talk therapy requires talk.
November 14, 2011 7:57 PM   Subscribe

My long term (almost 6 years, living together for 3) boyfriend hates hates hates couples therapy. i think it has helped immensely. ugh.

i wrote a big long thing , but so many snowflakes. throwaway:

he hates talking about our personal lives and his personal life to a stranger. however, therapy is the only time we seem to really be able to get any actual emotional communication done where it's not just me crying, but him being led through exploring his feelings.

we had to stop going because he was beginning to resent me and therapy. he said in the session that he felt like he was on trial and he knew he shouldn't feel like that, but he hated the whole process. he wouldn't respond, he just kept sitting there with tight lips and fire eyes.

he did like our therapist and thought she was fine, he just doesnt like therapy. he tried individual a while back and was so withdrawn and distant for like two days....i don't even know.

i've been in individual therapy for about 4 years now and it's really helped.

so what to do? our relationship has had its ups and downs, and i know he loves me, but this emotional distance is just too much. i'm his first long term relationship.i've been in two before, but not this long. i'm 33, he's 38.
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (37 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
So I assume you are going because there are issues in your relationship. He's not willing to work on them in therapy or out of therapy. Sounds like you have some deciding to do.
posted by dawkins_7 at 8:06 PM on November 14, 2011 [19 favorites]

I am a stranger on the internet who doesn't know either you or your boyfriend so take everything I say with many, many grains of salt but from what little you've said here it sounds like maybe this is not the relationship for you. That can be the very hardest thing, when you really love someone but the relationship isn't right, but it sounds like you are looking for very, very different things out of being together and it's hard to build a happy life with such disparate expectations no matter how much you love each other. I'm not saying break up with him because I don't know either of you and it would be ridiculous for me to give that kind of specific advice but do think about whether you are actually happy in this relationship. Not whether you love him, but whether you are actually happy being together. These can be very different things.
posted by Mrs. Pterodactyl at 8:08 PM on November 14, 2011

If he hasn't been in a LTR before, then he is really under-equipped to figure out how to make things better. The fact that he is not willing to reach for help under these circumstances may be a natural limitation of his that your relationship cannot survive.

Does he offer any alternative suggestions for how you can practically work things out? Because if he doesn't want to do it your way, the onus is on him to help come up with alternatives. If he can't even do that, then what's happening, exactly? Two people just waiting around hoping things get better? One person working on themself, the other watching from the sidelines suspiciously?

His inexperience in this realm is going to cost him big time. Above all, take care of yourself.
posted by hermitosis at 8:10 PM on November 14, 2011 [6 favorites]

He's not going to get anything out of therapy without wanting to be there, so you made the right choice to stop going. If you cannot deal with him as he is right now, with no hope that he will ever change, you need to break up with him. Don't bet the rest of your life on the chance that he'll some day wake up and decide he wants to change in exactly the way you need him to. Three years living together at six years in, you need to "look at the choice before you in all it's starkness" and choose: him as he is right now, or not him. The green can't choose for you, but your choice is either full acceptance or a breakup. Anything else is just going to prolong the misery with false hope, and end up with both of you resenting each other.
posted by The Master and Margarita Mix at 8:10 PM on November 14, 2011 [6 favorites]

It is possible to explore psychotherapy on your own, through reading.

You could ask if he would be more interested in trying that, so he doesn't have to open up to another person other than himself.

But from what you've written, it sounds like he's made his decision. If he rejects therapy as well as self-exploration as means to improve your relationship, you are going to have to make your own decision.
posted by TheRedArmy at 8:12 PM on November 14, 2011

Your statements about how therapy has helped don't correspond to your statements about his reactions to therapy.
How are you able to get "actual emotional communication" when you had to stop going because he felt he was on trial and wouldn't respond?
It sounds to me that you feel the only way you can get this relationship to work is to go to therapy. For his own reasons, he feels that he cannot go to therapy.

Please keep going to therapy on your own and begin to work on what YOU need to work on for YOU.
He has decided to reject the one thing that you think is helping.
That has to tell you something.
So sorry, but I am another internet stranger telling you to think about moving on.
posted by calgirl at 8:17 PM on November 14, 2011 [1 favorite]

Does your couples therapy have an end-point or is it just something you do forever and always? I am a huge fan of couples therapy. My husband is not so much. But he has always willing gone with me and pulled his therapy oar because we've had a clear goal, or problem, or end-game. Like, cope with this current stressor, or get over the hump with this endless fight, or learn new communication strategies.

