How do I get better so I don't lose the love of my life?
January 21, 2018 7:38 PM   Subscribe

Tonight my boyfriend of almost 2 years broke up with me because he was fed up of how much we've been fighting lately and because of how I've been treating him. He changed his mind after I spent the night crying and apologizing and promising to do better, but we're spending the week apart and I'm terrified of losing him despite my best efforts. How can I improve my communication and control my outbursts so that he doesn't leave me and so that we can have a healthier relationship?

After he left I came across Joni Mitchell's song "River" for the first time and I cried because her words rang true: He tried hard to help me/You know, he put me at ease/And he loved me so naughty/Made me weak in the knees... I'm so hard to handle/I'm selfish and I'm sad/Now I've gone and lost the best baby that I ever had

I'm very aware that I have a lot of issues that I need to work on and I feel like I've been doing my best, but somehow in the middle of it all, we found ourselves fighting incessantly starting maybe 1-2 months ago? I switched jobs in October and it was stressful (wrote a post about it here) and I can't pinpoint why we started fighting so much, but it got really bad right before Christmas. It became a pattern: we'd see each other during the week, it would either go really well or really bad. If it went well, we'd later find ourselves spending our whole weekend fighting. If it went bad on a weeknight, we'd spend that night fighting and it would get really ugly, at which point he'd threaten to leave or actually get up to leave my apartment and I would start freaking out (I've come to realize I have MAJOR abandonment issues and an anxious-preoccupied attachment style) and resort to self-destructive and abusive behaviour to prevent him from leaving.

I'm very ashamed of this and have been discussing it with a therapist. It got really, really bad this last week because I engaged in self-harm in front of him when he was leaving again and I felt like he was leaving for good... It was very confusing because minutes before the incident I was feeling proud of myself for not engaging in that behaviour, but the second that it hit me that he was leaving for good, something hit me and I ran to the kitchen... and yeah.

I felt disgusted with myself because I'd jeopardized not only my relationship but my new job too, since I had to take the day off. I've always struggled with this destructive behaviour, growing up at home with my abusive family, and I remember my mom used to drive me to do similar things. Arguing with her would lead to me trying to down bottles of pills, banging my head against the wall or hitting myself. I felt like I had control over it after I went to therapy in university, but somehow it came back in full-force in the last few months and I feel regretful, disgusting, awful and just all-around evil for letting my boyfriend become a witness to it. I feel as though he's put up with a lot of my BS because he loves me, but tonight I realized that this love isn't enough, because he's miserable and tired from fighting all the time.

My current therapist and I have determined that those actions aren't suicidal, but rather (manipulative) I do to cope with the distressing situation. I really don't want to do it. When my boyfriend was leaving tonight, I managed to control it. I sat still and listened to him tell me repeatedly that he was leaving for good and that nothing would change his mind. I was proud of myself for not running after him or trying to force him to stay, but I did cry endlessly and beg him not to leave me. I told him I could do better and he made it clear that I couldn't continue to pick fights with him, otherwise he would leave me for good.

I'm happy he's giving me another chance, but I'm scared that I'm going to mess it all up. He said "if you start a fight with me when we see each other again next weekend, I can guarantee that I will break up with you." How do I stop myself from picking fights with him out of insecurity or irrational, anxious and negative thoughts? I think part of the reason why we fell into this cycle of constant fights is because I'd try to express something to him, and since my communication skills are extremely bad/non-existent, I would say it in a hurtful/rude or hostile way and he'd be on the defensive and not be cooperative. When we're not fighting, people we know tell us we're like a match made in heaven. We get along really well and I know he's a gem of a boyfriend because he does treat me wonderfully and I'm ashamed that I let my insecurities and his past hurtful actions override all the good things he's done and has continued to do. So when fought like this, it would escalate really bad and by the time we make up, we've already hurt each other so much. I internalize the things he says to me or the things he does when he fight and think about them for days, feeling worthless and insecure. So the next time we get together and he says or does something I perceive as a slight, it magnifies those negative and anxious thoughts in my head and causes me to burst out. He used to be more patient and understanding of my anxiety, but understandably he's fed up, especially since a lot of my comments can be rude and irrational.

