Hurt my partner and feeling lost - need help with what I should do
March 9, 2019 10:29 PM   Subscribe

My depression in the first year of moving to new city for my partner led me to guilt him into staying home with me when he was going out with friends, which he says cost him multiple friendships. I've apologised for this but it keeps coming up when I ask him not to say certain things about my friends and I still get defensive about it for a variety of reasons. Any advice for how I can accept that I hurt my partner and try to help him feel better?

I think the key themes in the situation are:

On his side:
- he feels angry at me because me being depressed/in need of support when he was about to go out with friends cost him his friendship group and he now pretty much only has one close friend
- he doesn't like the people I'm now friends with because they're upper class and he and I bonded over a shared belief in social justice, so he feels like I'm betraying my values by being friends with them (I'm friends with them because they're my work colleagues and thus the people I spend the most time with) - this comes out in the form of jokes about how they're rich idiots etc
- when I mention that I wouldn't make fun of his friends like that so can he do the same for me, this reminds him of the fact that he lost his friends because of me and he gets angry and we spend time going back and forth over that fact
- I'm the only one he talks to about his feelings and I think he's repressed his hurt about the friendship situation which is why it comes out in this way

On my side:
- I feel guilty that my emotional neediness in that first year of our relationship caused him to lose friends, especially because I only realised that was what had happened after the fact, when he told me. I do remember him telling me his friends were annoyed at him because he'd had to skip outings, and I wish I'd payed more attention to that. I think I did guilt him into staying home with me and I hate myself for it and have the whole 'but that's not who I am!' impulse, but I know it's true and I have to face up to it
- I get defensive before admitting I was wrong in doing what I did and try to bring up excuses etc for why he stayed at home with me and how he could still repair his friendships
- I feel anger and disappointment about the first few years of our relationship anyway and tend to use the fact that he hurt me at the time by verbally abusing and slutshaming me as an excuse for my own behaviour - we have both grown a lot since that time and have a healthy relationship now for the most part
- I feel really sad that I can't do anything to remedy the situation now in terms of his friendship
- I hate that my lack of emotional maturity and mental health difficulties a few years ago caused this situation that we're still dealing with now and I think I'm trying to push acknowledging it away because I want to believe I've grown and outgrown the consequences of my own lack of development at the time (which itself shows I have more work to do)

I realise that there could be a really simple answer to this (accept that you were a dick, don't defend yourself and don't mention the friendship thing around him) but it feels like we always end up here again when I ask him not to make mean jokes about my friends, and I still get defensive and shitty when he brings up the past (which I am trying to work on), so I'd just really appreciate an outside view on the situation.
posted by fantasticbotanical to Human Relations (33 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
All of this is spoken about like there is only one group of possible friends in the world for this man and now that’s gone, he will never have friends again. Is he not capable of meeting new people?

And speaking of meeting new people, given that you’re the one who moved for him, why were you being left at home while he went out? He has some responsibility to integrate you into his life. The answer was not to stay at home with you, it was to include you so you could meet new people, so as far as I’m concerned, your boyfriend was kind of a dick then and given what he’s saying about your new friends, not much has changed, he’s, well...still a dick.

You weren’t aware that he blew it with his friend group because the guy never communicated, much less included you so to hold it over your head now simply because he’s jealous you have friends (you do get that’s what this is about, don’t you?) is yet again a sign that...still a dick.

He needs to take responsibility for his part to play in this, stop wallowing, stop blaming you and start acting like someone other people would want to be around. I’d also question whether or not he lost the friendship group because he was with you. Chances are he was kind of a jerk to them too and they just wised up faster than you are. If he’s not careful, he’ll lose his girlfriend too. In short, it’s not you, it’s him.
posted by Jubey at 10:43 PM on March 9 [43 favorites]

