Help me help myself
July 20, 2011 6:33 AM   Subscribe

My boyfriend is going through a divorce and he's taking his stress out on me. Help me take care of myself during this difficult time.

My boyfriend is going through a divorce and it's very difficult for him, understandably. I've been there for him throughout most of the process, but now that the paperwork is actually going to go through he is having a terrible time. He's prone to lashing out at me because he's in so much pain. Examples of this are numerous and unpleasant. I trust that he'll heal with time, and I want to be there for him during this horrible event. I have no interest in breaking up with him, so please don't advise me to DTMFA. I have good reasons for staying in the relationship: I love this guy, and I think he makes me a better person on the whole. This is just a rough patch and I have faith that it will get better with time.

I go to therapy once a week but to be honest I don't really have many issues. My therapist has said that she doesn't really think I need to be there and that he's the one that needs therapy. He refuses to go. I am not really getting that much out of therapy. My boyfriend is jealous of my "relationship" with my therapist and really wants me to quit going. I would like to stop going, too, because it doesn't really help me. I keep going mostly because I think I should stand my ground about it, even though it costs me money and doesn't really offer me anything but fights with him.

Her advice to "take care of myself" and "don't let him use you as a punching bag" is good and warranted, but I don't really know _how_ to do those things. Taking care of myself seems to involve secretly binging on food (my weight is very important to him), smoking cigarettes (I quit seven years ago, and I don't want to be a smoker), and sometimes even taking painkillers to just escape for awhile. This is bad behavior. My therapist seems to think that these things are "normal" (to be fair, I haven't told anyone about the painkillers and I'm very ashamed of this) and that I'm doing my best. She doesn't want me to beat myself up over the way I'm treating myself, but I know I could do better.

What things can I do to actually take care of myself, as opposed to "taking care of myself" in self-destructive ways? I exercise every day, but it doesn't really seem to make a difference one way or the other. I am trying to lose myself in my job, but I have little motivation to actually work. I am in a self-directed job where daily performance doesn't matter that much, so it's been easy to coast along and do a bad job for quite awhile. I can't seem to motivate myself to work well for extended periods of time.

What else could I be doing? I'm trying to cultivate friendships outside of my boyfriend, but this is proving difficult. I am trying to engage in more hobbies, but that doesn't seem to work very well either -- the lack of motivation is a problem there, too.

What can I do to be good to myself so that I can be a good, strong girlfriend during this awful period in our lives? I've read a few books about living with someone who is depressed, and this thread was a helpful resource, but I need more concrete suggestions of things to do to be good to myself right now.
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (47 answers total) 12 users marked this as a favorite
Maybe quit worrying about him and take care of YOU?

Maybe not allowing him to use his stress as an excuse to treat you badly?

Maybe reconsidering why you are in this relationship-if the divorce is causing him so much pain why is he getting it?
posted by St. Alia of the Bunnies at 6:36 AM on July 20, 2011 [6 favorites]

Hon, it's going to be difficult for us to believe he makes you better on the whole when you also say things like "my weight is very important to him" and that he wants you to quit therapy and is jealous of your therapist.

Taking care of yourself in this situation, if it means staying in this relationship, might very well mean telling your boyfriend "hey, your lashing out at me is leading me to do self-destructive things. I need you to invest in couples therapy with me, if this is going to work out long term."
posted by dpx.mfx at 6:41 AM on July 20, 2011 [30 favorites]

...and I think he makes me a better person on the whole.

A better person who is lashed out at frequently and unpleasantly by no fault of her own. A better person who is asked to leave a relationship with a health professional. A better person who is judged by her weight. A better person who finds herself eating pills to escape from her life and is hiding the fact from everyone. A better person who due to the above has little motivation to work, find friends or develop hobbies.

I think you might be a little mixed up as to what this relationship is making you.
posted by griphus at 6:44 AM on July 20, 2011 [109 favorites]

How does he lash out? Try to be specific with yourself about what behaviors are really the painful ones for you. Then, pick a time when both you and he are not upset to discuss it. Explain exactly what you do not want him to do and let him know that you are not going to tolerate those behaviors. Make it clear that it is not him as a person, and that you want to support him, but these are intolerable to you and why. Make a plan for what to do if they crop up (e.g., point it out once, and if he persists leave the room, leave the house, whatever). Then stick to that plan. If his behavior doesn't change, suggest a break until he can stop those behaviors.
posted by goggie at 6:45 AM on July 20, 2011 [3 favorites]

I think you should consider seeing a different therapist. This one doesn't seem to be helping or challenging you all that much, and if you switch you'll get to see if your bf's jealousy transfers over to the new one also.

You sound tremendously unhappy. You are self-medicating with food and pills, and it's not actually healing the problem, just alleviating the pain of the symptoms.
posted by hermitosis at 6:46 AM on July 20, 2011 [15 favorites]

Find a new therapist. This one isn't working for you, and since your boyfriend isn't interested in therapy, the only reason to go to therapy is if it's working for you. You don't need to have depression or be going through a divorce to go to therapy. You can go for exactly the reasons that you state in your post: how to take care of yourself without resorting to self-destructive behaviors, how you want to find a social life outside of your boyfriend, how to handle an unhappy boyfriend who lashes out during his hard times. All are reasonable things to discuss with a licensed professional.
Your therapist should promote a short-term schedule of sessions that will help you make and achieve these goals.

