Relationship Angst
July 23, 2012 12:53 PM   Subscribe

Our communication sucks. What can I do about this?

I have a lot of issues with my boyfriend -- he's a wonderful guy but I always wind up feeling put down, or put upon, or not getting my needs met. Our communication sucks and I don't know how to fix it.

He just doesn't seem to hear me unless I get upset, which I hate to do.

For example, I want to go out to events with him. He has refused to go, stood me up, panicked and had to leave... he says he won't make plans, doesn't like crowds, is a homebody. Yet, he is traveling in a far-off country right now with a friend/work colleague of his and they are going out to see the sights. (He works with some very good friends so he has extended the work trip from a few days to two weeks.)

Things seem to work best when I get more confrontational than I would like. He planned the trip with me when I got upset and asked him why he never goes out with me yet will travel with his friend/work colleague. He went to one event with me (finally) when I got upset and said that I was going to go with someone else unless he came with me.

I mentioned in an earlier AskMe that our conversations "fall flat". I've been paying more attention over the past couple of weeks and I think that's just because he can only talk about whatever is on *his* mind. So if I bring something up that he can't relate to (like what I did that day), he just says "Oh, nice" or "That's great" and doesn't follow up with "Yeah, I did that once" or "How did that feel?" or anything. It's like he can only talk about what he wants to talk about.

It's like he's stuck in his own head and completely self-centered unless something jars him out of it (like me being upset). He is like this with his other friends, so I know that it's not just me.

At the same time, he tells me he loves me, wants to marry me, I'm the love of his life, etc. We have so many things in common and he is such a wonderful loving person in so many ways -- and also he is everything I've dreamed of in a partner. But our communication sucks and always has.

When I tell him something I want, I just don't feel any certainty at all that I have any chance of getting it, or even knowing if I ever will. It seems like I have to get upset for him to hear me.

I don't want to DTMFA yet. Let's leave that out of this for a while.

Questions:
- Are you like this? What does your partner do to relate to you better and get her needs met?
- What are your suggestions for better communication?
- How do I ask for what I want in a way that he can hear?
posted by 3491again to Human Relations (33 answers total) 12 users marked this as a favorite
 
Sounds somewhat like my ex. Only when I did finally get upset and scream and cuss (after politely repeating myself 500 times and being ignored) then he didn't want to cooperate because I was "being a bitch".

FWIW, here are a few things that helped with him:
Once when he was talking about him, his ideas, his interests, etc, I said "I might as well not even be in this conversation. You could be talking to this wall for how much I am a part of it." So then he began telling me what a dog he was, how bad he was, what a sorry excuse for a human being he was, etc. I interrupted him and said something like "I am not asking you to feel bad about it. I am asking you to include me in the conversation. You are still talking about YOU, only now in a negative way. But I am still not part of this conversation." That seemed to sink in some.

Another time, I was telling him I wanted to rearrange furniture. He began rolling eyes and sighing loudly. I said "Why do you have to always treat me like that?" He said "You always do this when I am tired." I pointed out that the only time he was home was when he was tired. If he had energy, he was at the gym, or martial arts, or out with friends, etc. and then I asked "When exactly will your wife and kids be entitled to some of your time and energy? After you retire from the army?" That helped and after that he wasn't openly grudging and resistent to giving us some of his time and energy. He was more giving after that.

I also later discovered by accident that giving him the heads up several days in advance went over better with him. He didn't do well with having things sprung on him on short notice. Later still, I discovered he didn't care if I rearranged furniture when he was out of town. He said not one word if I rearranged the entire house in his abscence. He just couldn't envision what I had in mind and didn't really like helping. I would have have freaked out if I had come home one day and the whole house had been rearranged while I was gone. So I was trying to include him and be courteous, etc, and I was basically projecting. I assumed he cared about those things because they mattered to me. But, in fact, they didn't matter to him.
posted by Michele in California at 1:19 PM on July 23, 2012 [5 favorites]


I've been in this kind of situation. He may say that he loves you, etc. etc. etc., but what do his actions say to you? How does he even define loving you or being loved -- does it ever mean something other than things on his terms? And when he does say that he'll do the kinds of things you want, are they the kinds of things that matter to him, or are they just things he doesn't care about?

