Can a relationship bounce back from a bad period like ours?
August 13, 2013 7:47 PM   Subscribe

My boyfriend and I are currently at a low point in our relationship. I have been irrationally jealous and as a result we have fought every week for the past month. He seems to be very ok with me the day after our fights but I can see how he would want out. Should we keep trying?

I have always had a pattern of exhibiting jealous behaviors 5-6 months into my relationships. My current bf is my 3rd, and recently I have found myself going back to my crazy obsessive thoughts when he does little things that make me feel insecure and threatened in my relationship. What adds to the problem is that we go out drinking a lot, and often I would freak out when I was drunk over things I would otherwise dismiss when I'm sober. I also have the tendency to keep pressing on and going in circles with my arguments, while he would sometimes be unable to agree with me on certain basic facts (such as a female colleague stroking his shoulder). As of last weekend, we came to a point where he told me to go home and calm down on my own. It really seemed like we were over, so I broke down and told him I was seeing a counselor to fix my problems. I also explained to him how my suspicions of a parent cheating as a young child has made me untrusting in relationships. He then comforted me and shared with me that he had also dealt with a parent's infidelity. We ended up hugging over and making up. Most times, though, I would realize that I am in the wrong, and apologize, and he would be upset and hurt about it. Our fights never carry over to the next day because usually he would get too sleepy from being drunk, and he would be very affectionate and over it by the morning.

That said, I realize that having this happen for 3 weekends in a row has definitely taken a toll on us, and just this past weekend he suggested that we take it easy and go back to a time where we didn't need to have so many discussions on issues like trust and whatnot. This came out of the fact that for a few times I had wanted to have conversations with him about my insecurity issues, and how I hoped he could understand that while I am actively working on it via seeing a counselor, it wasn't gonna change overnight. He's also said that I've made him wary of things like hosting out-of-town female friends at his place. I reassured him that such things are fine, and that this is a problem that I need to work on, and not something he should sacrifice his social life for. He has been patient, but seems not to comprehend why I can't just trust. As much as I have tried to make him understand that it has to do with me and not so much how I perceive him, he thinks that he is being unfairly treated despite having done nothing to lose my trust. As of just this past sunday he said he wanted to see the "happy [me]" again.

We have been going out for 7 months now, and I am afraid that this will go down in the fashion that my previous two relationships did. I have just started seeing a counselor for the first time of my life because I see that my jealousy issues have been the one problem in all of my relationships. I am able, in calmer times, to take a step back from it all and see that I just need to relax and enjoy my time with someone I like, but the crazy thoughts just come out anyway at the worst times. Drinking is a factor, and I will cut down on it as well. I guess all I'm trying to say is that I am being mindful of my bad behavior and it will be a long-term ongoing process before I am rid of my jealousy. I am sincere in my desire to change, but I understand that I can't convince him of this until I prove myself in the long run. But does he deserve sticking around this crazy sad me for the time being?

Anyway, I guess to come back to my original question, should I hold the hope that we will get to a better place again, despite all that has happened between us in the past month? We have only gone out for not even a year, and I see everywhere (esp. on this site) that relationships shouldn't be this much trouble. On the other hand, we have just discussed details on a vacation that we will be taking in 2 months, so it seems that we still have a chance. But then I could be very subjective. I would appreciate some third-person perspective. Thank you.
posted by 01080591 to Human Relations (28 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
I have been irrationally jealous

The "preventing someone you are having sex with from having a child with someone else mechanism" arose long before human rational thought, or even human beings did.

Use this to (1) have him realize that this stuff is not about him personally; (2) learn to cope with it as an animal force, not reality; and (3) treat this as a phenomenon which can be worked around by both parties.
posted by Ironmouth at 7:54 PM on August 13, 2013

Anyway, I guess to come back to my original question, should I hold the hope that we will get to a better place again, despite all that has happened between us in the past month?

Your boyfriend has flat-out told you what he wants: obviously for the jealousy to stop and as we've acknowledged you're working on that, but also:

he suggested that we take it easy and go back to a time where we didn't need to have so many discussions on issues like trust and whatnot.

He's tired of fighting about it and he's tired of talking about it. He's tired of having Big Discussions About Us. He told you what he's wanting here. If the two of you can just kind of hang out and have fun and not fight, I think you'll find things don't feel as hopeless. So maybe when these feelings of jealousy manifest, remind yourself that you know what this is, you know it's not a real fear, and you know what happens if you let the jealousy win.

