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When Buddhism Fails Me… Abusive Relationships

A Reader Writes:

Message: Hi, my partner has issues with anger and deep regrets in his life. He says that if he hadn’t met me his life would be completely different and he would have been a success. He seems full of hate at times and says terrible things about me and his family, and goes into a rage and I feel scared. He has little contact with any friends and seems bitter and resentful. I feel guilty because maybe it’s true and even though I didn’t intend to cause him harm he seems desperately unhappy with his life with me. I am a nurse and work hard to provide for us, we have a ten year old beautiful daughter and we live in a nice house in a picturesque location. This he says is a trap and he wishes he had a more exciting adventurous life. He does not work as he can’t seem to do an ordinary job. I forgive him time and time again for his behavior and insulting things he says. I try to be compassionate and understand that he must be in pain. I worry for my daughter having to see him being very aggressive and bullying. His doctor says he probably has bipolar disorder and needs medication. My partner says he wants $50,000 from me to start a new life, which I’ve said he can have if I add it to the mortgage. I don’t know if he will really leave. Do you think this man has been sent to me to test my ego and for me to learn loving kindness, and how does my daughter fit into this, is it fair on her?  Thank you for any response, I truly appreciate it.

My Response:

(Note: I wrote this about two weeks before posting it online. I know it doesn’t sound especially charitable, but after a two weeks thinking about it, I have a hard time changing anything. Maybe you guys can school me a little bit on this one.)

I teach college, and I heard this kind of story regularly from my female students. What part of my Buddhism do I draw on in this case? None. Sometimes a little down-to-earth tough-love trumps enlightenment.

“Do you think this man has been sent to me to test my ego and for me to learn loving kindness?”

No, I think this man has found you because he’s a leech.

“He does not work as he can’t seem to do an ordinary job”

I see how you didn’t mention any kind of physical disability. I repeat: he’s a leech.

“This he says is a trap and he wishes he had a more exciting adventurous life”

Homelessness is very adventurous. I’d recommend you help him on his way there.

“I worry for my daughter having to see him being very aggressive and bullying”

As you should. You didn’t say he hits you, but abuse comes in many forms.

“My partner says he wants $50,000 from me to start a new life”

Sounds like blackmail. Start the divorce proceedings and see if you end up owing him that much. I suspect not. If you aren’t married, there are other options: restraining order, throwing him out, etc.

Between letters like this and stories from my own students, more and more I just cannot understand why women stay in abusive relationships. You say you are the breadwinner in the house, so you aren’t dependent on him. Why, WHY would you keep this up? If there’s no real way to get rid of him, get yourself and your daughter out of there. Move.

I’m sorry I have nothing particularly “Buddhist” to say today. Maybe the readers can assist with that.

15 comments to When Buddhism Fails Me… Abusive Relationships

  • I agree with this. There is nothing wrong with letting someone go. He has told you repeatively that he wants out, so let him out. You don’t owe him 50k, as he has done nothing but take advantage of your generosity.

    Buddhism does not mean letting people take advantage of you. You need to respect yourself and his wishes and do what is right for both of you. Let him go.

  • Nature

    You deserve a happy life for yourself and your child, teaching her this behavior is ok is a disservice to her, remember your main job is as a teacher to your child and his behavior you are tolerating is a lesson to her.

  • sheila

    I think many of us struggle with this one and I am interested to see if others do as well. I meditate and try to cultivate loving thoughts about a partner who did something awful to me and at the same time practice loving kindness to myself by informing him he is to have no more contact with me. I can’t honestly say though that I don’t struggle with anger and revenge fantasies.

  • Paul Lambert

    While there was no mention of a physical disability, there was mention of his physician’s suspicion of bipolar disorder. Untreated, this can be an ever greater barrier to employment than many physical disabilities. If he is unwilling to seek help for this this, or is in denial, yet is still abusive and threatening, perhaps a 51/50 is in order for emergency observation due to fear of harm to self or others. Perhaps he can then start to get the treatment he needs.

  • I agree with getting him out of your life. If you want something that sounds Buddhist how about “no suffering”. He claims he is suffering because of you. You are suffering because of him. Time to split the blanket.