So essentially, I need to learn how to communicate my thoughts better and in more respectful way. He told me to think long and hard about what I'm gonna say so that I don't jeopardize our relationship. He hates it when I'm rude or give him attitude and I can understand that, since one of the first things I noticed about him when he started dating is that he's very kind and gentle when he talks. He grew up with parents who yelled all the time, and he told me he's done his best to avoid doing that, so I imagine he's disappointed that we've reached that point.

I know I have a lot to work on, and I absolutely want to do my best to improve myself and my communication and just get rid of these nasty insecurities that plague my thoughts. What are some surefire ways to do this? Currently I am thinking:

- Continue individual therapy on a weekly basis
- Complete my DBT workbook
- Pursue couples counselling (he's said in the past he's open to this so I think I'll try to bring this up again)
- Journal? I've heard this helps but I'm not sure how to use it as a tool
- Yoga? I don't exercise at all so this may help calm me down
- Smoking more pot. We used to smoke a lot together and somehow between all of this conflict we stopped. I suggested that we do that more when we're together and I'll likely try to do it on my own more.
- Write things down when we're talking?

Is there anything else I'm missing? How do I talk to him when we see each other? At this point I'm terrified of saying the wrong thing(s) or being snarky and rude, even unintentionally. I can honestly say that when we fight, we both never see it coming and I never go into a conversation with the intention of berating him or hurting him, but it turns out that I do anyway. I used to think that he was taking all my negative comments as attacks on his character, but now I realize that he's not like my ex, and that my comments aren't worded in the best way. He said he'll try to be more patient and understanding but that I really need to work on how I talk to him.
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (27 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: Hi hexenkunst. I want to respond specifically to you about your anxious attachment style, because I've been there. I want to gently point out that even if you do your very best, he might still leave. And that's okay. Painful, but okay. You are worthy of love and in particular, you are worthy of love you can feel secure about. It will come.

One piece of this puzzle is working on your own anxiety. Keep up with therapy. I would also strongly encourage you to find a form of exercise that works for you because it helps with anxiety. I myself recently started running. I hated it for the first few weeks but I pushed myself to run a bit more each time and walk a bit less. I came to enjoy being in the park away from my phone. Now I look forward to it, and it calms me.

Best wishes to you.
posted by mai at 8:01 PM on January 21, 2018 [14 favorites]

Honestly? I think you have to come to terms with the possibility of losing him. If this happens, you can survive it.

You grew up in an abusive household and were in an abusive relationship until quite recently (based on your previous questions, that relationship ended in 2016). While it's understandable that you struggle with your emotions and have developed unhealthy coping mechanisms, it doesn't make it okay.

Your behaviour is manipulative and abusive. Unfortunately, this might be something that your current relationship is not able to recover from. You have a lot of work to do, and it might be easier to do it while single.

First, work on loving yourself. Eat well, stay hydrated, get enough sleep. Find some physical and mindful activities which make you feel good. I like ballet and yoga, but find whatever feels right for you. Work towards being okay alone. There are many potential loves out there for us, but there's no point being with them if you don't love yourself and are not okay in your own company.
posted by kinddieserzeit at 8:07 PM on January 21, 2018 [16 favorites]

I don't know if you can change yourself in a week's time. I don't know if you should try.

