How to bring up attitude and exes without causing another argument?
April 16, 2013 6:30 AM   Subscribe

The boyfriend will take things I say in totally the wrong way, how do I explain this to him without starting another argument? And he compares me to his ex when doing this stuff...long-winded details inside.

I've been seeing my boyfriend for quite a while now, and we have a great, loving relationship. However, lately he has taken things I've said to him in the wrong fashion.
For example the most recent issue: I was on the phone, trying to tell him something somewhat funny and very minor about work (we work for the same company) and at one point he asked me a question/clarification about something I'd said. I began to explain and he suddenly started yelling at me and telling me "I'm not fucking stupid, I know what you're saying. What I'M SAYING IS [proceeds to explain his statement via yelling]...*insert me asking him to please not curse or yell at me*...I wasn't trying to cuss and yell at you, I was explaining my point and couldn't get it done because you keep talking over me! I had this happen in my last goddamn relationship and I'll be damned if it happens in this one!"
I wasn't raising my voice towards him, I wasn't using a condescending tone towards him, I wasn't even trying to talk over him. I had no idea he felt like I was talking over be honest, there wasn't but one point in the conversation that I interrupted him and I apologized and told him to go on. This wasn't anything that should have resulted in an argument, there was nothing there I was trying to argue...I was simply telling him something kind of funny that had happened on my shift and giving him a head's up in case he encountered the same problem.
Similar things have happened a few times in the past month or two. It's very unlike him. My previous relationship was one where I was berated constantly because I was very negative about life...which, after many doctor visits, ended up being because of hormonal imbalances and major depression to boot. I have all of that fixed, and I feel wonderful. I make a point to make sure I'm not negative towards my boyfriend, and that I don't use a condescending or otherwise negative tone towards him...

At the beginning of our relationship, he told me a lot about his ex...namely, he was verbally abused by her. I've been in one of those relationships, and I understood completely. He was also used, cheated on, had the police called on him for made-up 'domestic violence' situations, and a host of other things. This woman has repeatedly stalked and harassed him until recent months when he finally got the message through to her by threatening police/legal interference if it didn't stop.
I've been told several times during these recent and ridiculous non-issue arguments that "I was done this way by [insert ex's name] and you won't do that to me!" or "She did that to me and I'll be damned if you do me that way!" and so on.

I understand that we all probably compare a new relationship to the last one we had...I certainly did at the beginning of this one, and he admitted he was doing so as well. He even stated once, "You'll have to give me a little bit of time with some things...I'm not used to being treated this way/having this done/not having to argue about this/etc." We both have laughed at how unbelievably opposite he is to my ex, and I to his. We really do have a great relationship, and have had up until these few spats started.

How do I bring up the fact that how he is talking to me hurts me? And how do I bring up the fact that comparing me to his ex during these problems is making things worse? I don't want to irritate him further by bringing this up, but at the same time I feel like he has taken things completely the wrong way on these few there a tactful way to explain all that without starting yet another senseless argument? Or how do I ask him if there is something bothering him or something wrong that is causing this stuff to happen? I'm worried about's a very sudden and random change and I don't know if there is something wrong, something I did, or something else going on outside of our relationship that is causing all of this to happen. I'd just like to sit down one day and explain all this to him...but I'm not sure how to go about it without causing further issues.
Any input is appreciated. Anon for obvious reasons. Sorry for the lengthy post...just wanted to make sure I covered everything.
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (36 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
First - wait until there's a generally calm moment. Then I would try this script.

"Hon, I've noticed you seem especially tense lately. It seems like just last month suddenly things happened like [tell him calmly about the phone call incident] or [another similar incident]. We've talked before about your ex and what she was like, so I get it, but we've been doing great before this, and then suddenly things seemed to ramp up this past month; it feels like you're comparing me to her more lately when you hadn't done that before, and I feel [scared/sad/confused/angry] that this is happening now. I'm trying really hard to hang in there, but it feels like something changed recently and I'm confused and I really want to understand and help you. Did something happen this month that is just stirring stuff up? What's going on?"
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 6:40 AM on April 16, 2013 [3 favorites]

Next time, just hang up the phone. How could that not be clear?

