Trust is a many-splendored thing
August 11, 2011 12:05 PM   Subscribe

please help me figure out what I want to say to my partner with regard to our major, major problems, and how to say it. It's long, omg so long.

My partner and I have been together for two and a half years. When it's good, it's amazing. When it's bad, it's really, dreadfully awful. I

I made a lot of mistakes in the first few months of our relationship; I was getting out of a previous long-term relationship, had not really gotten my financial or emotional life together, etc. A lot of this came out in ways that sort of betrayed my partner (acting like my finances were fine when I was really in debt, not being honest about my emotional/technical availability when we first met). Bad way to start a relationship. We agreed that we wanted to try to be together, though, and to move on.

Se started with a lot of baggage, and for him, it seems, new stuff keeps getting added, new reasons not to trust or believe me, new ways in which I'm not trustworthy, etc. This is always a situation where normal bumpy misunderstanding about something becomes, in his mind, me deliberately lying about where I was, what I was doing, what my motives are. Basically, he doesn't trust me, not even to say that I'd rather eat at X restaurant than Y. He's constantly questioning my motives and behaviors. It's crazy-making and exhausting.

I've struggled with self-harm, eating disorders, and depression for years. But I'm slowly-but-surely working on myself, and I've become a lot more stable and successful at handling myself since we first got together. In the past, I've acted out when feeling particularly frustrated (cutting myself, drinking too much, etc), but I've figured out coping strategies and where my own standards are and I'm much less likely to do this stuff now.

But I'm still "the problem" in any contentious interaction we have. It's difficult for us to have any kind of discussion without bringing piles of baggage to it, and in every fight I feel like I'm getting buried under of a pile of "you behaved badly two years ago, and I'm holding you accountable for it now, so your argument/feelings/whatever isn't valid..." or whatever. It feels really, really awful. I react emotionally, it blows up into a whole thing (he says mean stuff, I shut down, which feels mean to him), we're both upset for days.

We both know that we have a mountain to climb communication and empathy-wise if we want to stay together. I want to do this. In theory, he wants to do this. But I really don't think my partner gets how problematic it is for him to think that every problem of ours boils down one way or another to something that I'm doing. I want to tell him that it doesn't even matter if I AM wrong all the time (as he thinks—I don't think I am, though)—being completely unable to believe me or give me the benefit of the doubt even about my own feelings is never, ever going to get us anywhere.

Therapy hasn't gone well for us in the past, but theoretically he's willing to try again. But I feel like it won't be useful if he can't acknowledge that his attitude is at least a tiny miniscule part of the problem. I want to talk to him about this before we try again. Any advice for figuring out what I want to say—and being heard over/despite all the typical dismissing that happens?

I love and trust and care for this person, and believe we could be amazing together—I know we can, because we have been and still sometimes are. I would appreciate *constructive* advice more than anything else. Thanks.
posted by sockpuppet yo to Human Relations (69 answers total) 13 users marked this as a favorite
Response by poster: reading this over, I may not have been really clear that I am NOT trying to minimize or shrug off responsibility for my (really despicable) behavior; I felt and still feel really ashamed about it and have taken the hard lessons it taught to heart. He knows this; we've talked about it many times. I've gone about my life since then trying to show him that yes, I am trustworthy.
posted by sockpuppet yo at 12:13 PM on August 11, 2011

Best answer: Could you try something like:

"I know we've had our problems in the past, but I also feel like we should try to let all of that stuff go. I know it's been upsetting for you. I'd change it if I could, but now I can't, and it's done now.

"So... in the interest of moving on, can we start from a blank slate? I'd love it if we could promise to each other that, when we disagree, we're absolutely not allowed to drag in anything that happened before today, since there's no going back to fix it anyway.

"And I'd also love it if you could just take everything I say at face value, and I'd do that with you, too. I promise to be absolutely honest and open with you in return. I really think if we could do these things, it would make us both a lot happier."
posted by Andrhia at 12:14 PM on August 11, 2011 [2 favorites]

He doesn't respect you at all. To him, you are An Irresponsible Screwup and he seems perfectly content to keep on thinking that, no matter how you try to show that you've changed.
posted by showbiz_liz at 12:15 PM on August 11, 2011 [3 favorites]

You say yourself that he says mean things to you. He tells you your feelings aren't valid. This happens enough that you characterize the relationship as being "really, dreadfully awful" a lot of the time.

All of the other stuff aside, why would you want to put up with this? People deserve to feel safe and happy with their SO. You do, too.

It sounds to me like the two of you just aren't right for each other any more, no matter how great your relationship might have been in the past. If counseling hasn't helped you work out your issues, I think it might just be time for you both to go your separate ways.
posted by phunniemee at 12:16 PM on August 11, 2011 [4 favorites]

I felt like I had advice for you, but then you basically said it yourself:

"being completely unable to believe me or give me the benefit of the doubt even about my own feelings is never, ever going to get us anywhere."

It really doesn't matter how much you've fucked up. That's not a get-out-of-blame card for every disagreement or insecurity he has. He MUST forgive you if you guys are going to move forward. It doesn't matter how despicable it was. If he doesn't do this, I'm sorry, but a relationship will not work.

It also seems like you need to do some forgiving of yourself. People screw up. Constantly. Probably a lot bigger than what you've done. Taking care of oneself -- and love for another -- is about getting over that. Please focus as much on that as you can -- to me, this seems infinitely more important than a relationship.
posted by MCMikeNamara at 12:19 PM on August 11, 2011 [14 favorites]

I will also add that I agree with the other posters: If your partner isn't ultimately willing to agree to that clean slate and act on it, then you have to be willing to follow through by ending the relationship.

If you can't reclaim a comfortable-for-you baseline of trust, even after a lengthy period of good behavior, then that's your sign that you need to get out.
posted by Andrhia at 12:22 PM on August 11, 2011 [1 favorite]

TLDR ... particularly once I got to this:

When it's good, it's amazing. When it's bad, it's really, dreadfully awful.

Your situation immediately strikes me as all too common, all too mad, all too exactly like stuff I went through about twenty years ago. A quote from a friend's short story (unpublished) which I recently read speaks to this far more eloquently than I ever could:

"Maggy," says Jason.
"Speaking of unique monsters," I say.
"And yet you still love her."
"Fuck yeah. But it's like Marcus said. We're Bob Dylan idiots. You know that song? Idiot Wind?"
"I guess."
"Don't guess, man. Know. We fucking love each other but we hate each other's shit more. Thus we are doomed to stupid shit forever."

Good luck. True love will drive you crazy almost every time.
posted by philip-random at 12:24 PM on August 11, 2011 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Therapy hasn't gone well for us in the past, but theoretically he's willing to try again. But I feel like it won't be useful if he can't acknowledge that his attitude is at least a tiny miniscule part of the problem.

That admission comes in therapy, not before it. Go for therapy.
posted by Ironmouth at 12:25 PM on August 11, 2011 [7 favorites]

Best answer: He's constantly questioning my motives and behaviors. It's crazy-making and exhausting.

This is the key point, being in this relationship is making you crazy and exhausted. These are completely sane responses to the terrible guilt trip he's laying on you all the time.

