Domestic violence survivor needs help evaluating current relationship
December 3, 2014 1:44 PM   Subscribe

We're both in our 30's, no kids. I'm not very experienced in healthy relationships and want to check my gut reactions to some things. I don't have girlfriends close enough to ask and my therapist says I'm just thinking too much. (ugh)

I've been with my guy for 2 years and we live together. He wants to get married, like, yesterday but I'm not ready or sure about him 100%. (Is 100% sure even normal?) Because I have a history of missing huge red flags and that I'm still working on trusting myself, I would like to know how relatively healthy strangers would navigate these traits in a partner...if they would be dealbreakers. I know my SO isn't going to change and I'm not trying to change him. I'm asking myself if these are things I can live with and compromise on for a lifetime. Could you?

So, things like this:

We will talk and talk about the same issue (like interrupting me when I'm talking or telling me how I feel), and he'll say, "Ok baby, I'll work on that." It will get better for a while, then go back.

He won't let arguments or stressful conversations go. We will resolve it or agree to talk about it again later. But he will keep peppering conversation with his points for the rest of the day! I've asked him to give me time to calm down in my body (it takes me hours or even a couple of days to feel okay after a surge of argument hormones...I'm being treated for PTSD from past stuff). He just cannot NOT talk if he feels compelled to, despite my expressed discomfort. Like, we were talking about marriage. He knows I'm not sure yet and why, and that I feel pressured by him. He expressed his views and I listened and we ended the conversation with the agreement to discuss it again in a few months. No less than 3 times that night he kept saying he had "one more thing"- "you know the extra money I'd make from being married would cover your car insurance and xyz." "Dude. I know. I'm NOT getting married for money or bennies. When you say things like that, I feel pressured." He'll drop it when HE'S ready. This bothers me. Probably more than anything.

He has different standards of cleanliness and household order. I'm a neat freak though I try very hard to relax about it. He's great with doing his share of the housework. But, he is oblivious to stuff. Blood on his pillowcase from a nosebleed. Where things go in the kitchen. Where the xyz is. That his shoes are in the middle of the doorway. It gets worse. I have seen him bite his nails, spit them onto the living room floor, and then denied he did it. (I JUST SAW YOU DUDE!) Boogers on the shower wall. (gross, sorry) It drives me crazy. He'll spill a drink on the carpet and just let it ride or maaaybe throw a towel over it. I admit I can be messy as well. But it's every single day, something. Nothing is ever where I left it. Something I just cleaned is dirty. Something HE just cleaned is still dirty. I'm not a hard ass. I expect adults to generally clean up after themselves. I like things in the general vicinity of where they belong. I like things sanitary. I like things safe and out of people's way. When I've talked to him about this, he gets defensive and pouty. It doesn't matter how sweetly or lovingly I say it. It's like living with a teenager! And I resent having to tell a grown man to wipe the mud he tracked in. He just doesn't take care of his stuff and it's not cute.

He doesn't have friends or hobbies outside of video games. He will go on outings with me, but that's it. He tried karate but it hurt his back. His day is- work, come home, sofa, tv, bed. I guess lots of people live that way, but I don't want to. I also want to spend time with him. I don't want separate lives. But maybe this is just a basic incompatibility? He says he is happy with his life.

He's sort of innocent in a way and naive. He was raised in a very very strict Christian household and was sheltered from a lot. I come from a family of divorce and abuse. I've lived abroad and generally had many foolish adventures. We have trouble understanding each others experiences sometimes. He doesn't understand some cultural references and, in my mind, very significant people in history. It's just...frustrating to try to talk to him about something other than video games or food.

I don't want bio kids, but I do want to adopt eventually (and I'll do it regardless of if I'm with someone). I want to adopt as many as I can afford and be a good parent to. My priority is that the kid/s and I mesh well and they are comfortable. I don't care about the child's race or exact age (but school age is my pref). My SO is down to adopt someday, but he only wants a very young child from our race. This bothers me because white kids are in much higher "demand" than other races and it's very important to me to make a home for whoever needs it most. Maybe he'll come around? Seems like a gamble. It would break my heart to not be able to adopt because my SO was too picky.

My SO hasn't had much interaction with people from other races or cultures and he has made "jokey" remarks that upset me regarding race before. I worry he is a closet racist. His father wears it on his sleeve and I have bit my tongue at more than one family dinner.

Saying all that, I really don't mean to give the impression that he is just a rude brute. I can't imagine him not in my life (most of the time!). He is the most loving and attentive partner. He would be a really fun dad. He is responsible with money and has a nice career. He is so goofy and irreverent and makes me laugh all the time. He's very supportive of anything I want to do.