This guy sounds nuts.
posted by oceanjesse at 6:41 AM on April 16, 2013 [21 favorites]

I don't know - it sounds like you've done a good, empathetic job of explaining the situation here. I think you can trust yourself to explain it to him. Sit him down and draw from your own words in this post:

"I'm worried. The way you have been talking to me hurts me, and comparing me to your ex makes it worse. Is there something bothering you, or have I done something recently that stresses you out or upset you? I understand that we all probably compare a new relationship to the last one, but I think we really do have a great relationship, and I want to make sure it stays that way."

Is there any reason that you think your boyfriend would -not- be receptive to this kind of conversation? Because while anyone can lose their temper when they have something weighing on them, it's important to be able to talk it out afterward. In my mind, an inability to talk calmly about these fights afterwards is much more worrisome than the occasional spat.
posted by pretentious illiterate at 6:42 AM on April 16, 2013 [9 favorites]

Trauma can pop up when you least expect it, and it sounds as if his (from his past abusive relationship) has just begun to blossom.

I had a similar situation only in reverse - a few months into my current relationship, a serious trauma which had been in hiding for around 6 month reared its extremely ugly head and nearly cause big problems.

I sought counselling to deal with it, and that's what your boyfriend needs to do too, by the sound of it. How to frame this so that he is receptive to the idea, I can't say, although it may help to ensure that he knows you are suggesting it because you're worried about him and want him to be happier, not as a criticism, or a precursor to a break-up.

Good luck - I'm still in that relationship 4 years later so it can be done!

PS. if he won't get help with dealing with these issues and they continue to be a problem, then you may need to address the fact that you, and the relationship he has with you, might not be the arena in which they can be resolved. In which case, move on and find someone without that baggage, and let him have the space in which to sling his around without hurting anyone.
posted by greenish at 6:43 AM on April 16, 2013 [5 favorites]

"Hi boyfriend. Come here, sit down. How you are talking to me sometimes hurts me. And the fact that you compare me to your ex during these problems make things worse. I don't want to irritate you further by bringing this up, but at the same time I feel like you have taken things completely the wrong way on a few occasions. Is something bothering you or is something wrong that is causing this stuff to happen that I don't know about? I'm worried about's a very sudden and random change and I don't know if there is something wrong, something I did, or something else going on outside of our relationship that is causing all of this to happen. I just wanted to sit down today and explain all this to you, because it really upsets me. Now let's talk about it."

If you can't say something like that to him without him freaking out--DTMFA.
posted by Potomac Avenue at 6:44 AM on April 16, 2013 [8 favorites]

namely, he was verbally abused by her

I'm not saying this isn't true. I'm just saying I wouldn't be surprised if that was a two-way street in their relationship. By a certain age, everyone has a past and old relationships and it takes a lot of mental energy to break certain habits about who we get into relationships with. But holy smokes he was mean to you, and that has NOTHING to do with his last relationship.

YOU are in this relationship with him RIGHT NOW and he needs to treat you like you deserve. I've also had this -- I dated a guy who constantly accused me of being passive aggressive like his ex-wife and he did it . . . very passive aggressively. If I were you I'd sit down and have a very serious talk about how this is making you feel -- after you examine closely how it does make you feel. Even if everything else is great, it's OK to walk if this guy can't get over his ex (not in terms of still wanting her, but in terms of letting the past control his present with you).
posted by mibo at 6:44 AM on April 16, 2013 [28 favorites]

He sounds kind of awful. If anyone talked to me the way you report him talking to you, I wouldn't speak to him again until I got a full apology.
posted by xingcat at 6:58 AM on April 16, 2013 [14 favorites]

Why are you contorting your desires and feelings to baby his? You have as much right to be angry, to be frustrated and to be however you damn well please.

I suspect that either your boyfriend is experiencing PTSD, and lashing out at you in misplaced aggression, or that the "made up" domestic violence wasn't so made up.

This isn't going to get better unless your boyfriend goes into counseling. Hopefully you don't live together, but if you do, you need to have a plan to leave and be ready to execute it on a moment's notice.

