Help me kill this zombie relationship for good
December 30, 2011 8:34 AM   Subscribe

I'm in an unhappy, unhealthy relationship-- I'm scared I might even be emotionally abusing my boyfriend. Should I break up with him now or wait until later? How can I make sure that the break-up will last?

At first our relationship was happy and affectionate, but I gradually realized that we weren’t very compatible, so I tried to break it off decently with him. We got back together within a week. Since then I’ve tried serious, no contact break-ups maybe a dozen times, but we’ve never been able to stay apart for more than a few days. It’s now been over a year since my first break-up attempt, and I’ve gone from dissatisfied to frustrated to miserable. I’m starting to feel hopeless that I’ll ever be able to end it.

What makes it so hard? I’m under a lot of stress in school, and when I’m swamped with work in the middle of the semester, it’s all too easy to tell myself that I don’t have the mental energy for a break-up right now. I also have virtually no social life and few friends outside of him at college. I’ve been suffering from depression recently and I’ve had some bad nights, which are difficult to handle alone. During those desperate 4 AMs, I always feel so damn lonely and sorry for myself-- next thing you know, I’m calling up the ex again. Pathetic!

I’m new to this depression thing. I used to be really stable, cheerful, and strong, with a good group of close friends. I think that if I were like that again, I wouldn’t have to cling to my boyfriend. My counselor suggested I wait before breaking up with him (“You can’t fix all your problems at once”), saying that I should try to build up more friends before I do it. This all makes sense to me.

But I didn’t tell her how bad the situation is. The relationship is just a mess of anger and fights and misery, and it makes me crazy with frustration. I’ve never treated anyone (family, friends, exes) even remotely as badly as I treat him. Sometimes I think I truly hate him. I recoil from his touch, snap at him, constantly mock him, drop little put-downs about his intelligence, etc.

He has to walk on eggshells around me, because I blame him for everything that goes wrong. I’ll take any tiny problem as an excuse to pick a huge fight-- and these are ugly fights. I’ll call him a fucking idiot, a worthless piece of shit, total garbage, etc. I tell him that that I have no respect for him, that he can’t satisfy me physically or intellectually, and that I only keep him around because he buys me lunch. In short, I say the cruelest things possible; once he started to cry and I still wouldn’t stop. I’ve even pushed and shoved him one or two times.

Just typing all of this makes me sick. I think this is abuse, and I’ve talked to him about it. He said that it didn’t bother him that much, and he was used to it anyway. (He has an unusually controlling, punishing mother; he’s hinted a bit at an unpleasant childhood.)

Regardless of whether one labels it abuse, it’s clearly unhealthy. The sooner it ends, the better. And winter break is a good time to try for a break-up: I don’t have school to worry about, I have close, supportive friends and family in my hometown, and I have to be physically separated from my boyfriend.

Whew, that was long. The TL;DR version: I’m depressed, stressed, and lonely, so I cling to my boyfriend. But I treat him terribly, and the relationship makes us both miserable. So should I wait to be more emotionally healthy before we break up? Or should I do it as soon as possible?

Most importantly, what are your practical tips for making this break-up last? I've told him everything here, but he still has no desire to break up with me. If I lapse and contact him, we will end up back together. I always delete him from my phone, block him on gchat, cut off all communication, reward myself for not talking to/seeing him, etc etc... but my willpower is weak. So please, if you’ve ever kicked a bad habit like this one, help me out. Throwaway email at

(And yes, I will talk to my therapist about my anger issues / abusive treatment! I need to work out those things on my own, but I’m hoping the hive mind can give me practical advice on what to do right now. Thanks!)
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (57 answers total) 11 users marked this as a favorite
You should break up now (hello, this is metafilter). Neither one of you will me emotionally healthy until you are out of each other's lives. Is there a lease or something that is of worry?
posted by oceanjesse at 8:46 AM on December 30, 2011 [3 favorites]

So should I wait to be more emotionally healthy before we break up?

No. Leave this poor guy alone already.

The ONLY thing that is going to work is to completely cut off all contact. But you know that already (right?) and for whatever reason you're continuing to maintain what seems like a manipulative and horrible relationship. So what I'd do is this: talk to your therapist about getting a handle on your impulsivity but more importantly...leave this poor guy alone.

My guess is your question may be triggering for some people who have been on the receiving end of behavior like yours, so good luck.
posted by kinetic at 8:46 AM on December 30, 2011 [7 favorites]

will be
posted by oceanjesse at 8:47 AM on December 30, 2011

If a drug user said he wanted to get his life back together before going off cocaine would that seem reasonable? Ending this seems a pretty critical part of getting things together. You're never going to get friends outside of him if every time you feel the need for emotional support you turn to him and get back together. How much effort do you put it into being happy on your own when you're broken up? Do you go to social events? Do you sit with people at meals? Do you talk to people in your class? Do you go jogging? You won't magically be happy without him, even if it's a bad relationship. They're not called emotional bonds for nothing. In a good relationship that's a very happy tie. In a bad one it's imprisonment, and you need to put serious effort into breaking free.

Also, people often have no idea what's best for them. The fact that he says he doesn't mind being verbally abused doesn't mean he wouldn't be better off without it. In relationships it's sometimes better not to take someone at their word before looking more closely.
posted by resiny at 8:47 AM on December 30, 2011 [1 favorite]

There is no maybe about it... you are being extremely emotionally abusive to your boyfriend. Your boyfriend is vulnerable and lacks appropriate boundaries, and coupled with your current issues and lack of control, there is realistically no healthy way of staying in the relationship "for now" until you get yourself sorted.

