If it takes two pens to draw a pattern, which one's out of kilter?
May 11, 2010 6:16 AM   Subscribe

My boyfriend feels he can't trust me. I want him to, and I want to make things work, but we need to break this pattern. What now?

Sorry if this is long - I'm having trouble putting both sides of the issue forward here and I want to be as fair as possible to get the most useful answers. NB we've been together for three years, and live in different cities, so only see each other on weekends. We are in our early 30s, or near enough.

The problem isn't cheating or anything 'major' such as a gambling or drug addiction. The problem is/are white lies I tell about how I run my own life. I've had problem with money in the past - for various reasons, habit, mental illness, impulsiveness, I struggle with managing my finances.I often overspend, and I've had problems when trying to sell things online as I've been disorganised and wasn't able to fulfill obligations to buyers which lead to a big headache. Long story short, I gave up the selling and am trying to manage my money better, taking a few steps to do so that would have been unthinkable a couple of years ago - paying off a lot of my debt and setting up regular savings - but I still struggle. I still have months where I have little money toward the last two weeks before payday, and I find this embarrassing but still difficult to try and break out of. I am trying, though.

I have turned to my boyfriend on many occasions to help me out with this (emotionally and mentally more than financially, though that has been part of it) and he has been happy to do so, indeed making very clear to me that I should expect and take advantage of this, and I appreciate it a lot. I feel he's been extremely patient and helpful and I value this a great deal - I have and can be an extremely frustrating person to be with at times. The downside, though, is that now he always feels I'm hiding things from him. Things I do, things I've bought. He feels I overspend and don't manage my money correctly (which is fair). He feels I need to get rid of clutter, and makes me get rid of things I don't want to as he feels I don't need them, then gets upset when I hide them away. (He has come round to help me get rid of things and I later find things that I need in the garbage bag, which he has thrown in there without asking me because he doesn't know what they are.) He says he worries that he'll come round and discover more stuff I've bought, or acquired, or find that I've run out of money for the month again, and he doesn't want to do that, and he feels he doesn't knwo what to believe anymore.

If I buy or do something I often feel I can't tell him about it because I would have to justify it, or explain why, and sometimes it's easier not to because I feel it would either upset him to see me spending money etc. or I resent having to explain myself all the time. And sometimes, I know I've made a bad or silly choice but it's too embarrassing or upsetting to own up to somebody else, so I end up continuing as though it never happened. (One example - this weekend he saw an unfamiliar box in my bag -a birthday present from work - and pulled it out accusingly, thinking I'd been spending money/accumulating junk, and I felt guilty for getting the present. I kind of see why he feels that way but I end up feeling like I'm constantly disappointing him.) To clarify, we don't live together, this isn't household money, this is my own salary. I think he gets upset because he wants to see me making sensible choices and not because it has a direct financial impact on him.

From his point of view, he feels he's been lied to so often that he doesn't know how to trust me. I find it hard to explain why I don't feel I can be honest, but when I do, he doesn't seem to understand. A few months ago, he told me he was logging into my e-mail, my Facebook account (which I rarely use), and other accounts because he said he was so worried that I was selling or buying things behind his back and not telling him. I was really upset about this, mainly because I am a very independent and often very private person and I resented the implication that I had something to hide here - plus an ex did something similar in the past (albeit not coming clean until I found out) and I thought my SO was a better man. I know his passwords and never once has it occured to me to do this, because it feels fundamentally wrong. He says he gets frustrated because he feels I need to act more like an adult, but when I'm constantly being asked to justify choices I make I find it hard to do so - to which his answer is 'Well, if you grow up, then you can prove to me you can be trusted.' I feel that in some areas I am more adult than he is, though don't use this as a stick with which to beat him in the same way. He feels as though he's been there for me during chaotic periods in my life and helped and been patient, and now, during a short time of stability and getting myself sorted out, he feels like I'm telling him what to do and I'm not entitled to do so.

