Which of us is the jerk?
August 31, 2008 9:49 PM   Subscribe

Help me settle the argument I've been having with myself about my boyfriend's new behavior.

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?
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (47 answers total) 10 users marked this as a favorite
Sounds like he's depressed. He might do well on Wellbutrin for both depression and smoking cessation.
posted by ten pounds of inedita at 9:54 PM on August 31, 2008

Start looking for a new apartment and making plans for a life after this guy. He no longer wants to be in a relationship with you and is being a total a hole about it. This is classic I don't have the balls to dump you so I'm going to make life so unpleasant that you leave behavior. Act accordingly.
posted by Wolfie at 10:00 PM on August 31, 2008 [12 favorites]

He's totally awash in depression and afraid of dying and doesn't want you to touch him because he's wound up tighter than a cheap alarm clock.

Somebody needs therapy. Certainly him. Probably you both need some couples therapy. And you might need someone to talk this through with. So maybe everybody needs therapy.

Yes, this is a tough time for him. But no, you don't have to do whatever he wants you to do (like no sex, no touching, no talking) for an indefinite period of time just because he's in crisis. You get to ask for what you want, you know.

Sorry. This sounds awful. I do know people who have gotten through this kind of thing with the relationship intact, though. You'll both have to put in some work, though.
posted by Sidhedevil at 10:02 PM on August 31, 2008

And, to follow up on what Wolfie's saying, if he won't do any of the work? He's checking himself out of the relationship.
posted by Sidhedevil at 10:03 PM on August 31, 2008

Yeah, I think it sounds like he is depressed.

Really, it doesn't sound like it's you ... it sounds like he is really down on life in general.

Give him a chance to get over this, and help him do so if you can.
posted by jayder at 10:05 PM on August 31, 2008

I know depression, I have been depressed, and he sounds depressed but that does not give him the excuse to consistently treat you the way you describe.

You can't save him. But you can refuse to let him drag you down with him. Do you have somewhere you can go for awhile? I think you need a break. And he needs a wakeup call.
posted by konolia at 10:11 PM on August 31, 2008 [4 favorites]

Oh, and you say he hasn't hit you. Has he punched his fist through a wall or broken things or pulled his fist back at you?

If so JUST GET OUT. NOW. He might be ill, but he could be heading toward being dangerous.
posted by konolia at 10:14 PM on August 31, 2008

Don't jump into prescriptions of any sort, for starters. It could be any number of things. When you first mentioned that he wouldn't have sex with you and he is in his late 20s, I first thought he might be sleeping with someone else(guys live for sex). The irritabilty and unapproachability could be from the trying to quit smoking. My advice is to sit him down and tell him how you feel. If he still persists in not listening, I would recommend you try to get him to couples counseling and then individual counseling if it is depression. If for some reason he won't listen to you about these things, maybe he will listen to someone else (e.g. parent, best friend, uncle...someone he's had a lifelong relationship with). Wellbutrin is great for trying to quit smoking, but unless the individual is actually depressed it quite often has the opposite effect. I really hope this helps.
posted by docmccoy at 10:15 PM on August 31, 2008

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.

Maybe he's anticipating being single again in the near future? That was my gut reaction to what you wrote.
posted by PercussivePaul at 10:18 PM on August 31, 2008 [12 favorites]

I agree, he sounds depressed.

But I am guessing he is depressed because he is in a loveless relationship and doesn't have the balls to end it. Don't go to couples therapy. You are both so young that patching up a relationship that is already over is pointless.

You don't have a boyfriend, you have an inconsiderate room mate. Get a new one.
posted by munchingzombie at 10:18 PM on August 31, 2008

Persistent contempt from a partner is a sign that a relationship is sinking. You don't have to put up with this. It sounds like your relationship is becoming emotionally abusive and is definitely making you miserable. Relationships do take work, it's true, but he has to be doing his share. This means getting help if he's depressed. It also means not treating you like shit.
posted by pluckysparrow at 10:35 PM on August 31, 2008 [3 favorites]

I read this and read your age and I have an overwhelming desire to tell you to run.