If the crux of the issue is not what you say, but how you say it, I think that can be successfully addressed together. First, I think your idea to go together to couples therapy is a good idea. It will help you both work on how you communicate with each other. Also, it may help you two learn to fightarguedisagree while still being respectful and truthful. Second, in the short term, before I spoke, even if it is just to say, "I will be right back I am going to the bathroom", I would count to 10 in my head and think about the proper words to express the point. Build in a filter. Build in time to not just instinctively react (defensively) but to consider what you are about to say and how it will be perceived. Third, exercise or yoga or meditation is a great way to relieve anxiety and/or stress. Fourth, I am not so sure that smoking pot together or you more alone is the answer. It does not address whatever is the underlying cause or the underlying issue. It is a painkiller more than a medicine to treat a disease. Fifth, I think the best way to help the relationship is to work on yourself.
posted by AugustWest at 8:10 PM on January 21, 2018 [3 favorites]

Best answer: People are telling you to work on yourself/your own anxiety and I want to say something more specific about that. Paradoxically you need to really really understand and believe that you don't need this one relationship in order for you to be OK, and you have to believe that there really is nothing you can actually do to make him stay. You have to understand that there is not one magical thing you can do to make him want to be there, because he's a separate person and if he leaves, it is beyond your control. This doesn't mean you don't have any power to act in a way that creates an environment where a healthy relationship can possibly thrive, but it does mean you have to accept that you can't control whether he stays or goes, and that if he goes, you're still there, alive and intact even if sad.
The reason I'm saying this is that when you're having outbursts like the ones you describe it sounds like you're panicking in terror, lashing out kind of like someone panicking and pulling someone down in the water while afraid of drowning. You have to really, really know you aren't drowning. That if he leaves you won't be drowning. And that if he leaves it's his own decision, and you can't make it for him.
That's the specific work I think you need to do on yourself: believe you don't need this one relationship or else you'll vanish or blow away or live in horrific regret that you didn't do something on your list. Remind yourself over and over that he is a separate person and your worth doesn't come from him. Only when you believe it's actually not a matter of survival will you be able to act in a way that makes staying together possible as a pleasure.
posted by velveeta underground at 8:18 PM on January 21, 2018 [49 favorites]

Also, smoking pot is a bandaid solution. It's also not necessarily a great idea for people with mental health issues to take narcotics. Try to work on your anxiety and communication in therapy.
posted by kinddieserzeit at 8:19 PM on January 21, 2018 [18 favorites]

I don't think there's a way to reconcile your obligation to provide your partner with safety and your desire to preserve the relationship at this time. I think you should let him go unconditionally and work on yourself.

I've been in a relationship with someone who acted out in the ways you describe, and it... wasn't good. I know that the pain you are in is very real and that there will be a lot more of it when he leaves.

Still, you need to take responsibility for cultivating more healthy habits so it is safe for you to be close to other people, even though it may not be your "fault" that your upbringing was conducive to you developing abusive tendencies.

The problems you're describing take hard work to fix. It's no small thing and it will take much more than a week. Please work on your own issues and take care of yourself.
posted by alphanerd at 8:47 PM on January 21, 2018 [10 favorites]

You frame your questions about your mental health issues as mostly being impediments to having a good relationship with your boyfriend. You really do deserve to get help and work on your issues for yourself. I don't think that you can really get well while also trying to salvage a relationship that honestly, sounds like is on its last legs. You have been through a lot of trauma and you're stronger than you think! You really are quite young and I think you will be amazed at how wonderful life can be when you focus on your own recovery instead of pouring your mental reserves into this relationship.
posted by cakelite at 9:00 PM on January 21, 2018 [18 favorites]

Best answer: You're not a failure or horrible person, since you're taking responsibility for the bad things you've done and are making an effort to improve your behavior. That doesn't mean you can necessarily save this relationship, unfortunately, but you can redeem yourself and go on to have a healthy relationship in the future, whether it's with him or someone else.

If you stay together, you don't need to stop bringing up your insecurities altogether. It's okay for partners to be vulnerable with each other, and some vulnerability is good for their emotional connection. They key is to share your insecurities respectfully, do some work on your part to manage them so that the emotional labor doesn't fall entirely to him, and to not share to often so that you don't overwhelm him. I'll give you an example of how to communicate your insecurities and needs around them respectfully, using a problem I made up, since I dunno what issues you two are dealing with:

"When I contact you and you don't respond, I get anxious that I'll never hear from you again. Are you willing to respond within 24 hours when I contact you?"