I just don't know if the things I listed are typical annoyances that most people live with for someone they love, or if it's a HELL NO/raise your standards you foolish woman type of situation. Thanks so much, I really need some words.
posted by amirite to Human Relations (33 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
Only you know what your deal breakers are. I can't tell you.

"I'll work on it," translates into, 'whatever' if there's no actual action plan. You could do the 'ding training' and see if that works for you.

Frankly, the talking an issue to death thing would drive me batshit. Somethings may go unresolved, we agree to disagree and move on with no more being said. Again, ding training may be the answer.

As for his friends, experiences, etc. He may never want to broaden his world and that can be a problem for you, again, only YOU ,know this.

The issue with adoption is kind of big. Do you want to adopt kids with a man who wants to order off the menu?

Be honest with yourself. Sure, there are some bad habits, and those are low-level annoyances. But some of these things are fundamental incompatibilities. Think long and hard about it.

Don't marry him until you are comfortable. If you don't think you'll be comfortable any time soon, break up and let him find someone who is ready to take him, as he is.

You won't regret not settling.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 1:59 PM on December 3, 2014 [6 favorites]

Raise your standards! I can tell you don't even like him that much.
posted by stoneandstar at 1:59 PM on December 3, 2014 [33 favorites]

I think this is a combination of annoyances, incompatibilities, and one big red flag.

Different cleanliness standards, at least to me, are mostly in annoyance category. I'm not a neat freak-type, though, so maybe it's because I just don't care about that stuff either. :) But...generally I think different styles of how clean to keep a house are not (usually) about respect/disrespect of other people or moral failngs. Honestly...unless you plan to make neat freak your #1 priority in looking for a relationship, I think this is probably an area you will have to compromise on a bit in any relationship. If he actually is good about doing his share of housework, but you guys just have different standards about when/how things get cleaned, that sounds like something you can work with. Different desires for hobbies/going out is, I think in the same boat. It sounds like he will go out with you if you want him to, it's just that he doesn't go out with OTHER people much. I would try to let go of the desire to judge someone else's leisure time. I'm unclear what you mean by "separate lives" since you said he goes out with you...but maybe I'm missing something here?

Desires about adoption and "worldview" differences on issues like race, culture, etc. and inability to make intelligent conversation seem like more significant incompatibilities to me. In some ways it sounds like you don't respect him a whole lot, and I think that's a bad place to be in any relationship (much less marriage!). While some incompatibilites are things you can compromise on or grow together over time, I think these are pretty major issues that at the very least deserve some very serious thought on your part and discussions as a couple, perhaps with a couple's therapist, before tying the knot.

Finally, the argument thing definitely does seem like a pretty big red flag to me. I actually think having different argument styles can by totally fine, and for someone with a different history I might be willing to say this is more of an incompatibility thing that could be overcome. However, if it's the case that he KNOWS you are being treated for PSTD and that his actions are making that PTSD worse...that's really not okay. (This assumes he knows your history and that this behavior is triggering for you. If not, you guys need to have that conversation and see if things change.) It's as if your partner had diabetes and you purposefully hid their insulin! When someone is ill, either physically or with a mental illness, you don't go out of your way to make them worse! You're asking a relatively minor thing from him (i.e. when I'm having physical symptoms of PTSD, please give me some space and return to the conversation at a stated point in the future), and it's really not cool to ignore that. I'm not sure if this would be a dealbreaker to me, but it would definitely be something I would need to see resolved in some way before I could feel comfortable with marriage.
posted by rainbowbrite at 2:03 PM on December 3, 2014 [2 favorites]

Two observations:
  1. You don't have to settle. There are plenty of people out there, your life is yours to live, you should set your standards where you want them to be and strive for what you want to accomplish with it. Sounds to me like you're settling for this guy rather than going out and getting what you really want.
  2. I don't know where you are, but Kaiser Permanente offers a 6 week couple's communication class for a hundred bucks. It's a cheap alternative to therapy, and, yes, some of the exercises are cheesy and eye-roll inducing, but it's also a good way to explore some alternative communication patterns if the "talk an issue to death" thing is getting to you.

posted by straw at 2:04 PM on December 3, 2014 [3 favorites]

None of those things make him a serial killer, but they might very well make him a bad partner for you.

For someone with a higher level of emotional churn, not listening/respecting your discussion boundaries, talking over you? That's not necessarily a productive thing to bring into your life.