I understand depression can be very rough. The lack of sex is expected. The disinterest in activities is understandable. Though, I think it's kind of strange and cruel to sigh and huff, withhold any sort of physical attention, and to remain in a constant state of irritation. This guy sounds like a bully. He sounds incredibly immature. Why waste your life with somebody like this? What does he have to offer? Especially when he has no interest in discussing his mental state or even saying something simple like, "Girlfriend I am so sorry I have been a jerk and distant. I'm having a hard time. I'm not feeling like myself. etc. etc." He has not tried to reach out to you. He does not care about your feelings. He must know you are suffering. He's so wrapped up in his head and this childish game of making you both miserable. His relative has cancer? It doesn't give him the right to lash out at you and treat you worse than a dog.

Personally, I wouldn't enable him for a minute longer. Life is short. What if this behavior continues? You're free as a bird. You're not married. You don't have kids. Get out before things get more complicated.

If you aren't willing to leave him you need to stop enabling this childish behavior. Stand up for yourself. Don't sit there day after day and take this abuse. I like konolia's advice to take a break. Get a hotel. Stay with a friend. Get out and give him an ultimatum.
posted by Fairchild at 10:47 PM on August 31, 2008 [3 favorites]

First, I'm so sorry you're in this situation. It sounds really, really tough. And one of the hardest things about being in an unhealthy situation of any kind is the second guessing of oneself-- "maybe it's my fault," "maybe it's just x, y, z," "maybe it'll get better," etc.

Second, this behavior is completely unacceptable. Even in the throes of depression, he's got to be able to care for *you* enough to try to get help or change in some way. If he does not care for you enough to do this, there's no point in being with him. It really sounds like this guy is a sinking ship and he's bringing you down, Titanic-style. I say, start packing. He may well be depressed, but if he's not amenable to even talking about it, there's really not a lot you can do. You can lead a horse to water...

If you *do* decide you want to try talking to him, here's one final thought: you mentioned you've tried talking to him about what's happening *between you.* Have you ever flat-out told him that his behavior is making you completely miserable? You might just try a simple, "I feel like shit most of the time around you. Do you want to work on that or not?" It's not about "what's happening between you"-- it's about his soul-destroying behavior.

Good luck! There are MUCH better fish in the sea.
posted by airguitar2 at 10:50 PM on August 31, 2008 [4 favorites]

I would try reading this book by John Gottman. Or any books by John Gottman. The book has the word "marriage" in the title, but it pertains to anyone who has a long-long-term relationship. He's spent years clinically studying what makes relationships tick, and yours sounds like you have some contempt and stonewalling going on. It would be good to be able to read about & quantify certain behaviors that you're seeing in your relationship, so you can be proactive and respond in a way that will help you both. At the very least, having a greater understanding of what you're dealing with will help you make informed decisions about whether the relationship is worth saving.

One other idea I got from a counselor a long time ago: Make a list of everything you think you can do to make it work or make things better. Then, do everything on the list. When you think of something new, write it down and try it. When the list is done, you'll know you've literally done everything you could think of, and you can walk away with a clear conscience.
posted by eleyna at 10:51 PM on August 31, 2008 [1 favorite]

It's hard to say for certain unless we know you both well, so please take the following with a grain of salt:

I have to agree with Wolfie. This happened to me not so long ago, item for item, and that's what it was all about. It's really awful to experience, and I really can't believe how similar your experience is to what mine was. His depression was a factor in my siutation too, though he denies it to this day. Ultimately, he just didn't want to utter the words, so he tried to force my hand through his behaviour.

I'd say stand up for yourself. Say that you understand that times are tough for him, but that he's not letting you be a support to him anyway. Make plans to move on, which will force the issue to crisis point and make something happen one way or another.

I think if you are this miserable, the benefit-of-the-doubt period where you just wait to see if this is something he's going through is done.

He may pull himself together and realise what his behaviour is going to cause him lose in which case you get to choose if you want to carry on, or he may not in which case you're free to explore new opportunities. Either way, you can't really go on like this, particularly if he won't talk with you in a calm and respectful maner. He's giving all the signs of not wanting you around. Tell him you took the hint.

