Did we break up or not?
April 22, 2009 12:43 AM   Subscribe

Two days after saying our relationship isn't going to work out, my boyfriend is communicating again with me, saying he was sorry about his behavior. Should I assume that we just had a heated discussion and said things in anger? Or should I assume he ended things and that this reach-out is a way to clear the air?

In our nine months together we've always gotten along well and had fun. But our job situations got bad and we're both facing lots of stress, to the point where we've begun arguing about petty things. There's still a lot of respect and affection for each other.
posted by lunachick to Human Relations (20 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
You should assume nothing, and ask him.
posted by dersins at 12:48 AM on April 22, 2009 [21 favorites]

Having been through this several times myself, I would follow dersins advice.

My GF used to split up with me everytime we had a big argument, only to phone and apologise for her behaviour two days later. She had trouble dealing with conflict, and her initial reaction was to end it, rather than communicate what was actually bothering her.

Speak to him.
posted by the_epicurean at 12:56 AM on April 22, 2009

Ask him. Assumptions about how other people interpret events are at the root of all kind sof trouble.
posted by i_am_joe's_spleen at 1:31 AM on April 22, 2009 [1 favorite]

Yeah, listen to dersins. Also: it doesn't take inordinate amounts of stress to start fighting about petty things; lots of times this just comes with the territory of a long term relationship. Learning to navigate these things and still love each other is part of the work involved in having a successful LTR.
posted by JenMarie at 1:31 AM on April 22, 2009 [1 favorite]

How do you feel about it? Do you feel it's over? It's just as important to ask yourself this as well as him.
posted by cathoo at 4:27 AM on April 22, 2009 [2 favorites]

Among the things you should not assume, you should not assume that the options you give in your question are the only possibilities. It's surely just as possible that he meant what he said when he broke up with you, but is now succumbing to needy post-breakup emotions. But anyway, yes, you need to talk about this all directly.
posted by game warden to the events rhino at 4:40 AM on April 22, 2009

"How do you feel about it? Do you feel it's over? It's just as important to ask yourself this as well as him."

Hear, hear. I sure hope you're not letting the boyfriend be the default definer of this relationship. Issue a statement.
posted by BostonTerrier at 5:33 AM on April 22, 2009

Ask him.

Then, if you agree with this sentiment, articulate it: that if the relationship matters to him he should not end it flippantly. People lose their cool when angry but they should also know where to draw the line.

Then, if he continues to behave in this way, after a few rinse-and-repeat cycles you should just:

posted by nihraguk at 5:41 AM on April 22, 2009 [2 favorites]

What everyone else said, including nihraguk. One can fall into those rinse-and-repeat cycles; it's not to be recommended.
posted by kestrel251 at 6:00 AM on April 22, 2009

Response by poster: Thank you all for your thoughtful responses. We've never reached this level of disagreement before, so I hope it was an anomaly. I want to reconcile, so I'm going to work to save it if I can. Yes, I will talk to him but I'd like to take a few days to let things settle down between us. This was a wake-up call.
posted by lunachick at 6:36 AM on April 22, 2009

He could be trying to make himself feel better by being nice to you. It may have nothing to do with you, just him trying to convince himself he is a nice guy and that the break-up will turn you guys into friends. OR, it could have been a fight that is swept under the rug and you guys are still together. Either way, not healthy.

You MUST ask him.
posted by myturnplease at 6:37 AM on April 22, 2009

Nthing the "ask him"... You say this is the first time this has happened in your relationship? Nine months really isn't very long to know someone. I would hope this is an anomaly, but if he does it a second time, he's using emotional blackmail against you.

Don't let it become a pattern, is what I'm saying.
posted by hippybear at 6:53 AM on April 22, 2009

Ask him, discuss it. You may have success if you discuss the break up on a rational meta-level. You might want to discuss alternatives with him - i.e., instead of calling it quits, tell him to use "I need to have some time to myself right now" as a trigger to temporarily part ways to let off some steam, with the understanding that you will both talk again after tempers have been cooled.