If you don't want to find a new therapist, go into your next session with the goal of not talking about your boyfriend and only talking about yourself. Share this goal with your therapist. Make it about you and not about him.
posted by aabbbiee at 6:47 AM on July 20, 2011 [5 favorites]

He's prone to lashing out at me because he's in so much pain.
He refuses to go.
my weight is very important to him

These things concern me.

That being said, ask the therapist these questions you asked above. Also, are you exercising?
posted by getawaysticks at 6:48 AM on July 20, 2011 [2 favorites]

Has your therapist worked with you on ways to stand up for yourself when your boyfriend is lashing out? That sounds worthwhile. You should have ways to tell you boyfriend that while you understand he's going through a tough time, he has to treat you with respect and therefore cannot (call you a fat cow, scream at you at the top of his lungs, whatever it is he does that's unacceptable).
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 6:50 AM on July 20, 2011 [2 favorites]

So you say that the stress that he's causing you makes you binge, smoke, take drugs, fail at work and he has issues with your body, other close relationships you have, and uses you as a punching bag AND YOU THINK HE MAKES YOU BETTER PERSON?!??! And he refuses to do anything to fix it, like something so simple as going to a therapist. Fine. Okay. Yeah, he's awesome. So you don't want to dump the motherfucker?

Then I think you should stop seeing him, at the very least, until he either gets through his divorce and the shared stress levels are reduced. Like, sure, talk to him on the phone or whatever, but take some time apart to keep trying to make friends or seek hobbies.

Also, get a new therapist, damn. You seem depressed, and honestly, you seem to be involved in an emotionally abusive relationship, so maybe see someone who can help you with that. Maybe a new therapist can help you to realize that it's how someone treats you when times are bad that shows their true colors. If he's a dick to you now, how do you know that he's not going to be a dick to you in the future when he's having a bad spell at work or having health problems?

Take a vacation somewhere, by yourself, or with a family member. It's obvious that you are trying to escape this relationship through self-destructive means, so why not actually escape to somewhere? But I bet it would make him mad and jealous though, wouldn't it? Because you'd be doing something for yourself, and I bet he doesn't like that.

I know you said no DTMFA, but all signs point to DTMFA. But if you can't do that right this minute, then remove yourself from the situation for the time being, until you can get your head and heart in order.
posted by greta simone at 6:50 AM on July 20, 2011 [28 favorites]

My boyfriend is going through a divorce and he's taking his stress out on me.

Also, are you sure what you're going through now is because of the divorce? Or is this maybe just what it's like to be in a relationship with this guy when there's no wife to blame things on?
posted by hermitosis at 6:52 AM on July 20, 2011 [43 favorites]

I would suggest the value proposition for this relationship is not very good for YOU (let alone, it sounds like he has no business being in a relationship if he is struggling with a divorce).
posted by PsuDab93 at 6:54 AM on July 20, 2011

This is just a rough patch and I have faith that it will get better with time.

The current thing that's stressing him is going to pass, but do you really think once the divorce is over everything will be sunshine and roses? Everyone gets stressed, and when someone has a habit of lashing out at their loved ones whenever something goes wrong it can be very emotionally draining. You have to realize that his behavior is not a temporary thing caused by the divorce but a core part of who he is, and decide if you can be in a relationship with someone who is going to make sure you're miserable whenever he is.

secretly binging on food (my weight is very important to him)

Not a sign of a normal healthy relationship.

My boyfriend is jealous of my "relationship" with my therapist and really wants me to quit going.

Classic controlling behavior.

sometimes even taking painkillers to just escape for awhile

This is probably something you should bring up to your therapist.

I have no interest in breaking up with him, so please don't advise me to DTMFA.

You seem to be unhappy enough in your relationship enough that you are coping through using painkillers, and the reasons you are unhappy seem to be completely valid. It's very common for people who are in a terrible relationship to say "What can I do to feel better about being in this terrible relationship?" when it's actually impossible for them to feel happy in such a bad situation. I know telling you to break up is a glib answer that ignores a lot of the aspects of why people stay in relationships, but ask yourself how bad it would have to get before you would leave. Rather than thinking that if one thing changed about a person you could be happy, realize that if one thing about someone makes you incredibly unhappy, it's always going to make being in a relationship with them unbearable.
posted by burnmp3s at 7:02 AM on July 20, 2011 [18 favorites]

What things can I do to actually take care of myself

Leave this guy and your therapist and find a new therapist who will help you see yourself and this situation as it actually is. There are so many red flags in your post that I don't even know where to start, but a good therapist will, so print it out and take it with you on your first visit.
posted by orange swan at 7:03 AM on July 20, 2011 [2 favorites]

The problem with us finding you strategies to cope and feel better is that your boyfriend will simply escalate his behavior until he feels like you are back under his control again and that he can make you feel like shit when that's what he wants from you.
posted by the young rope-rider at 7:09 AM on July 20, 2011 [9 favorites]

Well since enough people are pointing out the crap aspects of what you wrote, I will leave them to it. Constructively though, on what to do for now:

If someone's taking their bad mood out on you, stand up for yourself and walk away from them for a while, take yourself out of the line of fire. You look at him and calmly say "You're in a crap mood and you're taking it out on me again. I'm going to step out for a while and wait for you to calm down and be nice to me again. I'll call you in an hour to see how you're doing, and if you're ready for me to come back yet. (Love you)." And you actually leave for said hour, and go do something - take a walk, go to the library/bookstore, take yourself to a cafe, visit a friend, etc. Don't let him talk his way out of it, tell him he needs this, and leave.