My other advice is that the road to problem drinking is paved with good intentions. Don't just cut down on drinking. Stop drinking.
posted by FAMOUS MONSTER at 7:57 PM on August 13, 2013 [23 favorites]

Anyway, I guess to come back to my original question, should I hold the hope that we will get to a better place again, despite all that has happened between us in the past month?

All you can do is work very, very hard on your own issues, with complete self-honesty. The only way to convince him you are changing for the better is to actively change for the better and show it by being better. The choice to stick around is his, and telling him you're changing won't do any good without proof. Walk away from a fight before it starts. Keep quiet about irrational jealousy and get the anger out by an outlet that isn't him. Whatever it is you need to do -- and you sound quite intelligent and self-aware -- you need to do it.
posted by griphus at 8:10 PM on August 13, 2013 [1 favorite]

it sounds like you are making efforts to do everything you can to deal with this issue so good on you. there isn't really a way to predict if he is going to stay around or not. maybe that is part of the issue? you sabotage things so your bfs will leave so you don't have to sit with the uncertainty of whether or not your relationships will last? i don't know, just a random thought. it sounds like he does care about you so i would think if he sees you working on this he will be understanding and stick around.

As much as I have tried to make him understand that it has to do with me and not so much how I perceive him, he thinks that he is being unfairly treated despite having done nothing to lose my trust.

i agree with the first part of what you are saying here but he is being treated unfairly despite having done nothing to lose your trust. maybe seeing that will help you to get your jealousy focused back on whoever it is really directed at originally. you seem to be transferring it onto your bf but it isn't about him but someone from your past or something to do with your parents or both. you mentioned it always crops up at the same time in your relationships so that is a clue to what this is really about. i'm sorry you are struggling with this and i hope you guys can work it all out.
posted by wildflower at 8:11 PM on August 13, 2013 [1 favorite]

I was in a very very similar situation for a long time. It was rocky but good. I think that if you make an earnest effort with your therapy and just generally try to be better to yourself, things will not only get to where they were, but be better than they ever have.

As far as convincing him you will change or won't - this is a matter of faith on his part. If he decides to believe it or not, it is his whim. I think you need to reconcile with the fact that there is no certainty in this relationship or any other. Enjoy each other while you can, and good luck.
posted by Teakettle at 8:25 PM on August 13, 2013

In any relationship, you cannot change the other person, you can only change yourself and your behaviors. From what you've written here, though, I'm not hearing anything in particular you want him to say or do differently. He sounds like he's really been very kind and very understanding, which is awesome.

What you can change is your behavior: 1) figuring out what makes these situations more likely to happen and 2) how you respond when they do. You are already working on number 2 with your therapist and maybe you can ask for more help there in having a specific plan you can follow to recognize when you start to feel jealous (before it gets out of hand) and what to do when you feel like it's getting out of control (take a time out or whatever). The other thing you can change is avoiding situations where you are more likely to blow up. You have recognized that drinking is a trigger for these arguments, so avoiding drinking sounds like it would be a good idea, at least for the time being.
posted by goggie at 8:45 PM on August 13, 2013

But I think first you need to think deeply about whether or not you believe these thoughts really are irrational or if there is some tiny kernel of truth that deep down you think might be there. If you're 100% convinced you're being irrational, then keep with it and learn how to conquer those thoughts. This doesn't seem like one of those "way too much trouble for what it's worth" relationship questions. Because it seems like you guys genuinely like each other and this is something that can be solved. If you ask the same question again in a few months I would not say the same thing though.

If you're not 100% convinced you're being irrational, it's better to leave him than second-guess your gut.
posted by bleep at 8:47 PM on August 13, 2013

... we go out drinking a lot, and often I would freak out when I was drunk over things I would otherwise dismiss when I'm sober ... Drinking is a factor, and I will cut down on it as well.

If I may bluntly second FAMOUS MONSTER's advice: stop drinking.

If drinking is something you could choose to stop at any time, choose to stop now.
If it isn't something you can choose to stop doing, think about what that means.

To your specific question: should I hold the hope that we will get to a better place again? Yes, I don't see why not. Sounds like you know what needs to happen, so go for it.
posted by RedOrGreen at 9:02 PM on August 13, 2013 [16 favorites]

I'm going to approach this a bit sideways and ask if the things that are bothering:

a) come up when you are both drinking -- meaning he does things you find questionable while intoxicated


b) are really things that would not bother you while sober -- meaning, they would have bothered you either way, but you felt more comfortable calling him out on them when intoxicated?

If either of these are true, working on them would probably go a long way.

