Grieving - my boyfriend was supportive but has become unsympathetic?
December 28, 2013 11:25 AM   Subscribe

My boyfriend has gone from being supportive to unsupportive/critical of me in a short space of time.

A very close relative was diagnosed with cancer at the start of this year. A few months later I started dating my current boyfriend and he said he wanted to be in a relationship with me. I warned him about what was happening and if he was ready to deal with it alongside me as it wouldn't be easy. He said he could do it and wanted to be with me (especially having been through something similar).

For the most part he has been there for me. We hit a stumbling block about a month before my relative died. Almost every time we were on the phone he said I was taking a 'tone' with him and had been distant for a while. I told him I couldn't handle this on top of looking after my family and said I didn't want to see him for a while. I then switched off my phone and was by myself for a whole weekend to get my feelings in order and just let myself feel what I felt.

Afterwards I told him I just needed him to be there + support me. He said he would try harder to be supportive and for a time was - the night before my relative passed away he came to see me and looked after me. Immediately after the death he praised how strong I was and how well I was doing and held me when I cried.

Then 2 weeks after the death he said he wanted to make me a Christmas meal + exchange presents etc. Bear in mind up until then I'd been really involved in funeral arrangements, had just had my first full week back at work and hadn't had time to stop. On the day itself I was in a lot of pain (I have a chronic condition at the moment - I know, not been a great year!) and could barely move. He meanwhile cooked for hours in the kitchen and made me a really nice meal. Afterwards I was feeling less Scrooge-like and suggested we put on one of my favourite festive movies. He whined and pouted about it, saying it was 'a bit girly' before giving in. But he complained again afterward. Why was this such a big deal to him?

He says he would have rathered we didn't watch anything at all and just spent time together. He began the conversation with 'Well there are things that annoy you about me...' in order to launch into a full on description of things that have annoyed him about me recently. Most of the time it's him feeling I'm 'off' with him on the phone - the first time was when he phoned me the day after the funeral and I was feeling sad. The second occasion was him calling me up drunk after a xmas night out + me being in the middle of consoling an upset family member. The next day he complained I'd been off with him, and I told him he never thought to ask what was going on when he called. He also complained that I hadn't offered to do the dishes after him toiling in the kitchen to make my christmas meal, seemingly forgetting I could barely move because of the pain I was in! I told him it was out or order to be having this discussion considering I'm still grieving.

I feel like I'm being expected to put all my energies into being the perfect girlfriend that I don't currently have the energy to be. How can he go from being so supportive, to unsupportive as he has been? Is this a big red flag for me to run? I thought everything was great for the most part and now feel faced with having to accept two losses at once. I feel like he should be patient and put me first for a while, but he doesn't seem wholly willing to do this. He's clearly struggling with my grief - it's not even that I'm sobbing very two minutes, it's more that I can sometimes be down and he takes it personally/thinks my mood is directly related to him.
posted by Kat_Dubs to Human Relations (36 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
Why was this such a big deal to him?

Just going by what you wrote here... because it is never, ever his turn? You are having a hard time, and he is supportive. You are having Christmas, and he cooks and brings gifts. Why couldn't it be his turn for you to do something he'd appreciate?

Maybe you left out that half. What are you bringing to the table? In what ways do you support him and his needs? How do you show your consideration for his feelings? Is there enough space right now for you, your grief, your needs... and him?
posted by Houstonian at 11:33 AM on December 28, 2013 [45 favorites]

What it looks like to me is that he misjudged his ability to be with someone who is dealing with death and grief. If he's never had to deal with it himself, or help someone close to him deal with it, this is not totally surprising. I managed to start dating someone while my mom was dying - but my girlfriend had a pretty good idea of what it might be like, since she had been with her oldest friend through that friend's parent's illness and death.

It doesn't make him or you a bad person. But you've got a ton on your plate right now without also having to take on his emotions and reactions, and I think it's totally okay if you gently break up with him and focus on just you for now.
posted by rtha at 11:33 AM on December 28, 2013 [9 favorites]

Houstonian: I'm afraid it's not the case that it's never his turn. Whenever he is working late I make a really nice dinner for him coming in.

