#437: Out of the frying pan, into the adjacent teakettle of badness.

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.

190 thoughts on “#437: Out of the frying pan, into the adjacent teakettle of badness.

  1. Sometimes when you have a shared crisis, (dealing with Bad Guy #1), it can make a relationship seem stronger than it really is. Absent that shared crisis, there’s nothing to focus the ‘team energy’ on, and then you get the situation where people turn on each other. Guy #2 is turning on you because he doesn’t have Bad Guy #1 to be nasty toward.

    You don’t have to fill that void in his life. There is a whole planet full of people for him to be nasty toward. It’s not your job. You don’t have to do it.

    From the been there, done that files: any time someone is ‘disgusted’ by you due to something that has been done to you, that’s a club they’ll bring out again and again to hurt you whenever *they* are feeling bad. And these type of people feel bad a lot, and so you wind up getting told you’re disgusting, awful, etc. This is not only a red flag, this is THE red flag that they fly in front of the red flag factory.

    Just because he is not as bad as #1 doesn’t mean he’s a prize, you know? You deserve better. You deserve more. You deserve to be believed, and cherished, and valued. It is okay to want those things, and it is okay to make the choices that will get you those things.

    I wish you joy and happiness and strength and Jedi Hugs in abundance. Good Luck.

    1. “There is a whole planet full of people for him to be nasty toward. It’s not your job. You don’t have to do it.” I love this phrase so hard. So hard.

    2. I gotta say I would have a hard time trusting someone who told me they were disgusted by me because I was abused and raped. That doesn’t sound trustworthy to me. That sounds like he’s perfectly willing to repeatedly slam the past in my face in the worst possible way and hurt me because he’s feeling bad.

      Personally I think that on leaving an abusive relationship, being single for a really decent length of time is one of the best things you can do anyway. That shit messes with your head so bad and you have to reset how you gauge “normal” again. Is it impossible to do that while in another relationship? No. But it has to be a damn good relationship, and ultimately, when you’re in one, you can’t always make yourself your top priority.

      1. +1.

        Abusive Darth Vader ex LOVED to throw anything and everything that he could about my past in my face. This is one of those things that triggers my “DARTH VADER ALERT!!!” big time.

      2. “Personally I think that on leaving an abusive relationship, being single for a really decent length of time is one of the best things you can do anyway. That shit messes with your head so bad and you have to reset how you gauge “normal” again. Is it impossible to do that while in another relationship? No. But it has to be a damn good relationship, and ultimately, when you’re in one, you can’t always make yourself your top priority.”

        This is definitely true. LW, I got goosebumps reading your first 3 paragraphs because they were so incredibly similar to what happened to me a couple years ago! And I can tell you that figuring out what I consider “normal” or “acceptable” behavior on the part of Guy #2 has been…quite challenging. BUT in my case Guy #2 has never suggested that I was making things up, nor has he ever been “disgusted” by me AND he did actually start going to counseling at the same time I did, because the whole situation was very depressing and stressful for him too. Also, I think it has helped me immensely that we’re doing the long-distance thing right now, which gives me lots and lots of space to figure myself out.

        So, what I want to ask you is: is all this heartache and emotional pain worth it? Are there enough good things *currently* happening in your relationship that you don’t want to end it? Because if you do break up with your Guy #2, there are people out there you can date who won’t do any of the bad things you’re putting up with now. And even if you don’t break up, you might still benefit from taking a longish break to give yourself time to focus on healing.

        1. YES. THIS.
          I got out of a whopper of a bad relationship just over a year ago and, despite planning to stay single for a while, I started dating my Guy #2, a friend I’d met before things ended with Guy #1, very shortly after.
          My Guy #2 is also depressed. But he NEVER EVER made me feel bad about myself, took his depression out on me, called me disgusting, or blamed me for being abused.
          A second guy can be an awesome thing. But with all due respect, yours seems to be a bit of a dud. You’re awesome, LW. You got yourself out of an awful situation, and I can only imagine how much strength and courage that took. And even though you and him went though it together, you don’t owe him anything. Just like you, he is responsible for dealing with his issues in a way that isn’t toxic to his partner. You’ve been doing this, and he’s been making excuses not to. Seriously. You owe him nothing.
          If you choose to not be single right now, you need a Guy #2 who will respect that you’ve been through hell, and let you deal with the aftermath and work through all your feelings in a supportive way. Your fellow is doing the opposite of this. You deserve so much better!

      3. ‘Personally I think that on leaving an abusive relationship, being single for a really decent length of time is one of the best things you can do anyway. That shit messes with your head so bad and you have to reset how you gauge “normal” again. ‘

        So much truth.
        My BFF was in a lousy relationship. Not abusive, but it just wasn’t a very good one, and it lasted for years. After months of floundering, he ended it. A week later he was dating someone new. And I side-eyed it, but, y’know, grown man can make his own choices.

        It didn’t take long to realize that the relationship still had some red flags, but at the same time, he was thrilled because it was so much better than the one he’d just gotten out of. Okay, so she cried every time he tried to go home for the evening so he could be ready for work the next morning. But she didn’t need basic human interaction explained to her. Okay, so she didn’t like any of his friends. But she wasn’t crazy like the last one. Etc.

        He was happy, but relationship was, it was mostly because the most recent thing he had to compare it to sucked.

        (Happy ending–he broke it off, took a few months of not really pursuing anything, and is now dating a wonderful lady who is all-out amazing.)

      4. Even if it’s not an abusive relationship, just one that ended badly, being single for a spell afterward is A VERY GOOD THING. It takes time to be able to evaluate a new relationship on criteria other than “this person doesn’t do [x shitty/abusive/otherwise dysfunctional thing] that ex did”, and that’s ultimately not a very good standard for future relationships.

        Aside from that, being at least okay with being single and just doing you makes it much easier to get out of a relationship that’s not working down the line, because you’ve always got that touchstone in the back of your mind to go back to of “if I wasn’t with this person, I would otherwise right now be out having drinks/eating cookie dough out of the tube in my pajamas and watching exactly what I want on television/running regression analyses of various lineup permutations for my favorite baseball team/etc.”, and at least in my experience, a lot of the time it becomes abundantly clear when thought of in that line when a relationship is working and when it’s not.

    3. This advice is wise and wonderful. I was going to copy/paste the best bits, then realized that it was all fabulous, in its entirety. An enthusiastic YES!!!!!!

      Breaking up sucks, that’s for sure. But it isn’t a choice between VERY BAD MAN #1 and LESS BAD MAN #2. You’re done with Very Bad Man #1, so now it’s a choice between CURRENT BAD MAN or SOMEONE NEW, MAYBE BETTER. Or even CURRENT BAD MAN and BEING ALONE BY YOURSELF for a bit, which isn’t a terrible thing.

    4. I want to bring up another aspect of this–the abuse by guy one seems to follow a pattern by people with a personality disorder. 1) Abuse you in a strange, manipulative way, 2) Spread incredibly intelligent-sounding lies about you to all your intimates, 3) the intimates are left saying stupid crap like, “There are two sides to every story.” The LW may want to read some information on Borderline Personality Disorder and Narcissistic Personality Disorder. I was lucky enough to have one of each in my set of parents. Woo hoo. I don’t think Boyfriend #2 should necessarily be kicked to the curb. Unfortunately, he’s having a very normal set of reactions to the very tragic and manipulated set of circumstances. If he doesn’t respond to the information about BPD and NPD, THEN it would be reasonable to kick him to the curb.

      1. Well she said she later found out he was a sociopath. Which sounded to me like she meant officially. But that’s even aside the point. You can’t exactly diagnose someone’s mental state through the internet, especially if it’s through another person’s telling, even. Not to mention the things you listed all DEFINITELY DO fit the bill of “is an abusive partner”. So why not just leave it as “is an abusive partner” instead of trying to diagnose a personality disorder?

        Also, telling someone they “disgust” you or that you don’t find the abuse they experienced “believable” is NOT a “very normal set of reactions”. And if he’s also refusing to get counselling because “nobody understands” and “it won’t help” and all that crap? That means he’s not willing to deal with the set of reactions he IS having, which is what matters here.

      2. Accusing someone of having a personality disorder is a pretty fantastic way to go nowhere, fast. Probably actually more so if the person actually has a personality disorder!

        I have friends with PDs. There are people I love to be around who have BPD. Having a personality disorder is difficult and painful! That said, it is not the same as, “person who is evil and ruins everything they touch.” You don’t code “asshole” on Axis II.

  2. Ugh, I find just the idea of arguing about a past abusive relationship draining. As if recovering from it wasn’t enough now you have to justify yourself to him every time you’re alone.

    This may be a dumb suggestion but, can you put a moratorium on talking about your past relationship? (With the exception of dealing with triggers.) It just seems like despite being out of it, it is still running your life. Maybe it is time for you and your partner to just stop talking about it, to instead focus your attention on building a healthy relationship between the two of you. Perhaps a more positive focus on the future will help him see that what happened, while hard and horrible, doesn’t have to define either one of you for the rest of your relationship.

    There are so many other things in this world you could be talking about with each other. I’m sure it is a hard thing to get past, but if your new relationship is going to last it has to be about more than him being the white night who saved your from the evil sociopath.

    And if he just feels he absolutely has to share his deep dark feelings about your abuse (WTF?) with someone, tell him it has to be not with you. It’s enough that you are processing your own feelings, it is not fair to make you process his too. Perhaps that will encourage him to see a therapist.

    (Also, does he really think that no man in the history of the world has dated a woman who recently got out of an abusive relationship? And that there are no therapists who could possibly know how to handle such a situation? That is absurd. And you should call him on it. “I don’t want to” is the real reason “No one will UNDERSTAAAND” is an excuse.)

  3. Jolierithmetic:

    Your boyfriend was drawn to a woman he knew was in a relationship
    + He sees himself as the White Knight who got you out of that relationship, and heaps blame on himself unnecessarily for not accomplishing the feat sooner
    + He heaps blame on YOU for not hopping on his white horse sooner
    + and yet he implies that he doubts your former relationship was even all that bad
    Your boyfriend is a Drama Queen of High Drama.

    Not that any one of the behaviors you describe is, on its own, indicative of a drama queen. But cumulatively, they paint a picture of a man who is determined to make all your problems (yours individually, and your problems as a couple) all about HIM and his damage. There is very little good he can do for you anymore. The stage where he motivated you to leave an abusive relationship is past.

    The Captain’s advice on breaking up is gold. You may not be ready to take it, but I hope you will at least armor yourself against your boyfriend’s expectation that you’ll be the one doing all the emotional heavy lifting in this relationship. In my experience, “I’m strong enough for the both of us” leaves its own scars for years to come. Years.

    1. Oh, and another behavior of a Drama Queen of High Drama is that they get off on making their problems (and remember that your problems are also their problems) MORE difficult, not less. They want to feel everything as intensely as possible. The LW’s boyfriend is already doing this by engaging her in passionate arguments about their/her history, and then outright refusing to talk his issues out in a constructive way with either her or a counselor.

    2. Your boyfriend is a Drama Queen of High Drama.

      I laughed really hard because it’s so accurate. And the thing is, I know that because I kind of used to be that person, a bit? But to be fair, I was fifteen. Which is to say, this guy has the emotional maturity of a melodramatic teenager. I don’t want to discount the good he did for you, LW, but right now he’s dragging you down and making you miserable. The captain and everyone else here is right – you deserve to be happy and you can do so much better.

  4. The captain might be trying to keep from telling you to dump the guy, but the rest of us have no such restrictions. In the words of my wife, RUN LIKE YOUR HAIR IS ON FIRE. This guy is an abuser as sure as the first one was, he’s just a different variety of asshole. Your first ex was physically abusive, but this one is an emotional vampire- he isn’t happy unless you’re miserable. Please don’t make the mistake of thinking that just because the first guy was pretty much the worst thing on two legs that anything that’s not him is an improvement. “I’m disgusted by you” is NOT something that anyone who loves you would ever say. For your own health and sanity, you need to book it as soon as possible.

    1. As a fellow abuse survivor, I have to strongly second this. The description of the new boyfriend also set off my emotional abuser alarm bells.

      1. Thirded, and sorry to have to say so, because I know the LW may have a hard time hearing it. Emotional vampires/abusers are so, so destructive and a large part of that is *because* emotional harm leaves no outward signs (usually). Someone who is expressing *disgust* at your pain & suffering?? No. Just, NO. Disgust and its good pal, Contempt, are two signs of the impending demise of a relationship. Both of those things are simply hateful, and symptomatic of someone who’s attempting a massive power play over someone else. And that is Lord High King of all Red Flags. Take care of yourself, LW. As one who left an abusive marriage and has been single/alone for the past 3 years, I can tell you for a fact that there is nothing more healing than the peace that comes with not worrying about anything other than learning to *be* with yourself, and learning to be *good* to yourself.

        1. Disgust and its good pal, Contempt, are two signs of the impending demise of a relationship.

          This, yes. So true.

