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Dear Susan, How Do I Deal With Emotional Abuse?

A meditation teacher and award-winning author provides guidance on readers’ real-life problems. Here is her advice on domestic distress.

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Dear Susan,

My boyfriend of 10 years now is so rude to me. He barks orders and isn’t sexually interested anymore and complains about all that I do. I feel worthless. What should I do?

Dear Friend,

Well, this is a tough one. On the face of it, it would be so easy to say something like, “Girlfriend, get out now!” but there is obviously something more complicated going on. What that is, I don’t know. There are a number of possibilities:

  1. You love him and don’t want to break up
  2. You have a child or children together and don’t want to fracture your family
  3. You can’t afford to leave him
  4. You are in a cycle of abuse that you can’t see and/or don’t know how to break
  5. Deep inside, you believe you deserve this kind of treatment
  6. You are afraid of the emotional turmoil you will feel in confronting the situation
  7. You think you are too old, young, fat, skinny, poor, rich, ordinary, weird to find someone else
  8. You wish, hope, pray (repeat, repeat) that somehow he will change into a loving human being who will treat you right and maybe, just maybe, that time will come tomorrow or next week or next year or next something
  9. You fear uncertainty

I can’t tell you what to do. I’m not a therapist or counselor. I am in no way suggesting that you should break up with this person, even though it does sound like a very tough relationship. I just don’t know enough about you, your life, your finances, your world to make any recommendation responsibly. But if fear of uncertainty (#9 ) plays any part in your dilemma, I may be able to offer something useful. (We Buddhists are quite fond of uncertainty and so there are many teachings on how to relate to it.)


Related: 4 Ways to Boost Your Mood Naturally


First, fearing uncertainty is totally understandable. It is a crazy world out there. It is frightening to be on your own. It is scary to think you’ll have to figure everything out for yourself and then pay all the bills. It is disorienting to give up what is known and cast yourself out into the vast uncharted waters.

However, please consider that there is actually no way out of this one. Everything is uncertain, all the time, in every moment, right now and now and now.

This includes relationships, of course. I am sad to report that all relationships will end, but it is so. Even though this is a very painful thought, there is something to be gained from acknowledging this truth. I am so sure of this that I wrote a whole book about it, called The Wisdom of a Broken Heart.

Relationships end for all sorts of reasons: You fall out of love. You come to the end of the road, who knows why. Someone falls in love with someone else. You turn into a different person than the one who said “I do”. You grow apart. Or, there is no discernable reason; it’s just over. And of course, there is the big relationship ender: death. Say you spend a lifetime together full of love, fights, friends, family, disconnections, connections, giving it your all, and finding each other over and over again…it is still going to end. Someone is going to die first, in all likelihood. Then it will be over. When it comes to love, this last is actually the best-case scenario.

When death is the best-case scenario, we know we have an interesting situation on our hands. Suffice to say for now: All relationships will end.

So you can relax.

Okay, but what to do in the meantime? What can we add to the acknowledgement of impermanence that will help us to act skillfully? How do we deal with the very real, on-the-ground problems of our love life in an intelligent way, knowing that it will all end at some point?

According to Buddhist thought, there are four powerful actions you can take in any given moment to address the problematic situations of life. They are called the Four Karmas.


Related: How to Transform Our Discomfort Around Death and Loss


Sometimes it is obvious which one to choose. Sometimes you have to apply all four. Sometimes you don’t know which one to apply. That’s okay. They are still very valuable tools and as you get to know them, it becomes easier to select from among them.

The Four Karmas are ways of transforming situations without aggression. They are: to pacify; to enrich; to magnetize, and to destroy (or dissolve).

To pacify, open your mind to the situation at hand. Take it in. As best you can, don’t let hope or fear cloud your view of what is. Try to see a clearly as possible. Even if what you see is painful, to see clearly brings a sense of ease. You are less afraid. You can take a breath.

When you feel genuinely connected to the situation and some sense of confidence has returned, you can see more clearly. Then you can decide what, if anything, you have to offer. You can enrich the situation with something real.

When you are clear and open, there is a chance that the next step to take will becomes obvious. You see more options. Ideas, insights, intuitions come to you and you trust them. This is what is meant by magnetize.

Sometimes none of this works and there is no choice but to destroy, or let go. This is not easy, but sometimes it is the most compassionate thing you could ever do.

No one can figure it out but you.

Dear reader, my final suggestion comes directly from my book, The Wisdom of a Broken Heart. It is to Act Like a Queen.

You can do this whether you are a man or a woman. I suggest it because when you are in the midst of relationship sorrows, it is so easy to slip into seriously low self-esteem. Instead, you could gather yourself, sit up straight, remember your inherent worth, and observe he following rules of Queendom. (If you can’t do these things, pretend that you can until you really can.)

A Queen knows who she is. She knows her own mind and no one can talk her into being anyone other than herself. She trusts herself.

A Queen does not explain, nor does she complain. When you are in a difficult relationship, it is really easy to make lots of excuses or talk about it A LOT. Sometimes this is okay, but generally speaking, a Queen keeps her own counsel. She preserves her mystery. She doesn’t enflame situations. She retains her focus on what is really important: kindness, wisdom, genuineness.

A Queen does not attack. She magnetizes. Rather than chasing what she is after or defending against what she is not, she remains connected to her inner goodness and expects to be recognized as such.

A Queen’s surroundings are impeccable. In the midst of relationship woes, it is easy to let it all slip—appearance, surroundings, attitudes. A Queen keeps her situation orderly, clean, and fresh. At least, she does her best.

A Queen is never summoned. Period. She holds court. Think about this one.

My dear one. Whatever the reason and without knowing one single thing about you, I can say with confidence: You do not deserve to be treated unkindly. No one should be ordering you around. Desire and love ought to be showered upon you on your good days and bad. When big or little things go wrong between you or in your household (as they are bound to), you have a right to expect a conversation between equals rather than complaints about your worth as a human. Period.

I wish you well. I send my love. I offer you a deep bow.

Do you need advice? Submit a question to Susan here.

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