The thing is that for the past 9 months I, along with another family member, have been a carer. I was making meals, doing housework etc for a sick person who could no longer do those things for themselves. It was no burden to me - I loved that person and would have done anything for them. The point is that I'd been putting a lot of energy into that and rarely had residual energy to put into the relationship. But on the occasions that I did feel better I would cook for him/make suggestions of things we could do together.
posted by Kat_Dubs at 11:37 AM on December 28, 2013

Also rtha: he has been through a very similar death from similar circumstances - clearly, he must have dealt with it differently...

I started to tell him that I didn't feel able to be the girlfriend he needs to be right now and he didn't want to hear it. 'Please don't go down that road...' etc. But I can't be dealing with bereft family members, looking after myself and maintaining a full time job while watching what 'tone' I have on the phone with someone who is meant to understand whats happening.
posted by Kat_Dubs at 11:39 AM on December 28, 2013

[Hi Kat_Dubs, moderator here. Just to let you know, AskMetafilter is not really a place for back-and-forth discussion. You ask your question and then read the replies, and you can choose the ones you find useful. Thanks.]
posted by LobsterMitten (staff) at 11:42 AM on December 28, 2013

You don't have to reply to everyone who answers. As a matter of fact, you should not be. Just read the answers, no need to reply unless some kind of further clarification of some point is needed. Otherwise it just becomes chatfilter.

That being said, and based on your other question, it sounds like your bf is resentful of never being first. That does not make you a bad person. He has needs too, and they are not being met by you at the present time. That is pretty much it in a nutshell. You both need to decide what to do about it.
posted by the webmistress at 11:44 AM on December 28, 2013 [2 favorites]

I agree that he was trying to put some balance and normalcy back in the relationship. The death of a relative can be incredibly time consuming, but how much work are you honestly putting into your relationship with him? It sounds like not much.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 11:45 AM on December 28, 2013 [1 favorite]

Hmm.. Why didn't you offer to put in one of his favorite festive movies? Or spend time together with him with the T.V. off if what he really wants to spend time with you? Maybe he's exhausted from all of this too?
posted by mermily at 11:46 AM on December 28, 2013 [10 favorites]

From everything you're saying, it just sounds like you don't have the emotional bandwidth to be in a relationship right now. rtha is right - since you've been dating all of the focus has been on you and your needs.
posted by tealcake at 11:46 AM on December 28, 2013 [15 favorites]

I don't know, you guys haven't been dating that long? This is a lot of strain to be putting on a relatively new relationship, and looking at your previous question, it seems like you two have had other problems communicating. Which is not a "deal breaker" problem in and of itself, I mean, I've been married for over six years and we still misunderstand each other all of the time.

You can't control what your boyfriend does or how he feels. If he feels your tone is "off" on the phone, all you can really do is say, "I'm upset about other things, it doesn't have anything to do with you" and leave it at that. You can't argue him out of feeling annoyed at your tone, and you can't change the impact that recent events on your life have had on your mood. All you can each do is explain yourselves and try to be understanding.

I'd particularly focus on that last part. You can be 100% justified in how you're acting, while still being sympathetic to how your mood is impacting your boyfriend and the time he's spending with you. That doesn't mean you have to apologize or figure out how to be the "perfect" girlfriend -- if you're trying your best, you're trying your best, and no one can ask any more of you. It just means responding to him by saying, "I get this has been stressful for you, I'm trying to manage things as best I can," and maybe letting him pick the movie next time.
posted by Narrative Priorities at 11:48 AM on December 28, 2013 [2 favorites]

It sounds like you have different expectations and ideas of what being supportive is. It also sounds like he has needs that are being unmet and that this has been going on for a long time. Just because he doesn't want to break up doesn't mean that you should be in a relationship right now or with this person.
posted by sm1tten at 11:49 AM on December 28, 2013 [3 favorites]

"I feel like I'm being expected to put all my energies into being the perfect girlfriend that I don't currently have the energy to be."

I'm not hearing any expectation that you be perfect - offering to help with the dishes, picking an activity you both will enjoy, expressing appreciation for someone cooking for you are basic human niceties.

I get that your reserves are beyond low, but it does not sound like he is asking for much. You might need time to regroup alone after what you've been through so you can be a partner again rather than the one always getting the support rather than giving some back too.
posted by cecic at 11:54 AM on December 28, 2013 [4 favorites]

I feel like he should be patient and put me first for a while, but he doesn't seem wholly willing to do this.

Sorry you're having a bad year of it. Your various grievances with your bf are of course all individually valid. However this stuck out to me. It's not been 'for a while', it's been for the length of your relationship i.e. forever. From what you say you have only ever been able to give the relationship your divided attention. You did warn him about that and he accepted it at the time. And it sounds as if he's been supportive for the most part.