If he cares about you like he should, he'll start to realize there are consequences to taking out his frustrations on you. If he gets mad at you for not sticking around to take his crap, then this is where you should reconsider the relationship.
posted by lizbunny at 7:11 AM on July 20, 2011 [35 favorites]

He's not lashing out because of the divorce. He's lashing out because he's an asshole.

There's so many warning signs here that it would be horrible of me to give you any advice on how to stay because it just seems like the very definition of a toxic relationship.

And yes, you do need to be in therapy. Explore with your therapist why you stay with this guy despite so many red flags. And if they still don't think you need therapy, get a new therapist or reexamine how much you keep from them.
posted by inturnaround at 7:13 AM on July 20, 2011 [9 favorites]

You DO need to DTMFA, but the MF = your current therapist.

Ask your current therapist if he/she has suggestions for another type of therapy that would work better for you, but don't stop there. I think you might benefit from more of a (skilled) life-coaching situation, which is different from therapy -- just something to look into. I say this because you may now have the notion that traditional talk therapy doesn't work for you. I think it could work, but right now you may need to try a different approach. You need to really click with the person so he or she can help you get your shit together to change your actions. Also, you need a counselor you can be 100% honest with. With this particular practitioner, it sounds like your relationship feels too established for that -- that's the best way I can describe it -- it happened to me once with a past therapist, too.

Also: yoga. Painting classes. Singing (community chorus?). Pottery or drawing or cooking or something else that's creative and will boost your self-esteem. Also JOURNALLING. The behaviors you describe aren't the problem in and of themselves.

Can you take a vacation (alone)? Meditation retreat? Some kind of awesomely fulfilling class over a weekend in a beautiful setting? Where are you located?
posted by pupstocks at 7:18 AM on July 20, 2011 [3 favorites]

Look, if he would take you as someone who could or should take care of him during what is undoubtedly a difficult period for him, and if you then would be able to take care of him in such a way that he didn't feel the urge to lash out (in whatever form) at you, that would be a workable situation. In the scenario such as you describe it it seems that you need a timeout from him (and perhaps your therapist) and he needs a timeout from you to come to terms with his own situation, and to lash out at the walls until his hurt, fury, stress, whatever, have settled a bit. That would also solve the question of how you can take care of yourself and not act the punching bag for him.
posted by Namlit at 7:23 AM on July 20, 2011 [1 favorite]

You can take care of yourself by establishing boundaries with your boyfriend. If your current therapist is not able to help you establish and enforce your boundaries, you need to find a new therapist.

When I say boundaries, I mean you need to consider what tone of voice you find acceptable for your boyfriend to use when speaking to you, what kind of words and vocabulary you find acceptable, what kind of treatment you need from him, what kind of physical actions are acceptable and what kinds are not.

You need to stop looking to everyone else (therapist, boyfriend) and inside yourself. How can you take care of yourself when you don't know what you like or need? Find those things, and then protect your boundaries.

Imagining myself in your scenario, this would mean me saying to my boyfriend,"That tone of voice is not acceptable. Please speak me to calmly and politely." And then if he does not, say, "You did not hear my request. I'm not continuing this conversation." and then hang up, go to another room, leave.

This is how people who have boundaries act. They know how they want to be treated, and if they are not treated that way, they do not accept it.
posted by Squeak Attack at 7:35 AM on July 20, 2011 [5 favorites]

There is no part of your question that doesn't raise huge red flags. You have an assy-at-best, abusive-at-worst boyfriend - who is not yet completely extricated from his previous relationship - you have several destructive coping mechanisms, your therapist is ineffective, and it sounds like you don't currently have any close friends.

The apparent lack of friends is most alarming to me. Believe me, I sympathize - friendships are really hard to cultivate, and I'm no good at it either - but you need some form of outside support. Everyone does. You're not getting it from your therapist, and you're getting the exact opposite of it from your boyfriend. Whether it's a new therapist or an old long-distance friend, one of the first things you need to do is find someone you trust to talk to.

There is a long list of excellent reasons for you to leave this relationship and never look back; wanting to take care of yourself is at the top of the list. "I love this guy" is not enough to counterbalance all the warning signs. I know you don't want to hear DTMFA, but I can't see a way for you to stay in this relationship and be happy and healthy.
posted by Metroid Baby at 7:35 AM on July 20, 2011 [1 favorite]

I have no interest in breaking up with him, so please don't advise me to DTMFA. I have good reasons for staying in the relationship: I love this guy

Just because you love someone doesn't mean you are meant to be with them.


