Me or relationship.
December 30, 2012 10:08 PM   Subscribe

How do I decide whether this relationship is worth staying and working on or leaving and working on myself?

A couple of days ago my SO and myself sat down and had a long chat starting with him stating that I/we seemed unhappy and that we needed to talk.

I took from what he said is that a: he is attracted to confidence b: I am not confident enough c: our sex life has declined due to a decline in his sex drive but also that he cannot ‘perform’ unless he feels emotionally connected (which he obviously is not right now) d: he is attracted to confident women and actively looks and flirts with them “that is all that has happened yet”

A bit of background. We are both in our 30’s, have been dating approximately 4 years, living together for the past few months. We love each other and that has grown from the initial flurry to where we are now. There are some things I don’t like about him but the majority of things I do and I find him attractive and interesting. Our relationship has always been a bit like an antique car, nice to look at and drives well but often breaks down and needs more frequent check ups than your average car. We both have our issues, mine being a lack of trust (not just with him, with men in general), I can be quite negative and critical (grew up in a family where criticisms not compliments were dolled out within a passive aggressive climate), I also find it very difficult to verbally express my feelings. Apart from the broad descriptions like ‘security’, ‘love’ etc..I can’t quite elaborate what my needs are in a relationship.

Before we moved in together we were in a relationship whereby we could only see each other possibly once a fortnight due to distance because of studying. I found it hard to maintain a meaningful connection through emails, texts and phonecalls while understanding that both of us were busy studying. However I always felt that I made more of an effort with the relationship during that time and that I was low on his list of priorities. This however has all resolved since we have finished our studies and are living together.

We are now in a situation where he has his dream job and I have none due to relocation. I am now the ‘trailing spouse’. I have found it difficult to find something within my chosen profession and while I was gung ho at the beginning in my search I have gotten myself into a rut now where I can waste hours on the internet. Instead of him coming home from work with a happy greeting he is thinking “There she is being lazy again on the internet”, I’m thinking “Great, here he is with his unhappy face again”. This, I recognize, can be fixed by me. I need to get out there again with gusto and if not find work, find myself something meaningful to do for my own self esteem and self worth.

On top of this we both have a problem with alcohol. His being binge like. He is able to ‘hold’ his drink i.e. doesn’t get abusive, doesn’t stagger around, becomes friendlier and funnier. However it is binge drinking as quite a lot is consumed into the early hours of the morning. It is not every weekend but I am not really ok with him out downing shots til 4 am. Now that we have moved and his mates (also in relationships) are not around to do this with he has started to find guys here who are single to do this with - I am certainly not ok with this as the last time they ended up down around the red light area, of which he had no memory of being there, his mate pointed this out while in conversation with us.

My problem is not the binge type but rather picking a fight over something. This is never with friends or family, just my SO. We can easily have 2 or 3 drinks together but if we have a big night out there’s a good chance that we will argue and this is most likely me instigating it. For me I think these arguments stem from unexpressed feelings and unresolved issues that cannot be suppressed any longer with alcohol.

So, we discussed most of this and have decided to a: limit alcohol drastically, be nicer and more respectful to each other. I will take control of my life here and find something that I want to do. He will try to stop looking and flirting with other women and we will check back with each other in 3 months (if not sooner).

Is it good enough to stay in? Is it bad enough to leave? Most of my issues will remain whether in this relationship or the next. While I appreciate honesty I am now left feeling hurt that, yes, he is out looking and flirting with other women and that, no, he is not finding me attractive right now. I can’t quite decide whether to cut my losses, go home, work on myself and slip easily into a job or stay here and work on myself within the relationship and on the relationship. I can have to odd ‘flirty’ banter with a guy in front of friends and SO but I don’t seek it out. How do I deal with the ‘yet’? By staying here am I setting myself up for inevitable hurt down the road from ‘yet’ becoming a SO who needs that validation and possibly more from other women?

Throwaway email account:
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (30 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite

I could've written this question, a few months ago. I could've, and I almost did. I tried to work on myself within the relationship. The relationship finally ended; now I'm just working on myself.

