Another "One More Chance" Question
January 4, 2013 9:24 AM   Subscribe

I’m considering ending my relationship. Should I give him another chance to make changes? of course it's long

SO and I (both late 30s) have been together nearly 5 years, living together for 4. SO is smart, witty, cooks beautifully, and can be affectionate. He’s also got a temper, is touchy and passive-aggressive, and, while he has terrific and discriminating taste, is very critical. I’m embarrassed to admit it, but I ignored some red flags early in the relationship, and more than once in the last year I’ve thought “this is just not going to work” but kept it back.

He often thinks others are being deliberately insulting, even in neutral interactions or when it’s just normal human thoughtlessness. He gets hostile and tends to put responsibility back on the other person-- e.g. “I wouldn’t have [been so pissy] if you’d [asked more nicely]!”. However, SO doesn’t often show this much consideration towards others. When I ask him directly if he thinks it’s fair to expect me/anyone to do something that he doesn’t do, he stonewalls, answering “I don’t know”. (He can’t really not know, he’s got to be refusing to think about this critically because he doesn’t want to admit that he’s being unreasonable. Right?) SO is prone to resentment and blaming others for ‘making’ him do things or ‘making’ him feel badly (usually when I point out that he did or said something thoughtless/mean). He struggles with setting clear expectations, getting angry when someone doesn’t do something the way ‘any reasonable person should’ (e.g. the way he’d do it). I understand that setting boundaries is difficult, and that it’s really tempting to assume that everyone does (or should) share your assumptions... but he’s just providing himself with endless, pointless, rage-fuel.

We’ve talked about these things as serious, potentially relationship-ending issues for at least two years. Every time he says he’s sorry, but things don’t change much, or for long. He agreed to start therapy over a year ago, but has actually been in therapy for only about 7 months. (He didn’t start until I told him I’d need to move out if he kept delaying.) I think it’s been helping-- he’s somewhat better at setting boundaries, he’s more receptive to the need to make changes. However, ‘less bad’ isn’t all the way to ‘good’, and the last few months have really ground me down. I’m tired of dealing with his selfishness and temper and passive-aggressiveness. It’s exhausting and demoralizing to never know when things will go sideways because SO takes some innocuous remark poorly and suddenly he’s angry and I have to de-escalate or end up in a fight.

A few weeks ago I told SO I wasn’t happy and wasn’t going to stay without significant immediate changes. I was ready to leave. He said he would try to make changes. Since then, SO has been (mostly) on shining good behavior. He’s been affectionate and reasonable and pleasant, and flexible without becoming a simmering mass of resentment. He’s been seeming to let things go that, until recently, would have resulted in a major snit and probably an argument. It’s been significant.

The problem is, I’m having trouble accepting that this is real change, not temporary good behavior. Even if this is real change, there are other major issues unresolved, like figuring out a level of commitment that we’re both happy with. I want a partner I can trust to support me when I need it, and SO’s habit of resentment doesn’t bode well. I want a partner who is kind and considerate and capable of empathy, and I’m not sure SO can be that. But... I want a partner! I’m afraid that it wouldn’t be fair not to give him the chance to change, assuming he means it.

I’m not sure it’s wise to invest more years trying to figure out if this can actually become a happy and mutually-satisfying relationship when I’m honestly not sure it’s possible-- we might just not be a good fit. But.. he’s trying so hard right now, and I feel like that should mean something. I feel trapped between two shitty choices. And since he’s been so actively nice, I’m thinking of all the downsides-- I’d have to move, there would be all kinds of awkward social implications, I’d lose the affectionate sweet guy he sometimes is, etc.

I need some outside perspective, here. Have I tried long enough? Do I wait and see? How can I determine if he’s really working on change or just on good behavior? How do I know if/when to walk away?

Other probably-relevant things: I’m in therapy myself. Therapist said “you’ve given SO a lot of chances, you don’t *have* to do more if you don’t want to”. Friends have said variants on “we all know how he is... no one could reasonably fault you for ending things”. And yet, here I am, waffling.