Couples therapy is often more goal oriented; I wish you HAD given more snowflakey details because I'm not sure what "being led through exploring his emotions" means but it sort-of makes me squirm with sympathetic discomfort. If you go into couples therapy with a goal and an end-game, he may be much more willing to participate in achieving that goal, than if it's just going to be a life-long game of, "But how do you FEEL?" and really in his head he's thinking, "Did I put air in the tires last week? Or was that two weeks ago?" and you're thinking, "Oh God he's making grumpy face he must be having FEELINGS" but really he's just trying to remember when he put air in the tires.

And it's not necessarily a gender thing; while my husband is more likely to sit there looking somber so that I say, "What's wrong?" "Nothing! Why do you keep asking?" "YOU HAVE A GROUCHY VIBE." "OH, it's my VIBE." I do this too. Sometimes he'll present me with something and ... wait. And I'll be at a total loss and finally I'll say, "I'm sorry, what reaction are you fishing for, because I have no idea what I'm supposed to be saying about this." "Well, I just wondered what you thought of it." "I think ... nothing. I think it's a picture with a lot of orange in it." "Do you like it?" "I have no feelings about it whatsoever. I'm sorry." Sometimes people just aren't having feelings about things, and there are truly few things in life more aggravating that someone trying to pick apart your emotional responses when you're just, like, spacing out.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 8:30 PM on November 14, 2011 [11 favorites]

From the OP:
He did respond at first and there were some real revelations that came out of it and he seemed to be ok with everything. But the more we went down that path, the more he seemed to hate it. It's hard to say exactly what changed but I think when it became clear that he was expected to contribute more and think about his feelings and share them, he didn't like that.
posted by jessamyn at 8:39 PM on November 14, 2011

however, therapy is the only time we seem to really be able to get any actual emotional communication done where it's not just me crying, but him being led through exploring his feelings.

Is this the way you want to spend the rest of your life? Because at 38, he's not going to change, I guarantee it.
posted by Dasein at 8:48 PM on November 14, 2011 [6 favorites]

however, therapy is the only time we seem to really be able to get any actual emotional communication done where it's not just me crying, but him being led through exploring his feelings.

I'm personally a big fan of therapy, and hope to end up with someone who is also open to couples therapy should we need it, but I know that people have different ideas about this type of thing and that's OK. However, this is a red flag. The only time you communicate is in therapy, and all the other times you're crying? Do you see that this problem is a lot bigger than therapy? Especially at 33 and 38, you should be past this kind of thing (I'm 33).
posted by sweetkid at 9:11 PM on November 14, 2011

Thanks for doing all the heavy lifting in this relationship. You drag him to therapy. You try to get him to communicate about his feelings and even explore them. What is he bringing to the relationship other than you crying?

Couples therapy is your way of saying "our relationship is broken and this is how we fix it". His refusal to go any further because he is forced to have emotions says "I don't want to fix it".

What do you want? To continue in an emotionless relationship doomed to never be fixed or to strike out on your own and do something new and healthier?
posted by munchingzombie at 9:31 PM on November 14, 2011 [10 favorites]

Being in a situation where your relationship is sufficiently out of whack that you need couple's therapy, and where you yourself feel distinctly helped by it, but your partner refuses to participate in it (which is what is happening when your response is "tight lips and fire eyes") and dislikes it so intensely that you stop doing it. That is a big, big, bad disconnect.

It isn't too much of a stretch to suggest that the things that makes your partner want to avoid therapy like the plague are the exact things that make your relationship with him dysfunctional. You mention emotional distance: yeah, precisely. I imagine his reaction to therapy is all about keeping that gap between him and his emotions nice and wide.

What now? You willing to put up with him staying as he is? He's not going to change on his own, not refusing to even look at the thing. Another round on the double couch, you know, maybe he'll have a breakthrough, or maybe he'll be double resentful because it's gotten down to "do this or I'll break up with you." But I don't think there's any other way but out.
posted by nanojath at 10:17 PM on November 14, 2011 [2 favorites]

Your fellow does not like going to therapy. You think you need it as a couple. His actions say that he does not think you need it so badly that he should overcome his discomfort. I think it unlikely you will change his attitude about therapy. If you think your relationship needs work, find a compromise solution that allows you and him to communicate with each other that is not going to a therapist or counselor. Maybe there is a book you could both read together that helps you work on communication. Maybe you could structure your own scheduled couples therapy time whereby at a set time each week you both put away all distractions and sit facing each other and talk about your issues and emotions. Maybe he is the proverbial strong silent type and either that is for you or it is not.