This guy isn't going through a rough patch, he's just a controlling jerk who makes you feel bad about yourself. It's not going to get better.
posted by Windigo at 7:44 AM on July 20, 2011 [4 favorites]

When the going is tough is when true colors are revealed. My guy, for instance, gets quiet and withdrawn and sometimes tense during rough patches (and yes, the rough patches we've been through have included a divorce from his first wife!); but he would never do ANY of the stuff you're describing. Your guy is an asshole, and you can't build a life with someone whom you can't trust during rough patches! Be glad you're not married to him and move on. Start by moving out ASAP.
posted by fingersandtoes at 7:54 AM on July 20, 2011 [1 favorite]

I want to share a story with you. I had a boyfriend who was going through an extremely difficult separation. My ex was in a world of hurt. But he NEVER took it out on me, ever. We had other problems related to the separation, but none of them involved him lashing out at me. So what you are seeing now is not some kind of objective, "normal" reaction to divorce -- you are seeing your boyfriend's true character, and how he reacts to stress. Are you prepared for him to treat you badly whenever he gets stressed out in the future?

You aren't doing him, yourself, or your relationship any favors by letting him get away with treating you like this.
posted by yarly at 8:01 AM on July 20, 2011 [10 favorites]

Ok, this may come across as a bit strong, but this (to me) is alarming. You sound like a wonderful and caring person, but your boyfriend's behaviour throws up alot of red flags for (emotional) abuse reading through your question. There have been alot of good suggestions here, but I'm going to tackle this as someone who has been through something similar, focusing on the self care angle.

- Frankly, your therapist sounds like she is not helpful at best, and worst than that. Knowing your boyfriend behaviours and suggesting that there is not a reason for you to be there is abursd. Find a new therapist, maybe someone who specializes in CBT or something similar?

- Right now, the best thing you can do for yourself and everyone around you is to take care of you! Are you sleeping enough, eating well, drinking lots of water? What kind of excersise are you doing daily? Is there anyway you could join a running club, ultimate frisbee or something team based to address both the excersise and social aspects? Things that have been vital to taking care of myself: a morning routine, yoga, eating really well, enough sleep, and burying myself in things that keep me moving forward (In my case, prepping for a trip to Norway for the next year)

- A safe environment and support network: As someone who has lived with someone with depression, OCD and who was emotionally abusive, it was invaluble for me to have somewhere safe to go (in my case, friend's places, my grandparents and moving away to university to my own place). You can not be someone's only support, it will burn you out like no tomorrow. Please please please, this is the time to reach out to people who care about you (family, etc) and let them know what's going on and that you need help. Is there any place you can go for a couple days/week that you will be supported and get centered again?

- (From my experience, please just consider this as a heartfelt suggestion): A plan for when shit hits the fan. DO NOT rely on him right now. I would consider developing a plan to for if something goes very badly, including where you would stay, having money stashed away that he can't find it, who would you call to come get you, moving important documents to a safe place.

- Consider reading the book The Emotionally abusive relationship by Beverly Engel (here) and her other books, they are an amazing resource.

Best of luck to you, feel free to memail me if you need anything.
posted by snowysoul at 8:01 AM on July 20, 2011 [2 favorites]

I wouldn't assume that once the divorce is over (how long from now? a year? two?) he will stop being mean to you. By that time, he will be habituated to lashing out at you and it's likely to happen more, not less.

I would suggest a separation until he's done with the divorce, since he is quite clear that he is committed to making you miserable until it's over.

Maybe after the divorce is over he won't be habituated to lashing out at you, and won't despise you because he's been mean to you for a long period of time (we tend to despise people we've been mean to and like people we've been nice to, as a rule). Maybe that won't happen, and in any case you seem committed to sticking it out to see if that's true, but if you're wrong, you need to find a way to prepare to live like this for the rest of your life. Separation is your best hope of not letting him get habituated to being mean to you.

You can go back when he's able to be in a relationship without damaging you.
posted by tel3path at 8:43 AM on July 20, 2011 [6 favorites]

I go to therapy once a week but to be honest I don't really have many issues. My therapist has said that she doesn't really think I need to be there and that he's the one that needs therapy.

Heyso, maybe he does need therapy, but you do describe that not much is really working in your life, so I submit that you do need to be in therapy, just not with your current therapist. Or, maybe you need some distance from this life that you're creating. It could be that you're grappling with situational depression as a result of your boyfriend's actions? Could that be true? Sure, maybe. Other explanations could be true as well. In order to take care of your self, get some distance. I like what pupstocks suggests. Get yourself some air.