Here's how I'd frame it. "BF, I have noticed a disturbing change in your behavior and it affects me in the following ways: When you yell at me I feel diminished and frightened. I don't deserve to be yelled at, under ANY circumstances. When you accuse me of doing things that your Ex did to you, and which you say hurt you deeply, that hurts ME deeply because I don't intend to hurt you, and if you can't see that and give me the benefit of the doubt, I wonder if we really have a basis for a good realationship. Right now I'm walking on eggshells around you, and that's no way to live. I believe that you need to be in individual counseling, because at best, you're punishing me for something someone else did, and at worst, you are being abusive to me. Either way, I'm not your punching bag. If you choose not to get professional help to change this behavior, then I'm afraid our relationship is over."

Now, that takes real courage to say. It means that you OWN your feelings, and you know that you are right in this situation. NO ONE has a right to yell at you and to curse at you, let alone someone who claims to love you.

I suspect that you know that his behavior isn't right, I suspect that you're beginning to worry that perhaps his Ex, isn't as crazy as he's been protraying her, and I suspect that you now KNOW that he isn't as advertised.

It's easy to stay in this relationship too long. Mostly because it was good in the beginning, and you start to buy into the fact that if you fix what YOU'RE doing wrong, then it can go back to being that way.

It's not going to happen that way. Unless your BF acknowledges that he's in the wrong (and if what you've related is true, then he is) and agrees to get help, then this is doomed. Get out now, before you internalize his bullshit.

posted by Ruthless Bunny at 7:01 AM on April 16, 2013 [33 favorites]

I'm just gonna take the conversation you had with him and strip away all the stuff about how *other* people verbally abused him and how *you* got verbally abused ("berated") in your last relationship but that you totally deserved it because you were negative but now you've been to the doctor and gotten your negativity fixed.

Yes, I'm just gonna totally ignore all that.

First, you saying something innocuous and him going

"I'm not fucking stupid, I know what you're saying. What I'M SAYING IS [proceeds to explain his statement via yelling]...

sounds like "abusive anger", and this

*insert me asking him to please not curse or yell at me*...I wasn't trying to cuss and yell at you, I was explaining my point and couldn't get it done

sounds like "countering", and this

because you keep talking over me! I had this happen in my last goddamn relationship and I'll be damned if it happens in this one!"

sounds like "accusing and blaming".

When you get abusive anger, you respond with "Cut it out!" or "I am going to hang up now," and then you hang up.

When you get countering, you go "Cut it out!" or "aha, so that's what you believe!" or "so you say".

When you get accusing and blaming, you say "Cut it out!" or "Stop accusing and blaming me right now! Stop it!"

If this were a pattern, I would say that he was being verbally abusive.

Similar things have happened a few times in the past month or two sounds like it is a pattern.

It's very unlike him. Actually it sounds like it is like him, and you are just now finding this out.

Now, it's possible that he doesn't intend to be verbally abusive or he just doesn't know any better or he just can't figure out right from wrong. Any of those things is completely possible and can really be a problem for people who have been verbally abused - they don't know what is reasonable to say and what is not.

Fortunately, the response is the same no matter what the explanation is. Actually, the response is the same even if these incidents were one-offs and not part of a pattern. If you want the full scripts, get The Verbally Abusive Relationship by Patricia Evans.

What you should not do is put lots of effort into explaining to him, very sensitively and empathetically, why you were not trying to be condescending and why you only meant to tip him off about something that happened on your shift, and so on, and so on. For one thing, that hasn't gotten you good results so far. For another, and the Evans book explains this very well, is that the one thing that keeps people hooked into abusive relationships is the belief that they can explain things to their partner and they just have to figure out the right way to put it so the partner will understand.

No. No discussion. When he does stuff like this you shut him down and you don't let him drag you into it.
posted by tel3path at 7:01 AM on April 16, 2013 [17 favorites]

See, the thing is, the fact that he is being verbally abusive to you (and that it started after a few months of niceness, a classic pattern for abusers) leads me to doubt his whole story about the ex. Abusers also like to tell you about their psycho exes.

I am not saying he is one, I don't know the man. But he is acting like one. And that puts me on my guard.

If he is taking trauma out on you, that is unfair and he needs to know it. He needs to get help. If he refuses, well honestly, you need to get out. One, because that is traumatic for you and just perpetuates the pain (and eventually you will need counseling as well) and two, because if he refuses to get help but relies on you as his dumping ground, then you are just enabling his behavior.