You can try to fix your own problems, and you can fix how you approach the relationship, but you cannot change how he responds to you. You deserve better than this, better than someone who tells you that you're not confident enough to be attractive but that he'll try to stop flirting with other women.

If I were you, I would leave.
posted by RainyJay at 10:12 PM on December 30, 2012 [11 favorites]

To me, "yet" sounds like a threat. Like a plan he hasn't quite carried out. He's framing his cheating on you as inevitable. I'm not sure how one can expect their partner to become more confident following these words.

Yes, you've gone through a huge change in your relationship (moving in together after a long time spent with somewhat infrequent contact) and that can be trying on a relationship. Yes, it would probably be best if you found work/something else to occupy your time and make you happy. Yes, you should both limit your alcohol.

But from where I'm standing, that "yet" says a lot. Seconding RainyJay. I would leave.
posted by dysh at 10:21 PM on December 30, 2012 [9 favorites]

What the hell? How was this supposed to be a helpful or appropriate conversation? "Be more confident because I'm more turned on by other women who are more confident than you" is a pretty undermining thing to say, and either your bf is so ditzy it didn't occur to him that this would just shatter your confidence even more, OR he was being completely Machiavellian and trying to get you to blame yourself for his dumping you/cheating on you.

Dr. Sidhedevil's prescription is the same in both cases, though: one capsule of DTMFA.
posted by Sidhedevil at 10:24 PM on December 30, 2012 [39 favorites]

No relationship is worth "working on." It's not a used car.
posted by Nomyte at 10:26 PM on December 30, 2012 [2 favorites]

I have heard it said that we attract a person who treats us like we feel, even on some subconscious level, how we deserve to be treated. And our partner treats us like we treat our selfs. As you now, many of us attract the same type of person again and again. Is it their problem, or something inside of us?

You cannot really have a healthy relationship until you learn to first love yourself. Then, you will attract a woman you are worthy of. How we learn to love ourselves is, I know, a great journey in and of itself. Hang in there, you'll eventually find the love you deserve from yourself, and then others.
posted by Therapist in NYC at 10:28 PM on December 30, 2012 [5 favorites]

Yeah, I'm with RainyJay.

If he'd approached this with 'Hey, hon, let's talk about why we're drifting apart and what we can do to fix things', that'd be one thing. This is a whole 'nother ball of wax.

'Thanks for following me here so I can pursue my career but now that your career is tanking and your confidence is shaken as a result, I'm not so turned on by you. But because I'm a great guy, I'll try to stop flirting with other women 'til you sort your shit out, 'kay'? Er, no. Not okay at all.

I'm not going to say DTMFA, because I don't think you're at that point yet. But I think that's where this is going. Get your ducks in a row and focus on YOURSELF, either back home or where you are, because this dude does not have your back the way he should, and he does not get how partnerships work.
posted by Salamander at 10:36 PM on December 30, 2012 [12 favorites]

Dr. Sidhedevil and I agree.
posted by jbenben at 10:37 PM on December 30, 2012 [2 favorites]

I took from what he said is that a: he is attracted to confidence b: I am not confident enough c: our sex life has declined due to a decline in his sex drive but also that he cannot ‘perform’ unless he feels emotionally connected (which he obviously is not right now) d: he is attracted to confident women and actively looks and flirts with them “that is all that has happened yet”

So you're supposed to feel super confident after he tells you THAT????? He's setting this up so that its your fault if he cheats, because he warned you.

I wouldn't continue in this relationship. There is much better out there, and you sound really sweet.

Please make plans to start over. Just think about it.
posted by misspony at 10:39 PM on December 30, 2012 [7 favorites]

I'm not going to say DTMFA, because I don't think you're at that point yet.

Quoting myself for the purposes of retracting.

Cut to the chase and DTMFA.
posted by Salamander at 10:43 PM on December 30, 2012 [3 favorites]

Me or relationship.!

