Depends on what your definition of "is" is.
July 28, 2011 6:32 AM   Subscribe

How can I best cope with this relationship impasse?

My partner and I have a recurring argument that is not being resolved. I am becoming increasingly frustrated with how this conversation goes (to the point where I dread attempting to even discuss the issue) and I am looking for books/websites or other resources that may be helpful in helping us communicate more productively here.

An example from today: I work for my partner's business and we both agreed that I would take the day off today to prepare our bags and house for an upcoming trip. When Partner arrived home, he asked what I'd done all day. I explained that the bags were packed save a few of his personal items plus I'd done other household chores. Partner responded by saying that this shouldn't have taken me all day and I needed to monitor my time to see where it went.

I find comments like this unnecessarily critical, bordering on condescending and hurtful. I had good news related to a creative endeavor of mine, but did not want to share it after being talked to like a child. Partner noticed I was upset and asked what was wrong until I explained that I did not like him treating me as an employee in our own home and that I just did not understand what else I was supposed to be spending my time on. For the record, the house was clean and neat.

When I expressed myself, my partner told me that he feels he cannot trust me to do what is needed because I am too selfish. This is the common refrain that just destroys the conversation. I am selfish, I do not back him up, I do whatever I like and he supports me.

I have asked repeatedly what things I am supposed to be doing that my selfishness makes me neglect, but he has no concrete answer. I have also tried to explain that when he is constantly critical of me, I feel that he's being antagonistic and belittling me. It makes me feel that he's putting himself in a parental role over me and that destroys my sense that we have an equal partnership. Our relationship is otherwise satisfying and close. He stands by this issue so firmly, I have to wonder if it isn't masking some other problem. He gets very cold and insistent when we have this discussion, which is unlike our other interactions. I have had minor success in asking him if he isn't just generally defensive out of a fear of being taken advantage of in other conversations, but it never extends to this "selfishness" argument. He has had other relationships where he felt manipulated and used, but I have always gone out of my way to make sure I wasn't making unreasonable demands of him.

He says we don't have an equal partnership because he does everything he can to make sure I'm happy and I can do what I want, while I am "lazy and selfish."

This conversation frustrates me to no end because it seems like nothing I ever say or do will disprove the charge of selfishness. For the record: we don't have kids, my partner is not high-maintenance, and we don't live in a place that takes years to clean. At most, I do a bit of laundry-folding and sweeping and the housework is done.

Due to layoffs, I've had to go work with my partner (which was his idea), though there often isn't much for me to do at his office, I am learning his industry. I would love to have a separate job, and am always looking, but we live in a small town where there are no industries in which I could use my advanced degree. We discussed this at length before we married and (I thought) had agreed this would not pose us a problem.

We have seen a therapist, but I did not find it helpful. For one, the therapist was not very interested in my input. Also, he was an acquaintance of my partner and they spent some of the therapy session bonding over their shared religious upbringing (which I did not have).

I am searching for another therapist at present. What other sorts of resources can I use to help us communicate better?
Posting anonymously because my partner reads AskMeFi.
Throwaway email:
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (54 answers total) 9 users marked this as a favorite
Seeing a therapist with a bias is definitely not helpful. I know you are looking for a way to communicate better, but it doesn't sound like he is willing to change. I personally would not put up with it.
posted by bolognius maximus at 6:42 AM on July 28, 2011

For starters, I think one thing you may find helpful is re-thinking whether or not your partner is "high-maintenance". Because -- honey, dude is asking you to itemize the list of things you did in a day so HE can be satisfied that you spent your time wisely.

Finding your own therapist is a REALLY good move, because the fact that he brought you to a therapist that was a personal friend of HIS was a massively dick move on his part.

He is being MASSIVELY unfair to you, and I'm not sure better communication is going to improve that. What will improve that is more asserting yourself on your part, and a therapist can help you with that.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 6:42 AM on July 28, 2011 [20 favorites]

This is an impasse alright. Your partner is contemptuous of you and you, understandably, don't like to be treated with contempt. You deserve to be treated with respect even if you aren't productive all day and don't keep the house clean. This will not get better, he won't magically change his mind about treating you well--especially if therapy to him means going to someone who he knew couldn't be impartial.

Put some serious work into finding another job and then get out of this relationship.
posted by Kimberly at 6:45 AM on July 28, 2011 [9 favorites]

It is time, you know what time! Its DTMFA time or at least have a very serious come-to-jesus meeting since he was raised religious. Its wrong to talk to your partner like that, he doesn't get to boss you around and make you miserable. You said you were going to stay home and pack and you did, unless you were screwing the garden boy or throwing confetti around the house, you did your part.

Every day should not be one partner accounting for the other ones time. He is not doing everything to make sure you are happy, um, look at how he talks to you. He is doing what he thinks SHOULD make you happy, which is ridiculous.

So I say, either be an adult about it, and leave nicely (since you have tried to work this out with him) or try really being selfish for a while. It'll be fun. Sit at the house and eat ice cream, leave it on the counter! Make lots of art or whatever creative outlet you prefer. When he asks what's up and notices that you aren't doing all the lovely, unselfish things you used to do, say "Why don't you want me to be happy!?"
posted by stormygrey at 6:47 AM on July 28, 2011 [9 favorites]

Not knowing more history, did something happen in the past to make him not trust you? If you wanted to leave the house/his company and pursue a job outside of his bubble how would he feel about this?

I'm asking this because as a stranger on the interwebs, it seems that he's got total control over you and is making himself into a martyr BECAUSE he prefers that you stay home because then he knows what you're doing...even though he says he doesn't trust you. At work, you're on his watch. At the therapist, it's all biased towards him. It's all about him.

I don't mean to sound harsh, but as a woman who left an abusive relationship, this sounds eerily similar to my situation. My SO didn't want me to have an identity of my own and did everything he could to push that down under the disguise of "trust" and "caring". He infiltrated every part of my life and personality. The wake up call to me came when I dropped 65 pounds (I'm 5'9", I got down to under 115 pounds) and my doctor told me that I was in danger. Things eventually turned physically abusive. It took me 5 years to come to my senses and gain enough strength to leave. I lost a lot of friends and big pieces of my life, and it's taken me considerable amounts of time to rebuild, repair and rediscover. It was hard and continues to be.

