Advice on troubling relationship incident
November 19, 2017 5:37 AM   Subscribe

While we were having a fight, my partner kicked me accidentally and I don't know how to feel about it. We usually get along well (we are both very anti-confrontational). I grew up with a verbally abusive parent and I am used to smoothing things over as much as possible. I feel like I don't have any perspective from which to look at this incident and tell if it is really worrying, or just an accident, or a small red flag to keep an eye on. Any opinions are welcome.

We are having a very hard time because I began talking about things in the relationship that have been bothering me for a long time.We've been having mostly sad, quiet talks about why I am unhappy. There's no shouting, and he says he is willing to talk about what's bothering me but it's really difficult because he has trouble dealing with emotions. I know that it's also hard to be the person who is hearing complaints about themselves, and I'm really worried that I'm asking for unreasonable things just to get attention (the things that are bothering me have to do with a lack of physical connection and being teasingly talked down to). There are definitely some problems in the way we interact that are my fault, and that I want to change. When we talk about the things that are wrong he mostly says 'I don't know what to do" and stares off into space. He also says he'll try to change things but he doesn't know how, and that he wants to keep trying to make the relationship more like it was before we moved in together.
We were lying down in bed and talking, and I admitted I was angry. The tone of the conversation got more fraught than the others, and he sat up and started rearranging the pillows and kind of punching them into shape at the back of the bed, and then he shook the blankets and while he was doing that kicked me really hard in the leg. He apologized right away and then went and slept in the other room. He's normally an extremely calm and even-keeled person, and tends to withdraw from confrontations. He has a bit of a cruel streak which comes out through teasing, but he is usually agreeable and good to be around.
I'm so confused by this because it was really violent, and also completely interpretable as an accident, but also he was definitely taking out frustration by acting forcefully. I haven't brought it up since, and I haven't told anyone because I can't tell if I'd be making it seem like a bigger deal then it is. But it just sits at the back of my mind, and I don't know what to think. Any outside perspectives would be so welcome.
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (39 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
I am not sure I can imagine a way how you would accidentally kick somebody hard sitting up in bed and rearranging blankets.
posted by koahiatamadl at 5:51 AM on November 19, 2017 [8 favorites]

Sounds like an accident to me. I’d let it go.
Also sounds like you both could use some marriage counseling. Talks that don’t go anywhere can turn into productive discussions with the help of a skilled therapist.
posted by SyraCarol at 5:59 AM on November 19, 2017 [2 favorites]

Please do not go to couples counseling.

Please do not let go of the fact that you feel belittled by your partner. Do not let go of the fact that you feel unsafe with him.

Please take care of yourself. Individual therapy could be a very good idea.
posted by sockermom at 6:01 AM on November 19, 2017 [17 favorites]

Okay, just to recap:

1. There are things in the relationship that have been bothering you for a long time.
2. Partner doesn’t respond well to these conversations, checking out and otherwise acting like he can’t figure out how to improve.
3. The “things” you don’t like about the relationship is that he talks to you cruelly and condescendingly in the guise of “teasing”.
4. When a discussion began to get angry, he responded by manhandling inanimate objects, and in the process, “accidentally” kicked you really hard.

This man is escalating. He started with verbal abuse (under the guise of plausible deniability) and now he’s just been physically violent (under the guise of plausible deniability). I hope you see that. It is a big deal and you are not being unreasonable!

Quite frankly, I wouldn’t continue dating anyone who responded angrily and unreasonably to my telling them that I don’t like the “teasing” and to stop doing it. If a reaction to said requirement was to punch pillows and “accidentally” kick me really hard, I think that would be answer enough and move the fuck out before he decided to skip the pillow-punching step. This man does not have a healthy way of dealing with confrontation, to say the absolute minimum about it, and his actual way of dealing with it is to mistreat you in a way where you’re not sure it’s abuse. Like, if abuse is on the table as an explanation, it’s time to leave.
posted by Autumnheart at 6:06 AM on November 19, 2017 [63 favorites]

Kick aside, it sounds like this relationship isn't really working out for you. You talk about being unhappy, needing more physical connection, and feeling talked-down-to. It sounds like you've brought this up with him and he hasn't started providing more physical connection and hasn't stopped talking down to you. Do you want to stay?
posted by bunderful at 6:07 AM on November 19, 2017 [14 favorites]

Autumnheart really has it, but let me explain something extra...

