When Opposites Who Once Attracted Fall Apart

woman-grabbing-man-by-his-tieRemember the Police song, “Every Breath You Take”? Some people think it’s a love song—they miss singer Sting’s quiet menace. Here’s what Sting said about the song in a radio interview: “I think the song is very, very sinister and ugly, and people have actually misinterpreted it as being a gentle little love song, when it’s quite the opposite.”

For some time I’ve been working with a married couple—we’ll call them “Felix” and “Christine.” “Every Breath You Take” could be their theme song. They are opposites who at first fused together as one solid mass, but now have lost their attraction; Felix wants out, but Christine doesn’t, so she has put him on a short leash to keep him chained to her, watching him every second.

Felix is reasonable, super rational, and remote. He is pleasant, friendly, but a bit too agreeable. I wonder sometimes what he is really thinking—other people wonder, too. Clearly, he has trouble knowing his own mind and feelings and rarely expresses himself, which he considers a virtue. He thinks he never gets angry, but in fact he acts out his anger without feeling it. He is anxious and disorganized, has limited responsibility in his job, and works below his intellectual capacity, but that helps keep his anxiety in check. It is important to him to feel safe. Christine has a strong life force and is protective of him. “You’re mine,” she says, and Felix feels sheltered … but his shelter is turning into a jail.

Christine is a controlling, aggressive woman who is outwardly sure of herself and very organized and bossy, which Felix once loved, but when the honeymoon was over she increased her demands on Felix. Now Christine needs to know his whereabouts at all times, why he is doing what he is doing, and who he is doing it with; she spies on him to make sure he toes the line, although he has always been faithful. Felix tries proving his love over and over, but Christine never believes him. She calls her possessiveness love. In fact, it is emotional abuse.

Christine’s rage and resentment are almost ungovernable. Her feelings of worthlessness are covered by a punching narcissism that demands attention, admiration, and loyalty. Her wishes are always paramount. These tendencies have grown stronger in her relationship with Felix, who either agrees and appeases her or spends time in the doghouse; Christine cannot abide any other point of view but her own and has a short fuse. She lives by one rule: “You’re either with me or you’re against me.” It’s a poor life that allows for no variation, a Johnny-one-note. But let’s not shovel all the blame on Christine; Felix lived just one note when he was on his own, too, maybe even just a half note. Christine brings excitement to his life.

Last week, Christine told Felix that he has to stop seeing Bob, his best friend since high school, or else. Bob and Christine have never gotten along, and Felix sees him rarely and always by himself. Christine thinks that when Felix and Bob get together, Bob talks against her, but in reality they mostly talk about their high school friends and sports. Christine can’t believe it. In her head, she is the No. 1 topic—people are always talking about her. Felix feels like he is going crazy and has begun to think about divorce.

“You are mine,” Christine tells Felix, “and that means we do everything together. How can you be friends with someone who doesn’t like me? Since I’m not friends with Bob, you can’t be, either. If you really loved me, you would drop him. It’s him or me.” Felix refuses to make a choice, and Christine has stopped speaking to him.

You might say that neither Christine nor Felix is a whole person—each plays out half of the human spectrum: mind vs. feelings. When they first met, they were happy to form this partnership. It was as if they made a bargain—Christine holds the feelings, Felix has the brains—but this kind of bargain never works. Instead of helping each other grow, they make each other worse. Felix never confronts Christine, so she runs all over him. Christine doesn’t give Felix the chance to express himself emotionally.

Now we’re at ground zero: Christine gave Felix an ultimatum and then stopped speaking to him. Felix has been thinking about divorce. Maybe they should break up.

What do you think?

© Copyright 2013 GoodTherapy.org. All rights reserved. Permission to publish granted by Lynn Somerstein, PhD, RYT, Object Relations Topic Expert Contributor

The preceding article was solely written by the author named above. Any views and opinions expressed are not necessarily shared by GoodTherapy.org. Questions or concerns about the preceding article can be directed to the author or posted as a comment below.

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  • emely m

    July 20th, 2013 at 1:47 AM

    I dont think they should break up.sounds like Christine and Felix both have issues that need to be spoken out in the open about.its like they are guarding a part of themselves from each other yet using the other’s same parts to augument their own.