It would have a negative financial impact on him if I moved out. He’s fully employed and would manage, I’m sure-- but he’s in a much more comfortable position with me paying a share of expenses.
posted by Ms.Stocking to Human Relations (47 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
You're ready to leave the relationship; it's probably going to be best if you do so. You can have other, better relationships in the future.
posted by The River Ivel at 9:28 AM on January 4, 2013

You're not required to "try, aka put up with someone else's bad behavior, for any length of time. If you want go go, that's reason enough to do it.
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 9:32 AM on January 4, 2013 [2 favorites]

I was stuck living with an ex for 3 weeks immediately after breaking up (yay New York City real estate markets). We also had had a lot of arguments about his behavior (we REALLY, REALLY did not ultimately get along well), but during that 3 weeks he was utterly reformed - he was gracious, complimentary, appreciative, all that good stuff.

And then whenever I started wavering, a voice in my head piped up and said, "wait, if he really thought you were so great why didn't he say any of this during the year and a half before you dumped his ass?" And I thought, "oh, yeah. Fuck him." and that helped. And yet I see where it would feel weird to leave your guy now that you technically are together and he's trying.

I'd do this: give it a couple weeks to see if this "sticks", or if he starts lapsing back into the same-old same-old. And if in a couple weeks, you see real, actual change, then good. If not...then give up, and do not listen to pleading for another chance.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 9:32 AM on January 4, 2013 [20 favorites]

How do I know if/when to walk away?

You walk away when the relationship isn't actively making you happy. Sure, it's possible that your SO has permanently changed his behaviour (though this is very unlikely) - but even if he has, is this relationship one that you actively want to be in and keep working on? Even without all the issues with temper and passive-aggressiveness (which are big, big problems that have plagued my parents' marriage for decades), you don't give any clear indications that you're emotionally invested in the relationship. Are you?

Additionally, the thing about permanent change is that you have to have an intrinsic motivation to make it happen - that is, you have to actively want to change yourself, not just do it because of some external factor. From what you've written, this sounds like the latter type of change, and that's almost never permanent.
posted by littlegreen at 9:33 AM on January 4, 2013 [3 favorites]

And the financial thing - that's a red herring; do not worry about that. You'd also be in a better financial position with him, but I bet that's not enough to make you consider staying, is it? (I was in a REALLY bad financial position without my ex, but I was so relieved to have him gone I just plain didn't care. And as for him - him losing me as HIS financial crutch was the kick in the pants he needed to finally get him off his ass, into grad school, and onto an actual moneymaking career. He is now married and has a pre-teen daughter, I think.)
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 9:34 AM on January 4, 2013

If you're spending this much time and effort on figuring out what will keep you in the relationship, then it's already over, and you need to end it and get on with your life.
posted by Etrigan at 9:37 AM on January 4, 2013 [3 favorites]

I’d have to move, there would be all kinds of awkward social implications, It would have a negative financial impact on him if I moved out. He’s fully employed and would manage, I’m sure-- but he’s in a much more comfortable position with me paying a share of expenses.

These are not good reasons to stay in a relationship you're unhappy with.

On the other hand -- the fact that he's being nice right now is. I'd put my foot down on getting him in therapy, though.
posted by empath at 9:38 AM on January 4, 2013

It is possible for people to wake up and change their behavour rather quickly if they have an actual internal "moment" where the stars align and unicorns materialize and stuff. It's rare. But it happens. So I would suggest perhaps trying to find out if he has actually made a real internal change or is still "on best behaviour" that will relapse when he thinks you are weak. And the only way to do that is to wait and see if it persists.

So the question is, then, while you're waiting, do you still want him even if he's not acting like a douche? You seem unsure about this, so that's where you should focus your internal review. I don't think we can help with that part.
posted by seanmpuckett at 9:38 AM on January 4, 2013 [2 favorites]

You are looking for permission to end this relationship. I am giving you that permission.
posted by blurker at 9:38 AM on January 4, 2013 [3 favorites]

As you no doubt already know, but as so many of us still so often hope isn't so (don't be embarrassed, you are not alone!), generally speaking people's fundamental, core constitution (personality, temperament, etc.) usually doesn't change much. Born even-tempered, die even-tempered. Born moody, die moody. Born a pleaser, die a pleaser. Born self-centered, die self-centered. Born mild-mannered, die mild-manner. Born aggressive, die aggressive. Etc.
posted by Dansaman at 9:40 AM on January 4, 2013