A lot of people are asking if you are willing to put up with him as he is. Good question. I am pretty sure he is asking himself the same thing now too. Am I willing to put up with her focusing so much on couples therapy?

Why not at least sit down and talk about this difference you are having. Then, maybe, you can work on other things or agree that this is not going to work out. Sometimes people just aren't suited for each other and it has nothing to do with who is right or wrong.
posted by JohnnyGunn at 10:38 PM on November 14, 2011 [2 favorites]

You know... in terms of your ages, you're almost exactly on par with me and the man I recently broke up with, a guy whom I loved very much but who seemed impossibly emotionally distant and difficult to communicate with, by the end. I suggested couples therapy and he didn't take it seriously. Perhaps (or perhaps not) I should have communicated to him that it was my way or the highway in this regard. But by the time I came to that realization, I'd also lost faith that anything would ever change -- and I'd also come to terms with the fact that I couldn't accept him as he was. So I ended it.

Since the break up, he has expressed several times that he wishes I had told him that I was thinking of leaving if he wouldn't take me up on the offer of counseling. However, like I said, I wasn't clear on that point until after I'd reached the end of my hope for our relationship. If you're at the point where you still have some hope, but fear that you can't accept this relationship as it stands, don't be afraid to tell him that this is starting to feel like your last resort. Keeping silent, refusing to speak that ultimatum because it feels wrong to make ultimatums, will ultimately lead to the demise anyway.
posted by artemisia at 10:40 PM on November 14, 2011 [3 favorites]

Try this book: HOw to Improve Your Marriage without Talking About It. Some of their discussion of male/female differences is overly simplistic but it is based on Emotion Focused Therapy, a respected approach. There is a lot there about how to improve your interactions without having to talk about feelings. Read it. If you like it, tell your SO that you will stop asking for couples counseling if he will read it and try it out. See if that works. Cheap at $10.
posted by metahawk at 11:16 PM on November 14, 2011 [1 favorite]

He doesn't like therapy. If this is a dealbreaker for you, then you have to own the situation. It doesn't seem like the two of you are compatible.
posted by mleigh at 1:16 AM on November 15, 2011 [1 favorite]

Therapy isn't The Right Answer. The fact that you want to do therapy and he doesn't doesn't make you all right and virtuous and him the bad guy who doesn't want to work on the relationship. Millions of couples make their relationships work without ever having couples therapy. Popular culture has a nasty habit of painting our menfolk as the bad guys in relationships. If they don't do everything the wife wants all the time they're in the wrong. Wanting to drink beer and watch sports with your friends? That's wrong. (they particularly like to set the man up to fail, 'the big game' will almost certainly fall on an anniversary or the wife's birthday)

You both have different personalities and emotional styles. Neither of you is right, neither of you is wrong. You're just different. I'm guessing though that your 'couples' therapy is actually rather one sided. You go in and tell your therapist all about what he's done wrong or not done or what you think is wrong with him and he feels attacked and shuts down. He doesn't badmouth you to the therapist because that's not his style. Its not wrong of him to want your private lives to be private. I just looked at that book metahawk recommended and even if you don't buy it - read the 'look inside' part, I think it will really give you some insights.

The first thing you need to do is to accept that nothing you say or do will change him. Once you've accepted that you can start to work on ways in which you can do to to get what you need out of the relationship and if that list is empty then its time to move on to someone more compatible. One of the things you can do is to figure out what you want to get from therapy in concrete terms. 'Emotional closeness' is too vague and wishy washy. If the only way you can get this 'emotional closeness' is talking (with or without a therapist) about feelings and getting him to talk about his and then dissecting them then, again, you have to move on. Ultimatums are a touchy subject - on the one hand, you're telling your partner exactly what they need to do to 'save' the relationship, on the other hand they are very much 'do what I want or its over'. But if he can't do therapy, he can't do it. If the only way he could get what he needed in the relationship was to stab you in the chest once a week - you probably wouldn't be too keen but that's what some emotional poking and prodding can feel like - a knife in the chest.

Something else to consider - you say that you've been in individual therapy for 4 years but you don't say why/what for. If you have no specific reason (ie. mental illness or traumatic event in your past) then it might be worth considering the possibility that you are too dependant on therapists and maybe what you should start working towards is 'flying solo' and relearning how to deal with problems by yourself.
posted by missmagenta at 2:25 AM on November 15, 2011 [14 favorites]

I totally agree with Miss Magenta. I'm female, and I'm a big sharer of feelings in relationships, but if someone insisted that I go to therapy and "explore my feelings", I'd completely shut down. No way would I talk to a third party about private emotions. So from my point of view, you are being inflexible by insisting that this is the only thing that works. It may be the only method that works for you, but it doesn't work for everyone. Personally, I would be much more receptive to a book, as suggested above. So I would suggest that perhaps you should be willing to try other options.

