Emotional abuse or paranoia or neither
January 9, 2012 11:26 PM   Subscribe

Help me understand if this is emotional abuse, or if I am too sensitive and what I should do...

I just started a new relationship with someone. He dated a friend of mine until recently (more on this below), but we don't have many other friends in common.

I'm not feeling comfortable in the relationship, and I'm not sure if it's because I'm just generally afraid of emotional intimacy, or if I'm headed for a fall. I've halted promising relationships before because I get very scared at the beginning that something terrible is going to go wrong. (Lots of bad dating experiences.) Then again, I seem to attract abusers. Yes, I'm in therapy. Yes, it's slow going.

I'm concerned that this new boyfriend is emotionally abusive. I have a few examples:

- He was dating a friend of mine until recently. We asked her if it would be okay to date and she said yes, but ultimately there were some concerns about their friendship. We have spent the past couple of weeks talking with her and between ourselves about the terms of their relationship. I wasn't comfortable with them spending a lot of time together. He thought I was being insecure. From my perspective, he promised to do a few things to make sure that I felt comfortable and then didn't follow through. From his perspective, those were just options he was suggesting, but didn't intend to do them. He has been patient with me in discussing them, but the end result has been a compromise more slanted toward him than me. He also said that I was really needy to have the concern in the first place. He has also said that I'm worth anything and that he is love with me.

- He has an older close male friend who has a young teenage son with some family problems. They all went out for the day and the kid didn't want to go. Instead of helping him to find a way home or taking him home or changing the activity, he just dismissed the kid's concerns as being part of being a teenager. When I brought it up, he said the kid was just being a jerk. I arrived later in the day, so I can't say completely what happened in this situation. But it rings true with other interactions I've seen where he doesn't seem to get other people's motivations -- although he keeps saying that he's trying to make everyone happy. He has been clear with the friend that the relationship is over, while simultaneously trying to be supportive of her.

- It seems that sometimes the things I want just aren't on the table for discussion, but the things he wants are assumed to be part of the relationship. For example, I feel like we rushed into this relationship. But when I tell him my concerns about that, he asks if I want to break up -- when what I really want is to take some time to be exclusive, and also before jumping in deeper emotionally and schedule-wise (assuming that we'll travel together, for example). He doesn't seem to get that.

This all sounds awful to read it here, but he is also a genuinely nice person whom I've seen do really kind things for people. He paid for a friend to go to the doctor. He helped another friend's brother apply for college. He gives a lot of hugs and tells people he loves them. He goes out of his way to do nice things for people. He is close with his family.

My immediate concern:

I'm supposed to go away with a group of friends in a couple of weeks. He has planned specifically to come back from a work trip to go with all of us, at some expense. I don't want to introduce him to everyone at this point, because I feel unstable and rushed in the relationship.

This will probably hurt him a lot.

On the other hand, I have a history of pushing people away, so I want to remain open if possible. I don't feel like I am objective and I can't tell what's going on.

Is this my poor communication skills? Avoidance of relationships? A bad situation? A sign of bad things to come? I read the "how to tell if you're in an emotionally abusive relationship" lists on the web, but this relationship is so new that I can't tell where things stand at this point.

Thank you!
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (39 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
 
He doesn't sound abusive, no. At the very worst, he sounds slightly insensitive.

1. totally vague. all I got from that is that you weren't comfortable with him spending time with a friend he used to date. Personally I have a kneejerk dismissal of that concern, so I would agree with him that it shouldn't concern you and that you are needy to be upset about it. Other people would be more on your side.

2. Stretching. You are somehow aware that he dismissed some complaints about some activity made by a teenage boy that you don't know, and you think he should have taken the kid more seriously. Doesn't sound like any kind of a deal at all.

3. How do you bring this up? Are you saying that "you'd like to take some time to be exclusive" (what does that mean? Take some time still dating other people before you become exclusive? Take some time dating each other before you meet each other's friends?), are you saying "I don't feel ready to make real plans like travelling together"? Or are you saying "I'm just uncomfortable because we're rushing things here" and leaving it open for him to suggest solutions? Most people have at least a basic set of assumptions they will make about a new relationship (ie: assumption that you would tell your new partner if you were currently sleeping with anyone else.) If you think his idea about how your relationship will go is different to yours, tell him. If you never challenge these assumptions, why would he suspect they are wrong? It's almost abnormal to be able to challenge your own assumptions.