At the same time it is difficult to be in that supporting role. He's entitled to want something more back than he's been getting. Especially in a newish relationship, where you have not signed up for better or worse. He's clearly not getting back whatever he needs and is finding it frustrating.

It seems to me that he's not doing a very good job of articulating what he wants or needs resulting in these unproductive conversations about tone on the phone… but it is not unreasonable for him to expect to come first some of the time. You may not be able to do that due to your other commitments and health problems but that does not mean he's unreasonable in wanting more than he's getting at the moment.
posted by koahiatamadl at 11:59 AM on December 28, 2013 [12 favorites]

I told him that I know I've not been an equal partner - I was giving a lot of my energies to a dying family member I'd known my whole life and didn't have an awful left over to give to him too.

I explained that I need to be allowed to grieve and that I'm not going to snap back to 'normal' straight away. I need time to feel better - it's sad if that means breaking up because I think underneath all of this we have a good thing going. I was so appreciative when he cooked the meal for me - throughout the preparation and during eating the meal. And yet he still says I'm unappreciative? That's difficult to hear when I'm trying.

This hasn't just affected my personal life, by the way. I've been making unusual errors at work as well which hasn't welcomed. As it has only been three weeks I'm still struggling sometimes. I worry that I may lose my boyfriend, but know I'm no use to him in my current state as it is.
posted by Kat_Dubs at 12:03 PM on December 28, 2013

Side note: boyfriend and I were planning to move away together next year if things went well. That will be a new start for both of us and I would think I'd be feeling better by that time too. I said this to my boyfriend and said I understand it might be too far in the future for him. He said it wasn't the case (I think because he doesn't want to break up) but I know he's struggling. I don't know that I can fulfil the needs he has right now and that makes me feel sad/a bit useless.
posted by Kat_Dubs at 12:05 PM on December 28, 2013

[Hi again Kat Dubs. I'm sorry you are having a hard time but again, this is not a place for you to process your feelings in an ongoing series of comments. That is not how AskMe works. Further followup comments will be deleted. Please use the contact form if you need to speak to a moderator.]
posted by LobsterMitten (staff) at 12:08 PM on December 28, 2013 [1 favorite]

boyfriend and I were planning to move away together next year if things went well.

I think that is an extraordinarily bad idea. The information in your question and your several follow-ups do not indicate in any sense that it is the time to "take things to the next level". Frankly, if your boyfriend were asking a question, I would advise him to seriously consider if he can continue with this sort of relationship, although I think he is already doing quite a bit of reflection on that topic. I think the reason he has recently become "unsympathetic" in your view is that he is withdrawing in preparation for the breakup. I think that would be a mercy to you.

I am sorry for your recent loss.
posted by Tanizaki at 12:16 PM on December 28, 2013

I think you folks should break up. You can't be what he wants and he can't be what you want. That isn't going to work.
posted by Solomon at 12:19 PM on December 28, 2013 [1 favorite]

You say "for the most part he has been there for me." People are imperfect. If he's been there "for the most part," especially in such a short relationship, I would consider myself very lucky if I were you.

It seems like there's a pretty robust sense of entitlement on your part. I know it has been tough on you to see your relative die, but consider as well how tough it has been on your boyfriend to be with you. Just as you would resent people minimizing your suffering because "you're not the one with cancer," let's also not minimize the suffering of your boyfriend who has the unenviable position of being in a relationship with someone who has pretty much fallen to pieces and he's being a damned good sport about it from where I'm sitting.
posted by jayder at 12:28 PM on December 28, 2013 [22 favorites]

I am sure you've had a horribly hard year, but he's been doing most of the caring for a carer work, which is also hard. I don't see why you couldn't have watched a movie he liked after he made you a nice dinner, for instance.

I don't think either of you are particularly good for each other right now. I suspect your need sped the relationship up in a way that didn't help either of you. If you don't want to break up, I'd dial it back until you get more on an even keel.
posted by jeather at 12:33 PM on December 28, 2013 [1 favorite]

You may or may not be making everything about you right now and it may or may not be wearing on him. Even if you are going through a crisis, you can't forget that you are his partner and that you need to be conscious of his feelings and not make it all about you. It sounds to me like he's been there for you and that he's made quite the effort to support you through all of this. Being that the two of you haven't been together for very long, this is big of him. The fact that he needs to talk about what is bothering him is perfectly normal, and you need to hear him out, even if it's the 'last thing you want to do right now.' He should not have to drop his needs completely because you're going through a rough time.