You're asking what YOU can do, but from what you've said in here, he's not showing you that he is willing to meet you in the middle. Just typing that makes me realize that you've said that he's not compromising, so there's another dead end.

You hit the nail on the head when you said "It's like he can only talk about what he wants to talk about." It sounds like he only does what he wants to do. A relationship is NEVER about one person trying really really hard to be better for another person. It should be about both of you working to make your relationship better by making yourselves better. From what you're saying here, it seems like it's not happening on his end.

Saying is one thing. Doing is something very different. Trust me on this. This is not the way someone treats someone they love.
posted by Madamina at 1:20 PM on July 23, 2012 [10 favorites]


If you want to stay with him resolve to do things on your own or with friends some of the time, or maybe most of the time. Worry about what 3491again is going to do. Don't worry about what he is going to do.

Think: What am I going to do? Not: How am I going to get boyfriend to do what I want?

Tell him your plans without trying to manipulate him. Tell him your plans without an expectation that he will or must go in order for you to be happy. State what you are going to do and inform him that he can join you if he would like.

Give him enough time to process these plans. If you want to go to the bookstore at 1pm let him know by 11am. "I am going to do a few things around the house. Around 1pm I am going to head out to the bookstore and coffee shop. You can join me if you'd like." If he doesn't want to join you, do not sulk or get mad. Go alone and enjoy.

On a Wednesday you might say: "Friday night I am going to xyz art opening and then I want to check out the new wine bar around the corner. Would you like to go?" If he isn't interested, go alone or find a friend to join you.

If he is a homebody and dislikes crowds think of some quiet activities you can do together. Don't accommodate him all of the time. Do things you enjoy but keep him in mind half of the time.

Repeat. Make your own plans. You cannot control him.

All sorts of things can happen. He may tire of being alone while you are out enjoying life. He may be content staying home alone. He may accept some of your invitations but not all. You might get sick of being alone. You might be happy and let go of trying to control him and enjoy yourself. You might find another partner who likes to go out as much as you do.
posted by Fairchild at 1:26 PM on July 23, 2012 [13 favorites]


Have you actually asked for that confirmation? Have you put him on the spot and said "Hey, so what are you going to do about it?" or "I would like to go to do (thing) on (day), are you coming or not?" or "I would like for you to plan something for us to do together at (certain day/time)."
posted by Ghostride The Whip at 1:29 PM on July 23, 2012


There're a lot of cross-cutting issues here but first thing I notice is that it seems like your BF has some serious anxiety issues. I'll speak to those because I've been an anxious PITA boyfriend myself.

Don't expect what he is or isn't anxious about to be rational, but it will follow some patterns. If he has, say, panic disorder that's poorly controlled he could quickly develop an aversion to just about anything after one bad go which would add some randomness.

I used to be terrified (for no real reason) of going to bars in my hometown. I had no idea why, fights were had between me and partners because the idea of stepping in to one made me almost have a panic attack. I had just kinda resigned myself to life like that, then once (after starting sertraline for panic disorder/OCD) while travelling alone I went into a bar in a strange city and began dissolving that conditioning. Now I'm cool in a lot of other places I used to freak about.

Something like being in a foreign country (and/or assuming he can stay close to his friend the whole time) might be set breaking enough for him to not feel anxious about that stuff.

No one (except my GP and psychiatrist) would've been able to help me because I felt such shame about how social settings did (and still do, sometimes) make me feel. It was virtually impossible to have real conversations with the people around me because of that shame and overwhelming anxiety. In the moments of the worst anxiety in a crowd totally trapped and unable to say simply "woah this is tweaking me out and I need to like sit down for a minute." It's pretty horrendous!

To deal with it, I used the anxious person's super power: avoidance!

It kinda sounds like your BF has anxiety issues for whatever reason is using his super power of avoidance a whole lot and he'll need some sort of fulcrum to sort himself out. That fulcrum might be drugs, counseling, realizing his issues impact relationships he'd like to keep or so on.