I need to point out that we have a good relationship other than this and that he is very loving and caring. Despite what this question implies, we are for the most part very happy, but we keep bumping up against this all the time. I am able to be more honest with him than I can be with anyone else - I find it extremely hard to be open about certain things - which is why it upsets me that I feel I have to hide things that are perfectly normal. I just find this very difficult, particularly as I grew up with a very controlling parent and was made to feel as though I was not entitled to make my own choices or views heard - I find confrontation difficult as a result and end up crying when we try and talk about things because I feel like I'm being told off for my mistakes. When there are 'bigger' things on my mind, I feel less inclined to bring them up because I know how upset he gets about the smaller things, and I can't cope with it abd with being told how I'm all wrong (nb this is how it feels at the time for me - he tells me afterward that if I was just upfront to begin with it would save a lot of upset for both of us.)

We have discussed moving in together a lot, which can't happen for a while, because we live in different cities and he needs to find a job in mine first - something which he has not been working towards (I appreciate that it's not as easy as that and jobhunting is incredibly demoralizing, but this does make me feel like I'm the only one being told I'm not helping to keep the relationship moving forward. We have been discussing this for about two years and in that time he's applied for perhaps five jobs, while working in one he really dislikes, and I am keen for him to be happer and motivate him to change even if moving in/staying together never happens.) I find this frustrating as, while ithe situation is not entirely or indeed very much down to him, I feel like I'm treading water, living in shared accommodation with one room only to call my own, and seeing each other only at weekends as though we were teenagers instead of two people in an adult relationship, and I'm eager for this to change. Sometimes I wonder why he's going out with me at all when I can be such hard work, and I wonder if he just wants to avoid the issue because he'd rather not live with me, and I can't see why anybody would want to commit seriously to living with me because sometimes even I don't want to live with me. He says he feels I need to be able to prove to him that I can 'live like an adult', by decluttering and watching the money, but the implication that I need to prove this and not do so on my own terms ends up with my feeling resentful. The most hurtful thing he says is 'I worry you're not capable of conducting an adult relationship', but it's not clear what this means or is expected to be.

I can understand him being nervous about living with someone who could be seen as a financial liability. But I really want to break this pattern and for both of us to be rational and adult about things, adn move forward. What's the next step? How can we work on rebuilding trust?
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (25 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
Sometimes I wonder why he's going out with me at all when I can be such hard work, and I wonder if he just wants to avoid the issue because he'd rather not live with me, and I can't see why anybody would want to commit seriously to living with me because sometimes even I don't want to live with me.

Your issues with irrational spending and saying that even you do not want to live with you make me think you have some self-esteem issues that might be best helped by seeing a therapist.

The clutter and money issues sound like symptoms of a bigger root issue that you should approach for yourself, not to appease someone else.
posted by Hiker at 6:25 AM on May 11, 2010 [2 favorites]

This is two separate problems. You have some impulsive tendencies and lie for your own comfort, which is not healthy for you, let alone your relationship. Quite separately, your boyfriend is letting his anxieties get away with him, and is coping with those anxieties by exerting way too much control over you. He prefers to blame you for his anxieties, but they're really his problems, for which he is trying to avoid responsibility. Of the two, I'd say his problems are bigger.

Try and wean yourself off the lying habit. It doesn't help anything, but just compounds whatever problem you're afraid of and kicks it down the road a piece. Try and forgive yourself - your coping mechanism isn't healthy, but it's human. You're a good person.

While you're working on that, you need to realize that your problematic behavior does not justify your boyfriend's behavior, which strikes me as way over the line. Take responsibility for your own issues, and make it clear that he must take responsibility for his. That's how a grown-up relationship works. He's not any better at this than you are. If you don't DTMFA (and I probably would), then at least tell him to but the hell out of your finances and your email.
posted by jon1270 at 6:48 AM on May 11, 2010 [9 favorites]

He's crossed the line from supportive to controlling. As long as he continues to act in invasive, untrustworthy ways - reading your email, throwing your possessions out - of course there is no way you can relax enough to get hold of your own problems; you're too busy defending every move you make.

