Relationship troubles
March 14, 2010 7:46 AM   Subscribe

I think I ruined my relationship and am devastated.

Six years ago, I met and fell in love with someone (X) and discovered a couple of months later that they were addicted to hard drugs. X's family told me that X was madly in love with me and I was their one chance of getting clean, and without my help, X would die.

X admitted their problem and said they wanted to get clean so we could have a good life together. The most stressful six months of my life followed while X pursued various treatments before finding one that worked.

X was quite young when we met and in addition to getting clean had to learn adult life skills like holding down a job, paying bills and being responsible for chores, as their development had been held back by drugs. I am older and more experienced. I found myself in the role of caretaker for several years, putting my life on hold to some degree, but more importantly, feeling X's life was in my hands. I was constantly worried about X dying or getting into trouble.

X is highly intelligent and unconventional, and was always very sweet and affectionate toward me. X continued to progress and eventually the time came when X had been clean for several years and had shown they could hold down a job.

X's job had health insurance and X suggested we marry so I could have insurance too, in a way to repay me for the support I had given X. We had a private ceremony and didn't tell anyone, because we both had mixed feelings about it. We were legally married only, but still trying to live as BF/GF.

I realized I was burnt out and that I was still caretaking X to a large extent and constantly worrying about them. I began to feel that I should leave, because X had gone straight from living with family to being kicked out on the street (and hiding that very well when we met), to living with me. X had never lived on their own and I didn't think we could be equals til that happened, plus I was burnt out and wanted time to recover from my obsessing over X's problems.

I announced that I wanted to leave. X suggested counseling, so we went. At the sessions, I reiterated that I felt my leaving was the best thing as I didn't see any other way of breaking our pattern. X was hurt and we were both tearful and both very clear that we still loved each other and that the break might be temporary.

I got an apartment not far away and X and I continued to see each other and discuss getting back together. After a couple of months I began to feel extremely depressed and missed X terribly, but X said they weren't ready to have me move back and unsure if they wanted me to, though still loved me.

X seemed to have become independent overnight and was being responsible and I was optimistic that if we reunited I wouldn't bear the burden for their support anymore. That has been true.

The separation was good for X. They had low self-esteem during their addiction. They now have a great job and many people who like them as well as the knowledge they can take care of themself. They were forced to be responsible and rose to the occasion when I realized I could not stop enabling them unless I left.

X continues to be responsible, but stopped being as affectionate almost the day I moved back. X never says "I love you" to me and used to say it all the time, and also say how much they appreciated what I had done for them. X expresses affection in other ways at times, but is generally much colder than they ever were.

I asked X if they wanted a divorce. They said, "I don't know, I'm just getting used to you being back."

X refers to the place we live as "my place." This hurts me. I asked, "isn't it our place?" and X replied that it stopped being our place when I moved out, very coldly.

When we got together, I had my own apartment and X moved in and we lived together for several years before we moved to where we now live, which is owned by X's relative. When I was gone, X lived here with a temporary roommate. When we lived at my apartment, I always made sure X knew it was OUR home.

I said to X that it wasn't fair to treat me like I was only living there at their pleasure and asked, "did you forget we're married?"

"I can't seem to," X snarled as though they wished they weren't.

I was there for X for years after their family had kicked them out to live or die on the street. I don't have superhuman stamina, though. I asked if it was really such a terrible betrayal of me to have left after getting burnt out? X said no.

I said I was sorry I had hurt X. I was extremely emotional; X wasn't and kept telling me to calm down, and did hug me a bit during the argument.

I feel like I really screwed up by leaving and should have hung in there with X, but we were caught in a codependent pattern where I felt totally responsible for them. While we were apart, X grew up and, it seems, gained a lot of self-esteem by being successful on the job. X had never lived on their own before. I supported X financially, kept track of the bills, and did many other "adult" things while X was recovering. I was feeling resentful and X was dependent on me and I know it wasn't good for either of us. I just didn't see how staying together would help because I had talked to X repeatedly about taking more responsibility and they would agree to but not do it.

Now that I am back, our roles are reversed. X nags at me about cleaning and says I am a slob, but X is just as much of one as I am. X nags me about the bills as I used to do to them. I've worked really hard at not nagging anymore.

