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How do I encourage my ex to set some boundaries with me?
May 30, 2011 7:59 AM   Subscribe

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)

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?
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (26 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
 
You can start by setting that boundary for yourself and not talk to him in a month or two. Your relationship does not sound healthy at all and much more time needs to pass before a healthy one is possible.
posted by murrey at 8:05 AM on May 30, 2011 [8 favorites]


Some people feel far too intensely about one another (love or hate) to be good friends. It sounds like you feel this way about your guy friend, and until you can cool those feelings down, where you feel little to no anxiety about basic interactions and aren't constantly using him as your emotional outlet, I don't think that friendship is going to work out between the two of you.
posted by xingcat at 8:08 AM on May 30, 2011 [8 favorites]


Stop asking him for help. Don't ask him to move things, process things with you, or otherwise give you stuff/assistance.

I used to get pissed when my ex would ask me for advice because it felt like he wanted to treat me like we were dating but take zero responsibility for anything and have zero commitment. It would piss me off. Not every time, but sometimes, because I'd start feeling used after a certain unpredictable threshold.

So yeah, stop asking him to help you with shit. It's not appropriate. Stop going to him for emotional support. Not appropriate. Go to movies, do things that are fun for BOTH of you.
posted by the young rope-rider at 8:27 AM on May 30, 2011 [4 favorites]


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.

You need to find other people to serve these purposes in your life, or learn to do without. You may someday be able to accept a little bit of this sort of this caretaking from him, but not until he can freely and easily refuse. The best way you can facilitate his comfort with saying no is to not need him for this stuff. Take a loooooooooong time out. This is a tear down and (maybe) rebuild sort of project, not a minor remodel.

When I've asked him about his boundaries in the past...

Stop asking. A person with poorly defined boundaries is unable to give you clear and accurate information about where their boundaries are.
posted by jon1270 at 8:28 AM on May 30, 2011 [2 favorites]


Yeah, stop talking to him, full stop.
posted by empath at 8:31 AM on May 30, 2011


I agree that you need to cut him out of your life altogether and move on.

However, I also wanted to say that you're not actually asking him to set boundaries -- you're asking him to make some sort of weird guarantee about when he will or will not be okay with/annoyed by something.

Obviously, your emotional unburdening sessions bother him sometimes (about half the time, it sounds like). This is really incredibly unfair to him -- both the implicit demand that he be okay with it all of the time (or else decide that he can't handle it at all), and the attempt to make him draw this line because it's upsetting you.
posted by J. Wilson at 8:38 AM on May 30, 2011 [1 favorite]


How do you encourage someone to set boundaries for you to follow?

You don't. The point of boundaries is that the other person doesn't have them so you have to set them where you want them to be. If they had suitable boundaries, you wouldn't have to bother.

It almost sounds like you're using this guy as 'normal' against which you're not normal or psycho (don't call yourself names!). But he doesn't actually sound that perfect himself. You're making an active (and successful!) effort to work on your issues. Congratulations! Don't let what's left of this relationship be the crutch you rely on to prevent yourself from continuing to move forward.
posted by hydrobatidae at 8:41 AM on May 30, 2011 [2 favorites]


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.

This is backwards, OP. Your rule going forward should be that if you can't figure out where the line is, you are not able to be his friend.

Not being friends with an ex isn't a failure. It doesn't mean either of you are bad people or that you don't care about each other. There's just no rule that says two people who couldn't cut it in a relationship will be able to be great friends after stopping with the sex.

Keep a healthy distance from your ex until you are sure that you can interact with him in a way that doesn't stress you out. There is no set timeline for who long this takes.
posted by auto-correct at 9:03 AM on May 30, 2011 [1 favorite]


You set the boundaries for yourself, not him. If he's not the supportive person you need him to be, then he needs to not be part of your present life anymore and remain part of your past.

And, stop calling yourself looney tunes or psycho or whatever, that's never helpful.
posted by inturnaround at 9:08 AM on May 30, 2011 [3 favorites]


anonymous: Beyond that, I really need a clearer set of boundaries from him if we're going to be friends.

