Relationship used to be abusive but not anymore?
August 15, 2022 12:11 AM   Subscribe

The past was scary. If I knew what I know now, I would've broken up a long time ago, back when the worst happened. It's never okay for a partner to call you in the middle of the night for days just to tell you to fuck off. But now we've both grown. We're happy. Do I still leave?

There's a bit of a backstory. 30F with 40M. We've been together for 5 years. We both had a lot of growing up to do. He has a serious addiction that he's had long before we ever met. In the last year, I've finally seen him come to terms with it. Before that we went through the whole rigmarole… denial, gaslighting, and telling me I was imagining the problem, telling me it was because of me. I cried a lot. Once in a while he'd be verbally abusive. A lot of days when he would deny being high but I could see physical evidence of the addiction everywhere. He just was gone mentally. He finally took the addiction seriously last winter. Promised me it was the last time. And then relapsed this spring. He disappeared. Stopped showing up to work (happened before too). Said he'd kill himself. Accidentally injured a family member, who had to go to the ER for surgery. (I heard the details and it really was an accident.) He mixed two drugs this time. It only lasted a week but it was harrowing.

I really considered leaving. I ended up doing it but we reconciled. I'm still not sure if it was the right choice.

It takes two very broken people to be in a relationship like this. I wasn't good either. I kept breaking up with him, for years, even before I understood the depths of the addiction. It was a very unhealthy dynamic for both of us, and I'm finally in a place where I can look back at our behavior and know deep in my gut that if the worst happens again, I need to leave. My other relationships before him were also abusive, and there's something in me that is causing that too. I've been working on it.

The thing is… it has been much better since. We've both worked on talking with each other. When things bother us, instead of spiraling, we've learned to open up and talk about it. But I still wonder. I travel every month for work, and his benders used to happen most often when I wasn't there. When I'm away and he doesn't pick up the phone or text me back for half a day, a little voice in me asks... is it happening again? I don't do much about it. I've learned about the trap of codependency. The fear is tiring.

It's been four months since the last relapse and he's been doing well since. He still uses another drug sometimes, a safer one, not physically addictive, very common. I've asked him to tell me when he takes it, and he does, but it makes me feel itchy. It scares me. I'm afraid of it being a substitute, another way of avoiding reality. It was one of the two he used during his last relapse, but it wasn't his long-standing addiction. He hasn't had any issues with it alone at all that I know of. Sometimes I wonder if I believe him when he tells me he's stopped. There was so much lying before. Even lying about things from before we met, all because of the addiction. And I believed it all. It just hurts, even now, writing this, I'm crying.

I look at myself sometimes and wonder how this happened. Me. So well educated, such a great career, supposed to be so smart, and yet... I know it can happen to anyone.

So here I am. I love him. He loves me. We're both so much better than we used to be, and I genuinely believe that is truth and not just codependency speaking. In so many ways he's a great partner to me now. He's clearly taken responsibility. He's gone 9 months now with just 1 week of relapse. We're happy together. Do I leave? Is it good enough to stay? In my gut, I want to stay. But my gut is what got me here.
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (20 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Leave, yes. Stay, no.

Your gut and your 'self' have different immediate and long term goals. Your 'self' needs you to have a future where you are thriving, living a big free life. Your gut wants the anxiety and other fears you have now to go away. That's why it wants to stay... the devil you know and all that. Change is hard and the unknown alone is too big and empty sometimes to contemplate. But you have to leave this place of just surviving to be able to see what thriving looks like.
posted by Thella at 1:23 AM on August 15 [20 favorites]

Leaving when you're emotionally stable is better than being forced to when things fall apart at the worst possible moment and in the worst imaginable circumstances.
posted by brachiopod at 5:11 AM on August 15 [31 favorites]

Please leave, and safely. This has huge potential to be dangerous, and you deserve better.
posted by tiny frying pan at 5:17 AM on August 15 [6 favorites]

To vastly oversimplify a complex and messy situation...

Your gut is basing its decisions on the past. The good times you two have done, the devil you know, etc. In a way, you are trying to argue his case against your brain. A responsible person would not try to reframe a relapse like "only 1 week of relapse in the last 9 months". Relapse should have reset the whole clock.