If you're feeling crabby or emotional, make sure you tell him why whenever it happens and you two are together or talking on the phone, so he doesn't think it's about him. Men are not mind-readers. Try and discuss something positive for a change with him. You need to try and keep going, and to pick yourself up, because if you get into a pattern of talking only about the tragedy, not only are you going to be miserable, but you're going to make him miserable as well. It sounds like he may be feeling insecure right now about how you feel about him, so you need to reassure him that he isn't the cause of your irritation.

Focus on appreciating the time you had with your loved one, and try to start doing something positive for yourself every day, i.e. exercising, making love, staying in the light. Work through your sadness and allow yourself to feel low, but don't let it consume you.
posted by OneHermit at 12:52 PM on December 28, 2013 [3 favorites]

Both of you are awkwardly dealing with what is an awkward time for both of you. FFIW though, I don't think either of you are doing too badly.

He is giving you a lot to make you happy. He also seems hypersensitive to making you happy. He is also stressed because we all want fun more than we want difficulty, right?

When he asks/complains about your tone, reassure him that it's not about him and that you appreciate everything he does for you. You may think he just knows it, but many people need to actually hear it.

When the option of watching a movie he would like comes up, give that to him. If you're limited physically and emotionally, that is one thing you can give him. If he doesn't want to watch a movie and just wants to spend time with you, then that's fine too. Start giving him back little things where you can just because they will make him happy and show that you appreciate him.
posted by heyjude at 1:03 PM on December 28, 2013 [3 favorites]

Wow, I so strongly disagree with everyone who is saying you're asking for too much.

My mom passed away two years ago from cancer. At the time I had been dating my ex for nearly 3 years. After months of taking her to the hospital, changing her diapers, cleaning vomit, and dropping everything and driving hours to where she was every time it looked like she wasn't going to make it, the last thing I wanted to do was put my boyfriend's needs above my own. My life was shattered. Myheart was heavy. My world was turned upside down, and all I wanted to do was sleep and cry and maybe eat. And even though we'd been together awhile before my mom passed it was still such a huge strain.

Don't be in a relationship now. You're in no place to maintain one, and you won't be for some time. He sounds like he is trying, but in the end he is just sapping more of your energy. It's okay, grief is all-consuming.
posted by thank you silence at 1:28 PM on December 28, 2013 [18 favorites]

I dunno, to me he sounds like he's trying to be very supportive and at the same time starting to voice some of the normal concerns that come up about 6 months into a relationship. Then you call him whiny and pouty which is pretty insensitive.

I hear that you've had a bad year. I also think (and coupled with your repeated argumentative rebuttals despite comments from the mods telling you not to) that you're being pretty self-centred in this relationship. You sound pretty tone deaf.

Do you love your boyfriend? If you do, you will try to see his point of view (for real, not just argue your point) and show him how YOU are concerned about him. If not then just let this one go.
posted by St. Peepsburg at 1:29 PM on December 28, 2013 [10 favorites]

If you have been caring for a dying relative then your bf has been in a subordinate position from the very beginning of the relationship. This is inevitably so, whether or not you meant it to be and however much you tried to make up for it.

You are still weighed down, also by your chronic condition. Meanwhile he is wondering when he is going to rise up out of his subordinate role and what he can possibly do to make that happen.

The thing is, once that dynamic is set it's very difficult to change that and I think he is realizing that. It sounds like you don't have the energy to be in the kind of relationship he wants, and won't have for the foreseeable future. Nobody is at fault for this, it simply is. The right relationship at the wrong time is, effectively, the wrong relationship.

Sorry, it sucks.
posted by tel3path at 3:06 PM on December 28, 2013 [2 favorites]

it doesn't sound like you have anything to give to a relationship right now. the thing is that really isn't going to work in a relatively new relationship. there has to be give and take between partners. also, it sounds like you've compartmentalized your life a bit too much. all your giving can't go toward your sick relative and still expect your new bf to just jettison his needs when he has been there for you. i think you could be a lot more responsive to the things he brings up. honestly, i think you've been pretty dismissive. if you can't give anything in return to him then it's probably best to end it.
posted by wildflower at 4:51 PM on December 28, 2013 [3 favorites]

Very much with thank_you_silence on this one. Yes, your boyfriend has needs, but unless he has some pretty bad shit of his own going on, yours trump his at the moment. It's possible your relationship won't survive, but that does not mean you have an excessive sense of entitlement. Caring for sick people is really, really hard. Was your boyfriend involved in the caretaking when his relative died? Maybe he can't relate to that part.

