Help me wait while my boyfriend decides our future
September 18, 2018 2:09 PM   Subscribe

My partner isn't sure if he wants to stay in this relationship, but he's going to therapy to figure it out. How do I handle the wait while my partner decides if he wants to stay? All the details inside.

Me (37/m/gay) and my boyfriend (35/m/gay) have been dating for 3.5 years and living together for most of that time. He is a fairly recent immigrant, who has strong ties to his home country and his family. Our relationship is mostly healthy. We don't scream at each other, we help and support one another, we carry out our individual responsibilities in the relationship, there is no obvious power imbalance between us, financial or otherwise, we are always cuddling and showing physical affection, and we are always laughing, having fun together, and know how to have interesting and substantive conversations. He's very close to his mother who still lives in his home country and I'm the first boyfriend he chose to introduce to her. He's very kind, intelligent, affectionate, and considerate. He is a perfectionist and can be overly cautious with both his emotions and those of people he cares about.

About six months ago, in talking about long-term commitment, including marriage, my boyfriend voiced some doubts. I had spent a long time in therapy addressing my own doubts about our relationship (I wasn't sure about my feelings for him early on and maintained some level of grass-might-be-greener-level of doubt until a few years into the relationship). But, through therapy I had reached a point where I was sure that I wanted to be with him for the long haul. I told him all of this. His response was less certain. He told me that in his other relationships he's had passionate feelings for the other person where he knew early on he would get married if they asked, even though the relationships weren't great and it would have been a mistake. This was different than how he felt in our relationship. When I asked him if he saw our relationship as something that he was committed to in the long-term (as in, until death do us part), he said he wasn't sure and needed time to think about things. This was hard for me to hear. I got pretty upset, but that feeling passed after a few days and some reassurance from my partner and we moved on.

This last weekend, about six months later, I raised the issue again. I asked him if he had been giving it any thought and where he stood. I told him that I wanted to feel like he was invested and wanted things to move forward. This led to a conversation where he told me that he still didn't know. That he had been thinking about it, but couldn't figure it out. That he saw how much I missed him when we were apart for a week recently, but didn't miss me the same way. He said he was worried that he didn't love me the way I loved him. He doesn't want to commit to this relationship and then realize years down the road that he is not happy or that I wasn't the right person for him and have to hurt me then.

Of course, this broke my heart. His too. This lead to all the tears and snot and me leaving for a friend's house. I stayed the night, thinking the relationship was over, feeling that terrible physical pain that comes from the gut punch that is losing a lover. I went back the next day to talk to him. We shared how we were feeling, then spent a few hours cuddling and napping, then talked again. We talked about how it was obvious that he is happy day-to-day and that he loves me. He thinks it might be a fear of commitment that stems from growing gay in Mexico, where being in a stable, long-term relationship, getting married, and having a family, simply wasn't an option. Still, though, he doesn't know. He doesn't want to break up. He agrees that our relationship has too many positive qualities to throw away at this point. So we came up with a plan. He'll go see a therapist to help distill his feelings so that he can decide whether we should stay together or take a break (not break-up).

I'm all aboard for this. I was happy to hear he didn't want to end the relationship. I was happy to learn that this might simply be his fear of commitment manifested. But, now, I find myself in a day-to-day situation that is at times excruciating. When we're together, things are good. He shows me love and affection. When we're apart, when I'm at work for example, I alternate between equanimity and a state where I spin and cry, panic and grieve at the potential loss (and the very real loss of what had for me been a stable and safe relationship up until this point). It's hard. I don't know how I'm going to maintain this for the weeks or months it will take for him to make it through therapy. It's true that I was able to move on pretty quickly after our discussion six months ago, but things were far less precarious that time.

For background, I suffer from general anxiety and have an anxious-avoidant attachment style. I'm medicated and see a therapist of my own. I've asked him if he thinks my anxiety has contributed to his feelings, but he doesn't think so. He thinks we've handled it well and in a healthy manner. Also, we aren't very sexually compatible. We have decent sex maybe once a month or every six weeks, but it's not great. I have struggled with some issues around my sexuality, including trauma from childhood, that makes it difficult to be comfortable during sex. He also knows that he's not my ideal sexual partner (this isn't just a preference thing, this stems from a very difficult aspect of my sexuality that is basically impossible to reconcile) and that my interest in sex overall is fairly low. He has gone back and forth between thinking that sex isn't that important to him in a relationship to feeling like it's quite important. We've acknowledged that there's room to improve our own sex life and that if the relationship were otherwise solid we could discuss opening it up to sex with outside partners.

