I’m considering ending my relationship. Should I give him another chance to make changes? of course it's long
posted by Ms.Stocking to Human Relations (47 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
SO and I (both late 30s) have been together nearly 5 years, living together for 4. SO is smart, witty, cooks beautifully, and can be affectionate. He’s also got a temper, is touchy and passive-aggressive, and, while he has terrific and discriminating taste, is very critical. I’m embarrassed to admit it, but I ignored some red flags early in the relationship, and more than once in the last year I’ve thought “this is just not going to work” but kept it back.
He often thinks others are being deliberately insulting, even in neutral interactions or when it’s just normal human thoughtlessness. He gets hostile and tends to put responsibility back on the other person-- e.g. “I wouldn’t have [been so pissy] if you’d [asked more nicely]!”. However, SO doesn’t often show this much consideration towards others. When I ask him directly if he thinks it’s fair to expect me/anyone to do something that he doesn’t do, he stonewalls, answering “I don’t know”. (He can’t really not know, he’s got to be refusing to think about this critically because he doesn’t want to admit that he’s being unreasonable. Right?) SO is prone to resentment and blaming others for ‘making’ him do things or ‘making’ him feel badly (usually when I point out that he did or said something thoughtless/mean). He struggles with setting clear expectations, getting angry when someone doesn’t do something the way ‘any reasonable person should’ (e.g. the way he’d do it). I understand that setting boundaries is difficult, and that it’s really tempting to assume that everyone does (or should) share your assumptions... but he’s just providing himself with endless, pointless, rage-fuel.
We’ve talked about these things as serious, potentially relationship-ending issues for at least two years. Every time he says he’s sorry, but things don’t change much, or for long. He agreed to start therapy over a year ago, but has actually been in therapy for only about 7 months. (He didn’t start until I told him I’d need to move out if he kept delaying.) I think it’s been helping-- he’s somewhat better at setting boundaries, he’s more receptive to the need to make changes. However, ‘less bad’ isn’t all the way to ‘good’, and the last few months have really ground me down. I’m tired of dealing with his selfishness and temper and passive-aggressiveness. It’s exhausting and demoralizing to never know when things will go sideways because SO takes some innocuous remark poorly and suddenly he’s angry and I have to de-escalate or end up in a fight.
A few weeks ago I told SO I wasn’t happy and wasn’t going to stay without significant immediate changes. I was ready to leave. He said he would try to make changes. Since then, SO has been (mostly) on shining good behavior. He’s been affectionate and reasonable and pleasant, and flexible without becoming a simmering mass of resentment. He’s been seeming to let things go that, until recently, would have resulted in a major snit and probably an argument. It’s been significant.
The problem is, I’m having trouble accepting that this is real change, not temporary good behavior. Even if this is real change, there are other major issues unresolved, like figuring out a level of commitment that we’re both happy with. I want a partner I can trust to support me when I need it, and SO’s habit of resentment doesn’t bode well. I want a partner who is kind and considerate and capable of empathy, and I’m not sure SO can be that. But... I want a partner! I’m afraid that it wouldn’t be fair not to give him the chance to change, assuming he means it.
I’m not sure it’s wise to invest more years trying to figure out if this can actually become a happy and mutually-satisfying relationship when I’m honestly not sure it’s possible-- we might just not be a good fit. But.. he’s trying so hard right now, and I feel like that should mean something. I feel trapped between two shitty choices. And since he’s been so actively nice, I’m thinking of all the downsides-- I’d have to move, there would be all kinds of awkward social implications, I’d lose the affectionate sweet guy he sometimes is, etc.
I need some outside perspective, here. Have I tried long enough? Do I wait and see? How can I determine if he’s really working on change or just on good behavior? How do I know if/when to walk away?
Other probably-relevant things: I’m in therapy myself. Therapist said “you’ve given SO a lot of chances, you don’t *have* to do more if you don’t want to”. Friends have said variants on “we all know how he is... no one could reasonably fault you for ending things”. And yet, here I am, waffling.
It would have a negative financial impact on him if I moved out. He’s fully employed and would manage, I’m sure-- but he’s in a much more comfortable position with me paying a share of expenses.