Please analyze my relationship situation again?
December 12, 2019 8:31 AM   Subscribe

I'm still with the potentially gaslighting journal to prove BPD person. The relationship shifted fairly significantly from that time period in a few ways, and in some ways has barely changed at all. I'm trying to see how much of the current issues are me, how much can be changed, before we proceed with a separation. Please be neutral eyes for me.

I have been reading my old posts here, trying to make some sense of my situation. I know that both people are responsible for how a relationship functions, and I am trying to be clear eyed in my assessment of what's mine, what's his, and what to do about it.

First, what has changed.
1) Contempt. I actually, somehow, managed to heal my contempt towards my partner, my disrespect, but now he has contempt towards me. Mostly centered on thinking I complain too much, and that he tries to fix problems but I "don't let them get fixed" because he says the stuff I tell him I need to hear and it doesn't make me stop being upset. He's right, sometimes that happens. I don't really know why, honestly.

2) Time together. He's employed, more gainfully than before and on a different work schedule, so we have had more opportunities to spend time together building good into the relationship. This has resulted in overall greater comfort with each other I think but there's such severe trauma from both sides in the past, that we are both still on eggshells.

3) Personal work. He has made some efforts to work on himself. He admits he is overly defensive. He has tried, pretty unsuccessfully, to implement "time outs" rather than Stonewalling me. He says that he can't implement the time out because I don't let him get a word in edgewise and so he has no choice but to leave. I am not sure how true this is. In some cases, it probably is true, but in some cases it's a pacing issue where he needs unusually long pauses to say something.

4) EL/DL He has gotten better at helping around the house. He was already great at shared parenting. If I've not complained recently, he goes out of his way to anticipate household needs more.

5) Intimacy. When we aren't arguing there is a greater amount of respect and closeness. We removed some of our major stressors which has resulted in me acting very different overall.

6) My own work. I've also done some work on my own issues with trauma, shame, anxiety, etc and got treatment for a medical condition that can create anxiety and anger as symptoms, so that I have become overall more of an emotionally safe person to be around according to him. But he still has wounds from our bad times.

Now, what hasn't changed.

1) My complaints from before about Stonewalling and defensiveness haven't changed. I mentioned to him last night about a post from 2 years ago and the fact that the last few weeks I've had the same issue with his communication. He's tried to work on this but it's such a deep pattern, and I believe it is heavily influenced by #5 below.

2) He's still very avoidant, and days go by before we can have a productive discussion about an issue. He says this is because when I'm still obviously angry, he can't do anything whatsoever to fix the issue, so he just checks out until I seem more reasonable. I feel like this is just making everything worse, that he disappears like that. But he is also right, if I'm angry a lot of things that should correct the problem don't, and it is hard to calm down when he just wants to bail. I feel that he isn't trying the things that would demonstrate nondefensive empathy, but he says he does try these things, so it's hard to know what's true and real for this bit. Neither of us recall entirely accurately what transpires when we are both triggered.

3) I feel like I'm not allowed to bring up concerns and feel heard/understood without the relationship falling apart - for days. Some of that is from "harsh start ups" on my part, overwhelm at problems not getting resolved and then happening again so I feel sore. Some of that is from me being sensitive to nonverbal communication so if he says apologetic or contrite words but sounds disdainful, angry, etc, it doesn't land where it should, and I keep pushing (which doesn't help I know, but I also know it's kind of normal in a relationship to expect to feel heard and to feel like your feelings matter enough that someone cares if they have hurt your feelings so when it isn't happening it's hard to accept and drop the issue).

3b) Another issue to this, is that so much stuff hurts my feelings, and I've got a rather immature perspective of entitlement to not have that happen. Rather than eh, everyone is human and doesn't behave like we would prefer. I used to be emotionally shut down in relationships since maybe ten years ago when I first got EMDR for trauma issues, so I'm in some ways new to working with my own emotions in this way so everything just feels raw.

4) I don't let things go easily. I don't prioritize problems easily. See my most recent question, because this is a valid concern of his, and I've created a hostile emotional environment because I don't know how to just accept imperfection.