Whie Dansaman is not incorrect, there is also such a thing as maturity, which is sometimes only reached at a very late stage. So it's never uncomplicated.
posted by krilli at 9:43 AM on January 4, 2013 [2 favorites]

If you decide to wait a few weeks to see if his changes stick, be sure to provide positive reinforcement a la the infamous NYT article about using animal training techniques in the context of a relationship. He needs to know that you recognize and appreciate his effort: reward it and you can help ensure that the new behaviors endure.
posted by carmicha at 9:43 AM on January 4, 2013 [1 favorite]

You gave it a good try but it sounds like time to move on. If you are feeling concern for him, then consider that actually losing you might compel him to take positive action a lot more than ultimatums that you then back down from. Take care of yourself.
posted by headnsouth at 9:46 AM on January 4, 2013

If your friends are actually saying those things to you, that's a pretty big sign that you should end the relationship. In my experience, friends will go to all sorts of lengths to avoid acknowledging they don't like someone's partner and pretending everything is awesome even when it is not. If you've gotten your friends to openly tell you that there is a problem, there is a problem.
posted by something something at 9:48 AM on January 4, 2013 [5 favorites]

You can acknowledge that he's done a good job in the past few weeks, but that at this point, you're ready to end it.

Relationships aren't always what we want, and even if both parties are working on it, it still might never be right.

You had 4 years with him and you'd like to bow out while you still value the good times you had together.

Sure, you'll miss him, and that's okay, but at the end of the day, this is not the partner you want to go through the rest of your life with.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 9:52 AM on January 4, 2013 [2 favorites]

A few weeks ago I told SO I wasn’t happy and wasn’t going to stay without significant immediate changes. I was ready to leave. He said he would try to make changes. Since then, SO has been (mostly) on shining good behavior. He’s been affectionate and reasonable and pleasant, and flexible without becoming a simmering mass of resentment. He’s been seeming to let things go that, until recently, would have resulted in a major snit and probably an argument. It’s been significant.

Well, you told him you would not stay if he did not make changes. That is not the same thing as telling him you will stay if he does make changes. It's a bit harsh to ask someone to change and then tell them that the change is not enough, but you are certainly within your rights to do so, if you feel it is the best thing for you and your happiness.
posted by Rock Steady at 10:15 AM on January 4, 2013

I’m not sure it’s wise to invest more years

Who said you have to invest years? You gave an ultimatum a few weeks ago. I would say give him a few months to continue the behaviour. Jumping right to the idea that you will be wasting years on a relationship that is doomed to fail seems very catastrophic thinking to me. Winter holidays are usually pretty stressful but it sounds like he dealt with that stress without reverting to prior problematic behaviour. See how he responds in a few more stressful situations; if his behavior is revealed as a facade then or if he has genuinely changed his reactions.

It is great he is in therapy (and you are too) but I think you both should both be in couple's therapy together to negotiate this major change in your relationship and change any negative patterns you have fallen into without realising it.

Good luck with whatever you decide.
posted by saucysault at 10:30 AM on January 4, 2013

It's taken five years, seven months of therapy (that's a long time), and three threats of your leaving for your partner to develop a BASIC level of responsible adult behavior in non-crisis situations, which he hasn't even been able to maintain consistently for a few weeks.

You say that there are other major issues you have to deal with. This man doesn't sound like someone emotionally capable of working on major relationship issues in a consistently responsible adult way.

I wouldn't want to be in a relationship with someone like that.
posted by jaguar at 10:31 AM on January 4, 2013 [4 favorites]

I just got out of a 3.5 year long relationship last Friday. I wish I had walked away earlier. We had relationship issues from year 1 that we (ok, really me) tried so hard to work on and things just did not/could not change. My story isn't important though. I'm sharing a quote from Dear Sugar that has helped me and I think may help you:

"You are not a terrible person for wanting to break up with someone you love. You don’t need a reason to leave. Wanting to leave is enough. Leaving doesn’t mean you’re incapable of real love or that you’ll never love anyone else again. It doesn’t mean you’re morally bankrupt or psychologically demented or a nymphomaniac. It means you wish to change the terms of one particular relationship. That’s all. Be brave enough to break your own heart." Dear Sugar
posted by quodlibet at 10:34 AM on January 4, 2013 [11 favorites]

I want a partner who is kind and considerate and capable of empathy, and I’m not sure SO can be that.

