How to bear the slow, agonizing death of a great love...
December 4, 2011 4:05 AM   Subscribe

How to bear the slow, agonizing death of a great love...

Be warned, as implied by the title this is quite a sob story...

At some point last year my lovely SO of many years completely withdrew into his work. It was a tough year for him in many respects and unfortunately work/performance has been the primary source of security for most of his life. (By "completely" I mean working up to 16h per day, every day, every week, every month, frequently sleeping at the office or not sleeping at all etc.)

Sadly, it seems there is not a lot I can do right now to help him find a better balance in life. And under the circumstances it is almost impossible to work on our relationship, especially since in this case there is no end (like getting a promotion or a start-up business on its feet...) in sight.

But recent months have made it crystal clear that we both feel too ambivalent to make a (good enough) decision about our relationship, we're still in love and have fun when we do spend time together. We need to work through some things together in order to find clarity. So, after dancing about for far too long, we finally have an appointment with a couples therapist next week.

We do not live together and for the past few weeks communication has been dictated almost entirely by my SO's schedule. Many days pass where he is completely overwhelmed and feels he really cannot make time to call/write or has no energy left for communication by the time he finally finishes work for the day.

Needless to say that by now this situation tears my heart out and I'm fighting an up-hill battle against feelings of rejection/abandonment, worry/helplessness, disappointment, sadness, being stuck/stupid... Meanwhile I'm under a lot of pressure to follow my own career goals and have to stay sharp and functional. Unfortunately, I have neither time nor money to "pamper" myself a little at the moment and the "taking it one day at a time"-strategy is really failing me by now. I absolutely have to hang in there until Christmas and even then I will only get a short break. (Btw., yes, I'm seeing a therapist.)

Sorry if this question is too confused, but, please, if you can, share any uplifting nuggets of wisdom or little everyday strategies you have applied successfully while going through a rough time because of love/relationships. Thank you!
posted by apolune to Human Relations (23 answers total) 12 users marked this as a favorite
I would recommend reading some books on addiction and workaholism. Unless he a doctor, this is seriously abnormal and isn't going to magically get better without some intervention. Does he see the problem in working so much? Does he want to stop? If the answer is no, this will probably kill your relationship.
posted by desjardins at 5:34 AM on December 4, 2011 [2 favorites]

It's very hard, but the ambivalence is real. Work is somehow providing an escape for him. It seems likely to me that it's not simply a side effect that there is no time for the relationship, but a central goal of his, conscious or not, in choosing to devote so many hours to work. I understand it's been the source of security for him, but if he is unable to learn to invest in and derive satisfaction from the other dimensions of life, he will never be a good partner for you.

I wonder if one option for you, since you are reluctant to end things, is to take a break. Agree to set the relatinship aside for one or three months and then meet again to discuss. That may not be realistic but sometimes it can be clarifying to have some time apart when no one has expectations on the other.
posted by Miko at 5:51 AM on December 4, 2011 [6 favorites]

Before going there for the first time, I would try to develop a clear idea of what the couple's therapist sessions are supposed to tell you: the priority for everyone should be to really understand what's happening. Then you both can think about what needs to change. That would also be the moment when you decide whether you find it worthwhile devoting your energy on this relationship or not. It seems to be too early for that now.

(If you decide 'not', run.)
posted by Namlit at 6:17 AM on December 4, 2011 [1 favorite]

How many years are we talking about? How old are the two of you? What kind of work does he do?
posted by Obscure Reference at 6:33 AM on December 4, 2011

I'm sorry. I don't understand. What is your ideal end goal for this relationship?

Someone who has been with you for years, but does not live with you, and now avoids you with this (I agree with others it sounds like a total lie on some level) excuse about working too many hours to see you??

Hon. This person is not your SO. This relationship is over. That's why it hurts so badly - it's sucking your soul dry.

Break up with this person right this second. Don't bother with the couples counseling because that's just beating a dead horse while going in circles.

And if I may....

Either change the tone of your current therapy, or ditch this therapist and find a new one.

You need to never ever put a non- fulfilling person/relationship/job/situation ahead of your own personal happiness again.

This relationship is going backwards. It isn't sustaining you. If you keep trying to keep it going, it will deplete you until there is nothing left.

Stop this self-defeating cycle you are in. Say good bye and reclaim your life. A good therapist can help you re-build, or build for the first time, a solid present and future for yourself. Filled with people who add to your happiness, not detract from it.

The very best as you move forward. Good luck!