Yes, some relationships can bounce back from bad periods like the what you're going through now. Whether yours can isn't something the Internet can answer for you.
posted by sm1tten at 9:32 PM on August 13, 2013

What would you like him to do? What do you need? What would soothe you?

Think about the answers to these questions in your own time. Think about what kinds of experiences give you security, trust and belief in the relationship - any of your relationships. Ask for that instead of describing your emotions to your boyfriend.

eg I would like it if you held my hand or gave me affection in public, as well as in private - especially when we are out with your female friends. I would like you to show me that I most special girl not just when we are spending private time together.

Also, I would like to nth Famous Monster's suggestion to stop drinking altogether. You are a 'crying drunk' and this exacerbates your basic insecurities about relationships.

It is also a good idea to get to the bottom of your distress with your therapist. You have already indicated that you know there are family of origin issues that feed into your current behaviour, so work with an expert to address these.
posted by honey-barbara at 10:33 PM on August 13, 2013 [3 favorites]

What adds to the problem is that we go out drinking a lot, and often I would freak out when I was drunk over things I would otherwise dismiss when I'm sober.

I know your anxiety might make drinking very tempting, but it's not helping your relationship. Would you object to laying off alcohol to see if your mood and anxiety level improve?
posted by wryly at 11:02 PM on August 13, 2013 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: Thank you for the answers so far. As for the drinking, I had wanted to only cut it down instead of abstaining from it because literally every social function that we attend involves quite a bit of drinking, so it was hard for me to imagine not at least grabbing a beer or two. But seeing that the idea is getting a lot of consensus, I will give it a try.

As for the irrational/justified jealousy part, well to give an example. He was chatting to a female friend that I hadn't met before, and when introducing me he referred to me as his roommate's colleague instead of his girlfriend. When I brought it up he said he felt uncomfortable calling me his girlfriend at the time because the girl had just mentioned in an earlier conversation that she went through a recent breakup. He also explained that he later (after I left the conversation) did refer to me as his girlfriend to her. I didn't believe him because I wasn't there to witness it. I then drunkenly accused him of hiding the fact because he wanted the potential opportunity to hook up with her. He then said that I thought that only because she was blonde and attractive (which he later denied saying. I'm not 100% sure who's right because we were both drunk). It seems like such an ugly fight to me now, and sober me is willing to give him the benefit of the doubt.
posted by 01080591 at 12:08 AM on August 14, 2013

From your update, I don't understand why he felt uncomfortable referring to you as his girlfriend because the girl he was speaking to had broken up with someone.

There's a difference between feelings of jealousy and the behaviour you choose as a result of those feelings. It's possible that while your behaviour is not ideal, your feelings (which are always Ok but the way) are more like alarm bells.

I think laying off the booze is a good idea - whilst doing so, consider what he can do to make you feel safer. I wonder if he is flirting more when he drinks and in your drunken state, can't handle those feelings at all. So seeing what he's like through sober eyes might help too.
posted by eyeofthetiger at 12:38 AM on August 14, 2013 [3 favorites]

Well, not being introduced as his girlfriend, but rather some de-sexualised other, would piss me off too. He sidestepped in his response to you.

Ask for what you want: "I would like to be introduced as your girlfriend, because that is what I am. I would like it to be clear that you are proud to be with me, that you love me, that we are together, not just in the private sphere, but in front of your friends. Can you do that?" Instead of the accusations and descriptions, tell him what you need. Use an adult voice and get an answer, not an excuse.
posted by honey-barbara at 1:12 AM on August 14, 2013 [5 favorites]

Um, I actually think you were justified in being upset over him not introducing you as his girlfriend. That isn't irrational jealousy at all in my books. And his rationale for why he did that was pretty weak. Basically, by not identifiying you as his girlfriend he was, in essence, making himself seem single and available, and this was while he was speaking to a single, attractive woman. That isn't cool. It would also insult the hell out of me. Your choice what you want to do with that, but to me that would be a bit of a warning sign. I'm really curious what your other examples of your "irrational" jealousy are like... because seriously, I'm wondering if maybe he isn't giving you every reason to feel jealous and insecure in your relationship, and that you are convinced you are being "irrational" because he has convinced you that you are when really maybe he is being a Shady McShaderson.

Re. alcohol, i agree you should stop drinking. I know the whole "Every social activity involves liquor" thing, I lived it too, but it is doable, and it sounds like it would definitely be worth the effort. I would hope your friends wouldn't make fun of you for not drinking, but if they aren't the most understanding of people just remember - A glass of just coke looks IDENTICAL to a rum and coke.
posted by PuppetMcSockerson at 5:06 AM on August 14, 2013 [7 favorites]

Stop drinking for a while, just to get that variable out of the way.

