He screwed up. We want to work through it. Tips?
January 2, 2017 5:53 PM   Subscribe

My boyfriend did something two months ago that betrayed my trust. I found out a month ago. We are trying to work through it but I need tips on things we can do to help me trust him again.

I AM NOT ASKING IF I SHOULD DUMP HIM. I know the standard MeFi answer to these questions is DTMFA so to make it very clear: I have decided to try and work through this. I have told him that if anything happens again, we're done, but I want to work through this. All answers saying DTMFA will be ignored. I am only looking for advice on how to start trusting him again.

Basically, two months ago, my boyfriend was drunk, and one of his coworkers came on to him over snapchat. He told me the next day that this had happened and he told her he was in a serious relationship. Okay, fine, I guess, until a month later, when he went to yoga (alone) with her. I was NOT okay with him hanging out with a girl who came onto him like that and told him this. Cue looooong conversation where he kept defending it...

Until he finally fessed up that he had left out some details. When she came onto him, apparently, he responded, telling her what he enjoyed in bed. Then, when he texted her the next day, he told her he was "definitely interested" and attracted to her too, etc, but he was in a committed relationship. He showed me his phone so I read the texts. I started crying. He started crying. He said he felt like he had cheated and he was so sorry. He said he would cut her out and go back to therapy. He said he thought he had set a clear boundary with her, which is why he went to yoga with her, but also said he wouldn't see her again. I agreed to try and work through it.

It's been a month. He let me see his phone once and told me (recently) I can see it whenever I want. He gave me his password. He went back to therapy and has told me about each session. (According to him, he doesn't know how to handle healthy relationships and that's why he did what he did.) He's told me that whatever I need to do to start trusting him again, I can do. He tells me who he hangs out with and and what they do. He said that if she ever contacts him again, he'll tell her they can't be friends.

And I'm.... still struggling. Truthfully, I want to see his phone, but I hate asking. It is so uncomfortable. I'm afraid it will make me feel better temporarily but then, as time goes on, I'll start worrying again and need to see it. I don't want to depend on that. But I don't know what else to do. It helps when he gives me full disclosure not just on who he's talking to but what they're talking about, but I also feel weird asking. I know he's the one who fucked up and I shouldn't feel bad but it's just uncomfortable. I hate feeling like I'm treating him like a child. This was never the kind of relationship that I wanted. I am also in therapy to address this. I saw that he was talking to a female friend over new year's and got anxious all over again. I know it's probably nothing, but I wonder what they're talking about, and then I worry. It's also worth mentioning that he has a lot of female friends and he's in a female-dominated field.

What other concrete actions can we take so I feel better? What else can I ask him to do for me? He lets me look on when he's looking at his phone, which helps. Besides this (admittedly huge thing) we have a great relationship. I just want to feel better. He knows it's going to take time and he's been understanding. He also knows that if anything happens again, we're done, and I REALLY REALLY plan on sticking by that one. Thus far, though, he seems to be trying and I am still so worried. What else can I ask him to do for me?
posted by Amy93 to Human Relations (53 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
Since you've made the decision to work this through, I'd suggest focussing on the bond between the two of you. Is there something you could do together, some kind of project, or class, or maybe even a trip, that would reinforce the things you like about each other?
posted by rpfields at 6:20 PM on January 2, 2017 [5 favorites]

This is not something you can do. Your boyfriend needs to step up and prove to you every day that you can trust him.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 6:21 PM on January 2, 2017 [3 favorites]

Ok, point of clarity real quick. Yes, of course it's on HIM to prove it. So what can I ASK him to do besides everything I just listed? He seems to be open to doing whatever I need him to do. But I don't know how specifically he can do that for me besides being open and letting me see his phone. What I want is to ultimately sit down and have a conversation where I say hey, it's been a month, but I'm still struggling. It will make me feel better and help me trust you again if you do x, y, and z. What are x, y, and z?
posted by Amy93 at 6:22 PM on January 2, 2017 [1 favorite]

I think the trouble here is that what he needs to do to make you feel better isn't something that depends on what he did to make you feel bad. It's something that depends on what kind of things make you feel better. What things has he done in the past, before all this, that made you feel happy and secure and like this is definitely the guy you want to spend your life with or at least a pretty big chunk of it? Especially stuff early in the relationship? Think about those sorts of things and use those things as examples for the kind of stuff you need from him in future. He ought to be able to step up and manage those sorts of things without a ton of prompting because he didn't need prompting in the first place, once he's got some examples of the sort of things that evoked the kind of feelings you're trying to get back.
posted by Sequence at 6:31 PM on January 2, 2017 [9 favorites]

Looking at his phone will not help in the long run. I wouldn't advise this moving forward.

We can't tell you what will make you feel better. You need to do some thinking about what trust looks like to you and what the road to trust is in this situation. It may be that it just takes a step back and some time. Trust is built in small increments over time. The idea to do something as a team is a good one.
posted by sockermom at 6:35 PM on January 2, 2017 [20 favorites]

For me, it only really helps if they can tell me why they did the thing, and then can show that they understand and that they're working to address those underlying reasons. Otherwise I have every reason to think it will happen again.

I imagine in this situation it could take someone more than a month of therapy to figure out why they'd done this. Do you feel like either of you understands why he did this yet? Beyond wanting to?
posted by schadenfrau at 6:38 PM on January 2, 2017 [23 favorites]

Besides this (admittedly huge thing) we have a great relationship.

Is this the same guy you've written multiple AskMes about in the past six months?