I devoted myself to this person for half a decade, and it seems they are angry, resentful, and "paying me back" by withholding affection, just for needing a few months of restorative time to myself afterwards. X flat out refuses to have "relationship talks." I have to guess at what is going through their mind. My guess is they are angry that I abandoned them. They do have childhood abandonment issues that remain unaddressed. However, perhaps I am a reminder of a time when X was weak and needy. Or maybe X simply enjoyed living apart and now regrets asking me to move back in. Or maybe it's all of the above, or none of the above. How would I know when I am constantly getting stonewalled?

They almost have me convinced I was incredibly selfish and flaky to leave. I regret that I made the decision unilaterally but I wanted to think it over on my own and not torment X as I mulled it over and went back and forth.

When I apologize to X for leaving and hurting them, they are cold as a stone. X won't say they understand why I did it, nor will they say anything like "well, it's not about that, it's just that I really LIKED being on my own!" but I think if that were the deal, there wouldn't be any cutting remarks like, "well, you LEFT!"

I try not to be clingy. X now has friends and activities and I support that. X's life is better for having known me. I forgave their financial debt to me and I try not to act like X "owes" me for saving their life and supporting them through a hard time. I try not to hold that over their head. I admit that me doing this was part of the unhealthy dynamic we had before I left, and driven by resentment.

When we were first together, X did many addiction-driven things, like lying and stealing, that I completely forgave. Is my moving out unforgivable?

I am currently in therapy, but X won't go, as though wanting to drive home the point that the relationship is no longer all that important to them.

I wonder if X asked me to move back in for the sole purpose of punishing me for leaving. I'm heartbroken. I miss the partner I used to have, who was sweet to me. There are little glimpses of that person sometimes, but that's all. I feel that I hurt X so deeply that they have put up a wall against me now. I feel like I mishandled it, and ruined a relationship I valued more than any other. And I don't know what to do.
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (35 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
I don't think you ruined this relationship. I think it was broken from the beginning. From the sounds of it things have *never* been good between you and X, and it's been all about you taking care of him or her.

X isn't committed to making things work, and you need to leave. I know it must seem nearly impossible to do so, but my prediction is that once you're up, up and away, you'll wonder why you ever stayed.
posted by orange swan at 8:03 AM on March 14, 2010 [16 favorites]

X's change in attitude/desires/goals may be the natural consequence of X maturing into a human — a painful possibility, but perhaps one you need to consider. It sounds like you made some brave choices in the past. The next one may well be letting X flex their new wings.
posted by thejoshu at 8:07 AM on March 14, 2010

I will say, first off the bat: Loving an addict is hard- and they never stop having the disease of addiction, wether they're sober or not. It's a difficult thing to think of, but is it possible X has relapsed? Do they regularly attend addiction support meetings of any flavor- group or one on one?

The phrases that stand out to me are your 'tries'- "I try not to hold that over their head." It really needs to be an 'I do not', more than a try. Being in debt to someone, socially and monetarily can make some people react oddly, to say the least. It may be time to figure out if the debt- emotional, that is- is worth keeping in order to maintain a relationship that, to me, seems to no longer exist for one party in it.
posted by Hwin at 8:08 AM on March 14, 2010 [1 favorite]

I felt incredibly stressed out just reading this. You have been taking care of the needs of two people for SIX years. Get as far away from this person as humanly possible. This is not a marriage, it is a codependent train wreck. Remember, you cannot fix this person and whatever you do or say will never be enough to make them love and respect you.

And perhaps most importantly:

You are not responsible for any terrible things that might happen to them if you walk away.
posted by futureisunwritten at 8:10 AM on March 14, 2010 [19 favorites]

I don't know what to do either, but I know this: love is large. You can love and be loved again. Though, probably by someone else.
posted by wobh at 8:12 AM on March 14, 2010 [2 favorites]

Hate to rely on the Ask MeFi cliche, but you really need to just DTMFA and don't look back. He may not be an addict anymore, but he's still manipulative; he has you convinced that you're the bad guy in the relationship when clearly (at least to this internet stranger) you aren't.