But please be careful. What he is doing is not ok and not normal. And it would scare me, honestly, to be in a relationship with someone prone to unpredictable violent outbursts.
posted by emjaybee at 7:06 AM on April 16, 2013 [31 favorites]

I've talked about this before. It is a classic debating tactic for bullies, very obvious once you look for it:

The Debate: "It's your turn to take out the trash."
Then the bully realizes that he is wrong, and starts the Argument, which is a meta-debate.

The Argument: "You are raising your voice." or "You interrupted me when I stopped to take a breath."
Then the bully realizes that he is not going to win the Argument either, and starts the Fight, which is where the Argument expands to fill the entire length and breadth of the relationship.

The Fight: "You never take my feelings into account! You constantly criticize me!"
If you back down in either the Argument or the Fight (which you will eventually do because you think it isn't worth breaking up with this person over whose turn it is to take the trash out), the bully forces you to admit that you were wrong about the Debate as well, even though none of that stuff has anything to do with whose turn it is to take the trash out.

This may all be totally unconscious behavior by the bully, but you cannot stop this loop, because any attempt to becomes ammunition for the Fight: "You always run away when I'm trying to discuss things with you!"

If he refuses to talk to someone about this pattern of behavior, it will never, ever stop. I speak from experience here.
posted by Etrigan at 7:08 AM on April 16, 2013 [81 favorites]

We all have a past, we all have previous relationships that color our current outlooks. BUT. You can't hold a new person accountable for things the last person did.

If what he says about his last relationship is true (but I kind of think maybe you aren't getting the whole story there) then clearly he hasn't dealt with that trauma in a way that makes him capable of having a good relationship.

This is not behavior that you have to put up with.
posted by magnetsphere at 7:19 AM on April 16, 2013 [3 favorites]

I think it goes something like this: "A couple of times lately you've shouted at me and started gaslighting me about acting like your ex. Is there something you want to tell me? No? Okay, the next time you do either will be the last time you speak to me. Ever. Is that clear?"

It doesn't matter if it's clear, he can either comply or GTFO. Stop excusing his behavior, stop excusing your past abuse (there is no such thing as justifiable abuse), and draw a line between what is okay and what is not. You both need to do some boundary work.

Are you wanting to talk to him without starting an argument because you are afraid of him? If that's true, please reach out to someone who can help you. If you're just afraid of conflict, please know that you are worth an argument to demand to be treated fairly and kindly.
posted by Lyn Never at 7:33 AM on April 16, 2013 [8 favorites]

How much random shouting at you are you going to put up with before you call it quits? We accept the love we feel we deserve.

Just to set the record straight
1. It is not acceptable to compare your current partner to your ex in a negative light. Ever. The partner and the ex are two completely different people. Any "You're acting just like x" is not ok.

2. I agree that abusive people sometimes call their exes crazy. It can be a huge part of their gas-lighting tactics at the end of their past relationship so take his judgment on his ex with a grain of salt.

3. How long have you been going out with him? If it's just a few months, he may be just beginning to show his few colors. The beginning of a relationship is always pretty rosy and then both parties learn about how the other is actually a human being instead of a god/goddess.

AKA this has to stop. Like seriously stop. Or you need to kick the trash to the curb.
posted by donut_princess at 7:37 AM on April 16, 2013 [7 favorites]

I had this happen in my last goddamn relationship and I'll be damned if it happens in this one!"

The next time he does it, simply stop fold your arms and wait. When he's done, say "Lately you have been yelling at me that the things I do are just like your ex. That is not fair to me, and it needs to stop. So, make your choice: stop yelling and speak with me with respect, or watch as I become exactly like your ex, by being a person you're no longer in a relationship with. Take your pick."

Then see what his reaction is, and stick to your guns. If he can't calm down, respect the boundary and apologize, then he's a person who needs to be in therapy, not in a relationship that's triggering him.
posted by davejay at 7:46 AM on April 16, 2013 [6 favorites]

I never yell but a couple times, when I've gotten unreasonably worked up and combative, my husband said, slowly:

Sweetie. I am on your side.