Thanks for your answer Jubey - I feel like I should add some context here: the outings were at a sports match and they had season box tickets, so he couldn't invite me because there were no spare tickets for me. Admittedly he did have other get togethers with friends that he could have invited me to, but the games were the main thing, and the fact that other people missed out on those tickets because he flaked last minute due to my issues and that someone else more dependable has now filled that ticket spot in the group is why he can't reconnect with those friends. He didn't really have any hobbies or social fields outside of those high school friends and works from home so can't make friends in a work environment, which I think is why he's so upset about losing that group.
posted by fantasticbotanical at 10:51 PM on March 9 [2 favorites]

Basically seconding what Jubey wrote. Is your bf saying that because he skipped a few outings with his friends, they dropped him completely? I just have a hard time accepting that that is the case. If that happened exactly as he says it did, then this was not a group of people to really be friends with. But again, I doubt it. I mean... how many times did he stay home with you (as a supportive bf would?) Did he vanish from society completely for a year?

It's more like, now he's got some un-fixable thing to hold over your head in order to gain emotional leverage, to make you apologize endlessly.

He doesn't sound like a great guy who values you. On preview -- sure, it could be understandable why a group might be irritated with him, with the sports match thing -- BUT -- that still does not make you a villain here. And it doesn't say much for the bond he had with them. And it doesn't make his behavior now right. To make you apologize for having emotional needs? Ecch.
posted by profreader at 10:55 PM on March 9 [51 favorites]

Hey. It happened. Sorry. Let's move on.
posted by xammerboy at 11:39 PM on March 9 [6 favorites]

I'm going to ignore deeper issues at play here, but could you make some effort to help him broaden his social landscape? (Like he could've done when you moved to be with him...) Like find activities you could both go to, try out new hobbies, etc.

(And I'd recommend couples counseling to work out those deeper issues.)
posted by gakiko at 11:41 PM on March 9 [4 favorites]

Yeah, I wouldn't feel terribly guilty if I were you, because the fact of the matter is that a friendship that's apparently only based on watching the occasional game together, to the point that it completely breaks down the moment that's not possible for a while, was clearly never that deep to begin with and just isn't that much of a loss. These were never friends he would have kept into old age anyway - a friendship that shallow and fragile is bound to fade out sooner or later. Most people's lifes will have periods where it's just not possible to keep these sort of leisure time luxury commitments, because there's some sort of prolongued crisis or other and it's completely normal and expected to lose some fair weather friends during those times. If it hadn't been your depressive episode, it would be some longer illness of his own, or you two having kids and him actually pulling his weight as a parent.

I hope for him that at some point in his life, he will come round to this point of view, because it would be good for him to develop a more profound understanding of friendship. (I guess as long as you two are together, he can meet most of his emotional needs via this relationship, but if you ever break up, or, God beware, you die before him, he sounds like the type of guy destined to become a sad statistic in one of these studies on social isolation).

But right now is not the time to make him see that. If I break someone's vase, I might find it privately relevant that it was a cheap-dollar-store find, not Meissen porcelain, but I'm probably not the one to make that argument in this situation. You're probably right that it would be wise to not argue when he brings it up. He's probably feeling bad about his inability to make new friends, and maybe also a bit sore about how easy it was for his old friends to replace him. It would be natural for him to be defensive too . Let him complain, don't contradict him, but don't take it to heart either.

And do make him say what precisely he wants you to do. Does he want you to quit seeing your colleagues socially and spend every evening at home with him? Make him spell it out.
And if that's what he wants, make him admit that he's clearly now as depressed as you were, if that's what he needs. Make it clear that these solution could only be temporary.
You got yourself out of that hole, presumably by doing a fair amount of work on yourself - is he willing to take similar steps?

For what it's worth, my bet is he won't outright demand that. It's a baseless guess, since I couldn't possibly judge that on the basis of what you wrote, it's just a feeling I have. Best case scenario, you both agree that it would be worthwhile for both of you to spend some time and effort meeting new people you could both be friends with. It would make him miss his old friends less, and it would be good for you to have some friends outside of work (I really like my job and my colleagues, but sometimes I just don't want to be reminded of work at all and then I'm very glad for my non-work friends). Also it's usually good for a couple to have some shared friends.