I have no regrets, but looking back, I wish I had realized what was happening sooner. The freinds I have retained have managed to blossom into some of the closest friendships I've had, and we've talked about it - everyone echos the same sentiment - that they saw what was happening and wanted to say something, but knew that I wouldn't have listened because I was so under his spell at the time.

You gathered enough strength to post this here, so obviously your gut is saying that something is up. I'd explore that a little more and do some hard thinking. MeMail me if you'd like, and just know that sometimes the best choices for ourselves to keep ourselves safe, sane and happy aren't necessarily the easiest ones. I wish you best of luck.
posted by floweredfish at 6:50 AM on July 28, 2011 [3 favorites]

First things first, kiddo-- please DO NOT internalize this message. You are not selfish or lazy. In fact, no one is. We all do things, to a greater or lesser extent, that are selfish and lazy mostly based on how you've been socialized. If there were no consequences, we'd all be lazy and selfish all the time. This is not a good way to have a productive discussion. But then, you know that.

See if you can get him to tell you what the problem is. It sounds like you've tried, but I say, try again. How are his needs not getting met? When you say someone is selfish, that reads to me, "You are paying more attention to your own needs than mine". So what are his needs? What's he missing? Name calling doesn't solve problems. If he won't engage and keeps calling you names, it's not worth saving.
posted by reBaker at 6:50 AM on July 28, 2011

He says we don't have an equal partnership because he does everything he can to make sure I'm happy and I can do what I want, while I am "lazy and selfish."

You don't have an equal partnership because he's your boss.

You're not lazy and selfish. He sounds mean and condescending and a bully. Like Steve Rogers, I hate bullies.

I'd redouble your efforts to find a new job immediately...and ask yourself if you want to be his partner at home, too.
posted by inturnaround at 6:57 AM on July 28, 2011 [10 favorites]

This person isn't your 'partner' as they clearly don't see you as their equal in any way.
posted by noxetlux at 7:00 AM on July 28, 2011 [5 favorites]

Oh ick. You deserve better than this. Reread what you wrote, especially the part about how he responded to your entirely reasonable statements about what you did and how you don't understand what he wants by trotting out the "selfish and lazy" argument (when you spent the day AS AGREED). Then pack the rest of your things and get the hell away from this toxic asshole. Therapy isn't going to make this guy respect you or treat you properly. He doesn't WANT an equal partnership, he wants you to cook and clean and respect him, and what are you getting in return? Disrespect, gaslighting, name-calling and insults, NOTHING you do is ever going to make this man a good partner to you, since I guarantee you the goalposts will move as soon as you try to appease him and there will be some other thing you're doing wrong. Get out, you deserve better, good relationships involve people who actually care about each other, and who respect each other, and who treat each other like equals.
posted by biscotti at 7:03 AM on July 28, 2011 [17 favorites]

Our relationship is otherwise satisfying and close.


He says we don't have an equal partnership because he does everything he can to make sure I'm happy and I can do what I want, while I am "lazy and selfish."

Do you hear yourself? How are these two things both true?

From what you've written, it doesn't sound like you have a problem communicating - it sounds like he does. And he doesn't sound very interested in changing that (why would he? He's with someone he doesn't respect, and you don't change for people you don't respect).
posted by rtha at 7:04 AM on July 28, 2011 [2 favorites]

I actually disagree with everyone telling you to leave (for once). I know people in a relationship very similar to this and... well, it seems to work for them. She just ignores him when he says things like that. If you can't handle that, perhaps you could try writing him a letter? He obviously shuts you down when you try to talk, so presenting the information to him in a non-confrontational way might help.
posted by AmandaA at 7:04 AM on July 28, 2011

This guy doesn't respect you. He wants you to "monitor your time"? That's something you say to a child or a slacking employee, not to an equal partner in a healthy relationship.

This guy sounds abhorrent. He wants you to learn his trade like you're his apprentice or son or something. This is the opposite of "doing what you want." There's a disconnect between what he's doing and what he's telling you. He's controlling your life to be how he wants it. One of you suggests therapy to get help, totally reasonable, but he takes you to one of his buddies so he can say "see? I was right! My friend I mean therapist agrees with me!"

You won't ever be equals because whatever you do won't be good enough for him. The "problem" is him, the "impasse" is his feelings towards you (or if you're female, possibly towards women in general?) which will most likely Not Change. will not change, as in, unfixable. My advice is leave him ASAP. Why continue a relationship with someone who's a jerk to you?
posted by ghostbikes at 7:06 AM on July 28, 2011 [4 favorites]

I know you're actually asking for resources on better communication here, but this person comes off like such a total asshole in your description that it's really difficult to think of specific resources to point you to that will make your partner not an asshole.

I know you're not asking for this, so take it or leave it, but you really, really shouldn't be working for him. If this question made him sound like way more of a jerk than he actually is, and you actually do feel like it would be okay to spend your life with someone who terms you lazy and selfish, you could probably do a lot for your relationship by just quitting that job, because you have a power dynamic in place that, and this is the best case scenario, is difficult for him to let go of.
posted by A Terrible Llama at 7:13 AM on July 28, 2011 [1 favorite]

He can't tell you things like "you are lazy" without backing it up with specific things he would like you to do. It's a whole separate question whether his requests are fair - but he simply cannot continually insult you. That is not ok.
posted by yarly at 7:13 AM on July 28, 2011 [1 favorite]

Pardon me while I get my driving hat; it is time for a quick trip on the Real Talk Express.

He talks to you like a child. He acts like a parent and then says your partnership is unequal for reasons that work out to him believing your relationship is all parent-and-child.

And you know what? Ninety-nine times out of a hundred, I look at relationship questions like this and I think, okay, a lot of people would hurl out the old DTMFA but I honestly believe that people can change, I believe that just about every relationship deserves the chance to work.

This one is the exception.

Your partner does not respect you. He doesn't believe that the problem is in the space between you and his expectations of you; he believes that the problem is you. You told him what you intended to do with your day off, and then you did that, and upon seeing that you did exactly what you told him you were going to do, he got upset. He doesn't respect you and it kind of seems like he's taking out a lot of his frustrations on you.

The Real Talk Express is now approaching one of its stops. Here we answer a specific question.