The cleanliness thing, especially the situational blindness and boogers and stuff: lots of women live with this sexism in their lives and just eat it, but understand clearly that someone who benefits from intentional incompetence is not going to get better just because you bring a child in the house. I'm sure he'll be a super-fun dad, but did you want him to help? Or do you want him to "help" by doing everything so badly that you have to do it all yourself? Do you want this to be what you teach sons and/or daughters about what kind of standards to have? If this is what you want to sign up for, then buy it and pay for it and know that you will always be responsible for the emotional labor and you will never be able to depend on him for help.

He is not the "most loving and attentive partner" if he disregards your feelings and doesn't see the need to pull his weight domestically. He may be some loving and attentive, but not most.
posted by Lyn Never at 2:06 PM on December 3, 2014 [26 favorites]

He is the most loving and attentive partner.

No he's not. If he's not attentive to the fact that you don't like the boogers on the shower wall, he's not the most attentive. If he keeps arguing, knowing it will upset you, he's not the most loving. You can and should raise your standards.
posted by clavicle at 2:07 PM on December 3, 2014 [32 favorites]

His day is- work, come home, sofa, tv, bed. I guess lots of people live that way, but I don't want to. I also want to spend time with him. I don't want separate lives. But maybe this is just a basic incompatibility? He says he is happy with his life.

All the other stuff notwithstanding, this jumped out at me. This is the life he wants. At rest, this is what he wants his life to look like. This is not what you want your life to look like. This is not something that is going to change the way you want it to.

Another thing I'd like to mention is this: If you keep having the conversation with someone where they keep saying they'll work on something, and that conversation just seems to keep on happening, sooner or later you need to accept that they're not going to change. It doesn't mean anyone in the equation is bad or anything, just that it isn't likely to be a good fit.

It sounds like you're kind of settling for this guy; he's not a frothing, abusive maniac but that doesn't mean he's necessarily good for you, either. It sounds like he annoys you more than he doesn't; if I were in your situation, I definitely would not marry this guy, and I'd probably break up given that fact.
posted by FAMOUS MONSTER at 2:16 PM on December 3, 2014 [19 favorites]

Two things you said:
I know my SO isn't going to change and I'm not trying to change him.

I guess lots of people live that way, but I don't want to.

So, he isn't going to change, you aren't going to change him, and you don't want to live this way. Sounds like it's time to go. (FWIW: I am usually the lone voice in AskMe arguing against the tide of DTMFA.)

I don't think it's a HELL NO and all that. But I was married to a man who just couldn't drop an argument, had to win, was always a day late and dollar short on promised changes, etc. Things got gradually better on some fronts over time, but most of those issues never really truly got resolved. We ultimately divorced.

I won't do that to myself again. However, I am at a place mentally where I would rather be alone than be with someone bringing me down. I am really, really clear that I don't want to have the kind of relationship where I am saying things like "Can't live with him, can't live without him." I am clear that I am willing to pursue a relationship where he is a net enhancement to my life, not a compromise because I am tired of sleeping alone or whatever.

I had an abusive childhood. I am still learning to ID decent men effectively. My experience has been that when I change sufficiently, men of a certain caliber stop fobbing onto me and men of a new caliber start taking notice. This was surprising to me. But it is a detail that makes me hopeful that refusing to settle will not mean resigning myself to being alone. I previously thought I either had to put up with shit from someone or be alone and I was terrified of being alone, so I put up with a lot of shit. So this is a nice mental place for me to be right now in some ways.

Best of luck.
posted by Michele in California at 2:17 PM on December 3, 2014 [8 favorites]

Dude does not respect boundaries when you put them up, and he doesn't follow through completely when you stand up for your needs.
Your gut is right. DTMF and know that you know yourself better now.
posted by Hermione Granger at 2:20 PM on December 3, 2014 [1 favorite]

I think these things are very large incompatibilities.

I also think you should talk to your therapist about why your therapist is blowing off your concerns, because that's also a red flag to me.
posted by jaguar at 2:22 PM on December 3, 2014 [3 favorites]

Best answer: When I first emerged as a survivor of domestic violence, I thought the first man I dated after that hung the moon. He was so kind (and didn't hit me) so sensitive (and didn't hit me), so giving (and didn't hit me), so willing to work on things (and didn't hit me).

I felt like he was more than I deserved. Wasn't I damaged? How much could I really expect, at my age, and with my looks, and with my history? I was lucky, I thought.