Yes, you messed up at the beginning. But that was two years ago. At some point a person really does have to move on. They can't stay in the past and drag you back there and expect to maintain a healthy relationship.

I love and trust and care for this person, and believe we could be amazing together...

Not when he's literally driving you crazy. It doesn't matter how good things are when they're good, what's really important is what happens when things go bad. Frankly, it sounds like things turn to complete shit and it's just. not. worth. it. No matter who awesome the bad times are.

You asked for constructive advice. I would suggest moving out or going on break or something similar, while having him and you in separate therapy and both of you in couples therapy. If he can't or won't agree to that, then leave.

You can not have a relationship if one of you can't trust the other, especially if it's when things go bad. That's when you need each other the most.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 12:26 PM on August 11, 2011 [3 favorites]

Also, this part:
"please help me figure out what I want to say to my partner with regard to our major, major problems, and how to say it."

You can't say anything convince him. You can't fix this because there's something in him that completely refuses to not only let this go, but actively bring it up all the time. Quite possibly you've done all you can and the next step has to come from him.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 12:29 PM on August 11, 2011 [3 favorites]

Best answer: I have been in similar relationships, where I was treated like a misbehaving child and constantly felt as though I was in trouble for things I felt like I couldn't predict or control. I would try really hard to be good, and then something as stupid as deciding which restaurant to eat at would remind me what a failure I was at everything and especially relationships, and I wouldn't even understand exactly why the conversation had swung that way in the first place. It's a terrible place for a relationship to be — it wears you down and becomes something of a self-fulfilling prophecy.

A friend of mine has a system called I'm Not In Trouble, which he employs when his girlfriend seems irrationally upset to him. I don't generally endorse his methods since it mostly involves him intentionally not caring about his girlfriend's feelings and he is actually a total jerk that way. But maybe in your case, it's what you need. When you start feeling as though you are in trouble, DECIDE YOU ARE NOT IN TROUBLE. When he questions your motivations, do not engage! To avoid being a jerk, you'll have to preface it with a conversation like the one Andrhia's laid out for you.

But honestly, I'm not sure you can fix this, especially if you're trying to fix it without his help. I find it curious that you mention a history of eating disorders and self-harm, because the relationships in which I felt most like you do were also the ones in which I did not have my own eating disorder issues under control at all, for part or all of the extent of that relationship. Self esteem and self confidence are no longer things I keep in short supply, and this is not a relationship pattern that exists for me any longer. And you know why? It's not because I've changed so much as I date different people, people who respect me and treat me well. Try therapy, sure. But you deserve love and trust and forgiveness, and you don't deserve to constantly be placed under the microscope and made to feel as though everything is your fault.
posted by adiabat at 12:29 PM on August 11, 2011 [4 favorites]

I've struggled with self-harm, eating disorders, and depression for years. But I'm slowly-but-surely working on myself, and I've become a lot more stable and successful at handling myself since we first got together.

With issues like these to deal with, you do not need the added stress of a suspicious and controlling partner. If you're living together, I suggest you move out. You could "theoretically" still work on the relationship, but your only indication that he is willing to do the same is attached to words like "theoretically" and "in theory."

Really, you'd stand a lot better chance of working on yourself and getting healthy and stable without having this additional baggage hanging over you. If he's not willing (for real, and not "theoretically") to work with you, you know what you need to do, I think.
posted by Gator at 12:31 PM on August 11, 2011

When discussing stuff that goes wrong or gets headbutty or whatever, try to differentiate (and encourage your partner to try and differentiate) things that are a reaction to the current circumstance versus things that are based in past behaviors and patterns. You can't (and shouldn't) ignore the past, but I know I find it helpful to differentiate between them when talking to my partner. So, "you went and bought bananas without talking to me about it annoys me because you know I have issues with bananas" is the immediate thing, but then the past stuff is "and it reminds me of all the times we had banana-based arguments, and I continue to worry that you're going to dump me and take up with a banana seller because you once said that was your dream" is the (sometimes triggery) stuff rooted in the past.
posted by rmd1023 at 12:37 PM on August 11, 2011 [1 favorite]

I realize that when times are good, they are amazing. However, what I've come to realize is that a partner is not supposed to make you feel worse. My last relationship started in much the same way yours did. I was also blamed for everything. It's really hard to work on taking care of yourself when you are also shouldering the blame for everything that goes wrong for someone else.

Are you in individual therapy? Also, how did therapy previously go poorly for you two?
posted by Zophi at 12:40 PM on August 11, 2011

So you...didn't divulge fairly sensitive details about your finances so someone you barely knew, and you weren't 100% honest about your availability?

On the former, good for you. You don't need to discuss your finances with someone until you get serious. On the latter, it's uncool but it's not "despicable"!

Actually, just...move on. This relationship is emotionally damaging to you. Even if you were the problem, which you're not, you could go be in another relationship and start off on the right foot. This person is telling you how awful you are in order to maintain superiority in the relationship, when actually he's a verbally and emotionally manipulative abuser taking advantage of someone with not 100% perfect mental health.

People who love you don't treat you like that.
posted by Lyn Never at 12:42 PM on August 11, 2011 [5 favorites]

I think that my answer to your question has to come from his perspective, because that's the one I know. I am in a committed relationship with a (former?) alcoholic & a habitual liar. Basically, your current condition aside, you are coming to today's issues with a LOOONGGG history of untrustworthy behavior. Your partner has stuck with you through all of this. But understand that his ability to trust you has been systematically torn down BY YOU over the course of years. It will take years to build back up. It will take years of your actions speaking louder than words. It will take years of collateral evidence --that is, things that he notices that support the story you are telling-- for him to begin to wonder if he *might* be able to trust you again. Because he has been hurt again and again and again and again by trusting you.

Hold your head up high, and be proud of your accomplishments. But also be patient with him, because history has taught him to be wary of trusting you. You simply cannot expect him to unlearn overnight what you have taught him about you. He tried that (when he trusted you) and he tried that again (when he trusted you in spite of what happened) and again (when he trusted you even though he knew he shouldn't), and even still (when his every instinct was screaming at him DON'T TRUST HER!!!) and again...until the ability to trust you collapsed under the appalling weight of evidence.

In stressful moments, like during fights, it is so very easy to fall back into the past. To remember the pain that trust has caused. To lack faith in the words before you because so many words before have been worthless. History is the guideposts we use to predict the future. You will have to create some history of honesty --as in LONG TIME-- before trust will return to being natural for him.

In the meantime: I'm proud of you for what you have achieved. He will be too, one day.
posted by Ys at 12:48 PM on August 11, 2011 [3 favorites]

Best answer: I suspect that your "screwed up"-ness is part of what attracted him to you. You're struggling with a lot of issues, and you're easy to manipulate.

I've seen these relationships before, where one partner is always "the problem". They tend to fall apart when the "problem" partner becomes more emotionally stable, and the central dogma of the relationship skews further and further from reality.

And I'm with Lyn Never on questioning what was supposed to be reprehensible about withholding information on your finances from someone you'd been dating for just a couple of months. Either your relationship proceeded with lightning speed, or it was just none of his darn business. And if your relationship proceeded with such speed that your finances were intertwined within months, that's actually a giant Red Flag right there.

