How can I save my relationship?
March 8, 2007 5:39 PM   Subscribe

I've done some awful things in my relationship, and I want to make them right. What can I do?

Okay. This is a long one, I guess. I feel kind of funny talking about this on here, but I'm kind of desperate.

I guess I should start by saying that I have a long history of sabotaging things that I know will make me happy, but that might be difficult - for example, It took me like two years to get into college, because I kept putting off getting my transcripts sent. It's a habit that I've only really been aware of lately, but in retrospect I've done it for a long, long time.

I'm in a relationship with a woman that I'm madly in love with. We've been together for a little over a year now, but nothing has ever felt even remotely like this before. I want to marry this woman and have kids with her - honestly, nothing could ever make me happier.

A few months ago, I tried to cheat on her. Twice, on two consecutive days, with two different girls. When it came down to actually having an opportunity to do so, though, I couldn't go through with it. About a month after that, I went home for the holidays and broke up with her. I honestly don't know why - I was going through a lot of stuff at that time - my mom had just had a stroke - but that's really not a reason. I think it was just me trying to sabotage myself again. I don't know. I knew I was still in love with her, and wanted to be with her, but found myself saying awful things to her anyways. When we broke up, she found out about the two other girls, and I found out that she had cheated on me at the very beginning of our relationship.

After all this, I (pretty much immediately) started seeing someone new. Again, I don't know why - I think I was trying to get my mind off of it, but I only ended up hurting this girl because my heart really wasn't in it. Anyways, I realized that I was ruining my life for no reason, and moved back to where I am now to try and work things out. Things have actually been going pretty well. It's hard, but I know we love each other. And I don't want to sabotage my life any more.

Something I didn't mention before, and something I'm incredibly ashamed of: after we broke up, I responded to a couple of ads in the "casual encounters" section of craigslist. Again, I don't know why - I was freaked out, lonely, and hating myself. One woman responded, and when that happened I got REALLY freaked out, realized that was the exact opposite of what I wanted, and didn't write back.

Anyways, my girlfriend found those emails in my inbox today. She's really freaked out, incredibly hurt, and says that she doesn't want to be with someone who would do something like that. Which I understand - I wouldn't want to be either. But I'm not that person anymore - at least, I'm trying really hard not to be. And I want her in my life. I came back here because I want to stop avoiding my problems, and actually struggle for something that I care about.

So, I guess my question is: what can I do? How can I convince her that's not who I am - that it's something that happened that I'm incredibly ashamed about, and don't even really understand myself?
posted by clcapps to Society & Culture (20 answers total) 9 users marked this as a favorite
Couples counseling is not just for married couples. And if there a whole bunch of things you do and you're 'not sure why', individual counseling is probably for you, too. 'I do these things, and my therapist and I are working on them in this way...' is a whole lot more convincing than 'I don't know why, but I'm hoping to stop.'
posted by jacquilynne at 5:47 PM on March 8, 2007

Get yourself to couples counseling. Seriously, (assuming she is willing to give you yet another chance), explain to her, as frankly as possible, that you are screwed up in the head. You are desperate to make it work, and you know that you are going to need help. Couples counseling should be a good demonstration that you are seeking that help.
posted by quin at 5:52 PM on March 8, 2007

See, I've been thinking about that - but doesn't counseling cost money? That's something I don't have any of at the moment - I'm barely making rent here as it is.
posted by clcapps at 5:56 PM on March 8, 2007

If you're at a university, it's probably free to you.
posted by phrontist at 6:01 PM on March 8, 2007

I agree. It may sound like a stock answer, but you definitely need counselling to work through these issues, possibly both as a couple and also on your own. You sound like a moral guy. Have faith in yourself. Good luck.
posted by Dasein at 6:06 PM on March 8, 2007

You want to know "How can I convince her that's not who I am", but you start by saying "I have a long history of sabotaging things that I know will make me happy". Sounds like that is who you are.

I hear it said that you shouldn't date anyone who doesn't know why they do things. That's you. Get counseling, for yourself, if you want to change that.
posted by yohko at 6:09 PM on March 8, 2007 [1 favorite]

In my experience, you keep fucking up until the stakes are too high. Then you start really trying to hang on to the things that matter. And unfortunately, part of the process of getting there is losing things you can't get back and breaking things you can't make right. Some people grasp this intuitively at a very young age, but I've known others in their forties who still haven't figured it out. Loss, finitude and our essential, organismic nastiness are hard things to confront, let alone overcome.