I don't know why but those words just take me right out of whatever weird emo vortex I am getting sucked into.
posted by rada at 7:49 AM on April 16, 2013 [9 favorites]

This is verbal abuse. FULL STOP.
posted by Lescha at 7:56 AM on April 16, 2013 [7 favorites]

I don't want to irritate him further by bringing this up [....] I'd just like to sit down one day and explain all this to him...but I'm not sure how to go about it without causing further issues.

I'm no relationship expert, but this worries me. The behavior you describe sounds *designed* to cow you and to rob you of a full voice in your relationship.
posted by bunderful at 7:59 AM on April 16, 2013 [16 favorites]

Everyone's got their own idea of how to treat people, and how they themself want to be treated.

If both members of a couple agree on that stuff, it's easy for them to get along. If they disagree in small ways, they can usually hash it out.

But sometimes two people just disagree too strongly to get along. It doesn't have to be anyone's fault. You can both be perfectly nice decent people and still just not see eye-to-eye on questions like "What counts as respectful behavior?" or "What's a fair way to express disagreement?"

And in cases like that, often the best thing to do is break up. Not because there's anything wrong with either of you, not because either of you is unworthy of love or anything like that, but simply because it's too hard to make things work. If you can't have a conversation without it turning into a fight, then you can't have a relationship, no matter how wonderful both of you are.

Reading your stories about fights with your boyfriend, the kindest interpretation I can think of is "Yeah, these are two people whose communication styles just don't work together."

Maybe it's worse than that. Maybe he really is a bully or an abuser as others are suggesting — in which case it's definitely time to leave. But even if he's a perfectly nice guy, it sounds like the two of you are so badly mismatched that you can't have a conversation without one or the other of you feeling insulted and disrespected. And when you're that badly mismatched, that means it's time to end things. I'm sorry.
posted by Now there are two. There are two _______. at 8:03 AM on April 16, 2013 [2 favorites]

[Abuse] Myth # 2: He Was Mistreated by His Ex

From "Why Does He Do That? Inside the Minds of Angry and Controlling Men" by Lundy Bancroft (pages 27-29):

In the most common version of this story, the man recounts how his ex-partner broke his heart by cheating on him, perhaps with several different men. If you ask him how he found out, he answers that "everybody" knew about it or that his friends told him. He also may say, "I caught her cheating myself," but when you press him on what he actually saw, it often turns out that he saw nothing, or that he saw her talking to some guy or riding in his car late at night, "so I could tell."

He may describe others wounds he received from a previous partner: she tried to control him; she wouldn't let him have any freedom; she expected him to wait on her hand and foot; she turned their children against him; she even "had him arrested" out of vindictiveness. What he is describing usually are his own behaviours, but he attributes them to the woman so that he is the victim.

The abusive or controlling man can draw a rich set of excuses from his past relationships. For controlling his current partner's friendships and for accusing her of cheating on him. "It's because my ex-partner hurt me so badly by cheating on me so many times, and that's why I'm so jealous and can't trust you." For throwing a temper tantrum when she asks him to clean up after himself. "My ex-partner controlled my every move, and so now it makes me furious when I feel like you're telling me what to do." He can craft an excuse to fit any of his controlling behaviors.

I recommend applying the following principle to assertions that an angry or controlling man makes about past women in his life:


It is fine to commiserate with a man about his bad experience with a previous partner, but the instant he uses her as an excuse to mistreat you, stop believing anything he tells you about that relationship and instead recognize it as a sign that he has problems with relation to women. Track down his ex-partner and talk with her as soon as possible, even if you hate her. An abuser can mistreat partner after partner in relationships, each time believing that the problems are all the woman's fault and that he is the real victim.

posted by jaguar at 9:14 AM on April 16, 2013 [34 favorites]

I'm going to disagree with the majority of the posters. I don't think this is relationship ending, yet, although it is throwing up some big red flags I think you need to pay attention to.

It sounds like you haven't yet tried to set boundaries with him and talk to him about how how his behavior is affecting you. Pretentious illiterate's script is a good one to start with. At the end of that conversation, you should be walking away with an apology and clear boundaries that are set by you (e.g. "I will not accept being yelled at. If you yell at me, I will hang up/leave the room"). Then follow through and see what happens.