  • Shaku Hoyo

    the dharma doesn’T fail us even in this situation. all is impermanent. all changes. we suffer because we wish to hold to something and wish it to be something that is not. we suffer from not seeing reality for what it truly is.

    yes lovingkindness and patience means there is no reason to be nasty to him or venegeful because of his treatment of you.

    lovingkindness always means loving yourself and your daughter enough to get out of an abusive situation.

    so no buddhism does not fail here.

    do what you need to say goodbye. you are not responsible for him and it would be unkind to yourself to Incur $50,000 in debt to appease someone who is ill and is not taking responsibility.

    yes bipolar is difficult but you can direct him to help and you leave.

    where does it say that The Buddha taught we must suffer and sacrifice ourselves for others?

  • robert

    From what I can tell, relationship issues are seldom one-sided. Nevertheless, you guys seem to be in an endless loop trap of blame and shame, and it is the responsibility of the more “enlightened” soul to make the next step that will free you both. My guess is that the guy will not wake up to his own part in his story until he receives a big NO from you. It may be just the elixir he needs, and either way, you could be well served also. If you do not take this step of realizing your vision of a better existence for yourself and your children, the awakening probably will not occur. Life is sad and difficult for the best of us. No doubt life is very difficult for your man. He, like you, just wants to get by in the world and feel good about being alive. He is stuck. you need to help him (and yourself and child) out. It will hurt. Believe in yourself and your ability to hold onto the vision of life and love, and know the right thing to do and say. best.

  • Mike

    The story of the thief and the master comes to mind.
    But maybe you are not the right master for this particular thief.
    Let him go, for your sake and for his.

  • Johnny

    As a therapist I do not believe that you are doing this man any good. Whether or not someone is bipolar they are still responsible for their behavior. Bipolar disorder does not cause someone to become abusive, it is a choice. You are not responsible for his feelings or his care. He is an adult.

    Nurses and other caregivers often fall into the trap that the person(s) they care for become more important than their own happiness and sometimes their own safety. He is in pain, he is in misery. However, you do not have the power to change these things for him. He has become dependent on you, a thing he deeply resents, so he treats you and others that try to help him poorly. The more you try to help him the worse he will get toward you. The longer this man is in your life the more damage he will do to your life and your daughter’s.

    Personal responsibility is of paramount importance when we are talking about mental illness. Even a psychotherapist cannot help anyone if they do not take responsibility for their life and their behavior. This man has learned to blame his problems on others and therefore feels powerless to change. Continued collusion in his fantasy will only make things worse.

  • Tina

    Everyone’s comments are contributing something valuable to the support for this reader and her situation. I would like to add that, depending on state law, this fellow may be considered a common-law husband (aka domestic partner). As such he could have legal standing for nearly half of her assets (home, , savings, retirement, etc.) To prevent future suffering and hardship for her and her daughter, she needs to get time with a reputable family law attorney and learn the facts.
    Then she will know if giving him $50K (along with his relinquishing any claims or rights to custody) will, in reality, be the easy way out.

  • jack

    there is a name for this relationship, and it is a type of relationship, as someone almost alluded to, that is common in the helping professions, nursing, counseling, teaching, and yes, even doctoring, but most of all nursing. there are surveys that indicate that over 90% of nurses come from a disordered background, emotionally or physically absent parents, through addiction, mental illness or death. such people manage to find partners in their own lives that will mirror their experience in their family of origin. they can become doormats or shrews as they react not only to their partners, but to their patients or clients as well. seek help, quietly, as if you indicate you are getting help your partner will do everything possible to torpedo the effort.

    alanon is useful whether or not the afflicted is using drugs or alcohol to self medicate (you didn’t mention substance abuse, but not mentioning it is a way of continuing to protect a malfunctioning partner, and by extension, your own reputation. ]

    not only is there alanon, there are other groups for codependents, because without question, that is the name of your malady, CODA, is a group for codependents, and ACOA, is a group for adult children of alcoholics (or those who suspect they may be).