Print out this question and take it to your therapist so she knows what has really been going on, and ask her to help you and support you in ending it.

And yes, definitely keep working on your depression and anger issues in therapy.
posted by Serene Empress Dork at 8:51 AM on December 30, 2011 [22 favorites]

Can you get him on board with breaking up with you?

Can you get daily support from somewhere about not contacting him? Family? Any other friend or therapist that you can check in with?

What else can you do at 4am? Can you call someone else? Would your doctor consider prescribing an anti-anxiety medication just in the short term? I used to have Ativan for very occasional use when going through a stressful period, and just having it available was a big relief - I often didn't even take it, because I knew that if things got too bad I could.

What does your therapist suggest about how to break this pattern?

Also, can you change your school situation to relieve stress there?

Also, your boyfriend is codependent - it's certainly not his fault that he's coming back for more abuse, but the fact that he returns so easily is making things harder to break this off. Is there any way that you can enlist him in breaking up? Ie, can you pre-emptively ask him not to come back to you? Is he in a headspace where he'd be able to do that?

Congratulations on recognizing and being distressed by this pattern - that shows that you have a moral core to build on. You may be able to change your whole future life if you can stop your abusive/codependent behavior in its tracks now.
posted by Frowner at 8:52 AM on December 30, 2011 [7 favorites]

Break up with him now, and have the decency and self-control to CUT OFF ALL CONTACT. No calls, no texts, no Facebook, no nothing - no matter what he says or does.

He may not know it now, but there's someone out there for him that won't abuse him psychologically (and there's no "maybe" about that, based on your description) to make themselves feel better. In a few years, with some distance from you, he'll be amazed that he tolerated this crap for so long.

You're in college - it's time to start acting like an adult.
posted by ryanshepard at 8:53 AM on December 30, 2011 [1 favorite]

He said that it didn’t bother him that much, and he was used to it anyway

His problems are as big as yours and I hope he's seeing a therapist too. By condoning your behaviour towards him, he is actually preventing you from becoming a better person. You both deserve better.

You don't heal your emotional life first and then break up with him. Breaking up with him is a the first step towards healing your emotional life.
posted by like_neon at 8:54 AM on December 30, 2011 [2 favorites]

You need to have a contingency plan for dealing with the inevitable triggers and crises that have made you go running back to him in all your other previous breakup attempts. This is the same approach that people need to use when breaking any other unhealthy addiction--having a plan for dealing with the cravings.

Your contingency plan for dealing with those lonely 4 ams may involve alternative activities to turn to, alternative people to turn to, and making it even less convenient to contact him (just like an alcoholic obviously should not store alcohol in your house, maybe for a few weeks you need to lock your phone in the trunk at night, or take your battery out and lock it up in your apartment mailbox, or some other trick to make it harder to dial that number!
posted by drlith at 8:57 AM on December 30, 2011 [5 favorites]

This is a poisonous situation that you need to put behind you as soon as possible.
Others are telling you that you are abusing him; this is true, but he is being part of it as well, telling you that it is OK what you are doing. It is not OK, no matter what he says.

Tell him it is over, right now. Go and be with your close supportive friends and family. Tell them that you're broken up and you cannot be around him. Do stuff with them, anything.

Do not worry about him or what he'll do or if he's seeing help. He is a sentient grown person that can and will take care of themselves. This is not about him, this is about you, and only you are in control of your own actions and you have to heal yourself. Having him out of your life is the first step to make it all better.

You can do this. It will be OK.
posted by Threeway Handshake at 8:58 AM on December 30, 2011 [1 favorite]

Hello anonymous -- I struggled with depression in my late teens/early 20s and a lot of what you describe here sounds familiar to me. Here is my takeaway.

You write, "I think that if I were like that again, I wouldn’t have to cling to my boyfriend." This pattern of thinking was a major contributor to my own difficulties: if only [this magical thing happened], I could [accomplish some goal]. Understand that by thinking in these terms, you are relinquishing responsibility for achieving what you want, and placing all the power in external forces. To a large extent, this is what depression does to your mind -- but you are capable of recognizing when you start to think this way, and you can change it. During my lowest time, whenever I caught myself having such a thought, I would take a moment to re-phrase it in a way that gave the power back to me. Instead of if only it wasn't raining I could take a walk, I would think, I don't want to walk in the rain, but I will go when it stops instead. It seems like a small thing but it's tremendously empowering once you make it a habit.

The way you describe your treatment of your ex definitely sounds like abuse to me, and I would urge you to consider that if you truly care for him, you would not want him to be subjected to that -- not by anyone. You call him when you're feeling low because it's comfortable, and probably also because having someone to lash out at is in some way rewarding to you. Find a different option or a distraction -- something you can pick up quickly and put away just as quickly when the feeling passes. It could be a stuffed animal, a handheld video game, cross stitch, just about anything. At base, this is about learning to power through anxiety without external reassurance; this may be a topic you discuss with your therapist.

You absolutely can take control of the situation, right now, and the sooner, the better for both of you.

