Ex-boyfriend and I are trying to be friends and don't have good boundaries between us, at least from his end. He's been reluctant to set them in the past. How do I encourage him to set boundaries? (long, snowflake-y)
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (26 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Me: 21, female, college senior, had a violent alcoholic dad homeschool me, diagnosed with C-PTSD a couple of years ago, in therapy and getting better rapidly enough that the people around me are really impressed and proud of me. I live ~400 miles from my nearest relative, and don't have a lot of good friends in this city anymore, though I'm working on it. Yeah, this whole thing is going to be rife with daddy issues.
Him: 26, male, has some issues he alludes to but I don't know very much about them. He says he's not very comfortable opening up to me about them; the only thing he's said he really has is depression. From what I've seen, his parents definitely have some boundary issues too, but not in the same way as mine. He's been encouraging to me in my quest to not be psycho, but he's very much not a fan of therapy; he believes in remaking oneself in a more self-directed way. His friends say he's been very successful with that.
This was my first (and only really significant) relationship as an adult. We met on a dating site two years ago. We dated for a year, broke up for eight months, had a fuckbuddy thing going for five months (...monogamously), broke that off about a month ago, and are not currently speaking after a couple of meltdowns on my part in the last couple of weeks. The not speaking was my decision, but I think he's pissed enough at me that we wouldn't be speaking anyway.
(We've both said that we have no interest in getting back together—beyond my being loony tunes and us interacting a bit dysfunctionally, he wants kids and to stay in the city where we both currently live; I want to be the best childless auntie I can be and go to law school 1,000 miles away in a few years—but we've agreed that the fuckbuddy thing was bringing up a lot of feelings that are better left suppressed.)
We've always said that we know we want each other in our lives in some capacity; we've just been struggling with how to go about that. We have been trying very hard to be friends since we broke up the first time, with more success than most. He takes care of me when I'm sick, says he wants to be there for me emotionally whenever I need someone (which is kind of a lot, though I don't always go to him), and we do have fun getting lunch or seeing a movie every couple of weeks. We're often the only ones who get each other's jokes. He's one of the best friends I've ever had, and being around him tends to cause more happiness than stress for me. However, it's not working very well a lot of the time.
Boundaries are not my first language, but I've been working hard in therapy for the last few years, and I've gotten much better at setting them. I still have several people's share of emotional issues, and I try not to dump them on my friends unless they say they're willing to listen to me cry and panic for a while. Very few people ever are, and I'm okay with that. Mostly. However, every few weeks, I'll ask him if he's willing to talk to me about an epically bad day or something, and half the time things go okay. The other times, he'll sound frustrated or say something cold (like, “Well, there's nothing I can do about that,” repeatedly), I'll freak out and accuse him of not caring (which is an asshole move on my part, and I'm still trying to sort out why I say that), and it'll all end in hang-ups from me, passive-aggressive Facebook stuff from him, and everyone feeling like crap for days.
Because of this stuff, and incidents like that, I've got a lot of anxiety about interacting with him. I don't feel like I know what's okay and what's not okay in many cases. Sometimes I'll try to do something nice for him, and fret about it for days until I know he actually liked it. Sometimes I'll think he's okay with something—like talking me through one of my many freak-outs, or helping me with something around my apartment, or something—and he'll get upset with me for reasons I don't understand at all and that he won't explain.
Once we start talking again in a month or two, I think I need to back way off from telling him about my emotional stuff, and probably try to put some healthier distance between us. Beyond that, I really need a clearer set of boundaries from him if we're going to be friends. When I've asked him about his boundaries in the past (admittedly not much recently), he's always said he's fine with everything, or said something very minor. I'm honestly willing to give him an ultimatum: if he's not willing to tell me where the line is, I'm not able to be his friend. I don't think ultimatums are the best way of asking for most things, though, so...how do you encourage someone to set boundaries for you to follow?