Honestly, he sounds like a perfectly nice guy who might be more into you than you are into him. You sound kind of like a poor communicator with trust issues that make you communicate less which...etc etc. I hope you're talking to your therapist about this new guy?
posted by jacalata at 11:43 PM on January 9, 2012 [11 favorites]


For example, I feel like we rushed into this relationship. But when I tell him my concerns about that, he asks if I want to break up -- when what I really want is to take some time to be exclusive, and also before jumping in deeper emotionally and schedule-wise (assuming that we'll travel together, for example). He doesn't seem to get that.

This is what stuck out the most, for me. It's black and white thinking on his part – it's either a relationship on his terms, or it's not, and he doesn't seem to be making any effort on actually listening to you.

He is also a genuinely nice person whom I've seen do really kind things for people. He paid for a friend to go to the doctor. He helped another friend's brother apply for college. He gives a lot of hugs and tells people he loves them. He goes out of his way to do nice things for people. He is close with his family.

I used to be convinced by this sort of thing too, until being taken in by one too many nice people who were only acting nice on the surface, and not actually being compassionate, i.e. making an effort to listen and take your viewpoint into account in a mature, respectful, non-black-and-white, all-or-nothing manner. I realize this sounds cold, but: paying for a friend to go to the doctor only costs him money, and gives him a great appearance. Does he visit friends at the hospital? Does he physically help out friends who are ill? Probably easier to see: has he helped you when you've needed it? Because this doesn't sound like it: "He also said that I was really needy to have the concern in the first place."

Helping someone apply to college is kind, yes. Hugging people and telling you that you love them... that's another thing that costs him nothing and yet reaps him great appearance awards. "He just dismissed the kid's concerns as being part of being a teenager. When I brought it up, he said the kid was just being a jerk." Is this how someone who genuinely loves people behaves?

TL;DR his actions don't seem to match his words/appearances, and I think your gut is saying "hmmmm, I'd like more time" for good reasons. It also sounds like you're being mature and respectful in your communication about that with him. There's not enough to say whether he's abusive, but he is giving off preliminary signals that are not exactly healthy, either.

I don't want to introduce him to everyone at this point, because I feel unstable and rushed in the relationship.

This will probably hurt him a lot.


You need to respect your feelings, and he needs to respect them too. He'll be hurt, that's unfortunate, but his other reactions will be very telling. If he turns it into an all-or-nothing decision, that's his interpretation and not yours. Be firm on that.
posted by fraula at 11:44 PM on January 9, 2012 [3 favorites]


to me, nothing you've detailed here makes him sound emotionally abusive. however, you don't need to make a bad guy to break up with someone, "it's just not clicking" is a perfectly valid reason.
posted by nadawi at 11:47 PM on January 9, 2012 [37 favorites]


I'm going to go with neither. It doesn't sound like either of you is doing anything wrong. It just sounds as though your personalities and the relationships you want are not compatible. You're allowed to not want to be with someone because they want to move faster than you do, or because you're not comfortable with compromises they ask you to make, or because you're not happy with the way they treat other people. That doesn't mean that there's anything wrong with either of you, or that either of you needs to change. It just means that you're not suited to be together.

So maybe I should just ask, why are you with this person? You've told us what you don't like about the relationship, and I think it's telling that you didn't tell us how happy he makes you, or how safe you feel, or how excited you are about the prospect of a future with him. You're allowed to break up with a person you like because you don't want the relationship you have with them. My gut instinct is that you're in a situation now where it's time to do that with this person, who may be a great guy, but he's not right for you.

(By the way, there's no such thing as being "objective" about relationships. There's only your feelings and other people's feelings, and if your feelings aren't making you happy, it doesn't matter what you or anyone else thinks your feelings ought to be.)
posted by decathecting at 11:48 PM on January 9, 2012 [2 favorites]


hardly emotional abusive. at worst, insensitive. if you want to break up with him bc you aren't comfortable or you're not feeling it, do it. there isn't any need to make him out to be some abusive jerk that you need to break up with.
posted by violetk at 11:54 PM on January 9, 2012 [8 favorites]


We have spent the past couple of weeks talking with her and between ourselves about the terms of their relationship. I wasn't comfortable with them spending a lot of time together.

Weeks? That sounds a bit excessive.


[...] he just dismissed the kid's concerns as being part of being a teenager. [...] He has been clear with the friend that the relationship is over, while simultaneously trying to be supportive of her.

So maybe that means he's insensitive but it's really hard to say without actually being there.


