Oh Captain, my Captain!
I need some help. Last year, I was in an abusive relationship. My ex raped me repeatedly and often manipulated me. When we were together, I became close friends with another guy. Guy #2 eventually owned up to having feelings for me, and I found myself in a very awkward position. Wherein I was dating a terrifying man – who I later learned was a sociopath – seven years older than me, but was attracted to my close friend.
Fast-forward to February of 2012. I broke up with The Ex, who then proceeded to harass me, guilt-trip me, threaten suicide, and spread rumors about me amongst mutual friends. Unfortunately, being in a very not-good place mentally, I blamed myself and spent a lot of time trying to make him feel better, which he took advantage of.
A few months later, I started dating Guy #2. The ex began harassing both of us brutally, but #2 and I made it through.
But he’s having a really hard time handling my past. He blames himself for my abuse, because he thinks he should have talked to me and asked me to break up with The Ex sooner. But I think he also blames me a little bit, even though he won’t say so. Once he said “it’s a hard story to believe” and another time, we had a big argument – we almost broke up – because he was “disgusted by” it and sometimes couldn’t look at or touch me.
I just feel like he’s not trying. I really want this to work out, because I trust & love him. But things are getting worse, to where almost every time we’re alone, we start fighting about it. He’s depressed, but won’t talk to anyone. I’ve started seeing a counselor to work through my issues, but I feel like our relationship would improve if he did, too. He says him talking about it would be a waste of time, no one can help him, I don’t understand because I’m not in his situation… etc. But every time I ask him to explain, he just says he doesn’t want to talk about it.
Sorry for rambling; I’m just worried. Maybe we should break up, but I can’t bring myself to do it. I just don’t know if our relationship is as important to him as it is to me.
I guess what I’m asking is, how can I talk to him about how much he’s hurting me? How can I convince him that talking to someone, even if it ends up not being helpful, is at least worth a try?
Frustrated and Confused
Dear Frustrated and Confused:
I think your current guy was probably a helpful force in getting you out of your old relationship, but you do not owe him the rest of your life in return for whatever he endured at your ex’s hands or the assistance & comfort he provided.
I also think he is a bad fit as a partner for you now and that you would benefit a totally fresh, single start. Expressing disbelief and mistrust about things you’ve experienced, blaming you for your own abuse, and expressing disgust at touching you are VERY, VERY BAD. Objectively bad. He is turning something bad that happened to you into something bad that you are doing to him and then punishing you for it.
His depression and refusal to see a counselor may very well contribute to your relationship struggles (not least because he should be processing the feelings about what you both went through someplace that is not AT YOU), but I think you need to be with someone who a) believes you b) doesn’t blame you and c) doesn’t withhold affection. “I am mean to you sometimes because I am soooooo depressed” has the net result of “I am mean to you sometimes.” I’m sure he is better than your last partner, but do you really want to set the bar that low and be in a different kind of bad relationship where you aren’t treated very well?
- Keep seeing the counselor on your own.
- Imagine your life a year from now where there is no mean man being mean to you and also no sad man being sad at you (and mean to you). What would you do with your life if you didn’t have to pour so much energy into figuring out how to make it work with some depressed dude who isn’t very nice to you?
- If you decide to break up, here is a good script: “I am grateful for the way you helped me escape from ex, and I care about you very much, but this relationship is not working for me and I am ending it.” If you think that ending it will be difficult and that he will not let you go quietly, there is some advice here.
You didn’t ask me to help you break up, and I’m trying to be respectful of that, but I just have a very bad feeling about this whole situation.
You could say “Partner, I really want you to seek out some treatment for your depression. This is because I care about you and want you to be well. This is also because I think you need a safe, private place to process your feelings about what happened with (Ex) and how he treated us instead of taking those feelings out on me. Whatever you decide to do, it is not okay for you to blame me for that, act like you don’t believe me, or tell me that you are ‘disgusted,’ and I don’t want you to say those things to me anymore.”
Boundaries have to be backed up by ACTION. So if he says something horrible to you, you need to be ready to say “You don’t get to say that stuff to me. Apologize now, or I’m leaving.” And then you have to be ready to leave, and to stay away unless you see some action on his part (like going to a counselor) that helps you trust that things actually will get better. If he says terrible things to you and it ends up with you staying and trying to comfort him & reassure him and make excused for him because he’s sooooo depressed, that sets up a very bad pattern where he gets to keep saying terrible things to you.
It only gets better if you’re prepared to leave if it doesn’t. I am so sorry to say this, but I think this is another case where it would help you to admit how bad things are, prepare to leave, and then actually leave. Please talk to your therapist honestly about what’s going on in your current relationship. There are people in the world who will believe you and who won’t blame you. There are people in the world who won’t shut you out when you try to get them to take care of themselves. I think the world holds a much better future for you. I know you care about this guy and the prospect of being alone might be sad and scary, but I swear, if you can kick free of this and put taking care of yourself absolutely first, with a little bit of time on your side you will feel so light you can fly.
There are better boyfriends in the world than this one, for sure.