    Once they do come out and talk to each other about what they truly feel things can be a lot better IMO.

  • Dawn

    July 20th, 2013 at 5:06 AM

    After reading this I saw that this could be my story with a few little variations. In my case it is my husband who is the more dominant personality and when I forst met him I liked that control. he gave me that sense of being protected that I was looking for and that I did not have as a kid. I never wanted to confront him and tell him that I was ready to spread my wings a little because I was of course afraid that he would turn and walk away. But now I am ready to do that, be my own woman and he is not letting me. I think that in some ways he likes being in control because he feels safest that way too because of how he was raised. It is a real problem between us but we are trying to work on it. I don’t want divorce to be an option but I know that for some couples that is actually the best thing. We, though are going to try some counseling first before giving up on this family ad life that we have built together. Divorce is not the only solution out there, and while it may eventually come to tah I am not ready to give up on us just quite yet.

  • someone who sees

    July 21st, 2013 at 10:36 AM

    He should run! One of the first signs of of an abuser is their attempt to isolate their victim from their friends.

    Because the man is agreeable this makes him a target victim. It is not a fault to be agreeable but he needs to see how it can more easily make him a vicitm of abuse.

    Abusers commonly has narccisstic thoughts- “all eyes on me”, and when they are not abusers will manipulate their environment and people to do so (threats of silent treatment, suicide, complaints of health issues, demeaning and discrediting others, lying).

    Fortunately, in romantic relationships if people understand and acknowledge the abuse they can take steps to find a way out or to stop the abuse. Unfortunately though in intances where a parent is using the same abuse tactics on their adult child, often that form of abuse is accepted by the adult child and society- “blood is thicker than water.”

    I think it’s sad that a man would not tolerate their girlfriend or wife attempting to isolate and manipulate them, demean them, etc. But they are agreeable to letting their mom’s do it to them.

    I think over all it is hard for men to recognize when they are the victims of abuse, and as a society, patriarchal, we may also fail to recognize when a man is a victim of abuse and blame the victim (which is common to do), but whne it’s a man we may deny its actually abuse- after all he is the man and should be able to stand up for himself against a woman without consecuence.

    If you ever watch shows documentaries on woman who kill, they are abusive, controlling, manipulative “all eyes on me”– Felix should run, run for his life.

  • cari

    July 22nd, 2013 at 4:25 AM

    It is so weird how the things that once attracted you to someone could in the end be the very thing that eventually drives the two of you apart.

    I see a lot of my friends with guys and I wonder what in the world they see in them, they are so different! And this is what they initially see that they like abaout them. But then it becomes annoying after a while. You used to think of him as carefree, and now it is irresponsible. You used to think that those little quirks were endearing, and now they see them as deal breakers. The lesosn? maybe it is better to go for someone m ore like you then you thought that you would like.

  • Michael C

    July 22nd, 2013 at 6:43 AM

    This is a great description of how my relationship has gone. Over the
    past couple of years I have become more self-aware and really made an
    attempt to engage with my wife. This caused her to withdraw more and
    become even more abusive. I finally managed to get her into couples
    therapy but none of it really seems to matter. While she is nicer
    overall she still continues with the push pull and she refuses to open
    up emotionally.

  • E B

    July 22nd, 2013 at 9:27 AM

    Hmmm… I’m in the middle of divorce myself, and as much as I hate it (it was not my choice) and wouldn’t wish the emotional roller coaster upon anyone, I have learned that the growth we often need may not be possible in certain environments. Felix will someday be able to look on the brightside–that his relationship with Christine, while ending badly, served as the impetus for his personal growth.

    Some people say everything happens for a reason, of that every thing in life is a lesson. It’s hard to see that in the thick of it, but it’s important to find it or we continue to make the same mistakes.

    I thought this story was going to be similar to mine because my partner and I are opposites. This story, however, paints Christine as the sole “bad guy”. I find that is Very rarely the case. In my relationship I am the aggressive one and my partner holds in her feelings, but that doesn’t free her from responsibility. She is textbook passive aggressive, using “fear and tears” to control. Using my own assertiveness against me. She draws it out in a situation and then blames me for everything, when perhaps a conversation started out with my saying, “it hurts my feelings when you don’t notice that I’ve cleaned the house…”

    In any case, Felix and Christine will be hard pressed to overcome the things they’ve already done to each other. Maybe a six month separation would give them time to find themselves and to determine their own needs. They could say, in 6 months we’ll reevaluate.