You really really really really can only longterm maintain happiness with a partner who has the skills to talk about relationship issues productively, including taking responsibility for their side of the street when an issue is brought to their attention.

Not only does this guy not have those skills, he is unwilling to learn them, and he is doubling and tripling down on avoiding developing this crucial facet of any successful fulfilling relationship.

posted by jbenben at 6:17 AM on November 19, 2017 [23 favorites]

I'm not your therapist --

This sticks out:

"I admitted I was angry."

This was your sin. You're not allowed to be angry. You have to have "sad, quiet" talks and believe that everything's your fault. Your partner is allowed to tease you without consequence. When you want to talk about your relationship, he says he can't talk about feelings. But --relationships are all ABOUT feelings.

When you decide to unravel this structure by being angry, he reacts with violence toward objects. Of course, the teasing is a kind of violence too.

So -- think hard about why you're there, and agree that you might need a therapist to help you out on this.

First step is to stop blaming yourself for what's going on.
posted by DMelanogaster at 6:27 AM on November 19, 2017 [22 favorites]

I think you should break up with him because "He has a bit of a cruel streak".

I'm not really sure what happened with the blankets and the kick, but I can't imagine a loving trusting relationship with someone I thought was a bit cruel.
posted by MangoNews at 6:36 AM on November 19, 2017 [15 favorites]

My ex never hit me, I told people. He hit walls and shook furniture, and slammed doors, but he didn't hit me. Then people asked specifics. Ok, he grabbed my arm all the time. Yes, he stopped me leaving rooms physically. He kicked me, but that was an accident. I fell, but that was an accident. I bruised easily. I was too sensitive and I had a really high pain threshold. I just had to handle things better.

He never really hit me. Except those few times at the beginning, but we don't talk about that because it upsets him.

There is the rapid escalating abuser who is truly terrifying, and there is the slow boil abuser who will cut you to size with a peeler, telling you that it's for your own good and your responsibility.

Leave. This guy is just starting.
posted by dorothyisunderwood at 6:58 AM on November 19, 2017 [70 favorites]

It's hard to believe he kicked you "accidentally." Even if he didn't "mean" too, something subconcious motivated that. Not good.
posted by Crystal Fox at 7:26 AM on November 19, 2017 [3 favorites]

1. We've been having mostly sad, quiet talks about why I am unhappy.
2. it's really difficult because he has trouble dealing with emotions
3. a lack of physical connection
4. being teasingly talked down to.
5. There are definitely some problems in the way we interact
6. When we talk about the things that are wrong he mostly says 'I don't know what to do" and stares off into space.
7. He also says he'll try to change things but he doesn't know how
8. while he was doing that kicked me really hard in the leg.
9. tends to withdraw from confrontations.
10. He has a bit of a cruel streak which comes out through teasing

How many strikes does this guy get? Because some of these are dealbreakers right there. This sounds awful, and you should leave. There are millions of single guys who are better than this guy. Please don't stick around until it gets worse. Because it will.
posted by Slinga at 7:32 AM on November 19, 2017 [17 favorites]

There are millions of single guys who are better than this guy.

Plus, being alone is better than being with someone who makes you unhappy.
posted by bunderful at 7:36 AM on November 19, 2017 [18 favorites]

A lot of red flags here that sound like he’s on his way to becoming physically or mentally abusive, as others have said. Even aside from that, though, this is someone who has zero emotional coping skills and apparently no desire to gain them. His behavior suggests a deep emotional immaturity and lack of tools to navigate conflicts through communication. If he does not recognize this and want to work on it, through therapy or otherwise, I don’t see how he can be a supportive partner to you.
posted by lieber hair at 7:54 AM on November 19, 2017 [4 favorites]

We can’t tell you what to do. His behaviour towards you (including the belittling) is abusive. I want to give you your power back. Here are some suggestions of things to do, which you can take or leave.

