Fix or abandon an LTR?
May 19, 2016 9:35 AM   Subscribe

Our six-year-plus relationship has gone south in a matter of days. I said and did things I could have said and done better and that I regret. I've apologized, but she remains in noncommunicating mode.

We’ve been seeing each other exclusively and very steadily for more than six years. I spend a lot of my free time at her house, including sleepovers at least three nights weekly. On the other days, we always keep in touch via text or phone.

I’m 67; she just turned 66. We’re both divorcees, but our divorces are not recent. We are both cisgender. She is a retired schoolteacher; I am a full-time journalist. I work nights.

I am a recovering alcoholic; she has been romantically involved with other alcoholics, both recovering and practicing. I am fairly shy; she is fairly gregarious. She has children and grandchildren; I have none. Her family ties are very strong. We are both very liberal. Our sex is conventional and outstanding. We’ve both professed countless times that we love each other. I’ve been approved and accepted by her family. She and my sister (my only living close relative) get along famously. We share many interests: performing arts, esp. music; fine arts; movies; favorite TV shows (mostly series); reading and books; cooking and eating; and monogamous sexual relations. Her (very nice) house is on the market, and we planned to buy a place and move in together.

A week ago, I was buying food for her birthday dinner, it took me longer than I expected and I was late getting to her house. When I got there, I tried to apologize but she went out to get food, even though I could have had dinner on the table in less time than it took her to buy takeout. She was angry and froze me out; that is, she clammed up. We went to bed angry. She apologized a day or two later with a sweet card that said in part, “I love this journey that we’re on.”

Over the weekend, we drove about 300 miles to attend her niece’s large wedding, something we had planned to do for months. I took vacation time so that I could go with her. I was comfortable during most of the proceedings but was uncomfortable during the reception. I never learned to dance and didn’t want to learn among scores of people who enjoy dancing. She loves to dance. The loud music hurt my ears. She enjoyed seeing her extended family, which because it is spread apart geographically, she rarely gets to do.

With the wedding etc. finished, I suggested that we drive about 3 hours to [touristy resort town]. We did, but the trip was a bust – rain, shops closed, nothing to do. We decided to start for home, a journey of about 6½ hours. Everything seemed fine for about 5.

About an hour from home, she said that the next time we stopped, she thought she would take her meds. We were close to entering a series of toll roads with no roadside service stations and little access to any away from the road. I said, “I don’t know if we’ll stop before we get home.” She responded that I should have said instead, “Just tell me when you want to stop, honey.” So I said it; she responded, “I wouldn’t think of it” and clammed up. Next time I saw a service station, I asked if she wanted to stop. She said no. We finished the drive to her house, and she peed in her back yard b/c she couldn’t make it inside. I was mortified.

I’ve continued to go to her house for about three days, spending the nights despite her coldness and refusal to talk about the events. Her response to most questions is “You can do whatever you want” (subtext: "I don't care"). Last night, we went to bed and I asked if we could talk; her response: “I’m really tired. You can talk. I’ll listen.” It was her third day of pleading fatigue in declining to talk, though she had some cause to be genuinely tired. I asked her to tell me how I could fix what had gone wrong; she said, ”I’m not sure it needs to be fixed.”

I said: “Hardly eight day ago, you wrote, ‘I love this journey we’re on.’ How did we get from there to ‘I don’t know that it needs to be fixed’? I suppose you’ll ultimately do what you want to do, but I, for one, believe that it needs to be fixed. That’s all I have to say until such time as you’re not too tired to talk about our future.” She gave no response; she may have gone to sleep. I tried in vain to sleep; after about an hour, I went home without waking her.

It’s now the morning after, and I am in waiting mode. More than six years of work on our relationship, and the loving relationship we have had and all the hopes we had, are in jeopardy. I’m at my wit’s end and my heart aches.

What should I do – continue waiting, try again to resolve the issue, abandon the relationship, or another alternative I haven’t thought of?

– Wit's end
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (61 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
This is about something totally different to me than what you've written about, and you need to find out what the real situation is. Most people don't act this way towards someone they've been involved with for six years because of a late dinner. Unless you were like, several hours late, and didn't say happy birthday to her, this is about something much larger that you need to explore.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 9:48 AM on May 19, 2016 [44 favorites]

I think you should probably just step back for a while. It sounds like she could do with some space to let her anger (whether justified or not) cool. You say you've been going round even though things are bad and she won't talk about it, well, just stop doing that for a little while.

Maybe give yourself a week off, do things to keep busy, see friends and call your sister. Then invite her out for dinner, or a picnic somewhere you can talk together, and see if you can have a conversation about what's happened.

It's hard to give you more advice than that because I feel like there's something missing here. I can hear the hurt in your words, and how you wish you could fix things but don't know how - I'm sorry that you are in turmoil about this, my heart goes out to you. What's missing in order to figure it out is why these things have made her so angry at you, and I can't tell whether that's something you've left out of the story, or something going on with her that you don't know about.

I think time, and maybe some conversations with people you love and trust, will help you figure this out, or at the very least put you and hopefully her in a better headspace to figure it out together when you next talk.
posted by greenish at 9:48 AM on May 19, 2016 [6 favorites]

Hm... from this it sounds to me that you love her and for 6 years she seems to have loved you, in good faith.

When you told her you didn't think you could stop the car, depending on her state-of-mind, she could have heard: "Your meds are not as important as me getting home on time" or "your needs are not as important as the convenience of driving right through" or even "you will get out when I say you can get out."

Look, I'm sure that's not what you meant AT ALL. At this point - does NOT make a difference. For whatever reason, she's not feeling safe* enough to discuss her anger/frustration/sadness/disappointment/relationship with you.

I would try saying, "Honey, I love you. I know I have hurt your feelings and I want to make it better. What can I do to make you feel safe enough to talk about your feelings with me?"

And see what happens from there.

Make sure when she talks to you, that you LISTEN to her and try TRY TRY TRY not to feel offended. Try to understand that you're going to discuss feelings in good faith, and that her feelings are AS VALID as yours.

If after a truly earnest discussion (no sarcasm, gentle questions, trying to work TOWARDS something rather than prove someone right or wrong) there is still difficulty with communicating, I would suggest counselling (if she is willing to try).

Good luck. You seem like a good guy that just made a mistake.
posted by Dressed to Kill at 9:49 AM on May 19, 2016 [28 favorites]

I see one of two possible reasons for this:

1) You've done something or behaved in a way that was very offensive to her, and you are not aware of it (or didn't mention it in your post);

2) She is beginning to show signs of some sort of mental instability or other illness that is affecting her; such as changes in mood to you after six years, peeing in the backyard (?!). If there wasn't some big triggering event for her coldness to you, this seems like a worriesome pattern of behavior, especially if it is unprecedented.
posted by slateyness at 9:50 AM on May 19, 2016 [26 favorites]

* sorry I meant to add an asterisk because I meant "safe" as in "comfortable enough to assume you will hear her concerns" without being gaslighted, being told she's scolding, or being too rigid or mean, etc. Basically you need to create a space where BOTH of you can feel like you can talk openly and honestly. Based on her imposed silent-treatment, I think she may need to hear that you will make sure her concerns will be heard with sensitivity.
posted by Dressed to Kill at 9:53 AM on May 19, 2016 [8 favorites]

I agree that after six years of a solid relationship, two mistakes of this degree does seem strange for this level of upset. Without her side, it's hard to know exactly what's at play here. Has she been repeatedly hurt by you without effectively communicating this you and these two incidents the straw that broke the camel's back? Is she going through some other major issue that you're not aware of?