Then I broke up with him, and met someone else. And rinse, and repeat. And what I eventually came to realize was that my calibrations and expectations just getting out of an abusive relationship for what was standard and what was great were out of line. And that I deserved something that was great, not just something that I thought was better than I deserved.

However, I will also point out that when you are first emerging from DV, one of the things that is most important is a sense of control. In the violent relationship, they generally controlled the living space, the rules of the house, reproductive/family choices, how to communicate, etc. When you first get out of it, the sense of not having to follow their rules, of getting to create your own, can be enormously liberating. And here this guy comes, and he wants you to live with his rules. He is messy where you are neat, he doesn't want to follow your communication boundaries, he wants babies while you want school-age children. These things are not necessarily dealbreakers in and of themselves - all of them could be worked out in couples counseling, I suspect. But the question is - how do you feel, internally, about compromise? It is a perfectly acceptable answer to suggest that you are not willing to relinquish control to another person yet. But it's something you need to look at. The most important thing is you being self-aware of how you're feeling - far more than the specific details of this guy.
posted by corb at 2:29 PM on December 3, 2014 [40 favorites]

You don't seem happy with him. If you were single, you could live life on your own terms. There would be no having to train anybody or feel bad because you don't have the relationship you wish you had. You wouldn't have to feel like you're stuck with some annoying guy who has nothing in his life but video games. I mean, do you/can you really respect him as a person, a man or a partner when he has no friends?

Also, your therapist seems to be kind of phoning it in by blowing off what is clearly important to you. That's so weird of her. Do you find that weird of her? How helpful do you think your therapist is being? (Because, you know, just because she might be great for others or has been helpful before, doesn't mean she's being helpful now.)
posted by discopolo at 2:33 PM on December 3, 2014 [1 favorite]

You only live one life. Is this honestly the person you want to spend x number of years with it?

I'm not saying he's a bad dude, but at the very least he seems really indifferent about your relationship together. Maybe it's time to find someone that isn't.

Good luck!
posted by Fister Roboto at 2:41 PM on December 3, 2014 [1 favorite]

There are some differences you may be able to live with here, but there are also things that sounds like major incompatibilities and red flags. His badgering you with more argument points when you have repeatedly asked him for a temporary reprieve is a very bad sign. He prioritizes his own impulses over your well-being. Considering the PTSD component, this is really unacceptable. Someone who needs to "win" at the expense of compassion or empathy is not someone who will be a good partner or parent, in my opinion.

It's my belief that you'll never find a perfect match in a mate, but if you want to find a successful match, they have to possess qualities that you consider non-negotiable. They have to come to the table with those qualities already deeply established. Hoping that maybe someday they'll get better at certain things or that you'll eventually find common ground is not a good foundation for a life-long partnership. It doesn't sound like this man possesses enough of your non-negotiable values and orientations. It doesn't mean that you can't love one another or that he's a bad person, it just means that he's likely not a good long-term match for you. Marriage and partnership is challenging enough without you stacking the deck against yourself.

As for your therapist, I would strongly suggest that you look into finding someone new to work with. A therapist that says, "you're thinking too much" when you're thinking about a major life decision isn't being helpful or appropriate. At a minimum, I would be quite concerned that they're both aware of your history of PTSD and also not very concerned about your boyfriend's lack of respect for your boundaries and emotional/mental wellbeing.
posted by quince at 2:44 PM on December 3, 2014 [5 favorites]

I don't think these are typical annoyances, no. We don't all need to have the same dealbreakers, of course, but for me these would be a few: closet racist, no friends at all, won't let arguments go. Really, just one of these would be enough. Adding onto it a shower booger level of grossness, which goes beyond not noticing mess to flat out not caring, and I think there is a lot to be unhappy with here. And I think the most important part is that you're unhappy with a lot of things in your relationship. Being unhappy in your relationship is reason enough to break up.

Raise your standards to the level of finding someone who can discuss disagreements without triggering your PTSD, wants to enjoy life at a similar level of outgoingness as you, and can pull their weight around the house as much as you would like (whether that's equally split or not). When people talk about being too picky about finding partners, they mean things like wanting a spouse to watch every exact same tv show, participate in all the same hobbies, oh, and also tall. You are not being this level of picky by a long shot. It's okay to ask for someone to enjoy doing one of the same things you enjoy, and even better, look for someone interested in trying your things, while you can try out his/her favorite things. Asking for these along with someone decent with money, who is not racist, funny, and supportive of you, is a good level of standards to stick to.

I can't imagine him not in my life (most of the time!).
Work on your imagination. Really dream and see what kind of life you'd rather have for yourself. I think you can have it if you try.