          1. I fourth this, as someone who was involved with a very destructive emotional abuser for 15+ years. I see many red flags and hear alarms ringing loudly from your description of boyfriend # 2. Making the problems be all about him and his depression, while doubting, blaming and shaming you about what another person did TO you is messed up and not okay. Reach out to a domestic violence help-line if you need strength or support, if you do not have friends or family who “get it”, but please leave this sinking ship as soon as you can.

        2. Yes to this. I started dating me (now husband) soon after getting out of an abusive relationship. One of the (many, he’s wonderful) ways I knew he was a keeper is that he NEVER blamed me for anything the abusive ex did, never said he was disgusted with me (seriously, wtf?). LW, you sound wonderful and you deserve someone wonderful! Jedi hugs if you want them!

          1. You mean, knowing you had been through a horrible, soul-scarring experience he tried to be extra-specially KIND? Imagine that!

            No, seriously: LW, imagine that whole other way of treating someone you care about in the aftermath of an abusive relationship… And don’t settle for less!

    2. Thisthisthisthis.

      I came from an abusive extended family. I watched my mother and siblings be physically and emotionally abused for many years, and (mostly) avoided it myself only by learning invisibility-cloak coping mechanisms very early and very well. I married very young and ran very far away, and he never, ever let me forgot that he rescued me, telling me how I was broken by my history while at the same time haranguing me to “get over” my “victimhood,” telling me that my history made me at high risk for me to abuse my own children and that I “needed” him to protect me from myself, alternately telling me that I was frigid and cruel and obviously didn’t love him and telling me that I was emotionally and sexually needy and disgusting, telling me that I needed to, effectively, bootstrap myself out of the persistent depression and anxiety that I struggled with for years, while also telling me that I couldn’t help or advise him when he was dealing with depression because it was “different for men” and “I couldn’t understand.”

      I spent twenty years with this guy because – I didn’t know any better? Because I “knew” from a domestic violence unit in eighth grade sex ed what abuse looks like – he hits you, and then he brings you flowers and cries – and that’s not what was happening to me. Because gaslighting works. Because I thought I owed him my life, literally. Because I thought we would be happy when I “got better” and could move on from my family history.

      LW, in short, don’t go down the road I went down. I heartily second eboxer24’s wife; RUN LIKE YOUR HAIR IS ON FIRE.

      1. So much empathy, though gratefully less time spent with the guy. Never had children, but everything else, the constant contradictions, “You’re powerless but it’s all your responsibility!” very familiar. Jedi hugs, shared relief and fingers crossed for the LW.

        1. “You’re powerless but it’s all your responsibility!”

          You have just summarized my entire relationship with my biological family AND my first husband. In a sentence. I am agog, and offer empathetic Jedi hugs to both of you (and the original LW), should they be welcome.

          1. Nth-ing all of these comments! Anybody who makes the terrible stuff that happened to you about them is no good. You didn’t get abused AT him, you didn’t make Ex harass him and it is his responsibility to find a safe space to talk about it and process it in. That space isn’t with you at the moment, it is with a professional. I don’t doubt he had some nasty experiences with your ex but none of that is on you, both of you are trying to move past it and I think the best way is to deal separately (and then maybe bring it together in couples therapy if you don’t break up with him).
            He may have been the motivation to leave the Ex but that does not mean he deserves the Nobel Peace Prize or, as the Captain said, the rest of your life and self esteem.
            This reminds me horribly of my Ex who made my past all about Him and how he couldn’t deal with it. He bought it up every time we argued about anything (esp. if it was because he’d done something to upset me, like it was his trump card). As you no doubt know, it is exhausting and inherently unfair and eventually I dumped his ass about one year after I should’ve. Please give yourself some space and time to heal without the emotional demands and blackmailing and reconnect with the awesome person you are.

            *massive jedi hugs*

    3. Not to be nitpicking (well, yes, I guess I am) but, if your hair is on fire? Don’t run! Very dangerous, that. Stop, drop and roll or stick your head in a bucket of water. THEN walk away from the fire.

      You’re not mentioning any good things about this guy or your relationship with him. But you were friends, which I hope means that you care about each other and understand each other to some extent.

      If I were in your situation I would let him know how much his doubting you and his comments on being disgusted by you hurts you. I think there could valid reasons for his emotions, if he has a background of abuse, thinking/hearing about your past situation could be a trigger. What is not OK is him not doing anything about it and allowing his emotions to become actions that hurt you.

      IF you let him know he is hurting you, and IF he is not prepared to try to do something about it, – modifying his behaviour, getting help from a terapist, finding someone who isn’t you to talk to and process these things – then I don’t see how this could work for you. It takes two to have a good relationship. As it is, he is not doing his part.

  5. I’m going to also guess that when the captain said “you need to be with someone who a) believes you b) doesn’t blame you and c) doesn’t withhold affection” she really meant you don’t need to be with someone who does the opposite of a, b, and c. Not to step on toes but i think it was a rhetorical device on her part. You might benefit from singlehood more than from seeking a replacement boyfriend, especially in the short term.

    1. Yes absolutely. I’m 100% sure that was a ‘if you are going to be with *anyone*, it must be someone who…’

  6. LW, first of all, I am so glad that you are out of the terrible abusive relationship with the sociopath, and that you recognize the abuse for what it was. You sound really brave.

    I think the Captain’s advice on what to do about your current relationship is really excellent.

    This stood out for me:

    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.

    It stood out because I had a similar experience years ago with my first serious boyfriend, who was 10 years older than I was. I was very badly physically and emotionally abused as a child by a very violent parent. When I told my bf about it he expressed disbelief and mistrust about what I told him, saying that someone who was as successful as me (I am academically successful and back then got recruited into a “good” job) could not have been abused like that, so I must be exaggerating. I can’t tell you how it felt not to be believed, because I don’t have words to describe the feeling. My bf was also depressed and blamed me for it, when it was in fact his brain chemistry that was “wrong”.

    We broke up and it felt like The Worst Thing in The World, I was pretty young (v. early 20s) and looked up to this man and felt like I would never meet anyone else again… and that I could never share my truth about my abuse.

    Of course, none of that was true and I have met other great people! Who believe me!

    LW, I wish you well in getting through this. Your truth is the strongest thing you have, your current partner not believing you is his problem.

  7. LW, I’m skipping past all the other comments to write this. I don’t do that – I never do that! But what I have to say is IMPORTANT, and the others can wait for a moment. Here it is:

    You deserve better than this. All of this. You deserve better than being abused, and you deserve better than being blamed for it. You deserve better than to hurt, the way you described in your letter.

    We here in the Awkward Army believe in you. We trust you, and we respect you, and we do care about you – we want you to do well. All of us are rooting for you, everyone who read your letter. All of us People Who Like To Halp, we’re rooting for you to do what you need to do, to help yourself heal.

    Whatever the specific advice is, whether it fits or it doesn’t, I hope that you come away from the comments with this, from your virtual Team You chorus: You deserve better!

    1. Yes yes all of this! LW, NONE of this is your fault. We love you, and we want you to be happy and heal from all of this awful.

      Abuse leaves scabs and wounds on your heart. A good relationship (romantic, platonic, whatevs) will act like a balm on those wounds, helping you to form good strong new tissue of Self Confidence and Love. This guy, he sounds like he is picking at your scabs, opening them up, and hurting you all over again. That is shitty and bad.

    2. I haven’t finished reading all of these comments, and I haven’t replied to any of this advice yet… I just have to say that this whole little section about deserving better… wow. thank you so much. I mean, I actually started crying when reading it. I know it’s dumb, but I didn’t expect to see something like that, it caught me off-guard. I’ve said it to myself a few times, but it’s just sort of validating to have someone else say it too. So thank you, a million times.

      1. Many hugs to you. There have been times in my life when I desperately needed a source of support like this one here. I hope it can give you the boost you need to do what is truly best for you. You’ve already shown so much courage–keep standing up for yourself!

    3. This is just the most kind and loving (and utterly, completely true) thing I’ve read in a long time. And yes, I heartily co-sign.

  8. Just to add – occasionally, very occasionally, the being assertive and prepared to leave can work a big change with relationship dynamics which are heading this way. If you are all ‘well of course I’m not prepared to accept this treatment, who would?’, it can transform things – at least to the extent that the grim behaviour only pops up every few years and gets quickly squished, acknowledged and apologised for.

    Perhaps it depends if it’s the guy’s Jerkbrain doing all the talking at this point, and to what extent he can control his Jerkbrain. Anyway, you don’t have to put up with any of this – it is most definitely Not On, under any circumstances.

    1. Seconding this.

      LW, you’re going to get a lot of advice in this thread telling you to DTMFA, and with good, good reason. But in case that seems too drastic, or impractical because of REASONS, or you’re not ready for that, or maybe your partner has a lot of really great qualities that we don’t know about, you can still hope for the best and prepare for the worst. IF you want to stay in the relationship, which is your prerogative as an adult just as you have every right to leave, preparing to leave can still improve your relationship all the same. Preparation could be practical, like finding a new place to live, or social, like cultivating Team You in case you need support, or emotional, like discussing it with your therapist. Aside from sending a wake-up call to your partner, it could help you feel safer and more independent, and give you the comfort of knowing that you stay because you want to, not because you have to. You’ll be in better a position to set boundaries and give ultimatums like, “I need you to go to counseling. This is a deal-breaker for me.” Then if things don’t improve, you can still break up with him.

      My history with this sort of situation might or might not be relevant: I wrote to CA twice for the same relationship, and both times both the Captain and the Awkward Army told me that my partner is bad news and I should run, not walk, to the nearest exit. The first few months we lived together were a nightmare because his behavior was immature, selfish, manipulative, dishonest and at times abusive. TBH, I should have broken up with him a long, long time ago, but now that we’re living together, I can’t afford to move out. I’m unemployed and don’t have friends or family who could take me in. There are also a lot of really wonderful things about our relationship that I’m not ready to give up.

      I doubled down my attempts to find a job, started looking for new friends, and asked my old roommate if I could sleep on his couch. I still haven’t found steady work and the new friend situation is still a work in progress, but it was something I needed to do for myself, and it showed my boyfriend I was serious about moving out. I feel less lonely and insecure, and he claims it made him realize that he’ll do anything to avoid a breakup. He was suddenly receptive to the articles and websites I sent him about abuse and dysfunction, and started to listen. His behavior has improved drastically, he stopped binge drinking and pressuring me to hang out with people I don’t like, and he’s starting to look for a therapist. It’s going to take a long time to rebuild the trust and respect that was lost, but I think we’re on a good path now and I feel much safer.

      I’m not saying our situations are alike, or that ‘abusers can change if you just love them enough’ or any nonsense like that. I just want to point out that leaving can be hard and you can still take incremental steps towards that end if you’re not ready to leave right this second. Those changes can be healthy steps in their own right, and might or might not be good for the relationship. If it helps the relationship, great. If not, then it’s a way to talk yourself into leaving. You can’t control his responses, so if he doesn’t change, it’s not your fault. Do what you need to do to feel safe.

      1. It’s not a matter of loving them enough. It’s a matter of loving YOURSELF enough and being willing to demonstrate that to a marginal partner.

        My spouse and I are both prone to similar but not identical bouts of Jerkbrain – mine is more low-level and chronic while his is more episodic yet drastic. Seven or eight years ago, and hell probably more recently than that, either of us at our most pissed could have written something in that would have gotten the “DTMFA, what’s wrong with you?” response.

        While I HIGHLY DO NOT RECOMMEND THIS METHOD TO ANYONE ELSE WHOSOEVER, the unintended-yet-welcome conception of FirstKid almost definitely saved our marriage and probably saved my spouse’s life. First, it brought me to the point where I was willing to leave the Horrible Job I held at the time, on the advice of multiple people who said I’d just stress myself right into a miscarriage. Second, it brought me to the point of being willing to confront spouse with, “Seriously, dude, I can’t take care of your high-maintenance ass AND a newborn, go get yourself checked out!” Third, he was concerned enough about not fucking up at being a dad to take my demand seriously. Fourth, The System was willing to expedite matters when I plunked my just short of full-term pregnant butt in the chair and refused to move until someone assigned Spouse a therapist. Fifth, the presence of FirstKid gave Spouse something to live for when his brain was trying to kill him – he told me after the worst of the crisis passed that no offense, but he knows I’m incredibly resilient and could find another partner, but he is FirstKid’s only Daddy.

        The (intended this time) conception and birth of SecondKid was what got me to take my own issues seriously, in turn, and realize that just because my brain doesn’t actually try to kill me doesn’t mean that the level of dysfunction I was dealing with was acceptable either.

        1. “It’s not a matter of loving them enough. It’s a matter of loving YOURSELF enough and being willing to demonstrate that to a marginal partner.”

