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August 14, 2000   CONTINUED e-mail e-mail to a friend in need

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3. What if my gut says GO but my heart says NO?

"He's hit me several times -- grabbed my arm, pushed me against the wall, forcing me into sex. I can't stop loving him, though! What's wrong with me?" -- Eleanore

One of the primary characteristics of unhealthy relationships is that people stay in them. So you're not a freak if you're in one; you're not a freak if you're in one and don't want to leave; you're not a freak if you're in one and know you should leave but don't want to. It's totally tempting to stay and pray you'll "get it right" next time. It's totally tingly to think, right or wrong, that you're the "only one who understands" this person. It's totally terrifying to think that no one will love you again if you leave. Or to think that no one understands you now. Not to mention to hear threats of harm if you do leave.

Also, one could say that all of the impulses and actions we've talked about here are just extreme -- and, yes, more dangerous -- versions of feelings we've all felt, deeds we've all contemplated. Hey, everybody: look me in the eye and tell me you've never been so afraid of losing someone -- anyone -- that you've tried to inflate the good and ignore the bad. Look me in the eye and tell me you've never been so afraid of losing someone -- anyone -- that you've wished you could know, maybe even remote-control, what they're doing every moment.

So really, that checklist -- and this column -- is meant as a start. A first-round sorting out of what you want, deserve, and can actually have...and whether that will ever be available in this relationship. Don't stay just because your fingers are still crossed from eleventeen dashed hopes ago. But don't leave because someone else is telling you to. If anything, leave because you're telling you to.

How to leave safely


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