Look, you can't control anyone else's behavior. You can only control your own response. You're uncomfortable right now because this is unresolved and he's not acting in the same good faith as you are. One response you could make is to tell him how much it hurts you, and how fidelity is very important to you, and see if he prioritizes it the same way, and hope he gets it and he never lets it happen again. Another response is to not let it bother you.

If you're unwilling to dump the guy, and it sounds like that's a step you're not comfortable making, maybe it's time to resolve not to let your uncertainty and his bad behavior bother you. But that only really works if it truly doesn't bother you.
posted by mochapickle at 6:38 PM on January 2, 2017 [17 favorites]

It's probably best to only trust people to be who they are and to do what they typically do. It sounds like he has an ingrained habit of maintaining boundary-pushing friendships with other women, so going forward, you may need to accept that he's going to have a lot of trouble changing his ways. Accepting that this isn't like a switch that he can (or frankly wants to) turn on and off will probably take a lot of pressure off you.

Your constant surveillance of his interactions with other women isn't necessarily going to help matters, either. Chances are the reason you feel crummy about this is that it's not a solution that forces him to take responsibility for his own behaviour. Not only that, but just because he says he'll do anything to make you feel better doesn't at all prevent him from resenting his loss of privacy.

Ultimately, the problem is that you need him to practice fidelity, rather than prove it.
posted by blerghamot at 6:45 PM on January 2, 2017 [10 favorites]

Don't look at his phone.

He betrayed you, and it's possible he will again, but that's now his problem. Don't make it your problem. A certain degree of detachment is necessary to maintain a healthy relationship.

I've had worse happen to me, and it took a long time to get over it; or rather, like other kinds of losses, you don't ever really get over it. But you can move on. I did. I decided the relationship was important enough to me that despite the loss of happy, cheerful trust, on the whole it was worth hanging in. But if I had spent all my time worrying about whether it was going to happen again, it would be a bigger loss for me.

Sounds cold. But if you want to stay with him, you have to remember you have no control over his decisions, and you have to remember that you are responsible for your own happiness.
posted by Peach at 6:48 PM on January 2, 2017 [18 favorites]

How about therapy for yourself? Not because you're having problems getting over being betrayed (because that's not what the problem is) but so you can examine why you are working so hard to trust someone who has broken your trust and not the little voice in the back of your mind, your authentic self, who seriously only has your beat interests at heart because she is you.
posted by peanut_mcgillicuty at 6:48 PM on January 2, 2017 [36 favorites]

The best thing you can do is work on yourself.

He's coming at this from desperation (as are you). Do you want a relationship where you feel any need to monitor his phone or check his story? Healthy relationships don't function in the world of suspicion. If you want to have any chance to save this relationship, then stop worrying about him and work on you. You can't control what he does or what he feels. It just doesn't work that way no matter how hard you try to force it.

Talk to friends or a trusted counselor. Show yourself excellent self-care. If there is anything you can do to make this relationship healthy, then it's about you taking care of you.
posted by 26.2 at 6:51 PM on January 2, 2017 [6 favorites]

I hate feeling like I'm treating him like a child.

Yeah, I would hate this too. I think the problem is that he is doing things that could be very loosely described as "taking responsibility" but they are actually the opposite -- he admitted guilt but in doing so, he made you be the responsible person. He is throwing himself on your mercy and leaving you no choice but to be merciful to him or, alternately, cruel. when maybe what you want is to be the one who is looked out for and the one who can fall down and be caught. not the one who has to do that for him.

So I guess you could try telling him that you don't want to be treated like a priest who is confessed to and then administers penance, you want him to be sturdy and trustworthy, not just in the sense of not cheating but in the sense of being someone who offers comfort and care from a position of equality and not just remorse. Reporting his therapy session content to you in particular creeps me out. I don't think you are treating him like a child out of some need for control or revenge or whatever; he's presenting himself to you as a child for punishment and you're allowing it to some degree, but it's his deal. If he's in therapy, he could try working on that, maybe.
posted by queenofbithynia at 6:53 PM on January 2, 2017 [76 favorites]

My advice for dealing with this would be to focus intensely on your other friendships and relationships. The more you put in those buckets, the less your partner's choices will mean to you.
posted by benadryl at 6:53 PM on January 2, 2017 [19 favorites]

You both need to stay in individual therapy, and you both need to go to couples therapy. And don't ask him about his own therapy sessions.
posted by umwhat at 7:04 PM on January 2, 2017 [9 favorites]

Truthfully, I want to see his phone, but I hate asking. It is so uncomfortable. I'm afraid it will make me feel better temporarily but then, as time goes on, I'll start worrying again and need to see it

At this point, this is a you problem, not a him or even couple problem. You say this isn't the kind of relationship you want, where you constantly checking his phone, but you've chosen to put yourself in that position and stay there and take dumping him off the table. That doesn't leave you a lot of options.

My advice would be to make up your mind to trust him. Even if you don't, go through the motions by not asking to see his phone or what have you. 'Cause there's about two dozen ways around that, if he wants to do and you'll still be in the dark. So you have to decide whether you're going to trust him or not AND THEN DO IT.

Pointedly say you don't need to see his phone or know the minute details of his conversations with other women and mean it. Get on with your life and develop hobbies that interest you and occupy your time and mental energy. He's gonna do what he's gonna do (as will everyone else) and there ain't no sense in worrying over it.