Let him know you're concerned about how his behaviors impact your relationship with him; do what you can to help him make the change when and if he starts changing and be prepared to dump him if he's unwilling to change (just like my mom should've dumped my dad and just like the five really wonderful patient women who broke up with me directly because of some whack shit I did because of anxiety did before I realized I needed help).
posted by Matt Oneiros at 1:32 PM on July 23, 2012 [8 favorites]


Ghostride the Whip - I have asked him. He says that he doesn't like to make plans and can't confirm yes or no. He does this with other friends as well - so much that he sometimes doesn't get invited places because no one is sure if he will show up. He views this as a feature of his personality. Sometimes he's okay with me going without him; sometimes he tries to convince me to stay in with him.
posted by 3491again at 1:35 PM on July 23, 2012


I dated someone like this, too. Between the demanding career, the social anxiety, and the ADD, he's never going to be able to focus on you for long enough to remember what you need and want. I noticed that my flaky, avoidant, disorganized ex responded best to repeated, explicit demands, followed by positive reinforcement.

So, for example, if he's not listening or being attentive: "Hey babe! Where's your mind right now? I'm talking about something important/trying to bond with you and you're spacing out. It's making me feel like you don't' care about us. I'd like your full attention or an IOU for your full attention later."

Or, if you want him to come with you to an event: "Sweetie, it'd mean a lot to me if you would come. It's going to be a great time because . It's going to be at 9pm, I'll call to remind you". And then if he comes, you are all over him about it, "Thanks so much for coming, awesome boyfriend".

Or, if he flakes on you, "That was really rude and disrespectful. I'm furious. Next time you don't feel like coming to something, tell me ahead of time."

All this is predicated on you feeling confident enough in yourself that you can make those demands without equivocating. If you make it sound like any of it is negotiable, or fish for his approval, he's not going to take it seriously. I unfortunately do not have any magical self-esteem powder for you to take, but please realize that you are his girlfriend, that you are a lovable person, and that you are allowed to make demands like this because they make your relationship better.

posted by rhythm and booze at 1:35 PM on July 23, 2012 [6 favorites]


It's too bad that he doesn't like to make plans, but you have a life to live. As he says he more of a homebody, sometimes you're going to want to do things with other people. That's not you being manipulative. That's you being part of the activities you enjoy.

If this is a weekly battle, then establish the number of times you plan to go out with him - maybe Saturday night and Sunday afternoon. Then you plan those times together and he knows what to expect. Your other evenings are times for friends and solo interests. There are plenty of times that my husband asks if I want to see a movie or go to Comic-Con or whatever and I tell him to go with one of his friends. He sometimes says the same to me.

Try opening the conversation by stating what you are going to do and ask if he wants to participate. "I'm going to take a two week vacation next summer. I'm flexible on the dates and location, but I'm definitely going. Would you like to join me or should I ask a friend to go? I need to know your answer by {date}" He can be in or out and you can start planning your trip.

At the core of this arrangement is defining how much time with him you need. If you are someone who want to spend most of your free time with your partner and he's someone who doesn't want that, then you have difficult compromises ahead of you.
posted by 26.2 at 1:42 PM on July 23, 2012 [1 favorite]


I have a male friend who acts like this a lot. And it's not easy for me. At all.

In the past, when I've let his self-centeredness slide, it seemed like the right thing to do instead of have an angry confrontation. But you know, all that happened from me letting it slide was more of the same from his end. In other words, I had to summon the courage to tell him how I felt. My experience with my friend was very similar to your experience, in that my friend finally listened to me and my feelings. For. A. While. Then the same stuff started happening again. I have actually started to question our friendship as a result. Recently, I made a choice to not spend time with my friend or talk to him very much while I try to sort out what's going on.

He may say that he loves you, etc. etc. etc., but what do his actions say to you?