Why are you putting up with this? You were the caretaker in the relationship, and now that he doesn't need you for him to function normally, he's making you feel bad because you are no longer useful to him. That's crappy.

X's family told me that X was madly in love with me and I was their one chance of getting clean, and without my help, X would die.

Being manipulative may be a familial trait, it seems. An early warning sign. As futureisunwritten said, you are not responsible for this person's well-being.
posted by MegoSteve at 8:17 AM on March 14, 2010 [13 favorites]

I devoted myself to this person for half a decade, and it seems they are angry, resentful, and "paying me back" by withholding affection, just for needing a few months of restorative time to myself afterwards.

You changed the terms of the relationship and broke the "rules" of how you were "supposed" to act.

When you mother a grown person like that from the beginning, you get an angry, child-like tantrum when you stop. The "child" in the parent-child setup starts to feel just as entitled to caretaking as they would have from their actual parent, and will lash out at the most reasonable, adult boundaries. This is especially common with addicts/alcoholics....and especially common with infantilized male partner and parentified female partner.
posted by availablelight at 8:20 AM on March 14, 2010 [8 favorites]

"I try not to hold that over their head." stood out for me as well.

It's hard to tell from this distance whether your relationship can be fixed. You wanted it to change and you forced a change and it didn't change exactly the way you hoped it would. They are probably still angry at you for forcing it, too. Was it unforgivable? Maybe not, but maybe not yet. Have you asked to be forgiven? For someone who was thrown out by their family to be thrown out a second time by their lover isn't an easy thing to forgive in an instant.

You are now the "needy" one in the relationship and you miss being needed. If dependence is a bad thing and had to be forcibly fixed, is your emotional dependence also a bad thing?
posted by Obscure Reference at 8:20 AM on March 14, 2010

You did all you could, and went way beyond what you had to take on, and you did this for six years.

What about what's good for you?

You are not responsible for this person. It sounds like they should be forever in your debt, the amount of care and kindness you have showed to them, and yet they're just throwing it back in your face.

You've consistently done the right thing by X, and you did some admirable things. Now it's time to do the right thing by yourself.

You are the most important person in your life. Do the right thing for you.
posted by idiomatika at 8:21 AM on March 14, 2010

You did not ruin your relationship. X's family ruined any chance you had of a relationship by manipulating you into becoming X's caregiver. That fundamentally changed the dynamic between you and X, and not for the better. You know that or you wouldn't have included that information in your question.

You did the right thing by leaving, which allowed X to finally achieve adult independence and allowed you to break the codependent cycle that you were foisted into. Your only recent mistake was going back into an unhealthy relationship. It sounds like codependency has become very comfortable for you over the last several years. Stop working with your therapist on fighting X's phantom abandonment issues and start working on breaking free of this codependency.
posted by greekphilosophy at 8:45 AM on March 14, 2010 [3 favorites]

X never says "I love you" to me and used to say it all the time, and also say how much they appreciated what I had done for them. X expresses affection in other ways at times, but is generally much colder than they ever were.

This sounds like one part X being ticked, and one part X being an adult now. It sounds like you still want some of the child-like appreciation that X used to give you.

I have been on the other side of a long term younger-older relationship (not with the addiction and stuff, but I was definitely less mature and dating someone who was more mature). It is a really hard dynamic to constructively get out of. I often felt like I was fighting just to show my ex that I was an adult now... You need to be careful that you're not treating X like a child or in ways that X will feel are you treating him/her like a child.

The thing that pushes my buttons the most is anything that feels like questioning my competence. For example, my ex would ask if I feel comfortable driving two hours... I didn't drive at all when we met, but I've been commuting daily for about five years and two hours barely registers as a long drive. Everyone else I know wouldn't blink at me driving it, but my ex would make a whole big deal out of it, which makes me go GRRRRR ARGH GRR STABBY KILL NOW. Anyway, it sounds like X has some similar buttons. Things like cleaning up, doing bills, having his/her "own" place. The only thing to do is avoid these subjects entirely (treating them like normal things that normal adults have, and thus are not worth remarking on in any way).

Anyway, I hope it works out for you, I've decided that I can't talk to my ex at all (not as friends, even) because otherwise we relapse right into a screaming fight.
posted by anaelith at 8:56 AM on March 14, 2010 [2 favorites]

X flat out refuses to have "relationship talks."