I don't understand why anyone would stay in a relationship with someone about whom this is an open question.
posted by Ragged Richard at 10:37 AM on January 4, 2013 [7 favorites]

People can and do improve their relationship skills, often as a result of getting dumped and realizing their faults, but it takes time. And people who've been ground down by the bad habits of others don't regain trust in those folks for a good while.

I think your unhappiness at this point is normal and expected, even though he seems to be on a good path at the moment. I think if you stay that the unhappiness and lack of faith in him will go on at least for months.

But it could work out. What I'd do is draw up a sort of personal rubric for assessing how well your concrete action- or behavior-focused needs are being met, setting aside that you don't feel happy overall for a set period of time--say, three months or whatever seems worth it to you. Check that rubric regularly for signs of consistency or better yet improvement. And if it's not working by your private deadline or you start getting even unhappier (which should not happen) then go.

That said, I wouldn't blame you one iota for leaving now.
posted by Monsieur Caution at 10:37 AM on January 4, 2013 [2 favorites]

It sounds like you're feeling guilty. You asked him to do better or you'd dump him. And now he's doing "better" (at least somewhat). That doesn't mean that you can't still dump him - these kinds of things cannot be real if/then contract deals. Yes, it's possible he'll complain that you're irrational and can't be pleased, but that's because he's a pain in the neck, not because you're doing this "dumping" thing wrong.
posted by aimedwander at 10:42 AM on January 4, 2013 [2 favorites]

Oh, I'll add that it's typical when you're feeling bad about someone to attribute problems more to their character than you might if you were feeling neutral or well-disposed toward them, when there might be circumstances or mitigating factors a neutral view would incorporate.

I worry sometimes that this is a fundamental problem with AskMe. People typically ask questions when things are going poorly, and unusurprisingly their problem descriptions often speak to the character of someone involved, naturally not putting things in their best light.

Answers understandably tend to reformulate the terms used in the question, since we have little else to go on. And the simple fact you're asking something while at a low ebb skews the answers toward DTMFA.

Which isn't to say DTMFA is the wrong answer, only that I'd discount judgments based on reformulated essentializations originally made under the cloud of unhappiness.
posted by Monsieur Caution at 10:50 AM on January 4, 2013 [12 favorites]

If this was a permanent change, would you regret walking away? Would it make you unhappy, watching another girl benefit from all the changes he made for you?

If so, then you should stick it out a bit longer to find out. Otherwise, just go. Even if your motives for improving him were selfish, you've done him a service by doing so, so you don't need to feel like you have any obligation to stay.
posted by wolfdreams01 at 11:00 AM on January 4, 2013

If you want to be with someone you can trust, that can mean trusting that you can talk about stuff in your own words without feeling like you you're walking on eggshells. Each of you should feel emotionally safe in discussing things with one another. If he gets irrational and blames others for making him feel a certain way, he isn't owning his own feelings. I guess you can give him more time, or you can decide that his history doesn't give you a reason that there will be long term change. Please don't stay in a relationship just to be in a relationship, though. Please don't lose or compromise yourself for a not-so-great relationship.
posted by SillyShepherd at 11:04 AM on January 4, 2013 [1 favorite]

I was stuck living with an ex for 3 weeks immediately after breaking up (yay New York City real estate markets). We also had had a lot of arguments about his behavior (we REALLY, REALLY did not ultimately get along well), but during that 3 weeks he was utterly reformed - he was gracious, complimentary, appreciative, all that good stuff.

This happens all the time! As soon as you decide to break up-- or when you see them a few months later-- it can seem like all the problems you had were totally fixable. Or the other person appears to get themselves together in ways that might have persuaded you to stay.