[...] I feel like we rushed into this relationship. But when I tell him my concerns about that, he asks if I want to break up -- when what I really want is to take some time to be exclusive, and also before jumping in deeper emotionally and schedule-wise (assuming that we'll travel together, for example). He doesn't seem to get that.

Have you actually told him what you want? It's very difficult to guess your partner's wants and needs, especially in a new relationship.


I read the "how to tell if you're in an emotionally abusive relationship" lists on the web, but this relationship is so new that I can't tell where things stand at this point.

There's your answer right there; maybe your relationship is just so new that you haven't really found each other yet on an emotional level.

By the way, the trip thing? That's really a minor thing right now. Just tell him ASAP so he can re-schedule things.
posted by Foci for Analysis at 11:58 PM on January 9, 2012 [1 favorite]


male friend who has a young teenage son with some family problems. They all went out for the day and the kid didn't want to go. Instead of helping him to find a way home or taking him home or changing the activity, he just dismissed the kid's concerns as being part of being a teenager. When I brought it up, he said the kid was just being a jerk.

The father would be the person to decide what to do with his son, not your friend. Unless of course the son was being abused, which it doesn't sound like was the case.
posted by JujuB at 11:59 PM on January 9, 2012


> You need to respect your feelings, and he needs to respect them too.
> He'll be hurt, that's unfortunate

fraula, so he must respect her feelings, but it's okay for her to hurt him?

Doesn't sound fair to me.
posted by egor83 at 1:13 AM on January 10, 2012


fraula, so he must respect her feelings, but it's okay for her to hurt him?
Doesn't sound fair to me.


Her words describing why he'll be hurt are related to what he has done, not her: "I'm supposed to go away with a group of friends in a couple of weeks. He has planned specifically to come back from a work trip to go with all of us, at some expense. I don't want to introduce him to everyone at this point, because I feel unstable and rushed in the relationship."

Namely: he has planned specifically. She also pointed out that she has tried to discuss this before with him and been shut down: "It seems that sometimes the things I want just aren't on the table for discussion, but the things he wants are assumed to be part of the relationship. For example, I feel like we rushed into this relationship. But when I tell him my concerns about that, he asks if I want to break up [...]".

You also deleted the part where I said that "If he turns it into an all-or-nothing decision, that's his interpretation and not yours. Be firm on that."

If his feelings are hurt, it's unfortunate, and it seems to be predicated on him not listening to what she's saying, but putting in his interpretations. If I've understood what the poster has said about her communication with him correctly, she's been doing what she can to nuance her explanations and listen to him, whereas he seems to have been rather insensitive. (Not abusive.)
posted by fraula at 1:19 AM on January 10, 2012


He just appears to be somewhat insensitive.
posted by mleigh at 1:27 AM on January 10, 2012


It doesn't sound like he's done anything wrong. Also, given the fact that you want to slow the relationship down whilst simultaneously expecting him to reduce how often he sees one of his friends implies to me that you have expectations of control whilst limiting the seriousness of your own relationship. Not only are you being over sensitive, but you're doing the stuff you think he's doing to you.

I would leave him though. Sounds like you're not a good match.
posted by seanyboy at 1:41 AM on January 10, 2012 [15 favorites]


We have spent the past couple of weeks talking with her and between ourselves about the terms of their relationship

Seems extraordinarily nice to me.

Someone who would spend a couple weeks talking about talking with two separate people about terms of a relationship All the wile trying to keep you and the ex happy doesn't seem insensitive. He is willing to compromise even though he doesn't want to be insensitive towards his friends feelings. He is willng to do this despite the fact that you want to slow down.

He seems like a plan of action, bottom line kinda guy.

Bottom line, he isn't going to dump his friend over someone who is having doubts anyway. But he is still willing to meet you halfway.

Bottom line, Do you want to break up? If not what is your plan to get what you want? See other people? See less of eachother? Not see eacother at all? He is asking what you want, taking your wishes into account.

Bottom line, he isn't the kids father if the father didn't want to take the kid home it isn't your boyfriend's place to do so. He is taking his friends wishes into account, instead of railing on the kid or sending his packing he is letting the dad handle it and saying out of other people's families.
posted by Ad hominem at 1:49 AM on January 10, 2012 [4 favorites]


There's another possible interpretation of what you've written that nobody's covered yet.

How good are you at asking for what you want, or stating your boundaries, in a matter of fact way, and without making it seem like you are asking for validation or permission?

