How to have a healthy relationship?
November 9, 2014 6:50 PM   Subscribe

I'm 21 years old, just got out of a long term relationship 6 months ago, and started dating a new guy a month ago. I really like him, and really want this to work. I think we both have different expectations of being in a relationship, and I suspect my expectations and behaviors are unhealthy as my last relationship was basically my life and it was suffocating. How can I make this a healthy one?

I am 21 years old, just got out of a five year relationship 6 months ago. I told myself that I didn't want to be in a relationship for at least a year, to sort myself and my life out since I basically let my entire life revolve around my ex boyfriend and didn't have hardly any friends/hobbies when it was over. I felt like I needed to fill all the space my previous relationship had taken up in my life and find my happiness again before I let my life revolve around a guy again. I met a guy I really liked though, we dated for a month and now we're officially together. I'm trying really hard to make it a healthy relationship, and not repeat the same clingy and dependent behaviors as my last relationship. I need advice though.

Basically we met on okcupid in early August. We had a lot in common. I told him I wasnt looking for a relationship. Early September we met in person. Got along great. Went on a few dates/hangouts, he asked me what I was looking for the second time we hung out and I told him I just got out of a 5 yr relationship and wasn't looking for anything, he said he just wanted something casual and nothing long term or serious. Our fifth date, were really getting along and having good times together, actually started being physical, and he tells me how awesome he thinks I am and asks me again how far I'm willing to let this go. I tell him I don't have an answer, I needed to think about it. A few hangouts later and he keeps asking me if I've thought about it. I met his family and a few of his friends and they're great. One night after we went to a concert together I told him I thought about it and that I really liked him. And he asked me to be his girlfriend. This was 5 weeks after we'd met in person, just 4 weeks ago.

I don't think he's had many girlfriends and isn't sure how to exactly be a boyfriend or something. But I'm also wary of what I think is normal for a relationship, because basically my only other one was super unhealthy, we hung out almost everyday and didn't really have boundaries and I had no separate identity. He has a lot of friends and works a lot, about 50 hours a week, and lives at home. He's 24 also. We've hung out a handful of times in the past month since we've been official, maybe 6 times and talked on the phone a couple times, and texted most days of only a couple texts, just saying how are you. I find myself stressing out about our relationship because of the lack of communication, I feel disconnected and start getting insecure and feel like maybe he changed his mind and doesn't like me as much or something. I want to talk to him more, maybe texting some and maybe a phone call every other day or something. I usually always wait for him to text me first though. Last week we had a conversation about this, because I didn't hear from him for 2 days and felt like he was blowing me off a couple times, and I asked him if everything was okay. He said it was. I said well I was just wondering because I didn't hear from you for a couple days and we don't really talk that much. He just said he works a lot and his friends are saying the same thing, and he's trying to make time for them too. He said we should have one date night scheduled a week, and that he'd try to call more. He said he really did like me and wanted to make this work and just wanted to take things slow. But he's the one who pushed to be my boyfriend. We did go on a date on Wednesday, I tried to call him Thursday night but he was sleeping early, and didn't text me back until late Friday afternoon, and we've just exchanged a couple texts in the past couple days.

I guess I'll just cut this short and ask my question, how often is normal for communication in the beginning of a relationship? How can I recognize my healthy needs and boundaries and maintain my independence in the relationship? I've been trying to hang out with what friends I do have, been trying to keep up on my hobbies, but I keep getting stressed over the relationship. How does one have a healthy relationship?
posted by anon1129 to Human Relations (10 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
You know that thinking this hard about it and putting this much energy into it---well, you're never going to be able to compensate for his deficits.

You're better off doing less thinking and investing less energy in it. If he's a lousy boyfriend, that's on him. You can't hold the whole show up by yourself.

Just know if it doesn't work out, it's not your fault.
posted by discopolo at 6:59 PM on November 9, 2014 [3 favorites]

I think that there is no real answer to this except: who are you? Do you have your own career, school, life, friends away from this guy, etc.? So that your whole life is not wrapped up into either your former guy or this current guy, I mean.

Do you have a job? Do you have somewhere you want to go in life? It doesn't matter what the answers to those questions are, as long as you have something, that's not connected to whether or not this guy is asking you how much you want to be with him. Because it sounds like you are uncomfortable, he pushes you, and then you cave in and then make excuses for him.

Is he what you really want in a guy? Or have you just sort of fallen into it and been pushed into it by him asking you so much that you don't know what you want? Because once you start analyzing a guy and making excuses for him, that makes it all about that guy. You can't fix him and the point is: you should be happy in a relationship, not fixing and questioning. You should be all going for coffee or picnics or to a the movies or sitting around playing video games and cuddling with each other, touching your foreheads and feeling the good vibe and smiling.