While I personally feel someone so controlling is not fit for a relationship (he's not treating you like a partner, he's treating you like a bad child), you want this to work so let's look at the situation:

1. You need to get your spending and stuff-collecting under control (your need I mean). I hear you there, bigtime, I'm *exactly* the same, or was - overcompensation for being seriously poor as a kid was that I kept buying myself stuff because I wonderfully COULD. It distressed my husband also, and myself really, so I worked on it. It's not an instant process.
For myself, I started showing my husband everything I bought when I got home - NOT as accounting, just showing him my neat stuff - but because I knew it bothered him, it helped keep me in check while at the store. HE also helped with this by NOT being demanding or negative about the stuff I bought - we talked and both understood the point was to help me see my spending through someone else's eyes.
Another thing I did was look at everything I picked up in a store and try to see where it would be in my home in five years time - it's amazing how much stuff I can put down now because I just see it on a table or in a box covered with dust.
And I try to go through a box or a room or a drawer once a month or so and get rid of some old junk. Again, something my husband wants to happen but I do it on my own schedule and in my own comfort zone, which is hugely important. It may not be as fast as he would like, but he can see that there is progress - every month a little less junk - and it adds up over time for both of you.
Hoarders and spenders like us often act as we do from insecurity - a need to own to build a safety net of stuff around us. As long as he is making you uncomfortable you can't possibly find a zone where you feel safe enough to start letting go of this safety net. I speak from personal experience here: I only started to make headway on my own spending/collecting/hoarding problem when I felt secure enough in my life and my space to start letting go of things.

2. You need to set boundaries with him. Explain to him that his "helping" is just making you feel like you are constantly under attack, and that's not good for you or your relationship. Also, while you appreciate his intent, reading your email and throwing out your stuff is not a healthy way to act in a relationship between adults. Change all your passwords and don't give him the new ones - and tell him that this isn't about hiding, this is about boundaries and until he can respect yours, he doesn't get the chance to cross them. He probably will turn it into an attack about hiding things from him, but stand firm - point out that he is treating you like a child again, and that is simply not acceptable.

3. The grownup thing: most of the teenage issues with "you're treating me like a kid!" "Well you're not acting like a grownup!" stem from the unpleasant position teens are put in: expected to make adult decisions without actually being given the power to act in an adult fashion, e.g. not being allowed to make decisions about their activities. He is falling into a bad parenting trap of doing exactly that: he's trying to control your behavior but then blaming you for not being in control of your behavior, and it Will Not Do.
There needs to be a talk, NOT about the issues of spending etc., but about the patterns of your relationship and where they need to change for mutual benefit. You can't start working properly on your issues in a hostile environment, and he needs to understand that his actions, which may come from the purest motives, are not having the desired effect. he needs to rethink his approach - you need to rethink his approach as a couple. Work out how he can help you find the comfort zone where you can feel safe in working things out WITH him, instead of in opposition to him. Where you can feel safe enough to relax in the middle of your stuff and really assess what you do and don't need without fear.

Good luck to you both - feel free to memail me.
posted by Billegible at 6:51 AM on May 11, 2010 [24 favorites]

I just wanted to say that you described the situation very vividly and I can very clearly imagine how this whole mess happened, even without knowing you, and my heart breaks for you. It sounds to me like you're a very good person with only the most human of flaws but a progression of circumstances have made you feel far worse about yourself than you should. Good luck, I hope you can resolve these issues and come to feel free and happy in your life and relationship.
posted by XMLicious at 7:11 AM on May 11, 2010 [1 favorite]

Patient: "Doctor, it hurts when I do this."

Doctor: "Then stop doing that."

Message: if you want your boyfriend to trust you, stop doing stuff that would make him not trust you.

It really can be as simple as that.
posted by eas98 at 7:15 AM on May 11, 2010

I'm not exactly clear on what his justification for this controlling behaviour is.

Even if he helped you through some rough times, or was patient about something or other, that doesn't, to me, entitle him to any say in how you run your life. He helped you... I could see him getting disappointed if you never helped him out in return, or were impatient with his problems (like the job finding thing)... that might seem like you are being less understanding than he has been & cause a little resentment, but this "maybe if you grow up I'll let you off the hook" business is too far.

I would never be vulnerable in front of someone again if they used it against me like that.
posted by ServSci at 7:16 AM on May 11, 2010 [10 favorites]

How can we work on rebuilding trust?