I, too, wish you had posted the snowflakey version, but from what I'm reading here, you come across as pretty needy, as well. Rather than insisting he change, maybe you should consider whether your (apparent) neediness is the problem? Do you know that he loves you? If so, then really, just let him be. Some people just aren't that demonstrative, and they are not "wrong", they're just different. If your personal insecurity requires constant reassurance, then the problem is equally caused by you. And if you truly love him unconditionally, then you'll accept him the way he is, and work on your neediness instead.

Of course, I could be way off on this, because you haven't provided many details. So feel free to ignore my answer.

(Kudos to you for trying to keep it concise though! I'm so sorry it seems to have backfired in this instance!)
posted by MexicanYenta at 4:27 AM on November 15, 2011 [2 favorites]

Also, optionally: try a male therapist? I get the impression that your therapist has a real "female" bias, if she is insisting that he share his feelings with a third party (her). But then again, that could just be you projecting onto the situation in your description.
posted by MexicanYenta at 4:31 AM on November 15, 2011

when it became clear that he was expected to contribute more and think about his feelings and share them, he didn't like that.

Well tough shit? Someone who is so totally resistant to taking part, addressing feelings and sharing them when there are clearly problems in the relationship is not someone I would want to be in a relationship with, personally.
posted by DarlingBri at 5:13 AM on November 15, 2011 [2 favorites]

IANYCT. Since I don't know what you fight about, I can only address how you fight and how your boyfriend feels.

Without a therapist present, you say your fights lack "communication done where it's not just me crying, but him being led through exploring his feelings. " Why does this occur? Why are you crying and not telling him what you need to say? Is it because you don't feel safe and you give up? Is it because you don't feel heard by him? Do you need someone there to help you because you don't feel strong enough to communicate without "backup?"

This is something you need to address in your own therapy. I imagine (which is all I can do without the facts) that you do judge him (and have gotten many MeFites above to judge him too) and by "leading him through his feelings" you mean that he needs to realize he's not innocent in these fights. No wonder he feels judged. (I'm not saying he's innocent, merely that he's not wrong for feeling judged.)

He needs to address his feeling of being judged. If he can't do it with this couples therapist, I suggest finding another one (and like MexicanYenta, I'd try a male.) He probably says that he has no complaints about this one because he doesn't want to point to any problems that could be solved with more therapy--better to reject the process than shop further.

The immediate problem to be solved is how can he explore his feelings (with or without a stranger present) without feeling judged.
posted by Obscure Reference at 5:41 AM on November 15, 2011 [1 favorite]

If one person in a couple feels judged in couples therapy, it is time to find a new therapist. Their job is to build trust with both people equally, and challenge both people equally. When one half of the couple thinks it is awesome and the other half hates it like fire, the therapist has given the impression that they have chosen sides.

What he needs to do, I think, is accept that there is a problem in the relationship. Even if that problem is not evident to him- you think there is a problem, and that's the problem. Accepting that, he needs to find his own counselor. If only for one single reason- to learn how to navigate couples therapy successfully. I'm not even sure if this exists, but what I would suggest is to find a therapist who works with couples, but both individually and together.

I'm sure I am projecting here, but I know that when I get tight-lipped and fire-eyed, it is because I am processing my emotions. In that situation, I am feeling a multitude of things, probably anger at being judged, frustration at being dragged somewhere that isn't fun, maybe some other relationship problem that I don't care to mention because the tears will just start flowing and nothing will get solved, and then maybe even more frustration because I am being called on to give an answer that I don't have. I totally understand that it is frustrating for the other person to not get the insight into my thoughts they want, and that doesn't help any.

If that is anything close to what he is feeling, the pressure to share and respond makes it worse. It feels unreasonable for someone to ask for an answer I haven't even figured out for myself.