Your brain is basing its decisions on the potential outcome, the future if you will. It is considering the toll all this had on you, will continue to have on you, and on your future relationships, if you stop listening to your gut.

We all wished that we could change our partner for the better. But it's NOT YOUR RESPONSIBILITY to fix him, OP. Maybe after you two are married, with the oath of marriage, "in sickness and in health" and all that (and to many, NOT EVEN THAT!)

In some eyes, he could use a bit more support, but that view is often without considering the toll the situation has on you. If he's dragging you down, then you will need to let go, much like Rose had to let go of Jack near the end of Titanic. You will feel guilty, but in the long run, it is better for him. Maybe when he's sober for a year or two... And if you are still available... But this is not a sappy romance novel of angst and redemption. This is life, with you at the center of it.

TRY to leave your gut out of it.
posted by kschang at 5:19 AM on August 15

In relationships, we need a serious bedrock of trust. Without that, the relationship can't ever grow. It's one of those things that can be built upon, but only if it was there as the foundation.

Unfortunately, you don 't trust this person--and you have no reason to trust them--and without that, you're endlessly questioning and side-eyeing and second-guessing what they say. Forever.

Do you want to live like that? Sometimes it's sad and it's terrible and there are a lot of reasons to stay with someone, but if at the very core you don't trust them--and you know that you don't--then you need to get out of that relationship and live your life without that person.
posted by yes I said yes I will Yes at 5:19 AM on August 15 [6 favorites]

I want to say you should, because if you didn't want to on some level you wouldn't be asking strangers about it.

That said, if you left, would you miss him or would you miss the sunk time in the relationship? If it's the latter, and you're just with him because "we did so much work together," then it's an easier emotional choice to leave.
posted by kingdead at 5:52 AM on August 15

My other relationships before him were also abusive, and there's something in me that is causing that too. I've been working on it.

I don't know if this is just a poor choice of words are NOT causing people to abuse you. If you're in a therapeutic relationship where you're being told that you get abused because you are broken, your therapist is an abuser, and you need a new one.

(If you're not in therapy, friend, you gotta get there, like yesterday.)
posted by We put our faith in Blast Hardcheese at 7:27 AM on August 15 [13 favorites]

So you had four years and three months of abuse. Then there were five months of sobriety, then a relapse, then four more months of sobriety? Sort of. And you think you can determine whether or not you can trust him to remain a sober person for the rest of his life based on this bifurcated nine months of him kind of not using? Nope! Nope-a-roo! Maelstrom of nope. You need to call the question.

If you left now, what do you think would happen? Would he:
A) immediately relapse and embark on his usual destructive clown marathon including calling you at four AM to inform you that the relapse happened because you didn't stand by your man? In that case, there's your answer: you couldn't trust him and relapse was inevitable.

Or would he:
B) understand why you left, treat you with decency and respect, and remain sober for years? (Or relapse a few times but eventually get and stay sober for a years-long period of time.) In that case, there's your answer: relapse is not inevitable, and it might be safe to trust this formerly not trustworthy person.

If he can weather your leaving and stay sober, and if he can stay sober for a couple of years, then you can trust him and you can restart the relationship if you both still want to.

A relationship may just not be possible for him right now. Getting sober after years and years of addiction is all-consuming, and it needs to consume him. If he has convinced himself he can only stay sober if you're there, he's trying to shove responsibility off onto you, and that's going to fall apart for him eventually.
posted by Don Pepino at 8:02 AM on August 15 [8 favorites]

Most good addiction-oriented therapists will tell you that the odds of working out a sober relationship with the same person you had an addicted relationship with are very, very slim. Too much has happened that cannot be undone, too many dynamics are more or less set in stone. And it's not just about the position that puts you in, it's about their sobriety being more inviolable. With you, sobriety is always optional, because you've demonstrated time and again that you will stay.

And addiction isn't just about the chemical. One can be a "dry drunk", which is to say not using but still living the patterns and emotional avoidance and chaos of an addict's life. Once that's rolled into the relationship, extracting it is a nearly impossible surgery.