Do you feel safe in your home? Would you feel safe if he came back to your bed and you slept together in the same room? If you don’t feel safe, people can help. You can call friends or family, call a domestic violence hotline or shelter, or go to a hotel. I want you to feel safe when you go to sleep at night. People will help you. You can even go back later if you want, you don’t have to decide your entire future today.

Second, you sound upset, angry, confused, sad, and lonely. Is there anybody you can talk to about this. Family, friends, clergy, sympathetic colleagues, neighbour, therapist, anyone? A therapist is ideal, but someone you can trust and won’t judge is important. By telling your story and speaking your truth you can take your power back.

I’m sorry this is happening to you. You deserve so much better.
posted by crazycanuck at 7:57 AM on November 19, 2017 [4 favorites]

Here's the problem of thrashing around like a tantruming baby: you could accidentally hurt someone. That's why you don't do it. That's why it's threatening to others when you do it. And if he has not specifically apologized for getting all aggressive up in your face and then also kicking you as a consequence of that behavior, he's not sorry and it stops being a mistake if it was in the first place.

You're setting a precedent, for yourself and for him, if you don't do something about this. You're already working to write it off as a wholesale accident. You can't make him be sorry or better, you can't make him stop being cruel, but you can go get some help figuring out what you want to do about it all.
posted by Lyn Never at 7:57 AM on November 19, 2017 [31 favorites]

I spent so many years gently pulling men into being able to talk about emotions like adults. It was not rewarding. I guess I hope future partners have benefited. To me the kick is honestly immaterial when compared to moments swirling around it - I have been with and known guys exactly as you describe. The kick was accidental, but only in so much as it was a result of them being unable to to keep a lid on whatever thing he's not actually saying out loud. This results in fights that escalate further until they're screaming in your face as 2am, "I JUST DIDN'T WANT TO PUT UP WITH YOUR SHIT TONIGHT". So, don't stick around for that is my advice.

To me, this is the thing they're not saying clearly :
he wants to keep trying to make the relationship more like it was before we moved in together.

He wants less commitment. He wants less relationship. He wants to not have these talks. He wants his "fun" girlfriend back who would stuff her growing unease with the way she's being treated inside until she screams it out on the ride home by herself. He wants to be single but still have the benefits of your support, love, and body.

I think you know you can't say any more than you've already said to get him to suddenly see what you're saying clearly. He doesn't see it because he doesn't want to see it or he's incapable of seeing it - whatever the reason, it's not your responsibility to fix. Send this man back to his single guy apartment and live blissfully free of him. In a couple years you'll be surprised you put so much work into something that was obviously crumbling mostly from one side.
posted by I'm Not Even Supposed To Be Here Today! at 8:00 AM on November 19, 2017 [26 favorites]

Did you recently move in together? That can be a point at which abuse escalates. I'd take your intuition seriously here.
posted by lazuli at 8:00 AM on November 19, 2017 [4 favorites]

I see it's been mentioned up thread but i want to reiterate - do not go to therapy with someone who is maybe turning abusive. Do not think individual therapy for him can help this. Therapy + people who are or becoming abusive while they're still in the relationship where they're expressing that is a super bad combo and makes things worse.
posted by I'm Not Even Supposed To Be Here Today! at 8:02 AM on November 19, 2017 [8 favorites]

Even if it was an "accident," a kick is still a kick. I'll bet you'll think twice before starting conversations like that again, won't you? I would. So, now you're doubting and blaming yourself more than ever, because you think you're "unreasonable."

It is not unreasonable to want physical affection from your partner.
It is not unreasonable to want your partner to stop talking down to you or teasing you in a mean way.

This is an important time. He's waiting to see how much you are prepared to put up with. He's not changing, nor making it easy to talk with him, nor is he helping provide a safe space for the two of you to talk over difficult things. It's totally your call, of course, but I would leave, without looking back.

Also, a word about cruel streaks. They do NOT generally go away on their own. They get worse. The calmness and agreeable demeanor you see most of the time? That's him holding his cruel streak in check. The closer you get, the more confident he is that you'll stay, the more free he will feel to express that cruel streak, whether it's belittling your body, telling you you're stupid, mocking your likes and dislikes, or browbeating you for spending time with friends and family.