Are you smiling when you think of him? Because that is what you should be doing. If you are not smiling when you think of your man, then let him got and get another. I still smile when I think of my man. He makes me smile. I know he loves me and he has my best interests at heart and he would walk on fire for me. I don't have to question that. He is who is he is and he doesn't need fixing because he is my friend and he lights my fire. He is also a huge slob and can't fix anything to save his life and I fear for my life when he is driving. But he has a good heart. So ask yourself, does this guy make you feel great and happy?
posted by Marie Mon Dieu at 7:35 PM on November 9, 2014 [7 favorites]

Best answer: I am like you. I had a series of boyfriends that I was smooshed with so closely that I didn't even know my identity. I had no life outside of them.

Now I am dating a man who isn't like that. He values his time alone or with his friends and his other stuff. Not as much as he values me and spending time with me, but it took awhile for that to happen. And that's not the way I usually have done relationships. But the other way, the smooshy I-become-you-you-become-me thing was not working for me. In fact, it got me into a lot of trouble when one of my boyfriends turned out to be abusive. That taught me a serious and valuable lesson about going slowly and taking time and evaluating people and how they fit into my life before jumping head-first into a serious relationship with anybody, romantic or otherwise.

But even having that desire and knowing that and having a logical path does not make actually enacting it a piece of cake! It's been hard to rewire my usual ways of being. I've intentionally sought out people like my boyfriend or my good friends now to spend time with and to cultivate friendships and relationships with, because they've taught me how to move slowly through osmosis - I see how they do it and have been able to do it too. Its not my natural way and it takes a lot of work to be this way for me - less work now, much much less. People are creatures of habit and we like what is known and now that I have a peaceful life full of boundaries and humans who respect them I see the value and am creating a groove and a pattern. But that did not happen overnight. I had a lot of anxiety like you describe when my boyfriend and I first started dating. Over time I relaxed and got comfortable and now when I don't hear from him I don't even notice half the time.

For me the biggest way to work towards that was being patient with myself, filling up my time with hobbies and interesting things to do, and writing a journal about my feelings. I also went on an SSRI for anxiety and can't say enough good things about the experience. I have a lot of anxiety issues in general and medication has changed my life a lot. Things that normally would make me feel awful or panic - he hasn't texted and that means he is actively ignoring me and he doesn't like me spirals, for example - just don't make me freak out anymore. Instead I note them and move on and if I need to I will bring it up in conversation.

That brings me to my final point. It's not clear to me if his communication is pretty much the same as it was before you became official. He may not know or understand that you associate having an exclusive relationship with the labels "boyfriend" and "girlfriend" to mean anything more than "we are only going to be physically and emotionally intimate with one another." If what you desire is a change from what you did before you became exclusive that is totally fine, but you should work on communicating that with him directly by talking about it. "Hey, when I am in an exclusive relationship I like hearing from my significant other every other day or so, that is important to me. What do you think?" Before you talk to him think and maybe journal about what exactly you want. Don't settle for "just enough" - if you really want to have at least some minimal contact daily, ask for that. Don't say every other day is fine if that's not what you want. He might not be able to do every day, but being honest about what you want will help you both come up with a workable compromise.

Good luck. Relationships are hard but you have a good head on your shoulders. It took me until my late 20s and early 30s to even begin figuring this kind of stuff out.
posted by sockermom at 8:28 PM on November 9, 2014 [7 favorites]

Well done for thinking about this stuff young in life.. if you can think about it now it may well save you the headache of trying to unpick hard and established patterns later. The Good Men project recently (?) did a post on the key ingerdient of a healthy relationship, worth a read.. this boiled it down to self awareness. Recognising stuff.. which you are clearly learning to do.

No one can be everything to us, no one can 'complete' us.. that is our work alone. Try not to set either of you up for a fall.. think about what a healthy relationship looks like/seems like to you from those you know.. why? It is hard however to really know what a relationship is liike on the inside though. A big question.. but for sure we are bombarded with unhealthy respresentations. Questioning, as you are, seems a good start.
posted by tanktop at 2:23 AM on November 10, 2014

Maybe I'm reading this wrong, but I disagree with the answers you've received. I don't see where you're looking for this guy to complete you or where your thinking is unhealthy at all.

I'd be unhappy if the person I was dating didn't want to have some type of contact with me daily. From what I'm reading, you're seeing each other once a week and when you're not together, sometimes he doesn't contact you for a few days. I'd find that too distant for my tastes as well.