This is a goal worth pursuing regardless of your backstory. And once he's feeling less lonely and insecure because of his rad new friend, he might be less critical of yours, and also more open to the idea that you weren't the only reason why his previous frienships didn't work out. Good luck!
posted by sohalt at 12:39 AM on March 10 [12 favorites]

Maybe he's mad that he lost a sweet chance at a season ticket to box seats with people he likes, and recognizes that that is a childish and shitty thing to complain about, so is convincing himself it's about the friends. And maybe he's more annoyed because he realizes that if he had just been a decent thoughtful person, he would have loaned his season ticket to someone else instead of continuing to plan to go until the last minute each time while you were struggling.

So, he's an idiot who isn't good at making friends, and there's nothing about that which makes it OK for him to whine about your friends. Ask him who else he has to talk about losing his friendships with. When he says nobody, tell him he needs someone else, and the normal choice is a therapist.
posted by the agents of KAOS at 1:07 AM on March 10 [26 favorites]

Hold up. You didn't steal his friends from him or force him to fail to navigate the nascent friendships he was building. You needed him and he made the choice to be there for you. Or possibly more accurately, he is retroactively blaming you for his own social difficulties and unexamined depression. Did you make him flake on his friends? I doubt it. Hearing about it a year after the fact? C'mon.

He is transferring his frustrations to you. Do not accept that. He doesn't have to like your friends but he needs to respect that it's your right to have friends. Just because he's struggled to make his own doesn't mean you can't have yours.

His digs at your friends sound more like contemptuous, thinly veiled digs at you. That's probably why it is bothering you so much!
posted by pazazygeek at 3:14 AM on March 10 [64 favorites]

I realise that there could be a really simple answer to this (accept that you were a dick, don't defend yourself and don't mention the friendship thing around him) but it feels like we always end up here again when I ask him not to make mean jokes about my friends

I mean, this does point to a simple solution but unfortunately it’s not one within your power: he could stop insulting your friends.

What happens if you try to strategize with him about solving his unhappiness in the present? Does he work with you? Or does he change the subject back to the past? I worry that this may be less an unresolved hurt for him and more an ace in the hole. If you feel permanently in his debt, that gives him power.
posted by eirias at 4:03 AM on March 10 [8 favorites]

One could argue that you have nothing to do here because any manipulative behaviour you might have engaged in is entirely excused by your mental illness. You literally couldn't have done it any other way. Also, it's not like you intended to guilt him into not going out with his friends. Intentions, not outcomes, matter.
posted by some loser at 4:11 AM on March 10 [1 favorite]

Don't ignore the moderate-sized red flags this BF is waving lest they grow larger.

(As with all relationship-based asks, I'm basing this mostly on just several hundred words by you. My answer could change quite a bit if I were to hear his side, and especially if I were to see the two of you interact.)

If you've discussed this thoroughly, owned up to your role, told him what you've learned from the experience and what you would and are doing differently, then it's time for him to stop the recriminations. If he can't tell you what amends he wants from you, then what he's doing is not only not productive, it's intimacy/love-destroying. What does he need to move on?

No one can change the past, and he's repeatedly displaying at least one of Gottman's four horsemen (criticism). He probably also feels some culpability from not taking a more balanced stance earlier. He let himself be too influenced by you rather than setting healthy boundaries, and that always stings in retrospect. And now rather than putting on his big boy pants and going out to revive these "lost" friendships and/or make new friends, he's pouting and whining and blaming. Bad boundaries again. Is this a pattern for him? (hint: criticizes your friend choices) Is he passive-aggressive in other areas?

And on your side, it's not super helpful to allow your guilt and remorse to keep this an active topic of conversation. That's a boundary issue on your side. For that part I suggest you check out Captain Awkward's posts about guilt trips for some scripts you can use to help the both of you break out of this cycle.