I'll end with this: even if it seems like the relationship problems are completely rooted in his behavior and mindset, it isn't. You are, intentionally or not, putting pressure on him to do things he doesn't want to do. No matter what the problem really is, both people in the relationship have to put in their half of the work to make it better. His half is to learn how to share his feelings in a way that makes you feel valued, and you half is to give him the space to do that at his own pace.
posted by gjc at 6:49 AM on November 15, 2011 [2 favorites]

From the OP:
ok, lots of commenters wished i had been more snowflakey, so here i am flaking out. sorry if this is a bit rambly/wall of text.

i rewrote this a few times to try be clear, but i know can't address everything.

btw, nice stuff he does: he brought me robot cookies from the bakery a months ago. i do like robots. he folds my laundry if it's in the dryer when he goes to put stuff in there. he likes to cook and will help me make dinner stuff. he can make me laugh. he cleans the bathroom. he introduced me to sushi.

and when i say lonely - i mean with him, two ships passing in the night sort of thing. i have my own friends and social life. i dont just sit around waiting for him to entertain me.

I have been in therapy due to family issues and anxiety. I still see a therapist about twice a month, sometimes less. We went to therapy as a couple for a specific reason, not just to talk about feelings. We had been having the same arguments for a while and I thought it would be helpful to go to therapy about it. He agreed.

Here is why I thought therapy would help. So that we could have someone else help us figure out what each of us was trying to say, because we obviously weren't hearing each other. And me keeping things bottled up inside until i was just a crying mess wasn't helping. If I tried to have relationship talk in a more calm fashion, I was met with resistance - he felt "fuzzy" or whatever and couldn't concentrate right now, but we'd talk later. So then I'd try later, like a day later or some other variable of "later". I'd ask him what him later was, he would say I don't know, just now right now, I'm sorry. Eventually, i would not be able to take it anymore. Me trying to initiate convo about a relationship issue (usually that i felt lonely and would like to be touched more, maybe we could even have more sex) happened maybe once a month or six weeks, where'd I try for a few days and then give up. After a few months, I'd have a breakdown. Not healthy. He would just sit there, overwhelmed by my emotions. Understandably so. If we did have a conversation that was not all crazy, it was him saying how my anxiety made him nervous and he didn't want to be around me when I was feeling down. I would say that I understood but just a hug now and then would be great. He said he would try.

So in therapy, I say the same stuff I do all the time, and he actually hears me. He'll even say he was sorry, he just hadn't understood. But nothing really changes. He avoids me if I seem anxious, or down, or even when i'm happy. sometimes i feel like i can't be happy around him because it seems to make more distant. I still feel alone all the time. If I didn't initiate it, we could go days without touching. Sometimes he seems to "remember" that I like being touched and will pat my shoulder as a greeting or goodbye. Yet he gives lot of hugs and touchiness to friends at parties and gatherings, even my friends. He spends hours at the gym most nights of the week. And when is home, he plays video games. if i try to be in the room with him where he plays games (quietly crocheting or reading), it bothers him. i like it when he plays games on the wii because i like to watch (he likes RPGs and stuff like Metroid Prime, they're like watching movies half the time.), but that doesn't seem to bother him then since the wii is in the living room. he's also terrible about planning things, like he says he wants to do more camping and hiking (which he did sometimes back in college).

this is great example of our relationship dynamic. he likes to go on hikes. he wants a partner who is physically active. super, (he doesn't go alone without me or something, it's not like i'm sleeping in and not joining him on this activity, or that he repeatedly asks me to go and i say no.). l like hikes too. what happens is that Saturday rolls around, he sleeps in til 10 or 11 (i'm up before him usually, he stays up late playing video games till 12 or 1 most nights, but denies that it's that late whenever i bring it up.), then says "what do you want to do today?" I say "whatever, i'm got homework/nohomework/errands/etc." he says "how about we go for a hike?" i say "ok great! it's a beautiful day. let me get the books of hikes." two or three hours later, after he's had a leisurely breakfast and watched some cartoons, he's suddenly all "let's go!" meanwhile i've BEEN ready for hours, packed snacks etc. however, we have not picked a place yet because he was "fuzzy" or whatever and he'd be with me in 15 minutes or whatever, he just needed to wake up. so then it's another 30-60 min of deciding. i suggest places, he says no, he suggests a place that's like 4 hours away, so it will be dusk by the time we get there. i suggest a closer place. and so on. eventually, we agree, but he's miffed because we aren't going to $FARAWAY place (which we wouldn't have been able to get to until at 4 or 5). then i print out google map directions and we go. we get to wherever, it's late in the day (1 or 2 or 3, depending on how long all of the above took and how far away we go.), we hike for maybe two hours. it's nice. we don't talk much, that's cool, that's how he enjoys hiking. so then, we get back to the car and he starts with his little sighs and "i wish we had gotten here earlier" and other lamentations. i don't say "i told you so." i say "next time we'll have to try to leave earlier." he agrees, apologizes for being so lazy earlier, he was just feeling "meh" or "fuzzy". at some point we have again conversations about his desire for a physically active partner and he wants to go hiking more and do longer day hikes, and we get excited talking about it, and everything seems cool. then i suggest that we look at places one day during the week and then plan on leaving early on saturday to make a day of it since we tend to leave later in the day. he gets huffy and says "fine fine ok whatever." i'm like what? so i ask what's wrong and he says something about wanting to be spontaneous. and all i can think is that planning to go on a four or five hour hike some place that is four hours away is not something spontaneous. trying the new sushi place on a whim is a spontaneous.

