When is it time to let a relationship go, especially if it requires a cold, hard push?
My girlfriend and I have the best of times and the worst. Most of the time, she is fun to be around, attentive, and provides a depth in thinking that I don't have. But sometimes she completely spazzes out. She gets vulgar and confrontational.
She sees a counselor and the wig-outs have lessened, but I'm never quite sure when they will happen again. I'm a little ashamed of myself around friends and family who have been there for me after a wig-out session.
Answer: Um. Do you have any idea what the underlying cause of the wig-outs might be? Is it illness? Impulsiveness? A learned behavior? It does matter, since it tells you whether it's a character issue or not, whether treatment can eradicate the problem or not, and whether you've represented her fairly to these friends and family.
If anyone's wondering where I say, "This is who she is, she's not going to change," or mention, "She's being abusive and he needs to get out," it's here, but with an asterisk: She's getting help. That means the capacity for improvement is part of who she is, too, and is worth factoring in (even if the decision is ultimately to break up).
So, when you weigh a breakup, you need to figure out under what circumstances you can live with her potential to wig out. If you decide you can accept it only if it's something she can't entirely control, then I would advise you to ask her to explain to you what's going on, and even ask to see her counselor with her, to help you understand and respond productively when these outbursts happen.
You're also going to have to figure out how you're going to bring your friends and family into your decision. For example, "The cause of these outbursts is X, and she's fighting it hard, and I'm going to stand by her."
If, on the other hand, you decide you can't live with the suspense of wondering when she's going to explode next, regardless of the cause, then this thing's done. The best way to let go would be directly but kindly: "I'm glad you've gotten help, and I want the best for you, but I don't feel prepared to handle the extreme highs and lows of our relationship. I'm sorry."
Q: You said it's "so important with a villain to take a complicated (and compassionate) view." Why should I show compassion to someone who has taken every opportunity to be manipulative, thoughtless, and mean? Gets mad if I respond, gets mad if I don't respond? Your advice still applies?
A: You don't have to stay close, or give this person anything, or keep offering yourself up as a victim; you can even be like David Kaczynski, who felt compassion for his brother, the Unabomber, while turning him in.
But you can still allow for a villain's humanity and frailty. Dehumanizing others dehumanizes us.