I'm surprised at the level of unhelpful your therapist was about this -- if you've told her/him the same kind of stuff you told us and they said to dismiss your concerns, I think it's time to dismiss your therapist. They should be on your side to figure out what's best for you. At a bare minimum they should listen and it doesn't seem like they did here.
posted by Margalo Epps at 2:56 PM on December 3, 2014 [3 favorites]

I have to tell my fiancé to do almost everything - clean the kitty litter, take the garbage out, turn on the dishwasher, do some laundry, pick up his shoes, pick up his jeans, pick up his socks... you catch my drift. In your question, you ask if this is "normal" behavior - and yes, it is for some people I guess, but everyone is different.

My honey is just that type of guy that needs to be ASKED to do things before he does them. He was the very youngest of 6 kids and he's been babied his whole life. It's not malicious at all - it's just that, when I see something that needs doing i.e. Laundry, I'll do it. He fill the basket until it's overflowing or until someone (i.e. me) politely asks him to do it.

This is irritating, yes - but he also does SO much stuff for me that I'm incapable or unwilling to do i.e. build shelves, chop fire-wood. As long as there's a healthy compromise, you're fine.

However, there was one line in your question that really struck me:

I guess lots of people live that way, but I don't want to.

and THIS, I think, is the real crux of the issue. If you're living a life with him that is unsatisfactory to you, I really think you have your answer. MANY many people are more than happy with the same routine every day; work, home, eat, sofa, tv, sleep...... but if you're not one of these people, I think you have to ask yourself if you'll be happy living like this in the long run.
posted by JenThePro at 2:57 PM on December 3, 2014

People have different "red flags" for stuff. They have different standards.

People also write questions on here hoping to be validated or supported with something they have already decided. I don't know if thats the situation or not, I'm just saying that is commonly done, and that shouldn't be discounted here.

So in the end, who knows.

BUT...throughout your entire question, you did not say ANYTHING about you loving him despite being with him for 2 years and having several marriage talks.


I think you should break it off with this dude, and find someone you feel more comfortable with. This would be good for both of you. Good luck.
posted by hal_c_on at 2:59 PM on December 3, 2014

Response by poster: corb: However, I will also point out that when you are first emerging from DV, one of the things that is most important is a sense of control. In the violent relationship, they generally controlled the living space, the rules of the house, reproductive/family choices, how to communicate, etc. When you first get out of it, the sense of not having to follow their rules, of getting to create your own, can be enormously liberating. And here this guy comes, and he wants you to live with his rules. He is messy where you are neat, he doesn't want to follow your communication boundaries, he wants babies while you want school-age children. These things are not necessarily dealbreakers in and of themselves - all of them could be worked out in couples counseling, I suspect. But the question is - how do you feel, internally, about compromise? It is a perfectly acceptable answer to suggest that you are not willing to relinquish control to another person yet. But it's something you need to look at. The most important thing is you being self-aware of how you're feeling - far more than the specific details of this guy.

Nailed it. This is exactly the internal struggle I've felt for the last 2 years. Thank you thank you thank you! It's like you cracked my head open and and stuck a flashlight in there. Reading your answer gave me the most beautiful sense of relief. I'm not sure how much more compromise I can do (I've moved and passed on a job to be with my SO) and feel in control of my life. I do understand why this is so important to me now instead of beating myself up for being a controlling stubborn harpy. I'm going to sit with this and let it churn around in there while I make sure I'm financially able to leave if I choose to.

All of you've given me so much to think about and boatloads of validation. Thank you all so much!
posted by amirite at 3:02 PM on December 3, 2014 [34 favorites]

Here's the thing - if you're not happy and you know it and you want to leave - leave! You have everyone's permission, and it is the right thing to do. If the way you argue is too much on your nervous system, leave!

However, if you're asking if these are objective red flags and incompatibilities, then... no? Everyone has shit they're really difficult or annoying about. Any partner you'll find will drive you up a wall with some aspect of their personality. Maybe this guy needs to be brought into a therapy session to understand how some of his behavior is upsetting to your PTSD specifically, but he seems to love and respect you, and hopefully will be willing to learn...