In my experience, trust is a fragile thing that's easy to destroy and requires a lot of time to repair. It starts with small things--making seemingly insignificant commitments, e.g. being in a certain place at a certain time or doing household chores like managing your clutter, and, above all, honoring them--and over time these snowball into larger things like managing finances, living together, raising a family together, and so on. But the point is that it sounds like in your past behavior you've given your boyfriend ample reason not to trust you, and now you have to work through the long process of fixing that.

A couple of things you said make me think you're not fully committed to doing the hard work, however:

The problem is/are white lies I tell about how I run my own life.

Note the use of the present tense. If you want to start building trust, you have to stop the lies, simple as that. You do have a right to privacy--your boyfriend "checking up on you" by checking your email or Facebook messages is definitely NOT ok--but within that privacy, you have to be willing to step up and defend your boundaries. Telling "white lies" may seem like the easier way out, but that's the kind of thing that can sabotage a relationship like this one.

And sometimes, I know I've made a bad or silly choice but it's too embarrassing or upsetting to own up to somebody else, so I end up continuing as though it never happened.

Again, everyone makes mistakes, and you seem to be pretty honest with yourself about the process you're going through to try to rectify some of the ones you've made. Now you need to extend that honesty to your boyfriend, too. To really build up trust in your relationship, you're going to have to accept the embarrasment that comes with honestly admitting when you have made a mistake, rather than avoiding the confrontation because lying seems more expedient.

Your example doesn't make sense to me, though:

One example - this weekend he saw an unfamiliar box in my bag -a birthday present from work - and pulled it out accusingly, thinking I'd been spending money/accumulating junk, and I felt guilty for getting the present.

Why would you feel guilty for getting a present? If you weren't spending money wastefully, then you haven't violated the terms of your agreement with your boyfriend, and he's got not reason to be upset. And you need to be able to defend that. If it's about "accumulating junk," then you and your boyfriend need to work out who gets to decide what's junk and what isn't. But either way, you have to be honest.

I find it hard to explain why I don't feel I can be honest, but when I do, he doesn't seem to understand.

I don't understand, either.

I am able to be more honest with him than I can be with anyone else - I find it extremely hard to be open about certain things - which is why it upsets me that I feel I have to hide things that are perfectly normal.

You don't have to; you are choosing to. Owning up to that choice and dealing with the consequences is part of being in an "adult relationship," as I would define it anyway. I agree with others who have said your boyfriend is being too controlling. It sounds like he's also not that interested in being in an adult relationship and may just be using your past mistakes as a way to exert power over you. It's not healthy for either of you. My advice is to clearly stake out your boundaries and then do what you say you will.
posted by albrecht at 7:17 AM on May 11, 2010 [1 favorite]

In my opinion (as Random Internet Stranger, of course) I really don't find that your issues with overspending/dealing with money justify, in any way, his controlling you to this extent. Even if it's well-meaning attempts to "fix" you, right now it sounds like you have a really unbalanced "bad child/stern parent" thing going on.

It is a bad...and abusive...dynamic to get into. I am not a psychologist, but have you ever considered that part of the reason you "act up" is because you are trying to evade his control? As someone else pointed out...therapy is a really good idea, so you can untangle it for yourself.

At the very least, I would change your passwords/re-establish some control over your own situation.
posted by emjaybee at 7:25 AM on May 11, 2010 [2 favorites]

Mod note: From the OP:
Hi. I want to point out that the hoarding was a big problem - I used ot have a large storage locker as well as my room - and the spending is an issue I really need to get under control, whether we stay together or not. I don't want to make it sound like the 'nagging', for want of a better word, is out of nowhere. I have bipolar disorder which can lead to a great deal of poor decision making, and I know that taking this on in a relationship can take a lot of time and patience. I can see why these are major concerns when we're thinking about where this relationship will move next. However, it's the proprietary/paternalistic behaviour pattern that needs to change. As mentioned, I had a very difficult time with a parent growing up, and I don't want to experience this as an adult. I don't think SO means to. (my dad used to open my mum's letters - my SO never ever would do this). It's just the behaviour reminds me of it sometimes. I don't want that as an adult and I don't think he does either, but we seem to have got ourselves in this odd dynamic. I want to be supported when necessary, not told what to do.
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 7:28 AM on May 11, 2010

(my dad used to open my mum's letters - my SO never ever would do this).

