From Both Sides of the Couch

A therapist reflects on her time with patients, and her time as a patient.

What Does It Take to Have a Healthy Relationship?

To me and my patients, sometimes achieving a healthy partnership seems elusive
Randi Kreger
This post is a response to Can Narcissists and Borderlines Have Healthy Relationships by Randi Kreger

This post was inspired by Randi Kreger’s post of September 5th, titled “Can People with Personality Disorders Have Healthy Relationships?”

Her post caused my thoughts to fly in several different directions; the main one being that I was diagnosed with BPD over twenty years ago and although, Dr. Adena,* my current psychiatrist, declares that I no longer meet the DSM-IV criteria, a healthy emotional and sexual relationship with a man continues to elude me.

At times I ask my patients — and they may be in any stage of a relationship — long-term, just beginning, or simply dreaming, what they think a few of the key characteristics that makes for a relationship that works are. I get many different answers which can be categorized in various ways; appearance, ability to earn a living/provide, capacity to have fun/party, honesty, good parent, and others. I may suggest a few that I consider important; some of those that Randi Kreger lists in her post — respect, trust, the ability to communicate effectively. My patients will quickly agree with me though I’m not sure they know what those traits really look like for many of them were lacking for healthy role models.

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In their own relationships, if they are currently involved in one, and even if they are not diagnosed with BPD, my patients tend to describe unhealthy ways of behaving towards each other which results in unsatisfying partnerships. They often don’t know whether to stay or to leave and talk in session about their conflict. They waver from session to session because of their dependency on their partner and their fear of being alone.

Dr. Adena has remarked that I deny myself two of the greatest pleasures in life; food and sex. With food it is obvious that I am afraid of consuming too many calories for fear that I will gain weight. With sex, it is more subtle, but I am afraid of being drawn into a relationship where I will become dependent on my partner (consume him) and simultaneously he will need me too much (consume me), and if I need to, I won’t be able to leave.

As a defense to this threat I revert to anorexia, which shrinks my body, takes away my womanly curves and causes me to appear skeleton-like which I don’t believe is attractive to any man. I become depressed and withdrawn and reduce my chances of socializing to practically nothing.

My parents never kissed or even held hands when I was growing up. I don’t recall any outward affection between them. I would go to the homes of my friends for dinner and their parents would give each other a kiss on the cheek and a stroke across the small of the back and I would think it strange. It never occurred to me that was the way a husband and wife typically act toward each other.

By adolescence I had built an invisible wall around me with my posture and attitude which said DON’T TOUCH ME. And it worked. I didn’t have a boyfriend all through high school and college. When I started working in advertising after college, I became addicted to cocaine in order to numb the uncomfortable feelings of men coming too close. And when the cocaine became too expensive on an assistant’s salary, I discovered anorexia.

My life has improved manyfold since the I first started starving myself; in terms of a career, friendships, a found passion for writing, but I have been unable to completely leave the anorexia behind. And this illness continues to cost me.

 

 

* Names have been changed

Gerri Luce is a licensed clinical social worker who publishes under a pseudonym.

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