(don't even worry about "closure" so much. you don't need this person's permission to be free. you already live on your own. just decide in your heart you deserve better and that this relationship isn't it. simply decide it is over. then, get out there and embrace life. you can do it!)
posted by jbenben at 6:42 AM on December 4, 2011 [6 favorites]

I agree totally with whoever said this is a choice dictated by his need to avoid painful life realities. Work is relatively simple compared to many of the other things we deal with in life. Unfortunately (in the US at least) "work" is an excuse for avoiding all kinds of obligations and in fact some people think it's "manly" to work 16 hour days. But for years on end? No end in sight? The President of the United States doesn't work those hours. Screw him, he's not worth the trouble, DTMFA.
posted by jayder at 7:20 AM on December 4, 2011

Why are you trying to scope things out here in advance of a meeting with a couples therapist next week, or in lieu of advice from your own therapist? Without understanding what the latter is advising you, or what the former holds, it's pretty hard to provide probative advice. It does sound to me like he may require therapy.

If, on the other hand, you want sympathy for your situation, and a score of trigger-happy "DTMFAs," you are certainly in the right place.
posted by Clyde Mnestra at 8:27 AM on December 4, 2011

It would be really helpful to include what general industry he is in. At some jobs working long hours like these is common, and even expected. If your SO doesn't work in an industry where these long hours are expected than I think he may benefit from seeing a therapist.
posted by Funky Claude at 9:12 AM on December 4, 2011

I'm really sorry to hear you're going through a tough time right now. However, and I hope you won't take this the wrong way, there's something in the tone of your post that seems "off" to me. When I read about a "slow, agonizing death" and a "sob story", I thought something absolutely horrible such as a fast-growing cancer or other terminal illness was going on here. Instead I read about how you and your boyfriend are growing apart. I have had long-term boyfriends who I'd hoped to marry break up with me in the past and while it was heart-breaking for me at the time, I would never have call it "a slow and agonizing death" nor felt the need to warn readers about the upsetting nature of my tale of woe. Your language is really striking and very intense here.

It's awfully sad when a relationship that means a lot to you seems to be struggling and may be ending. But I wonder if your dramatic language lends itself to over-dramatizing and extreme reactions in communicating when your boyfriend does try to talk to you about what's going on in the relationship. If it's the case that he can't discuss his feelings with you calmly and rationally then it may be that he's escaping into his work rather than facing whatever troubles the relationship might be having.

If he has no energy to communicate, could it be that communicating with you is particularly draining as everything has to have the intensity of a gothic novel instead of a quick call saying "hey babe, what are you having for dinner, a bird took a crap on my head today and it sucked, can't wait to see you this weekend, bye."

I find people who are very dramatic about their personal lives exhausting to be around and maybe this is a part of what's going on in your relationship. I hope you don't feel too criticized by what I've said as I know you're hurting already, and I hope you will take it constructively, and it may not be true at all, but it's the gut reaction I'm getting from your post. Maybe something to explore with your therapist?
posted by hazyjane at 9:15 AM on December 4, 2011 [20 favorites]

I'm recovering from the break-up of a relationship with a workaholic who viewed me and the relationship as a burden (which sounds comparable to your situation). Throughout the relationship (3 years) he would take action to avoid spending time together. He would arrange to have lessons (foreign languages, advanced math, musical instruments) every Saturday morning and Sunday afternoon and evening, so that the weekend time that was open to spend together would always be filled with an obligation that would necessarily exclude me. (This was in addition to his working from morning until midnight most weekdays.) This impacted me in two painful ways: 1) I felt rejected because he prioritized his self-improvement lessons over time spent with me and 2) I felt that my desire to have a relationship was indulgent, and that the correct way to be was his way -- invested in rigorous self-improvement. I thought that if I was as committed to being awesome as he was then he would love me.