We talked about couple’s therapy, but honestly don’t feel there are significant problems with the dynamics in our relationship. We communicate well and generally live happy lives together.

I'm feeling sad and scared. I'd like advice, perspective, encouragement. Specifically, though, I wonder how I handle the day-to-day, living in limbo until we have the inevitable "talk"? And how do I take care of myself and protect myself in case he decides to end the relationship?
posted by pantheON to Human Relations (19 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
I think that a baseline approach, given this: "I had spent a long time in therapy addressing my own doubts about our relationship," is that you should give him at least as much time as you took yourself to do your own processing about the relationship. And keep checking in, without pressure.
posted by seanmpuckett at 2:15 PM on September 18, 2018

It might help for the two of you to come to an agreement about when this period of exploration will end. You are both taking care of one another and yourselves, and working hard to make the best, healthiest and most supportive decisions here which is great. What is difficult, though, is that it remains a totally open ended time frame for coming to decisions. That has to be excruciating as you've already worked through your doubt and are ready to make a longer commitment. So maybe having a conversation about what would be a reasonable time frame to give this. Would 6 months be acceptable for you? Knowing that you will have an answer at a particular time may give you some space to just be in the relationship for that time. It will also provide a push to his work in therapy, so rather than an open-ended course of therapy where he may or may not come to a decision, he has a specific frame to get that work done.

I also wonder about approaching this in couples therapy in addition to individual therapy. You're talking about particular concerns that each of you has with the way you are approaching this relationship and are interacting with one another. A couples approach can work on that more directly and hopefully make the relationship more satisfying to you both.
posted by goggie at 2:18 PM on September 18, 2018 [1 favorite]

for my own protection and sense of confidence, I'd work on myself, whatever that means to you, while he figures out how he feels. And be patient, even though that's really hard.
posted by theora55 at 2:20 PM on September 18, 2018 [1 favorite]

This sounds like torture. I can’t tell you how to make it less like torture, because for someone who is anxious-avoidant it torture.

None of us know your relationship, and maybe you guys will find a way being together that works for both of you. But I’m a little concerned that you’re being, well, tortured. That he had six months, and got nowhere, and had nothing to show for it. I’m glad he’s exploring it in therapy now, but it seems kind of obvious that something this open ended and vague would be really hard for you.

I don’t know. I’m worried that he’s not as concerned about your well being as he should be, or that you’re not as concerned about your well being as you should be.

But even if that’s all wrong, torture isn’t really sustainable. So I guess I’m wondering: what’s something you could do to protect yourself? Would a break help you?
posted by schadenfrau at 2:57 PM on September 18, 2018 [18 favorites]

May I ask to you what the major difference would be between continuing on the way y'all have been, generally happy day to day compared to whatever longer-term commitment you seek? Like, is it a matter of starting to get married so you can sort out having a child or just a general anxiety about the relationship eventually ending one way or the other?

I know some people view relationships is a kind of binary way, where if they don't lead to marriage and separation via death, that the relationship was somehow "wasted" because all of those days of happiness (or not!) were only important in that they lead up to a legal agreement between the couple.

I've been in the boyfriend's shoes, dating someone who seemed to like me a lot more than I did them. Even in early dates I mentioned that we wouldn't ever be getting married or anything. I also tend to just feel a certain passion for some partners more than others. I've heard it chalked up to lust before, but to me it's something more ephemeral. Just a kind of sense of how deeply or not I'll fall in love with a person. It seems messed up at first but it's okay to have mismatched levels of love especially if you're not trying to make a life out of it.

"Specifically, though, I wonder how I handle the day-to-day, living in limbo until we have the inevitable "talk"? And how do I take care of myself and protect myself in case he decides to end the relationship?"

Are y'all living together or how dependent are you on them for things like shelter, food, etc? I'd also maybe start rephrasing how you think of this relationship ending, it already can't be an issue of him ending it. That' not fair to him or you. You acknowledge there's a problem and if that problem is big enough to separate over, it's because that problem was important to both people in some way. Depending on how co-mingled your existences are at this point, it might be prudent to do some of the prep you'd do if you knew it was going to be a breakup or even just a general binge of independence.