You are doing this totally wrong. You need to set boundaries, and you need to set them with yourself. For a start, stop looking to someone who has continually failed to give you the support you seek for support. That's a good boundary to make and to enforce with yourself right there.

And for the record, he has expressed his boundaries, repeatedly - you appear to either not be hearing them or ignoring them. He has straight up said "I can't do anything about that" and said it often. How much clearer do you require him to be? "I can't do anything about most of your problems, so stop telling me about things I can't fix because that's not my job anymore and I don't want to do it." Does the extended remix version play more clearly for you?

It doesn't mean you can't be friends but honestly you seem way too emotionally entangled to make that work right now. Take a long-assed break and don't make contact again until you have a life that is functional without him. It is not appropriate to rely on him for emotional support, not least of all because you apparently can't. That's OK. Different friends fill different roles in our lives; some are good for some things, others for other things.
posted by DarlingBri at 9:15 AM on May 30, 2011 [3 favorites]


had a violent alcoholic dad homeschool me,

....And you're asking your ex to set your boundaries for you. Do you see a pattern?

Setting boundaries is a thing you do for yourself. You can't ask someone else to set them for you, although it's perfectly reasonable to ask them to be honest when they feel you've violated theirs. But as you've seen, people are not always consistent (or rational) in their boundary-setting or -keeping, which leads us back to you being the only person who can set and keep your own boundaries.

Sometimes it takes a long time to become true friends with an ex. Sometimes it never happens. Acting as if you're just ordinary friends with no romantic or sexual history when you're just not there yet emotionally only makes the get-to-friends point take longer and be more painful. This is why lots of people, including me, are going to tell you to cut off all contact for some fairly lengthy period of time (at least six months). You both need to reset your expectations - especially the ones you're not really conscious of having - and redirect your emotional energy elsewhere.
posted by rtha at 9:18 AM on May 30, 2011 [3 favorites]


Why do you need to be friends with person?

He's not your boyfriend, you're not getting back together, and this is way way too much Dramaz for you to invest in.

Friendships with ex romantic partners rarely work out. You're finding out the hard way why this is true. Learn your lesson here and move on already. You're being ridiculous about this whole thing.

Rip the band-aid already and get over him. Erase his phone numbers, block his emails, and go find someone to have healthy I interactions with!

ProTip: Drop folks who their affection. It's an unhealthy dynamic you are predisposed to fall for. Every time you recognize this pattern... RUN.
posted by jbenben at 9:34 AM on May 30, 2011 [2 favorites]


Yes, you set boundaries for your own comfort. You don't ask others to set boundaries, because you don't know what's truly going on in their head. You can't solve your discomfort by telling him he needs to use boundaries better. The responsibility for protecting yourself is on you. (Is the phrase you're looking for "I feel uncomfortable calling you because it sometimes seems like you say yes to helping me, when really you meant no. Am I reading the situation right? Because I wish you'd just say no when you mean no.")

It sounds like you just learned how to use a certain tool, and you now see ways he could be using it, too. But you can't expect others to deal with a situation using exactly the tool you would use. You might remember that you're still gaining new tools yourself, and anyway, it's their own "house" to maintain how they see fit. In addressing any discomfort you feel, it would be better to speak from your subjective experience ("I feel a bit uncomfortable because...") rather than speaking from an omniscient perspective ("you fail at setting boundaries, try harder").

You'll run into this question again in your life. As you keep doing your emotional work, you'll gradually become better than many people at naming your emotions, setting boundaries, and so forth. The best thing to do is to make friends who have good emotional and psychological skills. It's across a boundary or more precisely, "all up in other people's business," as well as rude, to be auditing their use of boundaries, etc. If they want to gain new skills, they will ask your advice or start therapy themselves.
posted by salvia at 10:10 AM on May 30, 2011 [3 favorites]


If you weren't anonymous, I would memail this to you. I'm sorry that it's not a direct answer to your question.

I couldn't help but notice the way you describe yourself in your question. You use extremely negative, loaded language: "psycho," "looney tunes." You characterize yourself as a horrible burden and you rush to "understand" people who don't want to be there for you ("dumped" on).