I agree totally. My friend tells me he cares about me too, but his actions don't say the same. People who truly love you have no problem showing it.
posted by strelitzia at 2:18 PM on July 23, 2012 [2 favorites]


He sounds like a bit of a jerk. BUT - I have also held that if communication isn't working, it's the responsibility of the communicaTOR. Are there tweaks to your communication style that will work better with him? If he's not spontaneously engaging in the conversation you want, maybe you need to more directly elicit a response - ask him questions. 'What should I do (about this work situation I just complained about)?'. 'How does this affect ?'.

As for the whole doing stuff thing - I agree that the only way to get around this is to do things yourself. Additionally, I would sit him down, get his full attention by telling him you need A Talk, and negotiate a commitment from him to do two Things with you a month or whatever. It might work. Or he might chicken out on you again.

posted by bq at 2:50 PM on July 23, 2012 [1 favorite]


For example, I want to go out to events with him. He has refused to go, stood me up, panicked and had to leave... he says he won't make plans, doesn't like crowds, is a homebody. Yet, he is traveling in a far-off country right now with a friend/work colleague of his and they are going out to see the sights. (He works with some very good friends so he has extended the work trip from a few days to two weeks.)

Things seem to work best when I get more confrontational than I would like. He planned the trip with me when I got upset and asked him why he never goes out with me yet will travel with his friend/work colleague. He went to one event with me (finally) when I got upset and said that I was going to go with someone else unless he came with me.


Not to be a Debbie Dower, but this sounds totally like my ex...who was cheating on me. With a couple people. And who was getting engaged to me and someone else...at the same time! And who was, overall, a selfish, narcissistic douchebag.

Now, not saying that is the case.

On the other hand: my awesome, ADD partner, who explicitly says things to everyone like, "I can't tell you for sure if I'll come to that party! I can't commit to plans like that!" or who sometimes does that neutral, noncommittal "mm-hm" when I suggest going to a modern art museum when I suspect he wants to go to an aeronautical museum, instead, nevertheless:
- wants to do things with me, and will even plan them, despite the ADD woes that can sometimes conflict with scheduling
- is happy if we do our own thing, but will also come with me to Important Thing X, just because I asked him, and because he knows it's important to me
- and goes to 75% of those uncommitable parties anyway. He just gets weird with having to go down the B&W, yes-or-no RSVP route
- goes out with me in public, and has our vacations on his calendar months in advance, and looks forward to doing stuff. With me. He does stuff with me, and I do stuff with him, and we go out and do stuff together, 'cause that's what we do, and that's what, I guess, couples do. When they're couples.

Honestly, your dude reminds me of the ex, instead. He refused to do anything because web of lies! and all that.

Not saying that's be case, but...I suspect this goes beyond a "communication issue," you know?
posted by vivid postcard at 3:40 PM on July 23, 2012 [1 favorite]


I have asked him. He says that he doesn't like to make plans and can't confirm yes or no. He does this with other friends as well - so much that he sometimes doesn't get invited places because no one is sure if he will show up. He views this as a feature of his personality. Sometimes he's okay with me going without him; sometimes he tries to convince me to stay in with him.

Huh. If this is a trait that he considers part of his personality, and you find it really frustrating, then you find him really frustrating, and perhaps he isn't the right guy for you. You're allowed to say "hey, you may think this is just the way you are -- and perhaps it is -- but I need to see you at least try to be different, because I need you to be different. If you try and fail, then I need to decide if I can put up with it, or not...but if you don't even try, then I'm not sticking around, because it drives me crazy."
posted by davejay at 3:45 PM on July 23, 2012 [1 favorite]


Ok well it sounds like you have a crappy relationship. And I want to do stuff with my girlfriend because I'm really into her, and in past relationships when I wasn't so into the girl, I maybe wouldn't have wanted to do some of that stuff and I wouldn't have done some of it unless I felt like I had to.