What other sorts of resources can I use to help us communicate better?

The problem is, as above, that he doesn't believe the problem lies where it actually lies. What this means is that I don't get the impression he sees your communication as a problem that needs to be fixed. In other words, this is not an issue he wants to resolve, and if he doesn't want to work on it then all the help and therapy in the world will not make you an inch of headway. I truly believe that almost any relationship can be made to work if all parties involved genuinely want to make it work and are willing to put in whatever effort that entails. And that's not happening here.

Here is my advice: Tell him in no uncertain terms that your partnership is unequal and he needs to be a team with you and work together on this, and discuss any and all issues coming from a place of genuine love and care, and be a team. No resentment, no anger, no letting things simmer. Be completely clear about what it means to you to be treated with respect. Make it clear to him that this is something you need to be in a partnership, and that if it is not present, then you have to leave. Give it, I don't know, a few weeks at most and if he doesn't show obvious signs of trying to change, then just bounce.

And honestly, that's all you can do. Since he doesn't agree on what the problem is, the best you can do is make it clear to him that you're going to leave him if this doesn't change. Once that's been made clear, you've really done everything you can. The guy sounds intractable and disrespectful and if he doesn't want to change, he's not going to. It doesn't matter how good it is when he's not being an asshole. Every relationship is like that. If it wasn't ever good then there'd be nothing to deliberate over. What matters is his general attitude towards you, and that attitude is terrible, and it won't change if he won't deal with it in a constructive way. If I were you I'd maybe start the process of disentangling your life from his, so he has nothing to hold over you.

It won't be easy, but it already isn't easy, and it sounds like the way this man treats you is killing you by inches. Try to love yourself, and be kind to yourself, and you'll be all right. I'm sure of it. And good luck.

This concludes today's ride on the Real Talk Express. The Real Talk Local will be leaving the station in roughly half an hour. Thank you and have a great day.
posted by FAMOUS MONSTER at 7:22 AM on July 28, 2011 [15 favorites]

The manner in which he treats and speaks to you reveals what he feels and thinks about you. All the couples therapy in the world is not going to change this. At best he might learn to change his language or suppress his true feelings...but they won't change or go away. Intensive personal therapy might make a dent in his abusive personality, but he would have to be highly motivated and work his ass off. From your post, these things seem very unlikely to happen.

DTMFA and never look back. Alternatively, stick it out and become accustomed to the abuse you live with every day.
posted by txmon at 7:23 AM on July 28, 2011 [2 favorites]

Is there possibly physical abuse going on in this relationship? Or just mental abuse?

If you _really_ think this "relationship" is worth saving then get a new job somewhere else and go see an un-biased counselor.

However, if this relationship is not worth saving (and nothing I've read indicates it is) then DTMFA.
posted by dgeiser13 at 7:24 AM on July 28, 2011

You took a day off from work in order to prepare for a trip, you prepared for the trip, and then he wanted you to account for how you'd spent the rest of your time? On a day off? What would his response have been if you'd said "Well, the bags were all packed, so I watched Diagnosis Murder for three hours"? Because you get to do that on days off, you know. You get to do whatever you want with your own time. Whatever your actual working relationship, this man is not the 24/7 boss of you, and it's odd and inappropriate that he's acting otherwise.

I have asked repeatedly what things I am supposed to be doing that my selfishness makes me neglect, but he has no concrete answer.

I suspect this would be a different situation if he did, although it would still not be a good or fair situation for you to be in.

If he was annoyed because he had very different standards of cleanness and tidiness to yours, and he thought you should spend every waking hour hand-polishing the silverware and dusting the houseplants, that would still be controlling and not okay - but at least it would be an actual concrete thing to discuss. By not giving you any concrete thing to discuss, he's giving you no way to fix the problem; by giving you no way to fix the problem, he's ensuring that things will stay just as they are, with you desperately trying to work out what he wants and him making you feel bad about not living up to his undeclared standards. Which you're never going to be able live up to, because if this was about you not doing X thing, he'd tell you what X thing was. It's not about anything you're doing or not doing; it's about what he's getting out of this dynamic.

I'm not sure that there are any better ways to improve communication here, given that there isn't actually a problem with your communication at all in the situation as you've described it. So maybe try to work on communicating what you want from him, and what you will and won't tolerate from him, rather than tying yourself in knots trying to find whole new ways to read his mind.

Write down a list for yourself of things you know are true, things like 'I don't have to be accountable to my partner for my day-to-day activities' and 'it's unreasonable to yell at someone for being selfish if you can't or won't give examples of their selfishness' and 'the household tasks we agreed I'd be responsible for are A, B, and C, and I have done those today.' Then refuse to participate in any conversation in which he acts as if those things are not the case. Make it clear to him that you're happy to talk about specific things that you've done/not done, if he wants, but you're not going to sit around being yelled at for being an awful person. Not 'it hurts me when you treat me like this', or 'I feel condescended to when you treat me like this' - just 'We've discussed this. I am not prepared to have you treat me like this. You can either talk to me like an adult, or you can yell at and insult an empty room. Your choice.'
posted by Catseye at 7:24 AM on July 28, 2011 [9 favorites]

It seems to me like this is an argument about making money, even though it's not directly that. Your husband feels like he's pulling all the weight because he's the one "with the stable job" and you should kiss his ass and worship the ground he works on for being so generous for helping you get some sort of employment. He thinks because you're not in a real job away from him, you're not really doing any work, no matter what you're actually doing with your time. From the fact that you've talked about this at length with him, and he still hasn't come up with any productive suggestions on what is wrong and how to deal with it, this isn't going to go away with "improvements in communication". He doesn't get it, that how he's treating you isn't ok, and that he's re-negging on a deal you've made before.

This suggests you need to start looking for jobs in other cities, if you can't find a job there and apparently it seems very important that you get one, you have to move. If he refuses to go with you, leave him because this should be a dealbreaker. Your other alternative is to give up on your advanced degree (and I sympathize with the pain this causes you to even think of it) and go get training for something else, or take a job doing something else.

Bottom line, quit working with him and find something else, anything else. The jerk isn't going to change his tune in your current situation.
posted by lizbunny at 7:31 AM on July 28, 2011 [4 favorites]

The distinguishing feature of verbal abuse is arguments that you never get to the bottom of because you just cannot figure out how to communicate with him - because the communication is the problem.