He already has; by sneakily logging into your email, Facebook, and other accounts.

I'm sorry, but whatever good intentions he may have just flew right out the window after that. He crossed a line right there and I think your issues would be better served by professional counseling rather than a control-freak boyfriend.
posted by LuckySeven~ at 7:42 AM on May 11, 2010 [5 favorites]

I'm sorry, but you sound exactly wrong for each other.

You're in a vicious circle where your bad decisions (which, I believe you, are a serious problem) lead to his controlling behavior (which is totally over the line and inappropriate for a relationship). As emjaybee says, this leads to your attempts to evade his control and hide things. That leads to him scolding you when he finds out. This probably causes you to feel like an oppressed child and wonder if you can do a better job next time of doing what you want without the unpleasant consequences. Of course, the whole thing will play out the same way again and again.

You say you want to avoid repeating your relationship with one of your parents, and the relationship between your parents. Well, I'm almost sure that on some level, you were attracted to him because he resembled your family. It's very unlikely that 3 years into the relationship, you're going to find some trick that will stop him from having these tendencies. The better solution would be to find someone else who's not like that.

I know you've been together a long time and I'm sure you don't want to hear break-up advice, but it sounds like things aren't going to change, and you'd benefit from being single for a while and getting your life under control -- not trying to get someone else to do everything for you.
posted by Jaltcoh at 7:51 AM on May 11, 2010 [5 favorites]

Logging into your online accounts in order to check up on you is pretty seriously over the line for most people. But yours are admittedly unusual circumstances.

It seems to me there are two approaches you can take to this.

Option One: You feel like you can't get control of the situation on your own, and therefore need to be held accountable by him to stick to the things you say you're going to do -- ie, you're willing to sacrifice some degree of your privacy and autonomy for the sake of breaking yourself of bad habits, and will do what you can not to resent him for taking you to task when you mess up.

Option Two: You feel like you're an adult who wants to manage your own life, and you don't want him to feel like it's his job to fix your problems for you. As such, he needs to grant you whatever reasonable levels of privacy you might ask for, and he has to stop making you feel guilty about the decisions you make.

What ISN'T an option is a combination of the two: you can't expect him to fish you out of trouble without also accepting that he's going to feel like he has a stake in the outcome. It would be nice if he could offer no-strings-attached aid when you ask for it and then completely back off the rest of the time, regardless of what you're actually up to or what the the outcome of his earlier help might be. But I don't think that's a reasonable thing to ask of someone.
posted by Narrative Priorities at 8:02 AM on May 11, 2010 [2 favorites]

Couples counseling. You're in a dynamic that is unhealthy for both of you, and to which you are both contributing. Your comments about the resemblance to your own family pattern are very telling.

Please DO NOT move in together until you both take a long hard look at this pattern and each make individual changes to shift your relationship from strict parent vs. rebellious child onto a footing of equality and trust.
posted by ottereroticist at 8:36 AM on May 11, 2010

OP: (my dad used to open my mum's letters - my SO never ever would do this).

LuckySeven~: He already has; by sneakily logging into your email, Facebook, and other accounts.

Just seconding this: He is doing this. Please recognize that it is absolutely identical -- even worse, really. He is reading your mail, and not just for this issue, but he is reading your personal correspondences (your finances are on facebook?) behind your back. He doesn't even need to tell you about it, because unlike with letters you get in the mail, he can just click "mark as unread" and you'll never know.

You definitely have issues. You know this. Hoarding, lying, serious self-esteem issues, these are not ok and you haven't said anything about how you're fixing it. Like, real, concrete things. You need to get into some sort of therapy, probably, to deal with this, because right now you're putting all your therapy on your boyfriend, and that's not fair.

That being said, he doesn't get to control you. He doesn't get to throw out your stuff for you, he doesn't get to read your mail behind your back (or in front of your back).