I think this is not a separate issue from what you describe. It's hard to set healthy boundaries and stand up for yourself when you have such a negative self-image.

This also doesn't really sound to me like, on his end, it's about you violating clear boundaries. It sounds more like he treats you as kindly or as unkindly as he wants to, resulting in a random array of reactions to largely consistent behavior on your end. You want him to tell you what you're doing wrong. Nothing. He is just choosing not to respect you when that's easiest for him. That should prompt you to set your own boundary which, as most commenters have suggested. To protect yourself from his unkindness.
posted by prefpara at 10:12 AM on May 30, 2011 [14 favorites]


2nd prefpara. You have to feel good about yourself first before you can establish and actually abide by the boundaries you set. Notice I said you would be setting the boundaries. Taking care of yourself and not putting that on him is what needs to happen for you to have healthy relationships in your life.

Cool it for awhile with this guy until you can stop emotionally unloading on him. Not saying that you are doing something wrong, or that you have "issues" and are being a burden to him. Just suggesting that you are the only one who can best attend to your emotional needs. The therapy you are getting sounds like a good start. You both will be much happier when you are happy (most of the time - everyone has bad days) all alone, and do not need him to be there for you emotionally. If being with him in itself has a certain effect on you - if he facilitates clingy behavior and emotional dependence in you, for whatever reason - you need to sever that relationship for the sake of your own well being.
posted by sunnychef88 at 10:38 AM on May 30, 2011


In my opinion, you sound a little bit ridiculous. What is the point here in trying to keep a dysfunctional relationship going? You've broken up. Move on.

You don't have to hate him but there's no reason to stay in touch with him. It sounds like you still have a lot of therapy to do. Focus on that.
posted by shoesietart at 10:49 AM on May 30, 2011 [2 favorites]


I meant to write, "Drop folks who withold affection." Thanks iPhone!

But I'll take this opportunity to comment beyond the guy....

First of all, you are not crazy!! Also, you are worthy of exceptional caring by others, even though you seem to think that this is a burden and makes you clingy.

The PTSD, the neglect... You can get past it. This crazy drama is a direct reflection of exactly how much more work you need to do. In the meantime, I believe you've confused withholding with boundary setting by your ex.

Drop the ex and stop trying to figure out all the issues surrounding him. The problem there is that you've broken up but are still involved. It can't be fixed, and will only get more convoluted and cimplicated as you eventually start dating others. End it now. It's not fixable.

But, I think the real issue is the PTSD. You have a messed up idea of how affection and caring should be demonstrated towards you. Likewise, when your very legitimate needs in this arena are not met, you judge your pain as "over-reacting," you feel badly about yourself causing yourself more pain... And it's one big ugly loop.

Since you are adult now, I think you can learn to be your own best caregiver. I believe when you develop healthy dynamics within, you'll be able to participate in healthy ways with the outside world.

Mucking around with this guy and misrepresenting the issues to yourself isn't going to get you well and emotionally fulfilled, however, so quit this guy and focus on doing good all by yourself for yourself.
posted by jbenben at 12:14 PM on May 30, 2011 [1 favorite]


I am going to answer your very narrow question. It sounds like the biggest problem comes when you ask if he is willing to talk and he says "OK". Then, during the course of the discussion, sometimes, unpredictably, he starts giving unsupportive responses. When this happens, you get extremely emotional and create drama.

Let's assume that when he says "OK", he means it at that moment. Furthermore, given the intensity of your problems, sometimes as the conversation proceeds, he loses his ability to be there for you the way that you want. Now, imagine if when he did this you said, "It sounds like this conversation is getting to be too much for you. We can talk again later" and hang up. Don't blame him for getting overwhelmed and don't blame him for not knowing in advance when it is going to happen. Also, don't blame yourself that your problems are so difficult. Just assume that everyone is doing the best they can and when you see the conversation is no longer working the way you want, CALMLY disengage. Do not catastrophize - it is not the end of the friendship, he has not betrayed you, you are not so awful no one can be your friend. Cut out the drama on your part and then neither one of you needs to feel like crap afterwards.