If that's your situation, and it sure sounds like it, figuring out a way to explain that is not going to help. Instead, it will be the one thing that keeps you on the hook for more and more abuse.

An effective response would be "Cut it out," "Cut out the criticism," "Please keep your comments to yourself," or "Stop judging me." And then not getting into any arguments or discussions.

If we're all mistaken and he actually just has a few bad habits, this is going to be the way to uncover that.

As a first priority, though, I'd seek alternative employment.
posted by tel3path at 7:40 AM on July 28, 2011 [7 favorites]

We have seen a therapist, but I did not find it helpful. For one, the therapist was not very interested in my input. Also, he was an acquaintance of my partner and they spent some of the therapy session bonding over their shared religious upbringing (which I did not have).

This was a BAD THERAPIST SITUATION. For so many reasons. So, let's not strike couple's therapy off of the list of things to try, because that attempt really barely counts. Having to shop around a bit for a therapist is common, even in a tiny town.

I think you need to take charge. When he bites, bite back. When he asks you to account for your time, ask him to account for his. I normally don't advocate provoking arguments, but he needs to know how this sounds and feels, especially since it is soooo avoidable. It doesn't sound like he is going to give you more respect if you simply ask for it, you have to demand it -- or even better, transcend it, letting him know which things are his business and which things aren't.

He sees you as selfish now? Wait till he has to deal with a partner who is confident, self-actualized, and who laughs at his pointless observations about things that are none of his business really.
posted by hermitosis at 7:45 AM on July 28, 2011 [2 favorites]

I was with someone who constantly told me I was selfish and other things such as how no one else but him would put up with my selfishness. These comments still hurt me to this day despite the relationship ending nearly 6 months ago.

A partner should not tell you that you are selfish. It's such a vague statement. It also borders on abuse. For me, when I would try to point out ways in which I was not selfish, he would say I would be "defensive" and that proved his point about my selfishness. Ugh.

Reading your description of your partner made me very sad. I think you might want to consider leaving him. Do you have family or friends who you can stay with in a different state while looking for a new job?
posted by parakeetdog at 7:47 AM on July 28, 2011 [1 favorite]

If I had a boss like your boss, I'd adopt some communication strategies to help make my life bearable. For instance: You can sometimes fight micromanagement by reporting what you've done in overwhelming detail. A five-minute explanation of where everything is in the luggage sounds more impressive than "your bags are packed," even if it's unnecessary and time-wasting. Or, too, you can sometimes distract micromanager-types with small questions. "Hold on, this is an important decision, I need to know which tie you want to wear with this shirt" lets the guy feel important and respected without having to belittle you. There are ways to sidestep or redirect criticism at work; there are ways to take the criticism without letting it affect your self-esteem; and so on and so on. Plenty of AskMe threads about coping with a toxic workplace environment if you want to learn all the tricks.

On the other hand, if I was married to a guy who was acting like your partner, I'd be pretty well inclined to leave his ass. I'll take petty shit from a boss if I need the job. But nobody needs a husband.
posted by nebulawindphone at 7:50 AM on July 28, 2011 [3 favorites]

I encourage you to listen to this song, at least through the first chorus, but ideally the whole thing.
posted by jeffmshaw at 8:00 AM on July 28, 2011 [2 favorites]

He 'hired' you at his company so he could keep an eye on you. My friend married this guy too (he's everywhere). He is deeply distrustful of her (for no reason whatsoever, except his own insecurity), talks down to her, runs the household and makes all big decisions himself (how could she possibly help). The worst part of it is that now, after numerous years with this dude, she has bought into his nonsense and thinks she is stupid, incompetent, etc. So...get out. He's not going to wake up one day and think you are smart and competent. He's just waiting for you to 'wake up' and accept his own (erroneous) assessment: that you are not. He ain't changin', sister. Save yourself.
posted by lulu68 at 8:09 AM on July 28, 2011 [6 favorites]

I think you may have married my ex!

In all seriousness, I've been where you are now. While I think this is a situation that could be turned around, if both people were motivated, it sounds like your partner is doing the same sort of "therapy theatre" that my ex did, in that he has no motivation to take responsibility or change anything himself because he's heaping all of the blame on you. In that case, there's really no therapist or communication strategy that's going to help, because no matter how you say it, he's going to continue right along with the narrative in his own head. At least half of good communication is listening, and he's not doing that.

Based on my own experience, this situation will devolve further into more severe emotional and financial abuse. He will become more controlling and treat you less and less as an equal. You will never be able to do enough or to do things the right way to please him. Trying to discuss this will be pointless, as all arguments will be approached with the assumption that you are unreasonable, selfish, etc.. You will hear yourself mis-characterized to the point where your self-confidence is undermined. When he gets tired of this game, or becomes disenchanted with you after he has worn you down to a shell of your former self, he'll go find someone else to start on and, when discovered, have the audacity to blame you for the fact that he's cheating because you were so selfish that his needs were never attended to, blah blah blah, whine whine whine, poor martyr that is him.

*ahem* Not that I'm bitter or anything, heh.

If I could do things over again, I'd have run for the hills years before it eventually ended, and (from my admittedly biased position) I'd strongly suggest you do the same. That said, be smart about it, because if he's being controlling and treating you like crap when you're already living under his thumb, it has the potential to get really ugly really fast once you start trying to extricate yourself from the situation. Sock money away, find a job quietly, speak to lawyers, get whatever is important to you out of the house, and have your exit plan in place before you tell him anything.

Best of luck to you.
posted by scandalamity at 8:10 AM on July 28, 2011 [1 favorite]

Each human being is allotted a certain amount of time for the duration of their life on earth. That time belongs to that human being and to no one else. If they want to spend the entirety of that time licking chocolate syrup out of their navel, then that time is there for them to do with as they please.

A human being may decide to enter into a relationship with another human being, and in so doing, agree to be responsible for some or all of the needs of the other human being. In such a case, they are responsible for what they agreed, and continue to agree, to be responsible for. If at any time they decide that they no longer wish to be responsible for the other’s needs, then they don’t have to be. Friends, family, society, or Child Protective Services may get upset about it, but the time still belongs to that human being only.

