How to help girlfriend with troubled ex-boyfriend

August 2, 2012 

Dear Wanda and Wayne,

My girlfriend is in a weird situation and I'm not sure how to help or even what to suggest to her. Her ex from a few years ago is getting deep into drinking, drugs and trouble, and his family has been calling my girlfriend and giving her updates, which is depressing her. She's still pretty close with the ex's mom, who is torn up by the whole thing.

My girlfriend wants to be supportive and she's a sweetheart who has a hard time saying no, but she also felt like she had moved on and wants to avoid all the drama that she left behind a long time ago. It's frustrating for me because I don't think she should be involved at all, but I don't want to put any pressure on her or be unsupportive.

She thinks they're going to ask her to be part of an intervention and she's really afraid of going there. What would you suggest I do or say to her? I just want her to be happy but she hasn't been since these calls started coming.

Thanks,

-- Supportive But Cautious

Wayne says,

You're already on the right track, buddy -- offering unconditional support when your partner is in turmoil is the best thing you can do for her welfare, and it will strengthen your relationship and connection down the road. This is also an opportunity to take your support to the next level and give her the strength to control her life and avoid further harm.

You both know that she's a softie. You also both know that she's entering dangerous emotional ground here. And for what? To help others who don't have her best interests at heart? To give temporary relief to people who are bringing her pressure and pain? She left this person, these people and situations like these years ago so that she could live healthier and happier. This situation is dragging her back into a bad place, and it's time you talk and walk her out of it.

Tell her that she has every right to tell these people to leave her the heck alone. She also has every right to play a role in helping, if that's what her heart is telling her to do. But no one has the right to push her in either direction. Tell her it's her choice to make -- not her ex's, not her ex's mom's, not yours. And tell her that any choice she makes should honor her happiness.

After making a decision on her own terms in the midst of a difficult situation like this, she'll be empowered to be even stronger and more mindful of her needs in situations the future. This will lead to less drama and greater happiness.

No matter what she decides, continue to be there for her. She'll need your ear and shoulder either way. Good luck.

Wanda says,

Wayne nailed this truth: Your lady has to put herself first. She needs to do what's best for her.

I'm guessing her ex-boyfriend's demons aren't new to the neighborhood and that she's dealt with this before. One of the hardest things about leaving a relationship with someone who is battling addiction or deep dark consuming issues is reprogramming ourselves to no longer be enablers or caretakers. It's extremely hard to break our own habits of unhealthy nurturing, and we ultimately risk our own mental health.

It's fantastic that she has moved forward, but old ghosts are luring her back. If she's as sweet as you say, then no matter how sad or uncomfortable it makes her to remain involved with her ex-boyfriend's issues, she's probably doing so out of a sense of self-sacrificial obligation.

Sounds like she isn't even particularly close to the dude anymore -- that it's his mom pleading for involvement. Based on your letter, your girlfriend needs someone who is thinking about her happiness -- this would be you.

Time to assure her that she has permission from the universe to focus on herself first from here on out. Suggest she extend a diplomatic olive branch to her ex's mom; perhaps suggest they touch base occasionally. But if there's an intervention, she does not need a seat at that table. She stood up and left that chair a few years ago -- and good for her for taking healthy steps.

• Wanda is a wise woman who has loved, lusted and believes in retail therapy. Wayne is a wise guy who has no use for therapy. Send them your questions and thoughts at wanda@adn.com.

How to help girlfriend with troubled ex-boyfriend

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