The formula is, "When you do x, I feel y. Can you do z instead?"

I recommend the book Nonviolent Communication to learn more.
posted by Eevee at 9:15 PM on January 21, 2018 [5 favorites]

You mention DBT, so I assume you know this is all pretty classic borderline behaviour in terms of how you respond to abandonment. Really dive into the DBT, make it your priority, and supplement workborks with in-person therapy as much as you can afford. It's possible you won't ever "get rid" of insecurities etc, but you can definitely over time learn healthier ways to cope with powerful feelings that arise.
posted by nicolas léonard sadi carnot at 9:39 PM on January 21, 2018 [5 favorites]

does it help any to think of his threats to leave (or actually leaving) as emotionally and functionally equivalent to your threats of self-harm (or actual self-harm in his presence)?

you know how it makes you feel when he leaves (unbearably bad) and you know what you typically do to make that feeling stop (hurt yourself.) What if your self-harm and verbal attacks make him feel the same way as his leaving makes you feel -- abandoned, punished, helpless -- and he reacts in the only way he can think of, same as you?

you aren't the same person, I'm sure you have very different backgrounds and psychological complexities. but it sounds like the kind of impulse to me, done for the same purpose. things get worse and worse and there's only one thing that seems to have any effect on the other person or your own emotions, so you both do that thing to make each other stop doing their own thing. Just like you say you're not really suicidal, he wasn't really leaving "for good" when he said he was. but next time! it's an eternal threat for next time. he and you both have to see you're mirroring each other in the way you try to manipulate each other's behavior.

I don't say this to minimize your mistreatment of him (or to assume that it's all in one direction, but I only know what you wrote); sooner or later, he is going to ask for help from someone who will sit him down and tell him that no matter what, nothing you do to yourself is his fault, that he can't let the guilt bring him back every time. and that is true; threatening yourself will stop working at some point and if he were not conditioned by his own rotten childhood, it would not have worked at all.

but rather than torture yourself over how miserable you make him, which doesn't help, maybe think that when he leaves or says he's leaving, the purpose is to release himself from unbearable feelings that are very similar to your own. he sounds like he's more in control than you are, and like you're treating him badly, yes. but you share some strong similarities. if there's some way this could let you feel closer to him, instead of further away, it could help you not to feel so badly when away from him. whether you stay together or not.
posted by queenofbithynia at 9:51 PM on January 21, 2018 [12 favorites]

Please read this Cary Tennis column from awhile back and imagine your boyfriend as the letter writer.

"Picture his newfound optimism, clarity, and kindness as only the trough of the same wave that so recently capsized you with terror and confusion. It's building again even as he proclaims how much he's changed, how much he sees where things went wrong. I wouldn't be surprised if he said, characteristically puffing himself up even as he pretends humility, that it was an excess of love that led him to treat you so cruelly! It is only that he loves you too much!"

You are super-deep into denial about the extent of your own desire for control here.
posted by alphanerd at 9:57 PM on January 21, 2018 [6 favorites]

This could be an opportunity to really work on your own issues without the interference of having to walk on eggshells in your relationship to avoid him leaving. It sounds like you have a lot of work to do to heal yourself. Once you've made headway in that area, you'll find yourself far more ready to find a love partner who not only surpasses your current boyfriend, but you'll also be able to have a relationship that isn't so chaotic and dramatic. You and your boyfriend may love each other, but you also aren't bringing out the best in each other. This kind of fighting pattern can't be easily fixed and you shouldn't feel like you're walking on eggshells to avoid having him leave. Let him go and concentrate fully on your therapy and working on your issues. It'll be the most important step you can take to find happiness in your life and in your relationships.