As Salamander said - he should have your back and he doesn't. So move on.
posted by heyjude at 11:05 PM on December 30, 2012 [3 favorites]

Binge drinking? Red light district? Big red flags.
posted by Dansaman at 11:05 PM on December 30, 2012 [1 favorite]

I would leave - but not because of him - because of you. if I were still in my 30s (oh I wish) I'd concentrate on what made me happy. I'd go back home where there is support, get a job in your chosen field, chase down opportunity.

I'd leave pretty much now-ish.
posted by the noob at 11:27 PM on December 30, 2012 [3 favorites]

we discussed most of this and have decided to a: limit alcohol drastically, be nicer and more respectful to each other. I will take control of my life here and find something that I want to do. He will try to stop looking and flirting with other women

I'd have another conversation where you tell him that upon reflection your agreement must change. If both of you want to save your relationship then you must both make it a priority. The specifics are up to you but things I would suggest are:
-Eliminating alcohol entirely, it can be something to go back to in moderation when things are stable.
-Being nicer and respectful is the baseline of how you treat strangers - even rude strangers - you deserve better than that as an expectation from both of you.
-Make it both your goals to have 100% positive interactions, do five things a day that makes the other person feel loved.
-Figure out what you want to change about your life and do it. There should be no expectation that you earn money right now because you both choose for you to be the trailing spouse. Have joint say over the money together and use some of it to invest in you. The ultimate goal would to have a fulfilling career but it can take a year or more to get the right fit so you both need to have realistic expectations and be supportive of that end goal over the long term.
-"he will try to stop looking and flirting..."? There is no try, only do. No only will he immediately stop looking/flirting (and then not sharing that info with you just to give you a few kicks when you are down...) but he will not allow himself to be in any situations where that is possible; he can hold off on hanging with the single guys till things are stable with you both.

How he reacts to a discussion that is no longer about how crappy a girlfriend you are and actually holds him accountable for his actions will tell you all you need to know about his character, and how much of a priority you, and this relationship, is for him. I'd have plan b (Dr Sidhedevil) in my back pocket if I were you.
posted by saucysault at 11:54 PM on December 30, 2012 [15 favorites]

You (the pair of you) are, according to him, not happy, and it's all your (the singular you) fault. Your sex life has declined, and that's your fault too. He's looking around and flirting, and once again: it's your fault.

Either he needs to take responsibility for himself and his actions, or you need to DTMFA.
posted by easily confused at 2:45 AM on December 31, 2012 [2 favorites]

He did not forget about going to the red light district and he has not lost interest in you because of your confidence. He is thinking of straying and he is making up excuses- and so are you. It sounds like you'd both be better off apart.
posted by windykites at 2:49 AM on December 31, 2012 [3 favorites]

Leave him. A decent SO would tell you about going to the red light district (either with guilt or a sense of amusement-but-kind-asking-for-forgiveness) eventually. A decent SO would know a relationship is a two-person effort, not a one person effort. A decent SO would feel BAD for going too far in flirting with others and would promise to stop and focus on you more, so you can get through this. You have an antagonist, not a partner.

There are a lot of compromises required in relationships, communication gaps to be breached and such... but he doesn't seem to understand or care what his responsibilities are as a decent significant other. I wouldn't even bother trying to talk to him. Do you really need to plead with your partner to not cheat on you? He's using the power imbalance in the relationship as a way to either (a) blame you for his future cheating or (b) use his validation of you as a carrot or a stick so you can "perform" better. That is not healthy relationship behaviour.

Focus on yourself and plan to leave. You'll find another partner who's more compassionate. You'll have relationship problems too probably (almost everyone does), but they'll be surmountable. I may be mistaken, but with this guy's attitude, it seems like he's a lost cause.
posted by Hawk V at 3:29 AM on December 31, 2012 [3 favorites]

He sounds a lot like my ex, who slipped into a verbally abusive personality, undermined my self-confidence and sense of self worth, and then blamed me for "driving him to cheat," and then told me over and over about all the times I'd said or done something and how it had affected him and made him respect me less and like him less, and how he didn't think I'd be a good wife or mom because of what a terrible person I was.