This is the deal-breaker, I suspect. Unless you're being disingenuous, and your idea of a relationship talk is to corner your partner with a laundry list of complaints (and from your post, I've no reason to suspect that - it sounds like you're trying your best to be reasonable and patient), then this refusal to countenance any sort of discussion about your relationship pretty much guarantees it can't be sustained - particularly as having one of these talks is so important to you. Good communication is a sine qua non of a healthy relationship.

Perhaps you're holding onto the hope that your getting frozen out is somehow 'deserved' in the whole tit-for-tat dynamic of this relationship, and that, if you just penitently serve your time, you'll be absolved of guilt then everything will return to normal. The truth is, by accepting this behaviour you're complicit in reinforcing it. The emotions involved may be understandable, and it's great that you're working so hard to empathise, but you know in your heart that things can't go on like this. I expect, once you leave, you'll feel lighter than you have in months.
posted by RokkitNite at 9:06 AM on March 14, 2010 [2 favorites]

Go to counselling on your own. If you are able to feel less clingy ( because to me that is what it is reading like, not that I blame you) the relationship will probably get back more on an even keel-or at the very least you will know that you did the best you could. Intimacy is a dance, and if you are able to back up a bit, it might be a good thing.
posted by St. Alia of the Bunnies at 9:19 AM on March 14, 2010

I can tell you are hurting now, but in time you will see that the end of this relationship is the best thing that has ever happened to you.
posted by Houstonian at 9:20 AM on March 14, 2010

Let's see:

"X's family told me that X was madly in love with me and I was their one chance of getting clean, and without my help, X would die."

"They almost have me convinced I was incredibly selfish and flaky to leave."

"I forgave their financial debt to me and I try not to act like X 'owes' me for saving their life and supporting them through a hard time. I try not to hold that over their head."

RUN, do not walk, to Al-Anon.
posted by RJ Reynolds at 9:21 AM on March 14, 2010 [13 favorites]

So just to look at this from X's perspective: X has climbed out of a horrible time of their life in which they behaved terribly -- lying, stealing, manipulating, etc. They've managed to put all of that behind them and get a fresh start with new friends, coworkers, etc. Most likely they've put everything from their old life behind them .... except you.

Regardless of how you act you are a reminder of many humiliating and painful years of X's life. Letting you back into their life after they had become independent was something they owed you, but emotionally it's a very mixed bag.

In the end X has got to do what's right for X, and there's a very good argument that the right thing for X is to cut ties with you and focus on building and maintaining their new life.

Harsh stuff, I know. But there you go.
posted by Tell Me No Lies at 9:30 AM on March 14, 2010 [2 favorites]

For any value of X, this is an unbalanced equation. Replace X with X+n where n = kindness, fun, forgiveness, and equanimity. Keep plugging in the same values and you'll receive the same result. Time for some brand new math!
posted by Potomac Avenue at 9:47 AM on March 14, 2010

You've been through a lot and you've learned a lot, but it hasn't been without it's strife and heartache and difficulties obviously. There are SO many people in the world to offer you love less complicated. Go find them!
posted by iamkimiam at 9:59 AM on March 14, 2010

Please find an AL-ANON or CoDA mtg. They are a great resource. And that's coming from a cynic.
posted by phaedon at 10:02 AM on March 14, 2010 [4 favorites]

You can't change X's behavior, nor are you responsible for it. This is a lesson you will need to learn eventually if you want to be at peace with yourself.

You were not responsible for X's life. You are not responsible for X's cruel behavior.

Live your life as though X is an adult who makes all of X's choices.
posted by internet fraud detective squad, station number 9 at 10:07 AM on March 14, 2010

Thirding Al-Anon and/or CODA meetings. I've gone to a few lately--not because I'm involved with an addict, but because I want to work on some problematic tendencies in myself--and have learned a lot from just listening to other peoples' insights. Don't hesitate to try several different meetings: as with therapists, you may not find the one that resonates with you right away.
posted by chicainthecity at 10:19 AM on March 14, 2010

You seem to think that what you did in the original relationship was way above and beyond (taking car of bills, being the responsible one etc). In fact this is how a lot of relationships work: one partner is the responsible one in terms of the household or the one who brings the money home or the one who makes everyone laugh and be happy or the one who does the work of raising the kids or the one who does all the laundry/ cooking/ car maintenance. This is not unusual. I think you're being a bit of a martyr and X is getting sick of it. Yes, they were a fuck up and caused you more work for a while but if you got cancer tomorrow you'd expect your SO to do the same for you.