This is very solvable. Good luck.
posted by dancing leaves at 4:27 AM on March 10 [10 favorites]

we have both grown a lot since that time and have a healthy relationship now for the most part

I found myself saying this a lot to myself after my (now ex) boyfriend shifted his methods of abusing me. I might gently suggest that a relationship doesn't just morph into a healthy unit. Him holding this over your head, making you feel responsible for his situation, making fun of your friends... that doesn't sound healthy to me. And your solutions to the problem as it stands aren't healthy either: feel contrite, responsible, and bad forever and never talk about the fact that you have friends? What's next? "You took my friends away and I resent that you have friends. They are a bad choice because they have bad values and they're a bad influence on you. You need to stop hanging out with them."? Because that kind of seems like that is what's coming next. That's what came next for me when my ex accused me of ruining all his friendships, anyhow.

You're in a bad situation, where you're damned if you do and you're damned if you don't. This doesn't sound nurturing, or fun, or supportive. It sounds sad, and frustrating, and utterly draining. Take care of yourself.
posted by sockermom at 5:17 AM on March 10 [52 favorites]

I’m sorry, but if anyone is a dick here it is far and away your boyfriend.

This is how things seem to me from your description:

So you do something massive for his sake (move to this town), but need his support in order to be able to do it, and he doesn’t offer his support eagerly, with love, and with deep appreciation and gratefulness for the fact that you are doing something for him that has a very bad effect on you, yet here you are, doing it nonetheless for his sake. Instead, you need to repeatedly cajole him into offering you what you need.

He doesn’t have the balls to either tell you that, even while wanting to support you and help you adjust to your new environment, he DOES need to go out for the games because a. he made a commitment and others have lost out because of his commitment, and b. he is trying to build some friendships in this group, which so far depend on him joining for the matches.

As a possible alternative option to tackle the situation, he doesn’t have the maturity to recognize that maybe, when your partner is in dire straits, might not be the best time for being regularly out of the house, so maybe it might be a good idea to give up the tickets and arrange for other ways to get together with this group or to just arrange for someone else to get his ticket when he cannot make it.

He also has an entirely infantile conception of friendship (maybe same as the people in this group?), in which skipping an activity means losing the friendship altogether. Who’s even heard of this notion of friendship beyond the age of, like, 8?

In short, he has revealed himself to be an ungrateful, unsupportive, immature, selfish weaselboy, and you are supposed to be responsible?

And then, after failing so spectacularly to be there for you, he now has the gall the attack your friends, i.e. the support you manage to build after feeling lonely for his sake?

This is not a quality person – in my eyes, you are being gaslit and set up to fail by a rather horrible partner. Please don’t allow this to happen.

we have both grown a lot since that time and have a healthy relationship now for the most part

From what you’ve said here, this is not even a little bit true – he takes a massive dump all over (parts of) your life, and you are expected to accept it and grovel. How is that healthy?

Honestly, your boyfriend sounds utterly awful and my personal opinion is that your life would be massively better without him in it.
posted by doggod at 6:20 AM on March 10 [24 favorites]

BTW, this is what you said in your post about your mother:

is emotionally immature and prone to anger/belittlement/abuse. I've had to put up a friendly/nice facade of having no feelings in order to continue being around

Can you see how it applies here?
posted by doggod at 6:38 AM on March 10 [15 favorites]

His contempt for your friends could easily turn into, or mask contempt for you. This is fatal to a relationship. Trying to isolate you from your friends is also a sign of an abuser. Be wary, and if he suddenly decided it's time to have a child, run. He is trying to control you. This situation is more worrying than you want to think.
posted by Enid Lareg at 7:30 AM on March 10 [11 favorites]

He's an adult. It was his job to assess his own needs (how much he needed to go out both for outside social contact and to maintain his friendships), figure out when to stay at home with you and when to gently turn down your requests to stay home, and then maintain his boundaries. To get upset at you for this after the fact is shitty and immature of him. Maybe he failed to assess his own needs well, and that can still be frustrating for him and he can talk about that with you, but to get upset at you and blame you isn't OK.
posted by needs more cowbell at 7:50 AM on March 10 [7 favorites]

moving to new city for my partner
I've apologised for this
he feels angry at me because me being depressed/in need of support
he doesn't like the people I'm now friends with
he gets angry
admitting I was wrong
You left your friends behind when you moved. So you made new friends who, presumably, would not be jerks if you skipped an outing because BF needed you.
I'll bet you've apologised repeatedly, and he still makes a huge fuss, guilting you.
He sounds like he's trying to isolate you from your friends, which is a big milestone on the path to abuse and control.
The biggest theme is his anger, another big milestone on the path to abuse and control.
You have to admit to being wrong. You get guilted and blamed for experiencing depression. I'd call his behavior gaslighting.

