Here we go again...?
June 2, 2013 7:03 AM   Subscribe

My long-term partner and I had relationship problems, spent some time apart, and are in the process of getting our lives back into one home. Now that I've moved my stuff back in, problems that I thought we'd dealt with are happening again. Is it time to go back to therapy or is there something else I can be doing?

Two of the major stress areas for us have been food and travel, along with my partner*'s anxieties about abandonment and my own anger management issues, both of which stem from childhood experiences.

My partner is not a picky eater, but has trouble articulating what they want to eat until it's suggested to them. This can lead to some friction when we're in a new place, and at its worst it has led to my partner agreeing to eat at a place, letting me order, and then refusing to eat anything because they felt too rushed, or like it was the wrong place, or just plain not in the mood.

Travel is an interesting problem because I have a very good sense of location and direction whilst - and I say this with all the love in the world - my partner has absolutely none, and really struggles to follow directions, even when they're given by a GPS (habitually turning left instead of right, inventing turns, going the wrong way down one-way streets and so on).

We separated in large part because we weren't communicating, but these two things were also huge issues. I was the one who decided that we needed time apart, and I was also responsible for getting us into therapy. I was already seeing a therapist for my anger problems and continue to do so. My partner saw a therapist about the abandonment anxiety, but stopped going after six weeks, with the therapist's blessing.

Both the food and travel stress were things that we worked hard on whilst we were separated and in couples' therapy. We came up with a system for both: with food, we planned out a menu for the week, even if we were going to be somewhere new (it didn't have to be detailed, but "Thai on Wednesday, Italian Thursday, Steak on Friday" did the job). As far as the travel was concerned, we'd long held that I was responsible for navigating and that should we get separated it was up to me to find my partner or, if that wasn't possible, find the simplest possible directions that I could for them and talk them through getting to my location.

Whilst I was living separately from my partner we did *brilliantly*. We took a couple of vacations together in the kind of countries with only a notional sense of signposting and managed to get around without arguing. We also managed to get through the food problems with minimal fuss by sticking to our menu system. I was really proud and really hopeful that we'd found a way to deal with our problems. The future looked rosy.

I've been properly moved back for about five days (having spent increasing proportions of my time at our joint home for about a month before that), and whilst things at first seemed to be going well, this weekend both the travel and food nightmares reared their heads. In a restaurant, my partner refused to eat any of the food whilst insisting that I ate ("you brought us here, so you eat something, otherwise you'll make us both look like fools" was one of the things I was told). My partner finally agreed to eat something later on at a different restaurant. The travel problem occurred after my partner exited a building from a different door than the one through which they entered, leading to a situation where they ended up walking into a pretty rough neighbourhood. At the time I was unable to come and find them, as I was stuck on a train, but I found their location using Find My Friends and guided my partner to a bus stop on a familiar route. I did this whilst my partner was screaming obscenities at me down the phone and telling me that they knew I was going to abandon them again. I had remained pretty calm, but at one point snapped "Just what do you expect me to be able to do right now?" which is what set off the tirade.

Since then my partner has barely stopped apologising and keeps telling me how they "know [they've] screwed up [their] chances" and then begs me not to leave. I've been as soothing and as calming as I can, promising that I haven't changed my mind and that I do love them.

I haven't changed my mind about staying, but I can't deny that I've had a bit of a wobble over the last 24 hours, and wondered just how long my tether might be and whether I'm coming to the end of it. I think that we should go back to therapy - and have said so - but my partner tells me that they think that it would be pointless and that we just need to try harder.

Is trying harder enough, MeFi, or is more therapy what we need?

*trying to keep this anonymous, so gender is obscured with clunky pronouns. Apologies.
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (44 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
The way he flipped out on you on the phone when he was lost screams "more therapy" to me. Therapy can be part of "trying harder." But this doesn't seem like something that will resolve on its own.

The other thing is, I don't know if I would have the patience to be with your partner. Do you?
posted by J. Wilson at 7:13 AM on June 2, 2013 [2 favorites]

Hmm. It strikes me as deeply weird that a therapist was to your partner, 'yay, six weeks, you are healed' and then your partner is screaming at you because he is lost? I mean, I sympathize with the getting lost thing; in Manhattan I was forever confusing east and west. But I have anger problems of my own, and if I ended up screaming at the person who was trying to get me out of a bad neighborhood, I would definitely be working on it in therapy.

I also don't understand this restaurant thing.

In short, if therapy worked before, why not go back now.
posted by angrycat at 7:14 AM on June 2, 2013 [5 favorites]

This doesn't sound like an issue that needs couples therapy; this sounds like an issue that needs individual therapy, and not on your end. To be blunt, these issues make your partner seem like a whiny baby. The restaurant thing in particular is just insane. Eat something! Order some bread and a salad, for god's sake! And learn to use a maps app like the rest of us adult humans in the modern world. It's is really, really not your responsibility to help him get on a bus and then take abuse when it doesn't work out for him.

Honestly, it sounds like you're working really hard here to come up with solutions that mask his issues in such a way that makes him tolerable to be around, and that doesn't sound very fun long-term. He needs to get his shit together, pronto, and that's not something you can do for him.
posted by something something at 7:16 AM on June 2, 2013 [39 favorites]

I did this whilst my partner was screaming obscenities at me down the phone and telling me that they knew I was going to abandon them again.

Well, I think that's a fear that should be discussed with a therapist, boy howdy.

What specific actions is your partner planning to take as a part of 'trying harder'? If s/he doesn't know, then more therapy can help you both figure those things out.
posted by jacquilynne at 7:18 AM on June 2, 2013 [3 favorites]

(Sorry about the assumed pronouns, which I have realized upon review. I'm a heterosexual lady and was reading from my perspective.)
posted by something something at 7:19 AM on June 2, 2013

Therapy for sure, but also, it seems like from your perspective, all of your relationship problems stem from your partner's issues. This cannot possibly be the case.