But this specific scenario, introducing you as a colleague of his roommate rather than his girlfriend to make a newly single and attractive girl feel at ease? He's being deliberately being deceitful to spare a friend's feelings (in the best case scenario), and you're supposed to go along with it. That isn't a great sign. What's the long-term plan there, never tell her he's dating someone, and she's already met that someone?
posted by RainyJay at 6:23 AM on August 14, 2013 [4 favorites]

You don't have to act on every thought you have. When you feel jealous, just say to yourself, "I am feeling jealous. It is irrational. I will distract myself until the feeling subsides."

Try some EFT when the intrusive, jealous thoughts appear.

Don't engage your boyfriend, it's nothing to do with him. He's not making you jealous, you're doing that all on your own. Stop tormenting the poor thing.

In other words, get a grip!

And yes, stop drinking. So your friends drink all the time? Again, what's that got to do with you? Drink non-alcoholic beverages around them. I suspect that you're afraid that you'll discover that your friends are really boring and stupid when you're all drinking. It's true, you all are.

You need to make some significant changes or else you'll just keep repeating the pattern.

Change is hard and scary, but whats worse, making the changes so that you can have better relationships, or not making the changes and continue to have the same outcomes over and over?
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 7:04 AM on August 14, 2013 [2 favorites]

I think you're giving this guy too much power. You're getting yourself into a scenario where you are erratic and bad and crazy and you have to fix yourself to be worthy of him. Meanwhile, his behavior seems shady in the examples you give. That explanation of his, frankly, is bullshit. I suspect he's getting something out of being in this situation where you are always "one down" like this.

I don't know if this is a factor with you, but watch out for drinking to cover your feelings-- or letting drinking obscure your feelings. A lot of people, sadly, get into a dynamic of "I better have a drink and chill" when hitting a rough spot in a relationship where there is already a lot of drinking.

I think you might be able to come back from the level of bullshit that's going on in this relationship but do you really want to, at your age and after such a short period of time?
posted by BibiRose at 7:05 AM on August 14, 2013 [4 favorites]

I think what you may want to try is a combination of what the others are saying. Great advice upthread. What I would do in this situation (because I have definitely been where you are and it sucks) is look at it from both angles - 1. yeah, you have jealous tendencies that you do need to work on, so don't stop doing that and 2. also keep a sober eye open on your next couple of outings. Because as others have said, your update about his behavior is flag worthy. And in my previous, seriously jealous and insecure days, I would have taken that on as "I'm just being irrationally jealous again, dammit!" Nevermind that he undermined your relationship to some hot chick. His excuse is BS.

So, maybe you could sober up, keep a check on your negative self-talk, as advised by others (reassuring self-talk), but also "bank" his recent behavior and keep a keen eye on his behavior in future, sober outings.

If he doesn't behave sketchy for you, but is a bit on the flirty side, it could be that you guys may just be a bad mix - he may be too much of a flirt for you, someone who is trying to work on your personal insecurities. Good luck, keep up the good work, I know it's hard.
posted by foxhat10 at 7:24 AM on August 14, 2013

I dunno. I was super jealous and uncomfortable with my last 2 boyfriends (for what seemed like no reason, at the time) and both of them ended up cheating on me. And in retrospect the behaviours that were triggering jealousy in me, were red flags that we were not on the same page in terms of what appropriate dealings with the opposite sex look like.

I couldn't put a finger on it at the time. There was no real reason WHY that stuff triggered me. I mean, its fine for guys to chat with girls, to dance with other people, etc. but with those boyfriends.... well, it always felt that if I wasn't around to police they would forget all about me.... and jealousy had never been a problem for me before in past relationships!

ANYWAY, I am now in a relationship that feels much more mature, he doesn't get me nervous- I'm fine with him going away for days at a time... its just different... but those boyfriends? They weren't HONEST, and my subconscious was picking up on that.

There was also a lot of drinking going on, and before I embarked on my current relationship I made a choice that drinking was not something I was prepared to deal with in a partner EVER AGAIN.

That's my 2 cents.... I could have written an exact same question to yours at one point in time...
posted by misspony at 7:25 AM on August 14, 2013 [7 favorites]

As a rule, when someone says "bad thing x is happening" and there is also a lot of drinking going on, I strongly suggest eliminating the drinking, if only to see what changes.

At the very least, you'll have a clearer view and memory of what's going on, and a clearer view of whether your jealousy is rational or irrational.
posted by tel3path at 8:16 AM on August 14, 2013 [3 favorites]

should I hold the hope that we will get to a better place again, despite all that has happened between us in the past month?