But ok, you need to communicate more forcefully. Sorry. If he isn't listening to what you want, tell him again, more clearly. If he still isn't listening, tell him again, and attach consequences.
posted by J. Wilson at 4:55 PM on July 23, 2012


Not to threadsit, but a few additional points:

26.2 -- I've tried to set up a particular time or schedule for us to meet up, but he "can't make plans because he doesn't know how he's going to feel at the time". So, it's not about the amount of time spent together or the frequency, but whether or not plans are made at all. He just won't make plans with me, under most circumstances.
posted by 3491again at 5:35 PM on July 23, 2012


Do you really think this is about communication? Because I don't.
posted by Capri at 6:15 PM on July 23, 2012 [1 favorite]


Capri -- if it isn't about communication, what is it about? Whenever I address this problem with him, he says it's a communication issue. What do you think it is?
posted by 3491again at 6:18 PM on July 23, 2012


It's like he's stuck in his own head and completely self-centered unless something jars him out of it (like me being upset).

Someone needs to stand up to him and tell him clearly to treat people with respect, starting with his girlfriend who he claims to love. Does he meet his obligations at work? I would say, if he can make plans at work and follow through and make commitments and keep them at the office, he can do this with his girlfriend and his friends, if he wants to keep them in his life. He can absolutely make plans with you and his friends and confirm yes or no. It's just not a priority for him and again, if he wants to keep people in his life, he should make it a priority to show up for them. If someone wants to make plans, he should respond and say yes or no. If he says he's going to go somewhere, show up. Even if he doesn't feel like it. Flaking out on plans and paying no attention to you depending on his feelings that day is NOT a feature, it's a bug; it's a big red flag saying to the other person "You don't matter to me."

I sympathize with him, don't get me wrong - I used to flake out all the time because of social anxiety but eventually it dawned on me that if I wanted to keep my friends I had to stop giving myself the option of bailing out because of my feelings at any one particular moment. Once you start giving yourself that option it's way too easy to take it; it's like calling in sick to work when you're not actually sick - don't go down that road by giving yourself the option. Think through all the steps you need to take to go to an event and be prepared ahead of time - what to wear, what to bring, how to get there - that way you don't have the last-minute anxiety upon realizing it's 20 minutes until you need to leave the house and you have too many decisions to make about all of the above. No, you can't know how you are going to feel in the future, but tell yourself: "I said I was going to go, so I'm going" and that's it. Feelings are temporary, they will pass.

If he doesn't even want to try, why are you in a relationship with someone who makes you feel so bad?
posted by citron at 6:29 PM on July 23, 2012 [1 favorite]


Ask him how you can communicate your need to make plans with him in a way that it's possible for him to hear. For my money, he won't be able to answer, because he already knows what you want, he just doesn't want to prioritize you in this instance. That's what it's about.
posted by milk white peacock at 6:32 PM on July 23, 2012 [2 favorites]


citron -- He doesn't have to schedule things at the "office" as he has structured his life so far not to have to do anything at a particular time. He's a scientist who's really good at what he does, so he doesn't show up to most of his lab meetings, only taught one course, etc. He's also starting a company and gets the rest of his staff to hold meetings and such. This will probably bite him at some point, but it hasn't yet. So there is a question of whether he has the skills to do this at all. Or whether doing the little bit of scheduling and stuff he has to do at work exhausts him and this is how he relaxes.

Also, everyone, he is like this with his family and it drives them crazy too. So I don't think it's about him not trying specifically with me.
posted by 3491again at 6:50 PM on July 23, 2012


Oh, and thanks for sharing your experience of social anxiety. I have had similar issues in the past myself. I guess he just has it worse than me.
posted by 3491again at 7:00 PM on July 23, 2012


I have two adult sons who have some of the same issues as their dad. I get along well with both of them. I didn't manage to work everything out with him, but there were many reasons for that, not just his self-centered behavior. In fact, I know of at least one way his biases were helpful: I was molested as a kid and had an undiagnosed medical condition, both of which contributed to the fact that I had trouble reaching orgasm for years. He was willing to put in the effort but never got his feelings hurt over it. So it never became emotional baggage for the relationship, which would have only compounded our problems and would have been stupid anyway.