so we never go on the kind of hikes he keeps saying he wants to go on, which he brings up a point of discontent in our relationship, but when i suggest actually planning to do things so they are more enjoyable, he gets all huffy and weird.

he will NOT go to individual therapy. he tried it twice for me, and hated it. he was so distant for days after the last session that it was like ice in this house. i said ok, it doesn't work for you that's cool. same with couples therapy, this doesn't work for you, we don't have to go, i'm not going to make you do this. (again, it worked great at first, but now as i write this, it becomes more obvious, which i think some of you pointed out, at first it was all about me being the "broken" one who needed "fixed". but the more we needed to look at how we functioned as a couple, he really hated that. as long as it was about how could fix me or what we could do fix me, therapy was ok. but actually agreeing that the relationship needed help didn't really happen. one day she asked him what he wanted from the relationship, he said he'd have to think about it. days later he says "i want a partner who is more physically active than you are now. that is important to me. " i say ok, i will try to exercise more. he says ok thank you i appreciate that and seems satisfied. and actually, in a couple of our sessions, she had even asked him, "we know what she wants from you, but what do you want from her? is there anything you'd like her to work on or change that is important to you?"(i wanted more affection) after a few minutes of quiet where he was thinking, he would just say about the physically active partner. so i really have been trying to be more physically active. i'm not overweight or have health problems, i've never played team sports and neither does he. i try to work out a few times a week, but i'm not going to be spending 20 hours a week at the gym like he does. if i try to get him to define it more so i understand, it turns into the conversation about hiking.)

anyways, you've all given me a lot to think about. without having details, i know it was hard, but some of you were pretty spot on.
posted by mathowie at 8:38 AM on November 15, 2011

btw, nice stuff he does: he brought me robot cookies from the bakery a months ago. i do like robots. he folds my laundry if it's in the dryer when he goes to put stuff in there. he likes to cook and will help me make dinner stuff. he can make me laugh. he cleans the bathroom. he introduced me to sushi.

Your metrics for what makes a good relationship are fucked, to be blunt. This is not nice stuff. This is the minimal benchmark for someone you are living with.
posted by DarlingBri at 8:44 AM on November 15, 2011 [8 favorites]

Anonymous, it sounds like the base problem is that your partner is extremely rigid and selfish, and at base just doesn't care about you and how you feel. I don't think he will ever change. Why would he? What would possibly be in it for him that he wants. With the hiking weirdness it sounds like he is deliberately setting up an unmeetable thing for you because if you can never meet it, then he never has to change and he has justification to just do and act however he wants.

This post made me feel sad and lonely and I'm not even the one in the relationship with him. Why are you still with him?? You that what you want and need isn't rare or hard at all to get, right?
posted by cairdeas at 8:55 AM on November 15, 2011 [5 favorites]

btw, nice stuff he does: he brought me robot cookies from the bakery a months ago. i do like robots. he folds my laundry if it's in the dryer when he goes to put stuff in there. he likes to cook and will help me make dinner stuff. he can make me laugh. he cleans the bathroom. he introduced me to sushi.

This is stuff you do for a roommate you are friends with, it's not enough for a romantic relationship.

There is a reason he was in his mid-thirties before he had his first long term relationship.
posted by crankylex at 9:05 AM on November 15, 2011 [4 favorites]


I've read your update.

Here is what I think is going on:

He does not want a partner who wants to go on hikes. He doesn't really want to go on hikes himself. He likes to go to the gym. When he says, "I want a physically active partner", he means, he wants a partner who likes to spend 4/6/8 hours a week at the gym, not someone who wants to spend Saturday hiking in the wilderness.

Somehow the whole "hiking" thing is about "his desire for a physically active partner". . . but here's what I think the truth is: YOU are the one who wants a "physically active partner", where "physically active partner" means "someone to do fun outdoorsy activities with". YOU are the one who does not have the "physically active partner" she wants, where "physically active partner" is "someone to go on hikes with."