After we broke up (it has been a year and a half but I've made the mistake of seeing him every few months) he stopped the lessons and the other obligations. He had falling outs with the instructors and no longer talks to them, which is kind of helpful for me to know because they were his trusted friendships, from which I was excluded, during our relationship. It's obvious to me now that he was avoiding being with me, and that I accepted this because playing the role of the unwanted, inferior person was familiar to me, and it was easier than getting out of the relationship and taking responsibility for my life. You mentioned that you are under a lot of pressure to follow your own career goals. I can't tell from your post if you disparage your work in comparison to his, or if you tend to neglect yourself and prioritize him. If this is part of your dynamic, I believe that the sooner you release yourself from the grip that this emotional connection has on you, the better it will be for you and everyone who truly cares about you. Recent posts on AskMe (including yours) have made me decide to re-commit to my effort to cut off contact with my ex, to refuse to tend to him when he calls upon me for it, and to try to get more peace, security and love in my own life.
posted by Ventre Mou at 9:46 AM on December 4, 2011 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: Thanks everyone for you answers so far. To clarify a few things:

I'm afraid my question was pretty poorly phrased. It wasn't actually about whether to break up or not. For what I'd consider rather adult reasons we would like to clarify a few things between us before we making a separation final. Hence the couples therapist. Rather, I was trying to ask you for some nice, little daily things/insights that have helped you through being lovesick. :-)

We don't live together mostly because I prefer not to, not because he doesn't want to. That might sound a bit weird to a lot of people, but considering our near-future life/career plans we never felt that this would stand in the way of having a close and loving relationship.

My boyfriend is in his mid-thirties, I am in my late twenties. He works in a creative field where pressure can build up quickly and unexpectedly.

Hazyjane, sorry if my "story" didn't live up to your expectations. I am under a lot of pressure, I do still worry quite a bit about my boyfriend's health, I am pretty much the "last person standing" he is close to and the situation feels dramatic to me. My life is not a gothic novel.
posted by apolune at 10:55 AM on December 4, 2011 [1 favorite]

In my response to your post I tried to tell you something that might have been difficult to hear but that I thought could be helpful. Because I didn't want to be unkind I put a fair bit of effort into putting what I had to say as sensitively as possible trying very hard to avoid hurting your feelings.

Your response strikes me as quite defensive and snappy. There was no indication that you would think over whether there was any truth to what I had to say but simply arguing your point and defending yourself against a perceived attack. Do you think there may be parallels here to what happens when your boyfriend tries to tell you something you don't want to hear?
posted by hazyjane at 11:20 AM on December 4, 2011 [10 favorites]

Distraction and working towards changing your situation.

Distraction --- takes many forms, but essentially you need to find something you enjoy and dive into it. Reading? Get yourself a pile of books or ereader carry it around with you, when you have down time start reading. Doesn't have to be great classics, or educational make-yourself-better, it can (and may be better) be escapist. Or.. music, hiking, working out, movie making, volunteering... essentially keep busy.

Changing your situation, you are working a bit on this, but yes as everyone else has said this sounds like a relationship you need to extricate yourself from. You are not significant others at this point, but friends that see each other every once in awhile. Your boyfriend has prioritized his work over his relationship. I am not going to say that makes him a bad person, but that it makes him a person not currently fit to hold down a long term relationship.

When it is over, call in sick on a Friday, take a 3-day weekend and do what you have to, cry, get drunk, sleep, go out with friends.. whatever.
posted by edgeways at 11:23 AM on December 4, 2011 [1 favorite]

On a daily basis you can remember that you're worth of having someone love you enough to make you a priority.

You are not a priority to this man. No amount of therapy is going to make that change. His work is more important than you are. By your own account, days pass where he doesn't think about you at all or care enough to contact you.

Are you sure that being ignored for days on end is your definition of a great love?
posted by 26.2 at 12:12 PM on December 4, 2011 [2 favorites]

Best answer: Many days pass where he is completely overwhelmed and feels he really cannot make time to call/write or has no energy left for communication by the time he finally finishes work for the day.

The main thing that helped me stop being a sad sack when I was breaking up with someone who always valued his work over me was to realize this: he actually liked it that way.

I had justified it to myself in a thousand ways. However, no matter how many times I told myself he would rather be with me than at his job, or how often I'd pour over the hastily-written texts he sent trying to convince me of same, his action always told the real story. Which is to say, his work is what he loved, more than me, or anyone else.

A lot of men use work as a means of emotionally distancing themselves from their partners. It isn't the fault of their careers. In fact, a person who chooses a super time-intensive career is generally the type who doesn't countenance time off the way others do. Even if they have the opportunity for time off, they don't take it or else they fill their "vacation days" with millions of exhausting activities/errands.

So basically my answer to you is this: soothe yourself with reality. The reality that it wasn't his job in your way at all-- it was him. It was not bad timing. It was a choice he made. Also, you have to decide to like available men who like you back, rather than unavailable types. Some people have issues with this (I used to).