All you can really do is wait until she's ready to talk. And let her talk--don't interrupt, let her have her full say. Then you'll both need to decide how to proceed.
posted by smirkette at 9:55 AM on May 19, 2016 [2 favorites]

My best guess is that she wants a little space to be mad and icy without having to have those feelings turned into a referendum on the viability of the whole relationship, or something that needs to be fixed. Whether or not those feelings are justified, which is kind of the point: that we're allowed to have feelings whether or not they're "justified," including being a little mad at ourselves for getting all worked up over relatively minor things. Give her some space--by which I mean don't ignore her, just stop pestering her about trying to "fix" things, and when things feel like it's a more receptive moment to bring up the subject again, start from the perspective of YOU having made some mistakes that merit an apology and go from there.

Like, I notice that SHE apologized to YOU for...what, getting mad that you kind of unintentionally screwed up the birthday plans? but I don't see where you apologized to her not having stuff ready on time. And you make excuses for why you didn't want to dance even though you know she loves it...Those are things to think about during the time between now and when you are able to have a deeper talk about you have a history of making excuses and invalidating her feelings to where she is the one who winds up apologizing for even having them?
posted by drlith at 9:55 AM on May 19, 2016 [21 favorites]

You've mentioned a bunch of things here that might have caused friction, but not told us what her (and your) reactions were. Was she upset that you wouldn't dance? How did you present your "discomfort" at the reception? Did you pressure her to leave early? Did she not actually want to go to touristy resort town?

If you want my best guess at what's "wrong", I'd say she's annoyed at you for missing her birthday dinner. You may not see it as "missing", but you were late, and she was hungry (maybe even hangry) and had to go buy her own dinner...on her birthday! This is a minor thing, but then combined with you being a stick in the mud at the reception, and then dragging her to some crappy town (without even checking to see if anything was open!), and then being weird about stopping for her meds on the way home. She just might be in a snit. This is, of course, looking at what you've described in the worst possible light, but maybe that's how she's seeing it. And maybe she's overreacting, but you love her and her feelings are real so you should respect them.

I think the best advice I can give is to give her some space. Don't freeze her out or anything, but maybe don't go over to her place unless she invites you. In a couple of days, maybe call or text and let her know you miss her. When you do see her, and she is ready to talk, LISTEN. Don't interrupt, don't make excuses. Ask her what she wants to see from you, and then do it!
posted by sparklemotion at 9:56 AM on May 19, 2016 [23 favorites]

The suddenness and (at least according to you) uncharacteristic nature of her behavior is concerning. 66 is not that old, but it is possible that she is having some kind of cognitive or mental change that she would need to see her doctor about. I can't really see a diplomatic way that you could bring it up, though. It's painful for you, but I think you have to give her space for now and see what she says in a few days.

All that aside, you should apologize, if you have the chance, for not stopping so she could take her meds. That sounds like what Metafilter describes as an Ask Culture vs Guess Culture difference. What she was really saying was "I need to stop so I can take my meds" but that's not the way she phrased it or the way you interpreted it. So at least in that regard you were short-sighted and inconsiderate of her needs.
posted by matildaben at 9:57 AM on May 19, 2016 [5 favorites]

I am maybe projecting, but fwiw:

I would wait. It hasn't been very long, especially compared to the length of your relationship overall.

My read is that she's really angry. If I were saying the things she is, I would benefit from space to feel angry and then connect when that strong emotion isn't front and center anymore. I think I'd be okay with something reassuring and also reflective of the other person's commitment and boundaries, like, "I really want this to work. I'm committed 100% if you are too. I don't know what you're thinking or feeling but I'd like more than anything to hear, when or if you're ready to share. I might not understand fully but I'll do my best." Then I might let her know I will give her space and let her know when I'll check back. Or, "I'm going to take x time. I'd like to check in after x days. Are you okay with that?" If she doesn't say no I'd take that as consent. If you agree on a different time frame that's fine.

This isn't necessarily what everyone would want but it would work for me. It respects her process, gives time to process and miss each other, and puts you in a place of working together.

It's possible there are some things that have been bothering her for longer than you're aware. When I say things like she's saying it's because I have stuff under the surface. You've been communicating on the surface without checking on what she is going through more deeply. In her place I might have wished you would dig deeper and not stop when I gave that subtle push of "I don't care." IMO she obviously cared about stopping at a rest stop. She wanted you to insist as an act of care for her. She wanted you to know her well enough not to think her letter meant everything was fine. I think this is indirect communication and personally would want to move past it; I'd like to just be direct and expect directness of everyone. However, that's not how things work. Even though I value directness, I also see myself wanting to communicate how she has been; it's partly a matter of growing up female in some cultures: we are told we have to be pursued. You didn't pursue enough to ensure she was happy.

I'm not sure she wants you to push now, though. That's why I recommend a break. Over time you'll have to figure out together and individually whether you can and want to communicate in ways that are okay for both of you.

Do you have a history of resolving conflict effectively together? Can you draw on that? Does she have a therapist or trusted person you can encourage her to see in this critical time?

I think there is hope here. :) You have a history of caring for each other.
posted by ramenopres at 10:06 AM on May 19, 2016 [2 favorites]

I'm going to give a slightly different point of view based on how I (and I have several friends who are the same way) process things, and the behavior that you describe sounds like the person is in the same space.

Some people like to immediately talk out emotional conflicts, etc. (it sounds like that is you.)

Other people take a while to process an emotion or discomfort. When this happens to me, I can absolutely shut down (for something extreme, not minor), meaning I need to decide what I feel about it. Discussing it at a later point works if it is in a non-confrontational way. This is my bubble world, the bubble world of some friends, you might have insight whether this applies to your partner or not. But if it does....

Back off a bit. Give her time/space to process what she feels without being in front of her to her face (as in go see other people, do text and remind her that you love her/think about her, etc.). But also, request to talk about this one week from now and tell her what you would like to talk about (ie, why is she upset, how can that be changed in the future, etc.) so that she can process and decide what she wants to say.

When I read this, I can absolutely see the space where she probably became upset - it is likely going home. It sounds like she was worried/scared (medical stuff), lack of control (can't stop), what happened in the yard can involve significant shame for some people - so it will make it really difficult for her to come to you with those concerns - my guess is that is where she is ..fear/anxiety/how will this not happen can become an infinite loop, so do talk to her, both of you but everything on the table, listen, etc.

I do think there is hope for you if you both learn other's style of communication in extreme stress. Good luck.
posted by Wolfster at 10:09 AM on May 19, 2016 [11 favorites]

One reason I might act like this would be because resentment and unaddressed issues had been building up for a long time.

The theme of both incidents (lateness and not stopping) is thoughtlessness. Is it possible these were culminating events for her, "proof" of some resentment she'd been holding in a long time?

Peeing becomes involuntary after a certain point. I wouldn't judge her as unstable on this alone.
posted by kapers at 10:11 AM on May 19, 2016 [40 favorites]

This seemed pretty run of the mill - although admittedly upsetting - until you said she peed in the yard. That is just strange. Could she possibly have a urinary tract infection? I ask not because she peed in the yard, but because peeing in the yard is odd behavior, and urinary tract infections can cause strange behavior in older people. In fact, it can seem like the person developed dementia overnight, so this sudden overreacting on her part could be caused by that.
posted by MexicanYenta at 10:13 AM on May 19, 2016 [13 favorites]

I think, like others have said, you need to back off. Tell her you love her, that you will do whatever you need to do for both of you to work on making things better again, and that you will be ready and waiting when she is ready to talk.
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 10:14 AM on May 19, 2016 [2 favorites]

I wanted to add, after reading the last few comments, that as a bubble person at heart, I've learned to communicate when I need that bubble time and give what assurance I can about the state of the relationship: "I'm committed to this and I need a week to think."