It started slow. I thought it was my issues and something for me to work on. It wasn't. But it took the issues I did have and added so many new issues that it screwed up my head for years. I wish someone had told me to get out in the early stages. But no, I loved him, and love conquers all.

So my advice: It doesn't matter how much you love him. It doesn't matter if you're afraid of being alone or lonely or miserable without him or that you'll never find another guy. It is only going to get worse, and you're better off alone than you are with this guy.
posted by DoubleLune at 6:02 AM on December 31, 2012 [13 favorites]

He doesn't get to tell you that you are not confident after you moved for his career. Not being employed would be a blow to anyone's confidence and he knew it when you moved together for his job instead of moving somewhere that would be good for your career. Assuming you are exclusive, flirting with other people and "forgotten" late-night romps are not signs of a loving boyfriend.

a-d were all about him, him, him and he sounds quite immature for someone in his 30s.
posted by ersatz at 6:31 AM on December 31, 2012 [3 favorites]

He's a selfish baby. You don't treat a partner the way he is treating you. He's not even being a friend.
posted by discopolo at 6:55 AM on December 31, 2012

I would respond by dumping him with as much enthusiasm and confidence as possible.
posted by angrycat at 7:30 AM on December 31, 2012 [16 favorites]

He will try to stop looking and flirting with other women

"I will try" is only acceptable if you're willing to forgive failure. Like "I will try to get opening-night tickets to that show you really want to see" or "I will try not to vomit on the plane even though it's a bumpy flight and I have gastroenteritis." Your guy is saying "I will try to meet the absolute bare minimum standard of a committed relationship." You wouldn't keep driving that old car if it only "tried" to accelerate or brake, would you?

This guy sounds like the sort of person who says things like "well, one thing led to another and before I knew it I was cheating! It just happened! I couldn't help it!" In other words, someone who deliberately avoids taking responsibility for his actions. I'm not sure I'd leap to DTMFA, but this relationship will fail if he doesn't change.
posted by Metroid Baby at 7:47 AM on December 31, 2012 [7 favorites]

d: he is attracted to confident women and actively looks and flirts with them “that is all that has happened yet”

This is a goddamned threat, and you don't have to take it.

Answer: You. You. You. The answer here is work on you by realizing that his behavior is not okay and you don't deserve it.
posted by the young rope-rider at 8:20 AM on December 31, 2012 [6 favorites]

If he's "actively looking" at other women, stick a fork in that relationship - it's done.

Walk away and find someone who knows how to be a real partner.
posted by Anima Mundi at 8:46 AM on December 31, 2012

Relationships don't have to be this hard. Cut your losses and leave. There's nothing wrong with you; you're both just dragging the breakup out because you still love each other even though you aren't capable of making each other happy. He doesn't put enough into the relationship to make you trust him and he's stopped being attracted to you. Move on.
posted by sockomatic at 8:54 AM on December 31, 2012

So basically he's making it your fault he's attracted to other women and then is blackmailing you by saying he hasn't slept with any of them. . .yet. Show him, and yourself some confidence and dump his ass and go back home.

Honestly it sounds like to me he is setting himself up to leave you at some point, he may not realize it yet but by making it all your fault the relationship isn't working he is giving himself an out at a later date when he wants to go and he can remain guilt free about it in his head. He drags you to a new town where you don't have a job and then whines because you don't have a job. He made you dependent and then grumbles you are dependant on him, he's setting you the relationship up to fail and using your guilt to do it.
posted by wwax at 9:07 AM on December 31, 2012 [7 favorites]

To be honest, it sounds like there's already someone he's considering cheating on you with. From what you say, he doesn't seem like he's a very supportive person. It sounds like you probably should work on your alcohol issues and your ability to ask for what you need (re: "repressed feelings and unresolved issues" that only come out when you're drinking). Is he going to give you the support you need as you learn to become a stronger person? Only you can answer that, but from an outsider's perspective it doesn't sound like it. It seems like he just makes you feel more negative about yourself.
posted by mermily at 9:41 AM on December 31, 2012