Also, why do you have to travel together at all? Lots of couples travel separately. Don't go out to restaurants if you don't do well there together.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 7:20 AM on June 2, 2013 [7 favorites]

Couples therapy this time, and I'd suggest you consider that perhaps this person did not really have their therapist's blessing to stop going to therapy.

Also, consider that you should stop re-merging your lives, and in fact separate again, for good this time. What this seems to boil down to is a person who refuses to take responsibility for themselves in basic, fundamental ways (what's more fundamental than food and navigation?) and insisting another person take responsibility for them, via verbal abuse and guilt. Nobody should have to put up with being treated like that. Nobody.

No matter what they might tell you, leaving because you are being abused is not abandoning them, and their preemptive insistence you're going to leave them is a tacit admission that they know you should. And you should, in my opinion.
posted by davejay at 7:23 AM on June 2, 2013 [17 favorites]

Therapy for sure, but also, it seems like from your perspective, all of your relationship problems stem from your partner's issues. This cannot possibly be the case.

Yeah, I notice that your issues are summed up as "my anger issues" and then there's a lot of minutiae about things your partner does.
posted by BibiRose at 7:23 AM on June 2, 2013 [4 favorites]

Is trying harder enough, MeFi, or is more therapy what we need?
If your partner is refusing to go back to therapy, then the only option (that you've presented us with) that is left is trying harder. But you need to figure out exactly what that is going to mean for each person in your relationship (both actions and expectations). Right now this is far too one-sided.

It also sounds like you might have deviated from the system that was working while you lived apart now that you are living in one household.
posted by sm1tten at 7:25 AM on June 2, 2013

I'm not sure therapy and trying harder are mutually exclusive. "Try harder" is extremely abstract. Going to therapy is a specific action. Isn't going to therapy one of the many ways a couple can try harder?

Your analysis of the relationship seems lacking. I say that constructively, not harshly. You identify two major stress areas, food and travel, but you basically blame both on your partner ("has trouble articulating," "really struggles"). You admit anger management issues, but your scenarios depict your partner as the one with those issues ("you'll make us both look like fools," "screaming obscenities at me").

Is trying harder enough, MeFi, or is more therapy what we need?

The problem with this question is that it presumes you're going to stick out the relationship—yet that doesn't appear to be 100 percent emotionally accurate, because you talk about feeling near the end of your tether. If you're going to stay, then yes, you need to try harder and apply strategies to work through these problems, or else endure and accept them.

To be honest, your interactions sound remarkably immature. If I understand the restaurant situation: Both of you decide where to eat, possibly with some friction, and once there your partner refuses to eat; then later, you both go to a second restaurant where your partner eats. That's silly as an individual occurrence, but just plain childish as a pattern. Similarly, you describe a situation where your partner left a building from a wrong door and consequently needed you to "come and find them"? That's just not something that happens to grown-ups.

Now, there's a perspective question. Did your partner, having left the building from the "wrong door," call you frustrated and demand that you come to help? Or did you learn that your partner had taken a misstep and, feeling frustrated yourself, try to take corrective control? Again, it's hard to tell from your question (as others have also noted). But the threshold issue is whether you want to iron out these problems and continue the relationship. That's a big piece to presume when it's not clear you do.
posted by cribcage at 7:28 AM on June 2, 2013 [18 favorites]

You haven't said much about how your anger issues manifest themselves in how you interact with your partner. Are you short with them? Prone to snapping at them? Are you rushing them or otherwise pressuring them in a way that's making them feel flustered and worsening the problem? The restaurant thing, in particular, sounds like anxiety -- a lot of people kind of hit a wall when they get anxious and just avoid dealing with the issue entirely. When you're sitting in the restaurant getting ready to order, what kind of conversation are you having with your partner? Are you making jokes about how they better know what they want? Are you asking them in an irritated tone if they're ready? Are you otherwise acting in a way that anticipates there being a problem? Your partner may just be getting overwhelmed with the anxiety of not wanting to "mess up" and just shutting down entirely.

Which isn't to say that such anxiety isn't ultimately your partner's issue to sort out -- it totally is. But there may be a part you're playing in it flaring up so badly that your partner's getting so flustered.
posted by Narrative Priorities at 7:30 AM on June 2, 2013 [9 favorites]

The way you tell this story, it seems like your partner is really insane. I mean, can't eat in restaurants? Screams obscenities at you when you are trying to help them find their way home? Have they been diagnosed with some serious mental health issue?

I say this knowing a lot of people who have mental health diagnoses and others who are simply kind of weird. But most of them, even the ones that have a lot of issues, don't yell obscenities and can manage to feed themselves in public. This just seems really extreme to me (and to many other people here). Does it seem that way to you? If not, why not?

It's hard to get a feel for what kind of person either you or your partner are from your question. I can't tell if you're humiliating them in the restaurant, or yelling angry directions at them (the anger issues) or if they just do this stuff out of the blue. I also can't tell if this happens *only* in these circumstances or at other times too. And I'm not sure why restaurants and travel are so important to your relationship.

A few questions came up while reading your post, that I think really make a difference as to the answer.

- What are your anger management issues? How might these affect your partner? Do you scream obscenities at them too?

- Why are travel and restaurants such a big deal in your relationship? Are you on a round-the-world trip? Do you eat out for every meal? I mean, travel and eating out probably occur, under normal circumstances, a few times a year and a few times a week. Where else do these same sorts of problems manifest? What would happen if you just didn't travel or eat out together but did everything else together?

