Paul asked: “I recently broke up with my girlfriend, and I’m feeling guilty. She’s a wonderful woman, but hell to live with, and I just couldn’t take it anymore. In her eyes I was a terrible person, although she wanted me to stay. I’m not a terrible person, and since leaving her I’ve felt much better about myself.
But I’m wracked with guilt! I think that her beating me down was her way of keeping me at her side. I think she’s terrified of being alone. I feel like a horrible person for leaving her on her own. She cannot, in any way, keep the life she wants on her own. She needs help, and while I know that’s not my obligation, I still feel obliged.
Tell me I’m wrong…”
Liz says: You are not wrong for feeling guilty, or for feeling obligated to help her. It’s understandable, given the dynamics of the relationship and your confusion. You say she’s a “wonderful woman but hell to live with”, but the truth is someone wonderful wouldn’t be. I don’t know enough details to say definitively that you were in an abusive relationship, but it sounds like you were, which would explain your feelings.
Based on your letter, you did the right thing by ending the relationship, but I think it’s necessary for your healing and sanity if you cut off all ties. Don’t try to remain friends, and don’t be her crutch. She is responsible for her own growth, and has to learn how to be by herself, if that’s what motivated her behavior toward you. Sometimes what we fear the most, we inadvertently create. Self-fulfilling prophecies happen all the time, from the husband who has a fear of his wife cheating and becomes so oppressive and paranoid he drives her into the arms of a man who treats her well, to the mother who fears her grown children will become distant so she calls every day and stops by unannounced, which only serves to push them away because they need their space. But this in no way means you should simply forgive her behavior and let your guilt keep you nearby for her needs.
When you state that “she needs help”, are you referring to a suspected personality disorder, anxiety disorder, or a mood disorder? If you were close to either of her parents or siblings, you could mention your suspicions in private, making it clear you are concerned for her. Otherwise, it sounds like you should just move on.
The fact that you feel better about yourself being without her speaks volumes, and it also says a lot that you didn’t say in your letter that you love her. You have to take care of your own peace of mind first.