Another option would be to just live normally and enjoy what time you guys have together. One or both of you might die before any resolution is made in that regard. One or both of you might live until a resolution is made in that regard -- but is it worth any anxiety or stress in the interim until something nebulous like this is sorted out -- which may not ever be completely sortable, or at least not in such a way to completely relieve your fears. You strike me as someone who thinks often, plans for, and cares about the future. Does your partner feel the same way? I live every day like it gets to be my last, so I don't put much stock in the future or planning at all, it would be damn near impossible for me to make a huge commitment to someone -- or anything that encompasses the rest of my life. I already have student loans to follow the extent of my natural life, the prospect of locking myself to even the best possible person in the world is not one I care to consider, I can't process it. He seems happy day to day but it's another thing entirely to commit to that same thing for the rest of all day to days.

What's more is to figure out what elements are important to you. If you need your partner to be looking towards the same sunset as you, then you might also need to do some soul searching on whether you want it to continue knowing how it'll likely be and feel.

Regardless of how this turns out, now would be a great time to start focusing less on y'all and more on you. You were able to live and exist before this person and certainly can do so after. Either outcome it would be good to remember you're strong and can persist with or without the relationship and if it ends you can always cherish the good moments and what you learned and grew in that time. It's unusual for relationships to never end, I mean that in a hopeful and positive way. It's okay and good to have different experiences with different folks over time. You can grow together with someone and still in the end have been growing differently while still being able to love and appreciate one another's roles in your lives and histories.
posted by GoblinHoney at 3:17 PM on September 18, 2018 [5 favorites]

Actually, maybe more anxious-preoccupied than anxious-avoidant, if it matters.
posted by pantheON at 3:18 PM on September 18, 2018

I know this post advice is not going to be what you asked for. I'd gently suggest that it may help you protect yourself if you stop viewing this as "I am waiting for my partner to decide if he wants to be with me" and reframe it as "We are deciding if we want to be with each other".

Personally, I had a very hard time when I was in your shoes and wanted a relationship for the long haul and my partner was conflicted about their feelings. Many people want a partner who is thrilled to have found them and excited to start planning their lives together. There is nothing wrong with seeking a partner who wants you just as much as you want them. My life improved dramatically when I found this person; even though previously I thought the commitment-phobe ex was surely my life partner.

Finally, I haven't seen anyone comment on the sexual compatibility issues, but I think in the longer term it may cause more issues than both of you are currently anticipating.
posted by seesom at 4:22 PM on September 18, 2018 [21 favorites]

I’m in your situation right now. What I did-

I set the deadlines. I wanted him to make certain, concrete steps. I thought they were reasonable. He agreed to all of them, and has been doing them, plus a bit more.

I am near the end of the deadline. What helps me is that I don’t have to pay attention to the biological clock (I am a woman but child free by choice). I also thought he was worth waiting the three months for. It is a three month period where I gave him a bit of space yet had clear expectations. It would be easy to say if he was committed or not by the end of it. I could just sit back and see how he behaves. It made it very simple to focus on the end of this summer.
posted by Monday at 4:24 PM on September 18, 2018 [1 favorite]

Also, we aren't very sexually compatible. We have decent sex maybe once a month or every six weeks, but it's not great.... my interest in sex overall is fairly low.... He also knows that he's not my ideal sexual partner... He has gone back and forth between thinking that sex isn't that important to him in a relationship to feeling like it's quite important.

I think you buried the lede. t's incredibly corrosive to one's spirit to not be a loved one's object of desire. Signing up for a lifetime of that is... hard.

The better everything else and the older we are, the harder it can be to admit that sexual incompatibility is a deal-breaker; it's so hurtful to the loved one and it's something around which people often feel they should just "get over it." TBH, I think that what your partner is going to discover in therapy is that his needs and feelings around this issue are legitimate.

I imagine that is reaching this understanding might be especially difficult for someone who grew up in a conservative place where the possibility of never having a fulfilling sex life was very real during the sexually formative years. That socio-religious background may also mean that inviting third parties into one's primary love relationship will never feel right.