- Can you give other examples of good things you enjoy together and bad things that happen when not traveling or in restaurants?
posted by 3491again at 7:30 AM on June 2, 2013 [12 favorites]

One more thing: are you sure you have anger management issues, or are you self-diagnosing (or your partner is diagnosing you) because you're feeling very frustrated by and angry at your partner's behavior?

Couples therapy will allow your therapist to weigh your interactions and respective points of view when guiding you through the process.
posted by davejay at 7:32 AM on June 2, 2013 [8 favorites]

I think that if you've proven during the separation period that the two of you *can* manage these issues gracefully, you should make some allowances for transition stress during this period where you're moving back in together.

Having said that, this thing where you are responsible for your partner's navigation when you are not together is ridiculous. I say this with someone with dyscalculia - I struggle to tell my left from my right, read a clock, read a map, send text message and any number of other things. There is an entire quadrant of the city we've lived in for seven years of which I have no comprehension - I don't understand how it connects to the other bits, and I probably never will.

None of that is my partner's problem because I am an autonomous adult, responsible for myself. I mean, I have called my partner to say "I'm here, how do I get there?" but I recognise he's helping me, not tasking him with proving his love to me by rescuing me. And if he can't help or isn't available, in the worst case scenario I can walk into a business and call a cab. In other words, it is my problem to solve, not his.

If your partner is struggling to the degree you report, he or she should be assessed for likely developmental disorders, including co-morbid ADHD. With a diagnosis, there are a host of training and coping mechanisms and adaptive devices available from specialists. You guys seem to have access to a number of mental health professionals, so I'd see if you can get a referral for assessment.
posted by DarlingBri at 7:48 AM on June 2, 2013 [13 favorites]

A couple things that spring to mind that I don't think that I've seen by other posters that may or may not help:

• Rather than just travel or eating issues, perhaps there is a problem with an underlying anxiety disorder and/or depression. I've seen people do the same things you describe, including lashing out at and ...when they started treatment for another disorder with CBT and/or medications, things changed. Just an idea that perhaps both you and your partner independently visit a mental health specialist (not just a therapist) to confirm that everything is okay and if not, can it be improved.

• What does your partner normally do when he/she (apologize for the pronouns, I can't figure this out from the question and/or if there is a preference) is alone for eating and directions? Have you asked your partner what he/she wants to do that is not contingent on you? So for directions. Perhaps your partner panics with a state of anxiety and doesn't know what to do next. Can a therapist walk through with your partner what to do? (i.e. look at the blue dot on the GPS, ask a question, breathe). Because that sounds painful and maybe it hasn't occurred to your partner to try another approach that doesn't require other people taking the reins.

• So your partner doesn't eat. Why is it a problem for you? As long as your partner is okay with this, yet another option may be eat, don't worry about it- your partner grabs a snack later. But it may require letting go. From the description of the problem, I think these incidents will still happen. But I think telling your partner to eat at the moment may increase whatever anxiety is involved for both of you.

posted by Wolfster at 7:55 AM on June 2, 2013 [3 favorites]

That's just not something that happens to grown-ups.

Indeed. I feel like we've only heard part of this story because I find it somewhat confusing. Not because I don't believe these things can happen (I am doomed if I get off a subway at the wrong exit and need to find my way around but hey I have a smart phone for just this reason and am a grown-ass lady and need to handle this) but because the level of "My partner's inabilities are my problems to solve and fix AND they get mad at me while I am helping them" seems like more of a parent/child relationship than one that two adults have with each other unless one of them has a serious metal illness that is not being adequately treated/managed.

So I'd suggest back to therapy for your partner (or another way of being like "hey what happened in the restaurant was against the rules, we need to do it again so it works or stop going to restaurants") and if I were you as an exercise I'd try writing this question from your partner's perspective, trying to be charitable towards their point of view, and see if you can see points where a different approach from you might have had positive effects on the outcome. Clearly the deal you have isn't totally working. Your partner has abandonment issues and actually you are thinking of abandoning them (which is an acceptable outcome in a relationship that is not working) and that seems to be getting in the way of working on things.

Food/directions are basic level human things that people need to manage. Can your partner stay live and fed and oriented without you? What is it about the you+them interactions that makes this all go sideways?
posted by jessamyn at 8:03 AM on June 2, 2013 [7 favorites]

I think you both have big issues that need be addressed. Therapy, both individual and joint, is a good way to do so.

I also have the strong belief that some couples are better off or do better with each other when they live separately. Not every couple can and should live together. I know married people that live in separate cities and others who just live in different apartments in the same city. That may be one solution for you and your partner to consider.
posted by JohnnyGunn at 8:11 AM on June 2, 2013 [4 favorites]

It might be that the way you "help" them with their issues (sense of direction, food choices) actually strongly exacerbates their anxiety. Why do you have to go find them, for example? Why not let them figure it out, slowly but surely, or let them lead the way in terms of what assistance they need?

The common thread in these situations, since you mention your anger issues, could be that you are being unconsciously controlling in your interactions, which may be a trigger for your partner's anxiety and abandonment issues. Since "work harder at it" is an option, maybe you should really focus on your tone and your body language when you have these conversations with your partner, to minimize any aggressiveness or condescending undercurrents.
posted by lydhre at 8:47 AM on June 2, 2013 [5 favorites]

I have direction issues on the level of your partner's (although I would never shout obscenities at anyone trying to help me) and I completely get the food thing, believe it or not. I am 1000% willing to bet food is a means of expressing some form of control. Whether this is malicious or just plain screwed up (partner can't figure out a better way to express this need for control). Partner may feel they can't make decisions or exercise agency in any other place, but they can put what they want or don't want in their body.

