Ending an obsessive relationship is all about finding balance

November 7, 2010 by · Leave a Comment 

Illustration by Amanda Punshon

by Meagan Gill and Amanda Punshon

Boundaries make everything better — especially when it comes to relationships. Obsessive relationships are characterized by a lack of respect for healthy boundaries in one or both partners’ lives, according to Robyn Rushford, a Kwantlen counsellor, and Rob Hadley, a hypnotherapist with Vancouver Hypnotherapy.

Rushford explains obsessive relationships as being “like an addiction. So when we think in terms of addiction language, does the addiction have control over you? Are you doing things in your life because of the addiction that you would not normally be doing? So one of the questions you would want to ask is, is the relationship good for you or bad for you?”

These relationships often fall into one of two categories: where only one of the partners is addicted, or where both partners are.

When one partner is addicted:

When we think of obsessive relationships, we often think of stereotypes from the movies: stalkers, controlling husbands or nerds who are convinced the most popular girl in school is in love with them.

According to Rushford, it’s true that addictive relationships aren’t always relationships in the conventional sense. Sometimes they are relationships that have ended, and sometimes they never even began. But it’s not unheard of for one partner in a functioning relationship to become obsessed, as in the case of the controlling husband.

Rob Hadley, a hypnotherapist with Vancouver Hypnotherapy, says that social media has made it even easier for people to feed their relationship addictions. “Someone who is very obsessed with a partner, or an ex-partner, they can suck up hours and hours of their time and we’ll be asked, ‘How do I get over this?’”

“Often people in your life will comment that they see things in the relationship that don’t seem to be healthy for a person,” Rushford says. “So that could be spending an awful lot of time fantasizing, thinking about the relationship, pursuing a person. And I think now, with social media, that we see that quite frequently. It could be using Facebook in a way, almost like stalking kind of behaviour. Of texting people persistently, calling people.”

Social media stalking can also be translated into the real world. Rushford says it’s not uncommon for addicted people to engage in behaviour such as “following people, of planning their life around somebody to the degree that could include maybe picking your courses because you know that person is going to be in the courses. Planning your route based on what that person’s schedule is going to be like. So that person becomes the focus of everything in your life.”

Being the target of an obsession, especially if you’re in a relationship with the person, can have negative effects. Hadley says that the loss of self-esteem is common in people who have been the subject of an obsession.

To combat that, Rushford says the most important thing you can do is establish clear boundaries: maintain your own circle of friends; do things on your own; emphasize the importance of your needs.

“I think that would be a really challenging relationship to have,” she says. “And I don’t know how well they work out.”

When both partners are addicted:

Sometimes it’s not just one partner who is addicted. At the beginning of a relationship, Rushford says, it’s natural for the couple to become infatuated with each other to the exclusion of the rest of the world. It’s all about the degree of the infatuation — how long has it lasted? are grades or jobs or family responsibilities suffering?

Usually, she says, the couple will rejoin the world eventually. But if they don’t, you’re left with two people who are okay with their relationship, even if it’s “not necessarily healthy. Not all relationships are healthy.”

If you’re not okay with the intensity of your relationship, Rushford says the first thing you should do is take time to re-evaluate your goals and your life. If school is your priority and you’re not able to focus on it, you might need to step back from the relationship.

On the other hand, if you have a friend or a family member who’s in a relationship like that, it’s important to give them space, she says. All you can do is “be there for your friend, to say, ‘Hey, I care about you.’ And to have your own boundaries as well…What’s okay with you? Is it okay that your friend disappears for four months and then knocks on your door one day? I don’t know what the answer to that is. It would be all about what works for you.”

“In an ideal world, I guess you’d hope to be able to maintain some kind of a relationship but respect that there’s a change that’s happened. You might not have as high a place in their life now but, ideally, too, if you can make time for your friends, you’re going to be better off.”

In either situation:

In both Hadley and Rushford’s view, becoming addicted to a relationship and being attracted to addictive personalities come from the same place.