I think among other things, this can be a sign that you weren't good for them either. Or it really was the relationship that wasn't working out. When we often say to friends when someone breaks up with them-- that it's not about your worth as a person; it's about the relationship not working out-- is true when it's the other way around too.
posted by BibiRose at 11:15 AM on January 4, 2013 [1 favorite]

It sounds like you've been fair, given him more than fair warning and a lot of chances - it would probably be easier on both of you if you could just make this work instead of moving on. And he has so many good qualities... Who wants to start over after 5 years, in her late 30s, if something perfectly good can be saved?

I 100% get all of that, but if your gut tells you to go you can only push that thought back so many times.

I'd reread what Monsieur Caution says above - his thoughts ring true to me.
posted by mrs. taters at 11:19 AM on January 4, 2013

You should not feel obligated to stay, and wanting to go is reason enough. But if you do stay, I would strongly consider couples counseling. You two have been in a cycle of escalating each other, and you've created a space where you both feel unsure about what kind of response you'll get. That isn't to say that it's fair for him to expect you to know what he wants, or treat him with kid gloves. But while he needs to deal with that personally, it's an interpersonal issue that's affected your relationship.

It was never enough to expect him to go to therapy and magically fix the relationship. While he might be making decent progress, you two have created a dynamic that is easy to fall back into. And as the partner who was wronged, you will have a hard time believing in any change. It's hard to treat him as the person he currently is, not the person that he was. That kind of change is hard even with professional guidance.

It's okay to say that you're done. But his seven months of therapy makes me slightly more optimistic than the majority of these answers.
posted by politikitty at 11:28 AM on January 4, 2013 [2 favorites]

You should end it. Passive aggressiveness and inability to manage emotions well are bad signs, and you really are better off without a partner than one that gives you pause constantly.
posted by discopolo at 11:28 AM on January 4, 2013

Also, here's something really important: Do you know how to manage your partner? Can you guess what he might do in a situation? Can you guess what he's thinking or how he justifies his bad behavior?

This guy has really poor communication skills in addition to problems managing himself emotionally. He's ALSO not considerate to others. Do you really want to be with someone who is selfish and that you have to manage because he can't manage himself?

I really feel for you. Everybody has good points, but you have to weigh how wrong and exhausting the bad points are on you.

Also, the whole "some other girl might enjoy the fruits of your labor" is silly. He is not likely to really and truly change. He might be able to pretend being a good guy, but that doesn't change his real self.

Consider it a public service to humanity and getting rid of him a personal favor to yourself.
posted by discopolo at 11:34 AM on January 4, 2013 [1 favorite]

I would end it. Either you and your relationship was important enough for him to take your discussions about this seriously, or it isn't. He showed you multiple times that he will change for a short bit of time but revert back. The fact that it is sticking a little longer this time doesn't hold much water because he has shown you time and time again that he won't change.

You can't be in a relationship with the person you hope someone will be or who THEY hope they will be. You are in the relationship with the person you're with, and the person you are with isn't a good fit for you. You've given him a lot of chances and he has failed every time.
posted by PuppetMcSockerson at 11:38 AM on January 4, 2013

I'm in a relationship that sounds like yours, rolled back to year 1. I love my partner and there are a lot of great things about him, but I struggle with what I now recognize as his "passive-aggressiveness, touchiness, and inability to take responsibility for small things". (He's great at taking responsibility for big things, medium things... just about everything, except whether or not someone used the right "tone".)

I'm getting really frustrated with it, and I've told him that. He's agreed to work on it.

Here's what I'm doing now, which might be helpful to you:


I tend to be a very accommodating, loving person, and I want the other person to be happy more than I want to have a conflict. So I usually give in, soothe him, blah blah.

I don't think this is good for him either, in that I let him get away with things. I think it makes him feel insecure and anxious as he's not sure whether I'm reeaaally happy or just kind of happy or super pissed off but not telling him so he doesn't get all immature and blame-y on me.

So, what I am doing is not avoiding conflicts. I tell him when I'm angry, I tell him he's being immature, I tell him that I don't want to hang out or that I'm feeling lonely or that I'm not interested in eating a burrito. I'm not mean or anything, I just treat him like I would a friend. Like, "Dude, I love you but you are being really immature right now."