Ys: But understand that his ability to trust you has been systematically torn down BY YOU over the course of years.

The first few months of a relationship do not equal "the course of years".
posted by endless_forms at 12:54 PM on August 11, 2011 [4 favorites]

Oh yeah, I meant to link to this, too (seen on the Blue awhile back). Read and recognize.
posted by Gator at 12:59 PM on August 11, 2011

Best answer: The other thing you have to understand is this.

He is afraid of you.

People who have been betrayed in the past have more difficulty accepting love. Him pulling out the guilt card every time is him being afraid about things that aren't even the subject of the argument.

You need to sit down and have a discussion about how he can work with you on rebuilding trust at a rate that makes sense and how to deal with feelings of distrust when they come up.

He's not going to fully trust you for some time to come. What is hard for him is that he loves you and so the love and distrust are going together. A painful proposition, I can tell you.

What needs to happen is that the process needs to get regularized and not brought into everyday fights. He needs to start dealing with it on its own terms rather than injecting it into the day-to-day of relationship interactions.

You need to continue to rebuild the trust he gave you at the beginning of the relationship, but that should be set outside the everyday stuff and put into its own, very important box.
posted by Ironmouth at 1:07 PM on August 11, 2011 [3 favorites]

You don't say this in so many words, but it sounds to me like you had sex with your ex and lied about it during the beginning of your relationship with this man, and that now he can't stop punishing you for it.

If so, I sympathize with him-- I would have left you and never looked back-- but he stayed, and now it's time for him to let that go, or to let the relationship go.

If he won't go to therapy, I think you should try confronting him when he pulls this crap about where were you, or he can't trust you to say what restaurant you really want to go to. Say something like "is this really about me sleeping with Ex two years ago? I've told you and told you how deeply I regret that, and I do, but now it's time for both of us to move on. Together or separately, it's your choice."
posted by jamjam at 1:10 PM on August 11, 2011 [1 favorite]

"Once a woman has forgiven her man, she must not re-heat his sins for breakfast."
(Marlene Dietrich)

Reverse the sexes, it's still true.
posted by notsnot at 1:11 PM on August 11, 2011 [8 favorites]

Also, I think the finances are less of an issue than the sexual thing. In otherwords, focus on reparing the damages from your dishonesty about the fact that you were in a long-term relationship when you met him first, before the issues about the finances. These are the things that are most closely related to love.

Second, I'm going to guess that the lack of honesty about finances led to some money issues for him--did he bail you out? this would explain why they would be a problem for him too.
posted by Ironmouth at 1:11 PM on August 11, 2011

Best answer: I feel like I need to defend your boyfriend a little bit, because I've been him - I once dated a woman who was struggling with an eating disorder. I know you specifically cited the one particular dishonesty about debt in your question, but if you were still in the grip of an eating disorder when you two started dating, you probably lied to him all the time. Little lies, like "I ate before I left the house," but still, over time that can really erode trust.

This is not to make you feel bad. He has control over how to react to these things, and he's chosen to react in a way that makes you miserable, and that's no good. So, even though I'm sympathetic to his position, it's still the case that you guys can't be in a relationship if he can't move past this.

That was the case in my previous relationship. I couldn't forget it, and it nagged at me all the time. We broke up, we're friends now, and we're both in other relationships that make us much happier - it was just the wrong time in our lives for things to work out, and sometimes that happens. I would suggest having a really honest conversation with your boyfriend about whether or not he can let this go, and if he can't, I'd say that it's time for this relationship to end.
posted by Ragged Richard at 1:12 PM on August 11, 2011 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Yes, betrayed trust is something that can take a long time to recover.

But I have to say that when I consider the fact that you report a history of self-harm, eating disorders and depression, it makes me think there's a deeper dynamic at root here. Please understand I am only gently suggesting this for your own investigation, but is it possible that you were conditioned to believing in guilt as your stable state from a young age?

You perhaps saw yourself as flawed, and therefore any relationship was despite of instead of because of your 'secret self'. Being apologetic and needing to do penance becomes part of the basic make-up of all social intercourse. It can in fact result in "bad" behavior on your part in order to confirm your world view and the roles you play. The devil you know...

Once you begin to refute this conviction, the dynamic must change with others, and sometimes others resist this change. It can be due to actual past history with you but also their own issues. It's very easy to have designated roles to play - and hard to let go of them. You are "naughty, unworthy partner" and he is "heroic, patient partner". Both of these roles ensure that the two of you never interact in all honesty. You cheat each and yourselves out of a true relationship.

You feel you genuinely betrayed his trust, but I suggest he may also be invested in this belief. He will never have to examine his own motives, nor be called to account for any of his actions, as long as you both believe that your past transgressions are so heinous that they can never be forgiven. If you two are to exit this morass, it can only be achieved through genuinely believing in forgiveness. Both of you, for yourselves as well as each other. You say you trust him, but right now I think you can only really trust him to continue to assign blame. And he is trusting you to continue to shoulder it.
posted by likeso at 1:36 PM on August 11, 2011 [12 favorites]

This sounds a lot like my marriage. I've been married 11 years and have lived with my husband for 14.5. I've struggled with the same issues you have as well.

You really need to take an honest look at the situation and figure out if the good truly outweighs the bad. And unless you both make an effort to change things, you're better off doing the heartbreaking thing and getting out of the relationship.
posted by luckynerd at 1:43 PM on August 11, 2011 [1 favorite]

Is there any way you can give a word-for-word example of a fight that has happened between you? Maybe recently or something that happened over text? Then we can give ideas for how you could try to steer things differently at each point.
posted by Ashley801 at 1:44 PM on August 11, 2011

Best answer: likeso above said what I wanted to say. Better than I could have.

I agree this relationship is of a certain dynamic or pattern. I agree as you get healthier (and maybe this is EXACTLY what's happening right now) this relationship will need to change to accommodate growth and achievements, or you will need to go find someone or something who reflects back your healthier today-self.

Y'know? It's good that you are now doing better. Don't backslide to conform to this guy's negative perception of you.

If I were you, I would find this negative perception from my guy very very grating. I'd bounce rather than let this guy grind away all of my hard won health and hard earned healing.
posted by jbenben at 1:51 PM on August 11, 2011 [1 favorite]

As per your request in your ask to be constructive in answering... The constructive part of my answer is I can't advise words or phrases to break through to your guy, but I can wisely counsel you to remain rock solidly focused on your health and well being.

My feeling is that if you keep doing right by yourself, your BF will come along with you. If he fails to respond positively to your continuing growth, then you'll know the deal.

My way requires that you keep doing the Good Stuff you are doing for yourself and hope that your continued stability gets through to him more effectively than twisting yourself into verbal pretzels. I don't think there are any magic words or phrases. I think you have to *be* the change you want to see in this relationship.

I hope that helps. We've all made mistakes in life. Once you correct them, you get to move on.
posted by jbenben at 2:05 PM on August 11, 2011 [1 favorite]

Se started with a lot of baggage, and for him, it seems, new stuff keeps getting added, . . .

I'm going to give you a challenge: rewrite this in the active voice. Stuff is not getting magically added by circumstance.
posted by endless_forms at 2:06 PM on August 11, 2011 [3 favorites]

Best answer: Oooh, I like endless_forms suggestion!