I don't know whether it would be best for you to dump this guy or not, but my first and continued reaction to what you describe of his behavior is that it makes me uncomfortable. It obviously makes you uncomfortable as well, because you are choosing to engage with him only small parts of yourself, and you keep other parts of yourself far away from him. Something to notice, if you're really willing to look at that.
posted by lakersfan1222 at 9:15 AM on July 20, 2011

When you don't call him on his bad behavior, it's not good for either of you. He learns that he can get away with it, and you learn to not value being treated with respect. It really doesn't matter if he is having a hard time with the divorce, the person he should br thr nicest to is you. I think when he starts taking his anger out on you, you stop him and leave. This will motivate him, if at all possible, to improve his behavior. That said, you cannot change someone else, just your reaction. Your reaction should be to terach him not to do this to you.

Like many commenters above, Your description set off a lot of red flags. If he responds when you stand up to him him with more extreme behavior, then I really, really think this relationship can go nowhere but towards further abuse.

Take care.
posted by annsunny at 9:18 AM on July 20, 2011 [1 favorite]

I've said this in various ways in various threads before, but I think it really applies here:

I feel that the mark of a good relationship is liking the person you get to be with your partner. It's what they bring out in you, just by being who they are – which characteristics, interests, feelings and motivations and in the amounts and ratios that make you feel like the person you aspire to be. Not tomorrow, now.

Are you that person with him, today?

Put another way, this guy is bringing you down. He doesn't sound wonderful by any stretch. And you are not happy right now. Full stop.
posted by iamkimiam at 9:21 AM on July 20, 2011 [5 favorites]

If you don't act like someone who deserves respect it is likely you will not receive respect.

Non-rhetorical question: How does this person make you a better person?

Abuse is abuse and if you are in a relationship where abuse is the norm for dealing with stressful times you are in a dysfunctional relationship.

According to your write-up he is exhibiting some pretty awful behavior and is refusing to change that behavior, that is neither mature, nor the mark of someone serious about a balanced relationship. It is a selfish and controlling.

Read your own question as if you didn't write it, What advice would you give the writer?

You say don't say DTMF, but that is valid advice according to what you wrote, you have failed to enumerate anything specific about his positive points (saying, he make sme a better person isn't specific, it is subjective), and in the absence of such it just sounds like two people, one desperate for attention, the other desperate for control, who reinforce each others worst points.

Do you have friends, family, who knows the situation? Ask them to tell you the truth.
posted by edgeways at 9:29 AM on July 20, 2011

I'm guessing, from these statements :
Her advice to "take care of myself" and "don't let him use you as a punching bag"

that you are not currently seeing any type of Cognitive Behavioral Therapist. I suggest trying that. I really got a lot out of Dialectical Behavior Therapy. It helped me accept myself where I am/was, and move forward toward the person I want to be.

And when I found myself, very recently, in an abusive relationship, the skills I learned in that therapy gave me the courage, strength and skills to advocate for myself.

I have a very strong opinion that you are being emotionally abused. And I can tell you that emotional abuse is the hardest kind to leave.

For now, please change therapists, go see someone who specializes in DBT or at least CBT. Print out your question, with or without all of our responses, bring it to your next meeting with the current therapist, and if you decide to change practitioners, bring it to every new therapist you try. Remember that sometimes it takes a while to find a good fit with a psychologist, not every one is right for each patient.
posted by bilabial at 9:31 AM on July 20, 2011 [1 favorite]

I'm trying to cultivate friendships outside of my boyfriend, but this is proving difficult.

This is how it rolls when you are in an intimate relationship with a "MFA" sort. You really need to move on, get your shit together, and make some friends.

There are many lovely divorced people whose marriages did not work out for all sorts of benign reasons, but there are also a small but notable number of divorced people whose marriages did not work out because they are very damaged people who are not capable of treating others decently. Your boyfriend sounds like he's almost certainly in the latter category.

I would reconsider the "to be honest I don't really have many issues" belief -- when you end up in a bad-news relationship like this, there're issues. Find somebody who will help you work on the self-esteem (depression?) problems that got you so far down as to think that this was a good place for you to be, dating a jerk and friendless to boot. It will be very difficult to get out of this bad place, but if you get out, in a year from now the birds will be singing and flowers will be blooming and the entire world will be different.

The stuff with the food and pills are not "normal."
posted by kmennie at 9:44 AM on July 20, 2011

It sounds like you're not telling your therapist the whole story. She can't be effective with you unless you tell her what's going on. If you do switch therapists, you may continue to find that therapy isn't working for you if you hide important information (like that you're self-medicating with painkillers).
posted by catlet at 9:44 AM on July 20, 2011 [6 favorites]

My boyfriend is going through an awful divorce too. He's lost his house and has lost contact with his daughters because their mother has manipulated them into not speaking to him. I'm telling you this because although my boyfriend is sad about what he's going through, he most certainly doesn't take it out on me but instead he treats me like gold. He tells me the past is the past but that I'm his present and his future, and that I'm the best thing that ever happened to him. You deserve this kind of treatment, too.
posted by hazyjane at 9:56 AM on July 20, 2011 [18 favorites]

Might want to ask the person who is divorcing your boyfriend if any of this sounds familiar.
posted by stevis23 at 10:14 AM on July 20, 2011 [26 favorites]

Here is a comment one user wrote in another thread about how to deal with bad behavior from a spouse that might be useful to you in the short term:
This is abuse. He knows it's cruel; he's doing it TO hurt you, to punish you. He knows it's wrong, which is why he's hiding it from others. Your husband currently is HURTING YOU INTENTIONALLY. That's not acceptable in a relationship. Seriously.

