Ask Dr. Gilda-Should He Get The Tattoo?

This single dad wonders which decision he might regret more: getting a tattoo of his girlfriend's name to appease her — or letting her walk out of his life if he refuses. Here's Dr. Gilda's take on it.

By Dr. Gilda Carle, Ph.D.

ear Dr. Gilda,
I have been in an eight-year relationship and it is verbally abusive. I am a single dad with two kids. In front of my kids, she calls me "stupid" and "idiot." Now she tells me if I don't get a tattoo with her name on it, she will leave me and move out. I know I shouldn't get the tattoo, but I know I will miss her if she leaves. Please help me!
– Unhappy, But...

Dear Unhappy,
What's the "But..." about in your sign-off? Is it that you're "Unhappy," but not unhappy
We only remain in relationships in which we're deriving rewards.
enough to leave? Is it that you're "Unhappy," but not unhappy enough to be alone? Is it that you're "Unhappy," but not unhappy enough to tell your girlfriend that her name-calling, particularly in front of your kids, is off limits? This is how life works: We only remain in relationships in which we're deriving rewards. Every one of our life experiences provides us with a payoff of some kind. Sometimes these payoffs are pleasurable, and sometimes they're painful. Overall, people stay in painful situations because they fear being in a situation without any payoffs at all. This is probably what you're experiencing now.

Your girlfriend doesn't treat you well and now she's trying to bully you into getting a tattoo inscribed with her name, which you say you don't want. This tattoo may be her way of branding you as her property. So what's the payoff for you? See if any of these possibilities ring true:
  1. You grew up in a household where your mom or another female figure was bossy, domineering, and abusive in some way, so the relationship you're in now feels like "home."
  2. You learned that being without a love interest makes you feel lonely, so you've decided to settle for a bad relationship instead of having no love at all.
  3. You've gotten so accustomed to having this woman around that she's become like an old shoe that's already broken in. You fear that any new shoe you put on might give you calluses — a chance you'd rather not risk. Do any of these scenarios feel right to you?
Let me explain each of them:
  1. If you grew up with an abusive, female-dominated family, chances are, you'd feel comfortable in that sort of environment as an adult. These feelings would be unconscious, so now that we're bringing them into the open (if they do exist), you can identify them for what they are and choose a healthier means of comfort in the future.
  2. Occasional feelings of loneliness are common for everyone. Sometimes single parents feel so isolated that they'll seek any port in the storm, tell themselves that they are in love, and stay in a relationship that is not in their best interest. To onlookers, it would seem that having a female partner might make your child-rearing easier. However, when that partner only brings you down, you could feel guilty for introducing her into the mix with your children. Those same feelings can keep you enmeshed with the wrong partner.
  3. There is something to be said for hanging on to old shoes despite their worn spots. However, sticking with footwear that's filled with holes can get uncomfortable when it rains — and it's raining right now. Now you've got to decide if the payoffs you have are actually the ones that you want.
You originally believed you'd have someone to help with your life when you invited this woman into your heart. But instead, you got someone you need to protect yourself from! Repeat this Gilda-Gram often: "I deserve respect." This kind of self-talk is important to do, because you've been accepting what I call "less than" treatment from this woman for a long time.

It's natural to fear losing what you've come to know with this woman. But if you discard Miss Potty Mouth, all you'll be missing will be the painful payoffs you've been conditioned to accept. Ask yourself whether living with someone who disrespects you is worth the effort. If you're not sure, ask your kids. Out of the mouths of these babes will come your most candid answer — but you already know what that is!

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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