I've been on the other side. Luckily we're probably close to a decade out of that space, but...

He's in this relationship for some reason, maybe it's great sex, maybe it's a savior complex, some combination of factors, and he may not even know what all the reasons are. He's been threatened because he feels like you're not communicating, maybe he's felt backed into bailing you out financially or something like that, thinks it's over, and then it happens again.

You can't change him, you can only change you. If the trust is important to you, sit his ass down and say "if this relationship is going to continue, we need to restate the ground rules". Things you will want then be brutally honest and open about include your personal finances, probably backed up with bank statements, your motives in a relationship ("I want a husband so I can be a mom, I want a partner so I can start crazy businesses, I want support going to school to help me overcome my learning disabilities, whatever & etc").

Yeah, that sounds like it makes you tremendously vulnerable and exposed. And it does. But here's the thing: Either you think this guy is, with two and a half years of information, someone you can have that relationship with, or you're not yet sure. If you're not yet sure, after two and a half years, you've got some ulterior motives that you don't understand that you need to resolve.

If you can't open up to him and be completely transparent on those topics and more, then this probably isn't the relationship for you. Move on. If you do open up to him on those topics then you have a basis for starting fresh.

And I'm not generally a fan of therapy, but paying a neutral third party to be a part of that discussion seems like a good idea.

And the answer you get from preparing yourself for that conversation may very well be "uh, not the guy". No points off for that.
posted by straw at 2:16 PM on August 11, 2011 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Thanks for all the answers.

With regard to the backstory: No, I didn't have ex sex and lie about it, but there was a protracted period of things not really being clear/tied up with my ex and things moving fast with my then-new guy at the same time. I moved across the country (without my ex, we had acknowledged we had issues, mostly that we were best friends, not partners or lovers, but had not broken up yet) and met the new guy shortly thereafter. It took a while to formally end things with my long-distance ex. The whole story came out in fits and jerks over the period of a couple months. Bad.

It is true that I was a casual, reflexive liar at the beginning of our relationship; I pretty much have been since I was a kid. Stupid, petty things, whatever sounded best about a situation. Also legitimately bad. I've been working on this in individual therapy and have been able to stop this almost completely.

With regard to therapy: Triage-type therapist meetings have gone okay before, where we were working toward some specific goal or because we just really needed a referee for a particular situation. The last time it did NOT go so well—he wanted "five minutes alone" with the therapist, I suppose to tell her stuff about me that he thought she should know? And she asked him why he couldn't tell her in front of me. This was with my (new) therapist, which I realize now was a really bad and maybe unfair idea, although we all agreed up-front that it was just a trial and the instant he felt like there was a bias or any other problem she would refer us to someone else. I thought he really liked her from their one previous meeting. He was so frustrated that he walked out.

Example conflict 1: We fight about the stupidest things, but they always turn into huge things. Like, did you put this thing on the calendar. I'll be certain I did a week previously and he didn't notice, but he'll be equally certain that I did it just now and am lying about it to his face. It escalates very quickly to "You're lying right now, why do you lie about everything?" I get upset and defensive, that reinforces his beliefs, on and on. Every conflict is like this at this point—ultimately it doesn't even *matter* who's right and who's wrong, but we both trigger each other so hard. Frankly, at this point something as little as "There's a mathematical possibility that you are telling the truth and I didn't notice" would make me feel great about the interaction.

Example conflict 2: We're already fighting about something, and I'm trying very, very hard to keep my cool and not react in emotional ways, and he begins telling me that I'm making faces at him, or "acting upset", I guess some set of physical behaviors that he thinks are me being dramatic or manipulative. Wringing my hands or clenching my fists, that kind of thing. I never, ever make faces at him but yes, I wring my hands when I am upset. It's very difficult to actually have a conversation about something when suddenly we're derailed into talking about how I'm being manipulative in my reactions...or whatever rabbit hole we're drawn down.
posted by sockpuppet yo at 2:19 PM on August 11, 2011

Response by poster: Ugh. All this is exhausting. I can see his side of all this—how frustrating and patience-trying and unsafe it's been. I can see exactly how we got to the place where we are now. What I want to know is how to get OUT of it, together if at all possible.
posted by sockpuppet yo at 2:23 PM on August 11, 2011

You know, I'm surprised to find myself saying this because I typically sympathize with the lied-to party, but his behaviors in your conflicts actually sound like gaslighting to me.
posted by Ashley801 at 2:26 PM on August 11, 2011 [14 favorites]

Best answer: And I should say that the way I have dealt with gaslighting (from my mom and in one romantic relationship) is to internalize that I know what the reality is, and I don't need anyone else to confirm it, validate it, or agree. As long as you still feel like you need a gaslighter to concede *anything,* no matter how small -- e.g. ""There's a mathematical possibility that you are telling the truth and I didn't notice" nothing will ever change because they will never concede anything. So, just state the reality and don't put it up for debate.


You: I put this on the calendar last week.
Him: No, I think you're lying and you put it on just now.
You: I put it on last week. I'm not up for debating this and I don't have anything more to say about that. [walks away]
posted by Ashley801 at 2:30 PM on August 11, 2011 [4 favorites]

What you're describing is a toxic relationship. He accuses, you feel like you never measure up. Fights escalate to the point of insanity. It's striking to me that you have metafights - you're fighting about how you're fighting and that's making you even more miserable.

If there is a way out of this, and I'm honestly not sure there is, it's probably best for you to move out and the two of you to really re-examine what you want out of the relationship. It's an AskMeFi cliche, but some therapy (do they do cognitive behaviour therapy for relationships?) might help you find ways to avoid these conflicts and communicate more effectively.

Also, here's the thing. You're here asking how to stay together. You're going to therapy. You're working on your issues. You want this to work out.

What is he doing?
posted by guster4lovers at 2:31 PM on August 11, 2011 [3 favorites]

Best answer: You are not a despicable person. You had an eating disorder, depression and self harming issues. Any one of those things is enough to deal with in a lifetime. Having all three of them must have been awful. It's no wonder that you behaved in a less-than-stellar manner (not that I didn't say "badly", as there's a lot of space between those two extremes). You were doing the best you could with what you had, right? That's all anyone can ever do.

Regarding your boyfriend, he's really not playing fair. Does he actually want to change the dynamic? You say that he does "in theory", but what does that actually mean in concrete, real terms?

Sit him down and calmly say that you want things to be better, how does he think you can both achieve that. Keep on topic about how you can both make things better. If you know he's going to behave in X manner when you say/do Y, then try to minimise doing/saying those things. If he goes off on a rant, calmly come back to the original point, that you want to make this relationship work better. Try not to respond to the things he says that aren't relevant (easier said than done, I know). Try to get him to name specific things, actionable items that can be worked on. Let him have his rant and moan, and then see what constructive things you can get out of it, and try to show him that you've heard what he has to say. Ask him for more ideas.

I'd guess that when you start this conversation, he's going to start behaving like he normally does, just out of habit. You need to get past that to the point at which he's calm. only then can you work with him on whatever he thinks is wrong.

