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How to Keep From Falling Down the Rabbit Hole

An Annie’s Mailbox advice column letter, in which a reader commented on a woman who’d written that she was confused about whether to stay in or leave a relationship (http://www.arcamax.com/healthandspirit/lifeadvice/anniesmailbox/s-1819799) reminded me of the many unhappy clients I treat who get into terrible relationships that have oodles of red flags flapping about, then are miserable, and turn to food for comfort.

The reader questioned why this woman would stay with her fiancé who “is twice divorced, has had four DUIs and likes to watch porn. They met online. The guy moved in with her and took control. She supports him financially” and he has asked her to bring “another woman to join them” sexually. Let’s take these items one at a time. I have friends who are twice divorced and found their perfect mates in marriage number three. As to the ménage a trois and porn viewing, each to one’s own taste. And sometimes a partnership works fine when one member supports the other financially. But combine all these factors with four DUIs, and you have a nightmare in the making.

What was your gut reaction while reading the above description of this woman’s situation? Were you appalled and concerned for her? Did you see yourself reflected in her predicament? Did you find yourself defending her choice of partner because you, too, feel stuck in a relationship muddle? If you were to meet someone like her partner, would you fall down the rabbit hole too or widely sidestep around it and run for your life?

Another example of someone falling down the rabbit hole is artist Margaret Keane whose life is depicted in the film “Big Eyes” which I recently saw. The first scene her husband to be is in made the hairs on the back of my neck stand up. Gut reactions are often difficult to articulate, but you ignore them at your own peril, especially if you have a tendency to do emotional eating when you’re unhappy.

I teach clients to analyze their relationship patterns in order to recognize the red flags they missed previously. You can learn how to do this. One crucial point is that red flags are deal breakers and cannot be rationalized away. It doesn’t matter how fabulous someone looks, how rich or smart they are, or whether they’ve just won the Pulitzer or Nobel Prize. To choose wisely, you need to know what behaviors signal danger and be able to intuit that something is wrong in how someone relates to you. If you attend to danger signals, you’ll avoid unhealthy relationships. If you’re doing emotional eating because you’re in an unhealthy relationship, it’s time to get help or get out.