Love isn't enough. Just because it takes love to make a relationship doesn't mean that love alone makes a relationship. It's nice that you love him and that he loves you, we could all use as many people as possible to care about us in this world. But you shouldn't be together. You just shouldn't. That ship sailed a long time ago, hit the iceberg of his addiction and abuse, and it's just not sea-worthy anymore.

You need to go. Leave with love, tell him to talk to his sponsor/therapist if he doesn't understand why. You then need to stay single for a good long while, as you go to therapy yourself.

And remember in the future: relationships aren't supposed to be a thing you are helplessly sucked into. You get to choose, you have to choose, it has to be a thing you're deciding to do over and over because you're reviewing the math of the entire relationship and deciding if the whole thing is healthy or not. This one's got a rotten core.
posted by Lyn Never at 8:12 AM on August 15 [9 favorites]

In my gut, I want to stay

Your gut has doubts or you wouldn’t have asked this question.

Based on my own experiences I would say it’s best to move on. The reason is that the doorway of abuse has been opened in the relationship. Things could be 100% love and puppies from here on out but you will forever have your eyes open, forever looking out for a hint of its return. That’s just not a good way to live.
posted by Tell Me No Lies at 9:05 AM on August 15 [1 favorite]

I am reluctant to get into specific details as it involves a former acquaintance of mine, but this person was in a 2 year relationship with an active addict who was in denial and frequently emotionally/verbally abusive. After a Last Straw bender, my acquaintance left. This was the addict's wakeup call and he joined AA and they reconciled. Months later, after things were going really well, the (former) addict left my acquaintance for another person. The theory at the time was they left bc they got very into the "higher power" aspect of AA (met their new partner at church), but in retrospect I think the (former) addict left because being with the partner who saw them through the worst of the addiction was preventing them from moving on. I don't know for sure though.

All that to say, even if things seem better now, it just may not be feasible to stay in a relationship with this kind of baggage between you. It sounds like you still don't trust him and that anxiety will eat you alive. Plus, maybe he'll have a similar epiphany in recovery as the (former) addict I mention above and leave himself.

I think you need to trust your gut. As someone said above, sometimes love just isn't enough, and you deserve to be with someone who didn't terrorize you in the past and renders you still anxious and untrusting (understandably!) now.
posted by nayantara at 9:21 AM on August 15 [2 favorites]

You have been in turmoil and all you're considering is right now. Think ahead, then think further ahead. What do you want in life? Right now, your life is tangled up in his addiction, and that doesn't lead to happiness and self-fulfillment.

He is an addict and is still using. I know addicts who use weed or other less toxic drugs, but it's risky and maintains addiction when recovery should be a priority. He's continuing being an addict, and continued relapses are likely. Addicts lie, steal, cheat, and it takes a lot of work to change those unhealthy ways. He's the one who has to do the work.

If nothing else, start going to al-anon meetings or similar. Find a path to a healthy life without dealing with an addictive partner. I think you should not be with him, but women routinely choose unhealthy relationships over even temporary solo life, and I get that. Al-anon, therapy, boundaries. Save up an emergency fund. Stop participating in his addiction. It all leads to not being with him, which leads to a healthier life for you.
posted by theora55 at 10:31 AM on August 15

He’s been sober for only four months, really no time at all. I don’t know if it matters whether you leave now or leave the next time he relapses, but you have to leave. You know you shouldn’t continue to be with him, probably not even after he has a few years of sobriety and has found healthy ways to cope with whatever led him to abuse drugs.

You’ve been living on hope for years, and it’s really hard to give up that hope. He will always be an addict even if he completely gives up all drugs and alcohol. You can’t help him, now or in the future.
posted by wryly at 10:55 AM on August 15

Do you want kids? If yes, leave immediately. Do you want a stable home life where you live? If yes, also leave immediately. Do you want a chance to have a relationship where you aren’t constantly second guessing your partner and whether you can trust them? Yes, you guessed correctly: LEAVE. It’s good he’s choosing to improve. But you deserve better than life with an addict on a rollercoaster never getting your feet under you.
posted by Bottlecap at 4:52 PM on August 15

Firstly, this:
My other relationships before him were also abusive, and there's something in me that is causing that too.
There is absolutely not something in you that causes others to be abusive. There may well be something in you that attracts you to people who are abusive, though and that's definitely something to think about.