I use a slightly modified form of this when dealing with angry customers. Staying calm and hearing them when they say "I can use this gift card here" for the fifth time in a row is the only way I've found to get to the point that they calm down. Only then can I start explaining. Most of the time they think they aren't being heard. When i show that they are, it mollifies them a fair bit.
posted by Solomon at 2:34 PM on August 11, 2011 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Also -- It's very difficult to actually have a conversation about something when suddenly we're derailed into talking about how I'm being manipulative in my reactions

You *having emotions* is not manipulative at all. You need to stand up for yourself here and not apologize for this.

Him: You're wringing your hands again! You are so manipulative and I hate it!
You: Having emotions is not being manipulative. I will have emotions and sometimes they will manifest physically.

I know this might result in more conflict, and might even lead to breaking up -- but IMO, sometimes it's good to force an issue that creates conflict and might lead to breaking up because sometimes asserting yourself in a healthy way and breaking up is a lot better than trying to submerge valid things just to keep the relationship going for a while.
posted by Ashley801 at 2:36 PM on August 11, 2011 [3 favorites]

He may be still bringing up the stuff from 2 years ago because he feels that it wasn't properly resolved. If at all possible, resolve it when he starts to bring it up. You say, "When you leave dirty dishes around, it bugs me." He says: "Oh yeah well, two years ago you did this and this," maybe you can say, "Ok, let's talk about that. I'm really sorry that I was so hurtful. I take responsibility for my actions. I wish I could take it all back. I really screwed up." In other words, acknolwedge his feelings. Acknowledge the impact that your screwed up behaviours had on him. It's not about taking the blame, but making sure that he's heard. Maybe you are having all these stupid fights now because you are getting healthier. Maybe it was really emotionally difficult for him to be with you early on, and only now does he feel like he can get all that frustration out. I'd also vote for taking some time away from each other to gain some perspective and come back to decide on what to do.
posted by foxjacket at 3:01 PM on August 11, 2011 [3 favorites]

Best answer: If he genuinely doesn't trust you and you walk away, he'll accept this because it's better for both of you. If his intentions are good and he just can't make himself trust you again, it's a sad situation where the relationship just can't be salvaged because things happened and you both deserve to be happy so there's no sense in staying together miserable. Take a bit of time to be single and get used to the idea of not having someone call you a liar for everything you do.

If you try to walk away and he calls you manipulative, find people you trust and get help getting out of there. That's controlling behavior which you should not handle.

I don't want to raise unnecessary alarms, but this is a dysfunctional relationship in any case and you need to get away before it hurts you both even more. You don't need to go every day with someone questioning whether you are even telling the truth about what you want to eat.
posted by Saydur at 3:09 PM on August 11, 2011 [4 favorites]

I'm going to agree with Ashley801. I was in a relationship with a professional gaslighter (borderline personality disorder) and he had me pretty well convinced that I was a bad person, despite the fact that I knew I hadn't done the things he had accused me of - that he had spun any interaction to make me look like the bad guy. His technique was exquisite.

I haven't seen anything here that sounds much different than my experience, and a lot that is so familiar (the "manipulative" emotional reactions you have - my guy told me I was being manipulative because I cried after he hit me and called me a lying slut).
posted by Pax at 3:09 PM on August 11, 2011 [4 favorites]

To me, being able to work through differences together, like you're on the same team, is pretty much the defining characteristic of a healthy relationship. It seems to me it's completely missing here. Do you really think you're on the same team, working toward the same goals? Does he? Are you ever able to solve problems exterior to your relationship (like "do we ask for directions or keep going" and "should we go to Bob's party or call and cancel") without it turning into drama?

Because if not, why on earth are you together?
posted by SMPA at 3:24 PM on August 11, 2011 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I'm sympathetic to both of you here.

The problem now is that you are trying to change and he is not acknowledging that or going along with you, although that's possibly because he can't at this point.

I think part of the "I AM NOT IN TROUBLE" mindset may help you because the arguments at this point seem to be about you getting upset. The way I would hope it might go would be:

"Nigel, when you put the forks away could you please put them in the fork compartment? I sometimes need to find a fork in a hurry and it helps to know where they are."
"Oh yeah? And what about that time you stuck out the eyes on Grandpa's portrait?"
"Well, anyway, if forks could go in the fork section, that'd be great. kthxbai"

This may deflate the argument or it may turn it into an argument about "YOU ALWAYS ACT LIKE YOU'RE NOT IN TROUBLE BUT YOU ARE IN TROUBLE SO COME OVER HERE AND TAKE THE TROUBLE THAT'S DUE TO YOU" but at least whatever change happens will be informative as to what's really going on here.

At least, that's what I suggest as a start. If the change doesn't bring any progress at all, then there are a few explanations:
1. the damage was done in the beginning and it really can't ever be repaired, even if his failings as an Adult Who Should Get Past Things are part of the reason why it can't be repaired;
2. he doesn't want the damage to be repaired because he wants to be in a relationship with a Designated Crazy Person Who Is Always The Problem;
3. 2 plus he is deliberately gaslighting you to keep you the Designated Crazy Person Who Is Always The Problem.
4. Something neither I nor anyone else has thought of.

I can't see any scenario where 1 through 4 are worked through without therapy. Also, if it's really this serious, then any progress you're trying to make is going to get undermined so I really do think you've reached the point of Therapy Or Bust if minor tweaks to your arguing style don't change anything.

Can I just add that I really really sympathize. Being whimsical in the brain-pan I've repeatedly found myself in the Designated Crazy Person position, and it was not enjoyable to face the dawning realization that my actual behaviour didn't count towards any evaluation of my character. The only thing that has helped is internalizing the view (endorsed by my shrink as well as the fruits by which ye shall know me) that I am a Very Not Crazy Person, that I act with as much integrity as I can muster, and that my take on any given situation is rational pending strong evidence to the contrary.

If you want to continue on the journey where this is true of you and you fully believe it, consider whether this guy is helping to put you on the wrong train. Or to flog a dead metaphor in midstream: a bad relationship is one where one partner grows and the other partner doesn't.
posted by tel3path at 3:48 PM on August 11, 2011 [11 favorites]

Best answer: As you painfully know by now, the thing about starting off a relationship with anyone with a pattern of reflexive lying is that you end up teaching them that they can't believe anything you say. As someone whose life is intimately involved with yours, he stands to get hurt, embarrassed or inconvenienced if you lie to him. Like Ironmouth said, it sounds like he's afraid of you. It looks like he's cultivated a habit of preemptively predicting your lies to try to ward off any chance that you'll hurt him with them. However, just because it's clear that this is what happened, it doesn't excuse the extreme disrespect he shows you by doing so. You deserve better.

Have you asked him what it would take for him to forgive you? I mean--what does he, deep down, want from you? What would it take for him to tell you? Would it help to have a third party present to draw that out? What if he wrote you a letter? Would it really be worth it to do those things? There's a lot to be said for a clean slate.

I was someone who couldn't forgive a bad beginning. It ruined my trust in my partner and we had a lot of tense meta-fight fights that always ended with me talking about something that happened years ago. It was an issue that never felt quite resolved. Foxjacket describes it well. I think it went unresolved because I was unable to ask for what I really wanted. I was afraid that it was too much to ask of him.

