How to best love a partner harmed by present love


Some years back, I fell in love with a divorced woman and her son. We planned to become a family. We lived some distance apart, so we saw each other when we could, and normally for extended periods at a time.

What I initially thought were normal relationship difficulties turned out to be due to her mental health issues. These only became worse the more we tried. The cruel irony is that my trying to stand beside her and support her seemed to aggravate her health problems.

She had similar issues in her previous marriage; there seemed to be a pattern. Some of those who knew her felt she was unable to cope with having a relationship/partner. This sounded to me like a harsh sentence to pass on anyone. However, as her health worsened, I felt I had to decide between staying and risking her life and her relationship with her son, or leaving her and hoping she would be well enough to once again cope with the basics of life.

I chose the latter course. I don’t know if I took the best route. I feel on one hand that I abandoned her when she most needed help, but on the other hand that the only help I could give her was to leave. I’ve still not come to grips with the cruel irony of the situation - how to love someone who tears herself apart when someone loves her? What is the most loving action to take? Do I just leave her to never be able to have a husband, and leave her son to never have a present male role model in his life?


Romantic love is not the only way that love can be expressed. As long as you continue to do whatever is in her best interest, then you have not abandoned her. It sounds as if she is telling you through her actions that she does not want romantic love- but perhaps you can continue to be supportive and loving in other ways.


obviously we cannot know anything about this specific situation, but in some cases, real love means giving up on the idea of romantic love, or even giving up the satisfaction of helping and supporting the one we love. Parents often experience this as their children go through the struggles of growing up. Sometimes the best love is that of which the recipient is not even aware, because the lover does it all in isolation and silence.


It sounds like to me that the only help you could give her was to leave. There is no point that both of you should be struggling to make the relationship work. Marriage would not fix anything.


This poor lady has problems that you didn’t cause and you can’t fix. You did the right thing by calling off the marriage. The best thing for everyone concerned now, is for her to seek professional help; maybe someday she will will be able to have a healthy relationship with someone and reconsider marriage.


You state this woman is divorced so I will assume there is no annullement. Then not dating her is the most loving thing to do because it is a sin to date a dirvorced person.

If being her friend is too hard (or to tempting to date) then there is nothing wrong with walking away



Thank you for all of your thoughts. I very much appreciate the spirit of love and support that I read from them. Life is full of difficult questions without obvious answers. How to most effectively and best love seems to me to be the most important. This particular situation was the most difficult one I have yet personally encountered.

She has had/continues to have professional help. I don’t know to what degree that help has been deeply effective, or to what degree she has stabilized more because of not being in a romantic relationship. I have for the most part refrained from further contact out of fear of her destabilizing again. Aside from caring for her personal well-being, her son needs a stable environment.

This has brought me to a frustrating place of feeling I am doing more harm-reduction rather than nurturing. There are two people out there for whom I care deeply, yet I feel my hands are tied from being part of their lives.

Her father left when she was a very little girl, and continues to play no role in her life. Have I thus reinforced her feelings of abandonment? Her ex-husband left for much the same reason as I did, thus further reinforcing a pattern of people leaving her life. Yes, she pushes people away from her, and I don’t think she knows how to do otherwise. At some point does someone have to come into her life and stay there and weather all the storms, regardless of the risk to her and themselves (I still have nightmares over a year on)? If so, what if facing her inner-storms drives her to more self-harm and the suicide she has so often threatened? On the other hand, if no-one takes that risk, will she and her son forever be left with the same feelings and pattern of abandonment?

I’m sure nobody can really answer these questions, but I really appreciate the thoughtful input I’ve read on here.


Love has respect as an essential component. Since our modern conception of love is so tied up with romantic love and sexuality, you may wish to concentrate instead on respecting her exactly as she is.

I think that there is enough love everywhere in the world that anyone who chooses to see it and accept it can have it at any time. If this is not her time to accept it, then God will help her to see it when it is time.

This is no less sad because it is true. Perhaps if you accept the sadness of it and channel it into prayer, the anxiety and nightmares will improve?

In situations like these it is helpful to me to find someone I can help, and perform an act of charity. Even small acts like smiling at someone or holding the door for someone help me to remember that, while I am not God and cannot fix all problems in the world, I can do some good in my small way.


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