          Yes! I worry that I didn’t stress that enough and that my previous comment sounds victim blame-y, or minimizing the emotional abuse. Absolutely not my intention! LW says, “Maybe we should break up, but I can’t bring myself to do it.” If you can’t bring yourself to break up, maybe you can still bring yourself to do some of the self love that break ups require. Then you’ll be better positioned to break up if things don’t work out, and better positioned to be in a relationship if things do work out. Preparing to break up is a win-win!

          1. PS If your partner doesn’t take the hint and get his act together, that’s absolutely not your fault! Preparing to leave/taking care of yourself is NOT about fixing him. If he sees how unhappy you are and then decides to improve, that’s nice, but you’re not obligated to reward him by sticking around. And you certainly don’t have to wait until he’s done growing up!

      2. I remember your letter and I’m very happy to read about what you are doing to make your situation better!

  9. This is all such good advice. I know how hard it might be to hear and I wish you all the very best at being happy LW, because you deserve better than your current situation.

    I had a similar situation in that I dated a guy who helped me get over my darth vader boyfriend but I found that I couldn’t get over DVB because the new one kept bringing him up every five minutes. I felt like I had just escaped one miserable situation to find myself in another! The fact that your boyfriend cannot move on from what happened – and more to the point is not helping you to move on – is wrong. SO so wrong.

    Relationships do not have to be like this; there are plenty of people who you can have a healthy relationship with (and even if it ends it will have taught you good things and leave you with a greater sense of who you are and where you want to go). I promise you.

  10. The venn diagram of people who say “I’m disgusted and don’t want to touch you” and people you don’t want to be dating…is a circle.

    If he claims to be “disgusted,” then he should not be with you and YOU DESERVE SOMEONE WHO DOES NOT SAY THINGS LIKE THAT. Sorry for the caps, but that part of the letter just makes me want to become a Giant Squid of Anger because that is sooooo messed up and not okay.

    1. *messed up on his part, I don’t want to offend anyone and I think the LW is probably a cool person who deserves better.

    2. “The venn diagram of people who say “I’m disgusted and don’t want to touch you” and people you don’t want to be dating…is a circle.”

      +1! This needs to be embroidered on a pillow.

      1. Actually, it’s a circle within another circle. The list of people you don’t want to date extends beyond people who say hurtful things.

        The “Venn diagram […] is a circle”-trope originated with Nerdfighter John Green. He made the same mistake, although he later corrected it.

  11. LW, it is possible for someone to be an amazing ally in one situation (helping you get out of an abusive relationship) and completely toxic another situation (as your new boyfriend). This dude has turned completely toxic on you.

    Maybe it’s possible that he doesn’t understand how much he is hurting you, and how f’ed up his behavior towards you is. But my guess is that he is so wrapped up in his own pain and depression that he doesn’t care, and/or that he’s rationalized it all away as your fault. There is not magic script that will impress upon him how much he is hurting you, and how wrong the things he is saying are.

    I know you love him, and he may be less abusive than the last guy, but as the Captain said…that bar is way to low, LW. Take care ❤

  12. I would repeat for emphasis to run like your hair is on fire.

    The comment about being “disgusted by” your past stands out in particular to me. When I married my ex, he told me he mainly wanted me to wear a white dress so he wouldn’t have to be reminded of my past rape or all the sex I’d had previously. It was a red flag that I ignored at the time, but looking back I can see how it marked his sense of entitlement that I was ‘his’. I’m not saying that’s what is happening to the LW necessarily, but it’s the association I have. His denying your past is a way of denying part of who you are for his own convenience and emotional leverage.

    1. LW’s BF’s assumption of ownership is the angle that caught my attention, too. It’s clearly not the only problem, but even if it was, it’d be enough to be worth leaving over all on its own.

  13. The awful news here is that abusive relationships come in all shapes and sizes. Having also been in a relationship where I was raped, I definitely understand where anything less than being sexually assaulted or hit or (whatever an ex’s preferred act of abuse was) seems so much more bearable by comparison.

    After my abuser, I went right into a FwB situation where the young man would frequently tell me that he wanted to have a threesome with a 16 year old, who would stop by when I had a terrible flu and wouldn’t get that my being super sick was not some farce so that I could sleep with a bunch of other dudes, and who would wake me up in the middle of the night when I had work early the next day to express jealousy over some guy he thought I was in love with. And the entire time this straight up nonsense was happening, I kept telling myself, “Hey! At least he’s not raping me!” and went right on with it.

    Eventually, I came to realize that people can be just as bad for you while doing very different bad things.

    Saying that he’s disgusted by things that happened to ~you~ and denying affection based on that? Heavily implying that he doesn’t believe your perceptions of the past relationship that you were in? That is trouble, LW. Way bad.

    Giving him some sort of credit for not having sexually abused you is honestly the saddest thing I’ve read all day. Not raping you is like, bare minimum for being an okay boyfriend.

    Was he supportive of you during your past relationship? Sure. But it seems to come at the price of him arguing with you about whether it happened and throwing the fact that you didn’t leave fast enough (WTF?!) in your face.

    So, yes, I think that you should dump him and get out, once you have all your horses lined up. Even if he were to get into therapy, it’s no guarantee that he’s going to stop acting like this. Hell, my abusive-ex ended up using therapy as a way to undermine me. His therapist would agree with him that I was making up stuff and that I was gaslighting him by saying that he raped me. YEUP. Not all therapists are created equal.

    Ugh. Sorry for the novel, this really resonated with me. I feel for you, LW, and hope that you can get out with minimal drama and learn to love and rely on yourself for a bit. This guy isn’t the savior he’s propped himself up to be.

    1. Not raping you just means he doesn’t deserve to go to jail! Boyfriend status should be way, way above “people who don’t belong in jail.” My metric for when relationships are bad includes an evaluation of our friendship, apart from any commitments or pantsfeelings. (As much as that’s possible, anyway.) If the person is failing at being a friend to me, sorry, that’s a prerequisite for the romantic partnership course, they get sent back to take that class again.

      heinsby, I’m so sorry that happened to you, especially the horrible therapist, wtf.

      1. I’m assuming we only have the ex’s word for it on his therapist’s opinions? I mean, there are some terrible therapists in the world, but I can’t help but think that someone wiling to use his therapists words against me would probably also be comfortable putting words in their mouth.

        1. The other thing is, therapists are taught to repeat and rephrase what the client says and feels. “It sounds like you’re really sad.” “So you won’t go back because you’re still angry.” It is them clarifying and expanding on what they are seeing and hearing, not them stating their opinion.

          So you get this kind of thing happening:

          Client: No way, I hate X Person. I can’t trust them after they went back on their word.
          Therapist: So you’re really avoiding them because they betrayed you?
          Client: (Thinks to self: Aha! My therapist AGREES it was betrayal!)

          What Therapist Should Have Said: So you’re really avoiding them because you feel they betrayed you?

        2. My understanding is that emotionally abusive, manipulative people generally end up applying their standard MO to their therapist, too, particularly if they don’t *really* want to change. For example, couples’ counseling is frequently not recommended in abusive relationships because it is quite easy for the abusive partner to use the counseling as a weapon.

          I can easily imagine an emotionally abusive partner just plain lying to their therapist, either intentionally or because they really believe their skewed version of reality. It’s a fairly rare therapist who’s going to be skilled enough to detect that and work through it.

        3. I tend to be suspect of anyone who uses what their therapist said as ammo in an argument, anyway. My therapist encourages me to stand up for myself, and gives me pointers for how to set boundaries and express my feelings. But I would never say, “Well my therapist said you’re a liar” or something like that in an argument. And I don’t care what my husband’s therapist tells him about me. I only care about HIS feelings toward me. If a therapist can help him express those feelings better–awesome! If he has to quote that person to get his thoughts across, I don’t see that as very valid.

          1. Very good point – although, you only need to look through the comments on Captain’s “Green flags for a good therapist” post to see tons of first-hand accounts of truly awful Dr. Unethicals. Therapists are people, too, pulled more or less randomly from the general populations – so it stands to reason that some of them will be total shitheels too. Not a comfortable thought, but plausible nonetheless. =/

      2. ‘Boyfriend status should be way above “people who don’t belong in jail”‘

        Hell, yes. When you’ve been in abusive, or even just bad relationships, I think it’s easy to set the bar pretty low… LW, write down a list of what you’d want from a partner – support, a good listener, makes you laugh… – then take a look at your partner. Are they definitely what you want? Or are they maybe just better enough than your abuser that you haven’t been able to see that they still aren’t good enough?

  14. Abusers love rescue narratives. It means you owe them, because they’ve been so great and you were so powerless and maybe still are. Like lyndynedgeofcenter above, my ex claimed to have rescued me from my parents, myself, pretty much everything really. When I left my abusive ex-husband, I learned two further lessons about rescue:

    First off, I had a friend who rented out a room to me so I had somewhere to live. In her mind, she had rescued me and as such, it became impossible to treat her like a landlady. If something was wrong (and soon several things were wrong), I couldn’t complain or negotiate change, because she had done me this tremendous favour – without her, she thought, I would never have left my ex. So eventually, I had to leave her too, amid cries of ingratitude

    Secondly, I got together with my best friend. I had no idea how romantic relationships should work and I found some of his behaviour – like the fact he was never angry with me, when I was so used to anger – really weird. Trust was a big issue.

    Then my ex, during the inevitable harassing stage, described how he imagined I was framing it to all and sundry; that my beloved had rescued me from evil ex. My ex imagined this because it was exactly how he would have framed it – had framed it with previous girlfriends who had fallen into his arms escaping from other abusers.

    But it didn’t occur to me that my beloved had rescued me, although he certainly helped me out a lot. It didn’t occur to me because, despite being in a dreadful mess at this time, with insecure accommodation etc, my beloved spent this period telling me how strong I was, listening to my fears, reassuring and congratulating me about myself, my capabilities, my capacity to cope. This isn’t to say that he didn’t have his own wobbles about my past – it is very upsetting to hear about how someone else has hurt the person you love, and super upsetting to see it still happening.

    And goodness me, he never ever held the worst thing that happened to me as a weapon against me. That’s not what people who care about you do.

    1. “My beloved spent this period telling me how strong I was, listening to my fears, reassuring and congratulating me about myself, my capabilities, my capacity to cope.”

      That right there. That is what good friends and lovers do for each other. That is what good relationships look like. Someone who tells you a different story – that you’re not competent, that you’re incomplete, that you need protection – is not your friend.

      1. Yes, green flag right there. When you love someone, you want them to feel strong and secure in themselves, and say and do things to help them get to that place.

      2. My partner has done similar things for me, and while he didn’t rescue me from a person or bad relationship, I came to him not terribly long after some real trauma in my life. He’s spent time helping me build myself up, and still maintains that I’m far stronger than I realize, that I’ve come so far, that I will keep growing.

        That’s what good relationships are. LW, you deserve one of those.

    2. Thank you so much for posting this. It is so heartening to hear that there are decent people out there getting it right.

  15. This post really struck me, as the beginning of it could’ve been written by me, down to everything coming to a head with my ex in February 2012. And yes, I’m in a relationship with a friend who knew me and my ex, and my ex harassed him as well as me.

    But that’s where the similarities end. I just want you to really believe that how you’re being treated isn’t necessarily how it has to be under these circumstances, because my boyfriend does none of the things that are concerning you about yours. He does struggle to deal with what happened, both out of concern for me and processing what my ex did to him. It’s been nearly a year, and when we talk about it my boyfriend is very clearly still upset by how powerless and intimidated he felt, and the things that happened to both of us during that time have definitely left lingering impressions.

    But, when we talk about, he always asks if I’m feeling okay to have a conversation about it. If I’m talking about by stuff, he always checks during the conversation whether he’s responding in a way which is okay with me. And he has never, ever suggested that anything I talk about didn’t happen or was my fault, or that he is disgusted by me. I can’t imagine how terrible it would feel to hear something like that, LW, and I’m really sorry that after the abuse you suffered from your ex, you’re now involved with someone who seems intent on making that trauma affect you more and last longer.

    What he’s doing, whether he intends to or not – and in my opinion, whether he intends to or not barely matters, as it is still happening – is taking the ways your ex abused you, and making it worse. The way he’s treating you is preventing you from healing. It’s supporting all of the awful victim blaming thoughts you might well be going through. He is keeping you traumatized.

    The thing I’ve found to be the very worst thing about my abuse is not the moments that I experienced it, but the way it’s effected my life and stayed with me, changed the way I think and feel about myself – the way it’s crept in and become a part of me, because it changed me. You can get over that – I’m getting there – but to me what your boyfriend is doing is taking the after-effects of abuse, the things I think are the very worst things about being abused, and trying to make them stick around and make them stronger and stop you from ridding yourself of them.

    My advice would be to get rid of him. If you don’t feel you want to, or can, at this point in time, stop being around him whenever he does any of the bad things he is doing to you right now. Good luck, LW. There are better people for you.