The directions thing, well, I will not excuse partner's behavior. I will say I have gotten myself into massive crying jags in my car not knowing where I was. My ex sometimes would be extremely caring and kind in guiding me home on my cell, and other times would, well, not. Screw the internet, the GPS is what impacted my life in the most profound way, but I still have to pay attention, turn around, and sometimes reroute even with that. In short, it is my responsibility.

I think lydhre has a great point-- working harder at this might mean much more therapy for partner, and a long look at your self for areas of imbalance in terms of partner. The time apart may have put you both on more equal footing in terms of choices and decision-making, and now that you are back together, that is gone.
posted by oflinkey at 9:12 AM on June 2, 2013

Is trying harder enough, MeFi, or is more therapy what we need?

'Trying harder' is pretty vague. What would it consist of, in your partner's eyes? What concrete steps would it require them, and/or you, to take? How would you measure whether or not it was working? Because there's some significant stuff going on here, and "I'll make more of an effort not to do [thing]" is clearly not going to cut it.

Also, I'm not sure that 'more therapy' is going to cut it either unless your partner is committed to changing their behaviour. It's notable that you present the issues here as things your partner is bad at or has trouble with doing - "struggles to follow directions", "has trouble articulating what they want to eat". But the examples you give are not examples of that.

Leaving a building through a different door and getting hopelessly lost in a part of town you don't know? Okay, that's having a poor sense of direction. But a) expecting you to get them out of the situation immediately no matter what your own situation is at that moment, and b) screaming obscenities at you for the idea that you'd 'abandon' them, while asking you for help? That is not about getting lost easily. That is about failing to act like a respectful, adult partner. You can put things in place to help with someone who gets lost easily, and even someone who is incapable of reading a map and following directions for whatever reason - but as a couple, there are no systems you can put in place to fix the 'acting like a furious toddler' part of the deal. That's something your partner has to deal with.

Likewise, the food issue. Your menu system would be a great solution if the problem was just "we can't agree on what to eat", or "Partner never knows/can't say what they feel like eating on a given day". But what you describe is going to a restaurant together - presumably one agreed on with your menu system - and your partner refusing to eat anything and telling you "you brought us here, so you eat something, otherwise you'll make us both look like fools". And then "agreeing" to eat something in a whole other restaurant later on, which sounds like you were trudging round different places trying to persuade your partner to eat something while they sulked at you for taking them to the first place, which, what? Again, this is not adult behaviour, and it is not the behaviour of a respectful partner. This sounds a lot more like some weird control and resentment thing than it does about the food itself. It is childish - and I mean that literally, rather than as an insult. Toddlers exert control through refusing food all the time, but this is not reasonable behaviour from an adult.

In short, your partner is behaving really, really unreasonably here, and that is not something you as a couple or you as an individual can strategize your way out of via menu plans or GPS.

There are lots of possible explanations for your partner's behaviour - childhood stuff, neurological problems re: directions, panicking really easily under stress, whatever. But no matter what's going on with them, your partner still has agency in this. They are not helpless. They are not a child. If they choose not to deal with the issues, or to only deal with them via some generic unspecified "try harder" that doesn't involve active steps like seeing a professional who might help, then they are choosing to continue on like this rather than to change things. You say that your systems were working really well when you were separated, and that the problems have only restarted after you moved back in. What I'm getting from that is that your partner is capable of behaving well with these issues - but only when scared of imminently losing you.

It's possible that you're contributing problems to the relationship too, or that there's something you're doing which is exacerbating some issues your partner has, or that the 'anger issues' include you behaving in a way which is terrible to your partner and you haven't mentioned it in the question, or whatever. But without any of that in the information you give here, it's difficult to see any of this as problems you're both contributing rather than problems your partner is contributing. I mean, yeah, maybe your partner is dealing with terrible anxiety when lost in a bad part of town, and maybe their childhood abandonment issues are triggered by the idea that you can't teleport right in there to save them, and maybe there's some particular phrasing you can use to mitigate the effects of that while talking them through directions, but when your partner is screaming obscenities at you, that isn't your fault. That is their burden, and that is something they need to fix, because there is no amount of anxiety or poor map-reading or childhood abandonment or whatever that justifies treating your partner like that.

I would ask your partner to describe what 'trying harder' means to them, discuss it, and see if you can reach a plan that sounds workable to you. For me in this situation, 'workable' would include seeking professional assistance, having measurable goals to work towards, and having ground rules in place (like, "neither of us gets to scream obscenities at the other one, no matter how stressed we're feeling"). But in doing that, you should also be clear both with yourself and with your partner that this is a problem your partner needs to get to grips with as a matter of urgency, and not a problem you can navigate them out of.
posted by Catseye at 9:17 AM on June 2, 2013 [5 favorites]

You guys seem so enmeshed. The dynamic if way off. This is exhausting and both of you are better off w/o each other.
posted by discopolo at 9:26 AM on June 2, 2013 [1 favorite]

And learn to use a maps app like the rest of us adult humans in the modern world.

My sense of direction is so bad that my RL nickname is "Wrong Way" and trust me, when stuff like this happens:

struggles to follow directions, even when they're given by a GPS (habitually turning left instead of right, inventing turns, going the wrong way down one-way streets and so on).

there is a lot more going on than simply learning how to use a map app. This lack of direction can lead to hilarious situations but can also be extremely frustrating and extremely anxiety-provoking, and I say this as someone who can roll with the punches.

These traits of yours, OP:

I have a very good sense of location and direction and your willingness to "rescue" your partner via various means

is one I would cherish in a partner. I believe your partner's anxiety and frustration is real, but there is no excuse for them to take this out on you. I would talk to your partner and ask if there is a more effective way to help, but I would also make it very clear that if the conversation escalates like that in the future you will hang up the phone. Also, your partner needs to develop tools that supplement their weak sense of directions. (In my case I have learned to be unabashed about asking for directions and will sometimes write out driving directions like cue cards.)