Down the road, if she's asking how to communicate with you, this could be one of your requests. It could help you during that "silence."
posted by ramenopres at 10:15 AM on May 19, 2016 [2 favorites]

So how late were you? Was it unavoidable? Or did some minor thing distract you. How often does this happen? I would be very hurt and angry about something like that. And if it is a pattern of behavior on your part, and you really love her, stop doing that now.

Why not just say" I will pull over at the next exit".

I get the whole not dancing thing and I think most people can let something big like that go but not if it is surrounded by a bunch of little slights. It just rolls in and joins the rest of the muck.

Early in my own recovery I would kinda apologize, expect the person to get over it, and wash/repeat. Living amends go much farther than I'm sorry.

While giving her a break you could spend the time giving yourself a going over.

I hope you can work it out with her. It sounds like you care for her very much.
posted by cairnoflore at 10:35 AM on May 19, 2016 [2 favorites]

It sounds like the real turning point was when you basically told her she couldn't take her meds. I think she might have felt that that was hurtful and callous, and with good reason. She might have seen it as (a) a lack of concern for her health and (b) controlling. And since health is a very visceral matter for people, she took it very seriously and was deeply hurt.

That's my interpretation. Instead of putting the onus on her to bring this up, thereby increasing her pain, I would say, "It was really inconsiderate of me to turn you down when you wanted to take your meds on the way home. I think I came across as uncaring, when in fact your health and well-being are extremely important to me. I am very sorry for failing to support you in that moment. I promise to be more helpful in the future."
posted by delight at 10:39 AM on May 19, 2016 [19 favorites]

Next time I saw a service station, I asked if she wanted to stop. She said no. We finished the drive to her house, and she peed in her back yard b/c she couldn’t make it inside. I was mortified. Emphasis added.

> She is beginning to show signs of some sort of mental instability or other illness that is affecting her; such as changes in mood to you after six years, peeing in the backyard (?!).

> This seemed pretty run of the mill - although admittedly upsetting - until you said she peed in the yard. That is just strange.

Guys, this woman didn't decide to have a pee in her backyard. OP says quite clearly that she peed in the backyard because she couldn't physically hold it any more.

If this has never happened to you, then congratulations on having a bladder of steel I guess, but having an accident isn't necessarily a sign of emotional instability or of dementia, even if someone is in her 60s. I'm not saying we should rule out those things, but frankly it's pretty uncomfortable to read people wigging out over someone being unable to make it to the toilet on one single occasion after a long drive.
posted by schroedingersgirl at 10:39 AM on May 19, 2016 [78 favorites]

Sounds like she's feeling resentment, unprotected, let down, and doesn't want to get into it.
I'd back off for awhile...sending a bouquet with a thoughtful note in the meantime. Maybe include "Shall we dance?" and mean it.
posted by artdrectr at 10:43 AM on May 19, 2016

My read is that this is a culmination of a lot of little things and that your failure to stop is what tipped her from being simply annoyed to genuinely mad. I wonder if stopping to "take her pills" was code for desperately needing to go to the bathroom, and being afraid she wouldn't be able to hold it, but not wanting to tell you you that directly due to shame. Incontinence issues can be deeply embarrassing and difficult to talk about and people will often come up with other reasons to mask the real reason they need to be near a bathroom. If that's the case, she probably just wanted you to stop somewhere, and not have to engage in a conversation about it, to save her the embarrassment of disclosing the real reason. Then the backyard incident, which to me suggests she simply couldn't hold it, and if the choice is between peeing in the yard or peeing your pants, she is in a situation of even deeper shame and embarrassment.

Give her some space and time. Let her know that you are thinking of her and want to talk but only when she is ready.
posted by scantee at 10:46 AM on May 19, 2016 [13 favorites]

This is so simple.

You messed up. You have not demonstrated genuine remorse or understanding of why you've hurt her, either in real life or in this question. It's pretty clear that whether you admit it or not, you genuinely believe she is overreacting and in the wrong. She has decided that it is a waste of too much of her energy to argue you into accepting that her needs are valid and that she is not overreacting. So she has decided to continue the relationship, but lower her expectations of you to "get it." She has simply given up on you "getting it" and believes compromise is impossible or not worth the pain or energy, so she will never again share that part of herself.

Forcing her to "talk" and chiding her for being "wrong" to "cruelly" shut you out is exactly the wrong approach here.

Just apologize. Apologize good and hard. Grovel. Cry. Really mean it. Don't make her say anything in response. Just apologize.

Next time she says she wants to dance or take her meds, freaking shut up about how the music hurts your ears, or how you're too close to town to stop, and let her dance or take her meds.

It's very simple. This is all blindingly obvious, IMHO.
posted by quincunx at 10:46 AM on May 19, 2016 [111 favorites]

People communicate both by what they actually say, and also by what they don't say. You have to listen for both, in my experience. Unless she says, out of her mouth, that she wants to break up with you, I wouldn't catastrophize this.

You were kind of rude in the examples you gave. To me, it sounds like her last few weeks have been very emotionally unsatisfying on a bunch of levels. I would start my relationship repair job there.
posted by Grlnxtdr at 10:47 AM on May 19, 2016 [2 favorites]

Just chiming in to note that I've said, "I'm not sure it needs to be fixed" and meant something like, "Two people like us in a loving, long-term committed relationship can sometimes get into a groove for whatever reason where we are just rubbing each other the wrong way, and I'm sure that given some time and some changes in other life stressors, we'll get back to a good place." Now, you were there and have a better read on context and nonverbal signals, but I wouldn't necessarily take what she said as a preface to a breakup.

I agree with other posters - that for some reason, she's really honing in on those moments when you seem to be being thoughtless. Maybe it's because you are downright being thoughtless (although I think all of us, especially in longterm relationships, can retreat a little back into our individual selves and take the relationship for granted, and then we are thoughtlessly thoughtless...), or maybe it's because some other factors in her world are shining a brighter than usual light on your and the relationship's foibles (the impending move-in together might be exacerbating this).

I know that for me, sometimes, when something is nagging me and I can't quite put my finger on what it is, I have been guilty of pointing my critical finger relatively arbitrarily at my romantic relationship.

In all of those moments, I've needed space and time to come around. And I have come around. I really like ramenopres's script. I've really appreciated hearing my partner say: "I love you. I want to make this right. I'll be ready if and when you are."
posted by pinkacademic at 10:53 AM on May 19, 2016 [3 favorites]

I think she loves you but right now she doesn't feel loved by you, and she is angry and upset about that.

A few people have pointed this out already but I will repeat that you might start thinking about what it was like for her to wait and wait ON HER BIRTHDAY for you to show up and cook her dinner, how it felt to go to a wonderful occasion where she was dying to dance but her partner refused to even try to learn something simple and complained the music hurt his ears, how much fun it would be to be driven for hours in a car to a place where it turned out her partner had made no plans and done no prep (resulting essentially in being in a car for 9.5 hours for a bootless trip), and to top it all off a request to stop to take meds was met with a refusal.

It does not help that you then ignored what appear to me to be clearly hurt feelings.

You clearly love her but your behavior is sending a pretty strong message that her happiness and welfare are not high on your priority list.