To do this you need just one rule for yourself:
When a conversation becomes unsupportive, calmly end it.
posted by metahawk at 12:19 PM on May 30, 2011 [2 favorites]


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.

You need to leave him and never look back. You can never look back.
posted by hal_c_on at 12:35 PM on May 30, 2011 [1 favorite]


It's unreasonable for you to ask him to set boundaries for your own well-being. If you can't handle interaction with him, for whatever reason, then it's on YOU to set those boundaries and stick with them.
posted by modernnomad at 1:59 PM on May 30, 2011 [1 favorite]


From the OP:
Thank you to everyone who's responded. I really appreciate all the effort you've put into helping me, even though some of it has been hard to hear. You've all given me a lot to think about.

Just to reiterate: I'm already not talking to him. I'm not planning on talking to him for a while, and these answers have certainly extended how long I think that should be. I didn't talk to him for a couple of months after we broke up, and didn't see him for quite a while after that. However, he's been a good enough friend in enough respects for long enough that I'm going to wind up trying to salvage something at some point.

I will say that my therapist thinks this friendship is a net positive in my life, and I've told her all I've told you guys and more.

The thing about all the help is, he usually offers to do all those things about 10x more than I accept. He's always telling me to call him if I need anything, and often offers to help me with things I don't want any help with at all (like school things). If I halfway mention that I have the sniffles on IM, he's ready to come over and I usually brush it off because I find it a little infantilizing. Most of the time when I'm sick, I just take myself to the doctor, take my medicine, and watch bad movies until I feel better. It's only if I'm passing out or can't drive myself to get medical care or something that I let him check on me. Most of the time when I'm upset and need to talk to someone, I call my mom or my therapist or my sister or one of my friends or just journal—he's kind of the confidante of last resort most of the time because of how often it goes badly. (Which tends to mean that I only call him about emotional stuff if no one else is available and it's serious enough that my journal isn't cutting it until they are available. That ups the intensity in a really fucked-up way that I hadn't fully realized.) I can and often have gone weeks without seeing him or really talking to him; I don't depend on him for every little thing.

I do that stuff for him, too, though admittedly it doesn't come up as often. His apartment is sort of embarrassingly full of things I gave him or he asked me to pick out, and if he's sick I'll always offer a supply run. Hell, the last time I moved, I didn't even call him about it, but I'm already on deck to help him move to his next place, if we're speaking then.

I know that this is mostly further evidence that things between us are too entangled, as many of you have said, but I just felt like pointing out that I'm not a whiny little parasite all the time.

I have stated my own boundaries with him, and for the most part he hasn't violated them. I feel so frustrated that I can't understand why I'm upsetting him in a lot of cases, and I haven't been able to abstract very many general rules for what I should do in the future. I feel like a bull in a china shop trying to be friends with him sometimes. He's not very emotionally expressive in general, and I have a hard time picking up on his signals that I'm taking things too far; our last big thing started with my telling him that my pet has a terminal illness, my doctor's been more stressful than looking up symptoms on the internet, and some friends were mean to me—I didn't imagine that he'd be bothered by that because none of that really affects him in the slightest, beyond my being upset. I was actually pretty shocked that I was wrong; he hasn't been bothered by things like that in the past.

I guess maybe there's some extent to which I am trying to push some responsibility on him or get “some sort of weird guarantee” from him, as J. Wilson aptly said. However, I'm okay with him being upset with me sometimes—I just don't want to unintentionally upset him as much. I don't think it's unreasonable to ask someone if there's anything you could do or not do that would improve your friendship, but maybe I'm mistaken.

salvia: (Is the phrase you're looking for "I feel uncomfortable calling you because it sometimes seems like you say yes to helping me, when really you meant no. Am I reading the situation right? Because I wish you'd just say no when you mean no.")

It sounds like you just learned how to use a certain tool, and you now see ways he could be using it, too. But you can't expect others to deal with a situation using exactly the tool you would use. You might remember that you're still gaining new tools yourself, and anyway, it's their own "house" to maintain how they see fit. In addressing any discomfort you feel, it would be better to speak from your subjective experience ("I feel a bit uncomfortable because...") rather than speaking from an omniscient perspective ("you fail at setting boundaries, try harder").