5) The thing that's pushed us to the point of possible separating this time, is his inability to take on an alternate perspective. He doesn't think gee, I don't understand why she's mad, let me find out more so I can make sense of it. He rather thinks, here she goes again picking a fight. He is dismissive about my perspective and fault finding rather than assuming hey, she has a need here, and I want to understand what is happening. There's like zero effort to analyze another way of viewing the situation. He wants to focus on facts and who is right and if I have the facts wrong, my negative feelings should just disappear so that he doesn't have to deal with the way, for example, a current situation triggers a past painful pattern and I need reassurance from him that he's not going backwards. He focuses on the fact that the current situation didn't actually work the same as the one that got triggered therefore he has no responsibility to do anything about the emotions I have (usually around trust, reliability, feeling unsafe). He's incredibly myopic, partly from the ADHD issue I think. I have read the Gottman research that says 85% of men struggle with "accepting influence" which is what this issue is about. He has an automatic belief in his superior understanding, combined with defensiveness which makes me have to work really hard to "prove" I am justified in being upset versus him just wanting to assume that I have a reasonable idea that he isn't fully grokking and that I am equally capable of being able to see things in a valid way and that he should take responsibility for understanding my different view as an equal not this silly child with dumb reasoning. He said last night that he doesn't see me like that even in a conflict situation but the legalistic defensiveness reads like it has a dash of patriarchal stuff to me.

My part in the problems

In the past I was controlling. I probably still am now, but to less of an extreme. I used to really flip out at last minute changes (due to the trauma history). I still do but hide it better. I have been insecure in a variety of situations and needy about it and sometimes mean instead of voicing my more vulnerable feelings because fight or flight.

I absolutely do jump to conclusions, make assumptions, and have feelings about my assumptions that I expect him to hear and "fix" even if my feelings are based on a wrong assumption. I think this is also because age 8-23 I just was numb due to PTSD and suddenly had emotions without years to figure out how to manage them in my interactions with other people. I don't know how to back up my process once I get to this place. It all happens very fast and I've used therapy the last few years to cope with marital stress versus working on stuff like this.

We have a parent child dynamic that we both have to fight against because his executive functioning issues are not well managed and he still has some bad ways of dealing with them. I work hard to not feed it, but am often unsuccessful.

He says he has absolutely no agency in the relationship, and I think he is probably right. I can be perfectionistic and don't consider the context of situations. I tell him how to fix an issue, he tries what I said, and I don't act happy about it. It is hard to write that out. Some of that is probably war wounds, some of that is needing an emotionally oriented repair process and he's stoic (as well as not feeling emotionally safe generally so he keeps himself armored).

He does make an effort to solve a problem I have brought up, and then I will sometimes ignore the effort entirely or change the subject to a new problem. I don't know why I do this. I was once diagnosed with ADHD as a child, and wonder if I am trying to "self stimulate" unconsciously.

Long story short, I feel like my personal issues have impacted the situation more than I realized but at the same time some of what I'm asking for is normal to want.

We are going to revisit the topic of separation. He says he loves me, and I love him, and we are both drained by the communication issues. We have both put up with so much crap from each other.

When I'm not upset with him, he's actually a much much much better partner than he used to be. He tries to help me, take care of me, listen to me, support me, goes out of his way to do things for me, in many ways he puts me and my needs ahead of his own.

But when I'm upset with him, things are very not good for both of us, and with the history I don't know how much of this is normal communication issues and fixable, and how much is weird stuff that is not likely to get fixed.

I feel like if he had gotten therapy to help address his defensiveness as I requested a year ago, and found a good therapist, we would be in a much better place. (I am in therapy myself. I've asked him to work on himself for a bit before we tried couples counseling once more.) But, it took him a very very long time to even begin therapy. Some of that was ADHD procrastination and some of that was avoidance which he has plainly admitted.

I want to make a good decision. If these problems can get fixed with therapy, with time, with techniques, maybe that's better for our child than separate homes. Especially considering how I have contributed to the problems by being hard to please, and making him feel like he has no agency and is constantly in unwinnable double binds. I believe that's accurate of him to say that. I don't know how to fix it, or if fixing it will heal whatever is behind his contempt. I know if I got past my own contempt then it is theoretically possible he could too.

I've also just made a horrible mess of things by talking about separating almost the entire time we have been together. I've not wanted to honor my commitment, and it's really no wonder he's tired. I've been quick to talk about ending things as a way to get him to take my needs seriously, and it has contributed to an incredibly toxic dynamic between us.

So, reader, considering the fact that we got to a healthier place, and the fact that he is rightfully frustrated with some bad behavior on my part, what do I do?
posted by What a Joke to Human Relations (17 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
I just glanced at the questions you've posted (over the last 2 plus years) about your relationship with your husband, and its striking to me how adversarial your relationship seems to be. Not faulting you for that, it is what it is, just that its pretty obvious that you and your partner are both trying to "win" by convincing the other of their relative faults and weaknesses (in list form, no less!)... either him keeping that infamous journal, or you describing his various characteristics, or you beating yourself up for yours.