    1. I second all this. This and LW’s story really resonated with me as well.

      While I’m sure all abuse and the aftermath is different, what you wrote really gave me some personal insight. The worst things about my past rapes/abuses were not them in the moment, but the aftermath. Sometimes in the moment, I was in shock or my mind was too muddled up with not “hurting his feelings” or “making him feel better” that I forgot myself. Afterwards, I had the unpleasant gift of remembering myself, for many long sleepless nights. The aftermath can be truly horrifying.

      And LW, just as Joanofanon has said, guy #2 is prolonging and worsening your abuse aftermath (and probably creating more of his own). Which is downright AWFUL. For you, the abuse might have been worse than the aftermath, how would I know and you are probably still processing. But the way guy #2 is treating you is not the good kind of processing. And no matter the reasons, it is VERY BAD.

      (Trigger warning, feel free to skip) Not long after a friend raped me, I got with a boyfriend who your past evil ex reminds me a little of. He used the past rape knowledge against me, to the point of “training me how not to get raped” by essentially raping me and telling me to just say no and it’d stop. And inadvertently teaching me that crying, screaming in pain, and turning my head away did not stop unwanted sex. And taking the power of the word no away from me. It doesn’t work as well if it’s demanded as the price of ending some horror! So the guy was a moron and a sadist. And at the time, I tricked myself into thinking it was okay. In many awful and familiar ways.

      As has been said in this comment thread, abuse comes in many shapes and sizes. It’s horribly sad you were able to successfully escape one awful situation (Go you! You’re amazing!) and end up in a different type of awful (You’re still amazing!). But remember, happy endings are possible. I eventually escaped my awful ex and am currently with an amazing guy, something I never for a second believed was possible. It might take a few more crummy and maybe awful guys to get there, but you can. And you don’t have to take the first good guy to come along. Get a guy who treats you well and that you like, too. You deserve both!

      Take all the time you need. Leaving or not leaving guy #2 is 100% your decision and right. Do whatever you need when you are ready and always be forgiving. Everyone makes choices they might later regret. There is not some golden magic time to leave an awful relationship, do it when you are ready and can (and if you want to!) There is no one-fits-all solution. And be kind to yourself afterwards. The not being kind to yourself is part of that awful aftermath.

      I wish you all the luck, peace, and wanted Jedi Hugs in the world and like everyone else reading your story, our hearts are with you.

        1. I hadn’t either! It was literally the most the stupid and ignorant thing I had ever heard (/experienced). It was a real and much-needed eye-opener, though! Now that I’ve processed it more, it almost seems funny in a weird way, like a huge symbol of Ignorance, Privilege, Dickheadness, and just Wrong. I hope no idiot ever tries that on anyone again. It’s like some horror in a Stephen King novel, just so far out there wrong, stupid, and horrible, it doesn’t seem real (not meant as a rip on King. I like King!)

          I include it to show that even the most objective signs of This is Bad and Wrong and GTFO of there can be warped into okay by well-meaning, kind, and rational people. Anyone and everyone can become the victim of abuse in the right circumstances. So no victim should ever be blamed for staying or not leaving “soon enough.”

          I love all the comments and support on here. This is a very safe place, something rare on the internet. Keep it up!

        2. It’s like some kind of awful horror movie/nightmare combination. I can’t believe anyone would ever do that to someone else! 😦

      1. Oh holy crap I am so sorry you ever had to deal with that. “A sadist and a moron” doesn’t seem strong enough.

        I would like to offer Jedi hugs, if I may, and deepest sympathies.

  16. White Knights claim they are all about the love, but I’ve known several, and it’s really a toxic personality type. They need you to continue being weak so they can feel strong. If you start to get stronger, they kneecap you so they can then minister to you and put themselves back in the one-up position. Perhaps your boyfriend doesn’t know he’s doing this, but it will still take a tremendous toll on your self-esteem over time. I’m afraid the best thing to do now is get away from this guy before you get too worn down, unless he can independently come to terms with his own issue. But that has nothing to do with you, LW. You don’t cause this behavior, or deserve it.

    1. ^^So much this. It seems to come, in my experience, from a deep-seated insecurity–if a White Knight isn’t solving all your problems (including the ones he’s creating for you), then he doesn’t know why you like him.

      I have a friend who sees himself as a White Knight and when the particular woman he’s seeing at the time starts getting back on her feet and dealing with her problems, he starts complaining (to me) that he’s not needed any more and what is she going to see in him? Ugg. It may not be a conscious strategy of manipulation, but it’s toxic nonetheless, and if LW’s boyfriend doesn’t take steps to stop the cycle of White Knighting (the round table of white knighting?) by, for example, going to a counselor to deal with his own issues, then I join the chorus of the Army saying DTMFA. White Knights can be just as traumatizing and damaging as physical abusers.

  17. “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.”


    If he will not believe you or blames you for your own abuse, walk away. You will never change his mind.

    The abuse was not your fault. Falling in love with a man who seems so much nicer than your abusive ex is understandable. But how you were abused is not about him; you were not abused at him, or to spite him. You were abused because you were in a relationship with an abusive person, no other reason.

    He helped you get out. Good for him. He gets a cookie. But not a medal, and certainly not your eternal unquestioning gratitude.

    And he needs to sort his own shit out. His problems are his own, not yours. You are doing the work to get yourself sorted out and that’s hard enough for one person. Shouldering his burdens as well is too much to ask of one person.

    I can only echo what other people have said; set boundaries, don’t let him say awful things to you, tell him that no therapy is a dealbreaker.

    You are a strong, brave person. This does not mean that you have to be a strong, brave person for everyone, because being that for yourself is more than a lot of people manage.

    1. “You are a strong, brave person. This does not mean that you have to be a strong, brave person for everyone, because being that for yourself is more than a lot of people manage.” – YES YES YES.

  18. LW, one thing to remember about your current BF is that he thinks he is a rescuer. You can use that. It’s going to be a lot harder asking him to do something that goes against that Rescuer role–for example, seeing a counsellor means that he’s getting help, and in his mind he’s not the person who gets help, he’s the one who gives it.

    The problem with this, of course, is that he keeps track of how much he’s helped and expects things in return–but doesn’t take the time out on his own to take care of himself. So getting his help costs you, with interest.

    But on the other hand, it gives you a tool to use against him. This whole “saying he’s disgusted” thing? Not very rescue-y! If he wanted to help you, he might do things like get you used to people who don’t treat you like crap. So that’s a way to approach asking for better treatment (or declaring a breakup): it is not because he has done Terrible Thing X. It is because you need Opposite Thing Y (kindness, not being in a relationship, etc) and you want him to give it to you.

    Because what you want is not to convince him of what he’s done wrong, in the short term; it’s to get him to do more things right.

      1. My only “enh” thing about that article is it doesn’t propose better alternatives for the different positions. It kind of implies that getting a personal need fulfilled by playing a role is bad–but leaves the door open for a Helper to go, “I will self-deny MORE and fill my personal needs LESS! That will work!”

        Spoiler: it does not work. If you actually want to help people, you need to be very unabashed and forthright about making sure you get your emotional needs filled, so that you do not turn the people you help into food sources.

        But anyway, the point is, there are two conversations that might be had.

        1. “You are not the rescuer you think you are.”
        2. “I need you to stop saying and doing hurtful things to me.”

        These are actually separate conversations, and having both of them at once is tricky. For less conflict, it might be good to start with #2, and get around to #1 later.

        1. I’ve linked to that article in the past because when my therapist shared it with me, I thought it this amazing revelation for trying to understand my mom’s toxic second marriage. It is indeed very much focused on dysfunctional relationships, sometimes tied into abuse, not people who are victims of misfortune (mugging, house fire, etc. as examples from Badsack).

          And I can see where it can lead into the co-dependency victim-blamey quagmire. But I still find it useful for trying to understand problematic dynamics.

          For example, we currently have a housemate who is staying with us until zie gets back on hir feet. We are offering free housing and most of hir food too–in that sense, we could be considered as having rescued hir as the passive victim. But zie was in crisis and did need a place to stay, and we had the means to assist with little cost to ourselves. We are not interested in receiving rent, but in zie getting on hir feet and moving out as quickly as possible, because this is proving stressful for all of us.

          The problem is that zie doesn’t really communicate with us. Zie goes about doing things hir way, regardless of how things were arranged and doesn’t seem to care about trying to coordinate with the other people living there or what the usual procedures might be. Because zie isn’t particularly observant and doesn’t really ask questions, and because I didn’t want to overwhelm hir with instructions (and also assumed that some things didn’t need to be explained to someone who has long lived with others), I found myself having to repeatedly point out problems. And each time, I reiterate the need for communication–whatever change is okay, but we need to know, or that item isn’t okay and maybe you could check in beforehand next time. I have to take the initiative, and it is usually reactive, so I inevitably become the bad guy telling hir zie’s doing it wrong.

          I’ve been trying to have more social conversations so that our interactions aren’t only negative. And I’ve been trying to check in regularly so that zie has the opportunity to bring up questions or whatever, so that it’s not strictly a reactive process. We’ve agreed to a weekly house meeting for this sort of thing. And zie is starting to communicate more about household things, so that’s all positive.

          On the other hand, zie frequently apologizes or defensively says zie will handle x task when I happen to be in the area doing my own thing, as if I were checking up on hir. And zie admitted that a history of being accused of wrongdoing means that zie is automatically defensive and that it’s not personal. But it is a problem, because it feels like I am automatically cast as the persecutor (not helped along by being forced into the bad guy role because of hir lack of communication). And that article really doesn’t offer suggestions for how to open a discussion about how we might work together to interrupt this dysfunctional pattern.

          Basically, I’m now spending most of my therapy time talking about housemate instead of partner. And given enough time, the problem will solve itself, but I am trying to learn how to use more interpersonal tools. /derail

      2. This comment is totally unrelated to LWs questions, but thanks for sharing that article. I’m struggling with depression right now and that gave me some ideas for dealing with the root causes of it. Definitely going to mention the triangle concept to my therapist.

      3. Her approach feels very problematic to me. Sometimes “bad things happen to good people”, like when we have a personal injury or accident or become a victim in other ways. Things that are traumatic or overwhelming, like if your house burnt down, or if you suffered multiple broken bones as a result of a traffic accident,create a victim, who may eventually become a survivor.

        I am at a loss to understand how real personal circumstances, including interpersonal situations like bullying or intimate partner abuse, that victimize a person can be considered as part of a “drama triangle”. Her persecutor/rescuer/victim triangle basically takes the stance that we are all victims (sort of true), and that the rescuers/persecutors have their issues which motivate their actions. EXCEPT that most victims are not perpetuating their victimhood. Ask any kid who has been bullied or a person who has been abused by their partner what they did to prevent being hurt and they can tell you many, many things that they did to try to stop the abuse including changing themselves to be more invisible, less offensive, etc. to the person who is attacking them. I did not read the rest of her blog/site, but this article left me with the familiar stench of the hateful theory of co-dependency.

        1. I think her emphasis is mostly on family dynamics with some New Agey stuff, but you’re right, the Victim part of the triangle really doesn’t relate well to the topic of abuse. The examples of Victim behavior that she gives tend to be things like drug abuse or unprofessional behavior, and doesn’t translate well to being bullied or abused by another person. I think the Rescuer part is helpful if we take it a la carte and try not to force the rest of it to fit this context.

          1. I am unclear when the concept of being a victim became this “dirty word”. If a mugger hit me on the head to steal my purse, I would consider myself a victim of a crime. Ditto for the things that happen in a relationship with an abusive person. “Survivor” is a more recent construct, which implies the victim has done a bunch of self empowerment work to not feel powerless about the crime/disease/assault, etc.

            All the reading I have done with regards to co-dependency has felt so insidious and victim-blamey – exactly the same feelings as when I was being really bullied at school(age 13) by a gang of about 10 girls a grade or two ahead of me who just hated me on sight, and my father would ask me what I was doing to make those girls hate me so much, and
            would suggest that I change my clothing and hairstyle !

            There is a big difference between being a victim – ie a stranger just physically assaulted me, my partner is gaslighting me V.S. playing the victim, which abusers are particularly adept at. Her approach might be useful for people who play the victim, but it feels hateful to me, a person who was victimized. I wish co-dependency theories would all crawl back into the ground and die. Whatever crumb of truth may have been helpful/insightful with regards to families living with an addict in their midst(ie their responses and behaviours with regards to the addict), has ballooned into a thoughtless catch-all theory that removes responsibility from the abuser to make the abused be responsible for their own actions to somehow PREVENT the abuse that happens to them.

          2. Agree!

            I took a grad class in family therapy a year ago and the concept of the triangle came up there. I think it’s just a classic concept in psychology that can be used in many settings, especially in family affairs with examples like drug issues, etc. that was mentioned earlier. It kind of shows how members of a family can get stuck in roles where they play out this drama (an interesting word choice). So, this concept can be pretty broad, and might not necessarily relate. But the parts about the rescuer are more relevant. So, just take what’s useful and the rest can be interest reading/research!