Seconding the idea of Al-Anon.
posted by fshgrl at 10:58 AM on March 14, 2010 [3 favorites]

You have invested a lot of time, energy, and love into X. Now is the time to invest your time, energy, and love in yourself. It sounds like X is hindering your happiness right now, instead of helping you achieve it. I think you should take even more time and space away from X with an eye towards a life without them. If X decides to invest some time, energy, and love into you, and you find that you are making each other happy, maybe you have a future as a couple, but at the moment, it looks like you would be better off on your own and spending this time treating yourself as well as you have treated X. Best of luck to you!
posted by katemcd at 11:38 AM on March 14, 2010 [1 favorite]

He does sound like a bit of a selfish jerk. Are you sure you even want to be with him? It's normal to miss someone when you're no longer together and it certainly doesn't always mean you should get back together.

If you're sure you do want to be there, though, it's possible you and X just need to take things slowly as you both try to figure out what's changed in your relationship due to the massive changes X has been going through alone. The dynamic you had before was no good to either of you but you can't expect to work out a new dynamic immediately.

You're married, yes, but in many ways you don't know each other very well anymore. It sounds like previously a lot of your way of relating was as caretaker/dependent. Now that he's not dependent he doesn't need a caretaker anymore, so he's trying to figure out who you are to him.

A lot of people mistake a feeling of needing someone for love. Now he doesn't need you, he may not even know what love really feels like and needs some time to figure it out. It sounds like you want to be reassured right now that he still loves you but what if he doesn't know yet? Can you wait around a while longer for him to fall back in love with you in a different way? Or do you need a quick resolution so badly that you want to just leave him in order to get one?

If you do want to stay, you've got to drop the idea that he owes you something for taking care of him for so long. Although it's understandable, that kind of thinking can only bring resentment into the relationship as it's a stage he probably wants to move right past. If you're going to stay together, you've got to let him. There are a lot of challenges ahead for both of you but if you take it slowly there may be a chance that you can get through it together.
posted by hazyjane at 12:55 PM on March 14, 2010

From my own experience, getting with a selfish person who needs to be taken care of stops working out once that person learns to take care of themselves. They can become a totally different person. They don't know how to be in a relationship unless they NEED the person for other reasons. It's very frustrating. I would end it.
posted by ishotjr at 1:11 PM on March 14, 2010

Your situation sounds very difficult. Obviously none of us on the internet have special access to X's feelings, so we can't tell exactly what's going on, or how you can improve things. But I think I can spot a few possibilities.

People sometimes act like X seems to be acting now if they want out of a relationship but can't bring themselves to break up. X might be (possibly unconsciously) trying to make you so unhappy in the relationship that you ask for a divorce, because X is too guilty or afraid to do it him/her self. So the lack of communication, the criticism and nagging and coldness may be X's silent way of saying they don't want to be with you anymore without openly having to reject someone who's done so much for them. That way, when you eventually give up and leave, X can still feel like the good, loyal partner who was betrayed and abandoned despite sticking by you (however unreasonable that view might really be). If this is the case, your relationship is effectively already over, because X has already checked out and is actively (though possibly without realizing it) rejecting or sabotaging all efforts to repair your relationship.

It's also possible that X's feelings are more conflicted than that. From what little X has told you, it seems that X may have felt very abandoned by your moving out, but X also clearly enjoyed living alone. This would have created competing desires to have you come groveling back (to assuage the feelings of abandonment) and to have you keep your distance (to maintain the pleasure of independence). Thus the sweet dating behavior while you were apart, which lured you back in, gave way to emotional distancing once you were again living together. This may be X's way of creating space for their own independence despite your physical proximity, or of acting out an anger X doesn't know how else to process. X may not be talking about their feelings because they don't understand them, or out of shame, or hopelessness. There's no way to really know until they tell you.