Relationships are super hard, but they also aren't supposed to a competition. You all may just want to reframe it (likely with the support of a therapist) and try to develop some empathy, sympathy for each other, decide on a shared goal, and try to honestly figure out what you can or can not do to make it work.
posted by RajahKing at 8:57 AM on December 12, 2019 [7 favorites]

this is a little terrifying to read. people, I think including me, commented previously that that you seemed to feel contempt for him and did not respect him, and you interpreted that to mean you shouldn't feel that way?

your feelings tell you something about you. and they also tell you something about the situation you're in. I think your previous feelings were telling you very accurate information about the man you are with, and I think you did yourself a profound disservice by trampling them and stifling them. training yourself out of feeling contempt for a man who treats you like this is like breaking the thermometer because it's so cold outside.

He does make an effort to solve a problem I have brought up, and then I will sometimes ignore the effort entirely or change the subject to a new problem. I don't know why I do this

It's because you're angry. and I'm afraid of the effect this might have if you agree with this. I am not saying I think you're angry because I think you should stop being angry.

If I've not complained recently, he goes out of his way to anticipate household needs more.

he's a good trainer, I guess. Having to keep your mouth shut and your head down in order for him to reward you by doing his job would not feel good to me.

therefore he has no responsibility to do anything about the emotions I have (usually around trust, reliability, feeling unsafe)

This is his version of your problem-shifting. You could argue all day long over whether one truly has the "responsibility" to love and honor one's partner, and it's no coincidence that he (or you?) picked an argument word instead of the one hiding behind the screen, which is desire. He doesn't have the desire to do anything about your fear and pain. We all do things we have no responsibility for -- if we want to.
posted by queenofbithynia at 9:00 AM on December 12, 2019 [36 favorites]

This relationship sounds completely exhausting for both of you.

I can't recall where this piece of advice originated but it was a long time ago around the start of my own marriage, and that was to beware of the impulse to develop a legal brief on your partner. Keeping lists of grievances, lists of faults (yours or theirs), a dossier on all the ways that they have behaved well or poorly--it does not ever lead to a healthy relationship. Which is less to say "stop doing that" than maybe to say that for whatever reason this relationship drives you both to feel a compulsion to do that. If you want to discover what that something is rather than separate, I think you'll need to both do that under the guidance of a professional.
posted by soren_lorensen at 9:10 AM on December 12, 2019 [17 favorites]

If these problems can get fixed with therapy, with time, with techniques, maybe that's better for our child than separate homes.

I read all this not remembering you had a child. Then I got to this line. Holy shit. Get out. It's much better for a child to have two separate homes and parents than parents who are this done with each other. You've asked numerous questions here and gotten plenty of good advice. If this was fixable, it would take two people willing to work in good faith with each other. He is not willing to do this. Cut your losses and leave, so you can start modeling what a decent life looks like for your child.
posted by fiercecupcake at 9:14 AM on December 12, 2019 [23 favorites]

I feel like you’re asking me to criticize you as a way of asking me to tell you that you are in control of this situation. The logic goes: if you messed it up, you can fix it. But you’re not in control here. You can’t unilaterally make this relationship healthy.

The second thing I want to say is that you have a child. You can no longer make this relationship about guilt, shame, fault, blame, recrimination, obligation, etc. None of that is about your child’s mental health or physical well-being. You have described a truly miserable and emotionally hellish relationship. The time for fixing your or your ex’s issues, or growing as people, or whatever is passed. It passed a long time ago. This environment is not healthy for your child. It doesn’t matter why or who is to blame. It’s not getting fixed, and the focus needs to move away from your husband and towards your child. That means a good lawyer, a good child psychologist, and about a million times less energy spent on “fixing” a relationship that clearly will not be fixed.
posted by internet fraud detective squad, station number 9 at 9:24 AM on December 12, 2019 [52 favorites]

I took a peek at your last questions.

So about a year ago you were looking to divorce him and you said that his arrangement with his kids from a prior marriage is that he can only have visitation with family present because of his behaviour around the divorce and his lack of executive function, and that he is on a registry that would make getting housing difficult. This pretty much points to the issues not being just you, since you have his previous marriage to look at.

And before that he was keeping a journal to prove that you're the problem.

And now you're posting what reads to me as therapy-speak that you're both flawed people and there's been improvement but he needs to be able to see life from your perspective sometimes or else it won't work. It sounds like he is contributing more to the household but I also wonder if your child's age also means it's just easier. I don't know. It's hard to sort out.

While I'm sure you have contributed to the situation and I would advise not dating again any time soon, really your post kind of reads to me like his journal-keeping effort has worked and you have mutually decided that you are the problem. The last vestiges of this effort are that when you're upset, he wants you not to be upset.