I just think people on this site throw in the towel on other people's relationships with a bit too much ease. If what you're asking is whether these are objective dealbreakers - the answer is no.
posted by namesarehard at 3:08 PM on December 3, 2014 [1 favorite]

Here is the thing. You actually have to make the life you want for yourself. Sure, you are with a decent guy who isn't a murderer and you could be together and do whatever and slowly go nuts as he Pigpens around spilling soda all over the house. But. You can also make the exact life you want for yourself. I was engaged to a guy and there was literally nothing wrong with him except that he was unambitious, did not earn much money and viewed my money as our shared money (which terrified me). He was madly in love with me and really happy in our relationship. I realized we could get married, maybe have kids, and I could be unhappy and kind of frustrated and/or panicky about money every single day for the rest of my life or oh, hey, I could break up with him (an improvement), be single (an improvement), crystallize what kind of life I really wanted for myself (an improvement) and then set out at making that life a reality (an improvement).

I probably sound like I am an insane person/Oprah, but I basically just mean things like this: the guy I was engaged to was foundering around between jobs and earning really shit money. I knew if we had a kid he would not be in the kind of stable, long-term job that earned enough to allow for me to take a year of mat leave and then maybe stay home longer. Basically, I'd have to take minimal mat leave and then get back to earning big dollars while he was at home with our kid. That was not okay with me. He was messy and lazy and I knew that I'd come home every day to an entire house to clean up and 45 minutes of time with my kid. I'm really, really organized and energetic and hands-on and I would be really engaged and productive while I was at home. So the thought of having a kid and then having my partner stay at home with it because he was only earning ten dollars an hour at his mall job anyway was like okay, this is not what I want my life to look like. I want better for myself.

There is no need for you to settle for someone you know is not right for you. Often survivors of abuse think that whatever shitty half-okay scrap of cardboard relationship gets handed to them is the best they can do. It's not. You deserve better. And honestly, the fact that he wants to get married "like yesterday" indicates to me that he knows it.

I suspect this relationship has been a growing one for both of you. He will probably be less sheltered and selfish in his next relationship. And you know for sure now that you are going to move slowly, be selective, and make the life you want for yourself.
posted by kate blank at 3:12 PM on December 3, 2014 [7 favorites]

I do understand why this is so important to me now instead of beating myself up for being a controlling stubborn harpy.

I attended a domestic-violence survivor support group for a while, and one woman talked about how happy she was to be organizing her drawers and closet and home because she knew that she was doing it for herself, that it would stay organized and clean just for her, and that she was finally living in a space that felt wonderful to her, rather than putting up with her ex's mess and destructiveness.

It is so important to get, at a gut level, what it feels like to live exactly as you want without that anxiety of "How's he going to react to X?" all the time. Once you're stable in your own preferences (because it takes time to figure them out!), then you can work on what compromises are acceptable to you, rather than just submitting to what someone else wants.
posted by jaguar at 3:27 PM on December 3, 2014 [9 favorites]

Hmm, well, reading your update is illuminating, and it sounds like you've hit on crucial truths in your recovery. Perhaps a new therapist can help you explore it. However, I will say this - if you want to be in a relationship, and you don't want to compromise, then... It's not even 'good luck' - it's just impossible. Those aren't compatible stances, and no healthy individual would agree to be your partner in a relationship without compromise. Maybe it's healthy to feel this way at this stage of recovery, but probably not exclusively so for the long run.
posted by namesarehard at 3:28 PM on December 3, 2014

Healthy compromises, which require both partners to bend, are much different from unhealthy submission to someone else's wants. It is absolutely worth spending time learning to differentiate the two.
posted by jaguar at 4:12 PM on December 3, 2014 [8 favorites]

- if you want to be in a relationship, and you don't want to compromise, then... It's not even 'good luck' - it's just impossible

OK like in the sense of not ever compromising on whether to get sausage or pepperoni on the pizza? Sure, that's impossible. But in the sense of not compromising on the things that determine *the course of your life*? Like the age of the children you adopt, the way your money is managed or mismanaged, and the degree to which your partner is constantly triggering your PTSD?

Yeah, that's not only possible, it is also awesome. You can absolutely, absolutely, absolutely commit yourself to finding someone who's on the same page as you, without demanding that they meet you word-for-word. Your current dude might not even be reading the same book.
posted by We put our faith in Blast Hardcheese at 5:44 PM on December 3, 2014 [7 favorites]

my therapist says I'm just thinking too much. (ugh)

I think this isn't really the right thing for a therapist to say to you.
posted by A Terrible Llama at 6:08 PM on December 3, 2014 [13 favorites]

Slightly change a few details, and you could be me and this guy could be my most recent ex. So, I guess that tells you what I would do.

my therapist says I'm just thinking too much

"Is this typical of most relationships, or is this objectively untenable?" is a very thinky approach. The therapist might be asking you to dig into how you feel. You personally, not most people, not the objective answer. Feelings, not thoughts.