My accommodation comes from fear of abandonment. I'd rather do something I don't want instead of deal with being abandoned. I was single for a long time, I've traveled alone, lived alone, have independent goals, etc.... I'm not actually afraid of being alone. I just have a very traumatic reaction to the abandonment itself. I imagine you have some idea why you accommodate him (it might be similar, or maybe you are just a super polite person, or it always catches you off-guard, or whatever).

I've only been doing this for a few weeks, so I'm not sure how this will play out. I think one of the things he likes about me is how low drama and accommodating I am. But at the same time, I don't think he's married to this way of being in the world, and might be able to change his patterns.

Your situation is a bit more extreme, but I think the same general approach might work. Just don't put up with his bullshit anymore. Treat him like you'd treat anyone else.

2) VERY IMPORTANT: Don't take his bouts of being "good" seriously.

This is a problem he has to manage, probably FOR THE REST OF HIS LIFE. It's never going to be fully "cured". Don't have that expectation. We all have mental and physical health concerns, and being a bit emotionally immature and blame-y is one of his. He might get better, but he will likely be this way to some extent for the rest of his life (or at least your expectation should be that). But the key is that he needs to MANAGE it. He needs to learn when he feels this way, think differently, laugh about himself a bit, notice when other people are doing it... all of those things involved in behavioral change. He will be "good", he will be "bad", and if you stay with him, you will deal with some form of this problem for the rest of your life.

So, don't put up with his bullshit, but expect that he will be working on this for a very long time.

Please let us know how it goes.
posted by 3491again at 11:52 AM on January 4, 2013 [2 favorites]

Not that this would have any bearing on whether you should stay or go, but could he have depression? Sometimes it doesn't come out in sadness, etc. but in irritability. Again, by suggesting this I don't mean to suggest that if it's the case, well then, just get him on an anti-depressant and that will fix the problem.

As far as the relationship, I noticed that in your post you didn't once mention that you loved him. I don't doubt that you do, but I think it's significant that when talking about the things that make you think about staying, it wasn't that he means so much to you and you can't picture life without him, but that he has a few good qualities. And honestly ... that list of qualities --- "smart and witty," "affectionate sometimes," doesn't really blow me away (and of course I'm sure it's not exhaustive). I'm just pointing this out to illustrate that it seems to me that as a result of the problems you've been having, your feelings toward him seem to have become subdued somewhat and I think that's hard to recover from.

I would also maybe suggest that you try re-framing the way you're thinking about this a little bit, from "giving him chances" and whether the improvements he's made are "good enough" -- it's not like you're deciding whether or not to fire an employee. So especially I think if you do break up with him, I would suggest wording it less like, "I know you tried but it wasn't good enough" to "We really tried, but despite caring about and loving each other a lot, we couldn't figure out how to be happy together long-term, and I think it will be best for both of us in the long run if we move on." I think that approach would be both kinder and a healthier way to think about it.
posted by Asparagus at 12:09 PM on January 4, 2013 [1 favorite]

It sounds like you are weighing pros and cons here as if this is a job you're thinking of leaving...a relationship should not be like that, especially when there is no marriage or kids involved. I used to believe that there were certain things I just "had to" put up with in any relationship, because "guys are like that" or "nobody is perfect." And of course, no one is perfect (including me). But that's not an excuse for someone making you actively unhappy instead of actively happy! Believe me, there are people out there who will not constantly make you feel bad, make you walk on eggshells, etc. You owe it to yourself to give yourself the chance to meet one of those people!
posted by rainbowbrite at 12:28 PM on January 4, 2013 [1 favorite]

He said he would try to make changes. Since then, SO has been (mostly) on shining good behavior.

But if it's only his *behavior* that changed, and not his *beliefs*, then it's all still there under the surface, isn't it?

Like if he still believes people are "making him" do things but he is just going to keep quiet and go along with whatever they are making him do so that you don't leave, then nothing has changed. Or if he still believes someone didn't ask him something in a subservient enough tone, but he won't say anything about it and he will just do what they asked to keep you happy for now, then nothing has changed.