Again, it's your call - but being alone is at least a million times better than being with someone who makes you feel badly about yourself.
posted by dancing_angel at 8:21 AM on November 19, 2017 [8 favorites]

When we talk about the things that are wrong he mostly says 'I don't know what to do" and stares off into space.

Two paths he could go down, if he could move forward at all. He could say "I don't think I can change that / I don't want to make the effort to change that" or, more hopefully, he could say "What should I do differently to make you feel better about this?" Only the second approach is helpful for long term compatibility.

Individual therapy if you have broad-based unhappiness due to other life circumstances or fell stuck being sad.
posted by puddledork at 8:25 AM on November 19, 2017 [2 favorites]

He has a bit of a cruel streak

This isn't really an acceptable character flaw.

Re the kicking: sure he could have done it by accident, but if I did that by accident in the middle of a fight I'd be too busy apologizing and feeling mortified to go sleep elsewhere.

But really -- 'a bit' of a cruel streak is more of a cruel streak than a romantic partner should have.
posted by A Terrible Llama at 8:37 AM on November 19, 2017 [8 favorites]

and I'm really worried that I'm asking for unreasonable things just to get attention (the things that are bothering me have to do with a lack of physical connection and being teasingly talked down to).

These things are perfectly reasonable in a relationship, and it is also perfectly reasonable to want attention from your partner.

The thing about teasing is that he could just stop. He could just not do it. He’s choosing to continue because he likes it and it’s more important to him than your happiness and security.
posted by jeoc at 8:57 AM on November 19, 2017 [2 favorites]

I think the kicking probably was an accident, but men that feel the need to take their anger out on inanimate things are dangerous in and of themselves.
posted by corb at 9:20 AM on November 19, 2017 [5 favorites]

This is what came through loudly to me as I read your post:

Ways you describe your partner:
- Kicked you accidentally
- Will talk about what's bothering you but it's really difficult for him
- It's hard for him to have to hear complaints
- Talks down to you, but he's only teasing
- Says he'll try to change but doesn't know how
- Bit of a cruel streak but usually agreeable [poop milkshake, anyone?]

Ways you describe yourself:
- You two are having a hard time because you began talking
- Asking for unreasonable things [even though you TRULY are not!]
- Problems are your fault
- Admitted you were angry
- Worried that telling anyone he kicked you is making a big deal out of it

The pattern I'm seeing here is that you're going out of your way to excuse all of these very problematic ways he's chosen to behave, while simultaneously taking all of this blame onto yourself. Moreover, the things you're blaming yourself for are NOT unreasonable or blameworthy. It IS angering to be condescended to by your partner! It IS angering to tell your partner what is upsetting you and have them refuse to do anything about it.

And to that last point, claiming he doesn't know how to change is patently bullshit in terms of what you're describing here.There's no special skill or knowledge required to NOT talk down to your partner, for instance. You know what is needed to not talk down to someone? Respect.
posted by DingoMutt at 9:49 AM on November 19, 2017 [13 favorites]

One other thing: he "says" he's willing to talk about what's bothering you, but when you've done so he has at best stared off into space and flat-out told you he's not going to change, and at worst has physically hurt you.

That isn't what it looks like to talk about something with your partner - that's what it looks like when you're teaching them it's pointless-to-dangerous to bring up problems.
posted by DingoMutt at 9:57 AM on November 19, 2017 [9 favorites]

This is so hard, and when you're worn down, it is even harder to muster the energy for making decisions and changes. It IS a big deal, and you're right to feel worried. And your slow-simmering unhappiness is as big a deal as the kick. I came here to post this, but DingoMutt beat me to it. And the red flags that have been mentioned above show what a passive-aggressive Poopshake it is.
posted by peagood at 10:18 AM on November 19, 2017 [1 favorite]

I agree with A Terrible Llama here. I am 100% the kind of klutz that would accidentally kick someone. But if that happened at all - especially during a fight - I would be horrified and mortified and apologetic, not grumpily sleeping elsewhere.