It does seem like there's a lot of dysfunction overall and without some kind of counseling I don't see how you two can sustain this relationship.
posted by Room 641-A at 9:34 AM on June 2, 2013

My partner saw a therapist about the abandonment anxiety, but stopped going after six weeks, with the therapist's blessing.

Did you get this information from your partner, or from the therapist? Because frankly, and I'm sorry if this seems mean or if it turns out that I'm wrong, if your partner told you this, I think that your partner is lying to you about this. I think that either your partner never entered individual therapy at all, or if s/he did, quit after 6 weeks because s/he didn't want to go anymore because it was uncomfortable and hard and upsetting.

Your partner (and possibly your couples therapist?) has made all of this about your relationship. It's not. The fact that s/he has severe anxiety issues and can't eat or move about the city alone is incredibly troubling, but that's not about your relationship. In fact, this might be a good place for the old Al-Anon motto: "You didn't cause it, you can't control it, and you can't cure it." Because none of this is about you, and for your own mental health, you need to stop making it about you or letting your partner make it about you. If your partner were an alcoholic, we'd be telling you that you can't stop the drinking and that you should stop making excuses to others and cleaning up after your partner and accepting abuse that happens when s/he is drunk, all of that applies here. You simply can't take on your partner's problems as your responsibility to mitigate or cure, because it won't work, and it'll make you both crazy.

If this relationship is going to work, you each need to be in charge of your own needs. That's not to say that you don't care for each other or help each other, but you're not one another's parents, and you can't be in charge of making sure your partner is healthy and safe and happy at every moment. All of the "solutions" you've come up with (that you eat whatever s/he wants to eat according to a pre-set plan, that you rescue your partner any time s/he is lost) rely on you taking responsibility for another person's needs. That sets you up, as you just saw, to be blamed when those needs aren't met. And that's not good for either of you.

From now on, if your partner doesn't want to eat at a restaurant, that's fine. You can eat or not eat, as you like, but you do not coax her/him to eat, nor do you spend any time making suggestions as to where to go or what to do to get her/him fed later, nor do you participate in a long, emotional conversation about food, nor do you listen to long complaints about hunger if s/he chose not to eat when s/he had a chance. Similarly, with directions, you are not the rescuer. If s/he gets lost, s/he has to find the way out. If you're together and s/he can calmly listen to your directions and you want to help, feel free to do so. But if you're being yelled at over the phone, hang up. There is no excuse for verbally abusing you because you've been unable to prevent a grown up human being from becoming lost.

I know it's hard to watch someone you love suffer, but you can't be responsible for all of her/his problems and choices. You absolutely can't continue to see yourself as the solution to these problems. Your partner needs to be in therapy and medical treatment to learn how to manage these problems independently. And I think you should talk to your own therapist about how you can be more independent and feel less responsible for your partner.
posted by decathecting at 9:57 AM on June 2, 2013 [14 favorites]

I actually have the exact same issue with food and dining out. I agree that it's sort of a weird problem, but it's pretty much a non-issue in my relationship. I can tell you what has worked for me, but it sounds like you may be significantly exacerbating the problem yourself.

I've learned that the only way I can make sure I'm making the "right" dining choice is sitting down with a list of restaurants, divided into categories by cuisine. I go through each option, and one by one, vividly picture sitting down, looking at the menu, ordering, receiving my food, and taking a bite. At some point during that process, I know whether that place is exactly right, sort of close, or not what I want at all. I don't need to do this every time, but it is absolutely effective when I am experiencing significant anxiety about making the choice. If we're traveling and none of the potential places are familiar, I look at menus and pictures of restaurants online. Making a list specific to the location we're visiting is also something I try to do before any trip.

When we decide to eat out at the spur of the moment and I don't have my list to aid in the decision making process, it still occasionally happens that we end up in a place that for whatever reason doesn't really work for me. At this point, I don't have a tantrum, I just smile, shrug my shoulders, order whatever seems most palatable (sometimes just a cup of coffee), and enjoy the time spent together with my boyfriend. It's not that big a deal if we grab something from another place after he's had his meal. He's always cheerful, supportive and never frustrated with me. He doesn't treat me like a child he's responsible for feeding, nor does he makes me feel like a crazy person with a terrible problem, which seems to be the way you're describing your SO.

For me, these food anxiety issues go hand in hand with stress. The more stressed I am, the more difficult it is for me to make a good decision. This doesn't mean just every day kind of stress, but also factors like my boyfriend's hunger level ("He worked through lunch today and is starving so I better just hurry up and choose!") can really make things much worse. For your SO it might be, "My partner has anger issues and might lash out unless I just make a decision!" or "My partner thinks this is one of my most horrible flaws so I better not screw this up!" kind of stress.

Think of the ways you might be unknowingly adding to the tension of the situation. If she/he says things were too rushed, you probably rushed her/him. Don't badger your partner if she/he doesn't want to eat anything at the restaurant. Is going to two places really the worst thing in the world? Just order something, promise you'll go wherever she/he wants to go after, and enjoy your time together. If you can't do that, then why are you together in the first place?
posted by lemerle at 10:02 AM on June 2, 2013 [16 favorites]

I actually wonder a bit about the exact nature of the conversation in which partner was "screaming obscenities." The whole time? Apropos of nothing?