I just do not think people's beliefs change that easily, especially beliefs held by people in their late 30's which have been very effective for the person's entire life in getting them their way and getting control over other people. Especially beliefs which the person has only stopped openly espousing for the past few weeks.

Right now he has the incentive to hide his beliefs - he really wants you to stay. But when he doesn't have that incentive they will come right back out. What if you become dependent on him and he knows that you could never really leave? Suddenly you leaving is not such a scary idea. What if there is a period of time when he is angry with you? Or resents you for other reasons, or you go through a rough period in the relationship? Suddenly you leaving is maybe even an appealing idea.

I have written before here about this, but I was once in a relationship with someone who had many of the same behaviors and beliefs that you describe here. Only difference was that it was pretty much only directed towards women - he would get bizarrely critical and angry towards random things that women did. Like if another driver got mixed up leaving a parking lot and he had to wait for her to turn around, he would mutter "cunt" under his breath. I was so naive and I thought if I said something about it at the time, and we talked about it, and he acknowledged that was a bad thing to have said, and unfair, that we were making progress.

That's when we first started dating and were totally in love. Guess who ended up getting called a cunt years down the line for minor mistakes and other little things that annoyed him. He also would do outrageous things trying to to make me mad, so that he could then get resentful about my "tone" in how I responded to them, and then he would be retroactively justified in doing them. He was no longer so desperate to keep me thinking highly of him, so he didn't feel as it he needed to hide his beliefs anymore.

So, I would say cut your losses here. The idea of how this guy would treat me if something had happened and I was trapped with someone with the tendency to behave like this, dependent upon him, actually gave me a pit of fear in my stomach.
posted by cairdeas at 12:41 PM on January 4, 2013 [3 favorites]

Without putting too fine a point on it.... no one held a gun to your head. You chose this guy. Seems like maybe optimism got in the way of doing a good job of that. He is what he is, and was probably pretty much that way when you were moving in with him.

Folks usually don't suddenly wake up one morning and start being a creep. More likely you slowly came to recognize the things in him that infatuation deviously hid from you. (You are kind of drunk on hormones in the early stages. Nature wants it that way.)

Choose to leave. That's all there is to it. (Sounds simple, but the choice is the hardest part standing between you and positive change.)

Next time, maybe you can choose someone better. That's entirely your job. Perhaps you can use your new found grasp of what's important to you. You seem to articulate it really well.

You may not find anyone better. You may have impossibly high standards. It happens. Many really good ones are already spoken for. It's a risk folks take when leaving the known for the unknown. Not everyone (actually few) live happily ever after. No one knows until it's over if it was worth it.

Chances are, though, that you are smarter now than then and there is a really good chance your discrimination, judgment, and observation skills are better. There's a good chance you have grown more confident and it sounds like you are a woman who knows what she wants and isn't afraid to speak her mind. All of that is auspicious, and there are 3.5 billion males out there, many of whom are local.

Don't despair of finding someone good. Do look in the mirror, though. These mating choices aren't one way.... you have to own whatever part of the mistake is yours in order to avoid making the same mistakes in the future.

Good luck, though. Persevere.
posted by FauxScot at 1:07 PM on January 4, 2013 [2 favorites]

You have to ask yourself, "Why am I spending years of the only life I'll ever have worrying about how unpleasant this person is going to be?"

It doesn't sound like you even like your SO, let alone love them. Walk away and find someone that's going to make you happy. He/she is out there. Don't be afraid to look.
posted by Fister Roboto at 1:12 PM on January 4, 2013 [3 favorites]

You should end it - he has a job, place to stay and therapist so its a really good time to do it. It will get harder if you leave it and imagine if you get married and have a house and a kid and then he decides to stop acting like you want him to act, you will spend many miserable years (most of your life if you must raise a child with him!) if that happens. You deserve someone who is a good fit for you and makes you happy.
posted by meepmeow at 1:17 PM on January 4, 2013

Your decision has to take yourself into account - not just him.