Your not a failure for letting a relationship end in order to work on yourself. In fact, concentrating on your own healing will make you the opposite of a failure and gives you the greatest chance of finding healthy, happy love in the future.
posted by quince at 10:02 PM on January 21, 2018 [3 favorites]

Dump him!

Hey - heads up! You feel like crap around him and he triggers you: IT'S NOT JUST YOU THAT IS THE PROBLEM.

This relationship has run its course, it is time to let go. The only thing you should do differently next time is end the relationship sooner when every little thing causes you to argue and pick fights with each other. I suspect he's lacking in relationship skills and you are pulling more than your weight. Who knows?

Whatever he is doing is causing you to relapse. RUN. Then work on your own relationship skills, including your relationship with yourself. I'm sad you painted yourself so poorly, that it seems to you he is perfect. We're all works in progress, and like I said, if he's all about blaming you than this relationship has run its course. Let go, move on. Repair your relationship with yourself, become someone you trust and rely on.
posted by jbenben at 10:56 PM on January 21, 2018 [28 favorites]

not being able to control your emotional expression is a problem, I know, both for yourself and for others, but that doesn't mean you're wrong about everything in interpersonal relationships. and it especially doesn't mean you're not allowed to feel hurt because it must be overreacting, or you're not allowed to disagree or ask for better treatment because it must be fight-starting and fight-starting means he'll leave you.

I remember some of your other questions, and I understand your problems are real and you're having a hard time, giving your boyfriend a hard time as well. but more than anything, what sticks with me is how many excuses you made for men and how few you made for yourself. It's so hard to tell from self-descriptions what people are like in real life, but I worry that you pick men who are really kind of nasty, and then idealize them and justify it all because you think you're even worse and because your previous boyfriends have been worse.

I'm sorry for everything you're going through. you don't sound like a monster. If he says awful things to you during fights, you didn't make him do it and your other behavior doesn't change that. just like he's not responsible for your self-harm, you're not responsible if he's mean to you sometimes. I think it would be easier to stop some of the problem behaviors if you weren't so sure you were wrong so often and if you didn't feel so unequal to him. You love him, but he's not better than you in his essence, in his fundamental self. the basic you is not inferior.
posted by queenofbithynia at 11:34 PM on January 21, 2018 [7 favorites]

I feel like I'd give up anything to fix it and the thought of continuing to fail terrifies me.

What you have to give up is him.

When you aren’t desperately trying to save this failing relationship, then you will have the time and mental energy to really heal yourself. Don’t sit around waiting for him to end it or trying to pass some test so he won’t; instead, leave voluntarily yourself now and work on fixing you.

You know fixing this is worth it, and you have started to make motions to do so, but it’s going to require all of your free time and emotional effort to do properly.

I say this as someone who lost a relationship due to lashing out. He left me and it hurt like fuck. But then I had the time to get better, to understand myself and how I fit into the world better. And it took five years, but once I had gotten better (some, I am still a work in progress), I met someone who was better for me. (Said someone is currently trying to sleep next to me).

But even before I met him, I was so much happier feeling in control of my emotions. I learned how to step away, get exercise that works for me (try the yoga, and if you don’t like it try something else, there’s many ways to be active), avoid situations (hunger!) that make me more likely to lash out, etc.

So let him go. Not for him, but for you.
posted by nat at 11:35 PM on January 21, 2018 [20 favorites]

I can tell you something from my own life: don’t be with someone who’s repeatedly walked out the door on your relationship. He doesn’t want to be there. He’s going to use leaving as his trump card whenever something doesn’t go his way because he knows you fear abandonment.

He’s already put the condition on you that he’ll leave the next time you say something he doesn’t like. It not realistic to expect you to never fight again or to “cure” all of your flaws and illnesses immediately. Obviously that’s going to happen again. Treat your mental health for you, not for someone who isn’t sure about you.