HIS desire for a "physically active partner" is about either wanting someone to share going to the gym with, or about wanting someone with a very different body type than you. I would also guess that some of his feelings of shame and of being judged stem from being ashamed of wanting someone with a different body type from you, especially if that body type is that of, say, a typical professional trainer.

I think he does WANT to want to go on hikes, but he doesn't, really. I had a long term partner with whom I had ongoing issues about a particular activity that we both allegedly wanted to do, and, yet, he kept not doing what needed to be done for him to join me in it. It took me a long time to realize that was because he WANTED to want to do it, but he didn't really want to. It was part of his fantasy of himself, but not part of his reality of himself.

I also think that the whole "hiking" thing suggests that somehow you guys are in a situation where you being the kind of partner you think he wants depends on his actions. That's pretty fucked up.
posted by endless_forms at 9:20 AM on November 15, 2011 [1 favorite]

From your follow up it doesn't sound like couples therapy is what you need. He needs to see a medical doctor about his 'fuzziness'. It sounds like he's probably depressed and even if he wont do therapy, there are medications that can help with that.

Is he unemployed? You mention he spends 20 hours a week at the gym and stays up late playing video games. That doesn't leave a lot of time for much else if he also has a full time job. If he's unemployed but looking and not getting anything, that could be really hurting his self-esteem.

This 'more physically active partner' thing is just a deflection. He's set you an unattainable goal that he can continue to use as an excuse for not giving you what you want. So long as you're unable to achieve the ineffable goal of being 'more physically active' for him, you're not doing your part.

If the only way you can get him to talk to you at all is in a therapy session than so be it but I think you need to be very blunt with him and tell him that he needs to tell you exactly what he requires of you for him to consider you a 'more physically active partner'. If he brings up the hiking thing, again you need to be clear with him that it is him stopping you going on long hikes together, you are ready, willing and able to go whenever he wants but you can't go on a 4 hour hike, 4 hours drive away if you don't set off til gone lunch time. Do not be fobbed off with these lame excuses and accusations.

He's never going to be able to give you what you need in a relationship until he can sort himself out. He can't give you love and support when he feels 'meh' and 'fuzzy' so much of the time. Even getting him to realise there is a problem is going to be an uphill struggle and IMO it may not be worth the bother. As others have pointed out, these 'nice things' he does for you are things any decent housemate would do, they're not even slightly 'above and beyond' as far as a loving partner goes. It really doesn't sound like you're getting anything out of this relationship. He doesn't give you the affection you want, he doesn't want you in the room with him when he plays games, by the sounds of it he spends most of the weekend 'waking up' on his own.
I'm not saying the relationship can't be saved, but you have to ask yourself, is it worth it? These are problems you can't fix yourself, he has to want to get help for his problems, he has to want things to change. It sounds like he's already getting everything he wants from the relationship (otherwise he'd have been able to come up with something better than 'be more physically active')
posted by missmagenta at 9:33 AM on November 15, 2011

He doesn't like to be around you when you're anxious, sad, [b]or too happy?[/b] He has to be prompted to cuddle with you, but he's huggy and physically affectionate around his friends? He doesn't even want you in the goddamn room with him when he plays video games? He spends the majority of his free time apart from you and you have almost no hobbies in common, but you two have been living together for three years? OP, this guy checked out of the relationship a long time ago. He is barely present in the relationship, and has invested nothing of himself in it. He spends a very high amount of time at the gym and playing video games - is he unemployed? If he is, then there is a very high chance that the reason he is with you is because you are supporting him, or at least letting him have a higher standard of living than he could on his own. Even if he is pulling his own weight financially, he doesn't love you and he may not even like you that much. It doesn't matter what the reasons are behind how he's acting - depression, your level of physical attractiveness, him being gay, lupus, whatever. He's treating you like garbage. You deserve better. Keep going to therapy, take care of yourself, DTMFA, and move on.
posted by The Master and Margarita Mix at 9:57 AM on November 15, 2011 [5 favorites]

at first it was all about me being the "broken" one who needed "fixed". but the more we needed to look at how we functioned as a couple, he really hated that. as long as it was about how could fix me or what we could do fix me, therapy was ok.
This is a screaming huge big red flag. So basically, you're the one with all the problems, you're the one that needs to solve them, and if you're the one who's "fixed," then the relationship is fixed? Why are you the one taking all the blame? Can you see how much bullshit that is?