I'd suggest an abject, insightful apology, accompanied by a really lovely her-oriented belated birthday dinner out, with flowers and all. And do better. You need to think about how what you do and say sounds and feels to your partner. I know this is harder when we are older and more used to being on our own, but it is the price of a good relationship.
posted by bearwife at 10:59 AM on May 19, 2016 [86 favorites]

it's pretty uncomfortable to read people wigging out over someone being unable to make it to the toilet on one single occasion after a long drive.

The weird thing is not that she was unable to hold it, it's that after what reads to me as a minor misunderstanding that she chose to put herself into the position where she could not make it to the bathroom rather than asking to stop (and turning down OP when he suggested stopping at the next gas station after the misunderstanding). Getting into the position where you come close to peeing yourself out of spite or anger is abnormal.
posted by Candleman at 11:01 AM on May 19, 2016 [15 favorites]

+1 for the peeing comment above. She couldn't wait to get in the house, because the car never stopped.

Anon, I notice one thing about your recap of your conversations with her: You put a lot of the burden on her to tell you what she wants, and when she tells you point blank what she wants and you don't really act on it.

In the car, she told you that she wanted to take her meds, but not quite yet. Then she told you, pretty clearly ("I wouldn't dream of it") that she wasn't going to ask you again to find a place to stop. Yet, while driving home you still asked her if she wanted to stop instead of simply stopping. You put the burden on her to "make the demand" to stop.

In bed, she told you "You talk, I'll listen" and you responded by saying
"I, for one, believe that it needs to be fixed.
(this is passive language, and does not take active responsibility for you doing things to fix whatever is broken. A better phrase would have been "and I am willing to do whatever it takes to fix it").
That’s all I have to say until such time as you’re not too tired to talk about our future.
(she already told you she wanted to listen, not talk, and you basically said "well, fine, I'm not going to talk to you until you talk to me.)

You don't talk about the lead up to dinner, but are you certain that fixing her dinner at home was what she wanted for her birthday? Or was it what you wanted to give her? Did she talk about what she wanted, even in what might have seemed to you like vague terms? (Maybe we could...) Did you ask her what she wanted?

She keeps saying 'You can do whatever you want' because that is her assessment of the situation. You will continue to do whatever you want, regardless of what she says she wants, because that's what has always happened before.

How to fix this?

Well, if it can be fixed, start by reading the entire emotional labor conversation, even if you're read it before.

Second, say you're sorry. Really say you're sorry - not with a gift, but with words. Words that don't demand she do anything except listen. Say "I realize now how thoughtless I was when I didn't stop the car. I'm sorry I didn't do what you asked me to do the first time. I'm starting to realize that I've probably been thoughtless like that other times, and while I can't fix those times, I promise here and now that I will listen more carefully to what you want going forward. I love you very much, and I am willing to try to change."

Third, listen to her. More, learn to listen to her. Even you you think she's just making a suggestion she doesn't care much about. Be alert to small cues about her preferences. Ask her point blank what she wants to do (not just in fancy social situations, but in everyday life. In her home. In her bed), and then do those things without questioning or second guessing her.

Right now she's feeling devalued and dismissed, because she's been confronted with a number of examples in a very short time of the ways in which she is telling you things, but you don't listen.

posted by anastasiav at 11:05 AM on May 19, 2016 [79 favorites]

I agree with quincunx. The way that you've narrated the experience doesn't really get at the level of hurt and frustration that she is feeling, so it makes me think that you aren't getting it.

If this is true, I think she's probably tired of explaining herself to you. This question is sort of asking "explain why she is acting so disproportionately out of character!" and that makes her the oddball that needs explanation. Instead, I would consider that her actions are indicators that you need (if you want to stay with her) to make some serious amends.

Flowers sent to her.
A love letter.
Special surprise dinner, cooked by you or at a restaurant.
Special treat that she likes (and maybe that you don't?)
A new book that she would love

Don't expect her to be "healed" immediately. One simple gesture won't do it. You may need a string of her-centered gestures to really rebuild her trust in you. Show her that you will continue to do these things because she is worth it.
posted by RaRa-SpaceRobot at 11:05 AM on May 19, 2016 [3 favorites]

I'm going to be that person who links to the epic Emotional Labor Thread. Your partner has been married and divorced, raised children, and worked as a teacher. She's likely been putting others' emotional needs and wants ahead of her own for the majority of her life. I think she's just kind of done with all that nonsense.

You didn't prioritize her birthday enough to make it home on time for dinner (and if you're on time, you're late, etc etc). You make a big to do about how much you're sacrificing by graciously attending her niece's wedding with her ("I took vacation, it was 300 miles away, etc), but it sounds like you were a wet blanket for the whole reception -- an event that she was looking forward to and wanted to enjoy but instead it sounds like she was stuck managing your emotional reaction for much of the time. Then, you can't even be bothered to even consider stopping so she can take medicine and pee before shutting it down - again, your needs trumping hers.

I think she's looking at these recent events (and maybe re-thinking about past events) and thinking that it would have been more fun to plan a birthday outting herself without you or to attend the wedding herself without you. If you make it hard for her to share the things she enjoys doing with you, then you make it more likely she will stop wanting to do things with you.

You need to show her that you're willing to sacrifice your own comfort occasionally for her needs, without expressing your discomfort to her or putting the burden of managing your emotional needs on her shoulders.
posted by melissasaurus at 11:06 AM on May 19, 2016 [60 favorites]

Keeping in mind that all I know is what you wrote, and even then only my interpretation of it -- it sounds to me like a failure to communicate. When you were late getting the food, did you call her and let her know you were delayed, and why, and what your time frame was? Or did you lose track of time in the store, and only let her know you were late when you walked in the door with food that wasn't even ready to eat?

When she asked to pull over at the next stop, did you say "the next stretch of road won't have any good place to stop -- we'd better stop here?" Or did you just say that you wouldn't be stopping?

Did you tell her you are uncomfortable dancing ahead of time, so she knew that you wouldn't be able to partner her at the wedding? Did you tell her that you didn't know anything about the side trip location, so that she had the chance to ask what there was to do there, what would be open, etc? Or was it a big surprise that then backfired on both of you?

If this is a pattern with you that you don't recognize - that you assume she knows what you're thinking or doing without your telling her, then each of these small incidents could be another straw on the camel's back to her.
posted by Mchelly at 11:08 AM on May 19, 2016 [9 favorites]

Medication and bathroom needs are non-negotiable. As soon as she said she needed either you should have made a plan to stop to allow that. The fact that you didn't comes off as really, really callous.

Being late with a birthday dinner in and of itself is not that bad, but you don't mention whether you called or texted her to let her know you were running late. If you didn't, I can understand why she would be so upset.

It sounds like you need to be more sensitive to her needs.
posted by Soliloquy at 11:08 AM on May 19, 2016 [7 favorites]

I'm looking for realistic explanations for her behavior. I would guess that perhaps you making her dinner for her birthday is not what she wanted. And some contact from you that evening warning her that you would be late might have helped keep her calm, but resentment can really build when waiting for a late person. I'm mean when I'm hungry, so I think she was smart to leave. Listening to you apologize and trying to forgive you while waiting for the late meal would have been a lot of emotional work.

I know it may sound like we are all trying to kick you, but I think the door that leads to fixing the relationship is the door of figuring out how you were distressing her and then acknowledging and fixing that behavior. Maybe she's just unreasonable, but it's unlikely that she's a cartoon villain. She's probably upset for a reason, not just randomly.

I think she felt disappointed and then aggravated on her birthday, and I also think it's likely she was disappointed at the wedding. It's possible that she looked around at the reception and imagined that she would have had more fun without you. For a little while, you might have been a net negative in her life.