All of your questions are about how terrible you are and we tell you he’s unhealthy too, but maybe you’re not ready to hear it.
posted by kapers at 8:42 AM on January 22, 2018 [9 favorites]

I'm terrified of losing him despite my best efforts.

When you're in desperate need of a partner, the lack or loss of the partner is not the problem you need to solve. The desperate need is the problem you need to solve. Make fixing that your priority, and the quality of your life will improve beyond measure.

He said "if you start a fight with me when we see each other again next weekend, I can guarantee that I will break up with you." How do I stop myself from picking fights with him out of insecurity or irrational, anxious and negative thoughts?

By letting him go. Not dumping him, just letting him go. Then by spending a solid year unpartnered as a matter of deliberate policy, giving you a chance to do the difficult work of learning how to live with and for yourself instead of with and for somebody else. That way, your next relationship will involve letting another adult into your life instead of the two of you glomming onto each other like drowning kittens.

How can I improve my communication and control my outbursts so that he doesn't leave me and so that we can have a healthier relationship?

By understanding and accepting the principle that the only healthy reason that anybody ever has for staying with anybody else is that they want to, not that they fear the consequences of failing to do so. This applies to everybody. You and your partners both.

You cannot exert and should not try to exert control over a partner's desire to stay with you, and they cannot exert and should not try to exert control over your desire to stay with them. No relationship between adults that persists for any reason other than love and the ongoing freedom of both partners to stay or go can ever be healthy. Half of that is simply not your call and never will be, because you are not your partner. Just being ourselves is already plenty of work for any of us. Don't take on more than that.

Smoking more pot

Using recreational drugs to address personal difficulties (especially anxiety) is generally an error. Pot is for making a good life a little more fun with occasional use, not for everyday use in an ultimately self-defeating attempt to make anxiety less troublesome. Chronic pot use is almost always unhelpful for anxiety because it promotes rumination and to some extent paranoia, and it also reduces motivation for keeping on with the difficult emotional work involved in consciously adopting and nurturing new, non-anxious mental habits.

If psychoactive chemicals are going to be part of what you use to deal with your anxiety, pick chemicals understood and recommended by your treating professionals, not your local sugar man.

I'm very ashamed of this ... I felt disgusted with myself

Anybody who tells you that shame and disgust are required reactions to a temporary inability to cope gracefully with stress, especially in somebody in recovery from childhood abuse, is just factually incorrect. Including you.

So when the shame and disgust come on, firstly acknowledge and accept that you are indeed feeling these things: feelings are what they are and no feeling is in and of itself wrong or unacceptable. Secondly, remind yourself that (a) you're doing your best and (b) your best is getting better and (c) nobody, not even you, has any right to expect more of you than that.

Abuse does damage. Childhood abuse does deep damage. It's going to take time and persistence and help to acquire the skills required to work around that damage, and beating yourself up for not yet having fully mastered them is so not a required part of that process.
posted by flabdablet at 9:04 AM on January 22, 2018 [8 favorites]

Are you in skills training group too? DBT works best as a whole system, not as separate components, and from what you're describing, DBT is definitely the right fit for you so it's great to hear you're already partly working with it. Are there DBT skills groups for friends and family in your area? There are at the hospital where I work, and they're very helpful for partners.
posted by namesarehard at 9:12 AM on January 22, 2018

This dynamic where anytime you get upset he's getting ready to leave won't resolve, you'll always have that looming over the relationship.

You may have problems but that doesn't excuse him calling you names. Have you considered that you're insecure because of the things that came up in prior questions? In my past relationships when I found something out that really didn't mesh with what I wanted in a partner (these tended to be things that made me feel insecure or reduced my respect for them) what ended up happening is I'd still be pissed at them on some level but tried to let it go, but it really was a deal breaker for me and it would seep out. It's ok for you to have dealbreakers. It's possible to find a partner who has all the good qualities you want and who doesn't make you feel insecure or get mad at you when you get upset.