I've tried to initiate conversations that way, almost word-for-word. It...hasn't gone well. He tends to deny that he's bothered by our conversations at all, when that's very obviously not true. I guess that's a sign that I need to back off in general. (I don't think I'm coercing him into talking to me, but he does often agree to things he doesn't really want to do in a lot of situations. Denies it to hell and back, though.) I don't say things like, “you suck at boundaries,” because I honestly don't feel like I'm in a position to judge anyone there.

I try to state these things in terms of what I would like from the friendship. One of the things I said recently was, “I'd like to know if there's anything I'm doing that makes you uncomfortable, because I feel like I'm stressing you out sometimes,” and that's pretty typical. Maybe that is an unfair request, but I don't see it that way. I am open to being convinced otherwise, though.

Both of us, and pretty much everyone around us, have agreed that one of the major problems we've had is that he projects his experience onto me, and often expects me to solve problems his way. That's something we've worked on, and it's gotten better. It's kind of interesting to think that I might be doing the same thing now. Food for thought.

Prefpara: This also doesn't really sound to me like, on his end, it's about you violating clear boundaries. It sounds more like he treats you as kindly or as unkindly as he wants to, resulting in a random array of reactions to largely consistent behavior on your end. You want him to tell you what you're doing wrong. Nothing. He is just choosing not to respect you when that's easiest for him. That should prompt you to set your own boundary which, as most commenters have suggested. To protect yourself from his unkindness.

Are you my sister? Or possibly one of my friends? Or maybe my mom? Hell, even he's said I'm doing nothing wrong, but he denies that he's disrespecting me. This is something I've heard before, but I'm not really ready to believe it yet. Thank you for stating it so eloquently, though.

I do think I need to work on my sense of self-worth, but that's been hard and I have trouble taking many of the techniques I've learned about seriously (besides CBT, which has helped a lot). If anyone has any recommendations for that outside of the standard, “Affirmations, exercise, and taking good care of yourself,” stuff I've heard and tried/do, I'm open to suggestions. (I already do a lot of stuff I feel proud of: I'm a regular entrant in road races, have yet to get a grade below A- in college, and currently have an internship that's very likely to lead to the job of my dreams.) I will lay off calling myself names, though, as virtually everyone has suggested.

Metahawk: Let's assume that when he says "OK", he means it at that moment. Furthermore, given the intensity of your problems, sometimes as the conversation proceeds, he loses his ability to be there for you the way that you want. Now, imagine if when he did this you said, "It sounds like this conversation is getting to be too much for you. We can talk again later" and hang up.

I've been trying to do that lately. I've sucked on following through with actually hanging up when I first feel unsupported—I kind of want him to say he's okay with my hanging up, which is a little insane now that I say that. I'm not really planning on going to him with many of my problems in the future, but that's actually a good model that I plan to follow if this becomes an issue with other people.

Thanks again to everyone who's made suggestions. I also decided to create a throwaway email for this: ptsdetal@gmail.com
--
posted by jessamyn at 2:57 PM on May 30, 2011


I will lay off calling myself names

Start with "whiny little parasite."

It's a hard habit to break. In my experience, it isn't enough to try to stop calling yourself names. You have to also actively work on complimenting yourself. And that process DOES feel silly. I've increased my self-esteem and self... comfort(?) tenfold over the last two years by regularly doing silly shit like:
- remembering to buy toilet paper and saying to myself, "prefpara, great job! You're a terrific adult!"
- doing the dishes and saying to myself, "wonderful job! Thank you for doing the dishes prefpara! Killin' it!"
- setting a glass of water by the bed and telling myself, "thanks for taking care of me, prefpara. I like you a whole lot."

I can't overstate how ridiculous all of this made me feel. But, over time, I got in the habit of patting myself on the back and feeling good about myself as a consequence. All that positivity has largely replaced my previous negative and self-hating inner monologue. Awesome job, prefpara! Thanks for being so nice to me all the time! No problem, prefpara. You're my favorite.