We all have our own standards, but I think you're fine. I wouldn't be happy with someone who didn't want to be in touch with me daily. I mean, it doesn't take all that much effort to text saying, "Hey, just thinking about you."

But instead of getting insecure, I think you're better off just telling him that you like him and it makes you happy to check in with him every day. That it would mean a lot TO YOU if you two could fill each other in about your days.

He's either going to up his game because he likes you and wants you to be happy, or he's not going to be bothered. But nothing's going to change if you don't speak up.
posted by kinetic at 2:50 AM on November 10, 2014 [4 favorites]

Best answer: You have a healthy relationship by communicating clearly and honestly. Both people need to do it. It's not unreasonable to want acknowledgement from your boyfriend every day. If you want that, my approach would be to tell your boyfriend. If he doesn't want that, then one of you is going to have to compromise. If neither of you are happy to compromise then the relationship probably isn't a good fit.

He also does sound very busy which means that, unlike men who might be bored and looking for a girlfriend to fill their time, he will need to choose to prioritize you. He does have some free time and how he spends that free time is his choice, whether he takes 10 minutes out of his day to have a quick text/phone call with you or sees you more than once a week. If you want to see or hear from him more often that is completely fine, but you need to tell him. It may be that he doesn't want that.

You seem aware of what behaviors are unhealthy (spending all your time together, not having separate identities) but are having trouble telling how much contact is appropriate. It doesn't sound like you want anything unreasonable from your post, though. And if you really do just want something casual then this sounds like it's something casual. If you want a deeper relationship you will have to see each other more and talk more--that's the only way you'll get to know each other.

But if you really don't want the same things it might be better to end it now. You also might have an easier time developing your own identity (if that's what you want to do) if you just don't date AT ALL for right now and then, when you know yourself and what you want better, then start dating.

(I was in a nearly identical position to this a year and a half ago: he pushed for an exclusive relationship right from the start, was great and super into me while also being distant and out of contact. He said he wanted a girlfriend but was not treating me like one. He was treating me like a girlfriend on call and it was not what I was after. I communicated this, said I thought he was great but the relationship wasn't making me happy, he got angry and said he was busy, I said I knew he was busy but he chose how to spend his free time and if we don't want the same things that is absolutely fine but I'm not obviously not sticking around for it. And then he started actually putting effort into the relationship and now he almost smothers me...)
posted by Polychrome at 4:58 AM on November 10, 2014 [3 favorites]

Best answer: If you, personally, believe that in the past
you allowed your relationship with you BF to overwhelm the rest of your life and now you are dating a guy who isn't necessarily into daily contact, perfect.

Why not try having a relationship where you give yourself two or even three days off? Don't tell him, just don't reach out as often and be sure to make your own plans so you aren't always available at the drop of a hat.
posted by Lesser Shrew at 5:09 AM on November 10, 2014 [1 favorite]

I don't really understand the problem. You're not marrying him. If the relationship takes on a character that feels wrong to you, you can do something about it at that point, or even break up at that point. If you feel that option won't be open to you, that's the real problem. It's you, not him.
posted by Obscure Reference at 5:23 AM on November 10, 2014

Best answer: There is no right amount. If you feel like the interaction you do have with him is healthy - that he's not game-playing and he's just a busy person with a more than full-time job and probably family obligations (that differ from if he had a roommate or cat) since he lives at home - and the only actual issue is your anxiety because you're coming from a skewed perspective, the way out is through.

Sit with your discomfort. Talk yourself through it, learn from it, allow yourself to feel it. Use it to recalibrate what "normal" is, and before long you will become accustomed to it.

Which is not to say that every discomfort is something you should make yourself get used to, but you should learn to question the source of discomfort instead of acting as if all of it is bad.
posted by Lyn Never at 8:24 AM on November 10, 2014 [1 favorite]

Best answer: When you're dating you should be scheduling your time as the invitations come in. So lets say folks are going out for drinks after work on Tuesday. Then you're busy Tuesday. If your favorite show comes on on Thursday, then you're busy Thursday. If you're having a girls night with wine and rom coms on Saturday, then you're busy on Saturday. If Sunday morning is when you clean and do get the idea.

Guy will see that he needs to plan to get on your schedule or it's not going to happen. One of two things will happen, Guy will step up and contact you more to insure that he's getting his share of you, or he won't.

The good news is that either way, you're not sitting at home waiting on Guy. Also, you're out with other people, other experiences and other distractions, so you're not all bajiggidy about when Guy will call or test or whatever.

This is how healthy dating works. Note I said dating. You are dating. Dating.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 9:31 AM on November 10, 2014 [5 favorites]

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