Lastly, have you considered medication? If you're having trouble with insomnia, a sleep aid may be helpful at the very least. Best wishes to you.
posted by trunk muffins at 8:58 AM on December 30, 2011 [12 favorites]

You're hurting someone who's already been badly hurt - he might think this is normal, but you and I don't, do we? And you're not really a bad or a cruel person, not deep down inside, so you don't want to carry on hurting someone whose only "fault" is in caring about you, do you? I know you're feeling hurt yourself, you're under stress and things are hard for you - but these are all eminently fixable, with time or some input from yourself or others. His is a much deeper and longer path and you need to help him along it by breaking up and staying broken up. He's your easy option at the moment - you're lonely and insecure and he's a convenient fall-back. But look what you're doing to him:

"Sometimes I think I truly hate him. I recoil from his touch, snap at him, constantly mock him, drop little put-downs about his intelligence, etc ... I say the cruelest things possible; once he started to cry and I still wouldn’t stop. I’ve even pushed and shoved him one or two times"

This isn't good for him and you know it - and it isn't good for you because it will leave you with a diminished sense of self-respect when you come to realise how truly badly you've behaved. That will be the real horror at 4am - waking up in a cold sweat realising how you mistreated this poor lad.
posted by Martha My Dear Prudence at 8:59 AM on December 30, 2011 [6 favorites]

Yeah, man, listen --- no one else who reads this is going to hesitate as to whether your behaviour might be abuse. It's abuse. It's textbook. Fuck that, it's dictionary, as in one could write "emotional abuse, n., def.:" and cut and paste what you wrote above. The only reason you're hesitating is that you think you're a good person, and good people are abused.

I think you can be a good person, and the fact that you're wondering about this makes it clear you have that in you. But good and evil are qualities of action, and treating your boyfriend like a punching bag and dumping out all your bad emotions on him is some evil shit, even if he lets you do it. You are strong enough to stop, and you will be happier if you do. Maybe that means taking some time off school, handing someone else your phone so you don't call him, blocking him on facebook, whatever. But you know this ain't right. (that's why you haven't told the counsellor what's really going on.) Listen to your better angels and let the guy go.
posted by Diablevert at 9:01 AM on December 30, 2011 [8 favorites]

Can you find resources specific to abusive relationships? It might sound like a weird thing to do, but what about calling one of those abusive relationship helplines? While they aren't geared toward dealing with abusers, they might have some additional resources for you - there might even be programs you could participate in. (It may seem odd to put yourself - young, in a definitely codependent relationship, yourself ill - into the same "abuser" category as, for example, asshole men who repeatedly beat up their partners. But it sounds much better to say "yes, I am becoming an abuser, it's really true" than to separate yourself off. You don't want to end up at forty in a horrible relationship with a permanently dependent partner who you abuse, or turning into someone who is chronically physically abusive.)

Also, did you witness partner abuse when you were little? Where are your relationship models coming from?
posted by Frowner at 9:03 AM on December 30, 2011

"good people aren't abusers", rather
posted by Diablevert at 9:03 AM on December 30, 2011

Most importantly, what are your practical tips for making this break-up last?

The first thing to do is to admit to yourself in no uncertain terms that you are abusing your boyfriend. It will be like 1,000 times harder to go back to him if you have to say "I want to go back to that relationship where I am definitely an abuser." instead of "I want to go back to that unhealthy relationship, the one where I may or may not be actually abusing my boyfriend".

The second thing to do is get stuff in your life that necessitates being unable to have time for a relationship. Friends are great for this, but if you don't have friends you can still volunteer, or start a massive project, or join a sports team of some sort, or SOMETHING that will eat up your time and make it harder to just go back to being in an abusive relationship.
posted by 23skidoo at 9:09 AM on December 30, 2011 [2 favorites]

You need to apologize profusely to your boyfriend and break up with him. You need to admit all your wrongs and tell your boyfriend it isn't okay what you are doing to him and you are currently in therapy.

You must have some sort of feelings for this person. In my youth I have broken up with guys and I was so certain, so glad to be broken up, that if I never saw them again I would think nothing of it. You are confused, lonely, and desperate. Your self-esteem sucks right now and you don't have any friends and you're using this guy to take your pain out on.

The best thing you can do for yourself is break up with him after you get on your hands and knees and apologize to him. Don't ask for forgiveness. Just apologize and break up with him. Your words are abusive but so are your actions. It's almost sadistic to call this poor guy up at 4am and lure him back to your abuse. Please don't think I am judging you harshly. I have said abusive words myself. You are human but you are so young and it would be a shame if your college years consisted of this.

Make some good memories for yourself. Keep going to therapy and tell your therapist everything. Try to love yourself and forgive yourself and work on making college a good experience instead of bad. Try to meet some friends, be open, and do what you can to stay healthy emotionally and physically. Good luck.
posted by Fairchild at 9:09 AM on December 30, 2011 [4 favorites]

I need to work out those things on my own, but I’m hoping the hive mind can give me practical advice on what to do right now

You're asking for practical advice in an impractical situation. You know you should break things off, you know you shouldn't be abusing your boyfriend, yet you do it anyway. You need help ASAP and you need to accept responsibility for not only your actions, but your inaction in seeking treatment.

You are willfully and repeatedly harming another human being and avoiding getting help (not telling your therapist the full story). It is not fair to him or yourself to use him as a crutch until you find someone else to be your new crutch. Reduce your course load or cut back to half-time, but you need to improve your situation so that you're reaching for what's familiar to relieve your own negative feelings.