  • Lynn Somerstein

    July 29th, 2013 at 5:54 PM

    Wow, what wonderful thoughts and feelings in these letters, many voices of different kinds of experiences but clearly you all reach out and work on yourselves and your relationships.
    Thank you so much for writing!

  • marylin

    July 5th, 2014 at 8:42 PM

    I just got divorced, and I recognize my relationship with my ex husband in this one. I have never being able to discuss any of the arguments(no matter how bad they were) my husband and I had,cause he never wanted too. He would either obliged me to apologize to him, friends and family in order for us to stay togheter(what I did of course because I wanted to stay with him),when he never acknowledged or take any responsability for his actions( verbal,physical,emotional abuse, financial control…)or he will ignore and avoide a whole argument when he finds nothing he can blame me for. He would rather buy me stuff,take me for trips,…and of course, I will always accomodate myself to this behaviour because first,I wanted to preserved the peace, the “harmony” between us,secondly because I had no idea that his silence and his choice for lack of communiaction were signs of abusive behaviour and also because I had nobody to turn to( we are foreigners,and I followed him in the USA after we got married) I barely spoke englih at the time. I taught I could deal with it as long as he takes care of the children and allows me to go back to school.but the environment just got worst and worst with constant public himiliation, threats( not paying for my tuition anymore,not filing for my green card since I was on a dependant h4 visas,…)financial controlling( he will take the car keys from me when he is mad,will give me half or less of my monthly allowance…)then I couldn’t take it anymore, and started talking back at him, we will argue,and he will threat me of leaving me and tell me that nebody will want a mother of 3children who moreover doesn’t have an stable immigration status and no american college degree.I did’nt back off however because I was so fed up,outraged and tressed(i was pregnantof my 3rd child at the time)so he filled ,and I took a lawer too and filled back. But in the middle of the process I had my baby girl and it was so difficult for me to have that little innocent creature in the middle of all this turmoil that i tried once again to work things out after all the awful lies he made his witnesses to come on stage to say about me (i’m a bad mother,unable to care for my children…)and of course he played the victim and turned me out as the liar telling

  • marylin

    July 5th, 2014 at 8:59 PM

    everyone in our entourage that the reason he can’t go back with me is that I lied to my attorneys and juges that he was abusing me, when he has always been a gentleman to me and caring husband. that was awful and difficult.
    I’m sorry guys I dont want to spend your time, but it is just that I’m deeply hurt. I have tons of questions I can’t understand how somebody can just treat his wife that way, i can’t believed the family I gave my life, my body my everything for, just fall apart like that. I quetion myself over and over again. I even reached out to him after the divorce to ask him what was that that he was so mad against me about? but he still doesn’t want to talk. if somebody has been through that, please give me some advices. any types of positives and constructive advices are welcome.
    thank you

  • ArtM

    October 2nd, 2014 at 6:31 PM

    This problem is very common. It’s part of the human psycho-drama.

    These things occur from the subconscious mind, and override the “rational” mind of the person who is dramatizing his/her fears, anxiety, anger, etc.

    This is the kind of thing Dianetics and Scientology were designed to handle. They can be viewed as a kind of “sickness of the spirit”. The spirit is not the mind or the body, and cannot be healed using the healing techniques of the mind or the body. This is why, eventually, Scientology was identified to be a religion even though mental health is one of it’s major benefits.

    Whether you call it the id, the “I”, the soul, a-complex-pattern-of-electrical-chemical-energy, or the thetan it is a real thing.

    For some people, this is their personality type. It cannot be entirely “cured”.

    However, you can learn to be less affected (or unaffected) by it, or if they are willing they can reduce the damaging effects of their behavior through the so-called “spirtual therapy” of auditing.

    Unfortunately, it is not covered by health insurance as it is considered to be a “spiritual” service and is not regulated by the AMA or APA. It is, however, a tax deductible service.

    You should be aware that one possible outcome is an increased clarity that you can no longer experience living with this person.

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