The correct response is for him to calm down and apologize, and to take steps to stop it from happening in the future. The incorrect response is to follow you/escalate/stonewall. If the latter happens, then you know this is abusive rather than just poor communication and it's time to leave.
posted by zug at 9:26 AM on April 16, 2013 [2 favorites]

Oh, one more thing...

but I'm not sure how to go about it without causing further issues.

I just exited a relationship where she and I both reached a point where we felt this way about raising relationships issues with the other person. It was a pretty big pair of red flags for us, and it was a good reason to stop dating. She's a great person, and I'm not a terrible one, so it isn't about whether or not the person is bad -- it's just that a relationship should always support discussion of relationship issues, so when that's off the table for any reason, it isn't a good relationship to maintain.
posted by davejay at 9:33 AM on April 16, 2013 [2 favorites]

I would be pretty wary of this guy, and I would take what he says about his ex with a grain of salt.

It sounds like he is defensive about how he is treated, to the point of feeling it is fine to verbally abuse you when he feels threatened.

It also sounds like he's made a point of telling you about "made up" incidences of abuse, both verbal and physical, with his ex. Are you absolutely sure those are "made up"? Is it possible he treated her the way he is now treating you, and she left him for it? Is it possible his verbal abuse escalated to violence against her, and she reported it, and he has pre-emptively assured you that the violence was "made up" in case you found out about the reports from other sources?

I'm not saying that's what's happened or is happening; I'm saying these are things you need to consider. He could just be so traumatized from a past experience that he's now defending himself against imagined slights out of fear; or, he could be a serial abuser just leaving his "honeymoon phase" with you and starting to escalate into a pattern of abuse that could become physical.

Either way, the way he is treating you now is not okay, and you need to make him stop - either by talking it through and letting him know you won't stand for it, or by ditching him.
posted by kythuen at 9:46 AM on April 16, 2013 [3 favorites]

Another article on emotional abuse that draws strongly from Bancroft's work points out that he may be turning on you now precisely because your "united front" against his ex is no longer drawing you two together.

Also abusers are so adept at distorting the reality of what happened that they can easily get others, especially their new mates to see them as the victims and their ex-mates as the perpetrators. I know I have been guilty of buying my ex-boyfriends victim stories.

Initially my abusers seem so innocent, loving, caring, and sensitive it is hard for me to believe they could have ever been abusive. My last abusive mate actually went to jail for physically abusing his wife and I believed during most of my relationship with him that he was the victim and she had wrongly accused him of abuse.

I felt so bad for my ex when he told me his victim story that I shared his dislike and anger for the woman who made his life hell. In fact this particular mate had quite a long history of being the victim of abuse, just like me, so I really empathized with him. I believed his innocence and I supported him in his beliefs.

"He may remain on good behavior with his new girlfriend even longer than he did with [his ex] because he is motivated by his campaign against [the ex]. Of course, his other side will slip out sooner or later, but by that time he can blame it all on how badly [his ex] hurt him. His girlfriend thus gets sucked into breaking her back trying to prove that she’s a good woman—unlike [his ex]. By the time his selfish and abusive side finally gets so bad that his new girlfriend can’t rationalize it away any more, she’s in pretty deep. She may even have married him by that time. For her to accept that he is an abuser, she would have to face what a terrible wrong she did to [his ex-girlfriend], and that would be quite a bitter pill to swallow. So what tends to happen instead is that his new partner becomes angrier and angrier at [the ex] for the way she is being treated by him, believing that [the ex] 'made him this way' by hurting him so badly." -- Lundy Bancroft

(edits mine, just because the Bancroft quote was addressing the ex-girlfriend in the second person and all the "you"s made it confusing to read in this context.)

Is it possible that all the blame he and you were channeling at his ex is now being directed at you? That might explain the timing a bit.
posted by jaguar at 10:01 AM on April 16, 2013 [7 favorites]

Just a possibility: He's being manipulative. He told you he was abused but uses this as a way of "warning" you against sharing any criticism at all. He kind of threatens to call you abusive and he can feel free to take on a preemptive overly defensive posture and get you to feel bad for him not being able to manage his emotions.

In the end, he's complicated and you'll never be able to talk to him like you should until he drops this bs. And he won't.
posted by discopolo at 10:49 AM on April 16, 2013 [3 favorites]

As I was reading your question, I also thought his claims about his ex sounded like bullshit and that he was very likely an abuser.