If you continue this relationship in this manner, I believe it will get a lot worse. Guys with anger issues get angrier, especially when their anger is effective at giving them more control. Stand up for yourself. When he blames you for not having friends, tell him that his friends should have understood and he should make more friends and stop blaming you.

Tell him he should accept your friends and have fun with you. Just say Cut it out. and stop talking and processing so much.

Stop apologising. Stop accepting blame. Stop admitting wrongness. He will either respect you more, or get worse. If he doesn't respect you, the relationship is dead. If it gets better, there's hope. He sounds narcissistic, and they are happier with someone they respect, someone with a strong backbone.

I married a narcissist who sounds pretty similar. It took me a long time to learn an important thing: Pay as much attention to what he tells you with his bevavior as to his words.
posted by theora55 at 7:54 AM on March 10 [17 favorites]

I hate that my lack of emotional maturity and mental health difficulties a few years ago caused this situation that we're still dealing with now

Your boyfriend's inability, unwillingness, and or indifference to making new friends or reviving these friendships is what's causing him this situation that he's forcing you to deal with now. This cycle of blame he has created where everything is your fault and he's somehow blameless is worrying.
posted by lazuli at 7:59 AM on March 10 [11 favorites]

In Why Does He Do That?, Lundy Bancroft talks about the dynamic where he controlling partner makes the relationship all about his rights and his partner's responsibilities, so that there's never any room to honor the partner's rights or for him to live up to his responsibilities. It may be a helpful book to read.
posted by lazuli at 8:03 AM on March 10 [11 favorites]

I think I understand some parts of the OPs situation. The partner made a commitment and reneged on it, and the other guys were irked. That's reasonable. It's pretty much the same as if he'd agreed to be on a bowling team and never showed up to play. I also understand the resentment of the OP's coworkers because my wife never liked the Forturne 500 company that I worked for back in the day.

So, in cliches, let bygones be bygones and accept what you can't change. There are techniques that you can use, like writing all out in a letter and then burning the letter. And, frankly, this is the sort of thing that therapists deal with all the time. I wonder if the partner knows anything about depression as an illness. Perhaps education there would help.

Here is a too-clever-by-half suggestion: you are both interested in social justice issues, and organizations of like-minded people are a great place to make friends, so perhaps you could find and issue/organization that you both support into which you make a bigger commitment of time and energy.
posted by SemiSalt at 8:20 AM on March 10 [3 favorites]

If he can't manage his own friendships while being in a relationship, that's on him. It's not your job to manage those. If he can't handle both, he probably shouldn't be in a relationship. You care a lot about him but he doesn't seem to care about your needs as much. That sucks and I'm so sorry.
posted by emjaybee at 9:11 AM on March 10 [5 favorites]

Friend, I'm really sad that your partner seems to have convinced you that these two things are equal:

I feel anger and disappointment about the first few years of our relationship anyway and tend to use the fact that he hurt me at the time by verbally abusing and slutshaming me as an excuse for my own behaviour
he feels angry at me because me being depressed/in need of support when he was about to go out with friends cost him his friendship group

These things are not equal. You were a victim of his abuse and I think you have worked really hard to rebuild your relationship - you moved to his town! Your 100% legitimate needs affected his social life, which happens sometimes when you are in a relationship and your partner needs support. He doesn't seem to be trying to rebuild his friendships or make new ones, and instead he is spending that energy making your world smaller and less pleasant. How much energy are YOU putting into his friendship situation (just trying to avoid making him feel bad) and how much is HE putting in?