I wish you both peace.
posted by carmicha at 4:35 PM on September 18, 2018 [19 favorites]

Yeah, this situation sets up such a bad foundation for the relationship. I'm really sorry you're in this situation; I have seen a lot of people that I love go through this. I have gone through it. The fact of the matter is, there are people out there who would be more than thrilled to be with you. This guy is not that guy. You deserve to be cherished. I repeat: YOU DESERVE TO BE CHERISHED.

The everyday grind of knowing that your partner isn't all in is crushing and excruciating. The best you can hope for is pretending to be happy during that time. It's not healthy. And your sex life isn't smoking? Man, nah, fuck that. Sexual incompatibility is a huge, waving red flag.

Honestly, I'm single right now, and my life is so full and so much better and so much happier without a partner who's not really 100% sure if I'm what they want. Screw that. There was only so much time in our lives. Why waste it was someone who doesn't think that you are the bees fucking knees? What gives people the right to treat their partners this way? It is profoundly selfish, entitled, and frankly shitty that your boyfriend is doing this to you. A relationship has two people in it; if he's not there with you, he's not a good relationship partner.

Take care of yourself, and I'm sorry.
posted by sockermom at 4:37 PM on September 18, 2018 [27 favorites]

I have firsthand experience waiting for a partner to decide if he wants to be with me long term. It is absolute torture. Please LEAVE HIM AS SOON AS POSSIBLE!! What do you have to gain by staying and waiting? He is not going to suddenly decide that he’s crazy about you and completely change his tune. You do not have to live in agony. His ambivalence will erode your self esteem as long as you are with him. Get out of there.
posted by a strong female character at 4:53 PM on September 18, 2018 [21 favorites]

I think you’re separating a lot of things off into “the kind of problems you’d go to couples counseling for” when, in fact, as you’ve told us, you are having problems that involve both you and your boyfriend and your relationship, and that seems like the time to go to a couples counselor. Therapy ideally isn’t just one thing, eg “we will learn to communicate (so we don’t need it because we communicate well.)” I don’t know your relationship, obviously, but I’d keep couples counseling under consideration.
posted by Smearcase at 5:11 PM on September 18, 2018 [1 favorite]

What's interesting is that you were once the ambivalent partner, too. Some answers here seem to suggest this is a black and white situation, where "all-in" is the only way. It's true that for an anxious-avoidant/anxious-preoccupied people, it helps if the other person has a 100% healthy attachment style. But the older I get, the more it seems that healthfully attached people who aren't already attached to someone else are unicorns. We all have our issues and fears, especially when you throw in your partner's background and yours. I do believe it's possible for long-term partners to see-saw in their affections as they work through things on their own and together.

Also, though, listen to your intuition. Is this someone who you know does really love you, but is struggling? Is he a person you can count on? Do you feel confident that he's doing the work he says he's doing?

You sound like a thoughtful, open, and lovely person. I hope you find the love you're looking for, whether with him or with someone else.
posted by gold bridges at 6:45 AM on September 19, 2018 [3 favorites]

We talked about couple’s therapy, but honestly don’t feel there are significant problems with the dynamics in our relationship. We communicate well and generally live happy lives together.

Other than the whole "don't know if we want to be together" thing everything is going fine. :-)

Specifically, he's not off in therapy trying to decide if he ever wants to get married. That would be a personal issue. He is trying to decide if he wants to be married *to you*. That makes this a couples issue and for your own sanity, if nothing else, you need to treat it as one. Do couples therapy if for no other reason than so you will not be a seething pot of resentment when/if he does sort himself out.

That said:

That he saw how much I missed him when we were apart for a week recently, but didn't miss me the same way.

Therapy is not going to change that. It's time for you to move on.
posted by Tell Me No Lies at 10:32 AM on September 19, 2018 [3 favorites]

My love life, and that of my many friends, became much less torturous when we've realized that relationships are binary (Yes-No) and not ternary or more (Yes-No-Maybe-Yes IF).

A maybe always (always!) ends up being a no in the end. The only question is how much time before (a) you end it because you know deep down he is not all-in and it's eating you alive, or (b) he ends it because a "better" opportunity presents itself or he grows up or he has some kind of a circumstantial epiphany. It could be years. Do you want to be in this situation for years only to end up single later in life?