'Cause getting anxious about him to talking to another woman is not going to help him, you or the relationship. Eventually he'll come to resent being treated like a kid and things will spiral out from there. If you want to stay in this relationship then you have to hold up your end of the bargain.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 7:10 PM on January 2, 2017 [7 favorites]

If it were me, he'd need to prove through consistent actions over time that he prioritizes me. He'd need to prove with his own words (I.e., not being lead by me or coached by a counselor) that he understands what he did and why it was hurtful and how specifically he will ensure it doesn't happen again. I would resent having to ask for these things and would need these to be voluntary and automatic.

If it were me and I were still pissed and didn't trust him I'd probably also ask to see his second phone. Which is not productive for your purposes but his reaction would be revealing.

I agree with others that if you want to trust him, you have to let go and let god, so to speak. If you can't get to that place (and I would not blame you) then you should reconsider your breakup stance, as policing him is not a great position for either of you and never really stops infidelity anyway.
posted by kapers at 7:17 PM on January 2, 2017 [2 favorites]

for practical advice -- what's the point of looking at his phone? That's not how you found out the first time, you found out because he confessed. He confessed, and then he confessed some more because he needed a little extra hit of guilt. He wasn't found out because you were checking up on him. and he's letting you check so if he decides to cheat for real, he won't use his phone to do it.

& if he does it again, you'll find out because he'll tell you. Some people cheat for the attention, some people cheat for the sex, and some people cheat for the confession. If he ever cheats for real, you can bet he's group 3.
posted by queenofbithynia at 7:18 PM on January 2, 2017 [8 favorites]

To clarify, I'm not saying he has a second phone or whatever, but wanted to make the point that access to one phone doesn't actually prove anything, as a dedicated cheater will cover his tracks like a pro.
posted by kapers at 7:19 PM on January 2, 2017 [3 favorites]

According to him, he doesn't know how to handle healthy relationships

This was never the kind of relationship that I wanted.

OK well you said not to say to break up with him so I don't know what you want given these facts. He says he has no idea WTF he's doing. You don't want this. I honestly don't think we can help you make this particular relationship be different and feel different. Sometimes it's not about effort it's about the person or the combo of your personalities.

Personally I would not find it attractive or charming or hot or respectable to have a guy act like he can't control himself, and reporting to me like he's a teenager or employee. This whole helpless thing where he's encouraging you to be weirdly controlling and intrusive just sets you up for him to blame you when he fucks up. Why doesn't he just act like a grownup and not cheat? Who knows, but it's just...it's not attractive or fun.
posted by Rock 'em Sock 'em at 7:48 PM on January 2, 2017 [40 favorites]

You reassured us last time that even though he drove six hours to see another woman, he didn't cheat and that sometimes these things work out and that if he was a cheater, it would reveal itself. Look, although he's technically not a cheater, it seems he needs constant validation from other women. If you're fine with that, then by all means, continue. You seem to think he needs a phone to cheat. He doesn't, he just needs the motivation. Monitoring his phone won't make you feel better, it will make you feel like his jailer.

I mean, you keep saying you don't like it but continue to put up with it. So of course he won't stop, why should he, it doesn't bother you THAT much, you're still here! This guy knows you'll pout and whine and suck it up, until it happens again. I'm not telling you to dump him. I'm telling you that you're now well aware of the kind of guy he is so don't complain when he keeps acting like the person he has always shown you he is. Accept him or don't.
posted by Jubey at 7:49 PM on January 2, 2017 [68 favorites]

No therapist diagnoses a patient as "not knowing how to handle healthy relationships" unless they have a significant history abuse and inability to make intimate attachments.

When I have, in the past, fucked up with boundary issues, what *I* did to prove myself was stop doing it. On my best behavior above reproach or question. It's up to you to decide if that's how he's actually acting now.

You don't want to hear about breaking up, but you should ask yourself why you stay, and why you keep staying despite every evidence that this is a bad fit and isn't going to work out. What's your limit? How many years of this will be enough? You should focus on figuring that out, not trying to hold up his end of the relationship for him.
posted by Lyn Never at 7:53 PM on January 2, 2017 [4 favorites]

Thought experiment:

Open up your relationship in your head. Imagine he can do whatever he wants. You can do whatever you want. Nothing you desire makes any of you bad people. Say he's attracted to some chick from work. Say he's texting her. Say he's meeting up with his ex. Say he's sleeping with anyone and everyone he wants. All these fears you have about what might be going on: sit with them. Let them in. Imagine he's doing all those things you're scared of, but the only difference is, it's okay. No one is good or bad. No one is doing anything wrong.

IF that were the situation - he's free, he can do what he wants, and all the guilt and judgment have been removed from the equation - what does your relationship look like?

Is he present and there for you? Or is he continually ignoring you for his phone, in a way that makes you feel neglected?

Is he undeniably sexually attracted to you? Is the sex satisfying? Or is he lukewarm or judgmental or withholding in a way that leaves you feeling deprived?

Is he your best friend and are you his? Or does it feel like his most intense emotional relationships are with other people; people whom you have no access to?

Does he go to yoga with you? Does he talk about what he likes sexually with you? Do you make him happy, and do you get that good feeling from knowing that you do?

Because if he's cheating on you, and it doesn't impact your life negatively in any way, then isn't it kind of like a tree falling in the woods, and nobody hearing it? It's just a thought experiment. The only reliable evidence about the kind of relationship you're in is what it feels like to be in that relationship. And either it feels good, or it feels bad. You don't have to solve any mysteries or monitor his phone or have long agonizing conversations about trust. All you need to do is check in with how you feel.