The vague places in your question worry me. I wonder very much about how your behavior fits in to all these bizarre-sounding behaviors you describe in your partner. Why has there been a backslide after your moving back in? The problem behaviors that you describe don't happen at home.
posted by tomboko at 10:06 AM on June 2, 2013 [5 favorites]

I have a dear friend who, as a child, was cruelly forced by one parent to make a hugely painful, no-win decision (no-win because of the heartless parameters set by the parent)... I mean it's utterly Dickinsonian how emotionally brutal the situation was, and s/he was punished forever afterward with withdrawal of affection and emotional and financial support by that parent who also pretty much physically abandoned the family at that point. And then s/he was abandoned again by the death of the other parent.

This friend also has seemingly incomprehensible major panic attacks when faced with any serious decision, always certain they made the wrong choice once decided, and in many cases, also serially suffering mini panic attacks over seemingly entirely inconsequential decisions – such as ordering in a restaurant.

It was many years before I consciously put all the bits of information together, but then it felt like a thunderbolt of an epiphany, and the sometimes completely bewildering and infuriating behavior of this otherwise brilliant, kind, funny, warm person became achingly clear. I would also say that s/he does pursue relationships in which there is a definite echo of the original parent/child relationship in some way (with the partner being, for some values at least, distant, aloof, withholding or angry).

So! This is not advice, but it may pertain to your situation in some way. It also may be the case that your partner's fear of abandonment becomes more acute at this critical (and decision-making) moment of reuniting, and the pleading/promising I-will-be-what-you-want-me-to-be negotiating more in evidence when you are more physically and emotionally removed. If so, it's obviously not something you can (or should expect yourself to) fix on your own, but a combination of insight and more dedicated therapy for your partner, and perhaps for you, too, might help a lot.
posted by taz at 10:07 AM on June 2, 2013 [10 favorites]

Massive firstworld problems aside*, this looks like the definition of a co-dependent relationship. You both sound like you need some therapy, just make sure to mention the co-dependence to the therapist.

This sentence: My partner saw a therapist about the abandonment anxiety, but stopped going after six weeks, with the therapist's blessing. sounds like complete hooey. Unless of course the therapist just gave up on your partner, which honestly sounds like a more likely event. Upon reread, it seems like a really horrible case of gaslighting.

I don't know what this is, but I can tell you what it isn't. A healthy, adult relationship.

Ask yourself, is this what you really want for the rest of your life? "Oh honey, do you remember as fondly as I do the time I screamed obscenities at you when you were trying to help me?" "Sweety, do you remember the time I blamed all my problems on you? Yes, dear."

*Wow, you eat out every night? If someone was a picky eater, you'd think they could, oh I don't know, learn to cook? And possibly cook what they like?
posted by Sphinx at 10:24 AM on June 2, 2013 [3 favorites]

I did not read all of the long answers, but I think some are unnecessarily harsh to the OP. I do believe that while the actions of the other person sound completely bizarre for a "grownup", I don't see a reason to doubt the description provided. It does sound like some kind of mental disorder, and I have known people with (much more tame) versions of both issues.

For me, the main issue boils down to the completely unacceptable "shouting obscenities at you" business. Unless you are in mortal and immediate danger, there is absolutely no excuse for a loved one to behave this way, especially since you seem to be making an honest effort to "fix" things.

At this point:
keeps telling me how they "know [they've] screwed up [their] chances"

I agree with them. And you have two choices. 1. Leave, because it seems you have done what you could and things have not changed, or 2. give them ONE MORE CHANCE. You should not tolerate being screamed at. Next time, no more talking. Just go. (Personally, I wouldn't hang around for more verbal abuse, but only you know all the pros and cons of this relationship.) And definitely stop eating out at restaurants together! If that is one of your few eating options, then make the person choose their meal from a menu and pick it up to eat at home.

It sounds like a rough deal. I'm sure you feel like you will be abandoning this person who has real problems. But there is not much you can do if the person continues this cycle of seriously inappropriate public temper tantrums and then crying and apologizing in order to keep you around for the next one. I really think you've held up your end of the bargain and can leave with a clear conscience if you so choose.
posted by Glinn at 10:38 AM on June 2, 2013 [2 favorites]

If your account is accurate (I can't extrapolate what your partner thinks of you from your account), then your partner is extremely anxious all the time, and expresses it in ways that allow that person to control you through inaction until some disaster occurs. You take them out to a restaurant, and you're "wrong" if you've not read their mind correctly. You go somewhere and get separated, and they cry like an infant and throw tantrums because you "left" them. It sounds like someone who has very deep-seated anxiety issues and cannot sustain a relationship in an adult fashion until this is addressed.
posted by xingcat at 10:46 AM on June 2, 2013 [6 favorites]

My boyfriend used to do a version of the restaurant thing. He wouldn't know what he wanted and expected me to make suggestions until I hit on something he liked, and if we got there and he didn't like what's on the menu he wouldn't eat or do some similar big baby maneuver. I dealt with it by not putting up with his shit. I'd eat my food and not give a shit if he was sitting there not eating, then I'd make it clear his behavior was totally unacceptable. If he started to do the "Oh, i don't know what I want" bullshit with me, I'd tell him I wasn't playing that game and he needed to act like an adult. He has matured a lot in the time we've been together and the frequency of this behavior has gone down to almost zero. But the point is I made it perfectly clear he was acting immature and abnormally and we weren't going to go out if he acted like that.

I don't know how firm you are with your partner when they engage in this behavior. You have to make it clear that their behavior is totally unacceptable though, and you won't be dealing with it any longer. It is not your problem.
posted by schroedinger at 10:48 AM on June 2, 2013 [3 favorites]

How much of this is solvable via therapy?
How much of this is just Who Your Partner Is?