Everything you describe fits the classic pattern for how this type of relationship starts. For your sake, I'm glad you wrote this question.
posted by jbenben at 10:54 AM on April 16, 2013 [3 favorites]

I think it's pretty uncharitable that many folks are instantly discounting his claims of abuse. My past relationships have certainly impacted how I act in my current one, for better or worse.

This is a problem, yes. A few good suggestions have been made regarding the phrasing and timings of your personal conversation. If you can't resolve it on your own, and therapy is refused, then it's time to break it off.
posted by hwyengr at 10:58 AM on April 16, 2013 [2 favorites]

I think it's pretty uncharitable that many folks are instantly discounting his claims of abuse.

Only because he's now being abusive. Controlling and abusive men often claim to have been abused in past relationships as a way of rationalizing or defending their own abusive behavior.

If he claimed to have been abused and was therefore now acting anxious or skittish or stand-offish or any other myriad ways that abuse survivors deal with their trauma, I think everyone would counsel patience and therapy. But using past abuse as an excuse or reason for current abuse is abusive, full stop, and it throws his claims into doubt.
posted by jaguar at 11:07 AM on April 16, 2013 [6 favorites]

Look, baring an actual disorder of some specific type he is entirely responsible and owns his behavior. Blaming it on someone else? Kind of a bullshit move. Sometimes in long term relationships you might get a pass on this kind of behavior if it is an isolated incident in the midst of stress, but multiple times a month with someone still a boyfriend is teetering pretty close to "get your fucking shit together and act like an adult or get the hell out" territory.

Yeah, absolutely it may be worth a round or two of attempting to resolve the situation and get things back on track. But, that is a two way street and not something entirely on your shoulders to achieve.

If he indeed has suffered abuse to the extent where it is causing these behaviors he needs to address it immediately with some form of therapy, he need to work to transcend it somehow, not wallow in it and be defensive about it. This could take a long while, but the mark of being in a relationship and being serious about it when you suffer from x_$ disorder is working in good faith to make it better, not running away from it.

TL/DR Therapy if needed, big boy pants if not needed.
posted by edgeways at 11:14 AM on April 16, 2013 [6 favorites]

I think so many people are having a knee-jerk reaction to this because we've been there, done that.
My last relationship was abusive and stated off with tear-jerking stories about how his ex had abused/cheated/screwed him over and how she was CRAZY and borderline and bipolar and how she stalked and harassed him and even filed a false police report. etc, ect.
So kind, compassionate, co-dependent me 'took care of him'. His friends told me, 'He's been so wronged by women, take care of him.'
It wasn't long before his anger towards his ex was being pointed at me, 'Oh no! You're not going to pull that on me, she used to pull that on me and I'm NOT going to take it from you!" I was all like, awe, poor guy, he's all PTSD'd up!
Fast forward a year and I'm the one filing a police report against him because he attempted to strangle me and then proceeded to stalk and harass me endlessly when I attempted to end the relationship. And yep, everyone he knows was told I'm a wingnut insane loony who allegedly conspired with my friend to file a false report to 'get him quickly out of the picture so I could date other men that she had lined up for me.' No joke.
Anyways, point being... there are a LOT of red flags in your post. And really, you can and should dump a guy *just for* raging and swearing at you and then justifying it. Even once.
posted by tenaciousmoon at 11:21 AM on April 16, 2013 [19 favorites]

I cannot agree more that he is using his ex to abuse, get away with bad behavior, and guilt trip you.

My ex did the same. He would always talk about all the nice things he did for her - funny thing, he never did any of those "nice things" for me - and how she treated him so bad. "Oh, woe is me, I was the perfect boyfriend and she was awful." Then come to find out he was the most neglectful, selfish, manipulative person I could have been with. Truly I feel sorry for him and he needs therapy. It's not a surprise that we both only lasted 2 years each with him. I think that's as long as he could keep the ruse going.

Because he had a bad relationship, it does not excuse his behavior. I bet that when you tried to talk to him about it before he brought up a story about his "abusive ex", which may be why you even know about it in the first place.

Try talking to him.