            I agree with Badsack, too. The word victim has been treated unfairly in research and articles a lot. I always like to think of the words victim and survivor interchangeably. Because even if a victim is not changing any behavior, or ending the abuse, or the abuse is not in the past or whatever the word “survivor” usually brings up, the victim is still surviving. They are still there and doing many small things to deal with the abuse/problems. I personally think both words are similar and that they both inherently mean strong and tough.

  19. This is like leaving the House of Evil Bees and moving into the House of Angry Bees. Even if they aren’t evil, it’s not very healthy to stay in a place where you’re getting stung over and over.

    1. Very much this.

      Sometimes it may be hard to believe but there are houses out there which don’t have any bees at all. Not one single bee.

      1. Or even the occasional, single bee that you and partner collaborate on catching and removing from the house.

  20. LW, I was struck by your comment that you just can’t bring yourself to break up with Boyfriend #2. What is stopping you? I mean that seriously, not in a snarky way. Is it feeling like you owe him for rescuing you from Evil Ex, or fear that he will get worse if you leave, or something else like fear of being alone?

    As everybody has wisely said here, this is not a good relationship for you, but it might be easier to end it if you can figure out exactly why you are reluctant to end it. (And I would bet money that Boyfriend #2 is pushing your buttons very hard to make sure that you don’t.)

    1. It could just be that they spent such a very long time longing for this relationship, or their own internal prediction for this relationship, that they have a hard time accepting that it isn’t measuring up to what they wanted it to be. It’s like how when I was in high school, I wanted to be in show choir for years and years. Then in junior year, I finally got in, and it was unpleasant and we weren’t as good as the show choirs before us and nobody was very nice to me but I didn’t want to quit because it had looked like so much fun and I had wanted it for so long… yeah. Ended up sticking with it until I graduated. And I don’t exactly regret it — I have this one DVD recording of a performance that was REALLY AWESOME and I still like to watch it sometimes and know I was a part of something genuinely great — but I know that my thinking was not the greatest on that one. Although at least I made a couple friendly acquaintances towards the end there.

      1. Erm. Anyway. My point is, sometimes you get so caught up in the *idea* of something that you have a hard time letting go even when the reality turns out to be perfectly horrible. I think that’s what’s going on here.

        1. Well yeah that’s a possibility but I think what’s important isn’t so much whatever the reason actually is as that the LW figure that out for themself. Because if the reason isn’t something to the effect of “because he makes me happy more often than he doesn’t and has genuinely good qualities that he actively demonstrates on a daily basis”, acknowledging whatever the reason IS could be an important step in either leaving or fixing the relationship.

    2. Yeah, I think this is really important! It might help you to clarify what you want from your life and relationships, and make it easier for you to make decisions and get what you want, if you give this some thought.

  21. Blaming you would be still more flattering than blaming himself for not doing the thinking for you because you aren’t capable of breaking up without someone persuading you. At least for me.

  22. Lovely commenters, I accidentally deleted some comments from the spam trap that were very good, relevant, etc. I am so sorry. “Figleaf”, would you post again? Thank you.

  23. “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.”

    So many times this. If someone is disgusted by you for any reason, it’s time to move on. I’m sorry that he went into jerkass mode after helping you. You deserve so much better than that.

    I’ve had two abusive (verbally and emotionally) relationships, and Dickface #1 once told me that he “had to look at Playboy so he could get it up for me.” He knew I was fat when he met me. It’s not like I kept my real body hidden in a bag somewhere and sprung it on him one day. Things were good for two weeks, then out came the crap. When I called him on his bullshit and asked why he was with me if I wasn’t what he wanted, he admitted that I had the inside qualities and that he’d hoped he could ‘motivate’ me into the rest. I’d like to say I dumped him immediately, but I kept thinking I could make it work. Finally after four more weeks I walked…only to run into Dickface #2. He isn’t relevant to this story, other than to say the first year was fine, then he gradually slid into passive aggressive behaviors and finally, the same sort of outright abuse similar to the first guy.

    Leave now. It gets hard as you get more mired down in it. That’s what I learned from this.

    1. Dickface #1: Glad you figured that one out quickly, ravyn. People are not lumps of clay to be sculpted to other people’s specifications or agendas.

      Dickface #2: How unfortunate that this guy didn’t show his stripes earlier like the last. I hope you are well, and truly, shod of him, and that you’ve gotten your revenge by regaining every bit of confidence plus some.

      Keep being awesome, and I hope you don’t run into any more dickfaces.

    2. “He knew I was fat when he met me. ”

      You probably know this, but it is worth saying; it wasn’t anything to do with you being fat. My ex was the same and I wasn’t fat (although he said I was, as well as ugly and disgusting in many other ways). Same with the motivation thing.

      It was during one of my ex’s regular phases of “I don’t love you and I find you rather disgusting, but if you try a little harder and make some effort, I might fancy you again.” that I finally left. But that was after years of responding by trying harder.

      I say this just in case you’re ever in danger of putting that experience down to “something that happened to me because I am fat.” Fatphobia merely gave him the language for his sick little game and probably would have been raised whatever size you happened to be.

      1. Thank you, Goldfish, for noting that. Anything they say is just a smokescreen for the abuser’s actual agenda, which is: making you feel that you are Never Good Enough. When you are always playing defense, you can’t play offense, and you are easier to control. And control is the name of the game.
        Not smart, thin, pretty, educated, insert-adjective-here enough. Which is a fantastic way of dangling that carrot of unattainable ‘love’ in front of you and extorting resources from you without you being aware that this is what’s happening. Everyone here has said it more eloquently than I could, but let me just reiterate–what an abusive person says or does has *nothing* to do with who you really are, and *EVERYTHING* to do with who they really are.

        1. I think what makes it so hard, when it happens and to recover from it after you’ve left the situation, is when you are the kind of person who secretly thinks maybe you *are* Never Good Enough, and now you have someone’s voice you love (who you *know* did not *ever* intend to hurt you and that it came from their own even-worse pain) saying, ‘Yup, True, and By the way here are some added specific details you had never even *thought* of, that you actually thought were your *strengths*, where you are in fact totally lacking, so you can throw every other interpersonal relationship in your life in doubt, too.’ It sucks.
          I try to reiterate to myself, I am a person like any other person, no more and no less, and I have a worth, because no person is worthless.
          LW, being unbelieved can play mind-games, so remember: You know what you know.

          1. You speak so much truth. Abusers prey on those who have low self-esteem. They feed on it. And it’s very hard, when you didn’t believe in yourself to begin with, to stand up against someone who is reaffirming all the worst things you believe about yourself.

        2. Anything they say is just a smokescreen for the abuser’s actual agenda, which is: making you feel that you are Never Good Enough. When you are always playing defense, you can’t play offense, and you are easier to control. And control is the name of the game.

          Possibly the thing that creeped me out most about this is that it’s the entire premise of the advertising/fashion/makeup industries, too, particularly as aimed at women. Whether it’s control or just grabbing money, it’s an abusive behaviour pattern.

    3. I named one of mine Dickface, too! On my phone. So I would never be tempted to answer manipulative texts and always remember that even if he was pretending to be nice, he was still a Dickface. I think I got the idea from one of the Captain’s posts and subsequent comments. Darth Vader and DNA (Do Not Answer) work well, too. The Captain’s posts were a wonderful, much-needed treat during that relationship.

      My ex-Dickface also lasted a month and kept trying to change me/make odd demands on the relationship. For example, exercise at his apartment’s gym with him 3 times a week (other types of exercise and exercising other places didn’t count for some odd reason) and be able to sleep over and fall asleep for the 8 hours (I have bad insomnia and the three times I tried to sleep there I was awake all night with periodic cryings on the floor). Those were the two conditions to be his girlfriend. It was so odd, insulting, and almost funny. There was no girlfriend after that, happily. Yay to getting rid of manipulative Dickfaces!

        1. Insomnia is awful! If you deal with it too, my sympathies. I think inhuman describes that relationship beautifully. The demands were definitely not out of character. Also, the idea that someone can simply will or order away another person’s insomnia is laughably ignorant.

          “If I concentrate hard enough, you will turn into a golden retriever.”

          “Well, since you suggested it… bark bark.”

  24. LW, I know the chorus of voices here is pretty decided when it comes to telling you what to do. But, I also wanted to say that this is your life and that the reason so many people are saying what they are saying is because they are scared for you and the behaviors that were expressed in your letter spell out some potentially scary and disturbing things.

    I hope that when you read our comments you can see that we made them out of concern for your best health and wellbeing, but if, as some commenters have pointed out, you cannot bring yourself to do that, either because there are enough good qualities you see in this guy that you still want to try to make it work, or because you are having trouble finding your way out for whatever reason (money, fear, a place to go, or just being so anxious or overwhelmed or ambivalent that you don’t know where to start, or because you start to leave but he ropes you back in with HURTFEELS, or needing one more chance, or for WHATEVER reason) that:

    1) We will not judge, blame, or otherwise ridicule you. This is your life, and your decision, and
    2) We know that life is not black and white and that these choices and changes are not easy, instead they can so very hard, and
    3) The most important thing is that you can find a way/place where you can be safe, happy, and feel loved and supported for your decisions while you recover your sense of self and confidence (because no matter what you have done/didn’t do, or who you are, you do not deserve to be treated badly, and when other people treat you badly it is most certainly not your fault because you cannot control their actions). Ultimately, it doesn’t matter whether you are with this guy, or single, or with someone else, so long as you have a chance to work towards these important things.
    4) We will still be here to say “We’re so glad that worked out, after all!” or “We’re glad you’re in a better place, now!”.

    The warnings CA and the commenters leave are worth thinking about. Their experience speaks for itself, and they are right to be concerned at the very least, and I hope you will think about what they have to say, because while I will not tell you what to do, I hope you will keep the “flags” in the back of your mind for future reference. Lots of smart, wonderful people have gotten involved with others who are toxic, sometimes perhaps because being wonderful attracts some of these people, but the sooner you can recognize the toxicity for what it is (it often creeps up on a person), the easier it will be to leave/defuse the toxicity, or decide if the toxicity is one quirky behavior vs. a sign of a pattern.

    Best wishes, LW. I hope you realize how strong you already are, and how many people are rooting for you.

    1. I second this! This is so important to say! And not just for LW, but for anyone reading this and feeling like they are or were in LW’s shoes and are looking for advice.

      LW, so many of us are saying run away because we’re putting ourselves in your shoes and seeing our past abusive relationships and wishing we ran, seeing our current healthy relationships and thinking “This is not right!”, or everything in between. But I’m pretty certain, that not one of these people would fault you, judge you, or blame you for staying. There might have been details you left out. Guy #2 might have some great qualities. He might be worth it. There might be a ton of other reasons, like the ones mentioned. The only important thing here is that you take care of yourself, in whatever way is possible–and that does not necessarily include leaving (though many of us will think that is important). We are all empathizing with you and rooting for your happiness, no matter what you do. There is no judgment here.

  25. I think perhaps one way to frame this with Guy #2 is that Guy #1 tried to cast you in the role of perpetual victim. And that you got out because you were not willing to be that, and you knew you deserved better.

    But now Guy #2 is telling (and showing) you that when he looks at you, what he sees is the victim you were, not the woman who knew she deserved better and who refused to be a victim anymore and managed to get out despite the fact that Guy #1 was a really scary, manipulative guy and getting out was really, really hard. (Which Guy #2 knows is true, since it’s not like he dispatched Guy #1 with a swift metaphorical karate chop, either).

    You see a similar phenomenon sometimes with couples where one person has cheated: sometimes the person who has been cheated on is able to sincerely forgive the other person (usually with the help of couples therapy) and they can both move on. Sometimes, though, when they look at that person all they can see is Person Who Cheated On Me. Which way it goes is a function both of the cheater’s sincere remorse or lack thereof, and their ability to avoid distrust-triggering behaviors, AND of the Cheated-On-Person’s personality. Some people are just constitutionally unable to get over something like that.

    Now, you didn’t cheat on Guy #2. So he has absolutely NO right to be flogging you with the past; this isn’t about trust. You were BOTH victims of Guy #1. But it may be that Guy #2 is never going to be able to look at you without thinking of what Guy #1 did to you, and by extension of what Guy #1 did to him. Not because you’re doing anything triggering, but because that’s who he is. Or maybe he could get over it, but he won’t becsuse that would take therapy and he refuses.

    And it really, really matters that you find out, because however unintentionally, Guy #2’s fixation is jamming you back into the role of Guy #1’s victim, when the whole point of leaving Guy #1 was so that you didn’t have to be that anymore. You are so much more than what he wanted to make you, and you are beautifully, healthily determined to go out and be all you can be, and not let what happened define you.

    I think you should have a conversation with Guy #2 about whether he is going to be able, within a reasonable time period, to stop seeing you as Guy #1’s victim, and instead see you as the amazing, strong woman who got away. Because that’s how you intend to see yourself, and if he can’t get on board with that it is best for both of you that you go your separate ways.