Communication: My ex did tell me that I somehow failed to convey to him what was important. I found this maddening and could not understand how he could fail to see that if I said it 500 times, it mattered. Other people, including a couple's counselor, observed us and indicated we had serious communication issues. So if you think it is a communication issue, start educating yourself about different communication styles, different personality traits, etc. I don't think I made a terrible mistake marrying my ex. Neither of us regretted the marriage and the divorce was amicable. Since you say you aren't ready for dtmfa, there must be a reason you like this man. Given the issues I had, my ex was exactly what I needed at the time, though it was not an easy relationship. However it did keep me alive when I should have died, both due to my undiagnosed medical condition and due to being suicidal for years (I was hospitalized twice for being suicidal in the years he knew me, once during our marriage).

My kids have a long list of special needs. They are not intentionally difficult. There are good books, websites and other resources available now that didn't exist when I was first married. Some of those resources frame different issues as something with both good points and bad points rather than simply a problem. Veiwing my kids as different rather than defective was extremely helpful in finding things that worked. We also did Meyers-Briggs Personality Type tests for the whole family. That was one of the most useful things we ever did for reducing friction. I am an extrovert. I was living with three introverts. That alone explained a big source of family friction and helped us deal with it more effectively.

Some people are harder to deal with than others. They usually aren't being intentionally difficult and if you are attracted to someone like that, there is probably a reason for it. For now, take him at his word that these problems are not an expression of not caring. My ex did many wonderful things for me, like uncomplainingly taking me to the ER and going to work on two hours sleep fairly often. He was human. He had his faults. He did care about me or I literally would have died. Inability to replicate some movie style romance is not proof that someone doesn't care.

I hope that helps.
posted by Michele in California at 7:16 PM on July 23, 2012 [4 favorites]


He views this as a feature of his personality.

Also, everyone, he is like this with his family and it drives them crazy too. So I don't think it's about him not trying specifically with me.

Eventually, his protestations of "This is just how I am" are going to hit your "just being the way you are" as though it were a brick wall once you decide that tolerating trying behavior isn't a burden you alone should have to bear in this relationship.

You don't like having to get upset with him in order to get recognition of what you want, and you don't like being stood up, and you like being able to make long-term plans with someone. These are reasonable things to want.

You can explain the way he orders his life as not being reflective of the way he feels about you, which is fine, but I don't think you're going to be able to frame it in such a way that it's not affecting the way you feel about him.

I don't think you're going to find an approach that's going to produce a change in his behavior, because he describes it as being consistent with him being his ideal self, and because his family hasn't been able to find a way to get through to him since he's the same way with them.

I'm going to honor your wishes and not advise you to DTMFA, but I'd be curious as to what you think your options are at this point. I'd also be curious as to whether you're getting any recognition from him about how serious the problem is.
posted by alphanerd at 7:45 PM on July 23, 2012


I have ADD and depression. I can be a real turd to people if I don't pay attention to my moods. I can be an even worse turd to myself.

That's just part of my personality, too. But I'll be damned if it gets in the way of me showing my love to my husband, my care and diligence to my coworkers, or my dedication to my fellow performers in a show.

It's very, very hard, but I work to overcome or manage these fine "features of my personality" because I don't want people to think I'm awful. Because I guarantee you they would. But this is part of living in the world. You take stock of yourself, and you say, "Okay; how can I better fit into the world around me so that I can live in harmony with the people with whom I want to live?"

Or you can just find someone who puts up with those "features," no questions asked.

Which one is better for the world in general?
posted by Madamina at 8:33 PM on July 23, 2012


Alphanerd -- these are all good questions. I've tried most things listed above, and have even asked some of our mutual friends for their techniques (since they have these issues with him too).

He doesn't feel like it's a serious problem. He keeps saying that our relationship is fantastic. Since I tend to be a bit negative and anxious, I've been kind of relieved that he's not adding to that!

It is affecting the way I feel about him, a lot. I'm running out of dreams for our relationship. I still admire him, love him, and have the crazy hots for him, but imagining our future is getting more difficult. I don't know what my options are. I wish I did.
posted by 3491again at 9:48 PM on July 23, 2012


He doesn't feel like it's a serious problem. He keeps saying that our relationship is fantastic. Since I tend to be a bit negative and anxious, I've been kind of relieved that he's not adding to that!