This guy is escalating. It’s scary. Get out.
posted by okayokayigive at 10:19 AM on November 19, 2017 [9 favorites]

The fact that you're not entirely sure that the kick was accidental is your answer. Time to break up. Plus, the relationship doesn't sound very good anyhow. Leave before it gets worse.
posted by emd3737 at 11:05 AM on November 19, 2017 [5 favorites]

just to get attention

this is the way a person might describe the motivations of a child they were fed up with. his practice of talking down to you is having the desired effect.

wanting the attention of the man you love is not embarrassing or shameful or strange. Not having it is the strange thing. Having to work for it is the disturbing thing. but you shouldn't have to ask not to be belittled, and you certainly shouldn't have to ask more than once. that he does it in a "teasing" style doesn't mean it's not serious, it just means he enjoys doing it.

He apologized right away and then went and slept in the other room.

walking out in a huff to sleep away from you seems like just-before-breakup-level rupture to me, but is it a habitual thing for you guys -- fighting at night and sleeping in different rooms? can't tell from the presentation whether you ordered him out because you were so mad about being kicked, or or whether he did this as a weird extension of his apology -- like, I'm so sorry and horrified that I'll go away so it's impossible for me to accidentally do it again -- or because he was actually mad at you, in spite of being the one at fault, and didn't want to sleep with you.

I mean this is a big dramatic thing presented like it's nothing. and next to physical violence, I suppose it is. but I think you are downplaying his volatility and temperamental problems, not exaggerating them. Maybe the kick was an accident, it's hard to even picture, but even if it was, if he can't have an upsetting discussion without a physical release, that is something you might choose to find unacceptable. nothing wrong with getting so mad you have to go punch a pillow, but everything wrong with doing it mid-argument because you can't help it. and if he ever escalates to breaking things or hitting walls, that's it. I'm not sure whether he's abusive right now but if he gets any worse, he will be. if you are not yet afraid to talk to him for fear of his reaction, he may keep escalating until you are. that may be his goal.
posted by queenofbithynia at 11:14 AM on November 19, 2017 [6 favorites]

If he'd accidentally kicked you while thrashing around in the bed under some other circumstances other than an argument, it might have been an accident and he still should have apologized for it. But the fact that he did this while angry and then only barely acknowledged that he hurt you is a real red flag. Physically injuring anyone, especially someone you are supposed to care about, even accidentally, is not a small thing.

This guy is grooming you to accept future bad behaviour that will almost certainly escalate to abuse (if it hasn't already).
posted by rpfields at 11:43 AM on November 19, 2017 [7 favorites]

I’m kind of wondering about this apology. Was it perfunctory or “OMG I can’t believe I did that. I’m so sorry. Are you OK?” I was seriously injured by a partner - broken bone - and it was definitely an accident. The reason it should have been a dealbreaker (and wasn’t- I was young and stupid) was that his primary response was getting mad at me for screaming. We can’t tell you if this was truly an accident - but anyone who isn’t horrified by hurting you accidentally is not someone to stay with.
posted by FencingGal at 12:04 PM on November 19, 2017 [2 favorites]

I can imagine this happening with a certain ex of mine, and his exit from the bedroom would be him trying to force me to reconcile and beg him back in, tell him it wasn't that bad, apologise for upsetting him, that you're responsible too and you're sorry? Does that sound like the feeling you had when he did this?

Mine also escalated into more violence, which was shocking because he's so nice and works for charity and is a lovely guy who everyone likes. But in retrospect I should have easily spotted it. There were so many abusive things he did leading up to his last violent act, including lashing out against other, smaller humans (pushed a teenager on his bike into traffic for yelling something at him).

I also don't believe for a second that kick was an accident. It has the cover of deniability, but he knew the score that he might hurt you when he was thrashing around next to you, and may have even done in on purpose because he knew he could use that excuse afterwards. He has a cruel streak, right? Please leave. I promise it won't get any better and nothing good will come after this. I agree with the poster above that he wants less relationship. I promise you can and will find better. Hugs and my messages are open if you need support.
posted by everydayanewday at 12:16 PM on November 19, 2017 [11 favorites]

"being teasingly talked down to" and "He has a bit of a cruel streak which comes out through teasing" is emotional abuse. It is completely reasonable to expect that a partner who you should be able to be emotionally vulnerable with stop doing this (and preferably not do it at all to begin with).
posted by jazzbaby at 1:02 PM on November 19, 2017 [4 favorites]

Don't date people with a "cruel streak". Period. Done.
posted by Toddles at 2:54 PM on November 19, 2017 [6 favorites]

Both of you are learning what your partner can do to you and get away with. He's just learnt he can kick you, he can tease you, and he can be cruel. You've just learnt you'll make excuses for it and stick around. You've also learnt not to bring up topics that prompt him to do these things.