For Hadley, people “learn our relationship behaviours often from our parents. If you look at someone who’s had a bit of trouble in relationships, when you look at how his or her parents manage their relationships, often what you will find is that they’ve had some trouble managing relationships as well.”

He views early childhood as the formative time in a person’s life. If something traumatic happened to a child, it will affect adult relationships.

Hadley also says that trust is paramount in relationships. “What it comes down to is how much one partner trusts the other to just do their own thing and to be where they say they’re gonna be,” he says. “So if you’re looking at early signs that it may not be going right, look at the levels of trust.”

Rushford takes a different view. She works from an attachment theory base, which means that she feels “that obsessiveness in relationships is often about the anxiety of being rejected or of being abandoned, and it becomes so rooted in your experience that you do everything to maintain this attachment.”

Both the addicted person and their partner may have this anxiety, and wounded people are often drawn to wounded people.

“It’s about filling a void that is in yourself, and I think at the end of the day, that’s probably what we need to focus on,” she says. “What is that void, that place you feel the relationship is going to fill in you? And often, I think it is an attachment wound, something that didn’t go well in your development with the attachment figures in your life. Abandonment, rejection, those kind of things.”

What to do:

If you find yourself in an addictive relationship, there are a few easy ways to break its grip on your life.

First, be willing to talk about it. Rushford says that “when you can bring something out in the open, when you can start to talk about it that’s the very beginning of something losing its power.”

Second, make your lifestyle as healthy as possible. Both Rushford and Hadley say that when your lifestyle is balanced and healthy, it makes it easier for you to cope with the stresses in your life. “We will get them exercising, improve their diet, get them sleeping better, give them some general anxiety tools, so they’re not weakened by the experience of the relationship. So they are in their best shape to deal with the post-relationship landscape,” says Hadley.

Vancouver Hypnotherapy uses a three-aspect approach to assess a person’s risk factors: how stable is their work/security situation? What do their home, family and relationships look like? How do they look after themselves emotionally and physically? If the relationship is healthy, all of those factors will be in balance, Hadley says.

Rushford uses different language, but she says basically the same thing: balance is important. When one part of your life falls out of orbit, it makes it harder to keep the rest on track. Also important, she says, is building a tolerance to the anxiety associated with your addiction. Saying no gets easier every time.

Third, seek help. Psychotherapy and hypnotherapy take different approaches to dealing with addictive relationships. It’s up to you to decide which best fits your situation.

The main difference between hypnotherapy and psychotherapy is that, in psychotherapy, a counsellor will discuss your issues with you, attempt to find their source and help you fix them. But they won’t push you in a specific direction. In hypnotherapy, on the other hand, the therapist will discuss your issues, but they will also tell you to end the relationship if it continues to be unhealthy. It’s important to note that in both approaches, the therapy will be conducted differently by each individual therapist.

Further reading:

Kwantlen Counselling has two leaflets that might be helpful. One’s called Addictive Relationships, the other Committed Relationships and School.

Also available in the counselling office or at your local library are these books:

  • Obsessive Love: When it hurts too much to let go by Susan Forward, PhD, and Craig Buck.
  • Boundaries and relationships: knowing, protecting and enjoying the self by Charles K. Whitfield, M.D.
  • Loving him without losing you: how to stop disappearing and start being yourself by Beverly Engel.

Student parents program offers much needed support

October 3, 2010 by · Leave a Comment 

Robyn Rushford, a counsellor at Kwantlens' Richmond campus, stands next to the Student Parents' Program sign on Sept. 27. (Photo by Meagan Gill)

Making the decision to further your education is one of the most important decisions in life. For students who have children, making the decision can be tougher, because they have to try and balance school work with being a parent.

The Student Parents’ Program is a support group that allows students to connect with other students who have children.

The group has weekly sessions that include workshops on parent education, financial planning, taxation, budgeting, study skills, stress management, nutrition and women’s health. They also take part in outdoor activities, arts and crafts, yoga and aerobics classes.