Maybe the two of you have a good routine for getting along in daily life. I don't know how that was negotiated or if it just happened, but it sounds like going outside the pattern of daily routine didn't work well. I'm wondering if she's not telling you what she wants because she wants to be tactful or if you aren't picking up the messages she's sending. Better communications skills can help every relationship. But if you push her when she's distressed, you may get an explosion of unhappiness that can't be unsaid. I agree that pressing for a discussion too soon can lead to some pretty raw communication that may kill the relationship.

(Since 'you' exist mostly in my imagination, please disregard anything that really doesn't fit.)
posted by puddledork at 11:15 AM on May 19, 2016 [1 favorite]

She responded that I should have said instead, “Just tell me when you want to stop, honey.” So I said it; she responded, “I wouldn’t think of it” and clammed up. Next time I saw a service station, I asked if she wanted to stop. She said no. We finished the drive to her house, and she peed in her back yard b/c she couldn’t make it inside.

This, and a few other hints dropped in your account, make me think there's another side to this story.

How attentive are you to her? How often do you go out of your way to do things for her, or to think of her, remember her needs, etc? How often is the converse true: you forgot to take her needs into account, were late, had to be completely walked through how to do a basic task she asked you to do, etc? (The birthday food thing, especially, had me wondering how late you were, why it took longer to get the food, and why her response was UGH I'LL DO IT MYSELF rather than grokking that you were running a little behind. Unless she's the world's worst shrew, there has to be more to that story.)

This might be a "love languages" thing, but it also is probably universal to an extent. People want to be taken care of. There is no feeling better than getting home from a long day at work to discover that my fiance not only has dinner sorted without any involvement from me, but it's pizza (favorite food!), AND it's the exact kind I like, and he didn't even have to ask what toppings to get. One of my first interactions with my stepmother involved my dad reminding me that she has a minor health condition that somewhat limits her mobility, and asking me to make some adjustments to our plan on her behalf. Which told me: wow, my dad really cares about this woman.

People know that you care about them when you take their needs into account without being prompted. If my stepmother needed to take her meds at a certain time, or had certain bathroom needs, my dad would say, "Hey, babe, this is going to be our last rest stop for a while. Sure you don't want to make a pit stop here to take your meds before it gets too late?" He would not say, "Welp we missed our last chance to stop, hope you can make it home."

I've found myself falling into the "UGH I'LL DO IT MYSELF" or "NO I'M FINE" or "I'LL GO BEHIND A TREE, IT'S OK" headspace before, almost always with partners who had a long history of not demonstrating that baseline level of care. I knew they didn't have my back, which hurt not only because sometimes you need a little help in this world, but also because I knew that I deserved someone who cared about me, and in most cases I also knew that I had demonstrated that type of care while my partner hadn't.

TL;DR: your partner doesn't feel cared for. Step it up, or you're going to lose her.
posted by Sara C. at 11:15 AM on May 19, 2016 [67 favorites]

You need to show her that you're willing to sacrifice your own comfort occasionally for her needs, without expressing your discomfort to her or putting the burden of managing your emotional needs on her shoulders.

This. Please read that emotional labor thread linked above. I don't think you're in tune with your partner's emotions at all. Apologize when you're wrong. Stop assuming your comfort is her top priority at all times.

Also. The car thing. What makes me crazy when I go on trips with my husband is that as long as he is driving, he feels "in control" when in reality we are both going somewhere together. I do NOT like having to ask, like a child, to stop somewhere for any reason. It's a very powerless feeling to have to ask repeatedly for basic necessities just because someone else is at the wheel. You are not her master because you are literally in the driver's seat. It's annoying as hell. Please put yourself in her shoes and imagine if she were driving and you needed to stop, and she mulled over the options of her own convenience/desire to get home asap/just not feeling like it, with your need to stop. Just fucking annoying. Stop doing that and just say ok.

Another thing. There is no reason she couldn't do this herself, but this is a little display of thoughtfulness for you: the next time you go on a drive together that might overlap with her needing to take meds, bring a water bottle (assuming all she needs is some water) and a little paper cup for her. Just in case.

Good luck.
posted by the webmistress at 11:28 AM on May 19, 2016 [8 favorites]

I’ve continued to go to her house for about three days, spending the nights despite her coldness and refusal to talk about the events. Her response to most questions is “You can do whatever you want” (subtext: "I don't care"). Last night, we went to bed and I asked if we could talk; her response: “I’m really tired. You can talk. I’ll listen.” OP, as a practical matter, never ever try to talk about serious matters at bedtime. Our cognitive resources are at their lowest; it's a really good way of making matters worse. Also, she's not obligated to talk to you now or ever. If you want to say something, do so, but not at bedtime. Also, why do you keep going over when she's pissed off? Nthing what everyone else said. Stop being impatient. Breathe. Go about your life. Show (rather than say) that you care about her. Good luck!
posted by Bella Donna at 11:29 AM on May 19, 2016 [1 favorite]

Getting into the position where you come close to peeing yourself out of spite or anger is abnormal.

Not really, not if you're already in a lather. Not a great idea, but a human one. I would have felt extremely not-heard by this point, and totally would have done the same thing, complete with peeing my seat or on the way to the front door because the old bladder just can't grip like it used to, out of rage and humiliation.

It sounds like there was a cumulative decline, and there may be other issues before the wedding stuff.

I'll admit, I find it super weird that you kept sleeping over even when she clearly had an issue, or for you to figure out and acknowledge the problem. She may be one of those people (women, generally) who has a very very hard time being assertive about her own pain or needs, and you may be one of those people who will doop-de-do through an obvious problem until you are cornered.

There's a lower standard for men, as far as lowest minimum effort. You are making lowest minimum effort, and probably baffled "I don't get it, I offered to stop after I refused to stop! She made it sound like stopping was optional and I didn't want to!" and it's up to you whether it's worth doing better than that. Your not knowing how to dance is a hill you can technically choose to die on, but a little junior-high-dance swaying in front of people you don't know so fuck 'em if they don't like how you dance would have been a hill with a much sweeter view. Someone else in the car mentioning a stop is meaningful even when you personally don't need to stop. You don't exist in a vacuum.
posted by Lyn Never at 11:32 AM on May 19, 2016 [37 favorites]

Nthing that a person's bladder can become a casualty of their resentment about a situation. Ask me how I know.
posted by delight at 11:38 AM on May 19, 2016 [9 favorites]

This peeing in the yard thing is a real red herring. Its meaning depends a lot on her background. Having done a bunch of camping, having known hippies who collect their pee to dilute and use as garden fertilizer, a little backyard or cover-of-night yard peeing strikes me as no big deal.
posted by salvia at 11:53 AM on May 19, 2016 [4 favorites]

It sounds like this is kind of a two-way shitstorm. You seem aware that you fucked up, but you maybe don't seem to know exactly WHY what you did counts as a fuckup. (Hopefully this thread has made it clear.)

But on her side, at this point she might just be way too mad to deal. I have been in that headspace very very recently, and it sucks, because it's unpleasant to feel so angry and it's also unpleasant to feel out of control. Like I have a tipping point of anger where I honestly cannot be defused. At those times, I will often say things like "you do whatever you want," or "I'm just tired" because the alternative is FLAMING MOLTEN LAVA RAGE which I do not want to unleash upon my beloved. And while I haven't done anything quite as severe as pee in my yard I have definitely done something on the level of going out to get my own damn takeout.