It's reading to me like you've internalized the negative feelings and the anxiety as being bad character traits of yours. I think you should try looking at them as being the result of the tension between your self-protective instincts and your current situation. You want to be able to rely on your partner and to have your feelings treated as valid, and these things are not happening, and he absolutely IS adding to that based on what you've described, because he's not making the effort to make you feel anchored.

He's not meeting your needs, and saying that your relationship is fantastic is a form of denial that further invalidates what you're feeling and prevents any progress from being made on this.

I dated a woman with whom a pattern of problems kept recurring. We had conversations about it, but nothing changed. Her refrain was always, "I don't mean to make you feel X," though I never really believed she had bad intentions. When we broke up, I told her, "It's not enough that you're not trying to be hurtful in this way; I need someone who TRIES NOT TO do these things, by actively incorporating the impact things are going to have on me into her mindset in situations like the ones we've talked about."

So that's the lens through which I'm viewing things. I will say that I finally had a conversation with my ex where I identified the most important questions to me about our relationship, what my bottom lines were with respect to them, and then sought clear answers from her about them. We wound up ending things because she still couldn't recognize the pattern as being a real problem and couldn't think of a single situation in which our numerous conversations had influenced her thinking in any way, but it might've worked out differently if she'd answered differently.

So maybe that's a good suggestion for you; to figure out what your bottom line is with this, whether you can be happy in the long run if things stay the way they are, avoid feeling guilty for the things you want, and get some clarity from him on whether he's willing to acknowledge that this is a problem, whether he can commit to changing, and whether he knows what change will look like to you.

The often-cited Too Good to Leave/Too Bad to Stay would probably be a good read for you.

It is affecting the way I feel about him, a lot. I'm running out of dreams for our relationship. I still admire him, love him, and have the crazy hots for him, but imagining our future is getting more difficult.

Have you told him this?
posted by alphanerd at 11:56 PM on July 23, 2012 [2 favorites]


He doesn't feel like it's a serious problem. He keeps saying that our relationship is fantastic.

Of course he says this. He's getting what he wants -- which doesn't include what you want or need.

FYI, this is exactly how my now-former husband responded to my telling him that I was unhappy.

I think there are a lot of guys out there (and not a few females) who think that once you successfully woo someone into being your partner, everything is cool and you can just go on doing your thang. Think about it like a job (because that's what it is, enjoyable or not): the wooing is the interview, and the rest of the relationship is your employment. You get through the interview, but what happens if your colleague says, "I'm sorry, but this is just not working for me." Do you say, "Sorry; that's your problem," or do you go ahead and try to fix it? Because quite frankly, if the former happened in most workplaces, one or both of those people would probably get fired.
posted by Madamina at 9:17 AM on July 24, 2012 [3 favorites]


I don't know what my options are. I wish I did.

I think you have three options: stay with him and accept the status quo, give him another chance to recognize and respond to your needs, or decide that you two are not well-suited for a long-term future together. The option that you don't have is waiting for your partner to become the person you need him to be without you having to again spell out what you want. (I sympathize, that's the option I'd want.)

If nothing changes, are you happy enough with the good parts of this relationship to continue? And how much time are you willing to give him to be the kind of partner that you need given that he doesn't see any problems in your relationship? I agree, this isn't a communication issue, because he's heard your concerns when you have the force of strong emotions behind them. He hasn't cared enough to make changes in his behavior.

You are coming to a place where you have to make a decision about what you need to be a happy person. Or, to decide if you can stop being unhappy if your partner is not the person you socialize with, or the one you tell your thoughts and feelings to. I see it a lot on AskMe, but I think it's helpful to ask yourself--what would you tell a friend in your situation to do?
posted by gladly at 9:36 AM on July 24, 2012 [1 favorite]


Sounds like you've set yourself up with a guy whose love/approval you are chasing, but the carrot is always going to be an inch away. So you're here trying to figure out how to get the carrot.

Sure, if/when you get that carrot it's going to feel great (because you have been desiring it for so long), but the carrot is temporary. This guy is going to pay you a bit of attention, and then go right back to his self-focused rut. And you're going to be in a tempest of anxiety trying to figure out what you did to make him stop giving the attention you want, and/or go back to giving you the attention you want. Meanwhile, you're so focused on twisting around to get the right response out of him that you are totally ignoring your own issues and not putting yourself first at all.