My suggestion: sit down with him. Spell out the problems he's having with you, and the problems you're having with him. Write down actual concrete things you pledge to do to fix them (examples: For you: therapy, making lists of purchases, or cataloging things you own, or pledging to clean out x sections a day. For him: giving you the benefit of the doubt, stopping invading your privacy, supervising but not helping with your cleaning efforts.). And then: you have to do them. That's how you gain trust: you state what you're going to do, and you do it.
posted by brainmouse at 8:43 AM on May 11, 2010 [1 favorite]

"He says he gets frustrated because he feels I need to act more like an adult, but when I'm constantly being asked to justify choices I make I find it hard to do so - to which his answer is 'Well, if you grow up, then you can prove to me you can be trusted."

You need to leave this relationship. He doesn't see you as a partner, he sees you as a child who needs to be controlled. He is escalating your behavior by infantalizing you.

Thowing your stuff away without asking, reading your email: in any context these are big red flags of an abusive, controlling relationship.

There is a big difference between supporting you in your recovery and forcibly trying to change your behavior. He's crossed the line into the latter.

You need to leave this relationship.
posted by anastasiav at 8:58 AM on May 11, 2010 [1 favorite]

Pshaw. This can be overcome. Every person has fundamental character flaws that will need to be negotiated within the context of a relationship. To say that you gotta get your act totally together before you can proceed on your commitment is bull-pockey. Nobody'd ever get married that way.

What you each need to do is to create the conditions that you both need to feel safe in your relationship. Lay the foundations for a love that motivates each of you to improve your behavior in a mutually supporting and challenging way.

Safety Theory -- Leading relationship researchers' Markman and Stanley have based much of their material on something called Safety Theory that they derived from their decades of laboratory research. Essentially, relationships can only do well if there is an overall sense of safety.
Physical Safety -- freedom from harm and physical aggression or psychological abuse
Emotional Safety and Support
• Connected
• Support
• Conflict under control
• Safe to talk
Commitment safety and security
• A future
• An sense of "us"

When safety is missing, all sorts of dysfunctional behaviors arise.

You could see that your 'white lies' are attempts to avoid situations where you feel unsafe from his critical judgement. He needs to find a way to express his concerns in a way that makes you feel safe. His controlling and scolding may be a reaction to the idea that a future with you, whom he loves, may make for a chaotic expensive and ultimately less materially safe future. Who amongst us does not try to take control of (or avoid) a situation that inspires fear?

Interestingly, it seems that controllers and avoiders seem to make up the most common parings. Both the controller and the avoider have responsibilities in improving the safety of the relationship.

Can you express to your boyfriend that the 'white lies' are a reaction to his disapproval and help him find a way to address his concerns in a way that makes you feel safe in the relationship? And can you find a ways to make him feel safer about a future with you? Maybe increase your openness and accountability as long as he is gentle and only critiques behavior and not you as a person?

I would recommend a class in PREP to get tools that will help you both navigate these conflicts. That is the number one predictor of success -- not the absence of conflicts, but the safety you maintain for each other while you handle them.
posted by cross_impact at 9:06 AM on May 11, 2010 [9 favorites]

We have discussed moving in together a lot....

PLEASE do not do this unless and until you feel that both the lying AND the controlling behavior have been resolved, if not perfectly, then to a degree that you can BOTH live with!

Right now, you say "this isn't household money, it's my own salary." Well, what happens when it IS household money? Even setting aside the possibility that you may actually use the household money for something unnecessary (in his eyes or yours), this will give him more of a rationalization for his controlling/prying behavior, which has the potential to turn your life into a living hell. Like others above, I think logging into someone else's online WHATEVER crosses a line. I'm willing to give him the benefit of the doubt and assume that he genuinely did it with your best wishes at heart, but I also think that good intentions don't in themselves solve problems and that you and he need a serious, dare I say "adult" sit-down wherein you BOTH discuss what you want to see improve.

Listen, I do understand the motivation behind lying to cover up things that you might "get in trouble" for. I've been you - different specifics, same general situation - and while I'm not saying that lying is the right thing for you to do, I'm probably inclined to be a little more sympathetic than many toward the behavior that you admit to. You don't want to be treated like a 12-year old who just blew their allowance on candy rather than saving it for new school clothes, so "no, I didn't buy any candy today! That wrapper? It was stuck to my shoe!" But you're NOT 12.