You warned your boyfriend about your circumstances before you got together, and he decided to date you. If it turns out his needs aren't being met, that's not really your fault. He is an adult responsible for his own needs, and it sounds like expecting a lot of help from you right now is unreasonable.

Best of luck going forward.
posted by Comet Bug at 5:55 PM on December 28, 2013 [5 favorites]

After he cooked for you, it would have been considerate to at least watch a movie he was interested in. This lack of basic consideration would be a red flag for me. Sorry.
posted by xammerboy at 5:57 PM on December 28, 2013 [16 favorites]

To me it sounds like he is feeling insecure about your enthusiasm for being in the relationship, and that's why he reacts so strongly to experiencing you as distant on the phone. It also sounds like his insecurity is warranted, since you seem ready to bolt at any moment without looking back.

He actually sounds like a really good guy struggling with supporting you and respecting his own needs at the same time.

I think you need to decide whether you really want this relationship or not. If you do, then you need to put at least some focus on validating his feelings and helping him feel secure in the relationship even when you don't have so much time for him. Yes that takes effort when you are also dealing with so much else. If he/the relationship isn't worth that effort to you, then validate his feelings (he isn't nuts, you are actually distant) AND let him go.
posted by Salamandrous at 5:59 PM on December 28, 2013 [11 favorites]

I started to tell him that I didn't feel able to be the girlfriend he needs to be right now and he didn't want to hear it. 'Please don't go down that road...' etc.

Kat, I'm so sorry for your loss. It sounds to me like you know you don't have the emotional resources to maintain the kind of romantic relationship your boyfriend wants right now, but for whatever reason, your boyfriend doesn't want to let go, and is pressuring you to stay in a relationship where he's becoming increasingly resentful of you. Cooking a fancy Christmas dinner for someone who's in deep recent bereavement grief and then being upset that they don't appreciate it sounds like a passive aggressive cry for help-- but one that it's unfair of him to be directing at you. I don't think what you're describing right now is a healthy relationship. Your boyfriend should be at least open to a discussion of whether or not you two can stay together, or whether you need to back off in some way-- whether that's ending the relationship or scaling it down, or some other avenue. His shutting that down but resenting you is not sustainable for either of you.
posted by moonlight on vermont at 6:39 PM on December 28, 2013 [3 favorites]

I'm so sorry for your loss.

This might be an unpopular opinion, but I've been on the other side of this situation. My ex lost her mother after a long battle with cancer. I was around for the last 2 years of it and was frankly more involved in caring for her (especially emotionally) than the siblings were. When her mom passed away I became a punching bag. Everyone grieves differently, and the anger stage was… hard. I couldn't do anything right, and the smallest thing would get blown out of proportion and I was vilified. This hadn't happened before at all. Somewhere in there I completely lost my voice in the relationship. I didn't know how to say no because when I did, she became really upset and said I wasn't 'putting her first.' And I let it go because.. well, she just went through something really sad and traumatic. But I walked on eggshells and felt I had no control over my own life for months and months.

But it never got better because she expected to be my first priority while I remained her last. It continued for months, then years… and I now see it as the initial point of demise of our relationship.

I'm not saying this is the case for you. Just my experience. And I'm sure at the time she didn't see it that way at all.

He is trying to be kind to you. Sometimes he won't know what to say. Sometimes he will feel awful because he's trying to help you and might be making things worse instead. Sometimes there is no knowing what to say to someone who has suffered a profound loss.

Try your hardest to put your needs into words. Tell him "sometimes I do x when I feel y, or when you do x. It is not personal. Sometimes I'm not able to control it. I don't expect that this will last forever, but I'm having problems with x because of my grief." Or whatever. Just try really hard to communicate SOMETHING, SOMETIMES. Try to show him a bit of appreciation when he listens, goes above and beyond, does something to try to make you smile. Just a small phrase of affection or appreciation can go a long way. Believe me. You don't need to be the girlfriend of the year right now, but if you're going to remain in the relationship, please try to be a girlfriend on some level.