    He can go to therapy — he really should, because whether you stay together or don’t, how he thinks about himself (as Guy #1’s victim, and someone consumed with regret that he didn’t do more, sooner, or as the stand-up guy who helped give a woman in a bad situation strength and courage to get out) is still at stake.

    But whether he does or doesn’t, you need him to stop treating you like Guy #1’s victim, and like damaged goods, PRONTO, or there will be no happiness in this relationship for either of you — and just as you had the strength to leave Guy #1, you will find the strength to leave Guy #2. Because your experience with Guy #1 didn’t train you up to be a lifelong victim — it taught you the importance of sticking up for yourself, being willing to leave a relationship in which you are not being treated as you deserve.

    One last thought: you say that Guy #1 manipulated you, and that even after you broke up with him you tried some care-taking, because he made you feel bad for him. Understand that he was able to do that not because you are weak but because you are a NICE PERSON, which is a good thing to be! Caring about people, caring about the impact you have on other people’s lives, is a GOOD trait.

    However, you should talk to your therapist about learning to spot when people are deliberately using that against you. It’s a rotten thing to do, and you will want to learn how to see through it, and get pissed that someone is trying that crap on you again, so you can keep on being a nice person without getting played. (And, you know, you’ll want to be on the alert for that kind of crap with Guy #2… because I strongly suspect he’s doing it, too).

  26. I’m seconding all of the folks here who are pointing out the red flags in New Guy’s behavior. And LW, I’ll say this–you haven’t been married for 20-plus years where this behavior is new. You’ve been a couple for under a year and this behavior is pretty much a feature with him. You shouldn’t have to work on things like this so soon in, especially when “working on” the relationship means “putting up with my SO’s contempt and manipulation.” People tend to be on their *best* behavior in the beginning of a relationship. You deserve better than someone who’s disgusted by the fact your ex was abusive and uses this against you (that’s actually pretty fucking abusive of him).

    You owe this guy nothing. You deserve far better than this.

  27. I just want to Nth all of the things that people are saying about your strength and courage LW. You got yourself out of a scary and shitty situation. You are really strong and awesome, and you will be able to take care of yourself and do amazing things. I have faith in you and your abilities!

  28. First, thanks to Jennifer & everybody for the advice. It helps a lot to have all of this in the open, with people to discuss it with, instead of just in my head. It’s hard to talk to my friends about it, partially because we have mostly mutual close friends. So it gets confusing, and I don’t want to put anyone in the middle of something big and difficult and messy, you know? So this is really helpful.

    So, the reasons I don’t know if I can bring myself to break up with him. I mean, he is a really good person. Not just because of the help he gave me – he just is. He’s usually nice, he doesn’t try to hurt me when we fight. I know it sounds like I’m making excuses, but I’m really not. And we are still friends, even though we have these problems. Like, we have fantastic conversations about all sorts of things, and etc.

    But I am going to take some of the advice you guys have given me. I’m going to talk to him about all of this again, but differently. Other times we’ve talked, it’s always turned into a big guilt thing and I worry I’m hurting his feelings and all that jazz. Not that he says it – it’s just more that I’m really sensitive to that kind of thing. Negative moods and whatever. Due to the Ex and also my childhood.

    The plan is: 1) Tell him he’s said a lot of really hurtful things to me that aren’t okay, and they can’t happen again. 2) Tell him that he needs to talk to someone, or we can’t be together, because his refusal to is unhealthy for both of us. 3) If he doesn’t stop saying mean things, or if he says he won’t talk to anybody, end the relationship.

    This has been sort of an eye-opener for me. I’ve said to myself – probably more often than I should – that “this isn’t as bad as the Ex, I’m overreacting.” I think I’m having a hard time figuring out what normal couple-stuff is compared to Things that Aren’t Okay. You know?

    I didn’t think of it this way, but he is doing some of these things. Like continuing to see me as Ex’s Victim rather than someone who got out of a really bad situation. And he is perpetuating some of the not-so-good aftermath. i.e., my self-blame, shame, our fighting. I mean, Jennifer suggested to imagine myself a year down the road without someone making me feel bad about myself. Which, just, wow. I don’t know. You guys are all saying relationships can be happy, and that’s kind of news to me.

    I don’t mean to sound dramatic, and I realize I probably am, but I do mean it. It’s news to me. Current BF has said on numerous occasions that he doesn’t believe people can really be happy, and that we’re all just faking it or searching for it and whatnot. Etc. Which I know sounds really bad, but it’s a product of his issues, and like I said, I’m going to tell him he’s seeing someone or I’m leaving. I don’t know if it will convince him, but I WILL leave him if he doesn’t.

    Thank you guys for being so supportive. It’s a little bit shocking. And sorry for the novel, haha. There’s some serious soul-searching and self-discovery going on right now.

    1. Thrilled to think we’ve helped; it’s what we come here for. By all means check in as you go along. We’re rooting for you to find happiness — which, by the way, is NOT a mythical creature (elusive sometimes, but not mythical)!!! And for you to be treated only with kindness and respect (heck, let’s go for the admiration you deserve)!!

    2. Thank you for checking back in LW. We always are pleased to hear from you, and it’s great that you have a plan. I hear you on the soul-searching and self-discovery and appreciating the wonderful things about current boyfriend.

      I gotta say that “doesn’t believe people can be really happy” is probably the biggest red flag yet. One of the most significant things about my relationship with my abusive ex was that being with him brought out the worst in me, to the point where after several years I almost didn’t recognize myself. He was angry and resentful at the world, and I was angry and resentful at him. The two of you together create the mood or ambience or whatever of your relationship, and if what your boyfriend is bringing to the table is that happiness is a myth, that’s a key part of the mood that you’re marinating in, whether you want to or not. Not good for recovery and self-care.

      Good on you for being willing to reach him and help him (to help you). Just remember that in the end, you need to worry about your own oxygen mask. And it is very possible to keep the friendship (if not immediately) and all of the good things you value in this person–sometimes people just are better friends than intimate partners because they go together like chips and salsa (served in separate dishes) rather than macaroni and cheese.

      1. The bleak and mistrustful worldview that your bf is exhibiting is, in fact, a very big red flag. That is not something that you or anyone can (or should!) cajole or love or counsel him out of. He’s made up his mind that the world is a bad place full of bad people who lie and fake things and are essentially out to ‘get’ him. That is not at all compatible with what you’ve shown us of your own worldview, LW. After all the hurt and betrayal you’ve been through, you still came here to talk to perfect strangers about a very sensitive problem. Why? Because you deep down truly believed (and rightly so) that some people could be trusted to help you and care about you if you took this gamble. You believe that the world with all its imperfections can still be a good place where you can get your needs met without harm. I was married to someone who sounds so much like your bf #2, and it was so soul-destroying, honey. Don’t let him paint your world black, it has so much color still in it. Thank you for letting us know how you’re doing, just keep putting one foot in front of the other, and trust yourself! You do, in fact, know more about what’s best for your life than you think, and you certainly know more than your current bf does.

        1. Quick note: I didn’t mean to say that counseling won’t help your bf, it most likely would, but that it’s not on you to make that happen for him. It’s on him to get himself the help he so plainly needs.

    3. Yes, people can be happy. Also, relationships can make people happier even if those people are starting out depressed, either because of their situations or for endogenous/biochemical/brain structure reasons.

      Happy isn’t just a yes/no thing: it’s worth asking whether you are happier for being in a relationship. Does spending time with your partner make you feel better or worse? Does it add or reduce stress? That’s a separate question from “am I really happy?” and an important one: if you are unhappy both with and without someone, but sleeping and eating better with them than without them, or vice versa, that’s relevant.

    4. Hi, thanks for checking in and letting us know what’s going on!

      I think your plan sounds really solid.

      “I don’t think people can be happy” and “We’re all just faking it” is pretty classic Depressed Brain talking, and you don’t want to be negotiating with that. “Since we’ll never actually be happy, you might as well stay and be miserable with me” isn’t really that romantic.

      Maybe HE can’t ever be happy. But I bet you can, at some point. His definition of happiness and what is possible does not apply to everyone.

    5. Oh LW, I have such big feels for you right now! I also feel pretty sad for your boyfriend, he sounds pretty depressed. But mostly I want to give you Jedi hugs and tell you how amazing you are. You are getting through some tough shit, and you are working hard at it, and that hard work is paying off!

      It is absolutely possible to find happiness. Even if you have a lifetime struggle with depression. It is possible to find some of that happiness in a relationship, even if both partners struggle. It’s harder, but possible. A good relationship builds you up. It makes it easier for you to go out and face the world. A good relationship fills your soul and makes you feel safe and totally secure.

      With your history, you will need different things from a relationship maybe. You might react more than some other person. But if you are feeling your feels and wanting your wants, whatever they are, then you are never overreacting. You might need something more than your partner can give, and that is okay. That is a time to negotiate or to decide if this relationship is right for you.

      You have habits of mind for your abuse that you are probably not aware of yet. Your current partner certainly has plenty of issues, and even if he gets treatment, he will have depression habits of mind that he will be struggling with for years. It’s one of those things. So even if he does go Into therapy, he won’t change quickly.

      It is still okay for you to leave, even if he does everything you ask. Because you are not happy. That is enough, even if he is a wonderful person.

      Finally, an unfortunate truth is that you probably will have to look at your friendships at some point in your healing process. Doesn’t have to be now. But people get used to you as you are when they get to know you. Many individual friends are great about supporting a person who is growing and changing, but most friend circles are bad at it. Friends don’t mean to stand in the way, they just have an idea of you in their heads that they don’t revise, so they try to keep you in your old role. Also, some of them may be toxic to you in their own right. If everyone in the crowd thinks nobody can be truly happy, do you suppose anyone in the crowd is?

      Fortunately, you don’t have to do everything all at once. Or ever.

      It is now all about what you want. What makes you happy. How you feel. What your needs are.

      You were trained to believe that any of your own wants or needs were over reactions…. They’re not. They’re just you.

      You, who is awesome. You, who deserves happiness.

    6. I spent a lot of my teenage years being generally very unhappy, both with myself and with my life in general. And this is really typical of being a teenager, and there were some good reasons for not being happy with my life.

      The turning point came through 2 things: The first one was that I decided to stop being unhappy. It wasn’t actually quite that easy and simple: I had to work to retrain myself to stop thinking negatively. It took a long time, and I still backslide sometimes. But I realized that being unhappy was a vicious circle that kept me unhappy.

      The second thing was something I heard the comedian Denis Leary say. No, really, Mr Rant-and-Rave said something that really resonated with me. He said “happiness comes in small doses”. Happiness is eating a chocolate chip cookie. Happiness is sitting down to watch a new episode of your favorite show. Happiness is a warm comfortable sweater on a cold day, or a tasty popsicle on a hot day. Happiness is your friend or significant other giving you a big hug for no reason. Happiness is even just looking back at your day before you go to bed and being able to say “This was a pretty good day; nothing bad happened to me today.”

      The thing that lasts, the thing that stays with you for days, weeks, months, years, is contentedness. Are you content with yourself, with your life? I don’t mean that you have everything you want, you never have bad days, you don’t need to strive for improvement. I mean can you look at yourself and your life and say “My life is pretty good right now. The good days far outnumber the bad days. No one (including myself) is actively trying to make my entire life a huge bag of suck, and my contentedness is not dependent on anyone but me. I feel confident that if something bad happens, I’ll be able to handle it and come out a stronger person for it. I understand that my life will never be perfect, because perfection doesn’t exist, but I can imagine my current situation going on for a long time and that prospect makes me feel good.”

      I’ve never met anyone who was “happy” for more than a few hours or days at time. But I’ve met people who are content.

      1. Ha. My favorite happiness saying is from Eddie Murphy. I can’t remember exactly what he said, but it was something along the lines he used to think happiness was something he got at a certain point until he realized that sometimes he will be happy and sometimes not and that’s life. Wow, I paraphrased that so, so badly. Hope the gist is clear.

      2. What a great definition of happiness and contentment! Definitely something to strive for that is not overwhelming to attain! I’ve also had a lifetime with on and off pretty bad depression. And just defining happiness seemed impossible. I’m in a much better place; something I never thought would happen. And if I ever feel sad (even the normal amounts), I get scared that this is it and I’ll be unhappy again for years. That doesn’t have to be true. Your definition shows that. I think it’s very helpful to define it for those moments when we are not there.

        And LW, you can get there! I truly believe you can. It will be work, but it will be worth it. And your plan sounds perfect! Go you!

    7. i also want to make the point of saying that Happiness doesn’t always mean jumping out of bed every morning smiling and shitting rainbows and being thrilled with everything around you every second and having tons of money, beauty, etc and living this charmed, privileged life out of a movie.

      i feel like Happiness is contentment. being in love with life because you want to see what it has to offer. enjoying what you do. and for me, Happiness has been a journey.

      i only say this because it took me a long time to realize it.