So where does this leave you? You may have lost this girl forever. And if you have, it's time to start thinking hard about how to fix what's broken in you. But before that happens, you call her up. You apologize. You tell her you love her. And you try to make it right.

Good luck.
posted by felix betachat at 6:20 PM on March 8, 2007 [13 favorites]

How can I convince her that's not who I am - that it's something that happened that I'm incredibly ashamed about, and don't even really understand myself?

It's not who you are. But it's also not "somthing that happened." It's something that you did, and that you continue to do.

You need to get professional and in-person help with this. You need to understand it so that you can take responsibility for it.

If you have no health insurance or (if you're in college now?) no counseling service at school, open up your phone book. Look for community-based resources. You give us no clues as to your location, but many cities and towns have mental-health services which charge on a sliding scale based on your ability to pay.
posted by Robert Angelo at 6:23 PM on March 8, 2007

Why was she in your inbox? Anyway-- couples counseling. And also single counseling definitely for you from what you say and possibly for her if she's into reading your emails.
posted by sneakin at 6:24 PM on March 8, 2007

You need to read felix betachat's comment a few times through. Good stuff there.

As a guy who has shot himself in the foot several times in life I have to say that it takes some of us a couple of tries at growing up.

The important thing is that you're actually bumbling your way toward a new level of maturity just by asking this question and thats more than some people are able to do.

About the girl: you know, things may be too poisoned to salvage, but it could be worth a try. I think however that deep down you probably have some doubts which you haven't articulated here because you maybe feel a little guilty about it. Its okay if you DON'T love her, but it's not okay to keep fumbling around with both of your emotions (not to mention bringing a third person into the picture.) Do the chick a favor and drop her once and for all. Then work on yourself.
posted by wfrgms at 7:40 PM on March 8, 2007

Yes, counselling. Look in the phone book, call around and ask if anyone can offer you treatment on a sliding scale -- that is, charge you less because you need help but can't afford it. Many therapists have a few spots in their schedule for low-income patients. Don't make an excuse for not going to counselling (notice how that would fit with the pattern you have identified, of not doing things that you know are good for you).
posted by LobsterMitten at 7:44 PM on March 8, 2007

if you get another chance, tell her about anything else questionable that you did, before she stumbles accross yet another thing by accident. i don't really see why the personals thing (especially while you are broken up) is a bigger deal than trying to cheat on her twice, but it seems like an understandable lack of trust might be the biggest problem with things moving forward. you could explain the situation as clearly as possible and then ask her if there is anything you could do that would allow her to trust you again...
posted by lgyre at 7:56 PM on March 8, 2007

You might reconsider your judgements about people who use casual encounters. There's nothing wrong with looking for casual sex. In fact I believe it's the most decent way to do so. It casts off all the games of nightclub pickups and is just straightforward about what you want.

Yeah, it's personal. I'm a normal, healthy, sane, intelligent woman and I've placed and responded to ads there. Sure there are creeps there, but there are also lots of normal people who are just putting their cards on the table.

As for your girlfriend, I don't think you need to answer to what you did while you were broken up. I can't advise you on your self-sabotage, but I'd advise you to keep your email account private.
posted by loiseau at 8:51 PM on March 8, 2007

Let me get this straight....

1. You considered and came close to cheating on your girlfriend while together, but didn't.

2. While you were broken up, you considered having a sexual encounter, but didn't.

3. Finally, your girlfriend did, in fact, cheat on you in the beginning of your relationship.

It doesn't really sound to me like you knew what you wanted. You sound like you were confused, and exploring some different options in your mind. You came close to making some mistakes and maybe doing some things you might have regretted, but didn't. Really, it seems to me like her cheating on you is worse than your almost encounters.

There's something troubling about blaming your actions on a part of your brain that is trying to sabotage you. It could be true, but then it means you are not aware of your own motivations and can't take responsibility for what you do. There are perfectly legitimate reasons for you behaving the way you have. Blaming it on your subconcious is a cop out.

If you want to stop sabotaging yourself, you need to stop and consider what you're doing from that perspective regularly. Is this really for the best for me and what I really want to do? But you can't second guess yourself forever. I think your best shot with your ex-girlfriend is to take responsibility for what you have done, using reasons you are really comfortable with, or at least feel are true.