You can choose to spend some of your time, the time that belongs to you, doing things that meet your partner’s needs. That time still belongs to you, but you are choosing to spend it on behalf of your partner. If you decide not to spend any of your time meeting a need of his that you had agreed to meet, he probably will get upset, because you broke an agreement. But it sounds like he is getting upset about how you spend the time that belongs to you even while you are meeting all of the needs that you agreed you’d be responsible for. This is unreasonable and nonsensical, even for a purely boss-employee relationship.

Maybe he thinks that you agreed to hand over responsibility of all of your time to him. Maybe you did agree to that. But an agreement like that is not set in stone. Your time is one of the only things in life that truly belongs to you.

Maybe he thinks that because he is allegedly spending so much of his time on you, that you should do the same. But that’s his time, and his choice. If he doesn’t want to be spending so much of his time on you, why is he? It sounds like he is the one who needs to be monitoring his time.

What would make all of his arguments make sense if we take “selfish” to mean “does what one wants and decides with one’s own time that belongs to them,” and “lazy” to mean “does not spend as much of their time on my needs as I want them to or as would be convenient for me.”
posted by thebazilist at 8:20 AM on July 28, 2011 [7 favorites]

He has had other relationships where he felt manipulated and used, but I have always gone out of my way to make sure I wasn't making unreasonable demands of him.

I'm married right now to someone who sounds very much like your husband, tells me I'm lazy, tells me I "just do whatever I want" so he's justified being angry at me, doesn't participate in the couple-work ("agreed that I would take the day off today to prepare our bags and house for an upcoming trip") but inevitably finds some reason to criticize, usually with the superficially-accurate observation that I didn't communicate enough with him. Right down to the claims that his previous partners were manipulative and controlling.

That claim produced the same thing in me that it seems to be producing in you: a need to bend over backwards to "prove" that you aren't manipulating and controlling ("I have always gone out of my way to make sure I wasn't making unreasonable demands of him"). Except that you never know what he's going to define as manipulative, amirite? So you ask for less and less, try to need less and less. I can't count how many things--important and unimportant--I have capitulated on to make sure my husband knows I'm not trying to stick it to him. It's never enough. In the end, all that has happened is that I have seriously eroded my own well-being as an individual, as a partner, and as a legal entity (for example, I gave up legal rights to the house I live). All because he has some hot buttons "from previous manipulative relationships" and I wanted to make sure he feet safe and loved.

My first wake-up call was when two friends--after I recounted just one of his interactions with me--told me they thought it was emotional abuse. The second wake-up call was when he refused to call 911 in the middle of the night as I was having chest pains and difficulty breathing. His explanation? That I was "trying to manipulate him into showing he cares about me." Our therapist has remained focused on our communication issues, even after I recounted the 911 incident (and husband confirmed how things unfolded!).

The difficulty with emotional and verbal abuse is that it can be so gradual, and cloaked in such noble goals (him: "I want to be able to trust you," you: "If only I communicate better"). One thing I found most helpful (from the book Too Good to Leave, Too Bad to Stay) was to make a list of my "bottom lines." These were things which, if my husband did them, I would feel very reasonable leaving. As I made my list I heard myself saying, "Well, he probably would never do that so I'm being very reasonable." He did them all. Explore your options. Prepare some exit strategies. Take care of yourself and be ready to leave.
posted by Yoshimi Battles at 8:25 AM on July 28, 2011 [14 favorites]

"When you say I'm lazy and selfish, you're really saying that I'm just not doing exactly what you want and behaving just the way you want at all times. That's not a relationship. Knock it off."

Sounds like he wants someone who is exactly like him. Ever see that SNL parody "Me-Harmony"?
posted by Melismata at 8:28 AM on July 28, 2011 [2 favorites]

Are you female and was part of his religious upbringing pertinent to women being subservient to men? If yes, are you ok with that?
posted by WeekendJen at 8:30 AM on July 28, 2011 [3 favorites]

This is all kinds of bad.

It seems innocuous; it's not. It's a symptom of a much deeper problem, a fundamental philosophy or even personality disorder. No one in a relationship with you should ever call you "selfish and lazy" first of all. Those words are just off limits.

He's being authoritarian and acting like a father to you. This probably stems from really deep-seated control issues. He's decided that he can't trust people around him not to hurt him, and he developed a strategy to shame, dictate, and boss people around to deal with those feelings of insecurity. This is a strategy much more frequently adopted by men, because they think it's allowable for them due to cultural or religious roles.

This is the dark side of authority. It's not "for your own good" or well-intentioned. It's all coming from his place of personal grievance and neediness, no matter what he tells himself.

You need to leave him. He will probably react very, very badly to this because it's his worst fear. Prepare yourself for the blowback. He will try subtle manipulation and then likely progress to more overt tactics. You see, all of this song and dance about you being inferior, selfish and weak is complete diversion to hide the fact that he feels frustrated that he can't control you and get what he thinks he deserves. He's actually the one who is selfish and needy, and I'm willing to bet he's much more attached to you than you are to him.

Personally, I've had boyfriends pull the "you're so cold and selfish" line. It was almost always when they were trying to get something from me or cross a boundary I didn't want them to cross. They then would try to pull in examples from daily life as more evidence, like "you pushed past that person on the sidewalk" or just completely fabricated things like that, because they knew how silly and insubstantial their original claim looked if they didn't at least attempt to pathetically bolster it with more ridiculous character assasination. It comes from a place of complete childishness and neediness and resembles nothing so much as a four-year-old getting angry with his mother for not buying him candy. Don't believe it for a single second.
posted by Nixy at 8:57 AM on July 28, 2011 [7 favorites]

It sounds like you're financially dependent on him, maybe even completely. If he were a stand-up guy, that would still complicate the process of moving from where you are to an equal partnership but given the type of guy he seems to be, I think it will make it impossible.

It seems to me that for any change to be possible, you need to feel empowered to set boundaries and enforce them, and if you know you can't walk away, it really really undermines your ability to do that. Especially if the part of you that fears that you really couldn't get along without his financial support is whispering to you that in a way, you are using him, and the more obnoxious he gets and you put up with it anyway, the more you are staying with him for what he can provide as opposed to the good things in the relationship.