Cycles exist for a reason. There comes a point where you have to figure out if a lifetime of this cycle is really the best choice for your long term happiness.
posted by 2oh1 at 10:51 AM on June 2, 2013 [1 favorite]

Could the food issue be solved by pulling any given restaurant's menu up on the web and having your partner pick a few menu items (in case the first choice is unavailable) before you agree to go to that place? I'm a picky eater (though far less so than earlier in life) with health-related dietary restrictions and rarely eat anywhere without checking the menu first. If your partner's problem is anxiety-related, this should resolve most of those issues. If it's a control issue, then yes, more therapy would seem to be the answer, but for your partner. For you, it really seems like a matter of saying, "If I'm going to eat at this restaurant with you (vs. on my own or with friends) then I need you to take responsibility for being socially normative and determining if you're willing to eat here, what you're going to eat, and failing an actually poor meal, eating it, so this is no longer an issue between us."

As for the direction situation, your partner almost certainly has an executive function disorder related to spacial orientation, and that necessarily causes anxiety. The two are related, but certainly your partner can get therapy for the anxiety even if the executive function disorder remains uncured.

I'll echo a few people above. If these are literally the only two issues you have, travel and food, and you are entirely happy in the other two areas, then it's a matter of deciding how much you care about these two issues. Your partner's food-related behaviors are entirely up to your partner; you can either accept them and enjoy your meal no matter what your partner does, or refuse to eat with your partner, or choose to be upset. Only you know which will work for you.

As for the travel/direction issues, anxiety is hard to control. Some people freak out and scream obscenities when they are sick, or when they are lost, or when they are afraid. Again, only your partner can decide if the relationship is worth continued therapy. Only you can decide if this behavior, if it does not improve, is acceptable enough for you to stay. You can refuse to travel together and/or be responsible for your partner getting un-lost. You can refuse to participate unless treated at all times with respect and a modicum of calm. Or you can decide to embrace it as a quirk or leave because it's too stressful for you. There are no right answers; only right answers for you.
posted by The Wrong Kind of Cheese at 11:46 AM on June 2, 2013 [5 favorites]

At a certain point, the point at which one decides to adopt more adult social behaviors is when one realizes that a refusal to adopt those behaviors will result in a lack of access to adult social relationships. Possibly your partner might decide that his/her social behaviors and personality issues are more important that maintaining adult relationships. And it is possible that he/she may decide to adopt more conventional norms of behavior in exchange for adult social relationships.

But it looks likes you are allowing him/her to avoid making that choice for him/herself. The reason things worked so well when you were apart is that the situation allowed your partner to indulge his/her habits and lifestyle without having to take someone else into consideration. I think it is possible that you don't have anger management issues-- it is that anger is an understandable response to someone who is acting as a burdensome imposition on your life by putting his needs ahead of yours and preventing you from having a "normal" day to day life when it comes to going out to dinner and being out and about in town.
posted by deanc at 12:18 PM on June 2, 2013 [3 favorites]

Is your partner maybe using the food issue and the getting lost issue to bind you more closely to them? Like, they need so much taking care of you can't possibly leave?

Conversely, what itch of yours gets scratched by controlling and handling their problems?
posted by Omnomnom at 12:21 PM on June 2, 2013 [3 favorites]

the way you have described your partner makes them sound like a child and you the parent. i'd ask yourself if this is what you really want: to have a romantic relationship with an equal partner where there is give and take or to have a relationship with an adult child where you have to take care of them? it would certainly be worth asking yourself why you choose to be with someone where you feel you have to become their parent.
posted by wildflower at 12:48 PM on June 2, 2013 [1 favorite]

Does your partner have a sensory processing disorder? Upon reading I'm getting the feeling that something sensory related is going on (getting lost, food issues) and not having the proper coping skills to handle it ramps up the anxiety and causes even more problems. Perhaps the therapist referred your partner for psychological testing and diagnosis instead of continuing therapy with them (especially if they were recognizing a disorder outside the scope of their expertise)?

I'm not saying go to a doc and get pills....I'm saying get a full evaluation from a psychological examiner/psychologist to see if there is something else going on. Sensory processing issues can be dealt with but they require a different set of skills than just basic interpersonal problems.
posted by MultiFaceted at 12:58 PM on June 2, 2013 [1 favorite]

I have directional issues (which I only made some headway on when I tattooed "L" and "R" on my arms) and turn into a crabby pants when I'm hungry. My family is even worse about these things, and I've watched them meltdown in exactly the way you describe. I used to, too. Therapy, however, taught me that while my emotions are valid, my expressions of them were up to me. I was having meltdowns because I'd been taught in childhood that screaming, crying, name calling, sulking, and sometimes violent behavior was a way to get attention, affection, and soothing behavior from my parents. But this behavior within my adult, happy relationship was toxic--completely draining and emotionally exhausting. It inevitably made the situation worse, not better. And my husband has no time to put up with that shit. So I learned to take care of myself instead, to collect myself, to state my needs clearly and in a respectful way rather than melting down.

In light of all of that, I'm going to be honest about what's going on. These are temper tantrums, the same kind you'd see in a two year old. And you need to react to them as you would with a two year old if you want them to end. That means no screaming back, and no catering to the (over the top and emotionally abusive) demands. It is not your job to sit there and get screamed at. It is not even your job to navigate these problems for your partner.

Like I said, my family is still this way. When my mother comes to visit and starts screeching at me because she got lost on the way, I tell her that I will only talk to her if she can speak to me respectfully. And if she can't, I hang up. You need to be tireless about enforcing your boundaries and not kowtowing in response to this completely fucked up behavior. When your partner speaks to you nicely, that is when you help--as any reasonable person would. But a reasonable person would not respond nicely to someone who is being hostile. They would get the fuck out of there.