And quit hiding stuff from your therapist. You're only hurting yourself there.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 9:12 AM on December 30, 2011 [3 favorites]

Did you ever think that your depression could be stemming from this relationship? Since your depression sounds like it started after you were unable to break up with him, and you feel like crap about yourself because of how you treat him. I think you should cut off all contact with him. Make it about yourself though -- say "I treat you terribly and it makes me feel horrible about myself. I need time alone so I can stop doing things that make me feel bad about myself. I'm sorry but you're a trigger for these actions and I can't see you. If I call you at 4am, please please please ignore my call and don't call me back." He'll probably be more supportive of the breakup if he thinks it'll be helping you.

It really sounds to me like he is a trigger for your depression, and you need to get out of that relationship to start making things better for yourself and get back to your normal, cheerful self.
posted by DoubleLune at 9:13 AM on December 30, 2011 [5 favorites]

You might find Codependents Anonymous meetings helpful. You say you need to work these things out on your own. That's not necessarily true.
posted by Wordwoman at 9:16 AM on December 30, 2011 [3 favorites]

Counselors and therapists do not judge. You will not get scolded for saying that you did something bad. All they want, all they set out to do when they become counselors, is listen to what a person has done and is doing and help them become better. There are people who have done things ten thousand times worse than you have: murderers, child molesters, and the like, who sit in front of their counselor and tell them the complete truth.

Start being honest with your counselor and then she can give you good advice. Right now, what she told you to do is based on the fact that she doesn't know the true nature of your relationship. It's as irrelevant as her advice would have been if you told her you want to quit smoking cigarettes, but actually you're smoking crack. A relationship with problems and an abusive relationship are two completely different creatures. You are in the latter and it needs to be fixed like the latter.
posted by griphus at 9:18 AM on December 30, 2011

You're capable of quite a bit of honesty; that sets you ahead of the game.

Seconding threeway handshake that your boyfriend has his part in this cycle as well. No one is putting a gun to his head to return to you. He is a grownup and will have to learn to walk his own path without you.

And your behavior is not evil, IMNSHO: it's sick. You are a sick person trying to get well, not a bad person trying to get good. If you were evil, this whole thing wouldn't bother you a bit.
posted by Currer Belfry at 9:20 AM on December 30, 2011 [2 favorites]

I’m new to this depression thing. I used to be really stable, cheerful, and strong, with a good group of close friends. I think that if I were like that again, I wouldn’t have to cling to my boyfriend.

You don't have to cling to your boyfriend even if you do feel like that. Work towards coping with experiencing these difficult feelings without running to the boyfriend, which is avoiding feeling the difficult emotions.
posted by Ironmouth at 9:21 AM on December 30, 2011

You are using him and he is consenting to it. Depressed people can be very cruel and angry and you are taking it out on him because he is letting you. This is a bad pattern for both of you, but you recognize it is a habit, a bad coping strategy. You may as well be smoking, or drinking, or doing some other destructive thing to yourself, but you are using a person.
You need to get a handle on your depression and stop using him as a crutch. You could start thinking of him as a person and focus energy on him and other people, which is a problem when you are consumed with your own depression. There are lots of things you could do. The question is what will you do.
Where are you in dealing with your depression? Can you go out and meet more people and make more friends? Can you work on skills and strategies with your therapist?
Or you could get him some help so he will stop this, but do you even care? Think about him as a fellow human being who has put up with all your shit for all his own misguided reasons.
How do you stop this? Make a choice and stick to it. But maybe you think about him and stop enabling his problems the way he is enabling yours.
posted by provoliminal at 9:22 AM on December 30, 2011

It seems like you're viewing "returning to your boyfriend" as a kind of comforting thing. Of course, from our perspective, having read your admission of abuse, we see it for what it is: it is comforting to you because it allows you to continue to abuse him.

You need to stop viewing "returning to your boyfriend" as alleviating your loneliness, sadness, depression, stress, etc. You need to start viewing it for what it is. You are only returning to him so that you can abuse him more, and so that you can satisfy whatever need you have to do that to him.

Like others have said, you're self-aware enough that you recognize that your behavior is a problem. Take it one step further, and recognize what your returns to the relationship are actually facilitating: abuse.

Then stop doing that. The positive reinforcement thing wont work. You're rewarding the wrong behavior (staying strong in the face of loneliness v. not abusing anyone/thing). I think you need to find a new pressure valve. Get a punching bag. Every time you think about returning to your boyfriend at 4am, punch the fuck out of it to remind yourself that the only thing you ACTUALLY want at 4am is to go back to the relationship that facilitates the abuse that you have recognized is bad and wrong.
posted by jph at 9:35 AM on December 30, 2011 [4 favorites]

Others are telling you that you are abusing him; this is true, but he is being part of it as well, telling you that it is OK what you are doing.

That's bullshit. Being abused is a horrifically terrible thing and can devastate you emotionally, physically and intellectually to the point where you don't act rationally. Being told you are worthless, a piece of shit, etc., says to a person that no one else will want you, which makes the person terrified to leave because they'll be alone. It takes away your self-confidence and you become reliant on the person for validation at any expense. Patterns of abuse have real, long-lasting emotional and physical damage they cause can be very tough to get past.

Here we have an abuser who admits to their abuse and you're suggesting, even for a second, it's the abused's fault for accepting it? Self-awareness is not in and of itself a good trait if you don't act on it. The fact that the OP is considering continuing the abuse until she feels better and can dump him only goes to show how little she cares for his feelings.

OP, you need to DTMFA from the relationship, with the A being you. Depression is not an excuse for abuse.
posted by Rodrigo Lamaitre at 9:42 AM on December 30, 2011 [37 favorites]

Every hour of every day that you stay with and abuse this person, you are building patterns.