The absolute best solution in times like this is for my partner to just make himself scarce for a minute. We can't always do that, of course, because we live together. And in those cases I have to work harder to get through my rage (which isn't even always at him, it's just that he's there), and reassure him that I'm not on the verge of throwing him and all his belongings to the curb, &etc. THIS IS HARD. THIS IS SO MUCH MORE WORK.

Fundamentally it seems like your fight came from you making her life harder, repeatedly, instead of easier. Which everyone's partner does sometimes, but boy howdy did you strike out 3 times in a row.

And now? By continuing to be directly up her ass nonstop since the fight, YOU ARE MAKING THINGS HARDER FOR HER. AGAIN.

So go home, for heaven's sake. Let the woman breathe and vent and come to her own conclusion that it was just a run of bad luck. Check in via phone or text in like 4 days.
posted by We put our faith in Blast Hardcheese at 11:54 AM on May 19, 2016 [18 favorites]

I can't help but think about all the relationship questions that start out "I'm really upset about this seemingly trivial thing; am I overreacting?" and, as the asker elaborates, it becomes clear that the trivial thing is part of a much larger pattern of troubles, and their reaction is not to one thing but to the pattern. So add me to the list of people wondering if there's more to the story, perhaps that you're not aware of. And, if that's the case, maybe part of the problem is that you're unaware that there is a problem?

There's a difference between "I was late picking up food for her birthday dinner" and "I was (two hours) late (and didn't call) picking up food (that she didn't care for) for her birthday dinner (when she'd told me she wanted to go to a restaurant) (and I completely forgot her birthday last year and the year before)." Or "I was uncomfortable during the reception" and "I was uncomfortable (in a corner noticeably sulking) during the reception (that she was looking forward to) (where she saw family she hadn't seen in five years) (all of whom kept asking if I was okay) (and she kept stepping away from them to check on me) (and I made a snide remark about dancing)" get the idea. That may not be how these things shook out, but I get the feeling that there are a bunch of missing details here.

Stay back for a few days and give her some space. Don't go over to her house, for heaven's sake. Let her talk when she's ready. She may have decided that she doesn't want to continue in the relationship, and that's her decision and you have to respect it. But I think it's more likely that she will want to work this out. And when the time comes, listen. Give her your full attention. Do not interject with your own interpretations of events or proposed solutions or "why didn't you..." Just listen. Pay attention to any patterns you can pick up. Figure out if there are specific blind spots of yours that keep coming up, or types of situations where problems are more likely to happen, like special occasions or social events. Ask her how she would have preferred things to go.

This probably sounds like I'm accusing you, when it's certainly possible that both of you have ways you could improve - maybe she has trouble communicating her needs and gets angry when her unspoken wishes go unmet. From your question, though, I don't know, and I'm not sure you do either. You'll need to have a conversation, and you need to wait for her to be ready for it.
posted by Metroid Baby at 12:02 PM on May 19, 2016 [38 favorites]

Why are you forcing her to sleep next to you and entertain you at her home when she's (understandably) angry with you?

You are entirely numb to her needs, her words, and her actions. Why should she reconcile with you?

I am entirely serious by asking these questions. These are questions you should answer honestly. Then evaluate the answers from her perspective. Go ahead. Give this exercise a try.
posted by jbenben at 12:14 PM on May 19, 2016 [15 favorites]

You know, on top of it all, she's dealing with the stress of putting her very nice house on the market, that she possibly loves, for a relationship that doesn't seem to meet all of her needs. You are at a major turning point in your relationship, and it all might be coming to a head for her. So all of these potentially smaller problems are snowballing and making her confront the future the two of you have together.
posted by umwhat at 12:21 PM on May 19, 2016 [24 favorites]

Yes, I think the house for sale is potentially the heart of the issue too. Is it the family home she raised her kids in? She could be mourning the loss of a home she loves and then, when she feels neglected on her birthday, you're a bit of a grump at a family party, there's a stressful road trip, etc, she may now feel very conflicted and anxious about moving in with you. I'm surprised that relationship milestone didn't factor into your own description of these events. I don't think she's "suddenly flipped" after 6 years, I think she's on the cusp of a big change with you, and that's precisely why these arguments are happening now. I think you should read bearwife and SaraC's advice very closely, and try to determine if there's a pattern of her feeling her needs and emotions are not met.
And really, I do get your confusion regarding the toll road/exit thing. She was pissed and probably not explaining herself clearly. But after your detour was a big flop and resulted in hours of wasted driving, I'm positive she felt like you were putting an inconvenient exit above her request to use a bathroom/take her meds. Dude, you just drove her hours out of the way for some town that was closed. An honest mistake, ok. But don't then tell her that paying an extra toll or finding a rest stop is too hard!
(And fwiw to some of the posters. I'm still learning these terms, but really: "Oh, you peed in the yard and you've been so moody lately. Do you think you have a medical issue?" isn't that the epitome of gas lighting?)
posted by areaperson at 12:42 PM on May 19, 2016 [18 favorites]

I really hate the occasional question that asks "my partner of many years got very angry at me about nothing at all; what do I do so she'll calm down?" To me it most likely belies a long history of someone disregarding someone else's needs, not seeing or discounting small expressions of annoyance, and being willing to do so again as long as things go back to normal. Apologies if I'm putting your question in a category it doesn't deserve to be in, OP, but that's how it comes across to me.

I'd take this as, at least potentially, a serious wake up call. Really focus on listening to her. Consider it your job to see and meet her needs (not her job to communicate them to you perfectly). Do some reading and thinking about male privilege.

How did we get from there to ‘I don’t know that it needs to be fixed’? I suppose you’ll ultimately do what you want to do, but I, for one, believe that it needs to be fixed. That’s all I have to say until such time as you’re not too tired to talk about our future. (emphasis added)

Yeah dude, that's because you're happy with the status quo. She's not. Yet you're going to say "it needs to be fixed" instead of "I'd like to do whatever it takes to fix it?" You're going to say, "that's all I have to say" instead of, "I can see you're really angry, and while I don't want to make inappropriate assumptions, I can take some guesses as to why. I've been doing some thinking about how I could've acted differently on this trip... I'm sorry your frustration had to get to this level before I did this thinking."

Rather than asking her to spell things out even more clearly than she already has, maybe do some thinking about what she's been trying to communicate to you. If you could show you understood that, and that you realize you weren't listening well before, that might get you a little traction in having the conversation you want to have.
posted by salvia at 12:49 PM on May 19, 2016 [13 favorites]

I will note that communication is a two way street. If one's partner is the type to think very literally about conversations, it's unwise to say things like, "the next time we stop, I think I'd do such and such," say, "I need to stop." Both parties need to make an effort to improve when there's a style mismatch.
posted by Candleman at 1:16 PM on May 19, 2016 [4 favorites]

True, Candleman, but that is a very minor item here. The OP isn't tuned in at all to his partner, which means he has some significant, meaningful, content-laden apologizing to do, and likely should also take steps to demonstrate how important she is to him, or this relationship is not going to get off the rocks. (And it would indeed be gas lighting at this point to blame her for the crisis.) Once the boat is sailing again everyone can discuss how to tweak their phrasing to understand each other better.
posted by bearwife at 1:37 PM on May 19, 2016 [1 favorite]

If one's partner is the type to think very literally about conversations, it's unwise to say things like, "the next time we stop, I think I'd do such and such," say, "I need to stop." Both parties need to make an effort to improve when there's a style mismatch.