Ridiculous, yes. But effective. Try it. I give you permission to be silly. Think of it as playful.
posted by prefpara at 3:42 PM on May 30, 2011 [17 favorites]


Reading your reply, I think you are actually doing a lot of things right in this relationship. It is reasonable to ask a friend to let you know if you doing something that upsets them. It is hard to be friends with someone who won't or can't tell you honestly what is going for him in the relationship. Clearly he has his own stuff to work on.

It would not be unreasonable for you to decide that this relationship is too much work and/or not healthy for you. However, you know more about the relationship than we do - if you decide that you are better off with him in your life then you need to find a way to emotionally insulate yourself from getting freaked out when he gets upset. This is really hard to do - you have to get your head in a place where you treat him in a way that you feel is caring and appropriate and then you allow him to have his own (unpredicatble) response so that if he chooses to get upset without warning you don't take it personally since you know that you were behaving appropriately. So, struggling with this relationship seems like a really normal response to me.

Good luck and congratulations on all the work that you have done already in your therapy.
posted by metahawk at 9:50 PM on May 30, 2011


I don't think ultimatums are the best way of asking for most things, though, so...

Ultimatums are not the best way of asking for most things. But when you've tried to work a problem out with someone in all normal ways, and you would rather not interact with the person anymore than continue to put up with the behavior, that's a perfectly fine time for an ultimatum.

I think prefpara nailed what he's doing so well that I wish I could favorite it more than once.

As to this: Hell, even he's said I'm doing nothing wrong, but he denies that he's disrespecting me. One thing I've noticed in my long and varied experience with people who treat others badly: if the person isn't treating others badly on purpose, or is unaware of it, they will be surprised, will feel bad, and be eager to make amends when it's pointed out to them. To me, when someone *denies* it, that's a sign that they are doing it deliberately and don't want to change, that they're getting something out of it.

I wouldn't be surprised if this guy gets something out of being suddenly, inexplicably upset at someone and having them chase their tail trying to make him happy. After all, if he didn't enjoy that, why would he be uncooperative when you try to find out how to avoid making him upset?

I don't know, man. This situation sounds a little toxic for you. Whatever his good points are as a friend, I think you can find a friend with all the same good points who doesn't toy with you emotionally and play weird control games.

I kind of want him to say he's okay with my hanging up

If you get into this thing where you're desperate for emotional validation from someone who kind of gets off on withholding emotional validation, you're only going to become a more and more desperate person.
posted by Ashley801 at 10:07 PM on May 30, 2011 [3 favorites]


Here's what worked for me. Ymmv. Dear ex, In the longterm I want to stay friends, but in the short term I need to have some space to heal and get on with my life. I will get in contact when I'm ready." A year goes by, new boyfriend enters life, and voilà I was ready to be friends, but it took a year.
posted by bananafish at 7:35 AM on May 31, 2011 [1 favorite]


He tends to deny that he's bothered by our conversations at all, when that's very obviously not true. I guess that's a sign that I need to back off in general.

Yes, I'd agree. Also, it makes a lot of sense that you'd want to push some responsibility onto him, because it sounds like are taking a lot of responsibility, maybe more than your share. Even if you behave perfectly, he can still act like a jerk, you know? But obviously, you can't force him to be communicative, reliable, calm, or anything else. So, since you can't cause him to behave in a comfortable way for you as cause-and-effect via your own careful behavior, and since you can't force him to behave reliably, then your options are to create and enforce your own boundary (I like Metahawk's solution), with all the vigilance and disappointment that can come with maintaining this kind of relationship, or to decide this relationship isn't one that you want to maintain at all.

If you do find yourself wanting to let him know that all of this is causing you to distance yourself, you could, I suppose. But the thing is, exes aren't the best people to process with. They're particularly not good people to learn new relationship skills with, in part because you could do everything perfectly and still have the conversation go awry, since there is so much history with so many emotions. That's why so many people recommend not bothering.
posted by salvia at 9:20 AM on May 31, 2011


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