And hey, hang tough. I really feel for you.
posted by lottie at 10:54 PM on August 31, 2008 [1 favorite]

He sounds depressed, and dissatisfied with his life - is he where he wants to be, professionally/personally? It's possible his relative's cancer has caused him to confront his own mortality and made his dissatisfaction more acute. If he's frustrated with his life in general, it would explain why he's trying to improve himself physically while pushing you - an integral part of that life for half a decade - away. If he's afraid he's no longer in control of his life, the physical and emotional withdrawal could be his attempt at reasserting himself. I would suggest making it clear to him your future together depends on himself opening up, either to you directly or through counseling.

Maybe I'm projecting too much here, but reading this my girlfriend and I agreed that some of his behaviors sounded pretty familiar, and we could be in the same boat if we weren't as open with each other as we are. Best of luck.
posted by Alvy Ampersand at 10:54 PM on August 31, 2008

I agree with most of the hypotheses listed above. But then the question is, with the possibility that he's depressed, what do you do?

The most desperate part of your situation, it seems, is his unwillingness to talk to you. That, I think, should be the deal-breaker. You need him to at least listen to you, to hear your worries and anxieties, and to respond to you as a reasonable adult. If he is unwilling or unable to give you that much, then there is nothing you can do but leave.

What this means is you need to try to talk to him. Maybe take large portions of what you've written here to use as a script when confronting him. Make sure that you are calm. Do not accuse him of anything. Couch everything in "I feel like..." terms. Make sure that you point out that you care for him many times. But, at the end of the day, the message needs to be this: if he is not willing to admit the situation needs to change, you leave. Have some general proposals about what you would like to happen (maybe couples counseling, probably a visit to a psychiatrist, etc). If he starts to yell or if he seems to get violent, stop the conversation right then--that's the particular behavior that you need most to avoid.

This isn't really an issue about him being depressed. This is, instead, a problem about him yelling at you and perhaps turning violent any time you try to make your issues heard. That is what's unacceptable. Don't make this a problem about his depression or his attempts to quit smoking. Don't get bogged down in the details of small grievances. Instead, what matters is only the following: "I love you, I care about you, but I think our relationship needs some work. I need you to work with me."

He still deserves love even if he is depressed. He still deserves a caring partner even if he is currently incapable of being a good partner, himself. But there are limits. You should not stay in this relationship if he is not willing to face his problems, and work with you, as a partner, to get better. Look for an effort to improve, an acceptance that things must change. If he cannot even give you that, you have a greater duty to yourself to seek happier circumstances than you have a duty to him to be his unappreciated girlfriend.
posted by Ms. Saint at 11:01 PM on August 31, 2008 [2 favorites]

Neither of you is the jerk, but one of you isn't making any effort to recover from his bout of jerktacular behavior. Turning into Kevin Spacey in American Beauty is not a relationship prescription, nor a cure for depression.

If he doesn't see a problem, doesn't think the relationship needs work, and doesn't want to put any work in on fixing anything other than his physique, you need to start making arrangements to move out. Your friends seem like they're pretty supportive of your social needs, can they help you out with this?

The Guy Before Mr. F didn't see any problem with our relationship either, and would happily put "OMG, my hard drive might be full because I tried to torrent a whole season of SG-1" ahead of sex or even a snuggle. That's why he's now the Guy Before Mr. F, and not Mr. F, who's a much more interesting and interested person.

Good luck, dude.
posted by fairytale of los angeles at 11:12 PM on August 31, 2008

Relative with cancer? I didn't behave that badly even after I got a cancer diagnosis. He's got to 'fess up and communicate what's actually going on. He sounds full of rage. Why? If it's depression, and he's gone though it before, he owes it to himself and to you to deal with it maturely. If it's something else, it's more than time to find out.

My heart goes out to you.
posted by Hildegarde at 11:29 PM on August 31, 2008

Ms. Saint: This isn't really an issue about him being depressed. This is, instead, a problem about him yelling at you and perhaps turning violent any time you try to make your issues heard. That is what's unacceptable. Don't make this a problem about his depression or his attempts to quit smoking. Don't get bogged down in the details of small grievances.

QFT. All relationships go through rough patches, and his physical and mental withdrawal from you can be the result of a number of things. The relationship can still be saved, but he needs to acknowledge he's not holding up his end of the bargain in the relationship, and a refusal to discuss it - angrily - is the biggest problem. Relationships live or die over communication and intimacy above all else.