Absolutely yes, you can get through tough times if you're willing to work at it.
You've shown awareness at having a problem with jealousy that you are willing to work on.
Take the relevant steps to remedy these insecurity issues, cut down on the drinking significantly, and focus on acting rationally and calmly in tense situations and you'll be able to get your relationship back on track.

Shakespeare said it best with the quote "The Green Eyed Monster doth mock the meat it feeds on" (or something along those lines!!!)and I would advise you to try to think of this as often as you can. Mild jealousy does have its place in relationships, but in most situations, extreme jealousy achieves nothing but to push the other person away and make everybody miserable.

Focus on the simple things that can be fixed i.e. quit drinking and get a counsellor you see regularly, and hopefully everything else will start to fall into place, one way or another.
posted by JenThePro at 8:30 AM on August 14, 2013 [1 favorite]

Your update is a red flag and I saw red flags in your post too. You and your gut are all you have in this world. Don't let some guy teach you not to trust yourself. It's hard to get that trust back.
posted by bleep at 9:25 AM on August 14, 2013 [5 favorites]

Sounds like he's given you rational, not irrational, reasons for jealousy. I'd be damned pissed if I was introduced as "colleague's roommate" rather than "significant other". And his reason sounds a bit shady. Does this happen a lot? If so, your concerns may be justified.
posted by windykites at 10:22 AM on August 14, 2013 [4 favorites]

"As for the drinking, I had wanted to only cut it down instead of abstaining from it because literally every social function that we attend involves quite a bit of drinking"
This isn't healthy, for your relationship or your social life.
Join a kickball or dodgeball or ultimate frisbee team, something where you can socialize sober, as well as feel accomplishment. Plus you'll get those happy endorphins!
I went through a phase where all my social activity was partying, and I felt depressed a lot of the time after coming down. I realized it was a problem and joining an activity group made a world of difference.
Also, deal with your parental issues. Were either of your parents alcoholics? If so: Alanon.
posted by hellameangirl at 11:34 AM on August 14, 2013

Response by poster: Thank you all for your opinions on that particular example. I'm willing, currently, to give him benefit of the doubt because this girl also knows his work friends quite well, who all know we're an item since we hang out with them almost every weekend, and are invited to their parties and whatnot.

I definitely will not drink in the near future, especially since we will be attending countless more gatherings and functions in which this girl will be present, and if he did tell her I was his girlfriend eventually, I think it will be clear in their interactions to sober me. I really do appreciate the concerns you have raised in my drinking, and it's interesting how outside of a college setting my drinking habits do seem excessive. But I like the idea of stopping it fir a change and seeing what that can do for my psyche and social life, and will keep an open eye on our relationship. I really hope I will find that I can trust both him and myself afterall.
posted by 01080591 at 2:19 PM on August 14, 2013

I know it's stalky, but I just read your last post. Is that the same boyfriend who lied to his dad about you being out of town so the two of you wouldn't meet? If so, that's two instances of casual dishonesty that hurt you and made you feel diminished in your relationship. No wonder you've been feeling insecure. It doesn't sound like you're quite ready to break up with him yet, but please, if it gets to three strikes, find someone with a healthier relationship to the truth.
posted by pretentious illiterate at 5:13 PM on August 14, 2013 [2 favorites]

I was recently in a situation not unlike yours. For a long while I pegged myself as 'irrationally jealous' because I couldn't really see what it was that was upsetting me. The line between charming and flirtatious is hair thin. Like you, we could not get around to talking about specific things that upset me- but that's because it's not so much the acts per se but the intention I suppose.

The problem was that my partner too did not see those as flirty - in the beginning. Later she came around to admitting that she may be a little flirtatious. This was hugely helpful because then I could negotiate from there on - I was not being that irrational! The question then for me became, could I deal with a flirtatious partner? The fear was still irrational in that I didn't believe she would cheat me or leave me for anyone.

So the question for me became, 'can I live day in a day out (facebook, texts), week by week where every social interaction will involve a flirty partner?' I believe that with a lot of work I could have reached here. I got better with my reactions to her flirting but still suffered too much by myself. I was starting to think I cannot do this when she broke up with me.

Perhaps you could start looking at what it is precisely that makes you anxious. Of course you could bounce back up from the state your relationship is in right now. But it requires work and patience from both sides. Your boyfriend may up and leave but you need to also look at if you want to do it.

You probably are attracted to flirty people; that's something to watch out for if this does not work.
posted by drummergirl80 at 12:58 AM on August 15, 2013

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