It sounds, in any case, like X has more growing up to do, and is still learning how to be in an adult relationship. How forgiving and patient you want to be of that is up to you. However, it doesn't make anyone happy or help anyone grow if the two of you maintain dysfunctional patterns. The current situation is not good. X is treating you badly, and as far as I can tell you're putting up with it. You are so afraid of losing X that you put up with unhealthy, unkind behaviors which undermine the very thing you're trying to protect. That isn't going to make anyone happier, and it isn't going to get your relationship back to where it used to be. You need to stand up for yourself. X needs to understand that in a loving relationship, partners don't punish each other or stonewall each other. Possibly you hurt X by moving out, and that is something you can apologize for and try to work through, but it doesn't give X the right to be cruel to you. That does not count as working things through, it just creates a vicious cycle.

Right now, you two are fighting against each other, rather than working as a team to overcome the problems in your relationship. To succeed, the relationship must accommodate both of your needs, including both of your needs for space and closeness, for privacy and communication. Both partners must recognize each other's needs as valid and important, and be willing to make some compromises to meet them. Obviously, this doesn't work if you can't express your needs to each other honestly. X isn't doing that, and you can't do it for both of you on your own.

What you want most is to have a happy, loving relationship with X. That isn't what you have now. It may or may not be possible in the future, depending on what X actually wants. Things definitely need to change, though, and move forward to develop new, healthier patterns that reflect X's new independence and both of your evolving feelings and desires. Maybe you could express to X (even if they don't respond) that you love them and that your relationship is the most important thing to you, but that right now it's making both of you unhappy, and that shouldn't continue. X can help you figure out what's the best way forward (therapy, living apart again, having more clearly identified household responsibilities, etc.) but that if X continues to act like they don't want you around and don't love you, then they will eventually succeed in forcing you away.

This is already very long (sorry), but there's one more thing you might want to consider. It seems that feelings of entitlement are one problem in your relationship. X does not owe you anything based on what you've given them in the past, and you don't owe X endless remorse for having taken some space to meet your own needs. All you owe each other is the respect and support and affection that any partner should provide the other with in a loving relationship. That's it. Feeling like there are unequal obligations is a very good way to poison a relationship. You made sacrifices for X, but those were your own decisions. It wasn't a loan or down payment on future affection. If it has a chance to succeed, your relationship must be focused on your present enjoyment of each other and future hopes, not on past "debts."
posted by unsub at 1:55 PM on March 14, 2010 [1 favorite]

You approached the king and queen to ask for the hand of the fair princess.
"She can be yours, but the way is long and perilous, for she hath a mighty curse upon her. For seven long years must ye battle her demons, wary at all times lest they overpower her and kill both her and yourself. But if you can best this great task, she will be free, and yours."

You've battled the demons and you want your reward, your happy ending - but the princess walked out of the storybook. She's trying to figure out what her story is right now, and the prince may or may not be in the sequel.

I feel you - your sense of having worked so hard to free her so you could be together - but you've built yourself a set of chains, and it's not her they're attached to. It will be very very hard - but let go of the past. Do yourself and her the favor of looking at this as a whole new relationship. I think you will both be served by moving back out, and starting fresh. Date each other. Get to know each other as proper human beings and not storybook roles. See how you both feel.
I suspect that your book is ended, and you'll both move on to new, different ones - but if you want a chance with her, it has to be a whole new story.
posted by Billegible at 2:12 PM on March 14, 2010 [1 favorite]

I’m sure you know this, but you’re showing classic codependent behaviour. You did everything for this person. You sacrificed your life for this person. They should at least show some gratitude! But you cannot control another person. They’re making their own choices now, and you have to respond accordingly, and that doesn’t include having an attitude-but-not-quite that they owe you. The choices you made about this person are entirely your own, and now you have to take responsibility for those and for yourself.

After a couple of months I began to feel extremely depressed and missed X terribly
I know saying this might be a long shot, but maybe X is your addiction. This happens at lot with an addict and codependents; the addict becomes everyone else’s addiction.

I asked X if they wanted a divorce. What about you? Do you want a divorce? Or are you going to do whatever you think X might want?