    8. This has been sort of an eye-opener for me. I’ve said to myself – probably more often than I should – that “this isn’t as bad as the Ex, I’m overreacting.” I think I’m having a hard time figuring out what normal couple-stuff is compared to Things that Aren’t Okay. You know?

      LW, something to keep in mind as you work through your plan (which is an awesome plan) is that it’s okay to break up even if your boyfriend isn’t doing Things That Aren’t Okay (TTAO). I know the Captain’s said it in some of her other posts, but you can break up with someone at any time for any reason (or no reason). So maybe your boyfriend does get help, but his outlook on the world feels like a heavy burden for you to carry. Or maybe he does some work and things look brighter but you don’t feel passion for him anymore. Or maybe you just want to be on your own for a while and clear your head. Leaving, or thinking about leaving, or wanting things to be different is not overreacting. It’s just acting.

      I love your plan. I think it acknowledges that your boyfriend can make mistakes in his relationship with you and not be punished for them because of the actions of your ex. I think you sound mature, and thoughtful, and caring, and also like you’re looking out for yourself. This is the plan of strong person, in my opinion. And I think you should stick to it, in that if the plan fails, you leave.

      But I just wanted to remind you that even if the plan works, you can still leave. Anytime.

      1. The Captain’s post that day was awesome. It’s something I think most of us forget from time to time. (And it was a huge empowering eye-opener for me!) We can all leave anytime we want. No one has to be doing horrible things. We can just not be feeling it. So even if things improve, LW, and you still feel off or not satisfied enough, you need no reason to leave. This applies to all relationships. It can’t be said enough.

    9. I don’t think it is surprising that the idea that you can, or that anyone can, be happy in a relationship is a new one to you. You probably have no frame of reference for a relationship in which both partners make one another happier than they would be on their own; a relationship which is greater than the sum of its parts.
      Your experience is more likely to be of the one-person-gives-the-other-takes and the two-damaged-people-struggle-through-miserableness-together varieties.

      Happy relationships do happen though, they’re not like mystical unicorns, and they should probably be the goal. I think for people who haven’t had your dreadful experience, they generally hope for a relationship to make them happier in it than they would be out of it. Personally, that’s my bench line for knowing if I want to stay in a relationship or not.

      Guy #2 helped you to get out of a bad situation, and in doing so it seems like it stopped being just your situation and he was also involved, and it sounds like he’s perhaps a bit resentful and blamey about that, but that’s not your fault. He chose to get involved and Guy #1 chose to be a d-bag, none of that is on you.

      Like Jennifer and, probably everyone else pointed out, just because he was the right person to be your supportive friend and help you escape Guy #1 doesn’t mean he’s the right guy to spend the rest of your life with. He doesn’t sound like a healing or positive influence on you now.
      It’s important to recognise that your needs, away from Guy #1, have also now changed. You’re not in ‘escape and survive’ mode, you’re in ‘heal and move on’ mode.

      Whereas relationships aren’t magical cure-alls for every bad thing that’s ever happened to you, and every negative emotion, they should make you happier in them than they do out of them. Otherwise there’s no point being in them. It’s not selfish to demand happiness from a relationship. Mutual happiness is pretty much the job description of relationships and if that isn’t possible, if two people have to be miserable together, or if one has to make themselves miserable to make the other a little less miserable, then that’s not a good place to be in.

      I’ve had a past boyfriend break up with me after I was raped by someone, saying that he couldn’t deal with it. In my situation, he had no involvement whatsoever, but even if he had, it still wouldn’t have been right for him to decide that his suffering regarding something which happened to ME was more justified, more honest, more believable, more difficult, or more worthy of sadness or attention or comfort than mine.

      The upshot is: you both can and very much deserve to be happy, whether in a relationship or out of one. You don’t owe your time or your life to someone who is making you unhappy, even if they aren’t doing it on purpose. Their unhappiness is not your fault or your responsibility.
      It’s not selfish to protect yourself, your feelings and your happiness from someone who is detrimental to them.

    10. I had to add my voice to the choir: happiness is a thing, it exists, it is not a mythical creature, anymore than happy or healthy relationships are.

      I was, once upon a time (read: a VERY long time considering the short amount of time I’ve existed), miserably depressed, and the core people in my life, well, we had unhealthy, even abusive, in some cases, relationships with each other.

      I never thought I would be loved. I never thought I would be worthy of anyone or anything. I never thought I would be strong enough, or smart enough, or brave enough, or pretty…or anything enough. I was not allowed to make mistakes and I had to accept everyone else and all bad behavior no matter what, but they were right if they told me I was not any of the above and cut ties with me over one little thing. They could hold me to standards that I would never dream to hold anyone else to, but hey, that was okay, because I deserved that, didn’t I?

      I went through a lot of therapy and self-help books and journal pages and thought. I found a couple awesome therapists in a long list of therapists who helped guide me to the great toolbox of mental health success, and while I have had highs and lows and the spectrum between, I have gotten better, and better still, and better yet. I can finally say that I look forward to the next day instead of dreading it, or feeling apathetic.

      I found someone who loved me, too: Mr. Wonderful has those two words engraved on the inside of his wedding band for a reason, and I would still engrave them there after over a decade spent with him. When Mr. Wonderful first found out about my history, we weren’t even dating. Our common acquaintance, my roommate, told him over a phone call without asking my permission. I was sure he would lose all interest in me, the crazy girl who had been in a mental hospital. He didn’t. When we began dating, I was sure he would throw the “crazy” word, or “irrational” in my face when we had arguments. I was sure he would tell me I was overreacting or making it up, or being “too sensitive” when I told him about my past. To his credit, he did none of those things. He was angry for me, not at me. He has never called me names, he has never, not once, raised his voice and yelled at me. He addresses issues, but he has never been cruel or heavy-handed about it. He listens when I tell him what my triggers are and avoids pushing them. He was so nice I was sure that he would leave me, because I was not, well, see the list above. Mostly I was sure he would leave because I was broken, and I could not get better fast enough, and because sometimes broken people do things that seem inexplicable to other people. I would not have blamed him for it; I even urged him to go for his own good. Many things can change in a decade, for better or for worse. Thankfully, I’m continually improving. He can still leave, if he wants to. I can still leave. I hope neither or us does, but for whatever reason that could be chosen, that option will always exist for both of us.

      I believe you LW. I believe that your guy has good qualities and that he’s probably depressed. It is possible that he has trouble picking and choosing the right words, and that the things he said did not come out right. It is possible that those are rare instances and he just needs some guidance. It is possible that he has days when he feels so awful that he does everything he can to push you away. But if you want to stay with him, he needs to know how those words made you feel, and why it is not okay to say them again or express similar sentiments. When someone is having a tough time, it can be admirable to hang in there and see them through it, but sometimes that takes a very long time, indeed. The person having the tough time still has to do the work. Doing the work is not your job (it’s not even something you can do for them!); hanging in there isn’t even your job.

      Being polite and respectful to people is certainly something to strive for, but you are NEVER obligated to fix someone else’s problems or hang out indefinitely while they sort through their own mess. No, not even if they did something nice for you first, or put up with someone else’s crap because they wanted you in their life.

      You can decide whether or not you want to stay both by how willing he is to work on himself and his treatment of you (including how seriously he takes your conversation), and next by how he makes you feel. Situations can improve, but the first several months-2 years are often telling. If the relationship feels lukewarm to downright unpleasant now, it will most likely not get any better than this. This is the honeymoon period of awesome chemical connection, so if the most you can muster is “Meh. He’s a great friend, but being with him makes me feel bad,” ask yourself, is this really what I want? Don’t settle. Please, don’t ever settle in a romantic relationship for someone meh, no matter how much you love them or how good of a friend they are. If you are going to spend years in close proximity loving a person with issues, make sure that they treat you as a worthy human being 99%+ of the time and that you genuinely want to be with them, and that being with them makes you happy. You can love someone and not be with them. You can choose to stay today and leave tomorrow or five years from now. You can choose to leave today. It’s your life. Only you know which choice will make you happiest.

      But wait! What if one day you’re convinced that you’ve been blowing things out of proportion and he’s actually great and you’re happy, and the next he seems utterly insufferable, but every time you feel one way or the other, your entire relationship seems like it’s always been one way or the other? In this case you can write down how you feel about being in the relationship each day. If there are significantly more lows or mehs, perhaps the choice will become clear. But even if there are only a few lows, are they significant lows, are they boundary crossing behaviors? Either way, the practice might help you gain some perspective if you’re having doubts.

  29. LW, you are indeed totally awesome. We all admire and respect you hugely.

    I just wanted to share that ‘happiness not possible’ is something my partner and I have grappled with. He has had a lifetime of depression and for many years did not know what being happy felt like – neither short term joy and elation, nor long term contentment and satisfaction. He now says that things have changed, partly because depression in young men often becomes less crippling after the twenties, but also because his life has got better. Occasionally he says things like ‘isn’t it a beautiful day?’, and I want to cry because he never felt that for years and years.

    However, he always wanted to make changes, even when he was actually saying change was not possible (to avoid disappointment). He knew he needed to become more functional to keep our relationship good. He had to find a lot of courage to take those steps. It took ten years of gradual improvement for him to get to a place where he was satisfied with life and able to function well.

    Erm, what am I trying to say? I guess I am saying that if he is seriously depressed, things can get better – but only if he is brave enough. You will only be able to help if he wants you to, and wanting to help is not enough of a reason to stay – you should only stay if the relationship makes you happy overall.

    Good luck and lots of love and hugs if you want them!

  30. Current boyfriend did not bring you home from the animal shelter, and should not be allowed to behave as though he did.

    1. LOVE THIS.

      Though, you know, even people who bring home animals from the animal shelter don’t tend to tell the animal they’re disgusted with it for having been with a less-than-perfect family before being sent to shelter. Usually it’s CUDDLE ME FOREVER instead.

      1. I would like you and Elodieunderglass to have a metaphor-off. An epic, epic, metaphor-off.

      2. Oh. Man. As someone who just got a shelter dog recently, that really hit home.

        Because, I mean. It is hard to deal with, sometimes! She spooks at odd things. She’s absolutely terrified of other things. She’s clingy, panics if I leave her alone, and hasn’t quite figured out the rules of the house.

        But by god, she’s my sweetheart, and it’s not her fault that she was traumatized by her previous family. So when she panics at the sight of a U-Haul truck, I’m not going to yell at her over it. We stand there and talk through it and there are treats and…well, a girlfriend shouldn’t be treated like a shelter pet in the first place. But. Yeah. Even a shelter pet doesn’t get a “You disgust me for having been abused!” response. Or shouldn’t.

        *hugs her dog some more*

  31. This made me the SADDEST. Because literally and truly, up until you got to Dude #2 acting like a total cock, I was like, did I get drunk and black out and write the Captain a letter? Because this is ME.

    I had a Dude #2 who helped me away from terrible ex, and we started dating pretty quickly after. And I lucked out like hell because he was great. And I didn’t realize how lucky I was then — I did feel lucky, but only because somebody nice loved me, which was a reflection of my terrible self-esteem at the time. But now I can look back and see what a mess my head was, and how easy it would’ve been to fall into some terrible pit again, and I feel lucky in a whole other way.

    I knew during that time that I was susceptible to abusers — I mean, obviously — but I didn’t fully grasp how or why. So I was just hyper-alert, but I wasn’t sure what for. What I ended up doing was, every time something even a little bit unpleasant happened with Dude #2 (he leaves his beard hairs all over the sink after trimming, GROSS DUDE), I would force myself to think, “I could leave him for this and that would be okay.” I had to repeat that over and over just to remind myself, I can leave anybody for any reason. It doesn’t have to be good enough, or the right reason. I could leave him for this. I told my dude this little trick of mine once, and he totally endorsed it — he thought it was healthy for me, and healthy for us, because he wanted me to be with him because I loved being with him, not because there are only so many doors you’re allowed to leave through and I hadn’t found an unlocked one yet. There were times in arguments when I would shut down, go into numb dissociated terrified abuse mode, and he would stop everything to tell me, “I don’t want you to and I think we can work through this, but you could leave this room right now, or you could leave this relationship right now, and you would still be a good person and I would still love and respect you.”

    Another mental trick I used to find my footing was changing up my hypothesis. I mean, usually we assume people are doing things in good faith. We give a lot of benefit of the doubt. I stayed with my ex for a long time because the story was that he loved me and did all these things for me and for us, and so I started with that hypothesis and fudged all the data until it worked. Tells me I’m ugly? He’s really honest! Humiliates me in front of my friends? Nobody’s perfect! You know the drill. So, at some point, I switched the hypothesis, just in my head. I took the data and lined it up next to the hypothesis of “he is abusing me and hurting me on purpose, because he is cruel and wants me to be afraid of him,” and saw if the data lined up better. And holy shit, did it.