It's possible that when you do ask for what you want, something about your tone of voice and your body language is making it come across as a question or a suggestion. Or perhaps you sound upset and unsure of yourself, so he wonders whether there's more to it that you aren't telling him, like for example that you're really trying to break up but unable to say so.

If that's the case, it's quite possible that you could get on much better with someone who is naturally able to read you better, so you'd automatically end up interacting in a way that worked well for both of you. Alternatively, you could try with this guy to start making it clear what you want in a matter of fact manner, and it's quite possible that he'll just run with it without even noticing.

You: Hi X, I'll be busy tomorrow night and Thursday but I can meet you on Friday for lunch.
Him: Awww I wanted to come over tomorrow night with a moving van.
You (cheerfully): I'm not ready for us to move in just yet, but I'm really looking forward to seeing you on Friday.
Him: Are you trying to break up with me here?
You (cheerfully): No, I like you a great deal and I'm really looking forward to our date on Friday.
posted by emilyw at 2:32 AM on January 10, 2012 [18 favorites]


I think the sunburn comparison works here. You know, someone taps you on the shoulder, but it feels like a blow. Or maybe they just move as if they're going to touch you, and you cringe. You say you've had some bad experiences, and you're getting help to deal with that - yay! And yeah, it can be slow going, but good for you sticking it out. The thing is, you are hyper-aware of any potentially abusive situations/reactions/dynamics, and that's part of the process. But it can lead you to be suspicious, to project and to distrust others with no real cause. At the same time, you can't teach yourself to distrust your own feelings and instincts.

Whew.

I respectfully suggest that it may be too soon to try for too much intimacy, whoever the guy is. Give yourself some time to sort yourself out, first. Definitely ask the guy for a veeeery slow pace, if you're determined to keep trying with him. Tell him it may not be totally equitable, but your sunburn has to set the pace for now.
posted by likeso at 2:43 AM on January 10, 2012 [3 favorites]


I'm not feeling comfortable in the relationship,and I'm not sure if it's because I'm just generally afraid of emotional intimacy,or if I'm headed for a fall.

Why are you dating? It doesn't matter why you're not feeling comfortable -- either arrange the relationship into something you're comfortable with by asking for what you want, or end it.

It's possible that you feel emotionally abused because, in a way, you're abusing yourself. It sounds like you aren't respecting your own boundaries.

When you're uncomfortable or panicky at the beginning of a relationship, you should listen to yourself.

Imagine finding someone with whom its not even necessary to panic at the beginning. It can be that easy. But right now, I think you may not trust yourself to listen to yourself and negotiate the world on your own behalf.

Panicking at the beginning of relationships probably means that you should take things more slowly, or put the breaks on, not that you should "power through despite your feelings". Which is what it sounds like you're contemplating.
posted by vitabellosi at 2:54 AM on January 10, 2012 [4 favorites]


I should have said, you ask for what you want and then you go about getting it.


emilyw nailed it. Getting what you want is part of the "work" in relationships; sometimes you have to ask for what you want, and then either train the person to give it to you or be disappointed and follow through on getting what you need (like space in this case).
posted by vitabellosi at 3:14 AM on January 10, 2012 [2 favorites]


It sounds like he's different from you, and some of the differences are things you don't like.

If the differences are just a matter of taste, you feel like you must put up with them, or else be convicted of "fear of intimacy"; but if the differences can be looked upon as "illegal", you can convict him of being the unhealthy one and just leave.

You don't have to force yourself through a relationship just to say you've done it.
posted by tel3path at 3:30 AM on January 10, 2012 [3 favorites]


Like others I think that perhaps he is a little insensitive, but that's all. It helps me in these moments to remember that we're all somewhat insensitive at times - we just don't see it as easily in ourselves. As for the teenager, well, your friend was there all day and trying to find some way to send the kid back in what doesn't sound like a do or die situation sounds like it would be the more insensitive option - unless there was something abusive going on, of course.

I'm supposed to go away with a group of friends in a couple of weeks. He has planned specifically to come back from a work trip to go with all of us, at some expense. I don't want to introduce him to everyone at this point, because I feel unstable and rushed in the relationship.