From what you've written here, I think you're walking on eggshells to gain his approval and he wants to keep it that way. I agree with others - look out for these red flags. Maybe this isn't fixable because he doesn't want it fixed.
posted by Emmy Rae at 9:46 AM on March 10 [8 favorites]

I agree with others suggesting there are red flags here, and to pay attention to them. People who seek to blame others for their own unhappiness simply can't make healthy relationship partners.

And please don't ignore the irony of someone eager to critique your "rich idiot" friends while simultaneously being angry they couldn't enjoy a season ticket sports box.
posted by Miko at 10:28 AM on March 10 [21 favorites]

I think you might find some value in reading posts tagged with EmotionalLabor. Men are notoriously bad at maintaining adult friendships and often expect their female partners to manage and nurture those relationships for them. This is a toxic dynamic, and it’s playing out here. His failure to effectively communicate with these friends is 100% not your fault. You are not his social director, you are his partner. He is trying to guilt you into something that isn’t your job or responsibility. And he’s trying to make you second guess ever needing his emotional support and help again. That’s fucked up.

I hope you are taking from the (unusual) nearly unanimous response that he’s actually the one doing the bad thing here that you should examine your framing with yourself. You moved for him and he’s acting resentful that you needed his support during that period of enormous change and sacrifice that you made for him. He’s got it twisted, and he’s twisting you up, too.

Being with someone who is going to hold it against you when you need help isn’t a way to live life...
posted by stoneweaver at 11:24 AM on March 10 [6 favorites]

What you wrote sounds eerily familiar to things I would tell myself when I was in an abusive relationship. I was even the one to move in with him, away from my friends and for his convenience, and then experience disorienting incidents of rage and contempt from him when I made asks of his time/support. I blamed myself because it was the easiest path forward with the least amount of his anger. I also started becoming very defensive, a natural response towards someone who verbally abuses you.

Add on top of that, a childhood filled with scary explosive people can lead some to adapt by being extremely placating. I'm hearing a bunch of that in what you write and I know the feeling well.

His behavior is unacceptable. Ridiculing your friends is unacceptable. Flipping the blame on you is unacceptable. Slutshaming? Verbal abuse? Hell no, unacceptable!

You deserve to feel secure, happy and supported in life. The guy you describe here won't help lead to that outcome as a partner. He may have stopped verbally abusing and slutshaming but he's found a new way to control the relationship. It sucks and it can be a really hard thing to admit, but some of the greatest growth you can do in life is acknowledging when something is beyond fixing and just walking away.

You are the most important person in your life. All the love you're pouring into him? Redirect the stream and pour it into yourself. Being single is so, so, so much better than feeling like this. PM me if you want to talk.
posted by JaneTheGood at 1:02 PM on March 10 [11 favorites]

it feels like we always end up here again when I ask him not to make mean jokes about my friends ... so I'd just really appreciate an outside view on the situation

He should not make mean jokes about your friends. That is obviously unkind. It is entirely fair for you to ask him not to do that. Your request is not an appropriate time for him to discuss his own failed friendships. Those failures are a result of his decisions, not yours, and have nothing to do with your entirely reasonable request for him not to speak unkindly of your friends.

It sounds like you are asking for basic kindness, and he is responding to you unkindly. This unkind response seems to be framed as, "I am suffering for having been kind to you in the past."

A good partner can reliably demonstrate kindness. A good partner will not make you feel bad for his having been kind to you in the past.
posted by compartment at 1:12 PM on March 10 [5 favorites]

This is blunt but believe me, this is an abusive relationship; you have done nothing wrong; you have shown enormous kindness and patience in spite of your mental health issues to a person who is not acting in good faith. Get out now, as fast and quietly as possible, even though it sounds hard. Please believe me, you have done nothing wrong, you likely are a much better than average partner, and this relationship cannot improve with this man. I know you moved your whole life around for him, and doing that a second (or third, or fourth) time is exhausting, but you need to get out before this gets even worse.