The movie thing, I'm guessing, was about him doing something nice for you (cooking a holiday meal, gifts, trying to do something nice for you during a crap time in your life) and not having a say in the movie. It's a minor thing but he probably feels that he doesn't have much of a say right now, and that exemplifies it.

I know it's hard to think of anything else but your grief right now, and you might not emotionally be ready to take your relationship further for quite some time. But either try to trust that he's doing his best and give him the benefit of the doubt, or end the relationship and let both of you move on.
posted by anad487 at 7:11 PM on December 28, 2013 [14 favorites]

I think there might also be something going on that has nothing to do with the boyfriend. When you are young and/or inexperienced with hardship then you can slip into a mode where everything is on hold until the hardship is completely over. For example a scary job interview in 2 weeks can make that 2 weeks hell and all you want is for it to be over. As time goes on you manage to fit more tiny pieces of joy in no matter what is happening and eventually it gets easier and you grab some joy as you can. For some people this comes effortlessly and for some it is very hard or never comes at all. It is also hard for people at different stages to deal with each other. Life is full of pain and suffering, I think you could easily miss out on a lot if you are always waiting for better times.
posted by meepmeow at 7:31 PM on December 28, 2013 [10 favorites]

Suppose I owe you $500, and I promised I would repay you today. But when you come up to me, I say, "I'm sorry, but I also owed someone else $1000 bucks, and I had to give all my money to them!" Maybe I was right to use my limited resources to pay them rather than you -- maybe they really needed the money right now, and you didn't... But all the same: I still owe you $500, and you're probably cheesed off I didn't pay you back, right?

Right now, the limited resource in question isn't money. Instead, it's time and emotional concern. Being in a relationship with someone means taking some responsibility for their emotional needs, giving your time to them, etc. It's not really appropriate to say you 'owe' someone love and care... But you can think of it as something like a responsibility: if you are close to someone, it is your responsibility to love them and care for them, as is appropriate given the nature of your relationship.

So, your entire relationship, you've been giving all of your love and concern to your dying family member. That seems like the right decision to make. But this means that you haven't had the time and care to offer to your boyfriend. His needs came second, didn't they? Then he comes up to you and he says, "Look, I'd really like some more time -- I'd like more of your concern and care." And you respond with, "I'm sorry, but I had to give it to someone else." Just as you'd be cheesed if I paid someone else rather than you, it makes sense that he would be cheesed that your attention hasn't been on him. You weren't wrong to 'spend' your time and care where you did... But, equally, he isn't wrong to notice that he hasn't been receiving what he needs.

This, I think, is what people mean when they say that you're not really in a position to be in a romantic relationship right now: your attention is elsewhere. It's like how, if you have a certain amount of debt already, you shouldn't be taking out more loans: given your current responsibilities and commitments, it just isn't right for you to be seeking out even more.

So, what's the point of all of this? The point is, you shouldn't hold it against your boyfriend when he notes that he feels like he isn't getting the care and attention he needs. It's not that you should have prioritized things differently, given the horrible situation you have been in. It's just that, given that horrible situation, you haven't been in the position to give him what he needs. You may want to spend some time out of a relationship entirely -- give yourself time to focus on your emotional needs for a while, without being accountable to someone else. But it's unfair for you to assume that, because you're not able to 'pay your due' to your boyfriend (in terms of emotional care and concern), he's wrong to feel as though there's a certain amount he is due.

You're not wrong. But neither is he. And you may be in one of those circumstances where, despite neither party being 'wrong', the relationship just isn't well-positioned to succeed.
posted by meese at 7:51 PM on December 28, 2013 [15 favorites]

Frankly, I'm not seeing that you actually love this person. Do you?

Because what jumped out is not that you don't have tons of extra time and physical/emotional energy to give at the moment (which is completely and totally normal and justified), but THIS:

I told him it was out or order to be having this discussion considering I'm still grieving.

What it looks like you're saying that as long as you're still grieving, it's out of order for him to express his needs or bring up anything that bothers him. Really? At all? How long is this going to last? Indefinitely? Until you decide that his needs start to matter again (if ever)? Do you not see how this isn't actually OK?

The problem with death and grief in a relationship is that it IS so all-encompassing, so legitimately huge, that it easily becomes a wild card for the person grieving - a trump card, a "get out of jail free," a way to deny all responsibility for your role in the relationship and your own personal ability to effect other people's lives. And as many people have told you, in some pretty harsh terms (because a lot of us have been on the other side of this), that's ... not fair to the other person. Flat out.