So at least be honest with yourself. Tolerate what you have to tolerate to get yourself to a position where you actually can support yourself, and stay clear about your own emotions and goals. It sounds like it's time to look for a new job wherever you can find one, and if he, and the relationship is worth preserving, you guys can rebuild it from a place of greater equality once you're standing on your own feet.
posted by Salamandrous at 9:25 AM on July 28, 2011 [1 favorite]

My significant other calls me lazy sometimes. Know why? Because I'm lazy. I'll take an empty beer can to the trash, but then end up just leaving it on the counter right above the trashcan. I'll leave open any cupboard after pulling something out of it. My socks litter the entry way. And when he discovers any of this, he goes "Ahhhh!!!!" in a mock-outraged way, pointing at near pantomimic levels, acting out death and dismay. And here's the kicker: then I laugh.

Notice the difference between my SO calling me lazy and your husband calling you lazy. My SO does it out of fun. He does it because it's part of an in-joke we have. He does it because I enjoy the gentle mockery in good fun. He does it in response to specific examples where I have done something in a ridiculously half-assed way. And then, if there's a situation where he really has a problem with how I've (failed to) perform some simple action, he skips the theatrics and just says, "Hey, Meese, it'd really help me out if you would do this."

I tell you this to point out that there are occasions where a healthy relationship may involve one partner telling the other that s/he is lazy. Mine involves this, and my relationship is healthy. But notice the differences between your case and mine. What you're experiencing is not normal. It is possible to be in a relationship that does not involve the kinds of attacks you're experiencing.

He has had other relationships where he felt manipulated and used....

From everything you've wrote, I take it that, were you two to break up, he'd tell his next partner that you also manipulated and used him. You may want to think about that.
posted by meese at 9:26 AM on July 28, 2011 [10 favorites]

I wrote all kinds of stuff, but decided for brevity: DTMFA. GET OUT. This guy is controlling, mean, doesn't give a damn about your thoughts or relationship is worth that. And not to sound too histrionic, but I'd be concerned about this developing to straight up verbal and/or physical abuse.

And seriously--who sees a therapist who they know from other situations? That's just creepy (as well as being biased). One of my closest friends is a kick-ass therapist but I would never dream of consulting him professionally--we're not objective about each other.

Good luck--sending good thoughts your way.
posted by smirkette at 9:27 AM on July 28, 2011

This sounds like an ex of mine. He would call me inconsiderate and lazy. For example, sometimes he used to wake me up in the morning to fix him breakfast just to see if I'm wifey material. If I didn't, oh lord watch out... a hurl of insults and lectures would follow, in his disgustingly calm, condescending tone. Oh he had his reasons... the women in his life were horrible to him. This is true but he used it as a crutch to mistreat his girlfriends. He's breaking your spirit, hence you are in therapy and he will continue to do so out of his insecurities. Don't go to therapy with him, he'll only serve to manipulate the therapist and continue to turn the tables on you. Find your own like I did. You'll thank the heavens!
posted by InterestedInKnowing at 9:34 AM on July 28, 2011

To add what smirkette said... my ex suggested we go see his friend's father... he was a therapist (hello manipulation tactic). Haha, thank God I was strong enough to say "hell no!"
posted by InterestedInKnowing at 9:37 AM on July 28, 2011 [1 favorite]

At most, I do a bit of laundry-folding and sweeping and the housework is done.

Is housework an issue in your relationship? Even in a small house/apartment there is more than that needs doing. That may be one of the underlying issues that he's not expressing properly.

You're not lazy and selfish.

With respect - we have no way of knowing that, the OP may well be lazy and selfish - that doesn't excuse his behaviour - even if his concerns are valid, his attitude and communication are a serious problem but none of us here are in a position to make that judgement. We only have one side of the story. For all we know, he works 60 hours a week, does all the cooking and the rest of the housework while the OP does 'whatever she wants' and spends their shared leisure time doing activities that she enjoys.

That said - he's a dick and you need to stand up to him. When he tries to put himself in a position of power over you in the home, don't allow him to. When he asks for an accounting of your time, don't reward him by giving him what he wants. Blow him off - say 'stuff' or if you want to be more antagonistic, remind him that it is not an appropriate question for a partner to ask and you're not going to dignify it with a response.
If he tries to call you selfish or lazy - cut him off. Tell him to back up his accusations or shut the fuck up. If he persists, leave the room (or the house if you have to). He doesn't get to make unfounded accusations ever again. He either explains exactly what you've done/not done or he shuts his mouth. If you are lazy and selfish then he shouldn't have any problem proving it.

If you're interested in staying with him you really do need to find a good, neutral couples therapist to work through this issue with the two of you.

In the meantime, perhaps some self reflection would help you get to the bottom of the issue on your own. How often does he do things for you? Even little things - eg. letting you choose how you spend your time together/what to watch on TV - how often do you do the same for him? Something that seems like nothing to you could be a big deal to him - maybe the reason he doesn't express what he thinks you do that's selfish is that its lots of very small things that would seem ridiculous in isolation but taken as a whole over the course of years has left him frustrated and bitter.
You could try being 'super-nice' - do his share of the chores and the cooking, let him pick shared activities etc. and see if the situation improves - if it doesn't then clearly the issue is just him and there's nothing you could do to change his characterisation of you (and you should DTMFA), if it does, gradually dial it back to a more sustainable level and assess his reaction. This obviously doesn't solve the issue of his failure to communicate his needs or his belittling attitude but it might give you a bit of peace until you can find a therapist and work through the issues properly.
posted by missmagenta at 9:46 AM on July 28, 2011 [1 favorite]

I am 90% sure that he is resentful that he contributes more income to the household and works longer hours (my assumption) and he feels this gives him more say in what you do around the house. I am not saying he is right or justified, but if you want to resolve this, the issue needs to be addressed.

So, I would address it. When you're both calm, ask him directly but non-confrontationally whether he feels resentful about your work situation and the disparity in income. Do not get defensive. If he's able to admit that, it might go a long way towards resolving it. He may be struggling with not wanting to feel that way, which compounds the difficulty.