I don’t think this is about you leaving X during that time at all, no matter what they say. You can’t go back in time and just undo that; there’s no guarantee things would have been better even if you could. Stop trying to fix everything. It’s not about trying to figure out what X wants and what they’re thinking. Figure out what you want in your life. Close your eyes for a moment and think about a life without X. Are you happy or sad about it?

I feel that I hurt X so deeply that they have put up a wall against me now. I feel like I mishandled it, and ruined a relationship I valued more than any other. And I don't know what to do.
Do not blame yourself. Do not be all “But I did everything for you!” in the hopes that it will now be X who will rescue you from feeling like crap and making it all better. Only you can do that for yourself.

It sounds like again, you’re taking responsibility, but this time it’s for the state of this relationship. X definitely sounds like they don’t have good relationship skills at all, and you have skills in taking care of everyone else but yourself. A healthy relationship is not going to spring out of this, and because of your history, so I agree with others who’ve said that you should break it off, and look into getting a divorce. Sad as it is, I think your role in this person’s life is done. You’ve got to play a role in your own life now.

And read (or re-read) Codependent No More, Beyond Codependency by Melody Beattie, Escape from Intimacy by Anne Wilson Schaef, and How to Break Your Addiction to a Person by Howard Halpern.

I also agree with orange swan, thejoshu, greekphilosophy, Tell Me No Lies and unsub’s comment that X might be behaving passive-aggressively to make you break up with them. So just like you’ve always taken responsibility for them, they’re making you take responsibility for the end of the relationship. How lovely. I really hope you heal from all this and do the hard work to learn why you were attracted to this person, and why you felt the need to save and rescue them – it sounds like you’re susceptible to manipulation, based on those things that X’s family told you at the top (agree with MegoSteve that manipulation may be a familial trai). It’s your turn for your own recovery process – from codependence.

In fact this is how a lot of relationships work: one partner is the responsible one in terms of the household or the one who brings the money home or the one who makes everyone laugh and be happy or the one who does the work of raising the kids or the one who does all the laundry/ cooking/ car maintenance. This is not unusual.
I disagree with this. The OP did EVERYTHING because X was totally incapable of doing so. You can have a situation where, for e.g. a couple agrees that one person will earn money, and the other person manages it and takes care of the kids. There’s a bit more equality and trade-off there in terms of household responsibilities.
posted by foxjacket at 2:42 PM on March 14, 2010 [3 favorites]

You've spent years prioritizing X's needs above yours. Then you make one decision to put your own needs first, and X responds by turning into a huge asshole and blames you for ruining the relationship. You disturbed the status quo and X is punishing you for it. This is right out of the Al-Anon playbook.

Your acceptability meter has been completely de-calibrated. You didn't do anything wrong. Putting your own well-being first is not something you need to apologize for, and in a non-dysfunctional relationship you wouldn't feel you needed to.
posted by granted at 3:02 PM on March 14, 2010 [5 favorites]

Here's my read. Only you can know for sure whether it's correct:

It seems like for the last six years, your role in the relationship was To Be There 'Cause X Needs Me. A little while ago, you started feeling truly trapped, and you realized that X needed to learn to stand on his/her own two feet, if you two were to have a shot at a healthy future-- so you made that happen. And now that s/he knows s/he can be an independent, responsible human being, it sounds like X may be ready to try his/her wings in earnest. And, for you, that hurts.

The apparent result is that you're starting to see that it wasn't just about Being There For X: maybe being X's last, best hope was filling some squirmy, icky, inner need of your own. (No judgement implied-- IMO, every human being on earth harbors some quantity of squirrelly shit of this nature.)

So, friend, it looks it's squirrel-hunting time for you. I think you'll probably find that both you and X need to move on. So go ahead on your own for a while. Face down your depression and seek treatment for it, if it turns out to be more that a self-resolving, situational thing. Go to Al-Anon or Narc-Anon, or both; think about both the good and bad things you got out of being X's sole superhero protector for six years, and relearn how to be fulfilled, whole, and happy in a world where you can sleep through the night, every night, without being dragged out of bed to fight someone else's demons. If this sounds flip, I don't mean it to be. I've been there, albeit for a shorter time and with much lower stakes. If I sound like I'm making fun of you, it's because I can't talk about this stuff without making fun of myself, too.