Did you invite him or did he just assume that he would be invited? Did he book the ticket without asking you? Either way, of course you are entirely within your rights to ask him not to come if it's not the right time for you, but if he booked without asking then I think you may want to directly address that along with telling him honestly why you don't want him along. However, depending on his past relationships he may see this as a warning sign, so what may seem like him insensitive in his reaction may make as much emotional sense to him as your hesitations do to you.
posted by lesbiassparrow at 4:06 AM on January 10, 2012


It sounds to me like you are, however inadvertently, problematizing in-the-range of normal push/pull in the early days of a relationship. Having a different pace or different priorities or different ways of navigating situations is part of the excitement of getting to know someone, and hopefully even has an impact on how you both grow and learn and change as intimacy grows. It's what's "noble" about crossing into the territory of the "other". Scary and exhilirating and uncomfortable-making are kind of part of it. (That's why they call it "falling" in love, not that you've mentioned love ...) I think you need more time to concentrate on developing on your own!
posted by thinkpiece at 4:24 AM on January 10, 2012 [2 favorites]


You are allowed to leave someone because they are too inconsiderate for you and you are at a stage in your life where you need a very considerate and understanding person to feel safe in a relationship.

"Nice" is not the same as "Kind"

Nice: Being nice is often associated with being non-confrontational, agreeable, or even passive.

Kind: acting for the good of people regardless of what they do.

This is why we say "it is a nice day out" vs "it is a kind day out". The weather can be agreeable to your tastes, but it cant be acting on your behalf.

Just because he is agreeable some of the time does not make him "kind", it makes him "nice". Usually, kind people are honestly considerate and sensitive to the needs of others. Nice people just know how to seem agreeable and pleasant.

I mention this because I suspect that you are detecting a lack of kindness in him, but the fact that he is very nice is throwing you off. I can't know this for sure as it is usually a subtlety detectable difference that would be hard for anyone on the green to see without actually being there to observe. However, this seems to be what you are inferring.

And yes, it is perfectly acceptable to dump someone who you feel is "nice" when what you want is "kindness".
posted by Shouraku at 4:25 AM on January 10, 2012 [19 favorites]


From what you've shared here, it sounds to me like he's not emotionally abusive. But I do think the behavior you describe is emotionally manipulative.

In the first two examples you provide, it appears that instead of accepting other people's feelings as valid and treating them with respect, he just blames them when they don't agree with him. And instead of listening to your concerns about the relationship, he feels so threatened that he raises the ante to breaking up.

To me, this is selfish and perhaps even narcissistic behavior. I don't have any good advice on your immediate situation, but I would say trust your instincts:

I'm not feeling comfortable in the relationship

You're a good person, and you're allowed to take care of yourself. Good for you for working on this in therapy. You can do it.
posted by Shoggoth at 4:59 AM on January 10, 2012 [5 favorites]


Have you talked with your therapist about this specifically? I would do that.

FWIW, my take is that you are looking to categorize this as emotional abuse in order to justify calling things off. You don't need to do that. I know you think your judgment isn't the best right now (which may be a reason not to be in this relationship), but if there are issues making this a relationship you don't want, it's better to call it off than to force yourself to stay.
posted by J. Wilson at 5:49 AM on January 10, 2012 [4 favorites]


It sounds like you're concerned about hurting him, which is good, but it sounds like you're equating telling him something he doesn't want to hear ("I'm not ready for us to vacation together") with directly attacking or insulting him ("You're stupid"). They're not the same thing. It's ok to say what you need, even if you think he might interpret it in a negative way.

Pointing out a mismatch in your respective preferences may be something he interprets as a hurtful comment, but in a healthy relationship there's room to say,"Hang on: you're feeling hurt because I said I want X, when you want Y. Neither of us is trying to hurt the other. Let's figure out how to get--or get close to--what we both want." If you don't have room for that in this relationship, reconsider whether it's right for you.
posted by Meg_Murry at 5:54 AM on January 10, 2012 [1 favorite]


No, he's not being emotionally abusive, I don't think, but the fact that you are wondering if it is or not probably means the relationship isn't working for you, right?
posted by empath at 5:56 AM on January 10, 2012


What I'm hearing is "uncomfortable" and "rushed." Going to go against the flow here and say that those are 2 of the red flags for emotional abuse. Someone who doesn't respect your boundaries now is not going to respect them in the future, especially if you agree to go along with things like the trip. Be wary of a guy who rushes a relationship and the thing with the friend, that's just weird. Either he's seeing her or not and yeah, I'd be weirded out by that too. Too much potential for a FB there. Not my bag.