Now I have a bf who works even harder than the last guy, but is a million times more available to me. You can have this also. That helps, doesn't it, to think that your future holds someone who makes you feel special, safe and loved?
posted by devymetal at 1:36 PM on December 4, 2011 [5 favorites]

Rather, I was trying to ask you for some nice, little daily things/insights that have helped you through being lovesick. :-)

The problem is that there are no Dalai Lama quotes or kitten pictures that will make this situation very much better for you. It's way beyond that point. You want to know how to endure this "slow agonizing death." It's like if I said "someone is holding a pillow over my face, do you have any insights that will make me feel better?" No. Kick him in the crotch or whatever, but no "little daily things" will make this better.
posted by desjardins at 1:42 PM on December 4, 2011 [5 favorites]

is this relationship meeting your needs? sure, you might have fun when you're finally together, but on the whole, do you think this relationship makes your life better or worse? do you feel more at peace or more stressed out because of it? do you feel loved and strong, or excluded and anxious? a lot of people who are not suited to one another can manage to have fun when they hang out, or have good sex, or have matching senses of humor -- but that doesn't mean that being in a relationship with the person is the best idea. (i keep learning this by experience over and over, unfortunately.)

i doubt that couples' counseling will do very much if your boyfriend is already ignoring you for days on end because of work. think about it: you're now adding something more into his schedule, when he already isn't willing to find a moment to talk to you for days at a time (at his own convenience). how long does it take to send a text message? to write an email a few sentences long? to call and talk for a minute or two, just to say i miss you and i've been thinking of you? plenty of extremely busy people make time to do these things for those they love. if he's not doing those things after you've already told him you want to hear from him more, it's probably because he doesn't feel a desire to do them. but that's not a sign of great love. it's a sign that he's kind of checked out of the relationship.

you don't have to put up with this if it's making you unhappy and lovesick. certainly you deserve to be treated with courtesy by anyone you date. ask: if you were single and you met someone new, and they would ignore you for days at a time like your boyfriend has been doing, would that be a turn off for you? would you keep dating this hypothetical new person? or would you think, hey this person is too busy and i'd rather be with someone who has more time to connect with me and wants to talk to me more often, with whom i can establish a healthy connection more easily?

as far as concrete coping mechanisms: distance yourself from him, get busy with hobbies and work and other interests, reconnect with your friends and family, establish your own goals and break them down into doable measurable steps, take a little bit of time each day to sit quietly and either meditate or just do nothing, and really examine if your therapist is the right one for you, or maybe you need to change the tone of how therapy's going.
posted by zdravo at 1:44 PM on December 4, 2011

Best answer: Having gone through a situation with some similarities, the best piece of hopeful advice that I can offer is that, as painful and sad as it was to finally pull the plug on the relationship, I felt so much better and less anxious than when I was in the midst of the "should I or shouldn't I raise the dreaded topic"/are we are aren't we ending" drama. Whether or not you get closure, whether or not you hear what you want to hear, you're still going to feel sad (but again better than the whole nauseous making, can't sleep anxiety of the pre-breakup period). Frankly the sooner it's done, the sooner you can start to heal.

As for strategies, whatever works for you. I'd say if you need to wallow for a bit, wallow, but set a time limit; I'll let myself wallow the first weekend after the breakup is final. Stock up on sad movies, ice cream, wine, sleep in all weekend, whatever, but then make an effort to let it end there. Not that you can't be sad about it after that, just make an effort to go out and do stuff, alone or ideally with others.
posted by kaybdc at 2:58 PM on December 4, 2011 [1 favorite]

Here's something I've learned on askme: believe what he's doing, not what he's saying.

He communicates to you how he is unwilling to make time for you. I have a job that requires long hours, but there are definitely ways that I can work around that to make my partner feel like I'm thinking about him during the hours I spend at work.

Also: you tagged this "break-up" and yet you're resisting advice that says you're breaking up/have broken up/should break up. I for one am confused. I also agree with kaybdc - it sounds like you need closure so you can begin to grieve, move on, and eventually heal.

I'm afraid there are no quick fixes for this. I'm sorry you're going through it.
posted by guster4lovers at 3:36 PM on December 4, 2011 [2 favorites]

I suggest that you go with him to the counseling session. It will be an opportunity for you to say that you feel rejected, worried, helpless, disappointed, sad, and stuck. "We need to work together" has to take a back seat for the moment; it's more important for him to hear how it affects you when he's unavailable day in and day out. Even if you do decide to leave him, it will benefit you to know that you've communicated those feelings.