Please feel free to memail me if you want someone to talk to for any reason.
posted by love2potato at 2:24 PM on March 10 [8 favorites]

Agreed with other comments that said you should not be taking responsibility for this. This friends incident happened a few years ago and he's STILL bringing it up? So for how much longer is he going to keep bringing it up for? Serious question and maybe one you should ask him? And he lost his high school friend group because he missed going to a sports game due helping you with your illness? Would the group have the same reaction if you had been in a motor vehicle collision, or if the person with mental health issues had been a parent? And he really can't reach out to one or two people in the group to check in or hang out? His response to his friends abandoning him (that's what happened) is to make fun of yours? I get that he may be angry and hurt at his friends' response but this is not the way you deal with that. He also needs to stop dumping this on you and figure out what kind of partner he wants to be. More importantly, are you getting what you need and want from this relationship?

The real question is, he's punished you for the last few years for this incident, for how long is he going to keep punishing you? You really need to stand up to his bullshit and have it out with him. He doesn't seem supportive of you and you need to decide if this is something you can live with. I advise that you don't live that and break up.
posted by foxjacket at 6:11 PM on March 10 [4 favorites]

This does not get better. 9 times out of 10, at least. I'm sorry but this sounds hellish and not worth continuing. I wish I had left my relationship about six years before I did, so do as I say etc. I guess and all that, but honestly, this just sounds miserable and I'm so sorry.
posted by mmmbacon at 8:38 PM on March 10 [4 favorites]

Thank you everyone for your kind responses. My partner has a long history of depression, unhealthy family relationships and a lack of role models on healthy communication, and I can see all of those at play in his behavior here. I love him and have grown from the relationship/ his support in a lot of ways, but I know that as you've all said I can't let this kind of broken communication/ fighting go unadressed. I'm going to tell him the ways I would like to work on how we talk about this stuff and make my boundaries clear. It's made more difficult by the fact that he relies on me as his main source of emotional support so yesterday I didn't want to go into a talk about his behavior bcz he was disappointed that I hadn't cheered him up. I know that sounds really juvenile but I want to make this relationship work and I'm hoping if I ask him to work on himself he will. Honestly I'm scared to ask because the answer might be 'it's easier to break up' like it was the first time I asked him that, but this time I'll have to be prepared to stick to my guns and actually leave him if things don't improve. Just have to convince myself it's better to be single than dating someone resistant to self development. Sorry for the stream of consciousness, I just need to put this into writing so I can hold myself accountable. Thank you all again!
posted by fantasticbotanical at 12:24 AM on March 11 [6 favorites]

he relies on me as his main source of emotional support so yesterday I didn't want to go into a talk about his behavior bcz he was disappointed that I hadn't cheered him up

OP, this does not sound in the least bit healthy. It's abusive in and of itself that he acts disappointed that you didn't cheer him up. He has made you responsible for his moods and his feelings, and you have gladly accepted this responsibility because it's probably the only way you feel needed in this relationship.

I know this dynamic intimately because I have been there, listened to the same music, danced this very dance. It won't hit you until you are out of this relationship how far away you have traveled from the land of healthy intimacy. This is enmeshment. This is manipulation. This is you bending over backwards to be a magical motherly angel who can handle all his feelings for him, and him punishing you when you inevitably fail at it.

And while he demands this impossible level of emotional caregiving from you, what does he give in return? You can't even get him to address one tiny little area of bad behavior. Every time you bring it up, he deflects and bends and weaves and blames you for random shit in the past. Not only does it effectively distract you in the present moment, taking the pressure off him to make any changes and never addressing your needs or feelings, it also ensures that you are less and less likely to continue to bring this or any other issue up in the future.

He has a convenient arrangement now where you cater to him but he doesn't have to do jack shit other than make you feel bad enough and guilty enough to keep trying harder. Can you imagine if you stopped feeling guilty? Can you imagine if you took a break from being his emotional support puppet until he is able to reciprocate even 10% of your emotional labor on his behalf? Aren't you curious what his reaction might be if you dropped your end of the rope until he picks up his?