Now hear yourself, in a few years, calling your CHILD a worthless piece of shit. Because you will, if you don't stop this now.

I wish you both peace and healing.
posted by cyndigo at 9:43 AM on December 30, 2011 [4 favorites]

So your plan is to definitely break up with him and the choices are now or later? And your counselor suggested sticking with him for longer (until you have more friends) and then breaking up? What kind of counselor suggests that?

If you have to do something with 100% metaphysical certitude there's no time like the present no matter how it makes you, him or The King of Siam, feel.
posted by dgeiser13 at 9:53 AM on December 30, 2011 [2 favorites]

My heart just hurts and hurts for your boyfriend.

How do you get out of this? You realize that you're an abusive and bad person, and you need to stay away from him.

I'm not saying that you'll never be a good person. Obviously you want to be, which is why you're posting this question. But get away from him because you're behaving in an evil way and being stressed is not an excuse or explanation.

Is it okay to hit animals when you're stressed? No. It's also not okay just because he's a human being who for whatever reason is taking it possibly because he cares about you and is vulnerable. You are so bad for him and no amount of being nice to him is going to make up for it, even if he wants it. He's being victimized by you and your abusiveness. This is going to have lasting repercussions for him, his relationships in the future, and his children even, possibly.

It's not okay and you need to leave him immediately so he can live a better life and you can start becoming a better person who knows how to manage stress and create positive relationships.

I want to add that it's good that you were honest in your post (I admire it because a lot of abusive people try to justify how right they were, how their partner ticks them off, etc. and that you're ashamed of it, you know it's totally wrong, and that you obviously want to be a good person.

Take it a step further and leave him. Apologize in a letter and emphasize that he did nothing to deserve that treatment and he should not put up with it in the future from anybody. Urge him to seek therapy for it.

Then get out of his life. Don't ever ever contact him again. That would be an amazing gift from you.
posted by anniecat at 9:53 AM on December 30, 2011 [4 favorites]

One more thing: Don't ever even consider that he's at fault. You're abusing him. You are an adult. You are responsible for the things you say and do.
posted by anniecat at 9:54 AM on December 30, 2011 [11 favorites]

PRINT THIS OUT AND SHOW IT TO YOUR THERAPIST. Your therapist can only really be your ally if they understand what's going on.

I think you realize that you are really hurting him. If you keep that first in your mind, perhaps that can motivate you to break up with him and stick with it. The more you stay involved with him the more pain you will cause him. Break up with him, tell him you're sorry for everything, tell him that this relationship is destructive not just for him but also for you and that by helping you stick with the decision to break up he is helping both you and himself.

That alone won't be enough in a moment of weakness, though. Delete all of his contact information.

Find a friend who will take a four a.m. call to help you not call this guy.

Find a support group. In fact, go to multiple support groups even if they aren't directly related to your issues. Your behavior has some parallels with addition, so dropping into AA and NA meetings could be helpful. And you'll be with other people who are struggling with their demons, and that could be a relief. Tips for people quitting smoking, alcohol, etc., might also provide some insight into how you can handle the drive to contact him.

The next time you feel the urge to contact him, recognize that urge as an attempt to avoid facing your demons and moving forward. Maybe it seems impossible to face your demons, but it will probably be less painful and difficult than the situation you are in now.

Make a list of things you can do when you are tempted to call him - meditate, make a loaf of bread, write in your journal, go for a run, do 20 pushups, take a shower, get a manicure. Manicures are good, you can't pick up the phone during them. Paint or draw something, even if you don't paint or draw.

It's really brave of you to post this and I really hope that you can move past this relationship and find the healing and peace of mind you are looking for.
posted by bunderful at 9:56 AM on December 30, 2011 [2 favorites]

That's bullshit.

Rodrigo, I'm very sorry, and it may seem counterintuitive, but the abused person is pretty clearly playing a part in this. It is spelled out very well that he is making excuses directly to her that downplay her abuse:

He said that it didn’t bother him that much, and he was used to it anyway. (He has an unusually controlling, punishing mother; he’s hinted a bit at an unpleasant childhood.)

An enabler is not in any way "at fault," like you seem to think people are saying. It is an extremely unfortunate byproduct of being abused/mistreated that locks the abuser into a comfortable situation. It is a coping mechanism and is common in abusive codependant relationships.
posted by Threeway Handshake at 9:57 AM on December 30, 2011 [4 favorites]

Another thought: the emotional volatility and depression you are describing may be due, at least in part, to an underlying biochemical imbalance. They might even be side effects of some medication you are taking. See a doctor, preferably a psychiatrist! And don't be ashamed to be totally upfront about your symptoms. Describing to a psychiatrist how you go crazy and curse at your boyfriend is like describing to an allergist about how you sneeze around cats.
posted by Wordwoman at 9:58 AM on December 30, 2011 [3 favorites]

Oh, and if you write him a letter as suggested above, it might be good to specifically retract some of the things you have said.

"You are not stupid. It was wrong of me to say this but it is also untrue. You are in fact very smart and you deserve good things.

You are not worthless. You are a good human being."

I'm actually iffy about this, as he could see it as a reason to get back together. But I think it's more important that you try to take back the things you've said in anger. It doesn't fix anything, but it might help a bit.

On preview - wordwoman is right. Get to your primary care doc for a complete workup. Your situation might be exacerbated by some easily fixed medical issue.
posted by bunderful at 10:04 AM on December 30, 2011 [5 favorites]

"My counselor suggested I wait before breaking up with him (“You can’t fix all your problems at once”), saying that I should try to build up more friends before I do it."