If he refuses to engage with you, continues to react angrily when you try, and refuses to seek counselling, then I think then it's time to regretfully withdraw.
posted by ArkhanJG at 11:45 PM on August 31, 2008

Some things can really get people on the sneak up side. My grampa died back in March, I still break down and cry sometimes. He was 99 and no need for sorrow. Threrapy...
posted by zengargoyle at 12:37 AM on September 1, 2008 [1 favorite]

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.

I think someone's already mentioned the obvious, but this makes me think he might be cheating on you. Also, a "sudden, renewed interest in health" is not at all typical of someone with depression, unless the depression is entirely caused by the smoking withdrawal.

On a less dramatic note, do you smoke? If he has recently quit smoking, he might either find the smell of smoke unpleasant or find it all too tempting, and either one might make him avoid closeness with you.
posted by mmoncur at 12:39 AM on September 1, 2008 [2 favorites]

You need to ask him to accompany you to couples therapy, because you need him to learn to cooperate with your needs better, and you yourself need a guide to find the place where you can better manage the relationship as well.

As a person who's done some of those behaviors, gotten so obsessed and anxious that I shut out my partner, I say I hope he gets help and stops taking you for granted. He'll be happier when he's better to you, surely.
posted by Ambrosia Voyeur at 12:56 AM on September 1, 2008

He's acting like a person who is really, really, furious with you.
posted by Flying Squirrel at 12:56 AM on September 1, 2008 [2 favorites]

What I meant to say was, maybe he's holding a grudge for something you said or did months ago. When was the last time things were good? If you can pinpoint it to a specific moment in time, that may help.

Either that or he's trying to sabotage the relationship to make you break up with him. I hate it when people do that.
posted by Flying Squirrel at 1:01 AM on September 1, 2008

You'd probably benefit from a few counseling sessions on your own. It can be great for perspective, decision-making, sorting out conflicting feelings, and bolstering trust in your own intuition.
posted by wryly at 1:33 AM on September 1, 2008

Lack of sex is something that can be worked through. Depression, ditto. Thoughtless behaviour that causes you pain, ditto.

Contempt, however, I think is a sign that it has really gone too far to be retrieved.

I think I would say something like - look, we are going through a bad time here, and I want us to be able to work through it. But that takes two. You're giving me absolutely no signs that you are interested in continuing the relationship or making things better. So unless you can show me or tell me now that you are still on board here and you want to be with me, I will be leaving.

Then go through with it.
posted by emilyw at 1:49 AM on September 1, 2008 [1 favorite]

Your boyfriend is abusive, and the depression is a secondary issue. He is mentally and emotionally abusing you, and threatening you with physical abuse, and you need to get away from him RIGHT NOW. He might have been a nice guy before, but that was when he wanted affection and sex from you. Now that he doesn't want sex and affection, he has no need to write you sweet notes and sing little songs. For whatever reason, what he wants now is free live-in maid who pays part of the rent. He is using you to clean his toilets and when you try to reason with him, or try to get the affection that you deserve, he is making you feel physically unsafe and he is making you wonder what YOU'RE doing wrong to make HIM behave like a monster. All this speculation about how maybe he's cheating, or maybe he's trying to get you to break up with him, all that may be true, but it doesn't matter. What is important is that you are in a classic abusive relationship. It is not your fault, and it's not your responsibility to try to make him better. You need to get out - not tomorrow, but today. If you need help with a place to stay or someone to help you move your stuff, contact your local women's shelter. If you want to help him, leave some leaflets behind on your way out the door. That's where your responsibility ends.
posted by Wroksie at 3:28 AM on September 1, 2008

It sounds like he wants to break up with you but lacks the balls. Or he is done with the relationship at a gut level, but it hasn't quite reached a conscious level. So he's making life miserable enough that you'll take the lead.
posted by adamrice at 6:55 AM on September 1, 2008

I too thought he sounded depressed until I read this:

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.

Like PercussivePaul, my gut reaction says he met someone else and wants to whip himself into shape for a new relationship. It also sounds like he doesn't know how to tell you he wants out so he's going to act like a shit until you dump him.