It's easier to blame him totally. What part of the negatives within the relationship was through your own choices, your own weaknesses? You have to separate these from the "pot of unhappiness" and accusations, 1) It's the right thing to do and, 2) it will help you make a decision that will sit much better with you 1,5,15 years down the road. Good luck.
posted by Kruger5 at 1:18 PM on January 4, 2013

It would piss me off MORE that he changed because it would show that he is capable of it and that he just wasn't trying because unless he has to...he gets to be a rude resentful jerk.

I mean what happens when you're financially reliant on him (life happens that way). Do you really want to see how he behaves when he doesn't have to worry about you leaving? I doubt it will be pretty, because he doesn't see being kind and decent as inherently worthwhile. Instead he sees it as worthwhile only when it contributes to him getting what he wants.

I had a boyfriend like this who became abusive when I was horribly sick for a few months and unable to care for myself, so I am wary of this kind of "nice when he has to be" behavior. You should be wary, too.
posted by the young rope-rider at 1:41 PM on January 4, 2013 [2 favorites]

A few other things:

- Another post referenced the "Darth Vader Boyfriend" ( You might give that a think.

- The fact is, he HASN'T CHANGED. That is not possible. All this shows is that he is capable of responding to incentives. The question is if you can change the incentives or live with him the way he is (or some of both).

- The financial and social concerns are not an issue. And don't feel bad about leaving. The question is how much great stuff does he bring into your life to make up for this kind of behavior.
posted by 3491again at 1:49 PM on January 4, 2013 [1 favorite]

Also, I'm not sure if partner-forced behavioral changes really stick, especially for a guy in his late thirties unless he really wants to be the guy you wish he was.
posted by discopolo at 3:36 PM on January 4, 2013 [2 favorites]

he’s more receptive to the need to make changes. However, ‘less bad’ isn’t all the way to ‘good’, and the last few months have really ground me down. I’m tired of dealing

I'll echo you on this point: You want a relationship that is GOOD. He is doing all this work just to keep things at a level that is tolerable. There are people who excel at kindness and empathy.

Also, I think it is completely fair for you to say, "I'm sorry, I appreciate your recent efforts, but this change has come too late. Being free of what has made the last few years so challenging has made me aware that I absolutely need this level of kindness and flexibility [or whatever]. I'm unable to trust that these changes are going to last. Internally, I'm just done. My emotions for you are just... broken, and I don't think they can be repaired." That's the way emotions work sometimes.

Last, your willingness to leave now that the conflict has lessened suggests to me that part of you may get hooked in not despite but because of the conflict. Just something to ask yourself as you head in to future relationships.
posted by salvia at 4:41 PM on January 4, 2013 [9 favorites]

I've totally been there. "Less bad" is so hard but, like what has been said above, at least it gives you some room to see that, if this is as good as it gets the. You need to walk away.

I think that you need to decide by yourself if you want to break up and then, if you do, do it. Don't discuss the possibility with him or give him an ultimatum. Just have a plan, let him know, and go.
posted by dawkins_7 at 8:25 PM on January 4, 2013

If this was a permanent change, would you regret walking away? Would it make you unhappy, watching another girl benefit from all the changes he made for you?

The only problem with this is that you never know what goes on behind closed doors in a relationship. It may appear to the OP that he's reformed, but it's likely that he'll just keep treating women poorly. I would caution you against this line of thinking for that reason.

Your decision has to take yourself into account - not just him.

The time to examine what role you played in all this is after you leave. Being criticized and dealing with someone who has a short temper and who takes things the wrong way and makes you walk on eggshells is usually not the fault of the person being treated poorly.

I would suggest reading Why Does He Do That and Should I Stay or Should I Go both by Lundy Bancroft. Good luck, OP.
posted by sockermom at 1:23 PM on January 6, 2013

Update: about a week after this post, I ended things. It was difficult and painful-- I loved my SO, and I really, really didn't want things to have to end this way. But the relationship was, I realized, not only no longer making me happy, but was actually hurting me over time. It breaks my heart that he couldn't be the partner I needed, but I'm hopeful that he'll use this to work on his own issues and come out better off in the end. That's certainly what I'm trying to do.
posted by Ms.Stocking at 11:28 AM on May 7, 2013 [2 favorites]

Good for you for making the brave choice.
posted by jaguar at 11:57 AM on May 7, 2013

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