I think letting this guy go (you were able to meet him, you will be able to meet someone else again), finding a support group for DBT, and focusing on taking care of yourself so that you can enjoy your new job and the healthy workplace relationships that stem from that would be good starts. Work on trusting yourself a bit more. Just because you have a more intense attachment style doesn't mean all of your gut feelings are wrong, they're just turned up. Identify some tools to use when you're upset. Can you go for a walk, call a friend, blast music and angry clean instead of the more destructive things?

For journaling, try just writing about what's happening in your life. Write when you're upset. Write when you're happy. See how the things you were upset about change with time. You're trying to develop the ability to have these intense urges to do something and not lash out. It's hard. There are self-compassion courses that teach you how to give yourself more love and care, to be kinder to yourself. DBT has that woven into it I think but something else to look at.
posted by lafemma at 9:34 AM on January 22, 2018 [4 favorites]

When someone I care about tries to pick a fight with me, the vast majority of the time my response is "oh no, what's wrong, are you okay?" Your boyfriend has his own set of issues but is content to blame it all on you because you've both agreed that you're the screwed up one. This is not loving behavior. (I have been the one we agreed was screwed up. Hindsight is 20/20.)

There is good in you and you've already attracted someone you think is amazing. The odds are extremely in your favor that there is another person who is even better out there for you. It is a big, wide world. You can take the time to work on yourself and then have a fulfilling relationship. This fear of scarcity in love is coming from your childhood and probably your society and it's not true.
posted by momus_window at 3:06 PM on January 22, 2018

This is not the venue for advice for this situation. You need serious mental health treatment and should focus on that. This is not a relationship issue. I will note that if you’re unable to keep yourself from behaving abusively in your relationship you have the option to leave it. This may not feel like an option but feelings aren’t facts.
posted by Rock 'em Sock 'em at 4:24 PM on January 22, 2018 [9 favorites]

A lot of comments above have made important observations above, so I can only add something about couples counseling (which I'm glad you're going to try): couples counseling, when done well, is not only about how to improve or even save a relationship. A good counselor will also be sensitive to the question of whether a relationship is viable, and if not, how both parties can let go and move on.

It sounds like there's a lot going on that isn't so much about how you relate to him, but to yourself, and I sense that saving the relationship is as much about not facing that bigger question as it is about saving the relationship. Facing that bigger question will probably be the hardest thing you've done in your life so far, and it will be worth it once you do. I hope you find your way to that by one path or another; I wish you all the love and luck in the world as you do.
posted by obliterati at 5:18 PM on January 22, 2018

You should absolutely not enter couples’ counseling if you are behaving abusively. This is not a relationship problem or a “couple” problem. It’s a serious mental health issue that requires treatment. Going to couples’ counseling makes as much sense as going for a broken leg.
posted by Rock 'em Sock 'em at 6:00 PM on January 22, 2018 [2 favorites]

Good for you for recognizing your behavior is manipulative and abusive. That alone is a huge step toward becoming a better person and partner. Having healthy relationships is a LEARNED SKILL. We are not born with this knowledge, we see it modeled in relationships around us as we grow up. If that didn’t happen it is NOT YOUR FAULT. There is no shame in not having learned this already. But it *is* your task to fix it. You know you need to learn it now, so go do that.

But you need to do this on your own. I don’t see anything in your ask or follow ups that indicated this relationship is healthy for either of you. I hear a lot of codependency on both sides, tbh. I hope you take the advice to end things with him, and seek counciling to deal with your attachment style, your communication, and your distress tolerance.

You cannot fix yourself in a week. No one can. You are setting yourself up for failure and that’s never good. If you work on yourself, you will find love again, but it will be even better because you will be in a healthy relationship! Best of luck. You can do this.
posted by ananci at 6:37 PM on January 22, 2018 [1 favorite]

Having healthy relationships is a LEARNED SKILL.

For what it's worth, so is having shitty abusive ones, and due to circumstances beyond your past child self's control you've taken that particular course all the way to postgraduate level.