But no matter what's going on you are NOT being a jerk so stop thinking that right now. You don't deserve to be treated this way. Tell him that unless he stops being a dick and talks to you honestly and calmly about what's going on you're out of there and be prepared to follow through.
posted by lysistrata at 7:11 AM on September 1, 2008 [1 favorite]

dude. its OVER. leave.
posted by beccyjoe at 7:50 AM on September 1, 2008

Here's data that might be useful:

When my partner and I quit smoking at the same time, we almost broke up. There was no romance, no sex, no sweetness, no "affect," you could say, and it was really scary. We were snappish, too--I remember a particular time when my partner got mad at me for not tying my shoes quickly enough, and we couldn't even laugh at how absurd that was. It can be super, super hard to quit smoking for some people, and the emotional ups and downs (starting with a week of being unable to sleep) involved in withdrawal should not be discounted.

It took us about a month and a half to two months before we were back to normal, and that was with both of us repeating, like a mantra, that "it's just quitting cigarettes. we're not normally like this. it's going to be okay eventually. and we're going to be so much healthier for it." Without that kind of constant reminder that the bad mood is from withdrawal, I can absolutely see that sort of thing lasting much longer than it might have--I think bad moods and bitchiness can become habit.

So, I don't know. If I were you, I would probably give it a little bit longer and see if he cheers up. Be sweet, be patient. If he doesn't get it together and get kinder, then decide whether you want out, based on his crappy behavior. But it really might pass, and assuming that he's about to dump you is not where your focus should be. Your question is what you are willing to put up with, and why.
posted by hought20 at 8:05 AM on September 1, 2008

Agree that quitting smoking can be very very hard.... Since it sounds like you recognize it as depression and you've been together for so long, you probably know him quite well.

Let's take a step back: what do you want? Do you want to keep living together / business as usual before this mess started, or are you ready for a change? At the risk of sounding selfish, your feelings and thoughts have as much merit as his do. The idea of moving out may well be the best one - if things happen to improve between you two, you can always move back in... or not...

Whether you move out or not, he needs a wakeup call: maybe you could play "We're not gonna take it" a few times in the early mornings as a literal wake-up call, or just tell him as bluntly as possible. 'Find' your suitcases and traveling bags and cardboard boxes to let him know you mean business. After five years, it'll seem sudden... but then again it sounds like you're almost ready to move on and try again. I hope you find what you're looking for :)
posted by chrisinseoul at 8:50 AM on September 1, 2008

Oh, and you say he hasn't hit you. Has he punched his fist through a wall or broken things or pulled his fist back at you?

Or said emotionally cruel things, called you names, etc?

I think Wroskie is jumping the gun without more specific information, but I think you may want to ask yourself some hard questions about his behavior--maybe with the help of a therapist (if you feel in your gut that he is abusive, go ALONE, not to couples' therapy, please).

It sounds like a miserable situation, and it is of course possible that he is miserable, depressed, etc, but that is no excuse for treating you so poorly. If you have been truly afraid that he would hit you, chances are non-zero that he eventually will. These things often start after years together.
posted by Pax at 8:54 AM on September 1, 2008

I think that, in this situation, the quitting smoking and the health thing are probably more about trying to protect himself against cancer than about trying to look hot for his next girlfriend. I'm guessing that he's turning every life decision into a superstitious "if I do this I won't get cancer" thing.
posted by Sidhedevil at 9:08 AM on September 1, 2008 [1 favorite]

Supporting a partner who is going through problems is one thing. Supporting a partner who is having problems and who will not make an honest effort to resolve them and to minimuze their effect on you is another.

I'd say your boyfriend is in the latter category. Tell him that you're willing to support him through whatever it is that's wrong with him if he's willing to pull his own weight, but if he refuses to talk to you about it or get therapy or whatever's necessary, then you need to leave. And if, during this talk, you get anything other than a firm commitment to work on things immediately followed by appropriate action, start looking for a place of your own.
posted by orange swan at 9:41 AM on September 1, 2008

Have you tried discussing the future of your relationship with him? I'm a big proponent of telling loved ones when they are making you unhappy. SOmething along the lines of: You're going through a difficult time, but I'm concerned that things are not going well between the two of us. I am unhappy, and I want to do something about it before it's time to move on.