As others have said, your counselor doesn't know the truth about what's going on, so while you may have caught onto this piece of advice from them and used it to justify hanging onto the relationship, that's like the apocryphal tale of Nelson using his blind eye to look through his telescope and declare "I see no ships" - you're deliberately misusing advice that was given to you on what YOU know to be a false premise.

I sometimes see a degree of self-justification being exercised by people looking to explain away what is effectively appalling behaviour towards others on the basis that they are suffering from depression or have stresses and strains in their lives that somehow seem to circumvent the need for them to behave like decent human beings, in their minds at least. I know personally how bad depression can feel and I'm not diminishing it at all, but it doesn't automatically follow that it will make someone act badly towards others and it shouldn't be used as an excuse.

I think it's very hard for us to admit to ourselves that we are acting in ways that are hurtful, ignoble or psychologically damaging to those close to us - hense your hedging around calling it abuse. It was easier for you to blame the depression, the loneliness, the advice from your counsellor, whatever, but this "Depression is not an excuse for abuse" - is just about right. These are the choices we make, day in, day out, in our interactions with others - no-one made you do this, even in the depths of your despair no-one forced you to say and do these things.
posted by Martha My Dear Prudence at 10:24 AM on December 30, 2011 [6 favorites]

Posted too soon - sorry - I meant to finish by saying that I too think you have taken a positive first step by seeking opinions from a wider forum, which you must have guessed would not be overwhelmingly positive. Now you have to parley that into the hard work of mending what's broken. In terms of dealing with the immediate situation, do you have a family member who you are particularly close to that could be trusted to talk you through what's been going on? Getting some IRL advice / feedback from someone who cares about you might give you the strength to break away from this pattern of behaviour before any more damage is done.
posted by Martha My Dear Prudence at 10:30 AM on December 30, 2011 [1 favorite]

Yes, it's time to end this relationship for good. At least you understand that your behavior and the way you treat your boyfriend is unacceptable and extremely unhealthy. Winter break would seem like a logical time to break up since you don't have school. I actually think that once you've broken it off and severed contact with him, you'll eventually start to make some new friends. The key to the break up is discipline. Plain and simple. You must agree that there will be no contact for a long time. Not saying you can never talk again but once you've had a long break up conversation, don't talk, text, email, or anything for at least a few months. In the future perhaps you can be friends, but right now both of you need to learn what it's like to be without the other. The two of you are dependent on each other. It's important to get over that and learn to be self sufficient. That will also help both of you in future relationships. I wish you all the best.
posted by ljs30 at 10:50 AM on December 30, 2011 [1 favorite]

Practical advice: You need to convince your boyfriend that you're abusing him if you want the breakup to stick. Send him links to "Warning Signs of Abusive Relationships" and "Signs of a Codependent Relationship" and so on.

Tell him, "As I learn more about abusive relationships it's becoming more and more clear to me that my behavior towards you has been abusive. It's absolutely not okay, and I care about you too much to let it continue. I think our relationship needs to end once and for all, in order for me to begin to fix this part of myself that I think is broken, and for you to begin to heal from the trauma I can see that I've put you through. I'm going to be pursuing treatment for my abusive tendencies in the form of therapy/support group/etc., and I hope that you will consider doing the same. I think it's best if we're not in contact with each other for awhile. I truly regret what's happened in our relationship, and I wish you the very best."

Then, of course, do those things. Enact a complete contact black-out, as you've done in the past. Tell all your friends and make them help you stick to it. Choose a person to be the person you call when you are freaking out, so that you don't call your ex. Give your therapist specifics about what went down in your relationship, so that they can give you the best possible help. Again: do not initiate or respond to contact from your ex.

The fact that you're even able to admit you've been abusing your boyfriend, and you know that it needs to end, is a really good sign, I think.
posted by milk white peacock at 10:53 AM on December 30, 2011 [8 favorites]

I think you've taken a great first step in laying all this out here. Hopefully reading it back to yourself will give you some perspective and help you work out what to do next.

You must must tell your therapist so they can be your ally in working through this. Any therapist worth their salt who hears this story will immediately start working with you to get to a healthier place about ending this and then work with you through the aftermath. I can't say how much an ally a therapist can be to their depressed clients. They see all the steps you're going to go through as you deal with this and help you work through it, chip at it slowly.

Also, college age is a classic first time for depressive behavior/episodes to start showing up, so it makes sense that you haven't felt this way before. Enlist your therapist's help with this, and take comfort that you've done a good thing by talking about it here.

Trying to get into his head about why he allows this or his background with this isn't doing anyone any good.
posted by sweetkid at 10:54 AM on December 30, 2011 [2 favorites]

OP, just in case you missed it in the pile on...

I don't see him as the victim here. He's getting exactly what he wants from you and he's happy about it. He's told you this.

You're the victim here. This is his pattern, not yours. RUN.

I bet this has a lot to do with your depression, so that's another reason to extricate yourself from his unhealthy orbit.
posted by jbenben at 10:57 AM on December 30, 2011 [1 favorite]

Upon preview...

Anyone telling you you must engage with him further in order to get away is probably giving the wrong advice since engaging just feeds into his unhealthy-mama-drama addiction.

Don't explain. Block. Cease all contact. Sort yourself out.

Don't engage with this boy further because he can't hear anything you are saying thanks to his upbringing.