So at present you have a pile of maladaptive relationship maintenance skills. Not horrible shameful terrible awful flaws, merely skills you can use and have been using to maintain a relationship in a permanent state of ill health. You learned these maladaptive skills from your abusive parent(s). You were never given a realistic choice about whether to acquire them or not. Nothing else was on your menu. Had you not learned these skills, it's entirely possible that you would be literally actually dead by now.

There is no reasonable case at all for beating yourself up over this. You are where you are because you came from where you came from. You are clearly able to understand the strain that your present relationship is experiencing, you are clearly looking for healthier ways to operate in a relationship, and those things are laudable signs of increasing maturity. Award yourself some points for taking that attitude, because many people never bother.

Your job now is to acquire a heap of adaptive, useful healthy-relationship maintenance skills as well, then choose to employ those instead of the ones you're already familiar with; those, you can put aside until such time as you find some legitimate reason to inflict abuse on another human being. This is a large and difficult task, but not as large or difficult as (for example) becoming fluent in a second language. I would expect the process to take years rather than decades.

This is not about being a good person or a bad person or any other kind of person. This is about acquiring and practising skills. Please remember that.

Also remember that Cathy and Heathcliff are fictional characters, not role models: a good life well lived contains many real and true loves, not just the one.
posted by flabdablet at 3:43 AM on January 23, 2018 [6 favorites]

I think everyone here is giving me too much credit and I don't understand why, because I've been pretty horrible to him.

Partly because of the context of your previous questions. I think it is out of line to bring them up directly, I'm never sure, but it's clear several people do remember. Without that background knowledge of what you tolerate from men and what completely normal things you blame yourself for, I might be on board with the people saying it's just you abusing him, plain and simple. I wouldn't assume you had real things to be upset about, rather than just snapping for no reason, if I didn't remember things you've talked about boyfriends doing before. including, I think, this one. It is healthy to get to a place where you never fight with anything but words, and you don't use words to intentionally harm. but it is not healthy to train yourself into having no anger reaction to a man calling you a bitch in an argument. just for a hypothetical example.

and of course nothing justifies hurting yourself 'at him.' of course that is abusive, and yes, if he posted here everyone would tell him to leave because once self-injury becomes a negotiating tactic, you have to get out. but that does not mean the things he says to you in anger, whatever they are, cannot also be abusive. Emotionally victimizing him makes him a victim; it does not make him a necessarily good person. and it is clear you don't want to be angry at him; you don't want to feel like a victim in your current relationships; you'd rather be loved by a wonderful man even if you have to be a terrible woman to make the picture come out right. but you cannot elevate him by abasing yourself.

you keep explaining that he's wonderful because he likes you. as if that makes him a saint. . when you're a person with the troubles you have, even if you get out of this unhealthy relationship, similar ones will continue to come along as long as you treat "tolerating you" as some heroic virtue. people don't stay with you because they're wonderful and tolerant, they do it because they like you. you shouldn't hurt anybody, but that has nothing to do with whether they're good or bad boyfriends for you, or good or bad people in general. and honestly, I think subconsciously the feeling of being put up with encourages abusive tendencies if you have them, because being put up with is a shameful and humiliating feeling. nobody can sustain gratitude for that forever.

I know it takes more than some stranger saying this to you to be convincing, lectures on self-esteem never helped anybody. I hope you can find a therapist who will work with you in a way that's helpful. I think you need a really fair-minded and objective person to help you sort out when you are attacking people and when you are standing up for yourself. because it's just as important for mental health to do the latter as to stop doing the former.
posted by queenofbithynia at 7:10 AM on January 23, 2018 [7 favorites]

I feel like I'd give up anything to fix it.

You are not thinking clearly if you believe this.

Try and remember that, painful as it is, breaking up with him will not kill you.
posted by Crystal Fox at 7:40 AM on January 23, 2018 [1 favorite]

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