I dunno man. I agree that this is a terrible situation for a child and I think you should at the least separate for a minimum of one year, maybe go to counselling together during that time, and see what happens. But focus this effort on your parenting and yourself.
posted by warriorqueen at 10:33 AM on December 12, 2019 [20 favorites]

Leave. Also, have you considered that your behavior is a sane response to an absolutely insane situation. (Your partner KEPT A JOURNAL about you to establish a psychiatric diagnosis!!!?)

The best response— the only response— is to leave the insane situation. And I’m guessing you will be amazed at how much better you’ll feel, both about your future and about yourself. Leave for yourself and for your child. Because this is how transgenerational trauma plays out.
posted by namemeansgazelle at 10:42 AM on December 12, 2019 [11 favorites]

I don't really have any advice but this just sounds like a horrible situation. I feel like you have both maybe lost sight of what being in a relationship is meant to be - a secure place, a safe harbour from life's difficulties, a source of joy, a source of companionship- if you don't get those, if the relationship itself is adversarial and actually exacerbating life's problems, then what is the point? I'm not saying relationships should be perfect all the time but yours sounds like it is pretty consistently not offering you security, joy & companionship.

We can't know who is right and who is wrong. Your partner sounds pretty appalling but you don't sound like you're that much fun to be with either. Personally, I think you should separate. There has been at least two years of this and it doesn't sound like you've been together that long.

Edit: in your first question in 2017 you said you had had a bad couple of years. So you've been in a bad relationship for 4 years? that's enough, isn't it?
posted by thereader at 10:42 AM on December 12, 2019 [11 favorites]

I think you are looking for your partner to re-parent you, but it's kind of rare to find someone who can do that. You're also trying to re-parent him, I suppose that's why you chose someone with poor enough executive functioning that he ended up on a registry. Other people can speak to your trauma repair and the effects it has on your current life, but it seems like you need to back way off what you need from your partner in terms of fixing your attachment issues, and just comanage the household. Be friends. Be parents. Be respectful of each other as you would be a coworker or a friend. Like, you wouldn't tear apart a friend for a lot of things you tear your partner apart for , would you? No, because you want to keep your friendships.

So if you don't want a physical separation, emotionally separate to the point where you can be intimate friends and coparents and seek to heal your wounds outside of the relationship in trauma work.
posted by perdhapley at 10:48 AM on December 12, 2019 [3 favorites]

I know that both people are responsible for how a relationship functions

Do you believe that a person being beaten by their partner is “responsible” for provoking the abuse? Sure, minor problems are usually part of a dynamic that both people are contributing to, but not all relationship problems are 50/50 like you state. If your current therapist has led you to the conclusions in your post I would suggest checking in with another therapist who perhaps has more experience with complex relationships - personally I think Social Work background is more helpful than a psychology/counselling degree. Not all therapists are equal
posted by saucysault at 10:54 AM on December 12, 2019 [6 favorites]

I have a few comments and book suggestions for you. You've said in a previous post that you have more of an anxious attachment style and you have described him as avoidant. The anxious avoidant trap is really hard to escape because when the anxious person starts to detach or back away, the avoidant person approaches and comes closer, but then when the anxious person likes that intimacy and wants it to continue, the avoidant person feels stressed and backs away. I read recently that two people in an anxious avoidant trap can be together, miserably, for years like this. These relationships can last a long time and never feel all that settled. If you haven't read the book Attached: The New Science of Adult Attachment, please consider it, or else read this over and see if it seems like it describes your relationship. Something powerful I read in Attached: someone with an anxious attachment style can't move on until every bone in their body knows and understands that their partner won't change. How long have you been trying to make this work? You can't do it alone. (And the fact that he's not in therapy means he doesn't really want to try.) Also, I think Attached is helpful because it will show you why you've behaved in some ways that you probably don't think are great.

The other book that can be quite helpful is Too Good to Leave, Too Bad to Stay. It's an incredibly insightful book that will walk you through a series of essential questions to ask to help you make a decision. It also points out the real harm from living for years in a relationship with such high levels of ambivalence.

Right now I think you're looking for his approval or his insight or his understanding about your relationship. But you don't need to understand why he's behaving as he does and you don't need him to agree with you that he's not treating you well or that the relationship should end. I think you're still wanting that, as if that will make it easier. I think you can take some of the power and control back over your own life by ending this relationship.