You, by your own statements, are earning your own living, and are strikingly cognizant of and honest about your own issues and areas for improvement. I really, really ask you to be as honest with yourself as you've been here, especially when it comes to whether this guy is really the one that you want to live with and share a life with. This is not a DTMFA, it's advice to consider the fact that maybe you just aren't suited to each other, and that all the counseling and "adult" conversations in the world aren't going to change that. Sometimes relationships don't work. It doesn't mean either of the parties is a bad person, nor does it mean that they are childish or have insurmountable personal issues to deal with. It just means that two personality types clash, despite the best of intentions. From what you've described, that really may be the case here. I wish you all the best, and you can memail me if you want to.
posted by deep thought sunstar at 9:06 AM on May 11, 2010 [3 favorites]

It sounds to me like your boyfriend is using your issues as an excuse to control you and spy on you. And that your self-esteem is so low that you let him. Logging into your facebook account and email is absolutely not ok. If this is how he deals with a problem that's not even affecting him (why on earth shouldn't you get to spend your salary however you like?) how is he going to handle dealing with problems that do.

I'm sorry to be harsh but I think this relationship is seriously bad news for you. You need to get your issues under control yourself with the help of a therapist perhaps, and then your self-esteem will improve and you'll be ready to find a healthy relationship. Because this one isn't.
posted by hazyjane at 10:05 AM on May 11, 2010 [1 favorite]

I think this is definitely about control. You wrote:

"He feels as though he's been there for me during chaotic periods in my life and helped and been patient, and now, during a short time of stability and getting myself sorted out, he feels like I'm telling him what to do and I'm not entitled to do so."

Now that you have your diagnosis, and have started trying to work on your problematic behaviors, your boyfriend feels like he's losing control over you. When you were in the cycle of "screw up, lie, be discovered, repent," he could always count on being "right." Now that isn't happening, and he has to try harder to get you back into that cycle by confronting you over more and more personal things. This co-dependent need to monitor you started way back in the beginning of your relationship, but you probably had bigger issues to deal with and didn't notice it - and may have even considered it as evidence that he cared.

This cycle is really common with couples that have addiction or mental health issues - and it usually doesn't end well. I really think you need to focus on yourself and your health, and he needs to find a really good therapist. I recommend that you break up with him for your own sake.
posted by The Light Fantastic at 12:01 PM on May 11, 2010

'Well, if you grow up, then you can prove to me you can be trusted.'

Ouch. First, bipolar often comes with ADHD so get that checked. Impulsive behavior and lying because you can't deal with the response both might be attributable to that and treatable.

He is not obligated to help you so he can stop being a martyr and start minding his own business, if helping you is SUCH a HUGE strain on him.

And by the way, helping your loved ones is pretty basic behavior and doesn't give him a permanent license to treat you cruelly. And yes, telling you you're a child, need to grow up, breaking into your accounts--these behaviors are cruel, demoralizing, and sound absolutely just like a controlling parent's negative self-esteem wrecking bullshit. If you convince someone they're a child, you can keep them in a playpen of your own devising.
posted by internet fraud detective squad, station number 9 at 12:01 PM on May 11, 2010

If you can't be honest with him, you might as well end it now because only bad things will happen. I'm not suggesting you end it, however. I'm saying you need to learn to value honesty above all if you want this (or any) relationship to work.

If you can't be honest with your boyfriend, he has no reason to trust you. It's as simple as that.

Also, please lose the concept of white lies. The last time I checked, there is no lairs rainbow. Lies are lies. Just for the sake of being nice, however, I'll check again (brb)...

...Yup. I checked, and lies are still lies, regardless of the color people think they can assign to them.