Don't do this to yourself, rip off that bandaid. It's not like he can't beg you to take him back if he realizes you are The One after you break it off. Good luck.
posted by rada at 10:53 AM on September 19, 2018 [8 favorites]

It's absolutely true that not everyone is going to always be all in on a relationship. Interest and excitement and fear and all of those things shift around in the context of a long-term relationship, but that is not what is being described. You know that that your partner is not super excited to be with you. Part of the reason that you know that is they've voiced that to you repeatedly, both in actions and words. This demonstrates that this is not simply a case where your partner needs time, or that their interest may increase later. This is not normal relationship wavering. This is a fundamental disconnect, and it is harmful to you.

Sometimes people use honesty as a cover for being really hurtful. Sometimes they don't even know that they are causing harm. In any case, this is not an appropriate thing to rest on a partner's shoulders, at least not in this way.

Is this someone who you know does really love you, but is struggling? Is he a person you can count on? Do you feel confident that he's doing the work he says he's doing?
if someone really loves you, they don't say they don't know if they want to be with you. You can't count on someone who is willing to prioritize their feelings over yours in that way. And, moreover, how can you ever be confident that they will put your needs first, ever? Not knowing if you want to marry someone is a huge question; it's a normal and healthy question in a healthy relationship. Feeling unsure after dating for years, and living together, is a really big concern, which means that it has to be dealt with thoughtfully and carefully. Your partner has been neither thoughtful nor careful throughout this process, at least not anywhere near to the extent required for such a delicate and difficult thing. And that, I think, is your answer.

I'm sorry you're going through this.
posted by sockermom at 12:26 PM on September 19, 2018 [3 favorites]

(I'm rethink my answer based on some of the other commentary and re-reading your post.) I think wait-and-see would be a good answer if you were younger. But now, looking 40 quite squarely in the face, I think you need to call it. Life's short, yeah, and getting shorter. Maybe not too short at 22 for a wishy-washy kind of relationship. But definitely too short at 37.

There's a school of thought in giving your heart and soul and time that says either FUCK YES or HELL NO.

Which is, that if you aren't totally enthusiastically here for something, then you should not do it, and find something you are totally enthusiastically here for. I think that there is a lot of merit to this kind of idea as a metric, especially with a life partner. I think if two people are really FUCK YES about each other, they will make it work. See the therapist, do the counselling, make the changes to their life so they get what they really really want -- which is each other.

I'm thinking that your partner certainly isn't FUCK YES and maybe you aren't either. So in the best service of the rest of his life, and the rest of your life, maybe it's time to split up, older and wiser, and still remain friends -- and help each other out in finding that FUCK YES partner.

But, yeah, I do think everyone deserves someone who, at least once a week, stares at them and thinks "what the hell did I do deserve this amazing partner" followed immediately by (ob-attrib QC) "don't fuck it up."
posted by seanmpuckett at 1:01 PM on September 19, 2018 [2 favorites]

Looking at this thread I'm realizing that a lot of the answers (including mine) do not actually answer your question.

If you believe waiting is the right course of action I would allow someone three months of one or two sessions per week to reach some clarity or at least make notable progress. If everything is still up in the air at that point I would not expect it to be coming down any time soon.
posted by Tell Me No Lies at 2:48 PM on September 19, 2018 [1 favorite]

I've been you (minus the sex - that's not good). In our case, it wasn't about my now-husband not being sure about me, it was him not being sure about long-term relationships in general. He did make it clear that he loved me, though. Did he miss me as much as I missed him when we were apart? Probably not, but I'm also more emotional and sentimental and people-dependent than he is.

What kind of jumped out at me was this:
He told me that in his other relationships he's had passionate feelings for the other person where he knew early on he would get married if they asked, even though the relationships weren't great and it would have been a mistake.

If I were your partner, my conclusion would probably be that those passionate relationships didn't work out for reasons, whereas your relationship has been working for 3,5 years. I'm not sure how your partner imagines a marriage he wants, but passion alone cannot be the foundation, or at least for him that hasn't worked. Maybe what he needs to work on is knowing when a relationship is good for him. (Sorry, I'm expressing myself really poorly today.)
posted by LoonyLovegood at 6:55 AM on September 20, 2018

« Older I need an Android app for tracking PT exercises   |   What can I cook with shaved steak? Newer »

You are not logged in, either login or create an account to post comments