My suggestions for getting through: Even though you're under career pressure and don't have money to spend, you need to find time to do things that matter to you, things that make you feel like the person you want to be. It might help to think back to things that you liked as a child, or books on topics you once found interesting but haven't thought about in a while. It can also help to do something nice for someone else, even if it's a small gesture.

Are there things you wish for yourself? To be physically fit and healthy, to be successful in your work, to create beauty in your home, to express yourself through art, to be a good friend or a loving family member? Whatever is on your list of who you want to be, do one small thing that will contribute to your being one of those things.
posted by wryly at 4:48 PM on December 4, 2011

You best answered kaybdc, and that's good. I think everyone here is telling you to rip the band aid, cut the cord, DTMFA. Why? Because it is SO MUCH BETTER for you emotionally than dragging it out.

Speaking of which...

It really seems from your question and update that you are the one dragging it out. You don't have property together, at least not that you mention, so the therapist is pointless unless maybe you work in the same office or he's the brother of your best friend or something. Clarifying things that happened in the past is generally work best done on your own.

- You wrote you worry about your ex BF's health.

This is really none of your business anymore. Holding on to that false "responsibility" is a way of holding onto him and a dead past. For your own sake, sanity, daily happiness - change this attitude. His health is for him to worry about. I'm not saying you should wish him harm! I'm saying his well being is 310% his responsibility, not yours, and you are only hurting yourself with this choice you are making to be his "protector" or however you want to term it.

- You wrote you are pretty much the last person your ex BF is close to

Again, this is all on him. His choice tobe close to people or not. His choice to maintain or blow up relationships. Let him live with his choices. Plus, I think you are putting on airs here and are not in touch with reality. You're not really in his life anymore, so in truth, he probably has a new support system in place.


It really seems as though he's moved on and you have not. The best way toget through this is to move on, too.

My suggestion to change something about your therapy still stands because I think you could have navigated this situation much much better and with a lot less pain.

There is a lot to be said for facing reality head on. It's a great habit to cultivate and it will cut way down on the drama and angst in life that you are experiencing right now (and I bet in other situations past and present, too.)
posted by jbenben at 4:53 PM on December 4, 2011 [3 favorites]

Hmm...I do not think there's enough info in this post to conlude that someone has a problem, needs therapy, or tries to escape life realities in work - there are much easier, enjoyable ways to escape problems than working around the clock.

I also assume that if you're asking help on Mefi, it means the decision as to whether to stay or leave is not at all clear. You seems to think that there is something to be saved in this relationship : you are, after all, in love. You are stuck in a bad time with little freedom of movement as to how to deal with the relationship. It's tough enough without me telling you how screwed it is (not that I think so, but you get that sort of things on MeFi).

Consider this. For two ambitious people who invest a lot in their work, it is difficult to begin with to find the extra time to commit in a relationship. Living apart does not help, of course. Have you ever talked about living together ? Maybe it's just time to move to the next level. This way, you would be able to see each other after work without much extra effort. You fear for your intimacy ? Take a flat wth two bedrooms. You have enough disposable income ? rent an extra bedroom somewhere else just for the possibility of having time off, at least for a while. Plus, you'd have something to do in common : choose and decorate the flat.

I hope you both have the possibility to take time off end of the year to talk things through. After all, a bold, common move might get you out of where you are, and also reveal how much each other are willing to invest. In the meantime, drink. Or eat ice cream. Or smoke. Whatever keeps you on your feet until the opportunity to have a serious talk with him arises, which should be ASAP.

Another question : how does he react when (if) you ask for contacts ? This could be useful information for us. Also...Why does he work so much ? Surely he does not think you would think less of him otherwise ? Is your answer to that known to him ? Are you communicating well about your inner lives, including relationship to, and perceived social meaning of, your careers ? Is he even having fun at work ? Does he seem to be happy ? not let hasty DTMFA reactions hurt or influence you beyond measure. Relationships are not commodities, humans beings are not objects of collection. I find mature and only natural that you worry for your boyfriend's health, and I'm sure he has the same considerations towards you. This is a rough patch you're in, and I'm sorry. But keep in mind that if relationships had to be 100% satisfactory to keep going, many of us would not even be born to tell you to break up.
posted by that_guy at 2:41 PM on December 8, 2011

Oh, and, btw. MeFi is NOT the right place to get solace when a relationship hurts. I got to learn that.
posted by that_guy at 2:45 PM on December 8, 2011

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