Robyn Rushford, a counsellor at Kwantlen, tries to schedule the group meeting around the students’ class times, to make sure as many students as possible can attend. Currently, she offers support to 15 students, and approximately 6-8 attend the weekly group meetings.

“I hope that this program increases a sense of belonging for the students, because when you do have kids you don’t have as much freedom and flexibility to participate in the school community,” said Rushford.

A former student parent, Rushford understands the challenges students face with finances and balancing class times around daycare.

Student who are parents can receive a $75-a-month per child bursary, with a maximum of $500 per semester. This bursary is offered to the students in fall and spring semesters; the only criteria is that they have to participate in the weekly group meetings.

“It’s a way of supporting the group and supporting the students who make that commitment to the group,” said Rushford.

Through the Kwantlen Foundation, funds are raised for the group which can be used to buy bus tickets from the KSA for students who can’t afford transportation to and from school. For a few years, the students in the program have also been doing fund-raising, usually by having a school bake sale, to support a family in need for Christmas.

“My group really believe in helping those who are in need,” said Rushford.

The Student Parents’ Program has been in existence at the Richmond Campus since 2000. Later this year, the Surrey campus will offer the program as well.

“Some students, in the entire time they are at Kwantlen, will participate in the program,” said Rushford.

One of those students is Jodi Macdonald, a single mother of two, in the last semester of her psychology degree.

“As long as I’ve been at Kwantlen, I’ve been going to the support group,” said Macdonald.

One of the struggles she is facing now is that her son has been ill and she has a hard time making it to classes because her daycare centre won’t take him when he’s sick.

“I’m a single parent and it’s hard to find someone to look after my kids on weekends or in the evenings, but if I do find someone, it’s an issue that my kids are not be seeing me enough during the day. I’m their only parent and it’s not fair to them if I’m never home,” said Macdonald.

Even when she took a break from school to have her baby, Macdonald still attended the group, because she liked the support she received.

“The group gets you out of the house. Usually, when people have a baby, it can get quite isolating if you don’t go out and be with people. It’s nice to talk to other moms because they understand exactly what you’re going through,” said Macdonald.

Students finding ways to save on textbook costs

September 27, 2010 by · 1 Comment 

Mohamed El-alem shopping for textbooks at the Kwantlen Polytechnic University bookstore in Richmond on Sept. 24. (Photo by Meagan Gill)

It’s no secret that textbooks can be expensive, coming on top of tuition and living expenses. For a student relying on a part-time job to cover these costs, having a social life is pretty much out of the question.

“Textbooks are extremely expensive, I just paid $512 on textbooks for this semester,” said Kayla Shimbashi.

Fortunately, there are some ways students can save a little extra money. If students buy used textbooks through the bookstore, BC bookworm or Craigslist, it’ll keep more cash in their wallets.

“If I had bought my textbooks from the bookstore, it would have cost me about $300. But since I got them used off of Craigslist, I only paid like $170 for them,” said Scott Rachel.

Out of 20 Kwantlen students interviewed, only five bought their textbooks used. The majority of the students who bought new textbooks new from the bookstore were first-year students. The students who bought their textbooks used off of Craigslist and BC Bookworm were second- and third-year students.

Craigslist is one of the most popular sites for buying and selling used textbooks. You can find textbooks for the majority of your courses being sold up to 50 per cent cheaper and most are in great condition.

“I buy my textbooks from the bookstore because it’s just really convenient. When I’m done with them, I usually post them up on Craigslist. I’ve sold four out of eight of my old textbooks on Craigslist,” said Jansen Paulino.

BC Bookworm is an organization run by students that allows you to buy and sell used textbooks. It’s free to post an ad and the ad stays up for 90 days. The site states it can help students save up to 35 per cent on their textbooks.

“I find BC Bookworm really helpful, I used it to buy a few of my textbooks last semester,” said Fei Hyang.

Another way to save some money on textbooks is to borrow from friends or split the cost of textbooks with classmates.

“I either buy my textbooks at the bookstore or I borrow them from friends who have taken that course,” said Samantha Sunderland.