He's definitely depressed. Sadly, depressed people often chase others away. It's only fair to tell him that he is indeed, driving you away.

You're not demanding too much. If things can't be fixed, you'll both eventually be happier apart. Telling him is only fair.
posted by gesamtkunstwerk at 10:22 AM on September 1, 2008

You both should see other people and then see how it goes from there.
posted by Zambrano at 10:24 AM on September 1, 2008

The problem with metafilter questions about relationships is that you ONLY get one person's perspectives. It takes 2 to tango, and we're not getting ANYTHING from him.

Because of this, I think you should take all advice (including mine) with a grain of salt. Taking the advice you like the most, isn't really the most effective. If you really want to improve your relationship, see a counselor.

That said, here is what I see:

1. Doesn't want to go out with you.
2. Isn't that interested in sex anymore.
3. New (or renewed) interest in health.

There are probably tens of different of possibilities if EVERYTHING (including his perspective) were revealed, but the two most probably ones I can see are:

1. He's interested in someone else.
2. You and him are VERY much alike after half a decade of cohabitation. He probably is getting annoyed by a few things that you do...which he might also do. He's changing because he doesn't want to be like that, and he would be a hypocrite if he asked you to change before he changed...thus the transformation.

PLEASE take this with a grain of salt. I could be 100% wrong. I think you seriously need to have a talk with him. Not a "we need to talk" while you both could be doing something else. Plan it (with him), do it.

Good luck.
posted by hal_c_on at 10:37 AM on September 1, 2008

He doesn't sound depressed to me. It sounds like he's either interested in seeing someone else, or being single.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 3:49 PM on September 1, 2008

The hard truth about your relationship is that it will not survive if he does not communicate to you what is happening. And if he does have depression, I understand communication is that much harder. But then it would be up to him to make an effort to want to communicate and talk to you about his feelings and what hes going through. Definitely continue to tell him about how you are feeling and don't let his anger make your afraid to face some truths about where your relationship is heading. Yes, easier said than done but will be rewarding in the end once you get to the grit of whats happening between you two. Otherwise you will get sucked into being anxious about his next feeling or move.
posted by InterestedInKnowing at 5:26 PM on September 1, 2008

He sounds depressed, and dissatisfied with his life - is he where he wants to be, professionally/personally? It's possible his relative's cancer has caused him to confront his own mortality and made his dissatisfaction more acute. If he's frustrated with his life in general, it would explain why he's trying to improve himself physically while pushing you - an integral part of that life for half a decade - away. If he's afraid he's no longer in control of his life, the physical and emotional withdrawal could be his attempt at reasserting himself.

Yeh, that's about what I was thinking. It often goes under the familiar term, "midlife crisis".

The general story is that this comes about when a guy gets his first real & full understanding of his mortality & of the rapid passing of time, after feeling kinda immortal & open to all possibilities during his 20s.

This can lead to a questioning of whether life has turned out to be what he wanted, and a sense of urgency to recapture youth and / or get things back on track. It's probably more of an existential anxiety than clinical depression - I wouldn't normally associate the motivation to quit smoking & take care of one's health with depression, so I'm going for an existential crisis as an interpretation of what's going on.

So, my take on things: relative's diagnosis had him re-evaluate his life, he found himself dissatisfied, is trying to do things to improve the situation, but unfortunately, it sounds like he's regarding you as part of his problems, and not as part of the solution.

Just my 2c guess.
posted by UbuRoivas at 7:21 PM on September 1, 2008

Actions speak louder than words. Ignore what he says and base your decisions and course of action on his actions.
posted by JohnnyGunn at 8:12 PM on September 1, 2008

My (at the time) fiance had a fairly dramatic personality change the summer before our wedding date. Well, there's a whooole bunch of backstory which I'd be glad to share via MeFiMail. My armchair analysis colored by my own lovely soap-opera past leads me to guess that maybe this cancer occurence in his family is making him question his position in life, including your relationship. And by the contempt he's showing you, I'd say he's made the decision that this relationship isn't as great as he thought it was. And a sudden interest in his looks say he's thinking he's going to be back on the dating scene too.

You deserve at least his admitting something is wrong and his promise to work with you to fix things.