Semi related example: I had an ex who abused me. He abused me because he, himself, had been horribly, violently, tragically abused as a child, and he had been unable to get appropriate help and support afterwards, and he was left basically incapable of dealing with certain aspects of life. Certain events would trigger a sort of PTSD reaction that he took out on me. To this day, I don't think he was a bad person. I don't think he was in control of his reactions. I think he thought he was doing his best. It was still a horrible, terrible, unhealthy and sick situation for me, and one of the best things I ever did was to run from him as fast and far away as I possibly could.

I had another ex who had a relative die (near the end of our relationship) and his horrid anger and vitriol in the aftermath of this and his random withdrawals, outbursts and refusal to even acknowledge the hurt he was causing to anyone else was one of the final nails in that particular coffin as well.

So yeah. My point is that you can be legitimately at the end of your rope, you can be legitimately "trying," and you can still be mistreating someone. The world is full, fucking FULL of tragedy and pain. It is. Fact. Most of us have experienced some aspect of it. Your boyfriend has been through it and may well be thinking "wait, I had something like this happen to me and I didn't treat loved ones like shit, why is she treating me like this? Maybe she's checking out of the relationship?" and I don't blame him for that; it's one of those things that bring out aspects of your character and personality that can get... messy, to say the least. But the fact is, if you want to keep a relationship, you DO need to play fair. You DO need to keep his feelings and needs in mind. I'm not saying you have to do anything, go all out, ignore your own needs. But, for example, when you're going to check out for a day or a weekend, yeah, you need to give him an explanation, say "I'm sorry, I know this is hard but I need some space for a bit, it's not your fault, I'll call you when I feel like talking again." When you can't help with dishes you could say "I wish I could help but you know how crappy I feel right now, I really appreciate you understanding this." Things like that would demonstrate that you are not being completely and totally selfish, and while caring for yourself you are making an effort not to cause too much collateral damage.
posted by celtalitha at 1:50 PM on December 29, 2013 [4 favorites]

I have been a carer for a dying person, and it is very stressful. However, it was part of my longterm relationship with my husband (it was his father, we were all close and had agreed to live together for the duration). So it's stressful under the best of circumstances.

Sounds like you need a level of love and support that doesn't match a newer relationship. From my experience, being harshed on to meet someone's needs at this time, it's hard, especially at the holidays. Your brain needs time to just deal with the aftermath. No one can see the injury, it's not like a broken bone, but it still needs time to heal.

And so little things, like what movie to watch or who didn't do dishes, or not feeling cared for, those things can get magnified while you are going through this extremely emotional time. I myself would be put off by someone telling me my tone was off when I was going through this. I think people telling you to pay attention and meet the needs of someone maybe don't get how stressed out you really are. It's a bit of a shock, to say the least.

Why don't you just give yourself a break and give the relationship a vacation? Just be honest and say, "I am not in a good place right now to be fully invested in this relationship, so I need to take a break for a couple of weeks." Or a month, however long you need. Then re-visit it and see if you both want to proceed. He may want to move on. But from what you describe, it sounds like he wants more than you can give right now and I really, really understand that.

I wish you and your family well. Feel free to MeMail me if you want to talk.
posted by Marie Mon Dieu at 4:34 PM on December 29, 2013 [4 favorites]

Almost every time we were on the phone he said I was taking a 'tone' with him and had been distant for a while. I told him I couldn't handle this on top of looking after my family and said I didn't want to see him for a while. I then switched off my phone and was by myself for a whole weekend to get my feelings in order and just let myself feel what I felt.

Your boyfriend has an issue with your relationship, and your response it to refuse to even acknowledge it. This is why he's no longer sympathetic; you're avoiding doing your part in the relationship. Your tragedy is very real, but it's drowning out your relationship, and no one is going to be okay with that forever.

You are not only comfortable just with refusing to acknowledge his grievances, you are now telling him it's against the rules for him to even bring it up:

I told him it was out or order to be having this discussion considering I'm still grieving.

If your grief is really that all-encompassing- where it's out of order for him to bring up a problem with the relationship- you shouldn't be dating anyone. Just go ahead and break-up as you were going to.
posted by spaltavian at 8:03 PM on December 29, 2013 [7 favorites]

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