Good luck OP.
posted by jbenben at 11:00 AM on December 30, 2011 [2 favorites]

Good on you for realizing that this is a problem. It sounds like you're going through a very difficult time right now and I'm sorry to hear that.

I'm adding my voice to the chorus that is unambiguously defining your conduct here as abuse - there's no maybe about it. I'm glad that you're working towards ending this solution, codependent boyfriend notwithstanding. You need to leave him forever immediately so that you stop hurting him - it's the decent thing to do and you won't be able to heal until it happens. Your boyfriend is only saying that he doesn't mind so much because his self-worth has been ground to dust and he doesn't think he has the right to mind how he's treated.

As for the 4 AM issue - I think the idea of locking away any device you can contact him with is a good one. Make it part of your end-of-day sequence (brush teeth, turn off lights, lock laptop and phone in a safe then lock that safe in another safe because you don't need those things because you're going to bed now and there's no one you oughta be contacting once you've gone to bed)

Another idea would be to leave your boyfriend's name in your phone but replace the number pinned to that name with that of a local crisis line.

Good luck to you. You're definitely feeling a lot of guilt for this but I want to encourage you not to beat yourself up too badly, as this will only reinforce the cycle you're in. Most abusers don't get as far as you have already, realizing they have a problem and that it needs to end. Give yourself a little credit and act upon it.
posted by EatTheWeak at 11:01 AM on December 30, 2011 [5 favorites]

The key to the break up is discipline. Plain and simple. ljs30 has it. I am very impressed that you realize what you are doing. And what you are doing is emotional abuse - he's walking on eggshells because you have created a dymanic where your ever-changing needs make it impossible to keep you safe. It doesn't matter if this is because of your depression or inexperience or what. And his reasons for thinking he's responsible for your ever-changing needs and telling you whatever you need to hear whenever you need to hear it aren't important either.

You are on a bad path, you are learning dangerous things about relationships. If your drug use was out of control, no one one would advise you to wait. End it right now and do everything you can to stick with the no contact.

Try to understand that recognizing that you are off-track and behaving badly is huge. You really are doing a great thing by recognizing where you are and seeking advice.

Good luck. I really hope you don't speak to him or have any contact after today.
posted by Lesser Shrew at 11:04 AM on December 30, 2011 [3 favorites]

You're the victim here. This is his pattern, not yours. RUN.

Having been emotionally abused in the past, I would like to file my vehement disagreement with this sentiment. Cuz wow.

However, the net result is the same. The connection between you two needs to be severed permanently and immediately.
posted by EatTheWeak at 11:04 AM on December 30, 2011 [13 favorites]

Yes, you need to talk to your therapist and tell her that you need to focus on this situation, because it is an emergency. It cannot wait. Work with her to come up with a plan for how to do it. Then break up with him.

Then it's time to refocus your attention away from him and on yourself. Speaking as a person that has battled depression since I was in college, too, you need to organize your life around supporting and healing yourself. Depression involves both your body and mind, so you need to care for both. Here's my to-do list for treating depression (yours may differ): go to bed on time and get up on time every day, exercise every day or almost every day, eat a healthy and balanced diet, be as generally active and productive as you can even when you think you can't, get out of the house every day or almost every day, interact with people every day or almost every day, join a group or take an evening class so you stay busy and with people (a Meetup group focused on hiking, say, would be perfect), listen to positive music, turn on the lights and open the blinds, etc. You won't want to do any of these things, but think of it this way: you are a hurting human being and this is the medicine that will help you. Focus on nurturing that hurting person; when you're lonely, this relationship feels healing, but it isn't. And I know you're feeling terrible about yourself right now, but give yourself credit for realizing the bad situation you're in and struggling to make it better. I see you trying different things, marshaling every resource to heal yourself and your life and that's wonderful. Keep working, you'll get there.
posted by WorkingMyWayHome at 11:08 AM on December 30, 2011

Just chiming in to repeat that you should reduce your course load, so you aren't so stressed out. Making changes is hard enough by itself, but doing it when you're stressed out makes it even harder. Throw in depression and it can as you're finding it: almost impossible despite all logic and reason.

Reduce your course load.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 11:10 AM on December 30, 2011 [1 favorite]

Hon. He's pushing your buttons to get you to act like his mom. Subconsciously he craves this type of treatment, and he'll make sure to get it from any woman he is in an intimate relationship with via gestures and behaviors that specifically invites mistreatment from an SO. Again, he will repeat this dynamic in every intimate relationship for the rest of his life because he learned it growing up with an abusive mother.

This is actually quite suggestive although I think this way of phrasing it is blaming the abused person. People do seek out others to help them repeat harmful and self-punishing patterns - that's what "bring out the worst in each other" means. His struggle is with the fact that he is driven to repeat his childhood abuse, seeking out partners who can become abusive; your struggle is that you (for whatever personal/biochemical reason) can become abusive.

When you have recovered and are managing your behavior, be very careful about how you act around people who are from abusive backgrounds - one thing you know about yourself now is that you are vulnerable to this dynamic.
posted by Frowner at 11:14 AM on December 30, 2011 [12 favorites]

This may sound odd, but is there some sort of AA like program you could walk into today? (someone else might know better than me) This is addictive and many addictions have similarities. If you don't have many friends about, something like this might be good to maintain your resolve on a daily basis until you get to see your therapist.