It's not about hurting his feelings (and sounds like the "do you want to break up?" question is a threat of leaving you when you question his actions, wtf?). It's about setting boundaries. You can do this in a nice way and I'd ask your therapist for some nice ways to just say no. It takes practice and can be nervewracking if you're not used to it or have been walked on in the past, but it can be done. Then see if he respects your boundaries. If not, then it's not meant to be.
posted by Marie Mon Dieu at 6:03 AM on January 10, 2012 [5 favorites]


Y'all sound like a bad fit. His communication style and expectations aren't in the same key yours are in, and if you can't come to any agreements about your relationship this early in, you need to stop and ask yourself if you're continuing this relationship just because it's there. I think you run the risk of ending up in a dynamic that is at the very least unhealthy for you.

If you're in therapy for intimacy issues, you might find it less slow going if you stayed single for a while. Otherwise you tend to fall into the trap of trying to treat your relationship rather than yourself.

People who genuinely like you will care about your concerns and needs. This person does not. Draw your own conclusions.
posted by Lyn Never at 6:29 AM on January 10, 2012 [2 favorites]


None of your examples sound even vaguely like abuse. He sounds insensitive. But your perception that these issues could be 'abuse' makes me think that perhaps your expectations or understanding of what is normal behaviour might be a little bit off too. I'd like to echo that you may want to think about working on those issues yourself, as a single person. (There's no reason to stay with someone who is upsetting you if you've only been dating for a short while and have no real reason to stay together.) Go be single or go date casually, and try and prepare yourself for a happy relationship in the future.
posted by Kololo at 7:09 AM on January 10, 2012 [3 favorites]


I feel like we rushed into this relationship. But when I tell him my concerns about that, he asks if I want to break up -- when what I really want ....

That is enough to convince me that you should get yourself out of this right now. Notice the part where what you want is not in play and your attempts to communicate are slapped down with a drama-llama move that puts you on the defensive for something you didn't say?

Also - these lengthy discussions involving the friend he used to date don't sound healthy, but maybe I'm missing something.

Stick with therapy.
posted by Lesser Shrew at 7:10 AM on January 10, 2012 [2 favorites]


I think I'm with the other answerers in this thread in that I'm also not reading anything that clicks strongly with a narrative of abuse exactly. HOWEVER, PLEASE DON'T IGNORE THAT YOU'RE FEELING SQUICKED OUT.

I am about to share with you the root of all relationship wisdom*,

If something about someone else's behavior feels weird and not okay to you, it probably should, and investigating why will lead you to the wisdom behind why it felt like something weird and not something known. The two examples of this dude's behavior seemed weird to you, and I also think that they can very easily be indicative of not okay habits of relating to people. You are squicked out and that is what is important though I am a lot more concerned that you feel rushed and he seems dismissive of that. If he really is unable to define your relationship with you as opposed to at you, incidentally like he was with his friend's son, than there is likely a lot more bullshit on the way. I would suggest that if you set your own boundaries around your life by asking him not to come on the trip, they will not only be where you want them anyway, but you will also know a lot more about who he is and how much he is likely to respect those boundaries in the future.

Really I hope I can convince you to not only keep him from defining your boundaries, but also to trust your instincts and then think through them. Women in particular are generally socialized to not trust their instincts, to devalue them, and to consider them irrational. This only serves one purpose, to make women more vulnerable and manipulate-able.
posted by Blasdelb at 7:42 AM on January 10, 2012 [12 favorites]


From his perspective, those were just options he was suggesting, but didn't intend to do them.

FWIW in the past I would have interpreted this as him trying to be helpful. But from experience now, I would find this emotionally manipulative. You have no way of knowing from how this person communicates what is truth vs. what is bullsh*t.

Personal anecdote: those words came almost verbatim from my ex's mouth during our breakup. It wasn't until his back was against the wall (so to speak) and I was asking him very directly about some of the things we had talked about working on together, that he admitted he only said those things to get with me in the beginning. That he knew all along he had no intention of acting on any of those implied promises. It was a real dealbreaker for me, almost 4 years into the relationship, to realize I had no idea anymore which of our dreams were actually being built with this person.

Being "nice" is not always the same as having genuine respect for a person. It's just not.
posted by human ecologist at 8:29 AM on January 10, 2012 [3 favorites]


"What, you don't like X? So, you want to break up with me?"

