Ask Dr Gilda-His Violent Tendencies Scare Me!

One woman's live-in partner with a history of mental illness threatens violence whenever she tries to break up with him. How can she move forward if fear is keeping her trapped in a loveless relationship?

By Dr. Gilda Carle, Ph.D.

ear Dr. Gilda,
I need to end things with my boyfriend permanently. I don't know how, and I'm very shaken up as I type this. We just had a blowout fight and he agreed to go to his parents' house. When I was driving him over, he asked if we were breaking up for good. When I said "maybe," he grabbed the steering wheel, screaming that if I dumped him he'd kill himself and
I am exhausted from dealing with his depression and lack of affection towards me.
we might as well die together. He tried to ram the car into a telephone pole, but I managed to avoid crashing. Afterward, I agreed to give him another chance and to let him come home after a couple of days. I'm scared to let him back in, and equally scared of what he might do if I don't.

Dr. Gilda, this boyfriend has a history of mental illness. I am exhausted from dealing with his depression and lack of affection towards me. He has no car and only works part-time. He was institutionalized briefly before we started dating and has harmed himself before, but I didn't learn any of that until almost a year after we started dating. Before that, he was funny, smart, charming… but then his personal issues took over the relationship. I've brought up moving back in with his parents, but after talking briefly with his mother, she refused — they can't take the stress of living with him, as his dad has a heart condition and is about to undergo surgery. They are in their mid-60s; we are both in our late 20s.

Dr. Gilda, what do I do? I feel sorry for him, but I can't continue to be with someone who lies to me and scares me this way. I can't get a restraining order (the police say he must be documented making threats towards me or that we must have a history of domestic violence first). He knows the alarm code and has keys to my condo. The police also told me that since he lives there, I have to grant him access to his belongings for at least 30 days, so I can't change the locks to keep him out. I don't know how to deal with breaking up with this person without putting either of us in harm's way. Help!
– Terrified Teresa

Dear Terrified,
You can't be in a loving relationship with someone you're terrified of or whom you feel sorry for! After he commandeered the car into a near-crash, your mistake was to take your boyfriend back.

End this torment immediately! Tell him you will be taking a time-out from the relationship for a while. The idea of a separation for a while may seem less threatening to his unstable mind than hearing about a permanent breakup. I deliberately use the words "will be taking a time-out" because this powerful statement leaves no room for negotiation. Further, it's not your job to help this guy find a place to stay. Why were you the one to ask his parents if he could move in with them? You seem to have been babying him while also accepting his poor treatment. As my Gilda-Gram says, "Being scared NOT to comply is never a reason TO comply."

For your own safety's sake (and to observe the law), stay with a friend while your boyfriend gets his belongings out of your place. Or, have someone join you while he's collecting his stuff. As soon as he's out, get a locksmith to change the locks and immediately alter the alarm code. If he makes threats against you, definitely file a police report, and as soon as you can, get a restraining order. This guy's scary behavior
Each relationship teaches us something to apply in the future.
can never be allowed to continue to affect you as it has in the past. You're seeing this as an unhealthy relationship, and I'm glad you recognize that you deserve more.

During the year you knew him and then lived together, were you frightened by his depression and angry outbursts? Did you wonder whether to address them with him? Or did you consciously choose to ignore them? Most folks who pay no heed to signs of trouble do so because they fear the consequences of a confrontation. But the people who finally do confront these issues often do so because they are no longer willing to put up with the lying, deceit and little bits of affection that you received.

This is what you must do now:
  1. List the things you loved about this man.
  2. List the things about him that frightened you.
  3. List the ways you dealt with his dysfunctional behavior.
  4. List the reasons you chose not to address your boyfriend's issues.
  5. List the reasons you are willing to address them now, and come to terms with what defined your breaking point.
Now review the list you just completed. The qualities you loved about this guy are probably the same ones you'll want to seek in a healthier mate. The qualities that frightened you should become your personal red flags to avoid in your next few dates. Hopefully, you'll ask plenty of questions the next time around.

Especially study the ways you dealt with your boyfriend's actions. As my Gilda-Gram directs, "Each relationship teaches us something to apply in the future." If you have a problem with confrontation, take an assertiveness training class so you feel empowered to speak up before a potential threat becomes magnified.

While you may be frightened right now, it is a sign of growth to recognize that you must leave this unhealthy union. Congratulations for taking the first step in writing to me for help. Once you have pulled the plug, your boyfriend's threats of self-destruction will not affect you as they do now. Look forward to more positive days because you have, indeed, grown.

Relationship expert Dr. Gilda Carle, Ph.D., gives Instant Advice throughout the world via Skype, email and phone. She is the 30-Second Therapist for Her best-selling books include Don’t Bet on the Prince!, 99 Prescriptions for Fidelity and How to Win When Your Mate Cheats. Please visit her website at (
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