Is there something that he'd like to do that he hasn't gotten the chance to because of time or money considerations? Support him in finding a way to do that. I guarantee this will make a huge difference. Don't worry about being right or verbally disproving the charge of selfishness. The way to show him you're not lazy or selfish is not to argue about it. It's to encourage him to do things he wants to do. You don't say anything about this in your post - you say you do enough housework and you don't demand things from him. Be proactive.

(PS I am not saying you should let him be controlling and critical - also address that and set your boundaries. I'm saying you should address the real issue, head on.)
posted by desjardins at 10:10 AM on July 28, 2011 [1 favorite]

I've known someone like your husband, and while he could be a hyper-controlling asshole, his wife could give as good as she got on different fronts. Somehow that worked for them. But it doesn't seem to be working for you.

The main thing that stands out to me is that whether or not you stay with him, you need to start carving out some autonomy for yourself. You can do this and still work on the relationship. Or you can do it and leave him tomorrow. Do you manage any of your own finances? Finding your own therapist is important (and you sound like you could use someone to talk to without your husband present, honestly), but so is taking some steps toward financial independence. That means a new job, even if it's a step sideways or backwards career-wise, and controlling your own money. Do you have your own bank account? Your husband sounds like the type who might start a serious fight on this issue, so I recommend you open an account first, before even having a conversation with him about it. Alternately, you could be like my aforementioned colleague's wife, who did have her own account, into which her business-owning husband deposited her paycheck and "allowance for the month." (Again, gave me the creeps, but worked for them somehow.)

But look: it's okay to not want to leave a relationship, but it's not okay to feel like you couldn't leave even if you wanted to. I think some folks here are getting that vibe from your post. I don't feel quite sure enough to make that call, but regardless: please look out for yourself. Best of luck.
posted by deludingmyself at 10:51 AM on July 28, 2011 [2 favorites]

Not only do you break up with him, but if (when?) he fires you from the business afterward you can sue him for sexual harrassment and retaliation! It's not good to fire someone because they aren't your girlfriend anymore.
posted by rhizome at 11:31 AM on July 28, 2011

my partner told me that he feels he cannot trust me to do what is needed because I am too selfish.

"lazy and selfish."

Insults are emotional abuse. I would refuse to engage in any conversation that features a personal attack. Practice calmly saying: "I'm not willing to listen to insults. If you continue to insult me, I'm going to have to end this conversation" and then, "I already mentioned that I'm not willing to listen to insults, so I'm going to walk away now. Let's try to discuss this again another time." Then walk away.

You're not selfish. He can talk about how your behavior impacts him or makes him feel. But he cannot know what your intentions are. He does not know your innermost self. You are the expert on yourself, so don't let him get to you -- don't let these insults register.

The key here is to walk away or stop the conversation every single time this happens. Things may escalate, or improve, or escalate and then improve, but regardless of his reaction, you will come to trust yourself more as you consistently protect yourself from being insulted.
posted by salvia at 11:36 AM on July 28, 2011

The Power and Control Wheel describes the big picture of domestic abuse. Consider what needs he's expressed:
"he cannot trust me"

"I am selfish, I do not back him up, I do whatever I like and he supports me. "

"fear of being taken advantage of in other conversations"

"don't have an equal partnership because he does everything he can to make sure I'm happy and I can do what I want"
He's communicated over and over that, in his POV, he's the victim of a power imbalance and you are unfairly winner. He's trying to correct is, drawing on five of those eight pie pieces so far. Yet, despite his attempts to fix the problem by asserting increasing control over you -- despite your attempts to find a compromise that works for him -- despite that you "have always gone out of my way to make sure I wasn't making unreasonable demands of him" -- he still feels this upsetting power imbalance persists:
"He stands by this issue so firmly"

"He gets very cold and insistent when we have this discussion"

"nothing I ever say or do will disprove the charge of selfishness"
Five of those eight pie pieces. And you two don't have kids.

Which leaves threats of, and reality of, violent action as the only remaining tools for him to attempt to get his needs met.

Understand: I'm not suggesting abuse is the next step. I'm suggesting that you've described a relationship in which it sounds like abuse is already ongoing and has been escalating.

I'm not a therapist. This isn't an issue I have qualification to internet-diagnose. Do consult a qualified counselor immediately. A therapist who has no conflict of interest, and whose professional responsibility is solely to you.

If your partner is unwilling to pay for that, may I suggest taking a hard look at how that reflects on the pie pieces of economic abuse, minimizing, isolation, and emotional abuse.
posted by nakedcodemonkey at 12:33 PM on July 28, 2011 [4 favorites]

Partner responded by saying that this shouldn't have taken me all day and I needed to monitor my time to see where it went. [...] I just did not understand what else I was supposed to be spending my time on. For the record, the house was clean and neat.

The thing about this is... you're an adult. If you packed the bags as you promised, got some household chores done because you felt they needed to be done, and then decided to nap or surf the Internet for the rest of the afternoon that's entirely up to you! It's not your partner's job (or right) to audit your time. It's not your responsibility to justify how you spend your own time to him.

That's not to say it's inappropriate for him to ever comment on how you choose to spend your time. But the way he did it was wrong and unfair--wrong because he spoke to you like a naughty child rather than his adult partner, and unfair because he didn't explain what he actually wanted or expected. An appropriate conversation might start with him saying:
  • "I'm really frustrated by the amount of housework that falls to me. I came home today and the sink was full of dirty dishes. Can we work out a system where you do more of the chores on days when you're home and I'm at work?"
  • "I'm really frustrated because you keep talking about doing XYZ when you have a day off, but it still hasn't happened. I'd like to see it get done. Can you do it next Saturday?"
  • "I'm really frustrated because you said you'd spend this afternoon applying for a new job and you didn't. What happened?"
(I'm not saying you left dirty dishes in the sink, failed to do something you said you'd do, or are lazy in your post-layoff job search, I'm just saying that those types of comments and requests are appropriate.)

Even if--and I'm not saying he does--he did do more around the house or more on your behalf, or just more in the relationship, there's no cosmic scale that weighs you and says, "Anon isn't doing her equal share: she is selfish and bad." What matters is that the two of you communicate honestly and in concrete terms about what you need. "You're selfish and lazy" is not honest communication. "I'd like it if you did the dishes when I cook dinner" is.