Use "I feel" language. Be calm. Make a list of things you want to talk about so you don't get side tracked. Ask that he let you speak, then you let him speak, don't talk over each other.

See if he did have a trigger for something you said or did. You could also be doing something wrong and probably aren't perfect. Maybe it's a miscommunication. See if it can get better.

However: If he can't get through that calm conversation without doing the same thing, then I think it's a pattern and you need to consider if that's the relationship you want. Sometimes things like this don't show up for a while because people are good at hiding it or duping you into believing it's okay.
posted by Crystalinne at 11:55 AM on April 16, 2013 [3 favorites]

Mod note: This is a followup from the asker.
I should have mentioned originally, I've met said ex and had to deal with her multiple times. She is without a doubt psychotic and an abuser if I've ever seen one. Suffice to say I also *do* have tangible proof that there was severe abuse from her. He isn't lying about that.
posted by cortex (staff) at 12:24 PM on April 16, 2013

It's good that part of his story checks out. However, I would stand by my earlier recommendation that a person who is screaming and hair-trigger and accusatory to you, whom you are worried about upsetting just by having a normal conversation, is someone who needs to either get help right away to deal with their problems or that you don't need to be with. That's no way for you to live, and it doesn't help him either.

The abuse he may have experienced is no excuse for being abusive to you. And if he needs help that severely, he needs a trained counselor to help him more than he needs a partner who becomes his dumping ground.
posted by emjaybee at 12:47 PM on April 16, 2013 [14 favorites]

I find it fascinating that you're more concerned about assuring us that your BF is a victim, than in seeing that you are becoming a victim yourself.

It doesn't matter. The two of them together may have been some kind of crazy-pants-love-machine. Let's remember, he picked her and stayed with her for however long they were together.

You don't have to do that. Don't really care all that much about him. Much more worried about you.

At the end of the day, so what? Being abused doesn't give one permission to abuse someone else.

I'll reiterate, if he sees that he has a problem, and will agree to go to therapy, then there's a slim hope for your relationship.

If he continues to be angry, sullen, blaming and violent in his words, then no.

Either way, please do not live with this man, share a bank account with him or loan/give him money.

Thank you.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 2:03 PM on April 16, 2013 [9 favorites]

random thought: i wonder if your bf's change of behavior is coinciding with the end of his ex's harassment. it almost sounds as if now that he is not be harassed by her he is feeling the anger/hurt of what happened and unfortunately taking some of it out on you. sometimes we can't really process our feelings until we feel safe and that could be what is causing him to suddenly be so emotional and rude to you. i'm not excusing his behavior in any way. it isn't acceptable and you do need to address it with him. since others here have given you some good ways to express that i'll just agree with their suggestions.
posted by wildflower at 1:09 PM on April 17, 2013

One more thing after your update:

I dated a different guy. Right out the gate, he mentioned his ex-girlfriend was mean, bi-polar and off her meds and basically just a hot mess to deal with.

Cue my trepidation when I was alone at his place one day and she stopped by to pick up some stuff. She seemed perfectly pleasant if a little awkward once she put it together than I was his new girlfriend. We chit-chatted and I helped move stuff. She asked how long we'd been together and I said, "We met in May," (my belief was they'd split up the previous February) and she shut down like a switch. She didn't go crazy on me, but the air chilled and she got a little snippy, then high-tailed it out of there.

Eighteen months later, as I was packing my own stuff to move out of his house, I found out about his new girlfriend of almost six months. Turns out he was a shingler big time -- in other words, a serial cheater who lied and lied and lied. I'm not saying that your guy is a liar or a cheater -- I'm just saying that in my case, I was already primed to blow off anything weird from his ex (like and email saying, "Hi, I'm still living with your boyfriend because we're still together" -- like his next girlfriend got from me) because he already laid the groundwork for me to perceive her as a crazy lady. (Also turned out he'd dumped his ex before me in JULY, two months after we got things going. IMO, she handled that news like one classy broad instead of a raving bitch off her meds.)

So just . . . tread carefully. And regardless of what happened to him, when, or what she's like, YOU deserve better than this RIGHT NOW.
posted by mibo at 3:41 PM on April 17, 2013 [3 favorites]

« Older Help me avoid developing a bad back   |   Can you recommend any well-grounded books or... Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.