After all, the weird, unnerving truth is that you can never truly know if he's cheating on you or not. He could have a burner phone, he could be banging his co-workers in the break room; he could have a secret identity with a whole extra family on the side. That's not a judgment on him; it's true of every single one of us. We don't know are partners aren't cheating on us, and we can't control whether or not they do. All we can do is look at the relationships we have right there in front of us, and say, yes! this is satisfying to me. It gives me joy. It makes my life better. I am happy I'm in it. Or...you can say no. It's not like that. It doesn't make me feel good. You don't have to have an explanation as to why - "He's cheating on me" is not actually any more meaningful than "We're just not right for each other," or "My anxiety makes relationships really difficult right now." They're all equally good reasons to leave. And being happy is the only good reason to stay.

You deserve to be in a relationship that makes you so goddamned happy that when the idea of cheating comes into your head, you can shrug your shoulders and say, "You know what? He might be. But I have no evidence of it, and I can't control it, so I'm not going to worry about it."

Is this that kind of relationship for you?
posted by pretentious illiterate at 7:54 PM on January 2, 2017 [74 favorites]

TLDNR responses, so forgive if this is duplicate. I found myself in a similar situation a couple of years ago and decided to stay as well. (Ours were over a few lies...) Yes, we are still together and happier than we've ever been. We went completely transparent in our relationship. Everything is out in the open, no secrets...including our phones. The way we started out was by downloading this app that allowed us to read each other's texts, emails & fb activity and messages, it showed each other's call logs (and time spent on each call) and it also GPS's each other's location. It's called Couple Tracker and it saved our relationship and helped me to rebuild the trust that he destroyed. We used the app for probably the first 9 months or so...then we didn't have to. In addition to the app, you have to really forgive him and honestly give him a clean slate. Take your relationship one day at a time. Live in the here and now. Don't worry about what "could" happen, focus on today. You're happy today. Embrace today. If one of those anxiety provoking thoughts come up, put it on the train and let it go by and refocus on today only. Good luck to you.
posted by Amalie-Suzette at 8:06 PM on January 2, 2017 [2 favorites]

You know that story about how his ex was having car trouble and he had to drive to see her? This is drama in the same vein.

"This whole helpless thing where he's encouraging you to be weirdly controlling and intrusive just sets you up for him to blame you when he fucks up. Why doesn't he just act like a grownup and not cheat? Who knows, but it's just...it's not attractive or fun."

There are some types out there who like setting up these sort of negative situations to overcome. They never ever stop with this shit, it just escalates, they like the adrenaline rush of getting caught, I guess.

This is the relationship, it's dramaz. There's nothing outside that will make what he's doing inside the relationship feel OK for you. I believe this is not the type of relationship you want! It's been less than a year and you are young and you can stop this right now.
posted by jbenben at 8:12 PM on January 2, 2017 [10 favorites]

You know, I stuck with a guy who broke my trust in a similar fashion when I was much younger. It tore me apart. Looking back, it wasn't worth holding on to that relationship.

Trust is so very important in a relationship. Once that's gone, it's very difficult to get back. Checking his phone is going to accomplish nothing more than feeding suspicion. Feeling as though you have to police his actions will only wear you down. It will make you feel bad about yourself.

I'd suggest therapy for yourself and if he will go with, great. The only thing that will bring you out of this is time. I know you're trying to work things out here, but I'm guessing that, in time, you'll realize that you deserve better.
posted by AlexandriaParis at 8:29 PM on January 2, 2017 [2 favorites]

Unless you want to do trust falls or other cheesy workshop things, only time builds trust. So if you want this to work out, you have to be willing to spend/risk time.

Maybe a lot of time, and probably at least twice the amount of time prior to the recent breach of trust.

I suppose clarifying what you trust each other to do/not do is always a good idea, sucks to guess on that.
posted by SaltySalticid at 8:33 PM on January 2, 2017 [1 favorite]

There isn't a Thing he can Do. One way to look at this is, this is about you and how you deal with Worrisome Possibilities (WP) that may or may not be true: did I leave the heater on? is my boss getting dissatisfied with my work? are my friends real friends or just there when it's convenient?

How to discern which WP are real may be something that a person can only learn over time. Me, I can magnify something minor up to some major worries. Annnd I can try to push away unpleasant realities that I'm not ready to confront until they start bubbling up as worries. It's taken me almost 40 years to be able to largely tell the difference. Of course, one never knows 100%, but it's important to figure out whether or not you think you really should be worrying about this.

If these WP are fake -- things that you really don't need to be worrying about -- then CBT is full of good tricks: find good thought-stopping techniques and use them. It also can help if you improve your physical health (get good sleep, eat right, and exercise). If these WP are real -- things you really should worry about -- then you have a bigger problem and have to start figuring out how to change your life to address them. Good luck.
posted by salvia at 8:36 PM on January 2, 2017

Some good advice here. The advice about working on myself is especially helpful.

I know you all have the best of intentions, but I just want to make one thing clear. He is not just The Sleazy Guy Who Mistreats His Woman and I am not just The Foolish Woman Who Stays With The Sleazy Guy. We are not that simple. I am not that simple and I am certainly not that person. Staying with someone through a fuck up doesn't make me that person. Besides this issue we really do have a great relationship. He makes me happy, I love him... I could go on. I genuinely believe he is a good person who made a mistake. Maybe someday I'll look back on that misconception and laugh. But I'm not there yet.

Thousands of couples have dealt with an incident of dishonestly or infidelity and gotten through it stronger. There have been thousands before us and there will be thousands after us, and certainly those partners who stayed and worked it out and came out stronger weren't making a silly mistake. I don't know what will happen; we could go either way right now (break-up-ville or resolution-ville, I mean). But I feel like some of the responses have painted me as a fool for staying and "putting up with it". Maybe I can't convey the whole truth here. Maybe if he posted he'd get far different responses. But I can assure you that the truth is not that simple.