I'm not sure how much more compromise I can do (I've moved and passed on a job to be with my SO) and feel in control of my life

This seems like a really important observation. This is where you say how you feel.
posted by Bentobox Humperdinck at 6:22 PM on December 3, 2014

I got to the bit where you said he tells you how YOU feel and I was thinking please run. My abusive ex fiance used to tell me how I feel and expected me to compromise all the time. Except it's not compromising if you never get what you need. If he doesn't want to give you what you NEED occasionally then he is controlling.

As for adopting, it sounds like you've already adopted a child you need to take care of and clean up after, except he's a full grown man.

My therapist asked me a very good question when I was having problems with my current partner. So I'll ask you it now.

What if he's not capable of change? Can you/do you want to spend the rest of your life living like you are now?

When I was in a controlling relationship I couldn't imagine not being with him. I was scared and I had no one else as he'd made me feel bad for seeing my Mum! Ask yourself if that's why you can't imagine not being with him.
posted by Ranting Prophet of DOOM! at 7:12 PM on December 3, 2014 [2 favorites]

I came in to say what corb said but it would have been so much less eloquent. That is an exact description of my own experience as well.

Take care.
posted by sockermom at 8:09 PM on December 3, 2014

I've never been abused, and I don't consider myself a control freak in any way, and what you are describing would be unacceptable for me in a partner.

The argument style... I have seen this before and I think it comes from fundamental lack of empathy. He thinks what he has to say is important and harmless; therefore you must listen. He doesn't really place any weight on your feelings about it. He wants to talk and that's the end of the calculus.

The boogers thing, Jesus H. Christ. Come on. Even considerate men can be gross... anyone who's ever shared a bathroom with one knows that... but this is disgusting and really thoughtless and kind of the same lack-of-empathy thing that we saw above. He's not thinking about how it feels for the next person (you) who's going into that shower.

But the biggest red flag about this man as bad partner material is the lack of friends, and frankly, I'd take a good hard look at whether he doesn't have friends because he's fundamentally non-empathetic.

And that's not even getting into the way you want to live and the kind of family you see yourself having someday. Honestly it sounds to me as if the only thing you like about him is that he doesn't hit you. That bar is not high enough to make a marriage.
posted by fingersandtoes at 8:13 PM on December 3, 2014 [9 favorites]

for being a controlling stubborn harpy

Wanting one's living partner to clean up their spills and not track in mud and not leave boogers on the shower walls does not a controlling stubborn harpy make. Needing time to process and think about a difficult conversation about something important without pressure from a partner does not a controlling stubborn harpy make. Having preferences and desires and expecting respect does not a controlling stubborn harpy make. ...You get the idea.

After my abusive relationship my bar was pretty low - it was set at non-abusive. This, for me, was a step up: before my abuser, I pretty much didn't have a bar for how I was treated by my partner. But having a bar that is set many notches above "abuse" doesn't make me stubborn or controlling. It makes me a person that takes care of myself.

I guess what I'm trying to say is this: in my abusive relationship, I was trained to suppress all my desires and needs. Expressing them was met with punishment so often that I learned to keep them inside and to work around them and compromise them invisibly and internally, without involving my abuser. Voicing a need or a boundary with him was like saying "hey, you haven't been cruel to me in a few days; any interest in cutting me down a few pegs right now?" He impressed upon me that my needs were demanding attempts to control him. They were not - but he did a damn good job of convincing me that they were. And I carried that with me for a long time; in some ways, I still do. I feel my heart race when I set boundaries or have difficult conversations with my boyfriend. It's hard! But being in a good, safe relationship has given me the space to learn to express needs without feeling like a demanding shrew.

You're not a harpy. You're a person with needs and boundaries. You're a strong survivor of domestic violence. You're you. Take care of yourself.
posted by sockermom at 5:47 AM on December 4, 2014 [9 favorites]

i think you can do way better than this guy. all that talking about marriage and kids and you didn't write "i love him" anywhere in your post! it's ok to have higher standards. being alone and waiting for a great match is way better than settling for a so-so one. you also sound like you might get bored with his narrow worldview, since you had more varied life experiences and continue to be a curious/open minded person in that sense. his background would also affect the parenting experience a lot.
posted by zdravo at 7:04 AM on December 4, 2014 [1 favorite]

You ask what is normal and what is not normal and what level of compromise is reasonable, and I think that people from outside can only share their experiences, but in the end not answer that for you. The only good compromises are the ones that make you feel decent inside, the ones where that knot that lives in your belly either relaxes or tightens up further. I deal with PTSD, and have lived in a world of dealing with a family tied up in substance abuse (as opposed to domestic violence), and over time I've learned that I need to pay attention to that knot - that knot was sometimes the one last shred of emotion that I was feeling, because I'd worked it down to only having physical symptoms of emotions left.