Relationships are never perfect, but a successful relationship with a former addict has to be based on the former behaviour staying former. That he continues to use, albeit a different drug, suggests he hasn't left that dependency behind completely. It's unbelievably hard for him to do so, but it's always going to be the thing that keeps that little voice going in your head saying that he hasn't really given it up. Unless he's prepared to get and stay completely clean, you may never be able to trust him. If you can't trust him, you'll never be at ease in the relationship.

I'm hesitant you say you should definitely leave, but you need to be honest about what staying looks like. If he continues to use, you will never trust him. Can you live like that? I know I couldn't. Yes, you have a lot invested and that you have made real progress is fantastic, but what if this is as good as it gets? Can you live like that? If you decide to stay, take Theora55's advice and get some support around you and protect yourself in case things go wrong. Good luck.
posted by dg at 5:29 PM on August 15 [1 favorite]

Absolutely leave. The bad was not very long ago at all. I would bet a thousand dollars that later you’ll be amazed you stayed as long as you did. Breakups are hard, like getting over an addiction, and you will hate a lot of the process, but if you compare life in the relationship not to immediately-post-breakup-life, but to after-healing life, I feel certain you’ll be so relieved you ended it.
posted by Edna Million at 7:51 PM on August 15

>>My other relationships before him were also abusive, and there's something in me that is causing that too.
>There is absolutely not something in you that causes others to be abusive.

Quoted for truth. Short of massive brain trauma there is nothing that can turn someone without a predilection for abuse into an abuser. It happened long before you came along.
posted by Tell Me No Lies at 8:08 PM on August 15 [1 favorite]

What you wrote IS your relationship. It's not the just good times with the bad times being a fluke. It includes the good times and bad times. I think the question is 'can you live with this for the rest of your life?". Or can you do this for the next 10 years (if you're not into forever). Is this the life you want for your self? I have a friend who is basically in your shoes and while everyone is telling her to leave, I can see it's a struggle for her to choose that. I believe that she actually would deal with this for the rest of her life. I'm sure her desire to stay comes from her chaotic childhood and a culture that supports abusive husbands. I, too came from an abusive household so I'm not far from the dynamic. I think it all comes down to your own threshold for this life. My heart goes out to you.
posted by ColdIcedT at 7:32 AM on August 16 [1 favorite]

So you had four years and three months of abuse. Then there were five months of sobriety, then a relapse, then four more months of sobriety? Sort of.
That's an 80/20 ratio of bad times to good times. Or rather, 80% abuse and addiction with 20% grinding anxiety and suspense. What if this last 4 months of sobriety is as good as it gets? Would you want another 5 or 10 years of exactly what your last month has been like?

Neither of you will be able to heal properly while the other one is around. There are too many habits and patterns you share. Being alone is scary, almost terrifying at first. But it's the only chance you have of moving into a life where you can actually relax instead of always waiting for the next horrible thing to happen. You deserve to heal and to live fully.
posted by harriet vane at 7:51 AM on August 16 [2 favorites]

There is NOTHING you do (or intrinsic about you) that causes someone else to make the decision to ABUSE you. Abusers make their own choices.

Addiction is a cruel disease, but you aren't the right (medical) professional(s) to help this person.

Boundaries are important. It's entirely reasonable for any drug use to be a deal breaker in an relationship.

Consider taking a break from relationships for a bit to focus on your amazing self.

There are resources (including Metafilter) to help you get out.

You DESERVE better anon. The process of getting to a better tomorrow may be challenging, and changes are scary. But thirty is still young. You don't need to settle or feel like you are always waiting for the other shoe to drop in a relationship. Your current relationship is incompatible with trust.

I hope any future relationship(s) of yours will be built on trust and love.
posted by oceano at 11:47 AM on August 17 [1 favorite]

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