Thanks again for the advice. I think I'll stop checking his phone and stop asking about his therapy sessions and focus on myself for a while.
posted by Amy93 at 8:38 PM on January 2, 2017 [4 favorites]

If it's the same guy who causes you to be a neurotic mess two months into the relationship, and later drives 6 hours to visit his ex, chances are he is cheating on you. And apparently you are not able to forgive him.

Since you want to give this relationship a chance perhaps you can try to have an open relationship and allow yourselves to explore sexually outside of the couple. Have you considered that maybe you don't need to be exclusive?
posted by Kwadeng at 9:32 PM on January 2, 2017 [9 favorites]

Since you want to give this relationship a chance perhaps you can try to have an open relationship and allow yourselves to explore sexually outside of the couple. Have you considered that maybe you don't need to be exclusive?

I call this the Lawrence of Arabia method ("It damn well hurts!" "Certainly it hurts." "What's the trick, then?" "The trick is not minding that it hurts.")

I really do not see someone here who is convincing herself that she ought to mind being wound up in drama spirals by her boyfriend just because society told her she should, so all she has to do is decide it's a good time and the problem disappears. I see someone who does sincerely mind being used as a game piece in the boyfriend's elaborate amateur theatricals and is not putting it on for show.

it isn't bad advice but I bet you it is not what the boyfriend wants, never mind what she wants. Who will sit in the front row to watch his emotions showcase when nothing is forbidden and everything is forgiven?
posted by queenofbithynia at 10:01 PM on January 2, 2017 [12 favorites]

Amy93, I get that you're in the "pre-contemplation" phase, but please bookmark this question for 1 year from now. People do not just get with people like this for no reason. I think you have to do a major overhaul of your life and I think it should start now. This guy is unreliable, and you need to stabilize your own shit.
posted by benadryl at 10:24 PM on January 2, 2017 [19 favorites]

What other concrete actions can we take so I feel better? What else can I ask him to do for me?

The only helpful thing you can ask him to do for you is avoid further cheating. You've presumably already done that, if only implicitly. So the next part is up to you.

If you're definite about not dumping him, what you need to do next is flat-out decide to trust him. Make that decision with your eyes wide open, not attempting to deny or minimize the history of the relationship; feel the doubt and do it anyway.

Take complete responsibility for that decision. Any time afterward that you feel doubt about his fidelity, remind yourself that you have decided to extend your trust again, that it is only natural that such doubts will arise from time to time, but that they call for no further action on your part beyond reminding yourself of your voluntarily chosen decision to extend your trust.

And if he subsequently betrays you, dump him in a hot minute. Because although the trust side is completely on you, maintaining fidelity is completely on him. You're already being extraordinarily generous by sticking with him after what he's done. If he fucks up the same way twice, he doesn't deserve you.
posted by flabdablet at 10:25 PM on January 2, 2017 [2 favorites]

It's never "simple" when you're in the middle of a relationship like this. Because no one is 100% good or bad. Do you think people stay in crappy or even abusive relationships because they're stupid? No, it happens to clever people, too - among other things, it's because there's usually just enough of something good - or the memory of something good, or the hope of something better (usually fed by the idea that someone's going to change, specifically that they have the power to change another person), to keep them in painful limbo. Sometimes for years.

A question I wish someone had asked me when I was in a limbo-ey relationship - did it ever really feel right? Emotionally safe? Comfortable? Your questions suggest you've been on your toes with this guy since day one. He hasn't really met your needs from the beginning. According to you, he's great when you're together, on his terms, but he's been more aloof and less responsive than you'd like. And very invested - digging his heels in invested - in multiple other women (his ex, who he actually moved for; the girl with the car trouble, for whom he drove six hours; this co-worker, now). This time, you tried to explain why he should maybe not have gotten into it, and you said what happened was a "looooong conversation where he kept defending it..." He did that because that's he wanted to do, he wanted to be with that girl for that time. He probably also wants to be with you, most of the time. But sometimes, not. Is that ok with you? (And... Do you think he'd move for you? Drive six hours to help you with your car? Leap to do it, without you guilting him into it? He's been doing those things for other people, because he's wanted to. He should want to be with you in that way.)

Here's what I'd need to feel secure with someone. I'd want to know (intuitively feel, trust, not have need to question) that not only is he motivated to value and protect the relationship, for his own reasons, but that he knows how to do that.

Protecting the relationship - beyond just mostly wanting to be there - means not exposing it to risk. Pulling away, if someone else is pulling at him. Recognizing that someone's pulling at him in the first place. This guy's consistently shown that his instincts run in the opposite direction of protecting the relationship. Maybe because of lack of maturity, maybe because of weird timing, maybe because of the match - whatever. He's just not been doing that. The only person who can decide if he will or not is him.

What could you ask him to do from now on: nothing, don't ask him to do anything. Leave him to his own devices, to do what he feels is right. And be honest with yourself about whether it hurts you or not, and whether it's really ok with you or not.
posted by cotton dress sock at 10:36 PM on January 2, 2017 [56 favorites]

The thread that runs through all your questions about your boyfriend's poor behaviors and gossamer boundaries with the other women in his life is your fear of how you'll be perceived, that you'll been seen as foolish or gullible or too trusting, because of these things he chooses to do. It's been less than a year, and he's consistently honored his priorities.