I was not sure if I wanted to be in the relationship anymore and looking for other experiences but now realize you are it baby, sounds a lot better than sometimes I do things and don't know why. At least in my opinion.
posted by xammerboy at 9:47 PM on March 8, 2007

At the risk of sounding too self-helpy, it sounds like you have what I refer to as "the Jonah Syndrome."

In case you don't know the story from the Bible, God sends Jonah to prophesy to the people of Ninevah (his enemies), telling them to repent. However, Jonah does not want to do it, tries everything he can to escape this plan, presumably because he fears for his life.

He ends up convinced that he should actually go to Ninevah, does it, and the city is spared. Yay for Jonah! He is a huge success! But he doesn't feel like a success. He feels like a failure, and when God asks him why, he basically says, "I knew this would happen. I knew this plan would work!" (He wanted the bad guys punished).

Jonah wasn't afraid of failure. He was afraid of success, and that is exactly what you sound like to me.

You know she is the one. You can see a whole future with her. Yet, the stuff you are doing makes you miserable, which apparently is somehow a comforting place for you to be.

Why is this? Are you afraid of the life change intrinsic in a successful relationship? Do you have low self-esteem which makes you feel like you don't deserve good things? Have you been abandoned by people you love, and are thus afraid of attachment? Are you afraid that the relationship may fail, so if it does, you want it to fail on your terms, so you sabotage it?

Why are you afraid of success? The destructive behaviors you describe only sound like symptoms of a larger problem to me. My suggestion is to discover the larger problem, and then see how you feel about these specific behaviors.

Good luck.
posted by 4ster at 10:02 PM on March 8, 2007 [2 favorites]

Always stand by what you did. If you did something in the past, do not regret it. If you wish, let it be a lesson in what you should not do in the future, but accept that your past self had a reason for doing that. It will give you much more respect for yourself and allow you move forward without constant guilt.

Tell her that you have learnt from the past, and she should care about the future you.
posted by markesh at 1:01 AM on March 9, 2007 [2 favorites]

Maybe you are just commitment phobic... it sounds like you can't even commit to not committing... this is what "couldn't go through with it" is really about.

Talk to her about your commitment phobia. Help her understand it's not about her. Ask her to help you generate ideas to deal with your phobia.

The bottom line is that everyone is going to have problems in a relationship that lasts any length of time. The test of whether a relationship is worth being in is how much team work there is when the team is falling apart.
posted by ewkpates at 2:59 AM on March 9, 2007

As I reading your post, for a quick second (a hopeful second) I thought it was my ex-boyfriend writing. It's not -- the details are wrong but damn, can you say deja vu.

Felix betachat hits the nail on the head. You're going to keep fucking up until you realize how much it costs you. And yeah, that might come at the expense of your girlfriend.

As someone in your girlfriend shoes...get your shit together (counseling sounds like a damn good idea) and then come back and prove that you've changed and you're no longer going to sabotage yourself. Actions speak volumes.
posted by whitneykitty at 7:58 AM on March 9, 2007

Fix the problem in you before adding another person to the mix. You aren't ready for the happiness of a relationship with that woman, or any other right now, because you are still broken.

So, what to do? Therapy, my friend. As has been pointed out above, you have some deep unresolved issues that will keep coming up until you deal with the underlying problem. This may take you years to repair, but it's worth starting now.

I would not suggest experimenting on other relationships until you have this sorted out enough that you won't act on your poor behaviours. It's OK to have them, as long as you work through them and don't drag someone else down with you while you are dealing with them. It's not fair to them and it will only exacerbate your self-loathing.

Get into therapy and start building on your ability to be excited by success and rewarded by risking happiness. Then you can begin a relationship by including someone great into your world.

Good luck, and remember this can work. You've done much by just acknowledging there is a big problem.
posted by qwip at 5:43 PM on March 9, 2007

I wouldn't try to get back with her yet at the moment if I were you. I'd sit down and ask myself what I really want. It's not uncommon that a guy can freak out when he is in a good relationship, because he might be scared of the commitment. I am not saying that you are, but it is common. So, If I were you, I'd stay as a friend with her for a while, and see how she react. Don't try to rush things though, it might scare her off. Try to make her comfortable around you. Then you can start a relationship with her again slowly. Good luck ok? I hope this common sense would help.
posted by o-thatswhy at 11:36 AM on March 10, 2007

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