This is a digression, but I want to share something. Near the end of my marriage, while we were in hail-mary couple's therapy, I said to my ex, "Listen, I'm not going to be able to give you my usual level of emotional support until you start reciprocating it towards me. It makes me feel resentful if I do it alone, and you've made it clear you don't think this is important, so this is how I can best deal with our reality." At first he just shrugged and it didn't make an impact at all on him. He said something obnoxious and snippy like "Good, I've never demanded it from you, so now you can stop guilting me about it." But three evenings later, he angrily demands to know why I haven't bothered to notice he has been super stressed for the whole of yesterday. Am I secretly mad at him about something he said or did? Why can't I tell him what I'm angry about directly instead of being a cold bitch at him?

I was like, lol, I'm not angry! I said he was welcome to ask for my help with his problems, and I'm happy to help him fix them. But noticing that he looks sad and asking him why and offering to listen is emotional support - he doesn't need that, remember?

OP, he lost. his. shit. He had been ready to attack me for being passive-aggressive. He couldn't handle the idea that my behavior was deliberate, rational, and the result of mutual agreement. He was CRYING and SCREAMING IN MY FACE that I clearly don't love him anymore, what the fuck is wrong with me, he has been feeling so miserable but I never noticed, don't I care that I am hurting him and making him feel invisible in his very own home????!!!! He accused me of cruelty, of changing the terms of our marriage, of twisting his words and playing semantic games, of being dead inside, of being a cold and manipulative shrew, of being selfish and hard-hearted, etc etc etc. I swear to you, that one argument broke through all the years conditioning me to be his emotional support puppet in return for nothing. It was a gift.

posted by MiraK at 8:24 AM on March 11 [28 favorites]

Sweet and caring friend, this does not sound juvenile. It sounds like you are a deeply caring and empathetic person who is pouring that love and care and compassion into a blackhole.

"I know that sounds really juvenile but I want to make this relationship work and I'm hoping if I ask him to work on himself he will. Honestly I'm scared to ask because the answer might be 'it's easier to break up' like it was the first time I asked him that, but this time I'll have to be prepared to stick to my guns and actually leave him if things don't improve."

It is absolutely liberating and soul feeding to be with someone who doesn't resist changing but embraces growing and working on themselves. You don't want to be with someone for the rest of your life that you're going to have to pull kicking and screaming into responsibility and adulthood. You want someone who is enthusiastic about working on themselves. Who takes the project of life seriously. Who has the desire to build and maintain their own emotional supports.

Sincerely, being alone is better than being with someone who doesn't give back equally.
posted by stoneweaver at 1:36 PM on March 11 [5 favorites]

Here's the thing about lopsided arrangements like this one: you are already alone. Is he there for you in the same way, to the same degree, that you are for him? Do you keep your sadness from him, because he can't deal/gets upset/doesn't respond?

So you are already alone. You're just alone with a person who is a bottomless pit of need.

Being alone-alone, as in, not with that person? Is easier. It's weird and not always awesome but it is so. much. easier. You have energy and you can feel happy without guilt, and you can make plans with ONLY your needs in mind, and that constant worry about the other person at the back of your head can (eventually, it takes a while) goes away.

It's ok to see him as pitiful, to feel sympathy. He is pitiful! But your love and care and support will not fix him. He has to fix him, he has to seek real professional help and a healthy emotional life and you absolutely, categorically, cannot do those things for him. It doesn't work. What it does do is a. make you miserable and b. keep him using you as his reason why he doesn't need to grow up and work on his own issues.

If you leave, it might be the spark he needs to finally do those things. Or he might wallow, rage, and go find someone else to do his emotional laundry. Those are choices he has to make, and you can't control them.

You only get this one, precious life. Every day comes once. Do you want all the rest of your days to feel like they do now, or do you want to have the possibility of better things?

That's the question you have to answer.
posted by emjaybee at 8:00 AM on March 12 [5 favorites]

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