It sounds like his default attitude about you is, "You're a selfish person. Prove to me that you made an effort to be less selfish today." That's an impossible thing to overcome from your side--even if you succeed in doing something he likes, you're still a selfish person in his mind.

I know you had a bad experience with your previous therapist. It sounds like he was pretty unprofessional. But there are good therapists who can help you to understand what's happening in your relationship and how to handle it. I second the suggestion, made above, to see a therapist on your own.
posted by Meg_Murry at 12:40 PM on July 28, 2011

You are being gaslighted. Lots of people here, in describing their experiences, have provided examples of being gaslighted as well. It's a form of very subtle manipulation where the other person defines who you are (in this case, lazy and selfish) and you engage in that conversation by saying "No I'm not" etc. etc. By engaging that way you're in effect saying "I believe you, but I'm going to convince you and I that I'm not." You cannot play into that game.

The Gaslight Effect is an excellent book about how to recognize gaslighting, how to recognize your own actions in the dynamic (while NOT putting the blame on you), taking responsibility for yourself, and how to decide to stay or go. Please read it.
posted by foxjacket at 1:56 PM on July 28, 2011

"Gaslight" is also a very good movie, made twice (1940, 1944), that has helped to frame my family's relationship to me, as well.
posted by rhizome at 5:01 PM on July 28, 2011

I'm very sorry that you are in this situation, but the truth as it seems to me is that this person has substantial mental health issues. He sounds like an extreme narcissist, who demands to control every aspect of your life and subjugate your will to his own. He does not treat you with respect, or even as a person, based on what you've written here.

My heart really aches for you; this is not the way you need to live. I assure you that there are people out there who would never, ever treat their partner this way. I'm sorry, but I think you should move on. You deserve to be happy, and you cannot be happy when this person is actively seeking to make you his emotional slave.

Be strong, you can make a happier future for yourself -- just break free from this guy and the bondage he is trying to keep you in!
posted by diocletian at 5:51 PM on July 28, 2011

I do not usually glibly say DTMFA, because relationships are complex and it's hard to really see the dynamics from the brief descriptions we get here in AskMe.

But just reading this makes me absolutely confident DTFMA is the right answer here. Your partner treats you like a child, thinks he has the right to tell you how to spend your free time, criticizes you even when you have done him a favor by packing his things for him, deflects your valid complaints about this with more hurtful criticism, and then clams up when you try to discuss why he acts this way.

And yet i read further and see that this is your husband?! I can only assume he wasn't like this before you were married, Which suggests the problem is the change in work circumstances. The only explanation I can find that makes sense is that he did not expect you to take the entire day off to pack, and thought you were going to make dinner or something, too? Or maybe he thought you were going back to work after you finished packing? But you say the two of you discussed this. And even so, his treatment of you is utterly unacceptable.

So the only rationale I am left with is that you've either grossly misrepresnted this and left out some really important details, or he is a controlling, manipulative, verbally abusive jerk, and you should not seek a new therapist but run far, far away.

If he is going to act this childishly now, when apparently money is not an issue, you don't have kids, and there's no real hardships, your life will only get worse if you stick around.
posted by misha at 6:29 PM on July 28, 2011 [1 favorite]

I don't read anywhere in the question that this guy is her husband. Maybe I'm wrong?
posted by InterestedInKnowing at 8:50 AM on July 29, 2011

I don't read anywhere in the question that this guy is her husband. Maybe I'm wrong?

From the last paragraph:

We discussed this at length before we married and (I thought) had agreed this would not pose us a problem.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 9:02 AM on July 29, 2011

gaslighted as well. It's a form of very subtle manipulation where the other person defines who you are (in this case, lazy and selfish) and you engage in that conversation by saying "No I'm not" etc. etc.

This situation is not cool, but gaslighting has a more specific definition (as I understand it). It involves getting someone to question their perception of the physical environment. Impugning someone's character does not qualify. Gaslighting would be something like moving the furniture, then saying it had never moved, in hopes that the person thinks that they're going crazy. The origin of the word is explained on wikipedia. The message of anti-gaslighting guides might still be helpful to you, though: trust your own perception of events, and don't let his attacks cause you to doubt yourself.
posted by salvia at 9:06 AM on July 29, 2011 [1 favorite]

Oh, look, here's a rock: we live in a small town where there are no industries in which I could use my advanced degree... and, oh, right next to it, a hard place: my partner told me ... I am selfish, I do not back him up, I do whatever I like and he supports me. And there you are, right in the middle.

Your partner doesn't trust you because he's supporting you, but you don't have career options where you live. I'd take my advanced degree somewhere where it could get me a good job, and then see if partner is willing to work things out in this more equalized environment.

If the answer is that he can't move because of his business, then that's that. He won't trust you if he's supporting you, and if he won't move somewhere where you can support yourself (or both of you, for however long that might be necessary), the options narrow drastically. If the hard place isn't budging, and the rock is going nowhere, the only mobile agent is you.
posted by taz at 10:37 AM on July 29, 2011 [3 favorites]

I would not allow anyone to treat me this way.
posted by Bergamot at 11:10 AM on July 29, 2011

salvia makes a detailed but important point. What he's doing is actually called, simply, "Judging and Criticizing" and is described in The Verbally Abusive Relationship by Patricia Evans, which I cannot recommend strongly enough.

I agree that unless there is something you are not telling us, your husband seems to be verbally abusing you.
posted by tel3path at 2:36 PM on July 29, 2011 [1 favorite]

Hey, my earlier comment got deleted, I guess it wasn't awesome enough or something.

I kept coming back to your question in my mind over the past few days. I disagree that your partners behavior (as described) is abusive. It sounds as annoying as hell, though, and also as if it's coming from a place of deep vulnerability.

I think that when he asks you annoying accountability type questions, you should ignore him. You don't owe him an explanation of how you spend your time or a justification thereof. So blow him off.

But I think the whole 'selfish' thing may be a window into the engine room of his personality. Especially if his manner changes when it's discussed the way you describe. What is he revealing with this fear? What patterns is he afraid that he is repeating? What about his parents relationships? Is he afraid of losing himself?

I don't know if I am explaining myself well. But my gut feeling is that this argument is not about your behavior, and may be a chink in his armor that coils lead to an increase in true intimacy between you.
posted by bq at 1:46 PM on July 31, 2011

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