You can make choices, too, and you can choose to love someone else who will be reliable in a good way. Standing up for yourself and your own priorities does not mean a loss of face.
posted by furtive_jackanapes at 10:55 PM on January 2, 2017 [10 favorites]

You reassured us last time that even though he drove six hours to see another woman, he didn't cheat and that sometimes these things work out and that if he was a cheater, it would reveal itself.

Oh god, this guy again? Yeah, look. It's possible to stay and be happy after cheating, but not if you're not actually resolving the issue that led to cheating. Couples therapy, now. And if you're thinking "but I can't get him to couples therapy," then he's not actually doing everything he can to regain your trust, is he?
posted by corb at 11:07 PM on January 2, 2017 [14 favorites]

Trust is weird. As someone who has trust issues so large you can see them from space what I've found is that when broken it doesn't affect the future it affects the past. It travels back in time and makes all those things you thought were true into things which may have been lies.

The chances are some of those were lies.

Everyone lies.

So in order to rebuild trust you have to throw away the past and start again.

If you can.

I never can, so I'd be DingTMFA.
But I learned that I can't the hard way over a number of decades.
You're young, so you have time to deal with your trust issues however way you find that works.

I'd make that your primary focus.

Good luck.
posted by fullerine at 11:09 PM on January 2, 2017 [4 favorites]

This is tricky, because I'm not sure there's any work you can do to trust someone who is untrustworthy. But one thing I know for sure is that surveillance only makes you want more surveillance and it ultimately proves nothing: maybe he has Snapchat deleted off his phone in your presence. Maybe he has a secret account. Maybe he deletes inappropriate text conversations.

I know you don't want to break up, and I'm not going to tell you to. But I will tell you that the only time I stopped caring what my shitty boyfriend was up to behind my back was after we broke up. No amount of work that I did on my tolerance for terrible behaviour made the behaviour any less terrible.
posted by wreckofthehesperus at 11:42 PM on January 2, 2017 [3 favorites]

I call this the Lawrence of Arabia method ("It damn well hurts!" "Certainly it hurts." "What's the trick, then?" "The trick is not minding that it hurts")

😊... Or, as Albert Camus wrote in The Myth of Sisyphus, "The struggle itself [...] is enough to fill a man's heart. One must imagine Sisyphus happy"

Which is to say, Amy93, that for you to move forward with this relationship, you must embrace it as it is now. There's little your boyfriend can do to assuage your fears. You need to learn to trust him, or to let go of the fear of a relapse by caring less.
posted by Kwadeng at 12:09 AM on January 3, 2017 [5 favorites]

He is not just The Sleazy Guy Who Mistreats His Woman and I am not just The Foolish Woman Who Stays With The Sleazy Guy.

That's uncharitable. You're using a medium where people can't know all the details and are trying their best to give you clear advice. Plus you're on a site where a lot of us have been in relationships like yours, none of whom make them black and white. You're clearly able to see your boyfriend as a complex being in spite of his repeated slips, can you perhaps apply that same empathy to the rest of us?

Your boyfriend is showing a pattern. You see that pattern. You do not like that pattern. Unless your boyfriend changes that pattern, it will continue. It really is that simple. Note: I have not labeled the pattern. You know the pattern – you've written about it here. You yourself have said you don't like it. Only he can change it. You have already told him you don't like it, he's in therapy, you're in therapy. There is nothing else you can do, apart from taking the time to see whether his pattern continues, or changes.

You already know what to do if the pattern continues, and you don't like it. You change your pattern.
posted by fraula at 1:33 AM on January 3, 2017 [64 favorites]

This guy's consistently shown that his instincts run in the opposite direction of protecting the relationship.

This. If he's not prioritizing the relationship, he's not prioritizing you. Settle for that, or end it. The choice seems pretty clear.
posted by I_Love_Bananas at 2:28 AM on January 3, 2017 [2 favorites]

I realize my comment just now did not answer your question. But really, your question IMO is invalid. There are no x, y, z things you can ask of him. There are no "action items" for relationship improvement in this situation. You're putting yourself in the role of relationship caretaker, which is wrong. That dynamic is death. The thing you say you want is evidence that you don't understand this at all. A true, committed partner will never make you feel like a parent or caretaker, or make you put yourself in the position of thinking that it's on you to monitor and guide and fix the other person's issues. This is not about you doing his work for him. Therapy should reveal this but it's his revelation to have, and his decision to make about the person he wants to be. If he can't be the person you need him to be, it's 100% NOT your fault or your project to fix. Do not make the mistake of internalizing this misalignment, and feeling like "you failed" or "you're not doing enough." You can never do enough if the other person is incapable of prioritizing the relationship. Your needs are not invalid and you should never settle for less for anyone else's sake, or for appearances, or for anything.
posted by I_Love_Bananas at 2:36 AM on January 3, 2017 [16 favorites]

You're not foolish to give him another chance. I've done it before. I decided that I would rather stay and see whether we could work it out, rather than leave and always wonder whether I should have given him one more chance.

I'll cut straight to the end - he cheated again. He exposed me to an STI. It was a messy break up. But at least I will never wonder what could have been, right?

You're right that checking his phone is a bad idea. It will do nothing but reinforce your worries about him cheating, and lead to you needing to check his phone to ease your anxiety.

My suggestion would be to treat this like a new beginning. Lay out your boundaries and make it clear what the consequences will be if he strays again. Then just treat him how you would a new partner.

Use condoms

Trust your gut. If it feels wrong, get out of there.
posted by kinddieserzeit at 3:02 AM on January 3, 2017 [11 favorites]

I hate feeling like I'm treating him like a child. This was never the kind of relationship that I wanted.

