and that's her definition. So maybe you're a friend by your definition, and not by hers. It doesn't mean you weren't good enough, just that the two of you aren't a good fit as friends. Even if that's because she's in denial about how much help she needs. You can't solve that either.
Carolyn: Well said, thanks. The first part applies well to couples: two people, two definitions of "caring." Just seeing differences that way erases so much drama.