I just need immediate practical advice as to how to respond.

Okay, first step, stop thinking about him and what's going on in his mind. Lots of advice above about what that might be, and it's great, but that's for him to figure out if he decides he wants to. Forget about it. Your decisions need to be about yourself.

So, forget him. You are being hurt. (Hurt, injured, wounded, attacked.) You are in pain. (Pain, anguish, agony, suffering.) You cannot control him. But you can control yourself. So, how are you going to protect yourself from being hurt? How can you prevent further injury? How are you going to soothe the pain you feel? How will you minimize the suffering and begin to heal? It's up to you. You might want to: leave the house, hang out with friends, turn on your headphones, meditate, go to the gym, call your sister, go shopping, write in your journal, watch a funny movie, pick up shifts at work, go to the spa, take your dog out for a run, or a million other things. Everyone protects themselves differently, and everyone soothes pain differently, so choose what feels right for yourself. The most important thing is to stop further injury and soothe the pain you feel, through actions that you take on your own (as opposed to trying to cajole or negotiate with him).

Here's what I would do: I'd make sure I'd expressed that I honestly did not lie and don't understand why he thinks I did, but I'd've probably done that already, during the original discussion. Now, I'd write him a note saying: "Your silent treatment hurts. I can't be around it. I have gone to stay with Jane. Call me when you are ready to stop." Then, when he calls, I would tell him, "this cannot happen in our relationship. I do not care how upset you are, you cannot intentionally punish me. I will not put up with that." Then, depending on what I wanted, I'd either say, "For me to come back, you/we have to go to therapy." Or "I will come back, but I want to tell you this fact: if you ever do this again, I will move out and we will be over. I need to know that you understand this, can you confirm that for me?" I would not say it in a mad, vengeful way. But I would draw a very solid and clear line that I refuse to put up with this, I refuse to be around it, and I refuse to be in a relationship where I have to sleep on friends' couches to avoid being around it. That's how I'd protect myself. In the meantime, I'd soothe myself by reminding myself I was totally protected, and by going to see that silly Date Night movie with Steve Carell and Tina Fey.

I know people on Ask Metafilter, myself included, probably sometimes offer suggestions that are harsher than what they'd really do or say with someone who was their close friend or lover. And as someone who has been in a relationship featuring angry silent treatments, I certainly am primed to react with utmost, um, well I'd call it utmost efficiency. But that is because I tried just about everything else, and the only thing that worked for me is what I described above. The path of least resistance, and the path of "let me try to understand how your brain works so I can help you not be this way" both did not turn out to be viable solutions for me. I am so sorry you are going through this, and here's one last resource: if you just want to talk about it with someone random, you can always for free call up the domestic violence hotline, 1−800−799−SAFE. Maybe you feel like this isn't "violence," since it's not physical, but they have plenty of hotline operators who will also be good at talking about emotional pain.
posted by salvia at 2:09 PM on April 11, 2010 [12 favorites +] [!]
posted by yarly at 10:24 AM on July 20, 2011 [1 favorite]

Two things:

1. To develop friends, join a local theatre company or particular production. Working with a small group of people towards a common creative goal over several months tends to birth friendships.

2. The tone in your post is one of exhaustion. More than likely, the stress of your boyfriend lashing out is wearing you out mentally and emotionally. You try to remove yourself from the situation.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 10:28 AM on July 20, 2011

There are three parts to your relationship: the person your boyfriend is, the nature of your relationship, and the person you are.

Your boyfriend has made it very clear he will not change who he is. You are adamant that the nature of your relationship will not change. That leaves you with the option of only changing one thing: you. The only way you can keep this relationship going is for you to change the being you are.

It sounds to me, from your wording and your tone, that you are being suffocated. There just isn't room in this relationship for you to be you. Your boyfriend and his issues are taking up ALL the space. So you recede, and you try to contort yourself to fit into whatever tiny cracks or crevices are left around him. But, that's contortion. A human being can't survive like that.

So here you are. You are in a situation where the person you are just can't fit with both your boyfriend and your relationship to him. So you're begging and pleading for us to help you find more ways to shrink down, to become smaller, to find ways to squeeze yourself into that tiny little space left around him. Here is why I think you're eating so much and taking pills: they are helping you shrink down your self (if but temporarily) so you can fit in the tiny space being given to you. Here is why I think this is a system you know isn't working: you, as a human being, as a beautiful human being, simply can't stay shrunk down that small for as long as your circumstances are requiring.

You say he makes you a better person. Other people have already asked how!?, and I echo that question. But I have another one for you: what was so bad about who you were before you met your boyfriend, such that you're better off with him? Why do you dislike the person you were before so much?

You're a human being. Because of that, you deserve to allow yourself to exist. You, as a human, as a mind, as a thinking and feeling and loving entity, deserve to take up the space you need. You deserve to be you. That's what it means to be human. That's what, I think, you need.