But you might make a mistake and do it again. And because it's ok to kick you, next time it might be ok to punch you (accidentally of course) or unintentionally wrap his hands around your throat and squeeze really tightly because he thought it was the pillow, or maybe push you down the stairs (that's where he was throwing the blanket he got upset with too). But it was an accident, right? And if he goes off in a huff and sleeps in the bedroom, you'll realise it's all your fault....if you're still alive.
posted by Jubey at 3:46 PM on November 19, 2017 [3 favorites]

When you thrash angrily within thrashing distance of your partner, when you hit or kick them which you inevitably will, that is not an accident. He meant to thrash around within striking distance of you.

He kicked you to punish you for speaking up about his emotional abuse. Which is what those of us who have been through it call cruel condescending teasing he refuses to stop.
posted by kapers at 4:13 PM on November 19, 2017 [5 favorites]

A tendency to withdraw from confrontation does not mean he’s not violent. It’s often the sign of someone who does not know how to deal with big emotions in a healthy, adult way. And that can be dangerous, because big emotions find a way out if they’re not expressed (harsh teasing, wall-punching, and more direct forms of violence are all in the same spectrum of behavior.)

For example, you are dealing with big difficult feelings by using your words: naming what is not working for you, identifying your anger—and that’s healthy. He’s dealing by zoning out, refusing to change, and having violent tantrums. And he’s not admitting it, either, which is making you doubt yourself.

This relationship was already not working well for you, and this is how he deals with it. I don’t see a future here that is not increasingly miserable for you. This kind of misery can really make you lose your head (especially if he’s in there gaslighting you), so please use the clarity you’ve expressed here to take care of yourself. You’re not “making a big deal,” your awful partner kicked you.
posted by kapers at 5:52 PM on November 19, 2017 [7 favorites]

Many other posters have pointed out the numerous red flags you've described, so I won't reiterate them here. They are definitely red flags, and you should be concerned.

Let's assume for a moment the best case scenario--that the kick was an accident, and that his apology to you was sincere and effusive. For a while prior to this event, you've been unhappy due to a lack of physical connection and because your partner teases you in ways that don't feel fun to you. Those problems both sound like relationship dealbreakers, unless they're resolved. It sounds like your partner isn't particularly interested in or capable of resolving them. How many chances are you willing to give him? It sounds like you've given him several already. Even if he's a good person at his core (which I doubt), he's not giving you two important things you need to be happy. I'm skeptical, based on what you've written, that he'll ever give them to you.

You sound like a compassionate person with good self-awareness and good communication skills. Someday those traits will serve you well with a compassionate, self-aware partner who communicates back. This partner is not the partner you need or deserve.

Breakups are hard, especially when one of you has to move, but I promise breaking up with him will be much easier in the long run than trying to make this work.
posted by Owlcat at 5:41 AM on November 20, 2017 [1 favorite]

One time my SO and I were having a heated discussion and decided to take it to a better space to talk. As we were walking he gesticulated a point and smacked me right in the face with his arm because he didn't realize I was right behind him. Having been in an abusive relationship it was real scary for a heartbeat.

But here's the thing: as he was apologizing profusely all the tension from the argument totally evaporated and we ended up giggling about how stupid it was. That's because it was truly an accident and I felt totally safe.

I'm betting, from his refusal to talk and belittling, teasing attitude, that kick didn't end up in laughter. I bet the tension just built on itself. That's because he wanted the tension. He wanted you to feel bad, even if it was actually unintended to smack into you. And that is a major, major walk-away red flag.

Even if it never happened again, his attitude is dump worthy. This sounds a lot like the canary. Please take care of yourself. My memail is open if it would help.
posted by hapaxes.legomenon at 9:54 AM on November 20, 2017 [1 favorite]

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