You really have two options that don't produce this parent-child patrol-the-relationship dynamic.

1. Accept that he did this and it's okay with you that he did. I don't mean that you want him to do it again but by taking ending the relationship off the table, you have, in fact, made this particular incident okay. It's done. I would just relate as usual, with the plan you stated which is if it happens again you're done.

There is nothing to be done to make him not have created this situation. It's happened. You cannot make him respect you more or think about you more when he's out with other people. He is a guy who did this and you are a woman willing to move past it so that's where you're at today.

Anything he's saying you can do is just garbage. He is the one with the behavior to change here.

Agreeing that using condoms is a must.

2. End the relationship. But you said that's off the table.
posted by warriorqueen at 6:27 AM on January 3, 2017 [5 favorites]

Over the summer, this is the guy who drive SIX HOURS to hang out with his ex, right? Also the same guy who during early days of limerance/dating went cold and didn't contact you for a week, right? Same guy who told you in early days he didn't want anything serious, right?

You get that there's something that we see that you won't, right?

DTMFA is off the table, so the only thing you can ask of him is to become a different person; someone who's worthy of your love.

And I would ask you to consider your own value. Don't you think you deserve MORE than what this guy is giving you? I don't even know you and I know you're worth more than this.

Cover your eyes so you don't have to read my real advice:

posted by yes I said yes I will Yes at 8:41 AM on January 3, 2017 [13 favorites]

When my husband and I first got married, he did some terrible things that tested our relationship to the extreme. Anyone who has ever been with an addict can well imagine the many and varied ways this can happen. (Not saying your bf is an addict, just giving some perspective.) We stayed together - although quite frankly we should not have - and so I sort of understand what you're looking for here.

When I would start getting anxious about where he was/what he was doing/is he where he said he would be, I would literally decide not to decide to do anything at that moment. Sometimes I would give myself a timeline - "in one hour I'll think about this and what I should do." Then when the hour was up, more often than not I had moved onto other things.

I would also remind myself that I had the power to change my mind at any time. Yes, I had stuck with him for this long. But if today was the day that I reached the end, I could get in the car and leave. Only I had control over me.

But the biggest thing I had to accept was the fact that he might possible be - and probably was - lying to me, and there was nothing I could do about that. I came to realize I could not control what he was doing, I could only control my reaction to it. Whatever he did was on him. I decided to stay with him, and so learning how to control my anger and my fear was on me. But that took work that no one could do but me.

It's on you to control how you feel. Not on him. He could show you his phone every hour, but we all know that doesn't mean anything. He needs to be a man of his word, and you need to accept the fact that he might not be. It is a conundrum that is very difficult to live with, but it can be done.

I can tell you this - ten years later living through that has affected me in ways I did not expect. I am never really able to fully trust him, in certain situations. I've learned how to deal with it, but that's not trust, it's acceptance. We have a good time together, we're great friends, we have a house and a kid and a whole life together, but I know - and he does too - that it will probably never be as much as it could have been.
posted by lyssabee at 8:58 AM on January 3, 2017 [8 favorites]

He's told me that whatever I need to do to start trusting him again, I can do.

That's not how this works. You are not the one who needs to do stuff to trust him. He's the one who needs to do stuff to earn your trust. And that earning will take time.

Look: You were wrong to trust him in the past, because he's proven himself to be a liar. So the real issue here is not that you should learn how to trust him again, it's that you need to accept that he isn't trustworthy. People do not go from being liars to trustworthy overnight or even in a month's time. As others have explained to you, he needs to figure out why he did this and what it will take for him to become a trustworthy, mature person who can co-create a healthy relationship. You also need to figure out why you ignored so many red flags and kept trusting a person who did not earn your trust. In the meantime, you also have to decide whether you are willing to accept the reality that you not only cannot trust him -- you should not trust him, because he hasn't earned it.

Remember: this is not "one fuck up". This is a pattern of behavior. I'm not telling you to dump him, but for the love of God, stop lying to yourself about who and what he is.
posted by Gray Skies at 12:09 PM on January 3, 2017 [15 favorites]

Another way to think about this is from your previous questions, this is a person who is going to do what he wants and it's always going to be on you to make yourself feel okay about those actions. It doesn't make him a villain and it certainly doesn't make you a pushover or doormat. It's just how he rolls.

I was engaged to someone who was similar. He didn't do particularly egregious things, but he lived his life in a way where his thought process went:

1. What do I want?
2. Just kidding. There was no #2.

And it really would have mostly been okay, except I slowly had an epiphany that marrying him was going to mean that I needed to be okay with a lifetime of me either biting my tongue or saying, "Hey, I didn't like how ____ made me feel. What can you do to ensure that doesn't happen again?"

So back to your question and what can you ask him to do. First, you have to accept that this is just how he rolls and you're in for a relationship where you will always be second fiddle to his needs and you will need to be point out to him when he's done something uncool or kind of thoughtless. Example: on the weekends where mealtimes are looser, my ex would go into the kitchen and painstakingly make himself a sandwich with all the fixings. It never once occurred to him that I might also have wanted something to eat, and I kind of felt like a chastising jerk for having to point this out. But that was how he rolled.

What can you ask him to do? You can ask him to start reframing his thoughts so you're part of his mental decision-making process; where he's thinking "Team Us," not Team Him. So he will ask himself before he does a thing, "How is Amy93 going to feel about this? Does this action disrespect her? Is this something I wouldn't want her to do to me?"