When you think, "I could live on my own in a clean home", what do you feel in that knot?
When you think, "Twenty years from now, this will still be my life", what do you feel in that knot?
When you imaging having to wait through the system for an extra couple years to adopt a newborn your-race baby instead of a school age child of any race, what do you feel in that knot?

The fundamental incompatabilities I see are around "What child should we adopt?" and the issue of him telling you how to feel. The adoption issue has been addressed above, but I'd like to share what my prior relationships taught me as translations when people tell me how to feel. Maybe some of these will resonate with you:

"If you would just be rational, you'd see...." means "You should do it my way because I want you to" or "You should do it my way because it's what I want".
"It doesn't make any sense for you to feel X" means "You feeling X makes me uncomfortable" or "You feeling X makes it more difficult for me to convince you to do Y"

Has he ever told you, you shouldn't feel a certain way about something? My two big red flags "I'm out the front door" non-negotiables are someone saying, "You shouldn't feel X about Y" and "If you would just be rational, you'd (do the thing the other person wants me to do that I don't want to do)". The reason is that they're intentionally invalidating my experience. Emotions don't have to be rational - they're emotions - and so, you get to feel how you feel about something. No one gets to tell you how you SHOULD feel about something. You feel how you feel and if someone tells you to not feel a certain way, for me that usually means they are threatened in some way by how I feel about it, and I need to pay attention to that.

I've typed out the paragraph for why "If you would just be rational" gives me the heebie-jeebies, but I'm not articulating it well, so I'm just going to type out things that have actually been said to me by people in the past. They're a good illustration of invalidation all on their own.

"If you would just be rational, you'd see why you should date me"
"If you would just be rational, you wouldn't break up with me"
"If you would just be rational, you'd have sex with me"
"If you would just be rational, you'd see why letting me perform X sex act with you is perfectly fine" (when I had explicitly said I did not want to do X)

So, yes. I am very wary of people who use these particular phrases.

I am not a DMTFA type person on the Green. I have a very imperfect relationship with a very imperfect man, and I am myself imperfect. I have made a lot of compromises, some that others would call ridiculous, or would be well over their threshold for acceptable compromises. But as Lyn Never puts it, I chose it. I bought it and paid for it and consider the tradeoff worth the investment. I think if I can look at a compromise and can say, you know, it's still worth being here - then it's an ok compromise. It's when I start thinking "I don't want to live like this" that I know I've paid too much.

I have a couple of other things that might help you as you think through this - I know they were helpful for me at various times.

Don't Talk, Don't Feel, Don't Trust. This is mostly used in substance abuse arenas to talk about the unconscious, unspoken rules that family members tend to follow, but I thought it might be useful to you to see if any of this follows for you. In my first several relationships I followed a lot of the really codependent patterns I'd learned growing up, and when I first heard this phrase in therapy I thought, MY GOD, HOW DID THEY KNOW. So maybe it would be useful for you.

And this is a perennial on the Green, which is always a bit heartbreaking for me to read, but so beautiful and so useful: Dear Sugar - It's ok to leave
posted by RogueTech at 10:27 AM on December 4, 2014 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: Wow, again, I'm so blown away by these responses. They really resonate with me and I am so thankful. I've realized by reading your responses that I never did heal from my past and that is contributing to my mess. RougueTech, yes, Don't Talk, Feel or Trust. My folks weren't addicts, just sober abusers, but I do relate to pretty much all of that.

I don't feel my feelings any more, really, and the ones I do feel I have a hard time trusting. My confidence is in the toilet still, years after the abuse. I guess I thought I was mostly okay because I am functional in life and "seem" normal. But I don't think I'm really okay deep down.

So I made an appointment with a new counselor through a domestic violence recovery program. Hopefully we can address some of the typical thought patterns and traps I tend to get stuck in because I think that's the crux of it.

The relationship is wait and see for now. I want to get a grip on myself first and make a few changes in my life (I really need some decent friends) and see if things are clearer for me one way or another.

Truly, this has been such a wonderful experience here on Metafilter. You all have collectively jostled my brain into a more aware place and I am thankful from the bottom of my soul.
posted by amirite at 1:20 PM on December 4, 2014 [13 favorites]

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