But if this is your first big argument, my experience tells me it may be part of normal relationship growing pains, and is actually more normal than you would think. More fun to come if you are in for the long haul, so be prepared to take the exceptionally good with the unfortunate occasional and exceptionally bad. The occasional exceptional bad often comes with awesome make up sessions.
posted by jabberjaw at 8:19 AM on April 22, 2009 [2 favorites]

It might have been out of the blue, or he might have thought about breaking up with you before this recent argument. Ask him if he's had doubts/reservations... some gentle term that will allow him to talk. And let him talk -- don't contradict or bring up stuff that you're pissed about. (You can do that later, and remind him -- if necessary -- to give you the same courtesy.)

In the first year of our relationship, my husband and I used to argue vehemently. Neither of us could see a way to deal with the things that made us angry or hurt us, and one or the other of us would regularly say with certainty that it wasn't going to work out. We were very bad at arguing: interrupting, name calling, generalizing, exaggerating, accusing... all the normal bad tendencies. We went together one time to a therapist, who was disgustingly smarmy and chirpy. We got out of there and vowed to teach ourselves the damn "listening skills." There weren't a lot of them to learn... we just had to make a huge effort and practice them.

I still roll my eyes when anyone talks about "I messages" and such, but that stuff really does work. It works with almost anyone, not just frustrated, angry couples.
posted by wryly at 10:19 AM on April 22, 2009 [2 favorites]

Why don't you take this opportunity to decide for yourself if this relationship is worth continuing. Bottom line: would your life be better off with or without him? What opportunities would open up for you if you didn't have to spend mental energy on his problems? Sure you care about him, but does being around him leave you depressed and drained? Nine months might feel like a long time, but if you really are incompatible, you should bail now before you waste years of your life being angry and miserable for nothing.

If he's not adding to your quality of life, he's taking away.
Think of this as your wake-up call.
posted by aquafortis at 10:55 AM on April 22, 2009 [1 favorite]

Your question, "Did we break up or not?", should lead you, if not to the answer, at least to a direction for discussion. The yes/no answer may (unless you've already made up your mind in the negative) want to come from asking him - not us - this question, followed by a frank discussion about how you two want to handle disagreements going forward.
Being in a state of "Did we break up or not" is a trust-buster, and the kind of relationship you'll want to stay in won't tolerate that very well or for very long. You don't say know how long or committed your relationship is at this point, but if you (both) have long term intentions for it, an agreement to leave the B-word strictly off the table will go a long way to making handling disagreements - and staying - feel safer.
posted by TruncatedTiller at 11:17 AM on April 22, 2009 [1 favorite]

Gah, my ex used to do this to me and it would piss me off. His default reaction to rough times was "This isn't working!" and then two or three days of silence before he started calling again, apologizing and wanting to work things out. It happened...about every nine months until I took him seriously.

Don't assume anything, as others have said. Have a very detailed and specific conversation with him about what happened then and what's going on in his head now. Do some soul-searching and determine what you want--and if that includes "breaking up" being off the table unless it's said in full seriousness, make that apparent. I won't tolerate that kind of repeated heartbreak in another relationship. The first time my current boyfriend tells me we've broken up or it's not working, I'm going to hold him to it.

Good luck.
posted by peanut_mcgillicuty at 12:31 PM on April 22, 2009 [1 favorite]

If you do get back together with him, make it clear that you're NOT going to stick around with him if bolting becomes his first reaction to rough times. My first instinct in relationships when anything is going wrong is to bolt, whether there's something actually wrong or I'm having intimacy issues or whatever-- it took a guy laying down the law with that and saying he will NOT put up with me leaving and coming back again for me to cut that out.
posted by NoraReed at 4:47 PM on April 22, 2009 [1 favorite]

If you do get back together with him, make it clear that you're NOT going to stick around with him if bolting becomes his first reaction to rough times.

The first thing that you would realize after being in a long relationship is that not everybody has skills in conflict management. Often they end up saying things which they do not mean and regret in the future.

You really shouldn't assume anything and ask your boyfriend about it. Also, if you do want to get back together, lay out some ground rules about how similar situations should be handled in the future.
posted by joewandy at 7:48 PM on April 22, 2009

Ooops ... bad grammar here. What i meant was "You really shouldn't assume anything and should just ask your boyfriend about it. "
posted by joewandy at 7:48 PM on April 22, 2009

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