So there's that and there's also counseling. Will he go?
posted by yes I said yes I will Yes at 12:29 PM on January 3, 2017 [8 favorites]

What other concrete actions can we take so I feel better?

He's told me that whatever I need to do to start trusting him again, I can do.

Date other people while he works his shit out. I'd openly and surgically remove your need for sexual fidelity from the relationship and date other people.

I am only looking for advice on how to start trusting him again.

You just trust him. He earns it, you give it. You can't really do anything here. If that feels impossible... well you know why.

regarding the obvious DTMFA advice, it's common because it's often the answer. People invest way way way way insanely way to much in relationships. These people are disproportionately women. Conditioned to think a working relationship is their responsibility. Something they need to make happen. It's not. There are so many people, so many, and I've never had a friend say "looking back I wish I had wasted a little more of my life with that guy"
posted by French Fry at 1:53 PM on January 3, 2017 [21 favorites]

It's not that we don't understand relationships are complicated. It's that we have faced these "complications" before and have advice for our former selves. I don't demonize him, but a man doesn't have to be a demon to be the wrong relationship partner for you.

Having read over some of your other memorable questions (if this is the same dude) it strikes me now that if this were me, my fear would not be that he's secretly cheating (though that wouldn't surprise me a bit.) My main issue would be that in fact, he seems to do everything in his power to involve me in his boundary-pushing with women. Like he LIKES me to know someone else thinks he's hot, that someone else is gunning for him, that he has Options and Opportunities and Close Encounters.

I'd ask myself: does he WANT to make me jealous? Does he WANT to set me up to be the bad cop/controlling parent/crazy shrew instead of his partner?

So you know what I would do (other than break right up with him)? I would tell him to leave me out of it. I'd tell him to go figure it out, figure out what kind of relationship he wants and how he ought to behave, and let me know, but leave me out of whatever he has or appears to have going on with anybody else. I'd tell him I'm not interested in being in competition with anyone else or playing jealousy and control games I'm set up to lose. I'd tell him to cut the shit, and be a real partner, or lose me forever.
posted by kapers at 1:59 PM on January 3, 2017 [38 favorites]

I'm not sure you can trust him, because being faithful to you doesn't seem to mean the same thing to him as it does to you. He likes hanging out with exes, flirting with other women, and taking it right up to the line where something COULD happen. But then he doesn't. Right at the last minute, he tells her he's in a relationship already. Or resists the temptation to invite her to his hotel room. Yay, good guy, he didn't actually cheat (as in, have sex with another woman.)

But here's the thing, if you don't want to drink and drive, you don't go drinking at a bar far from home in your car. That's just setting up the conditions for you to make a "simple mistake" in a "moment of weakness" later. He likes putting himself in situations where he could SO EASILY cheat. That's going to end badly eventually, and you know it. In fact, you consider it a betrayal already. He doesn't, apparently, and until that changes you aren't going to be happy.

Which is to say, not only is he not the one for you, I don't think you're the one for him. He needs someone more ok with his brinksmanship behavior.
posted by ctmf at 4:59 PM on January 3, 2017 [5 favorites]

Kapers' answer is on point.

I'll posit another explanation for his behavior, he wants you to dump him. Some people will go to great lengths to avoid being the "bad guy" and go through the tough emotional moment of confronting someone to break up with them so they act horrible so that you'll do the hard work. A long time ago (coincidentally close to the age you are now, hmmmm), I pulled a stunt like this with a guy I was seeing: acted like a disinterested B with other things going on and then I suddenly remembered when the last guy had done that to me, snapped out of it and acted like the grownup I was supposed to be. The guy was a really great guy and I wasn't quite sure how to end it with someone who hadn't really done a wrong thing to me and I supposed I wanted a little drama but I also realized that this was poor, poor form and a sign of low character and no guts.

But let's say this is not the case. Probably not, right? If he wanted to end things, he'd just have the guts and the trustworthiness to have a heart-to-heart with you, right? Probably so. You talk about wanting and needing to fight for the relationship because that's what thousands have done! Sure. And thousands have decided to move on and found a different relationship. What are you fighting for? When the stakes are higher, fight harder. Kids? Financially dependant or intertwined? A long history of being the best and most dependable friend you've ever had? Overcome tough life obstacles? Sure. Fight. Examine your stakes before you put in all this effort.
posted by amanda at 5:07 PM on January 3, 2017 [5 favorites]

He makes me happy, I love him...

Yeah, I mean the thing is that I can see that you love him. But I don't see this as you being happy. I could be wrong, of course. Do you see this as you being happy? Sometimes, sadly, love and happiness give us different answers. He doesn't have to be bad for this to be true! There are plenty of valuable, wonderful, nice, well-rounded people who nevertheless do not work within relationships with each other. Think about it like buying a car. Someone with kids might really enjoy a minivan but someone with a small garage and no kids might find a minivan to be a huge stress. A lot of it is about matching your neuroses to each others' neuroses, as well as getting the right timing. Good luck!
posted by Rock 'em Sock 'em at 5:38 PM on January 3, 2017 [2 favorites]

Thousands of couples have dealt with an incident of dishonestly or infidelity and gotten through it stronger.

In real life? I don't think this is actually true. Not from the world I've seen. Some people get through it... but not stronger. I think that "adversity builds commitment" narrative is mostly just for fiction. I've heard people say "stronger" after staying together through red flags, but onlookers don't believe them. Because they seem less happy, more resigned, less confident, less themselves.

People can endure anything. But that doesn't mean it improves them.
posted by French Fry at 10:22 AM on January 5, 2017 [9 favorites]

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