My hackles go up at this. This is an abusive form of communication. It's intended to do the following:

1) Switch topics. Now, you're no longer talking about X. Instead, you're talking about whether or not you want to break up.
2) Minimize X. The presentation makes it appear as though, if X matters, you'll break up. If you're not interested in breaking up because of X, then clearly X doesn't matter.
3) Put you on the spot. X was a concern you had about him. The conversation was intended to put the ball in his court, to get him to react to your discomfort with some of his behavior. Suddenly, the ball is put in your court: you have to answer for your commitment to the relationship, you have to concede that you still care for him, etc. Not everything in life is a power relationship, but this type of statement is totally a power move: by asking if you want to break up with him over X, he's taken a position of power. Now, it's you who has to do the explaining.
4) Avoid making him responsible. X is a problem you have with his behavior. Probably, your intention is to get him to change X, or be more aware of X, or just in whatever form, avoid X. But then he sets it up as a dichotomy: either you live with X, or you break up with him. What's removed from the equation? The possibility of him not doing X. By framing the issue in this way, he's completely wiped away the idea that he should respond to your concerns.

In short, it's complete and total bullshit, and you owe it to yourself not to put up with it. You owe it to yourself to call it out as bullshit. You owe it to yourself to stand up for the things that matter to you, to say, "X is a concern of mine, and I need you to listen to it." In short, you owe it to yourself to be strong. Stronger than, I think, you're really comfortable being.

All people have some dysfunctional means of communication. It's not clear from your question whether your boyfriend just has a few issues or if this is a serious indication of a deeper and more pervasive attitude towards others. It is clear, however, that you're not happy with it and not sure how to handle it. It sounds like you recognize that there's something deeply unfair going on here, and you're worried it's only going to get worse.

Applying the word, "abuse," to this situation won't make it a bad situation; specifically not applying the word, "abuse," won't make it a good situation. Nothing will change with the label or without it. You will still be faced with this: you're in a relationship where you feel your needs are not being met. That, I think, is what really matters here. You may want to talk to your therapist in these terms, and get some help standing up for yourself, making your emotions your priority, and ensuring that, whether he'll look after them or not, you'll look after your own needs.
posted by meese at 8:55 AM on January 10, 2012 [13 favorites]


He's in love, you're worth anything, but when you actually ask for something, you're "needy" or trying to break up?

Bullshit. Sounds sketchy at best.

He sounds like he's fast-forwarding you.
posted by the young rope-rider at 9:36 AM on January 10, 2012 [3 favorites]


I'm not feeling comfortable in the relationship, and I'm not sure if it's because I'm just generally afraid of emotional intimacy, or if I'm headed for a fall. I've halted promising relationships before because I get very scared at the beginning that something terrible is going to go wrong.
I think I get what you're trying to do here: given your relationship history, your "healthy relationship" sensor is off (or isn't fully developed yet). You want to be careful (sometimes this can turn into hypervigilence) that you're not repeating past patterns of being abused, yet you want to give yourself a chance to be in a healthy relationship. That's a lot of pressure to put on yourself.

If you're not feeling comfortable, you're not feeling comfortable. You need to trust yourself more - something to work on in therapy. I'd say take a break from relationships for a while and work on developing your self-esteem, learning more about yourself and emotional intimacy, etc.

Generally, I don't think your examples necessarily illustrate emotional abuse, but it's clear there are communication and compatibility issues. Re: #1 and #3, it's not clear if you're clearly communicating what your needs and wants are (similar to what emilyw said) and it's not clear that he doesn't understand because of that, or that he's just not capable of understanding. Re: #2, he thinks the kid is a jerk, but is trying to make everyone happy. That to me sounds like he just doesn't want to be the bad guy. Like he wants to people please and be seen as a people pleaser, but when it comes down to it, he doesn't really know how to properly manage personal interactions (it's easy to default to people pleasing when you don't know how to be assertive or effectively supportive in a situation). Again, this isn't necessarily a sign of emotional abusiveness, I'd see it more as a sign of not knowing what he's doing and just wanting to people please.

I think a break from relationships is in order, until you're more confident, are able to more clearly identify for yourself what you want in a relationship and able to distinguish red flags from people having different values/ways of doing things/doing things you don't agree with.
posted by foxjacket at 10:14 AM on January 10, 2012 [2 favorites]


Not even remotely emotionally abusive. At all.