Best of luck to you.
posted by 2oh1 at 12:20 PM on May 11, 2010 [1 favorite]

I think you should watch the TV series Hoarders and Hoarding, and especially watch the friends, family and partners of the hoarders (especially the ones who also have shopping addictions). They are in hell. The weak ones have long since left forever, the strong ones are often trying to help but have no idea how to do it. I think you should try to get help with a counselor specializing in hoarding and overspending together (and maybe compulsive lying too), so he can get some idea on how he should be trying to help you. That he has stuck around means he does care, but I would also be terribly afraid, angry and clueless on how to help in his situation.
posted by meepmeow at 12:28 PM on May 11, 2010

He has taught you to lie buy using negative reinforcement when you tell him the (perfectly normal, nothing to be deeply ashamed of) truth. Tell him you can be honest with him when he is man enough to handle it and has his own life under control.
posted by saucysault at 1:35 PM on May 11, 2010 [3 favorites]

I also have bipolar disorder and in the past, the illness has certainly been a factor in spending recklessly and acting irresponsibly with regards to debt. Sometimes impulsiveness is great; but with regards to money, not so much. Anyhow, I understand where you're coming from on that.

I agree very strongly with this (from Jaltcoh):
You're in a vicious circle where your bad decisions (which, I believe you, are a serious problem) lead to his controlling behavior (which is totally over the line and inappropriate for a relationship).

But I do think it can be fixed if you guys can manage to break the cycle. In order to do that, I think you take a break from talking about finances AT ALL. Maybe for 2 - 3 months. This means: no talking about your spending and definitely no borrowing money. You will have to get along without his emotional/financial support (I'm sure you are able to do this), and he will have to give up his unsavory sense of entitlement to scrutinize your spending. Try this and see what happens. Either his controlling tendencies will creep into new areas, or they will disappear. You can decide what to do from there. You mention other problems, but I would try to deal with this one first.

Also, keep in mind that in a shared-living relationship, not all income need be 'household' income. My husband and I happily contribute to a shared account and then keep separate accounts, precisely so that we can both have privacy and our own discretion over our spending on ourselves. He may tease me about things that I buy, but ultimately, it's my money and it's none of his business.
posted by kitcat at 3:18 PM on May 11, 2010 [1 favorite]

I agree with The Light Fantastic's assessment of your dynamic. Back then, you needed his help: he said to expect it and take advantage of it (interesting word choice…). Now that you need it less, he's becoming more controlling and paternalistic: He feels as though he's been there for me during chaotic periods in my life and helped and been patient, and now, during a short time of stability and getting myself sorted out, he feels like I'm telling him what to do and I'm not entitled to do so.
I can't believe that he feels like you're telling him what to do. WTF?

I also agree with Jaltcoh that you may have been attracted to him because you grew up with a controlling parent. So often we unconsciously choose partners that resemble how a parent treated us to recreate the dynamic so that this time, we can fix it. See this book for more info.

This was my a-ha moment: He's only applied to 5 jobs in the last 2 years. He's in a job that he doesn't like. I think this is precisely why he's so on your back about your problems. Because it distracts him from having to think about his. He feels that his job situation is not something he can control: but he can control you, and so he feels good about that. Whenever he says to you that you need to be an adult and all that crap, he's really talking about himself but saying it to you. He's definitely not being an adult about his own situation! It sounds like you're totally weighed down by all his criticisms - you're only seeing things from his point of view, but he doesn't see things from your point of view about how he's treating you, and how his job situation affects this. And I think that's the point: to wear you down so much that you can't criticize him. I have a sneaking suspicion that your parent did this to you too.

The next step? Set some boundaries about what is acceptable and not acceptable behaviour to you. If he doesn't respect those boundaries, you need to show him that you're serious about your respect for yourself and that you can't be with someone that won't respect you. You can't let him treat you like this anymore. He did a lot to help you in the past and you've benefited, now it's time to say stop. If he's so worried about you not being able to conduct and adult relationship, then why is HE sticking around? If your behaviour is so unacceptable to him, then why doesn't he bail? Because he gets a rush from controlling you. You have to stand up to him. I bet this is what you could never do with your parent, but you can do this now. He has to stop, or there is no more relationship - this should be your bottom line and hopefully it won't have to get to that point, but just indicates how serious you are.
posted by foxjacket at 7:42 PM on May 11, 2010

« Older She love museum mile   |   Kava Kava questions Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.