Help me settle the argument I've been having with myself about my boyfriend's new behavior.
posted by anonymous to human relations (47 answers total) 10 users marked this as a favorite
I'm in my mid-twenties, and I live with my boyfriend of five years, who is in his late twenties. We have lived together for the past four years or so. During that time we've certainly had rough patches, and for one period of a few months I thought seriously about leaving him, but we've always come through it more or less unscathed. Until now.
About three months ago, I noticed a dramatic change in my boyfriend's behavior. We've both always been a little bit antisocial so it wasn't unusual for us to spend a lot of time at home, but this summer we haven't gone out at all. Not a single dinner or anything remotely resembling a date. I offer three or four times a week, but he's always got some reason not to: doesn't feel well, it's too hot, he has work to do, he has other plans. So I go out with friends instead. We also stopped having sex completely. It had cooled off a bit over the years, which I was OK with, but now I'm not allowed to touch him in bed at all; even spooning results in irritated sighing and edging away. These two factors are what I consider the "big things."
Then there are the "little things." These are harder to quantify, but actually hurt me even more than the big things. The best way I can describe it is to say that it seems like he no longer wants to make me happy. Before, he would often leave me little doodles or notes, or make up silly songs to make me laugh. He had pet names for me and would often lie with his head in my lap if we were watching TV. From time to time, he'd surprise me with a small present or treat. I did all of these things too, of course; this is, after all, the bread and butter of coupledom. But all of that has stopped now. He'll tell me he loves me if I say it first, but otherwise no. I can't remember the last time he sang a song for me or wrote me a note or doodle. I can't remember the last time he did anything sweet just for the sake of being sweet, actually. If I try to do something funny to make him laugh, all I get is this withering kind of "oh, please" look. He is uninterested in talking to me most of the time except to complain about his job occasionally or to grunt indifferently if I talk about mine. Where we used to split the housework, now I do it or it doesn't get done. If we watch TV together, which is rare, he sits at the very far end of the couch and gets annoyed if I don't stay way over on the other side. More often, he's at his desk playing computer games and ignoring me entirely.
I've tried to talk to him what is happening between us, but either he refuses to engage in conversation, or he immediately escalates it to the most hostile, aggressive kind of confrontation you can imagine. Once or twice in the past month, for the first time in the history of our relationship, I've been genuinely afraid that he might hit me. (He hasn't.)
OK. So it sounds like he's just not really interested in our relationship anymore, right? But it isn't quite that simple. He has taken a sudden, renewed interest in his physical health and is trying to quit smoking for the first time since I've known him. Obviously, quitting smoking tends to make people irritable. In addition, a relative of his was recently diagnosed with cancer, which would certainly be enough to disturb anyone's emotional state. And we have both struggled with periods of depression over the years - it seems possible that what's happening with him right now is a new, more severe version of that.
As someone who has certainly gone through patches where I haven't exactly been a ray of sunshine, I want to support him during what is clearly a rough time for him. But how long should I be willing to put up with his new behavior? It's affecting my life pretty strongly; I feel on the verge of tears most of the time, and friends and coworkers have commented on how down I seem. I've found myself drinking a lot more than usual, and I can feel my own emotional issues beginning to get away from me. Certainly he's been depressed before in the past five years, but it's never completely altered the way he treats me. I feel like I'm not getting anything out of this relationship anymore - no physical or emotional intimacy, no companionship, no support, and perhaps most crushingly, no sense that he loves me or even cares about me at all.
So what am I supposed to do? Half of me says he's quitting smoking and his relative has cancer and I should cut him some fucking slack after being together for five years and realize that maybe it isn't about me at all. But the other half says I'm getting treated like shit and I shouldn't have to put up with it and that even being alone would be better than living with someone who is more like an indifferent roommate than a partner. And all of me wonders if maybe it doesn't even matter since it seems like he's about to dump me anyway. Which part is right? What do I do now?