It was this--I wanted him to be deeply repentant, every day, until I trusted him again. I wanted him to be incredibly considerate of my feelings, my needs, and my time. I wanted him to look out for situations that would remind me of what had hurt me, and avoid them. I wanted him to communicate that to me--"hey, I was going to do X until I realized it would hurt you and remind you of what I'd done wrong. So I'm not doing it, because your feelings are important to me." If he did something hurtful without thinking, I wanted him to confess it to me and apologize without me needing to bring it up. I wanted him to be patient with me and not be defensive if I seemed distrustful. In the example you cited about the calendar, I would have wanted him to say "I understand that I've lied to you in the past, and that it makes you treat me like this. I have not lied to you now. I may have forgotten, but I am doing my best because I love you and want us to work. Please don't talk to me this way."
posted by millions of peaches at 3:54 PM on August 11, 2011 [7 favorites]

Best answer: Oh, and if the answer is to get out of the relationship, then the words are something like "I see us growing in different directions. We don't have a healthy interaction, and I can't see a way from where we are to the relationship I want. It's not about you, it's about how we interact. I'm sorry, but we should talk about how to separate our lives."

These things don't need to be drama, they don't need to end in hate, it's just an acknowledgement that whatever this is isn't serving all the participants, and it's time to try something else.
posted by straw at 4:43 PM on August 11, 2011 [2 favorites]

I recommend a book called How Can I Forgive You? for working through exactly this kind of problem.
posted by tel3path at 4:56 PM on August 11, 2011

This guy sounds abusive. It doesn't matter what you did in the past. It doesn't matter that you were unclear at the beginning of the relationship (many, many people do this). He is manipulating you and making you feel bad. People with depression issues are often prone to letting others "own the dialog" of the relationship and make everything their fault.

My most constructive advice is to get out now.
posted by carolinaherrera at 4:57 PM on August 11, 2011

Er, and to be clear, I recommend that book because I think millions of peaches may be on the right track.
posted by tel3path at 4:57 PM on August 11, 2011

Best answer: Mostly here now to second straw and a few other people. I can understand wanting to salvage the relationship, but there's a good chance that the well was poisoned early-on by your (self-stated) casual approach to lying.

I, too, was on your boyfriend's side at one point; dating a guy who didn't have any particular interest in honesty, and didn't have any issue with saying whatever would be most beneficial to him at the moment, instead of being straight about what he was doing and why he was doing it, because he knew I wouldn't be cool with, say, his attempting to get rid of me quickly because the cute girl he was in that performance with didn't know he had a girlfriend and he wanted to keep it that way. Eventually I caught on to what he was doing and got pretty good at picking out when he was lying and when he wasn't, and then got even more distrustful and suspicious and started wondering why I shouldn't think he was lying all the time.

He got more trustworthy as things went on (at least I think he did; to this day there's a part of me that thinks he just got more skilled at deception because he was never going to change), but I had gotten to know him as a casual, reflexive, manipulative liar who saw telling the truth as being beneath him. He could be sainted now and I would still think it was nothing but a brilliant manipulation.

Here's the kicker, though, and this may be pertinent to your situation: early on I felt like I was on very unstable ground. I wanted the relationship to work for stupid reasons of my own, and when I felt like he was flagrantly lying to me regularly it created this power imbalance where I felt like the much weaker party; like, if he was so casual about the truth with me then obviously that meant he didn't care about me very much, because you don't lie to people you care about. Once he started reforming a bit, I felt like the tables had shifted and I had the power, and started to wield it, questioning him about things that looked a lot like his lies of the past, even when I knew there was a good chance he was being honest now. The fear of the relationship falling apart had kept me quiet in the beginning, but once he seemed more trustworthy all the hurt of the past lies manifested itself and I constantly treated him like someone who didn't deserve trust and took every opportunity to throw his past transgressions in his face as proof of why he was an unworthy person. Needless to say, that relationship crashed and burned not long after. I don't know if I even wanted to be with him anymore, but goddamn, did I want to punish him for all that misery.

IF this is the circumstance with your guy, then there may be no walking things back. If you want to try, I'd suggest being completely, 100% baldly honest with him. Having that conversation, apologising for past behaviour, explaining that you're healing and want to change and building trust with him will be a part of that. Maybe he can start small -- trusting you on the restaurants or the calendar scribbles, and moving up. Combining that with therapy, and having an outside observer to hear both sides of the story, might help fix things. But might not, and you need to understand that. If he can't or won't change the opinion he formed of you early on, this might not be fixable.

Something else to consider: You mentioned having issues with self-harm, alcohol, an eating disorder, and seem (if I'm reading things right) to have jumped directly from one relationship to another. The best thing for you right now might be to spend some time single, adapting to the new person you're becoming without the influence of a relationship partner around, especially when that relationship is less than ideal.
posted by the luke parker fiasco at 5:10 PM on August 11, 2011 [5 favorites]

Best answer: Sometimes in life you need to look out for yourself first. I think unfortunately, or fortunately because its good for perspective, people here are reading a lot of their own situations into what you've written in a way that might not be fair. I'm not saying anyone responding is wrong but that if this is how your partner feels about you or what he wants from you it might not be a relationship that can be salvaged without hurting you.

But to constructively deal with the relationship you're in you need to decide how much mistrust you can take.You don't have to be his whipping girl and every argument shouldn't be a referendum on your truthfulness. It seems to me like he has a serious lack of good will towards you.

Constructively I think you need boundaries. If he accuses you of lying reiterate that you are fairly sure you put the event on and that you're not willing to argue with him about it. Then leave the room/house. I don't know how you fix the lack of goodwill he has toward you but I honestly don't think allowing him to turn minor problems which any couple has into huge fights helps. I think those type of fights only chip away at the foundation of your relationship more and more and that you need to accept how he feels and make him responsible for his feelings by not engaging.
posted by SpaceWarp13 at 5:22 PM on August 11, 2011

Others here have said it better, but the deal is when you think "when times are good, they are amazing," what is going on is that they seem amazing to you because you are so often so deep in awful that "merely normal" or even "not crazy-making" seems amazing to you.
posted by Lesser Shrew at 5:30 PM on August 11, 2011 [3 favorites]

Best answer: I was in a similar relationship (different genesis but same ultimate outcome, i.e., him "challenging" me/things I'd stated about myself, e.g., goals and plans; me: feeling like I'm never measuring up) and couples therapy with a therapist we'd both interviewed and liked was the only thing that helped us. We made so much progress in the eight months we went; moving out of the country was the only reason we stopped.

We eventually broke up (seven years later) and I think it was directly attributable to the fact that we'd stopped therapy prematurely. We'd learned enough to recognize what was going on and consider the other person's viewpoint but stopped before we learned how to process and communicate about it. So I guess my thought here is that if you do go back to therapy (and I really think it's your only viable option at this point) you both need to commit wholeheartedly to the process.
posted by hapax_legomenon at 6:00 PM on August 11, 2011

Dropping back in to clarify what I meant by saying, "there's a lot to be said for a clean slate". I meant to say that there's a lot to be said for breaking up and starting over with someone new. It might not be worth it to fix what you've got, particularly if your partner isn't able to see how unfair they're being to you now. They might ask more than you can or should give. You messed up two years ago; you'd be surprised to see how many people there are out there who will trust you implicitly.
posted by millions of peaches at 6:21 PM on August 11, 2011

The calendar argument? You can't live like that. Period. People who've committed crimes don't even live like that. Seriously.