I don't want to pass judgment but let me say this: I believe once you've been scared of your partner or once you've doubted their fidelity, there's no turning back.
posted by CwgrlUp at 8:15 PM on September 1, 2008

People have already nailed it, but yes, persistent contempt signals the relationship is doomed because you can't work things out with someone who's already written off communication because he feels like the relationship isn't worth that effort. And sure, he may be depressed or dealing with lots of other shit, which may have started him on the path of giving up on your relationship--but by the time he's consistently contemptuous it's probably too late. I dated a guy like this and he DID have tangible issues unrelated to us--drug stuff, lack of job, depression, health problems--but it was never going to work once I could see the veiled disgust/contempt for talking to me. And yes yes yes, it's a way for him to get you to hate the relationship so much you leave because he's not strong enough to do it himself.
posted by ifjuly at 9:47 AM on September 2, 2008

this is kind of....i don't know a little overly dramatic....but the things you described were EXACTLY the same way with my boyfriend over the last few months of his life...he pushed me away as much as he could without being willing to cut the cord, he was irritable and irrationally angry if we argued...he was clearly depressed....but everyone was surprised how quickly that moved from depressed to...well, dead. i'm not sure you can help him. i am not sure i would have been able to help my boyfriend when he was becoming ill. his illness turned out to be more than just depression, and his isolating behaviors made it hard for anyone to recognize that. i was in your exact same state for a few weeks prior. Ready to leave and feeling bad for jumping ship but...i didn't feel like he was leaving me any other choice. It sucked. It still sucks. Sorry you're having to go through this and i hope it doesn't turn out as badly for you two as it did for me. good luck!
posted by Soulbee at 11:32 AM on September 2, 2008

just to throw a different perspective at it, going through the late 20s can be a really difficult time, especially as people are forced to come to terms with the unrealized expectations, social pressure, and disappointment that is popularly referred to as "adulthood". lots of guys like him are in the situation where they see contemporaries buying houses, getting promoted, getting married, and having kids, and it's quite common to get down on oneself for not having the same type of certainty that one's peers can seem to have.

also remember that things have changed considerably five years into a relationship: attraction and sex drive decline for everyone, and, at your age, the tone of the relationship turns decisively serious as every aunt and acquaintance constantly peskers you with questions about when you're going to get married. the combination of these factors at a time when, in your late 20s, your whole life is truly still ahead of you, can contribute to feeling prematurely old and committed to decisions beyond your control.

that's not to justify anger or abuse or even to overturn the hive's diagnosis of depression. but my hunch is that this type of experience is quite common for guys in their late 20s - i've seen it among many of my friends. without knowing this guy's history, it's tough to say how it applies to you. (but if "getting back in control" is a priority for him, it might explain the getting in shape and the smoking thing).

it doesn't sound like he is a bad guy - if he were a bad guy, you probably wouldn't have spent five years with him - but it does sound like he's going through something tough. he's probably aware of all of the issues you've raised and is struggling to deal with them himself, but simply doesn't know how. the sad part is that there isn't an easy answer; control (which i think is related to self-confidence) is something he needs to establish for himself, no matter how much advice he is given (or how accurate that advice is). things might get worse before they get better, or things might get worse and never get better.

a solid relationship needs to have clear lines of communication with partners who are confident in themselves; think partnership instead of dependency. he's still maturing emotionally - as most guys in their late 20s still are - and doesn't seem capable of communicating his inner angst to you - probably because some of the options he is considering include leaving you. as uncomfortable as that sounds, the temptation to leave isn't a dealbreaker - there will be plenty of times in any relationship when you consider what else is available and second guess your choices. what is a dealbreaker is the lack of willingness to communicate what you feel to your partner. that sounds like it's the biggest issue for the two of you; the other stuff is just symptomatic.

what i would think about if i were you is how to go about re-establishing your own control, irrespective of what happens with your relationship. consider who you are and what you want out of a healthy relationship and DON'T COMPROMISE. you are in your mid 20s and have lots more relationship in front of you, regardless of whether it's with this guy or someone else. be confident of who you are and what you want and communicate that to your partner. it might not save this relationship, but it'll definitely benefit you down the line.
posted by jblu at 8:04 AM on September 5, 2008

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