(Also something to grasp. Your abuse of him might very well be an externalizing of your own self loathing, so you feel better when you punish him/yourself.)
posted by Vaike at 11:29 AM on December 30, 2011

Get yourself to a CoDA group:
posted by timsneezed at 11:37 AM on December 30, 2011

Another thought: I know it is in people's nature to assign blame, but in situations like this, it really comes down to the fact that it really doesn't matter, and is completely unrelated to how to fix things.

The building is on fire; it doesn't matter how it started or who started the fire. You need to escape without being burned.
posted by Threeway Handshake at 11:45 AM on December 30, 2011 [8 favorites]

"Again, he will repeat this dynamic in every intimate relationship for the rest of his life because he learned it growing up with an abusive mother."

I'm not sure why you would believe an abused person would be locked in forever behaving this way, but an abuser would have hope of recovery. That sounds exactly like what an abuser would tell someone they are abusing. "No one else will ever want to be with you because you are damaged and bad and locked in your bad damaged behavior patterns"

It just, doesn't seem particularly helpful to this situation. People find recovery and it's on him if he figures out that he needs help with this or not. For the sake of this situation, putting the OP's actions out of her control but blaming the victim for her abusive behavior is not helpful.

Putting another on bringing this issues up fully with your therapist and breaking contact ASAP.

I wish you both recovery and happiness.
posted by xarnop at 11:48 AM on December 30, 2011 [8 favorites]

No, no, no. I completely believe you that you are in a really bad place, seriously depressed, stressed, and lonely. That does not at all make it okay for you to continue for one more moment in a situation where you are abusing your boyfriend (and yes, I completely agree with you that you are). The fact that this relationship is helping you in whatever way doesn't justify it in the tiniest bit. I honestly am stunned that, assuming your therapist knows the extent of what you do, he/she told you to wait to break up because "you can’t fix all your problems at once." Your boyfriend not being abused is WAY more important than you having one less problem to worry about. I'm sorry but I have to say it. I think that is a really unfortunate example of how abuse against men gets sometimes treated way less seriously than abuse against women, sometimes shockingly so.

End things today and do not contact him again until you are certain you can do so without being abusive. At 4 AM when you feel desperate, call a hotline, call your parents, go online and chat to strangers... in addition to the counselor, are you on medication? If not, why not? Have you tried group therapy? Again, it's not that I don't sympathize with how you feel, but it's not okay at all to use this guy anymore, your behavior has gone way too far and even if it were only thing keeping you from self-harm it would still not be justified, you need to find a different way of coping TODAY.
posted by cairdeas at 12:18 PM on December 30, 2011 [6 favorites]’s all too easy to tell myself that I don’t have the mental energy for a break-up right now.


The relationship is just a mess of anger and fights and misery, and it makes me crazy with frustration.

Sometimes I think I truly hate him. I recoil from his touch, snap at him, constantly mock him, drop little put-downs about his intelligence, etc.

I’ll take any tiny problem as an excuse to pick a huge fight-- and these are ugly fights. I’ll call him a fucking idiot, a worthless piece of shit, total garbage, etc. I tell him that that I have no respect for him, that he can’t satisfy me physically or intellectually, and that I only keep him around because he buys me lunch. In short, I say the cruelest things possible; once he started to cry and I still wouldn’t stop. I’ve even pushed and shoved him one or two times.

It sure seems like you are using a lot of mental energy to make this guy's life miserable. Breaking up with him is the sanest thing that you could do right now, especially for him. The "mental energy" thing is an excuse. You are getting something out of being cruel to this guy. What is it? Misery loves company?
posted by futz at 1:21 PM on December 30, 2011 [1 favorite]

I don't see him as the victim here. He's getting exactly what he wants from you and he's happy about it. He's told you this.

You're the victim here. This is his pattern, not yours. RUN.

This is the most blatant example of victim blaming I've ever seen on Metafilter and is, in my opinion, horrifically badly informed about the nature of abuse and people who suffer it. Please don't listen to this, OP. It is the first step along the road to "Why do you keep making me hurt you?".

OP: You're clearly being emotionally and, occasionally, physically abusive. It's great that you recognize this and want to get better and don't think you can do so in the relationship. You should break up as soon as possible. Waiting until you are in a better position to do so is all about you, not your SO. You owe it to both of you to get out of this situation as quickly as possible.
posted by Justinian at 1:46 PM on December 30, 2011 [20 favorites]

I'm not going to say the process is easy, but the procedure is easy: Just stop contacting him.

Real life is not a court room, you don't have to sit around and think about whether or not your actions can be "construed" as abuse. I see a lot of this on forums such as this and it is baffling. You know you're acting poorly (that is why you are here) and you know what to do, you just have to be able to think of someone other than yourself in practice, rather than in theory.

Both parties are of course involved in this transaction and so both of you are partially responsible for what is going on, but that also means that you're responsible for your end.

You attribute a lot of the stress you're under due to your courseload. If you were truly interested in reigning in your behavior, you would put the well being of someone else above your classes. It doesn't appear that you have done that.

posted by Feel the beat of the rhythm of the night at 3:36 PM on December 30, 2011 [1 favorite]

[Please don't turn this into a debate over who the victim is, folks. Thanks. ]
posted by restless_nomad at 4:09 PM on December 30, 2011

there's no magic secret that will keep you away from this person, you just have to stop.

there is, however, a magic secret that will start to heal your broken heart - it's called honesty. you've already begun - keep going.
posted by facetious at 5:45 PM on December 30, 2011 [1 favorite]

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