I'd be mad at you if I were your guy--but if I were that mad, I'd have left a long time ago.

He's getting some personal satisfaction out of punishing you. Perhaps he just finds it refreshing to not be scrutinized since all eyes in your relationship are on you.

Whatever. Apologize for lying to him and then tell him that you're about to tell him the truest thing you've ever told him "I won't live like this anymore."

Wish him well.
posted by vitabellosi at 6:56 PM on August 11, 2011 [3 favorites]

Have you read this? No matter who did what to whom, he sounds verbally abusive.
posted by Anitanola at 8:03 PM on August 11, 2011

Best answer: I'm a big fan of the "ask directly for what you need" approach. The big problem is that sometimes it very tough to articulate what you need. I think that might be where you're struggling a bit.

I get the sense that what you might need is for him to stop accusing you of lying. It seems that his inability to take you at your word that's at the heart of the crazy-making. What if you asked him for that? Would he agree? What might he ask for in return? Could you give that to him?

Maybe I'm wrong about what you need, but if you can articulate what that thing is, then I think you'd be able to at least see if he can agree to that as a mutual goal for therapy.

If he can't give you what you need, then I would encourage you to look elsewhere. But I'd really say that you've nothing to lose by asking.
posted by psycheslamp at 9:14 PM on August 11, 2011

Are you walking down a path together that you both agree on, or are you walking side-by-side down completely separate paths?
posted by bendy at 9:51 PM on August 11, 2011

This person is telling you how awful you are in order to maintain superiority in the relationship, when actually he's a verbally and emotionally manipulative abuser taking advantage of someone with not 100% perfect mental health.

I wish I could favorite this from Lyn Never upthread a thousand times. No matter whether you did something bad or not, this guy would always find something to blame you for in order to gain the upper hand. He sounds very, very similar to my ex- who has obsessive compulsive personality disorder. This ex- went through my emails that I had sent years before he and I met (I trustingly always left my email client open) and drew me out in conversations about things I had done in the past. He then used all this stuff against me throughout our entire relationship in order to manipulate and control me.

I have no idea why I stayed as long as I did but it ended with him arrested for beating me up and me spending lots of money in lawyers fees to get him to stop threatening me and my employer. It was the worst thing I've ever had to deal with and I wish I'd walked away much sooner than I did. All I can say to you is DTMFA but you probably won't listen. Still, thing it over, it's really for the best.
posted by hazyjane at 10:52 PM on August 11, 2011 [2 favorites]

This person is telling you how awful you are in order to maintain superiority in the relationship, when actually he's a verbally and emotionally manipulative abuser taking advantage of someone with not 100% perfect mental health.

I agree with this reading of the situation, too.

When I read your comments I can't help but think--cui bono? Who benefits? If he truly believed that you were this awful, completely untrustworthy person, what could he possibly be getting out of the relationship? It seems like the more likely answer is that he does not think that you are awful and completely untrustworthy, but that it is to his benefit that you continue to hold a low opinion of yourself. The benefit is obvious in that case--it enables him to win arguments, avoid criticism, treat you poorly with minimum pushback from you, and always be the "good" guy. He never has to feel guilt or admit that he has made a mistake, because if you get upset he can dismiss it as "manipulation". He doesn't have to work hard to treat you well. He doesn't have to empathize with you when you disagree.

Consider whether it's okay for him to get these benefits at the expense of your relationship.
posted by the young rope-rider at 11:42 PM on August 11, 2011 [10 favorites]

Response by poster: I want to thank you all for your thoughtful answers. They've given me a lot to think about, and some real things to try.

I don't want to be one of Those People who appears to have noticed only the like one answer that says what they want to hear. There's a pretty heavy wave here of "this isn't worth it anymore." Which might be true, but I think that in my relationship we both *want* to be better, and are willing to try again before we call the game.

I have real sympathy for where my partner is coming from, some of the answers here have been really helpful for that. I also want to respect myself here, and some of the answers have been helpful for *that*. We'll see what happens; here's hoping that we can figure it out together...and if we can't, part peacefully. Thanks again.
posted by sockpuppet yo at 8:49 AM on August 12, 2011

Response by poster: Also: Yes, I have seen the verbal abuse callouts. I agree that there's a pretty troubling pattern here, but I'm sure I'm no angel when we're fighting, either, and the messed-up dynamics between us kind of feeds off itself. I also truly believe that he/we would be horrified and would work to change if we could get out of the moment long enough to see the full picture of how dysfunctional our interactions are; therapy will be helpful for that.
posted by sockpuppet yo at 8:57 AM on August 12, 2011

I hope you'll follow up here with any developments. We're rooting for you.
posted by Gator at 9:01 AM on August 12, 2011 [2 favorites]

I also have to agree with endless_forms and millions of peaches. To further the "have you asked" point, and request for constructive information, there's a plan that I like, though the source is not someone I'm always enamoured of. So, anyway, Dr. Joy Browne has these three questions that make up a "Fidelity Plan", in response to adultery. But really, fidelity, by definition, is so much more than that. And that's your issue: Fidelity and Perfidy. So, perhaps you can make a Perfidy Plan?

So, according to the three questions, tailoring them to your situation:

Why did this happen?
Saying, "I was drunk" or "It just happened" doesn't cut it. If it "just happened" once, it could just happen again -- so there's no basis for resurrecting trust. The unfaithful partner must figure out the real reason -- "I felt old and was trying to feel young again" or "I miss the way we used to make love." Once the problem is acknowledged, it can be worked on.

Figure out (with therapy?) the real reason you acted as you did, and acknowledge it to him. Hey, it was a transitional time, you were maybe too eager for a relationship with him to realize that you probably needed time to embrace your freedom, and you were afraid of losing him though you weren't at your best. Your better now, right?

How can you promise it won't happen again?
A fidelity plan identifies the lesson learned ("No fling is worth endangering our marriage")... puts constraints in place ("I'll be home by 6 pm every night")... and offers options ("I'll go with you for counseling or do whatever you want to show how sorry I am").

And, explain something like (off the top of my head here): "In the past I've acted out when feeling particularly frustrated (cutting myself, drinking too much, etc), but I've figured out coping strategies and where my own standards are and I'm taking practical steps in order not to do this stuff now. I'll be accountable for my time, and I'll manage my responsibilities because I want this to work. This means therapy, with or without you; a responsible financial plan that I will share with you, for your comfort and financial security; and my assurance that I will be mindful of responding to even simple questions as truthfully as I am able. I want you soon to be able to forgive and trust me and the goal is for you to be able to let your guard down with me.

What's in it for me if you cheat again?
This idea came about when a caller to my radio show said her cheating husband wanted another chance. He loved his boat -- so I said, "If he'll sign a document saying that if he cheats, you get the boat, then you've got a shot. Before he's unfaithful again, he'll think, 'Bimbo? Or boat?' If he won't sign, he's not willing to put his heart into fidelity."