This is true, but if I was in a car with someone else driving, I said something that clearly indicated that I wanted to stop, and he told me "We're not going to stop," I might actually do a barrel-roll out of the car. A response like "Oh, crud, honey, we just passed the last rest stop before home" or "If we stop, we're going to be late for the event that it's important we be on time for" is one thing. To be told flatly "we're not going to stop" is quite another. That is the announcement of a decision from someone who thinks he has the power to decide unilaterally. Not okay.
posted by praemunire at 1:45 PM on May 19, 2016 [12 favorites]

I'm surprised that this hasn't been mentioned already, but OP is going to try to work this out with his girlfriend, I'd really recommend couples therapy with a focus on trying to improve spoken communication.
posted by Candleman at 2:07 PM on May 19, 2016 [2 favorites]

So I said it; she responded, “I wouldn’t think of it” and clammed up.

Next time I saw a service station, I asked if she wanted to stop. She said no. We finished the drive to her house, and she peed in her back yard b/c she couldn’t make it inside.

Her response to most questions is “You can do whatever you want” (subtext: "I don't care").

The subtext is not "I don't care" it's "You don't care."

You're framing the events of this past week as a series of minor fuckups on your part, but what I see is a big pattern of you being self-absorbed and not considering or prioritizing her needs unless she not only explicitly spells it out for you but then has to argue to make it happen. Having to ask someone to stop the car so you can pee or attend to your medical needs when they have flat out told you "we're not going to stop" is outrageously humiliating. It means you have to basically grovel in order to get your most basic physical needs met. Facing this kind of enormous disregard and thoughtlessness and disrespect from someone who is supposed to be taking care of you (in your old age no less) is a horrible emotional experience. So no, "I wouldn't think of it"-- no, she damn well isn't going to degrade herself by begging you to stop so she can use the restroom. Peeing in the yard imo is not a sign of dementia, it's a big fuck you to all the self-centered behavior you'd been exhibiting that weekend. I don't want to dance. I don't want to stop the car. I don't care about what you like, I don't care about your bodily needs. She pissed in the yard partially because she needed to, and partially as a statement: if I need to hold an entire communication referendum and coach you and feed you lines and finally beg you to change your mind about stopping the car, you obviously don't give a shit about whether or not I piss myself, so, fuck it. You want to see what it looks like when we take your attitude towards me to its logical conclusion? You couldn't care less if I have to soil myself if it means deviating from your schedule and what you want to do, so here we go. She was making the humiliation she felt in the car into a real life example to show you what it felt like. You still didn't seem to get the message.

The subtext of "You can do whatever you want," like anastasiav said, is that you are already doing whatever you want. That you have shown by your repeated actions that you don't care about her happiness, comfort, or basic physical needs if they require you to do something you don't want to do (be timely, set aside your discomfort for even a song or two and encourage her to dance at her niece's wedding, stop the fucking car to let her pee without having to beg.) You need to man up and put your selfishness aside if you want to salvage this relationship.
posted by moonlight on vermont at 2:27 PM on May 19, 2016 [52 favorites]

Just to n'th the folks saying the anger and the peeing in the backyard aren't necessarily connected: there's this thing called 'pelvic floor prolapse' that all too often happens with older ladies --- and by older, I mean anywhere from 50ish on up. The bits of muscle that you use to hold in your bladder basically give up the ghost, and when you need to go you need to go, right then. You know all those adult diaper commercials? Yeah, they're aimed at us. (Young women: no kidding, do your kegels.)

This is not to say there might not also be something else going on; it does seem a bit odd that after six years she's changed her attitude out of the blue. Is she caring for/concerned with a family member's medical problems? Does she have financial trouble? Suddenly found out something needs expensive repairs she can't really afford?
posted by easily confused at 2:41 PM on May 19, 2016 [4 favorites]

You say that you are in "waiting mode" when you are the one who walked out on her. I think that you ought to call her and ask her what she needs from you. Listen and abide if you are able. If she was already feeling hurt by you and expected to wake up to you being there, she may be feeling additional hurt or abandonment. That said, maybe she is relieved. Without knowing her side of the story it is hard to know. My sense, though, is that the onus is on you at this point to reach out and re-initiate communication.
posted by TheCavorter at 3:03 PM on May 19, 2016 [1 favorite]

You know, it's possible that she's just mad and wants some space to be mad, without you constantly pestering her with questions about how she's feeling and the state of the relationship and all the other things that really relate to you and your own feelings.

"I'm not sure it needs to be fixed" could easily mean "it's not broken" rather than "it's broken and I don't want to fix it."

I also, however, agree with others upthread that you're really placing a lot of the burden on her to articulate all of her needs to you, and you're not taking any action or making any effort that I can see.
posted by J. Wilson at 3:39 PM on May 19, 2016 [2 favorites]

Lots of good insight in this discussion.

Y'all picked up on the tectonic shift about the house for sale, but I don't think anyone really focused on the wedding part of it.

Big landmark events in the lives of people close to us can really shake us up. That's true of difficult events like deaths and divorces, and happy events like weddings and much-wanted babies. (When my brother in law and his first wife visited my husband and me, blissfully happy together during my first pregnancy, it so shook them up that they divorced a few months later.)

It's very possible that going to the wedding was the thing that really brought her to the understanding that whatever is going on in this relatinship is bad enough to just let it go.
posted by Sublimity at 4:33 PM on May 19, 2016 [12 favorites]

The part of your story that confuses me most is that you've framed it as a "fix or abandon" situation. Giving up on the relationship or thinking it's in serious jeopardy after what you described seems like such an odd escalation. It made me wonder how solid the relationship really is.

Beyond that, the last thing you said to her, before bed, seems oddly confrontational and unfair.

I would start with an apology. A few of them, actually.
posted by sm1tten at 5:45 PM on May 19, 2016 [3 favorites]

The way you respond to her shows a pattern of not taking her seriously, that her feelings and needs are unjustified. You seem to be looking for validation for that view with this post. Who knows what the real story is, but it isn't much of a relationship if you think that way of her.
posted by alusru at 6:30 PM on May 19, 2016 [1 favorite]

I'll be honest, I totally missed that she was selling her "very nice" house and that you were going to cohabitate after 6 years until I was reading through the comments. You are at a pivotal point in your relationship and, while there is a lot of excitement and joy surrounding that, there is also an understandable amount of anxiety and discomfort. Milestones like these can make us examine our relationships more closely and, depending on how we're feeling on a given day or in general, seemingly small things may become much larger or seem like signs that we are making bad choices. In part, I think you might be doing this, too, in that you have arrived at "fix or abandon," when it sounds like you've had a series of small goofs that culminated into a significant fight and haven't managed to work through it in a rather short time frame. All relationships have ebbs and flows, moments of harmony and discord. In the abstract, this just sounds like a normal bump in the road when you are about to make a major change in your relationship and your lives. Taking a step back and acknowledging that you are both facing a huge change which can heighten emotions may provide some helpful context and enable you to reframe this into something less major.

As for the situations you specifically described, I also feel like there's not enough information to comment on the birthday and the wedding. The thing that caught my attention was the stopping to take meds/rest stop conversation. When it comes to meds (or going to the bathroom or both), you just find a way to stop when the person who needs to take the meds and/or has to go the bathroom has to stop. You parroting back what she told you she wanted you to say wasn't sincere or kind. A better response would have been, "You're right, my bad. I'm sorry. Anytime you need to stop, please just let me know." Offering to stop after your exchange wasn't helpful either. Instead, you should have just stopped to get gas, grab water, or go the bathroom, and she could have done whatever she needed to do. My guess is she was looking for a half-way point, so unless she spoke up beforehand, I think approximately 30 minutes in would have been a fine guesstimate and showed an effort to be nurturing. As long as this was done in a kind, non-patronizing, low-key way, that is.