So, here we are. You are in a bad situation with your boyfriend. Your boyfriend won't change; you won't change your situation. That leaves you begging us for advice on how to change you. But we won't give that. You deserve better than that. We are total strangers on the internet who only know a few paragraphs about you, but every one of us telling you that this relationship is bad for you know something that you are hiding from acknowledging: you deserve to be you. We won't help you contort yourself. We do not think your relationship is more important than you. We beg you to agree with us on this point: you matter.

I'm sorry. I agree with others, that you likely would benefit from seeking a new therapist. I'm sorry that I don't have any advice that can help you do what you want. None of us can help you do what you want: we can't make you smaller. We don't want to see you butcher your identity, deny who you are, and hide your needs from your boyfriend for the sake of your relationship. We can't give you the advice you want. Please, listen to why we can't.
posted by meese at 11:42 AM on July 20, 2011 [119 favorites]

Neither one of you are treating YOU very well. If he doesn't stop his abuse NOW so you can stop abusing yourself, it really is time to move on. At the very least, separate until his divorce is final.
posted by deborah at 12:10 PM on July 20, 2011

Do you live with him? If you don't, I would get very involved in some serious housecleaning/renovations to have something to work on and an excuse to be alone.

I don't think anyone has mentioned volunteering either - find something you care about, even tangentially, and go volunteer. Even if it's kind of boring or you don't feel very motivated to do it, keep reminding yourself that it gets you out of the house and focused on something else for awhile. Animal shelters always need volunteers, thrift stores, homeless shelters, nursing homes, etc.

(Also, be prepared that he may very well be "jealous" of any new hobbies or friends you get involved in, too, if he's jealous of your therapist. You'll need to stand your ground that his divorce is stressing YOU out too and you deserve to have personal time.
posted by nakedmolerats at 12:28 PM on July 20, 2011 [2 favorites]

I agree with your therapist that you shouldn't let your boyfriend use you as his emotional punching bag, and since you ask _how_ to to do that:

If he lashes out at you about anything, call him on it. For instance, if he yells at you, even if he's just been looking over the divorce papers or talking to his ex: "Look, I know this divorce is tough on you. But I don't like the way you're treating me, and that's not okay. If you want to talk about how you're feeling, I'm here, and I'm ready to be supportive. But I am not going to let you lash out at me just because you're feeling frustrated right now."

If he starts saying things about your weight, let him know that he is only making things worse. "When you get stressed, I get stressed. And when I'm stressed, I want to binge. I'm working on this, but I can only control me. Can we work on making it less stressful around here for both of us?"

Tell him that if he could find a therapist he liked, he'd have someone objective to talk to about all this. He may well see the one you are going to as "your" therapist, and biased in your favor. And he may already be feeling defensive about hid divorce. Remind him that it's tough on you, being his one source of emotional support, and tough on him, having to apologize for lashing out all the time. With his own therapist, he could speak out, uncensored, and not worry about hurting anyone's feelings or being blamed for anything.

I do have to wonder, though, if this is a lost cause. If he didn't seek therapy to save his marriage, I can't see him doing it to save your relationship now.

And what does that say about the future of your relationship, by the way? Do you know if he even wants to pursue a long-term relationship with you, or are you just projecting? He may not be ready for a commitment again so soon after his divorce. Are you prepared for the possibility that you might be the one who gets him through this period in his life, but that he might be done with you once he is healed and ready to really move on? Because that's one harsh reality, right there.

Just really think about what you are getting into here, okay?
posted by misha at 12:49 PM on July 20, 2011 [9 favorites]

From your post it is not apparent if you live with your boyfriend or not. I will work on the assumption that you have a separate place of your own, to which you can at least temporarily withdraw.

So: stake out a space which is your "you" space - a distinct room, or a less used part/corner of a common-use room, and get about arranging it as your "peaceful you" place: if it is a part of a larger room, mark the border to the rest of the room with plants, a hanging, any kind of partition which serves to further calmness. Keep this space as uncluttered as possible, and decorate sparingly with appropriate objects: candles, pictures/paintings, objects in particular colours which rest your mind, whatever works for you. Also make sure, whenever you enter this space, that the sounds surrounding you work towards this same aim: either silence, or music which helps you let go, or the sounds of water, of the forrest, the wind, whatnot. Each time you withdraw here, clean yourself first, and change into clothes that feel comforting.

Try to come to this space on a regular basis, even if only for short periods of time, every time going through the ritual of preparing the ambiance, cleaning, changing. Make sure each time that you have something prepared for when you enter, but try not to make it an activity (so no reading, no sewing, knitting, writing, eating, smoking etc. If the time spent in your "you" room inspires you to do anything else, like read, write, knit, etc, do it at the end of your stay here, close to your space. Your you space is for meditating, stretching out on the floor looking up at the poster of a beautiful landscape you may have put on the ceiling, curling up into a ball and just lying there, dreaming up improbable scenarios in which you time-travel, or go to strange lands with even stranger people etc. etc., the sky's your limit. Here, your only task is to be vigilant about not letting any of your or somebody else's daily troubles in. If this is hard to do, you don't need to be here for more than 10 minutes, just make sure you set time aside on a regular basis.