Here's something else to consider: right now you are modeling for your child the kind of relationship they should have as an adult. Your child will likely repeat these patterns. If your child came to you, as an adult, and described the situation you are in, you would probably tell them to leave the relationship. But right now you are paving a path for them. What path do you want them to follow? You need to be on that path too.
posted by bluedaisy at 1:30 PM on December 12, 2019 [11 favorites]

Agreeing with above posters who stated that this relationship is beyond fixing. I can't imagine there's a single person or relationship worth tolerating this much crap for. There's no god-person worth sacrificing your emotional well-being for, and besides, for what? To be a martyr? They're not a sexy as they seem. I had parents in a toxic relationship like this, and I über resent them for staying together and keeping me sandwiched in their dysfunction.

I mean you need courage. You need to believe you'll be ok without managing this shitshow of a relationship. What happens to you once you let it go? It probably feels scary to think of the possibility of that, like a freefall. But maybe you need something of a freefall-- the only way to realize you're a cat that lands on all fours is to take a leap.

But seriously, I'm sorry this is your relationship. You totally deserve better. Reading this makes me feel physically sick. Good luck.
posted by erattacorrige at 1:49 PM on December 12, 2019 [8 favorites]

You can work yourself to death, you can expend all your energy on explaining why things aren't working, and analyzing why you each are the way you are, you can read a zillion self-help books and come up with lists and checklists and systems galore, and I don't think this relationship will get to a fulfilling place. Your description of your marriage makes me think of over-worked dough--it's been kneaded to death; the elasticity is gone.

As a person with controlling, fix-it tendencies, I understand the desire for more plans, lists, strategies, modalities, explanations, whatever. But if things have been this exhausting for this long, I think you have to call it on this marriage. To me, it doesn't sound like you can get back to a good place from where you are now, and where you have been for years.
posted by attentionplease at 2:13 PM on December 12, 2019 [2 favorites]

What I saw in your post is that there are clear signs that your partner is interested in making things better (even if nothing has fundamentally changed) and also that you are probably each doing things that make it hard for the other even when you try. I also saw that you liked the suggestion about reading about Attachment. I think that if you wanted to work on this, Emotion Focused Couples Therapy would be really good fit for you. My guess is that change would hard and slow but if you are both interested in seeing if it is possible, it could be worth it. I would like for an experienced EFT therapist, you are going to need it.
posted by metahawk at 4:53 PM on December 12, 2019 [1 favorite]

Can I just say, a lot of the dynamics you describe above reminded me a lot of my most recent relationship, which really was not a good match, and which included by the end gaslighting (in my opinion of him towards me but he seemed to think anything I complained of was something I was actually guilty of so not sure what he'd say about that haha), constant bickering, stonewalling, increasingly critical viewpoints of one another, and finally contempt of each of us for the other person. We met up recently to see if we might want to get back together after a period of only light contact during which he was "working on himself" and honestly could not discuss things in a straightforward manner for more than an hour without every previous dynamic rushing back. This just confirmed for me that while we check a lot of one another's "boxes," there are enough subtle but very important differences in how we understand and operate in the world that we are just not going to work and we are therefore not good for each other.

Also, I think I may have learned that I gave him one or two too many chances and we both would have been better off if I'd just ended it and stuck to it. My friends think he's a dick and my therapist whist reaffirming that I needed to see if it could work also doesn't seem super impressed with him behind her professional projections of neutrality.... That is to say, I understand the impulse to keep trying but maybe at some point you just need to say "he's a dick" and adjust your actions to that view of the matter, even if it doesn't mean that he's actually objectively the worst person in the world or that you've never done anything that contributed to the situation or hurt him.

My relationship was way less far down the road than yours is but I can say I am happy that I am no longer having to deal with the constant up and down of that relationship. I've been on a few dates with other people recently and have been amazed at finding people who seem to be so much more on my wavelength almost immediately than my previous partner ever was.
posted by knownfossils at 12:03 AM on December 13, 2019 [3 favorites]

I feel so sad and heavy reading this question. Please leave this marriage, even if it's for a trial period of 6 months or a year. Please leave, there is better out there for you, and more importantly, better for your child.

If these problems can get fixed with therapy, with time, with techniques, maybe that's better for our child than separate homes.

I mean, you're essentially saying, lets gamble my child's mental health and models for future relationships on whether you guys can fix a marriage that seems to have been broken for a long time.

Think about that for a minute, imagine yourself and your kid in ten years' time, and think about whether that's a gamble worth taking.
posted by greenish at 2:41 AM on December 13, 2019 [3 favorites]

You were not put here on this earth to make yourself as small and easy as possible. It is not your great purpose to never need anything. There is no human being whose focus should be on making themselves disappear because it is convenient for someone else.

And since that is the only conceivable way to make your husband happy, yes, you should leave.
posted by stoneweaver at 7:54 PM on December 13, 2019 [4 favorites]

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