There are a lot of books about this stuff out there in the self-help and addiction/recovery sections of bookstores. Though I recognize its value for others, (and again, no judgment) I kind of hate reading that stuff myself. I will therefore recommend a book from another discipline that talks about some similar kinds of dynamics in a different context: War is a Force that Gives Us Meaning, by Chris Hedges.

Best of luck. This is hard stuff to deal with. I wish you strength, courage, and contentment in the days ahead.
posted by palmcorder_yajna at 4:21 PM on March 14, 2010

Feeling personally responsible for ruining things is a hallmark of codependence. Nobody has that power on their own. Another is believing that if you act right ("I try not to be clingy"), the relationship will go right. So many things in this post are hallmarks of codependence.

Stop trying to figure out the relationship. Stop trying to make it better. Stop trying to figure out what's going on with him. You need to face what's going on with YOU. You have a problem. You need to address that first. Stay in individual therapy, consider going to AlAnon or CoAnon, and read this short and excellent book.
posted by salvia at 8:42 PM on March 14, 2010 [1 favorite]

Almost fourteen years ago I divorced from my first wife, who had some serious addiction, physical and mental health issues and who I'd taken care of for (coincidence of coincidences) six years, and who had finally begun to take care of herself only to decide she didn't need me anymore.

Before the divorce, the thought of unraveling the relationship I'd sacrificed so much for was unbearable. I experienced any suggestion that I'd be better off without her like one of those slow-mo movie scenes where peoples' voices dissolve into unsettling incoherence. I simply couldn't take such suggestions seriously; I could barely even hear them. I'm afraid that might be how you're experiencing much of the above advice.

So I, much like you I think, clung to my screwed-up marriage for dear life. Not because the marriage was good -- it wasn't, and hardly ever had been -- but because my entire identity had been consumed by it. I had sacrificed hopes and dreams and friendships for that relationship. I had become, in a sense, emotionally and spiritually homeless. I couldn't conceive of leaving that relationship because I didn't see anywhere else I could go.

Thankfully, she took the initiative. The day she moved out was terrible, and it was followed by several purgatory-like months during which I continued in my caretaker role even though we didn't live together. The day of the divorce was the saddest day of my life.

But the day after the divorce -- literally the next day, the sun came up for me. It was like springtime; hopes and dreams that had seemed dead began to grow and blossom despite everything. I gradually recognized in myself powers that seemed almost magical -- the ability to save some money; the ability to converse with strangers; the ability to fix old motorcycles; the ability to go back to school. This is not to say I was happy about the process; it was a solid two years before I felt comfortable in my own skin again.

Your husband's coldness and readiness to be done are really a gift, though you can't see it that way yet. You got roped into a relationship that was never a healthy one. It is drawing to a close. It will be hard, but the sun will come up for you too.
posted by jon1270 at 3:58 AM on March 15, 2010 [6 favorites]

You cannot ruin a pile of crap.
posted by French Fry at 9:15 AM on March 15, 2010

You made a brave choice by leaving X. X became stronger, an adult. Sounds to me like you are a reminder of when X was weak and dependent and X resents you for that. Don't try to guilt X into staying with you bc of what X "owes" you. Move on. You deserve it.
posted by Neekee at 9:16 AM on March 15, 2010 [1 favorite]

I think that no matter what you did or not did, you would end up in this situation with X eventually. If it wasn't leaving, it would have been crowding him and staying. I think that, cruel as it sounds, you are simply not useful to X anymore. Some people just suck and take advantage of others whenever possible.

You make so many excuses for X - immature, addicted, parent-issues etc. Some people are just plain bad or show you another side of them once you are less useful. There are many great wonderful kind nice people who were raised in bad situations by horrible people, were former drug addicted etc.

I think you should leave ASAP before you meet the replacement they have probably found for you - that will be even more heart-wrenching and confusing.

And in case you were wondering what I once was: many people don't know why they do things and don't have any real reasons. Don't go crazy trying to pin down what went wrong and why.
posted by meepmeow at 3:26 PM on March 15, 2010 [2 favorites]

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