But, be warned: the behavior will get worse before it gets better. Read about extinction bursts. Hell, read this article about operant conditioning in relationships. We're animals, too, and easily trained. You just have to break yourself of your own reinforcing behaviors.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 1:48 PM on June 2, 2013 [9 favorites]

Honestly, I am worried about you, OP.

MeFi is a good place for this question because as a community it tends to be very aware and enlightened about mental health issues of all kinds. However, I've read all the answers in this thread and I'm a little concerned about how... apologist some of them are for your partner's behavior. The ones suggesting that you might be aggravating his anxiety somehow really alarm me, because I think it's possible that you're in an abusive relationship and you DO NOT need to take more responsibility for his actions than you already are.

Maybe I'm projecting because I was in a situation just like this with a guy with severe ADHD and depression/anxiety, and this all just sounds so familiar to me. The tantrums, the inability to deal with normal life things, even the part about doing better while we were separated only to relapse when we moved back in together. (Oh, AND the part about couples counseling helping for a while. I was so proud of myself that we had worked out a system whereby he could be an abusive fuck just enough of the time that I could talk myself into pretending it was normal.)

He sounds like he has some real problems, and they are certainly not his fault. I hope he gets the help he needs. But in a dynamic like this, you can end up being the punching bag, the sponge that soaks it all up, and the live-in therapist who is responsible for all of his issues. You don't have to live like that.
posted by annekate at 2:42 PM on June 2, 2013 [17 favorites]

The ones suggesting that you might be aggravating his anxiety somehow really alarm me, because I think it's possible that you're in an abusive relationship and you DO NOT need to take more responsibility for his actions than you already are.

First of all, you're making assumptions about gender the OP went to some pains to conceal. Second of all, I think people's suggestions about aggravating the partner's anxiety are tied to the fact the OP mentions that the OP has anger management issues, but in none of the examples gives any evidence of how that may play out. I think for a number of people, that is going to tweak the communal radar.
posted by DarlingBri at 2:58 PM on June 2, 2013

Fair enough, I just know all too well how someone in an emotionally abusive relationship thinks ("I provoked this somehow, this is because of my issues with X, I need to try harder, I don't understand his/her needs, if I handled things better it wouldn't be like this" etc). I thought I detected a subtext of that but if I am wrong, please ignore. Apologies also for assumptions of gender.
posted by annekate at 4:45 PM on June 2, 2013

Your partner survived without you before you came along. Presumably they fed themselves and managed to find their way home without your help for years. Given the appalling way they're treating you, I would be tempted to return them to this situation. Permanently. Anxiety, depression, co-dependence, whatever label you want to give it - it's no excuse for acting like an asshole.
posted by Jubey at 5:08 PM on June 2, 2013 [7 favorites]

How did your partner eat and navigate without you? The answer to this will tell you much.
posted by Riverine at 1:35 PM on June 3, 2013

I've been as soothing and as calming as I can, promising that I haven't changed my mind and that I do love them.

Unconditional love is something expected of parents; providing it in a romantic relationship is an invitation for the other person to trample over all of your boundaries, expectations and dealbreakers in the most disrespectful way. Even the healthiest relationships end when one partner commits a dealbreaker (infidelity, untreated addiction, violence) because love should never include allowing a partner to violate one's principles - it is destructive to both partners.

Your partner feels that verbal abuse is okay when it is directed at you; do they also feel it is okay for you to scream obscenities at them and manipulate them? If not, why not - wouldn't accepting that abuse from you be part of this ideal of unconditional love in your relationship?

I would be interested to know what your partner's other relationships and personal interactions are like. Are they able to hold down a job, go into a store, act respectful around police and other authority figures? When they got on the bus after the recent misadventure did they scream obscenities at the bus driver? It sounds like they can moderate their behaviour when it suits them (and further's their goals) and feel no need to moderate around you; most likely because your promise to accept all their abuse has given them a free pass.

Your self-description of anger-management issues without any examples of that behaviour in the two recent stressful encounters made me wonder about gaslighting in your relationship. I also was diagnosed with "anger issues" by a partner and a therapist because I was mad about physical and verbal abuse in the relationship (the abuse was glossed over in the therapy because my abuser was there denying it happened). Maybe your anger issues are really self-repect and self-preservation coming forward to protect you.
posted by saucysault at 7:43 AM on June 4, 2013 [5 favorites]

So, question: does your partner *want* to go eat out in restaurants? Because that sounds like the kind of behaviour that might result from a lack of desire to bother with it, but feeling that it's necessary to agree to please the other person. Passive-aggressive, sure, but sometimes that's the only way one can think to handle it. I say this as the one who grudgingly said a whole lot of "whatever you want is fine" in my last relationship, because I didn't want to eat at restaurants every damned night, but he was so emphatic about it that I gave up saying no. Even now when we go out to eat and he asks me what I'm in the mood for and I say I've been craving salad, he says, "Why don't we get pizza! Or Ethiopian!"

If any of this sounds a bit familiar, maybe your partner is just convinced that disagreeing will be too displeasing to you? Just a possibility. It sounds to me like you are the dominant partner in the relationship, and your partner may be a pretty anxious person. He/she also probably feels a bit stupid about his/her sense of direction, and embarrassment and fear could well lead to a bit of shouting. Is this normal behaviour, or was it just that once?

See, I look at your question and think of gaslighting from the opposite side as saucysault. I feel as though you may be projecting all of the blame for the difficulties of your relationship on to Partner. This may not be true, and obviously I have my own reasons for seeing this as a possible interpretation. But I think you should consider how your own behaviour might have changed as well since you moved back in. Restaurants should *not* be such a big bloody deal. When they are, there are almost certainly deeper problems. She says from experience, and not just the once.
posted by Because at 4:56 AM on June 5, 2013

« Older Looking for portable video player recommendations   |   What should I do with all this bacon fat? Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.