What the fuck, this thing is so obvious that 27 people have pointed it out before me but I'll add another one to the pile:

1. Tells you that what he really likes in a woman is confidence, which you aren't furnishing enoug of
2. Tells you that despite your failings he hasn't strictly speaking cheated on you "yet"
3. maybe if you jump through hoops to become that confident woman he lusts after, he'll decide not to cheat at all! you can totally turn this around! Confidence comes from within! A truly confident person would be able to handle 1 and 2 plus the fact that they moved to be with their SO to a town where they couldn't get a job, and did he mention he likes employed women as well? Yeah, you need to be so confident in yourself that none of this affects you, and then maybe...

...he'll be so obviously immature to you anyway that you won't want to bother with him even after you hit the mystic level of confidence. Tip: that level of confidence is unattainable anyway, except maybe to a few spiritual giants, and they usually get it by removing negative influences from their lives, like, uh, him.

Seriously wtf kind of double-binding emotional blackmail is this?

A lot of this has to do with luck but I think your employment situation might improve once you've removed his negative influence as well.

Tl;dr I concur with Dr Sidhedevil.
posted by tel3path at 10:22 AM on December 31, 2012 [3 favorites]

You seem very self aware and have an idea of some of your own challenges in relationships. Everyone brings strengths and baggage into relationships, but you deserve to be with someone who entirely values, respects, adores your particular combination. Nothing about the short-comings that you bring to the table justify your partner being half in and half out. And from the brief descriptor of your relationship before cohabitating, this seems like his MO.

I have noticed myself in the past normalizing my partners' unwillingness to totally commit based on my own shortcomings, so I can understand this inclination. But this was just my way of not letting go of the relationship. We can keep working on ourselves with or without a partner. But if your SO has one foot out the door, you're just teaching yourself that this is what you deserve. You don't. Good luck!
posted by sb3 at 10:46 AM on December 31, 2012 [3 favorites]

Do the Kelly Taylor from 90210 and tell him "I choose me."

I think that staying with him is just delaying the inevitable. The issues in your relationship cannot be resolved by drinking less, him "trying" not to flirt with other women, or even your gaining employment. All of those things help, but the one that I didn't get from your question is that this guy wants to be with you. What I got was "This person isn't ready to pull the trigger on ending it, yet."
posted by sm1tten at 10:56 AM on December 31, 2012 [1 favorite]

I was in a very similar situation with my ex. You're very fortunate to have had the insight to ask MeFi before things got worse. You have the chance to collect your dignity and leave the relationship before letting him crap all over it completely, until there's nothing worth saving of your bond, not even friendship. Which would make things feel like even more of a waste. So get out now before circumstances and his immaturity let you down even further.

I've always liked the beginning of the movie Mildred Pierce because after Mildred is devastated by her husband's philandering, she picks herself up, dusts herself off and becomes a successful career-woman out of nothing but her know-how (in her case, baking pies). Confidence isn't something you can just "become" out of sheer willpower -- in most cases it's the result of hard-won experience and knowing your own strengths and how to use them.

I was partly living off unemployment benefits when my ex decided to dump me. I had no savings. I had to scramble to get a job, which I did, to save up enough to move out. My family was on the other side of the country. I had no friends nearby. He was the only family (and life) I knew for 3 years. I invested blood, sweat, and tears into this relationship. Breaking up was incredibly hard on me. But 3.5 months later in my own apartment, I'm doing better without him. Sure it's lonely sometimes, but I have a great cat, and not being in that poor excuse of a relationship has freed me to build my life as I want it, from the ground up.

In a year's time or less I'll bet you'll look back and wonder how you ever put up with that kind of treatment from anyone. Hopefully what's happened has sharpened your radar for red, heck even pale-pink, flags and in time you'll realize that you don't need to bend over backwards in a relationship to earn someone's "love" and if you always watch out for number 1 *you* and never lose your head, it shouldn't be hard to walk away at the first sign of unacceptable behavior.

Remember that You Will Survive!
posted by Sa Dec at 6:57 PM on December 31, 2012 [5 favorites]

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