the more we needed to look at how we functioned as a couple, he really hated that.
He doesn't want to take responsibility for his part in the relationship at all. The idea of looking at who he is as a person, and taking responsibility for it, are things that he's likely way too afraid to do. This guy is really emotionally unavailable. So, why do you want to be in a relationship with this person again?
posted by foxjacket at 10:06 AM on November 15, 2011 [1 favorite]

Ok, now that you've posted the follow up- I think he needs a complete physical. I'm not a medical professional, but I have lots of experience with people like him, and it sounds to me like he's got some combination of Asperger's, ADD, and possibly some other health problem causing the fuzziness. The lack of affection and addictive game playing sounds somewhat like Asperger's, the obsessive working out and the inability to get himself out of the house in time to get a good hike in sounds like ADD. The fuzziness could be either, both, or something else entirely.

But- regardless of all that, he sounds pretty selfish. I agree with others that your expectations from a relationship are low, and you deserve better. As was said above, there's a reason this is his first long term relationship. And what you should probably work on in therapy is why you've put up with it this long. You deserve someone who's really into you, rather than someone who sees you as someone to blame for what's wrong with his life.
posted by MexicanYenta at 11:02 AM on November 15, 2011

How has therapy helped? From his POV, therapy has not helped. He hates and resents it - that is, he was happier with the relationship pre-therapy. That is obviously not the relationship you want. Like the internets are telling you, hard choices ahead.
posted by Lesser Shrew at 11:50 AM on November 15, 2011 [1 favorite]

This man does not like you, and you really deserve much better. He is cruel and mean, and treats you extremely badly. You are far better off being alone than with this creep.

I also think the "more active" thing is just an excuse to keep his distance from you. Many are the people who ditch someone for being "too pudgy" and then marry and are happy with another person who is more than 3 times the size of their previous one. I think people who don't really like their partners can pick a thing to fixate on, but it isn't really the problem at all, and it would not help if their partner changed.
posted by meepmeow at 1:58 PM on November 15, 2011 [1 favorite]

One other thing --

Here is why I thought therapy would help. So that we could have someone else help us figure out what each of us was trying to say, because we obviously weren't hearing each other.

So in therapy, I say the same stuff I do all the time, and he actually hears me. He'll even say he was sorry, he just hadn't understood. But nothing really changes.

I don't buy *at all* that he didn't hear you, didn't understand, doesn't know what you want, doesn't understand how important it is to you, and/or doesn't understand how it makes you feel. I think he just. doesn't. care. And just. doesn't. want. to do those things. I think he just wants his way and that's it. And I think he resents therapy because he feels pressured to come up with a good reason for acting like he doesn't give a shit about you. I think he just wants to be left alone to do as he pleases. I don't think he secretly has to discover his inner feelings and then he will give you the things you want and need. I think he knows perfectly well what his feelings are and they are that he's quite satisfied with the status quo, he never intends to change, and he will fight tooth and nail (or with "fire eyes" iciness and passive aggressiveness) against any prodding that he do so.
posted by cairdeas at 2:31 PM on November 15, 2011 [2 favorites]

At first when I read your post, I was reminded of a couple I knew, where the girl insisted on couples therapy for them for most of the relationship. I remember thinking she was nuts and that this kind of constant scrutiny would make any man bolt. So I was prepared to suggest you consider it from his point of view - that if things are ok, spending an hour picking at imperfections isn't an improvement.

Now, having read your followup, I think you just need to break up, tonight if possible. Therapy isn't going to fix this guy even if he was into it, which he isn't. You're only 33. Run fast, run far. There's nothing for you here. Imagine this laziness and selfishness at 48, at 58! Ew! Run!
posted by fingersandtoes at 9:44 PM on November 15, 2011 [1 favorite]

And I think he resents therapy because he feels pressured to come up with a good reason for acting like he doesn't give a shit about you.

I agree with this. The "fire eyes" description really irritated me at first, because I think if you don't want to do something, including couples therapy, don't do it, don't go and then make a big show of OH NOES I AM SO RESENTFUL LOOK AT MY ANGRY EYES. But. After your follow up I feel like he just doesn't want to be in this relationship any more and is doing the "I'll be a jerk until you break up with me because I can't take action and do it myself" thing. You deserve way better than that. This guy is bad news.
posted by sweetkid at 9:58 PM on November 15, 2011 [1 favorite]

If it's this much work to make things work, it means you're not well-suited for one another. Your relationship is a sow's ear, stop trying to make it into a silk purse.
posted by shoesietart at 10:22 PM on November 15, 2011 [2 favorites]

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