So, that's only a bit silly - but your and he have to state your dealbreakers and boundaries - financial problems, cheating, accountability, mistrust over reflexive lying or whatever and be willing to do what would make each other believe how invested your are in this relationship.
Good luck, really. It's a hard row to how, and in a previous relationship where I used these techniques, in the end, I did decide that it was better to walk away and start fresh. And, I got the car and my landing papers out of it.
posted by peagood at 11:48 AM on August 12, 2011

I can certainly see that YOU are putting a lot of effort and time into this relationship, but I don't see the kind of teamwork and "we can do it" attitude coming from him.

In fact, you originally asked this question because you weren't getting that from him and wanted to know if there was a special way you could talk to him that would make him motivated to do X.

The reality of it is: you can be perfect. You can be the most perfect person in the world. You can be the world's best girlfriend. You will still not be able to control him. You will never be able to say or do exactly the right thing to make him act a certain way. You can be committed to him and the relationship, you can never tell even a white lie, you can give him a kidney. He will be him, and he will always be in control of his own actions, forever.

Good luck.
posted by the young rope-rider at 12:52 PM on August 12, 2011 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: if anyone is still out there...for those of you who know this situation from the other side, where you were the betrayed/hurt party early on and could not trust the other person—what would your reaction have been if the other person sat down and said that they *needed* some trust or some good faith for things to move forward? Would you have been able to accept that? Is there anything that might have made it easier?

I tried to talk with my partner about this the other day, and was really left with the impression that he thought I was having a break with reality or something for asking for this kind of stuff. And I get where he is coming from, some of the answers here have helped me with that. I am starting to think that my choices here are to STFU about this stuff and see if trust can grow organically...or not. If you were the betrayed party, is this kind of what you would have expected?
posted by sockpuppet yo at 12:10 PM on August 24, 2011

where you were the betrayed/hurt party early on and could not trust the other person—what would your reaction have been if the other person sat down and said that they *needed* some trust or some good faith for things to move forward? Would you have been able to accept that? Is there anything that might have made it easier?

Yes, the other person sat down and said that to me, and absolutely, I was able to accept it. There was nothing I wanted more in that situation than to be able to trust my boyfriend and for the situation to work. And we had many talks where I tried to convey exactly what built up trust for me and exactly what broke it down. And I repeated myself many, many times over a long period of time. And he kept agreeing, and I kept trusting again, and the very specific things we talked about kept happening anyway.

Essentially, I WANTED to build trust up again, and I figured out what that would take for me, and I expressed it, and I tried to make it happen.

It doesn't sound like your boyfriend is doing a single one of these things. To me it sounds like your boyfriend doesn't want to build up trust again with you. Again -- not just that he doesn't trust you right now, he actively does not want to build it and have it in the future.

And just to be clear, when I say that in my situation I kept trusting and yet things kept happening -- I'm not talking about weird BS like accusing my boyfriend of lying about marking something on the calendar. I'm talking about, like, having an emotional affair with an ex for a year telling her how much he loved her and how hot she was. I'm talking about meeting up with a different ex out of town and being out of contact all that night. I'm talking about things like telling me he was going to visit his relatives for Christmas and then flying across the country to try to make something happen with a girl he'd met that summer. The things your boyfriend touts as examples of how you're not trustworthy --- honestly, really just do sound like bullshit.

Especially after your update, I completely agree with Lyn Never, the young roperider and others that it seems your boyfriend just wants to maintain the upper hand of superiority in the relationship, where you are always the bad, wrong one.

To me, it does not sound like your boyfriend is operating in good faith here.


I am starting to think that my choices here are to STFU about this stuff and see if trust can grow organically...or not.

I think a third option (which is the one I hope you choose) is to just put your foot down and refuse to accept being treated this way anymore. You don't deserve to be constantly flagellated like this. You shouldn't just "STFU" and allow him to treat you like shit all the time and make you crazy. I'm worried that being treated like this for a long period of time will just break down all your self esteem and self respect.
posted by Ashley801 at 7:13 PM on August 24, 2011 [1 favorite]

I tried to talk with my partner about this the other day, and was really left with the impression that he thought I was having a break with reality or something for asking for this kind of stuff.

Gaslighting was mentioned to you several times upthread, but it now occurs to me that you're possibly unfamiliar with the term, because this is exactly what he's doing to you.
posted by Gator at 11:52 AM on August 25, 2011

I have an ex whom I adore, but absolutely do not trust, and despite our best efforts I kept going back and forth between two unsustainable states:

1. Acting like I trusted him so that he could earn that trust. Even when I could logically understand that he could be trusted about a specific issue, and the issue was unimportant so trusting him had little to no downside, I found this difficult and ultimately unsustainable and would...

2. paranoid, lash out at him inappropriately whenever I was reminded of the things he lied about in the past, and demonstrate palpable resentment of the hard work that I had to do in order to treat him as though he were trustworthy. How awesome for him, right?

Because I care(d) about him so much, I seriously regretted lashing out at him and treating him poorly, so I tried to reduce the number of things that made me paranoid. In the end, I had him (and a few other people!) blocked on twitter, facebook, and gchat. I deleted his number from my phone. I was in love with him and sleeping with him, and I couldn't even handle instant messaging him without being a total asshole about it.

His problem, right? Wrong. Being a total asshole to someone you love feels bad. It feels really, really bad. I don't want to be that kind of person

So I guess that I can say that I've been where you boyfriend (apparently!) currently is and I wouldn't "act like I could trust you" because it would be impossible.

I also wouldn't stay with you and continue to subject the person that I love to nastiness and paranoia. I would let you go because I couldn't treat you right.

(And yes, he is gaslighting you.)
posted by the young rope-rider at 12:47 PM on August 25, 2011

I am worried about you, sockpuppet yo, because it seems like you feel you kind of deserve this treatment or it is justified in a way because you did something wrong to him early on (lying).

It really worries me because that is the same sort of justifying you see so often from abused women. "He only hit me because I provoked him, it was my fault." "He only got mad because I spent more money than I should have, it was my fault." "He only got mad because I was thoughtless with my words and I hurt his feelings, it was my fault."

And you see the same justifying from abusers: "If you didn't make me so mad, I wouldn't have to hit you." "If you weren't so stupid." "If you weren't so manipulative." "If you were more honest."

Now I'm not saying I think your boyfriend is going to hit you - that is not my point. My point is that I think your boyfriend is engaging in psychological abuse of you with the gaslighting, the way he always treats you like a liar for bizarre and petty reasons, the fact that he accuses you of being manipulative for having emotions, and several other things.

No matter what you had done to him, that doesn't make it okay for him to abuse you and it is not a justification.

And even if you want to stay away from labels and/or you don't feel that his actions rise to the level of calling them "abuse," it doesn't matter, because no matter what you had done that doesn't make it okay for him to continue in the relationship treating you like shit either. Two wrongs don't make a right. As in the young rope-rider's example, if he can't find it within himself to treat you better, he should end the relationship.
posted by Ashley801 at 7:53 PM on August 25, 2011 [1 favorite]

Ashley801 has described the exact experience I and other people in abusive relationships report. The similarities are chilling, and I worry about you, too - again, not that you might get hit (though you might) but that you appear to be buying into the gaslighting, which is a tough mindset to break.
posted by Pax at 7:36 AM on August 26, 2011 [2 favorites]

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