It is true that some of her responses seem passive aggressive, but, by your account, only after she had a clear want or need and you failed or refused to deliver. That may sound harsh, but I don't mean it that way. I don't think you're a bad person or even a bad partner. It's unclear if this is a long-standing disconnect or something that has come up recently, but, at the moment, you are not being responsive to your partner. This could be benign thoughtlessness or something more egregious. Only you can say for sure.

I'm also baffled by your staying over night repeatedly when it seemed clear that she needed time to cool off, but wasn't capable of verbalizing that at the moment. As mentioned upthread, your interpretation of her comments seema rather negative, when I could see them as neutral and potentially positive. She wasn't ready to talk, but she was open to listening. You could do whatever you want, either because she felt like you would anyways or she didn't have a strong feeling one way or the other. It doesn't need to be fixed, because it's not broken; you just messed up and can't change the past. You can learn from it though. Give her some space and then have a caring conversation in which you sincerely apologize without excuses or explanations, ask what you can do to be a better partner, and then listen. Resist the urge to defend yourself or counter her requests with some of your own, which is easier said than done. You'll have your chance to express your thoughts, needs, and what she can do to help you be a better partner, but that is a separate conversation, after you've both had time to process what she has said.

Based on the information here, your relationship sounds more than salvageable, but you need to take a look at how you communicate and how much you genuinely take her into consideration on a regular basis. Good luck!
posted by katemcd at 7:55 PM on May 19, 2016 [6 favorites]

You went on a major exhausting trip and then you tried to have serious conversations? No, no, no. Always practice HALT. Check to make sure that no one is:

Lonely or

Before having any big conversations. After a big trip everyone needs rest and recuperation not more intense This Needs Fixing conversations. Leaving your family behind can sure make you feel lonely. Driving can leave you hungry. And she sure as heck was already angry and disappointed with you.

In short, this was a situation doomed to failure from the outset. You needed to step back instead of making this worse. Instead, you demanded she do more emotional labor from an already dry well. Listen to all the wise people above. And have some bloody compassion for her.
posted by stoneweaver at 11:06 PM on May 19, 2016 [8 favorites]

In case it helps, there are resources out there for making a sincere apology.
posted by superfish at 12:04 AM on May 20, 2016 [3 favorites]

It's quite possible, after reading these answers, that you are feeling ganged up on. If I'd asked this question I'd probably be feeling like that too. It's very important, however, that you try to consider things from her side as well as your own.

You need to to apologise wholeheartedly. That's pretty much it. And you need to try very hard not to get defensive. You may not have meant to have caused her pain but I think you have and if you can get through reading the answers here without trying to justify your behaviour then you will understand why. No-one is saying you're the worst person in the world or indeed the only person to have misread situations or to have made similar mistakes. Nonetheless, based purely on what you've said in your question, it's more than possible that you have indeed made mistakes and your partner is really, really pissed off because she feels that you are not taking her feelings into account.

I think she's waiting for you to stop being defensive. If you can do that and apologise, and really mean it, then she'll be able to talk about what's bothering her.
posted by h00py at 7:52 AM on May 20, 2016 [5 favorites]

She told you that there was nothing to fix. That may be all there is to this situation. We can be pissed off at our partners (about some minor thing) without having to grind one of their toes off in retaliation. Simply getting pissed off and having a bad week isn't necessarily fixable--it may be more like a shit happens string of events. But keep in mind that it's not you who gets to determine how strongly something affects her. If you've done something identifiable as crappy, she may need a while to sort it out so she can present her case. However, I emphasize that this may not be a slight/reparation situation, where a sincere apology is helpful. The events of the past few days may have revealed to her a significant, and different, understanding about how the two of you fit together. Nothing to apologize for in that case, and a remedy may not be in the offing.

Look to the long run. You are disturbed for a different reason than she is. It may be a mistake to conflate your discomfort and hers. Right now you have to figure out how to deal with hers. Only she can give you that key; it's up to her. It's up to you to let her know you are concerned, and want to know. Down the road is when you may, profitably, talk to her about how uncomfortable you are because she has shut you out. I don't know of a way to put a clock on this. Obviously it would be callus of her to string you along indefinitely. In the meantime you may do well if you don't try to overthink this, and wait until you get some clues.

Good luck to both of you.
posted by mule98J at 11:03 AM on May 20, 2016 [2 favorites]

If this has never happened to you, then congratulations on having a bladder of steel I guess, but having an accident isn't necessarily a sign of emotional instability or of dementia, even if someone is in her 60s. I'm not saying we should rule out those things, but frankly it's pretty uncomfortable to read people wigging out over someone being unable to make it to the toilet on one single occasion after a long drive.

No one is wigging out about anything. UTIs in older people present differently and have much more serious health risks:
When younger people get a urinary tract infection, they will experience distinct physical symptoms. Most commonly, painful urination, an increased need to urinate, lower abdominal pain, back pain on one side, fever and chills.

But those same symptoms may not be present for an older adult. Because our immune system changes as we get older, it responds differently to the infection. Instead of pain symptoms, seniors with a UTI may show increased signs of confusion, agitation or withdrawal.
From A Place For Mom:

A sudden change in behavior is, in fact, one of the best indicators of a urinary tract infection in older adults.
Our six-year-plus relationship has gone south in a matter of days.

OP, obviously this isn't medical advice but MexicanYenta was absolutely right; this could be a serious medical problem that should not be downplayed. It's not that she might be emotionally unstable, it's that she might have an undiagnosed UTI which might look like a sudden change in behavior. Her having a UTI doesn't mean you didn't do anything wrong; both things can be true.
posted by Room 641-A at 7:01 AM on May 21, 2016 [2 favorites]

With regards to the incident with your partner wanting to take her meds, as someone with a disability as well an medical condition that both require medication on a ongoing basis (actually the rest of my life) I wanted to note that I often have an exaggerated stress response to anything that might affect this, as it brings the feeling of powerlessness that comes with these to the fore. If I'm just the slightest bit frustrated with my partner, even the smallest perception that something she does will impact this will often push me over the edge, and make me dig myself in, regardless of it's validity. I don't what to suggest this is a good or helpful response but I don't think it should be altogether unexpected. On its own my medical condition is easily treated, stable and no big deal. But its also true that the meds stand between me a lingering death, that not so long ago was the guaranteed outcome of this condition. This is something that I am literally powerless to do anything about, other than to carry on taking the meds, so that it is apt to provoke feelings of vulnerability should be no big surprise. Feelings of vulnerability, in any relationship, are hard to deal with, admit and accept, but it can be even more difficult when they concern something that represents an actual real vulnerability. This is turn can provoke a defensiveness, that on my part, often manifests itself as pushing other people away (since that also lessens their power to affect you, and it can be hard in situations where you have little to no choice but to deal with it, to also deal with people, who by its very nature, don't have the same things riding on its outcome).

I think its clear that there is more to this that the immediate situation and you have received some good advice that I not sure I have much to add to. But I wanted to spare my experience of some of the specifics if only because I am acutely aware of the gap between how I can perceive something on the inside, and how it can appear from the outside. Things that are, in practice not a big deal, can sometimes feel like a life and death matter, because on some level they are. I'm not sure I have any good answers other than to point out its not a button you want to push and to say that the need to listen to someone and not make assumptions about their experience, which is vital enough in the ordinary run of relationships, applies tenfold.
posted by tallus at 6:27 PM on May 21, 2016 [1 favorite]

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