But that doesn't mean you can't break up with him. Someone can be not right for you without being a monster.
posted by Justinian at 10:41 AM on January 10, 2012 [2 favorites]


And breaking up with someone because they're not right for you wouldn't make you a monster, either. It is perfectly okay to both be concerned that you're hypervigilant because of your past and to decide to end this particular relationship because it's not working for you right now. This guy and you sound like a bad fit for each other at this point in time, and that's a legitimate reason to end the relationship.
posted by EvaDestruction at 10:55 AM on January 10, 2012 [1 favorite]


Nthing that he's not abusive (based on what's presented here, anyway). But relationships shouldn't be this hard; they should be a joy. The fact that this one is so difficult strongly implies that it isn't working for you, and you should stop wasting his time now rather than later.
posted by coolguymichael at 11:06 AM on January 10, 2012 [3 favorites]


Did I miss something? How long have you been in a relationship? You said it was new, but how new? I know you're anonymous, so that impedes your ability to pipe in, but: I think of the answers to your questions/instances kind of depend on how long you've been involved with each other. For example: I think many people would agree that him assuming that you would vacay together and that he would meet all your friends at, say, week 3 in the relationship is rushing things. Him thinking the same thing at, oh, five months may not be, and, in fact, some of us might wonder why you haven't introduced him to your friends at this point. You know?

For some of the other issues you brought up, I think we're missing tangible details. So, you are going to have to evaluate them on your own. For example, I don't know what the following means: I wasn't comfortable with them spending a lot of time together. He thought I was being insecure. From my perspective, he promised to do a few things to make sure that I felt comfortable and then didn't follow through. From his perspective, those were just options he was suggesting, but didn't intend to do them. He has been patient with me in discussing them, but the end result has been a compromise more slanted toward him than me.

If he were spending lots of solo time with her, late in the evenings, while she was doing her massage therapy homework on him, and said that he would stop doing so because it made you uncomfortable, and then turned around after a nice rubdown to say, "what? That was only a hypothetical. What I really meant was that I would stop after she graduates with her license," then that would probably be manipulative.

If you got upset because he keeps running into her at parties and he said he thought you were being too sensitive, but would think of things to make you feel more comfortable, like not going over to her place for one of her more intimate afterparties, then...you know, it might not be an issue, and maybe you are being sensitive. Lots of people have exes with whom they are friends, or who they at least see at parties, and who don't really have to change their behavior, so long as they aren't escalating things or crossing some line.

But I don't think we can really speak to that, because some details seem to vague. You may need to assess this one on your own.


That said: if you are uncomfortable, you are uncomfortable. That's okay.You can ask for things that would make you more comfortable. And, additionally, you can be uncomfortable with someone, even if they are a very nice, nonabusive person, and you can break up with them. Maybe it's a compatibility thing. It's okay.
posted by vivid postcard at 12:01 PM on January 10, 2012 [1 favorite]


FWIW, if you have to focus on him and his actions to the exclusion of "oh hai, I am so happy to be in this relationship! He treats me like a Queen!" then it's pretty much not the right one for you. I spent YEARS trying to figure out a guy like this. So nice and friendly to others, so subtly telling me that I was wrong to question him talking to his ex or other women. So great in public, so subtly demeaning in private. It crept up on me. It wasn't one particular thing or event, it was just :::shudder::: a thing.

I spent years focusing on him and how he would do this or that and why and it was his upbringing and I could just do this or that and it would all be okay.

Guess what? I had to call the cops on him after he shoved me upside down on my head. This perfect man then yanked the phone out of the wall and said, "you made me do it, you bitch! Where are the car keys?"

I calmly walked out on the porch and met the four very angry cops who had been just down the street, doing their reports. They took us into two separate rooms and then came in and told me he'd said that I'd abused HIM. But I happened to have the bigass goose egg on my head.

Did I want to press charges? Hell yeah. But he was very gentle, loved cats, gave lots of hugs to people, etc. So no. Do not disregard your instincts here and try and overthink a plate of beans. There are plenty of guys who will not play you and are really nice.

Dating is like trying on shoes: they may look wicked good on the outside, but you want the ones that feel good on the inside. Comfortable shoes. That's what you need in life, a man or a woman who feels like comfortable shoes. You can trust them, you can be goofy or shitty minded, but by gum, they will forgive it and they will always be there at night, snuggling up against you. Comfortable shoes. Just remember that, Anonymous. Be comfortable and life will treat you well.
posted by Marie Mon Dieu at 12:21 PM on January 10, 2012 [11 favorites]


Too vague to say for sure what kind of person he is (or you are) but you simply sound incompatible and that's reason enough to end it... or at least slow it down, clearly communicating your needs, expectations, and what you are comfortable with. If it's an either-or thing for him then that's his option to pursue. Doesn't make either party good or bad, right or wrong. Just different strokes.
posted by sm1tten at 5:54 PM on January 10, 2012


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