You might be far too active to entertain the above, and might need something where you expend more energy, but I believe this, or other you-space creating endeavours, sedate or energetic, to be important for someone in your situation, for multiple reasons:

1. You sound a bit like someone who is on the verge of losing herself, to boyfriend-situation and, almost more importantly, to begining depression. Smoking, binging etc, all behaviours you are upset about, are, I think, partly self-soothing mechanisms, and partly you trying to fight this loss of self. Carving out a self-niche is probably less self-destructive, more stable and more long-term useful then your current coping strategies. It would also contribute much more to your self-esteem and self-love, as well as help take the pressure off a little.

2. From the way you describe it, your situation with your boyfriend is quite precarious. It could go a number of ways, one of which is that he will become more and more cold/distressing/distanced, maybe even abusing. Should the situation with him escalate, it will be very useful to have a place to decompress.

3. If, on the other hand, your boyfriend gets over his anger and normalises, once your own permanent state of alarm vanishes in the face of these new develpments, you might be surprised to find that YOU become furious with him for having put you through such a difficult period. Chances of you developing "sacrifice" syndrome when times change are not negligeable, even if you cannot imagine this happening now. It is a good idea to be profilactic about this, in case your boyfriend is just suffering from an especially bratty period due to hurt, confusion and anger.

If you allow things to escalate without making sure your life flows on, somehow, it will be a much more difficult climb later on, whether it is towards a life without a (potentially) toxic boyfriend, or a life at the side of a convalescing, loving partner who you felt you had to sacrifice for.
posted by miorita at 2:08 PM on July 20, 2011 [1 favorite]

You sound tremendously unhappy.

I was going to say this. You sound like me when I was in the midst of dealing with one of my early relationships. You say that you are healthy and there isn't anything you need to work on, and then you start listing a whole bunch of things which I would see as warning flags of actual depression.

Just a warning that it's very easy to believe that you are happy when you are not. I find that if I stay in my head, it's very easy for me to ignore my feelings and believe everything is fine. In order to really figure out what's going on inside, I need to feel. Basically, focus on your body, move your awareness to different parts of your body and see what kind of emotions you are storing there. For me, sadness is mostly in the chest and throat. Anger is in the lower back. I imagine it's different for all people, and some people might not actually feel emotions in their body they way that I do. But I found it incredibly useful because my brain was doing a pretty lousy job of telling me what emotions I was feeling.
posted by Deathalicious at 2:38 PM on July 20, 2011 [2 favorites]

I think it's plausible that the reason you're having trouble focusing on your job, on making friends, on cultivating hobbies, is because you're so emotionally and physically drained from dealing with your boyfriend.

Is it also possible that the reason you became involved with and stay with someone who seems to require so much energy was in part to give yourself a way to continue to avoid dealing with your other struggles?

I think that people can use relationship drama as a way to get out of dealing with their own troubles. You tell yourself that the thing you can't control, another person, is the key to your happiness, and that once that's sorted, everything else will fall into place. Then you don't need to deal with the hard work (and the possibility of failure) of working on the things that you can control.

You seem to have done this so successfully that you've convinced yourself and your therapist that that you don't even actually have any other troubles.

That's some pretty impressive mind games - all of us reading your question see a person who needs binge eating and pills and cigarettes just to get through the day, who can't build and maintain friendships, who can't involve herself in interests and work, and who has built and accepted and committed to a primary relationship is with a man who treats her badly. And you and your therapist say you have nothing to work on in yourself, because everything that's wrong is with him and the relationship.

I'd worry that even if you actually 'obeyed' Metafilter and broke up with your boyfriend, you'd find another outside source of drama, and probably another relationship, to take on the role he's playing in your life - deflector and displacer of your own personal development.

So that's why I really like aabbbiee's suggestion. Get a new therapist (because your current one doesn't seem able to see through you), and commit to focusing your sessions on *you*, and not discussing your boyfriend. Commit to working on you, even/especially means taking your emotional energy away from your boyfriend and re-centering them on you.
posted by Salamandrous at 6:20 AM on July 21, 2011 [8 favorites]

Whatever you do, don't quit therapy. You really do need to be there. Your therapist is wrong if he's telling you you don't need it. You might want to find another therapist who can work more productively with you.
posted by Miko at 10:28 AM on July 21, 2011

Is it possible the therapist was exasperated and said something like, "what are you doing here if you're so happy?" Or, "What are you doing here if you're not going to tell me what's really going on?" Tone deaf, if so, but I can't help but wonder.
posted by small_ruminant at 1:24 PM on July 21, 2011 [1 favorite]

Not clear how long you've known this guy, which strikes me as at least somewhat relevant, but to be good to yourself: Tell your boyfriend that this stuff stops now, he agrees to get counseling (feel free to ask him what harm could come from it) or you will end the relationship.
posted by ambient2 at 4:22 PM on July 21, 2011

Please listen to everyone here. It's not often we all agree, so please accept the many, many wise words in this thread.

I'm horrified by how he treats you. Pleasepleaseplease RUN.
posted by guster4lovers at 8:33 PM on July 24, 2011

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