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Is it OK to Leave Your Partner if There is a Serious Emotional Issue?

Clinical Psychologist Weighs In

Courtesy of Unsplash

So, your guy or gal is struggling with a serious emotional issue; is that a basis for bailing? Let’s get a personal here, if you’ve got one foot out the door you’re probably asking the wrong guy. One of my key values is loyalty. But before I start lecturing let’s take a closer look at this issue.

A well thought out answer is important to this emotional quandary. Did your partner come into the relationship with serious emotional issues? Is he or she getting treatment? Is the relationship considered by both of you to be committed? Does the “L” word apply here?

If all the answers are affirmative, that is, 1) your partner came into the relationship with an emotional issue — you knew what you were getting into, 2) your partner is getting treatment, 3) the relationship is committed, and 4) there’s love in the air. My view is stick with him or her; it would be disloyal to bail. Haven’t you heard the phrase, “For better or Worse?”

Life is funny that way, one of these days, when the “casualty” shoe is on the other foot — and that’s not far-fetched, stuff happens — you’ll wish you’ve been sharing the sheets with a lover who lives with that phrase. It pays to live the life you’d want your life partner to live.

But life, and especially relationships, has a way of not being presented to us in a neat package. Let’s throw in a couple of negatives. You’re just beginning the relationship and your new amour is obviously suffering with some emotional issues, beyond the usual, insecurity, minor anxiety and the like. Added to this, you’ve got a full plate of stress in your life already. What’s more, either you, in the past, or someone in your immediate family has serious emotional issues.

In a sense you’ve been through this, carrying an emotionally wounded love one. Not only is it exhausting, it scares you to invest emotionally in a relationship that may take you down. You want to bail before it gets complicated. No, you’re not a bad person; you’re understandably protective of your well-being.

Okay, but what if you and your new partner, still in the early phase of a relationship, really hit it off and he or she is in treatment, working hard at confronting and challenging his or her issues? This of course is a judgment issue, but I favor the side of playing it out. It’s not only that I am optimistic, my view is based on experience and research: depression and other emotional issues like anxiety disorders, while very common are also very treatable. Personality disorders like narcissism and borderline? Much more complicated and in a very different category. With those, proceed with caution, lots! Addiction? Also very serious, treatment is mandatory, not optional. Almost all emotional issues, especially addiction, are made more complicated due to the denial that tags along.

Yet another variation: you love him or her, the relationship is committed, but he or she is struggling with a life interfering emotional issue, like addiction and refuses treatment. Your partner has not been much fun lately and perhaps for some time. The stress is building. What to do?

You’re crazy about him or her, the feeling appears to be mutual, but your partner is on the “disabled list” and is in denial, consequently he or she resists treatment. Here’s what I’ve suggested, and usually it’s worked. I say, tell your partner you want him or her to do something for you, and it is very important to you. You request that he or she commits to one psychologist visit along with you to get a professional opinion about his or her emotional state. You add, “No obligation after that, going further will be optional, but you must keep an open mind.”

When I have been party to such an agreement and have addressed and gently challenged the resistance issues like “real men (and women!) don’t have emotional issues” almost all continue and in time also go into intense treatment for issues like addiction, which requires intensity and specialized, competent treatment. It is risky, but often, the emotional issues abate and the relationship has a happy ending.

So, let’s review this complicated issue. Asking the right questions is the best way to come to a thoughtful decision: how do you feel about your partner and how does he or she feel about you? Is he or she willing to address his or her emotional issues with professional help, an indication of a commitment to his or her well-being and to the relationship? Are you in a position to handle a compromised relationship, at least temporarily?

In making the decision I may lean toward the loyalty issue, but I am not you. It is a judgment call and very personal, one that takes a great deal of thought, perhaps involving consultation with a trusted friend and a well-trained mental health practitioner. In the end it is your decision to make and to live with — without beating yourself up, regardless of the verdict.

Me? Full disclosure: once upon a time I was the guy — one of the walking wounded. So I may have an admitted bias. And yes, it worked out quite well. It is years later and we are still in love. If I’ve learned anything it is that often love is not enough, reaching out for professional assistance is important.

Pointing fingers and making critical judgments about what happens in love relationships is often pointless. Love relationships capture our entire being and, consequently, are complicated.

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