    right now, staying in this relationship is, as others mentioned, is teaching your daughter it is okay to be treated like trash. if your self esteem is to low to leave for yourself, then consider your role as a parent. perhaps your partner that not only is his distress somehow related to you, but that you are not worthy of better treatment, a fulfilling relationship, or that he is the best you can do.

    to this i reply, denial is not just a river in egypt. with, as someone rightly pointed out, proper legal counseling, you need to break this toxic bond. take special care to insulate your finances from his grasp. if you have joint accounts, establish a personal account immediately, and quietly begin to move your money from one to the other so that he cannot drain them of whatever savings you have. if he is a co-signer on the home, good lawyering will be necessary, but there is no cost to great to escape.

    i wish you well, your employer probably has an eap, so make use of it to get a foot in the door of treatment. choose your counselor’s wisely, making sure that they have a background in codependency training. like i said, counseling attracts codependents with a need to fix things in others they can’t or won’t fix in themselves, which can result in some highly inappropriate transference.

    you absolutely deserve respect and cooperation, not to mention attaboys, for supporting a family, and you can’t as they say, get water from a stone. your partner is incapable of giving something he hasn’t got, and you CANNOT fix him. the only one who can do that, without being enabled, is he himself. you have been making it possible for him to live in his delusion of martyrdom. stop it, and get away.
    how do i come to know these things? because i am a recovering alcoholic, and a recovering co-dependent myself. takes one to know one.

  • P Sophia

    This sounds very much like Narsisstic personality disorder . I’ve being married to one for 25 years.
    The Narcissistic personality.

    1) They are clinical , will always find something negative to say.

    2) Verbally abusive by judgmental ism and constant criticism.

    3)Aggression through correction.

    4) Passive active aggression
    (frustrating others)


    6) Constantly denying the actions and statements made by them.

    7) Treat people and God like things and things and money like God.

    8) Inner turmoil driven by outer aggression .

    9)They will transform
    your the words and flung it back at you.

    10) They act on their choice respective of the consequences to himself and others .

    11) Lack empathy is rarely remorseful .
    12)They will always try to bring you down by fault finding , and criticism , no matter you how well you have done or how good you are feeling. They will find something to criticize, they find sick pleasure in making others unhappy and through that steeling their energy.

    13) They have little to no ability to take your perspective on any situation.

    14) They will abuse others absent mindedly off handedly as a matter of fact.

    15)They only find pleasure in Narcissistic supply, meaning the input of others through adulteration and adoration, admiration.

    16) They demands attention, obedience and catering to his ever changing needs.

    17) They resents this neediness, then blame others for their sort comings and frustrations, with other words they displaces his rage and it’s roots.

    18) They dislikes them selfs because their very life repents on others to provide them with Narcissistic supply.

    20) To counter this overwhelming feeling of helplessness and dependence of adoration of others he becomes a control freak and the ones he can’t control he uses emotional blackmail to whip them in submission.

    21) They will never truly let anybody truly in.

    22) They will let you believe you are getting close for their own enjoyment not yours!

    23) They only find entertainment in controlling others and or seeing how powerful they are. If he finds someone he can’t control he turns to criticism.

    24) They have a overinflated sense of self (malignant ego) but the same time they are very insecure .

    25) They will always try to justify their actions and shortcoming and mistakes and blame the consequences of their own actions and decisions on others.

    27) They have and an inability to express their inner feelings .

    28) They lack the basic joy ,piece patience ,kindness ,goodness, and self control .

    29) Unwilling to recognize or care about the feelings and needs of others! even if they profess they do!

    30) They always make promises to change to stop the abuse promise great things so we return in hope it will be different this time around, a never changing emotional roller coaster . And of coarse it never changes . You will only being accused as your fault they fell back into their abusive nature.

    31) If you show indifference towards them they will try to humiliate you because it is their only weapon against your indifference .

    Get him out of your life as fast and as far away as possible!!

  • P Sophia

    If you volunteer to be a victim, you must know people like that is the way they are because of liftime after lifetime of selfish living, they are caught in a hell of their own making. Forgive them let your anger and hurt go and if you learned your life lessons next to such a person God will open up a way for you to get out!