Eh ... He's not naturally meeting your relationship needs, which are pretty basic. He's not working/expressed serious interest in working on his social anxiety to get to a point where he can meet your needs. You can hang around and hang around and wait to be made a priority in his busy, important life that caters to him, but if I were you I would take a good look at what you want (a boyfriend who wants to do things with you) and tell yourself that you deserve that. Quit trying to squint just right so this guy looks like he wants to be in your life, dump him and devote your energy to finding someone who actually does want to be in your life. It will be like swimming in carrots.
posted by griselda at 10:55 AM on July 24, 2012 [4 favorites]


This will probably bite him at some point, but it hasn't yet.

Well, actually, it is biting him right now, because he's risking losing you over it. This won't "bite" him if he doesn't actually care about whether you stay or go. If he does care, then telling him you are going to leave him over it unless he tries to change it will hopefully be the "bite" he needs.
posted by davejay at 12:16 PM on July 24, 2012 [1 favorite]


I probably should have said this earlier, but this is the best relationship I've ever been in. Other relationships had even more problems: I was abused in one, cheated on in another, lost passion in a third...and was dumped a lot of times after short-term relationships. This man has given me a wonderful feeling of security and acceptance, no matter these faults, which is why I'm still in the relationship. I think it's the first normal relationship I've had, even though there are some faults. I think I've learned a lot from him about how to communicate, deal with issues, etc., despite these issues. That's why it's hard for me to know how to handle the issues we have.
posted by 3491again at 9:41 AM on July 25, 2012


For what it is worth, being dumped a lot of times after short-term relationships is normal; two people get together, try things out, and unless both of them are happy in the relationship, they part ways. So you've had several normal relationships with people who aren't a good match for you.

The flipside of that, of course, is that you are allowed to leave him (if you want to) whenever you feel it is appropriate. That applies even if he's a fantastic guy who has taught you lots of things. It doesn't have to be a terrible relationship for you to leave, it just has to not be the relationship you want. That's normal, too.
posted by davejay at 9:59 AM on July 25, 2012


I suggest you check out the works of Temple Grandin. One of her books is called "Thinking in pictures". There is also a book called "Different minds". I have not personally read it but I have heard good things about it.

You say he is a scientist and starting his own business and has managed to arrange his work life to function well in spite of these issues. The odds are good he has a very high IQ and also one or more "issues". Issues like OCD, ASD, and ADHD are so common among people of very high IQ that they are called "comorbidities" in some circles. You need resources which will tell you that his assets and the ways in which he is difficult are two sides of the same coin instead of telling you that he is defective, wrong, broken and needs to straighten up and fly right.

It might help you to look for resources for "twice exceptional" or gifted kids. It is far more socially acceptable to say "I have a gifted child with Issues. How do I effectively cope with him and not strangle the child?" than to say "I have a high IQ and Issues. How do I cope?" Or "My SO has a high IQ and issues. How do I cope?" No one will tell you to DTMFA your difficult child. So gifted parenting or homeschooling lists tend to have better discussion about how to deal with special, one of a kind snowflakes similar to your own special, one of a kind snowflake than lists aimed at supporting adults. In addition to email lists and forums, you might look for parenting blogs by parents with a child similar to your guy.

You are also welcome to email or memail me. My sons are very challenging little snowflakes and I adore them. But when they were little, I routinely threw myself on my bed and cried because I just didn't know what to do and beating them was not acceptable. It took a lot of research to figure out how to deal with them. It was well worth it. And these days, there are a lot more resources available.

Best of luck.
posted by Michele in California at 12:44 PM on July 25, 2012 [3 favorites]


He just called and cancelled the trip we'd planned because he is "worried about money" and the timing isn't great for him. I can't say that I'm surprised, but I am disappointed. We had a long discussion and nothing really seemed to come of it.
posted by 3491again at 10:08 PM on July 26, 2012


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