    So I did this with Dude #2 sometimes, too. If he said something that hurt me, big or small, intentional or not, I tried my two theories. “He is a good person who screwed up” and “He is hurting me on purpose.” And I’d go into the dreaded “I need to talk to you about what you just did” conversation with those two theories in mind, waiting to see how his reaction lined up with either. This was another handhold for me before I had my shit together to know exactly why I had ended up with an abuser, and how to recognize abuse. I was so used to what abuse felt like, I was afraid it could happen again and I wouldn’t even feel it. So I had my theories, my data-gathering, and my constant litany, “You could leave him and it would be okay.” Even though I’m happy to report back that Dude #2 never peeled his face off and revealed a barfy beehouse underneath, those tactics still helped me feel like I was able to define, interpret, and control my reality, and see the world around me, without having to give up my senses again (maladjusted as they were) and depend on somebody else to be my seeing-eye dog of emotional sanity, and just hope they wouldn’t lead me astray.

    1. Thank you for this. I’m in my first totally good and healthy relationship after one outright abusive and one unhealthy one — unfortunately the unhealthy one was “dude #2” in a similar situation to LWs, and I was with him for 3 years, so it kind of reinforced the confusion of “what the fuck is a healthy relationship even like?”

      It’s been hard trying to figure out what’s a big deal or not, since you get used to thinking that the things that ARE a big deal, aren’t, you know? …. you said it a lot better than I did 😛 But your comment really helped reaffirm that I’m really learning to get my shit together and to control my reality, and I’ve had a similar mantra of “I can leave whenever I want” for myself that’s been helping. So again, thanks. This really helped me feel better about how I’m doing with this.

  32. I’m just worried that I’m giving you guys the wrong idea. I mean, he’s really not a bad guy. He’s a very good guy. He’s kind, funny, helpful. He just has certain shortcomings. He really doesn’t mistreat me, I think it just came across like that in my letter. It just is overwhelming for him sometimes, partially because of his own past. It’s understandable that it freaks him out. And it’s true that I’ve never been in his position, so I’m not really in a place to understand it. For all I know his reactions are completely reasonable; that’s the stance I’ve been taking. I mean, it has to be hard knowing that your girlfriend stayed in an abusive relationship. In his eyes, I could be doing it again. Staying with him when I shouldn’t. That’s one of the reasons he doesn’t always want to touch me or be around me.

    To be fair, he doesn’t say things like that all the time. It’s not as bad as it seems. He’s only said it a few times, and the first time it was because I specifically asked him. So in this case he really was just being honest with me. He didn’t say it to hurt me, he just didn’t want to lie. And he does believe me. He just had a hard time getting it at first.

    I just don’t want to make him out to be some horrible monster. He’s not. I’m as much to blame for our troubles as he is, I’ve messed up plenty of times too. I just take things more personally than he does. I’m still going to talk to him. I just want you guys to know he’s not a bad person. I don’t want to exaggerate the situation or anything; it’s really not that terrible.

    1. It’s not your job to take responsibility for other people’s impressions or opinions. I mean, I’m not going to say strangers on the Internet don’t have an effect on your emotions in real life, because hello, what a big lie, but I feel like this is way more feelings-management than is warranted for a bunch of strangers on the internet. I’m a little eeked out by it, actually. That’s not a commentary on your current relationship, but like some other people have said here (and like I’ve experienced, too), when you get out of an abusive relationship, what other people think/feel/believe/imply/withhold/FIRTH carries a lot more weight than it should, because paying COMPLETE attention to those things and managing them constantly is how you survive an abusive relationship.

      If you erase all our commentary from your head and re-read your original letter, and it seems like a totally reasonable description of your problem, then don’t worry about what we think, man. The world is full of different people with many opinions, and people will think what they think regardless of how well you explain it. I have said, “God, I hate this weather” on a freezing cold day and gotten a response of “What you’d rather live in TEXAS?! You should count your blessings!” from somebody and what? Jeez. No. The hell? I don’t think you’ve failed to explain anything to us, or explained it badly, I think you just didn’t get the reaction you expected. That only has to matter if you think our opinions have some value, and you totally don’t have to think that — that is all your call.

      But here is the thing that eeks me. Whether or not your relationship is awesome or terrible or in a bad patch but will get better, whatever else is going on there, this comment here is still chock full of things that sound like what went through my head in my abusive relationship, and what still perks up to run through my head when I get in a bad way. That worries me. I mean, not like end of the world worries me — like I said, those kind of “it’s not that bad, what will people think, they’ll think I’m lying, I’m a whiner, I always complain, but really my life is great, why can’t I stop complaining, I’m so unreasonable, I’m making people pity me, this is mostly my fault, what will they think what will they think” pop into my head when I have a bad day at work, you know? It happens. But I remember when I had just left my abusive relationship, it happened *all the time.* That was the only way I knew how to react to people who 1) disagreed with me even mildly or 2) strong emotional reactions like fear, uncertainty, whatever, because in my experience, both those things were precursors to scary abuse, so they needed to be drowned in my “it’s not that bad!” rationalizations before they got too big to handle.

      That’s a rough and vulnerable way to live, and it made me way more dependent on other people’s feelings and reactions than I wanted to be, or could be if I wanted to keep myself safe from ever being abused again. So, whether your boyfriend is a monster or whether he’s a totally nice guy, that self-talk, that response, it’s eeky, and if you were my real-life friend I would totally grab your hand and go all “oh honey” when you said all that.

      All that said, one more thing: intention doesn’t matter. If your boyfriend intends to have hurt you, what a dick. If he doesn’t intend it, you’re still hurt. If he doesn’t intend it and you tell him he is hurting you and he keeps doing it, now he’s definitely a dick. But the end result of all this is still the same: you being hurt by somebody you love. He can be good or bad or nothing much, but you still don’t deserve to be hurt by somebody you love. You don’t have to endure being hurt by good people any more than you are obligated to endure pain from bad people. You can call it abuse or you can call it just being hurt too much by somebody you love; the source really doesn’t matter when it comes down to it, you are getting hurt and you don’t deserve to be hurt. And you don’t have to convince anybody of his internal characteristics or who he really is or whether or not he really meant it. That’s his job to do, and he does it through his own behavior and actions, not through his girlfriend’s mouth. So drop that job, ’cause you have enough on your plate.

    2. I just want to let you know that you deserve amazing. Not “all right” not “decent” not “not that terrible.” Whether it’s with this boyfriend or with someone else or by yourself. You deserve amazing. And keep telling yourself that.

    3. None of us have met him or actually observed his behavior, so while he might ring our warning bells, it’s hard to truly believe he’s a horrible person or anything like that.

      I had an ex (a non-abusive one who was a good person) and an abusive one that wasn’t a good person. There is a difference. And you’ve seen it with Guy #1 and Guy #2. However, the good person one was not a good match for me and it was a bad time in his life. So he didn’t always treat me all that well, but never horrible. We were both happier when we finally broke up. I’m not saying this is like your situation, your guy is probably a ton better than he was. But even if someone is a good person, a good friend, and not a dickface; that doesn’t have to mean he’s a good match dating-wise for you, specifically. (He might be a great match for someone else!) I guess this falls into the earlier mentioned it’s okay to leave for any reason, even if the guy isn’t horrible.

      You know this guy better than any of us ever will. I believe you when you say he’s not as bad as it first sounded like to us. So, that’s not the real problem here. The issue is how do you feel with him? Are you happy more times than not? Do you feel dread/stress/numbness/tears when going to see him or leaving afterwards? Do you feel ditzy/happy/excited/calm/peaceful/smiling for no reason before and after? Because that’s what a good relationship feels like. And I honestly never knew that could happen till a few months ago! I use those questions as my own criteria for deciding if a relationship is good for me or not since it can be really hard to tell sometimes! So even if he’s a great guy, usually nice to you; that’s all good. But do you enjoy being around him? The two questions aren’t the same. And I think someone mentioned earlier, it might be possible to remain friends with him and get the cool side without the stress of dating. You never have to defend yourself or him here. All that matters is what you think. You’re the only one here that knows him. We’re just guessing on the information we have. We trust you to know better than us. We just provide objective opinions, personal experiences that might relate, and all-around support.

      He doesn’t need to be a monster for you to deserve something different.

    4. Maybe his actions are reasonable for his past; that doesn’t mean you have to deal with them if they make you uncomfortable. By all means, talk about it with him if his reactions (reasonable or not) are hurting you. And if he doesn’t care or can’t make any real adjustments, you don’t have to take that. It sounds like a lot of stress and second-guessing yourself. Maybe it’s worth it. But you need time to heal and process on your own without the added stress. Relationships don’t have to be overly stressful. They can be fun and stress-reducing!

    5. What M Dubz and MK said. Maybe you’ll be able to work through your problems and be happy with each other, and that’s great. But if you end up having to leave him, it won’t mean he’s a horrible monster who doesn’t deserve to be with anybody ever. It will mean the two of you don’t work with each other, and that ultimately you’re *both* better off not being a couple.

      Good luck, however things play out. And thanks for checking in.

      1. My message got caught by the spam filter when I first posted it. So, what M Dubz and MK AND pfcmarie AND other people have said. All y’all rock.

    6. He can be a totally awesome guy and still not be awesome for YOU, or awesome for you at this point in your life. It’s up to you.

      For instance, if he’s still super freaked out about what happened with your ex (which is pretty natural) and he’s wanting you to help him deal, it is totally reasonable for you to think “dude’s totally natural emotions and needs are more than I can cope with right now.” His good or badness has actually nothing to do with if the relationship is worth it for you.

    7. Hey! I have a past too. And depression, which I cannot treat in any way because I’m too poor. So I know what this baggage is like, at least in my own way. And when someone brings something to me that is overwhelming when I’m juggling being poor and wanting to die and trying to find work and feeling hopeless, I am not mean to them. I tell them that I just cannot help right now, because I am depressed and that makes me a very bad audience. Then I ask them if they can’t get some advice from someone else, because I care but I’m not that good at doing stuff all the time. Yep, I bail right the hell out. Because sometimes, that is all I have in me. And it’s still way better than being mean or using up a bunch of my time/energy to tell someone why everything is their fault.

      I say this because I used to blame myself when other people were mean to me, because I’d been abused. Not by a dude, but at home, by my parents. They didn’t have time to help, but funny, they always had time to tell me how shitty I was. I didn’t talk to anyone for years. When I finally did, my friends surprised me by being receptive and appalled at how I’d grown up. Turns out I was wrong about everything always being my fault, or me being some kind of major mover in every sad thing in my life. You are wrong about that too, even if it’s a bit muddy right now. Please, take my experience and learn from it, so you don’t have to be any more hurt than you already have been.

    8. On the one hand, LW, I totally get that this guy does have good things going for him. There are reasons you want to stick by him that are about him! And it’s not that we don’t see that.

      It’s just, the bad things he has experienced are not actually excuses for treating you badly. Nor are they reasons why anyone is obligated to stay in a relationship with him. Which might be scary–maybe part of you is thinking, “If I give up on him for being flawed, won’t people give up on me for being flawed?” But the truth is, perfect people don’t exist. Everyone’s flawed. We live with each other anyway, people will accept you anyway, and you and I and your guy are still not allowed to hurt the people around us.

      This guy does not need to be a monster for what he’s doing to not be okay. You don’t have to be horrendously abused to deserve better. What we are saying would not be any less true if your relationship was 99% kittens and rainbows, and 1% him calling you a nickname you dislike. You still get to ask him not to do things that hurt you, and you still get to resent or break up with him.

      Sidebar: He’s not actually alone in how awful he feels; about 1 in 6 of people have or will feel seriously depressed and hopeless in their lives. And maybe it makes him feel good in a weird way to think that he is so special and totally unique that people wouldn’t understand him if he explained himself. That’s at least one distinction, right? So he’s not in the place to see that actually, he is part of a vast body of humanity who all suffer together, and that he can still be worthwhile even if he doesn’t stand out from the crowd there.

      It’s just, you know, therapists hear a lot of reasons why people feel awful about themselves. “I feel awful because I was abused as a child.” “I feel awful because someone I love was abused.” “I feel awful because everyone I love died in a car crash last week.” HUGE RANGE OF ISSUES. And yet, counselling can help people who have gone through the unbearable and unimaginable, as well as the ordinary and everyday. And there’s not actually an award for Best Reason To Feel Crappy, and you don’t get fined for “feeling worthless without good reason”.

      1. “If I give up on him for being flawed, won’t people give up on me for being flawed?”

        OMG THIS. This drove so much of my behavior for such a long time. I had this one friend who helped me out of a bad situation once, then slowly turned into this overwhelming mummy curse of a friend, just showing up at my apartment late at night, demanding my time, throwing fits, pushing on my boundaries, needing me not to have other closer friends. They were going through a bad time so I was all, “Well, she helped me out of a bad time! What would it say about me if I didn’t help her?” And eventually I realized, “What it would say about me is that I don’t want to be her friend because I feel like crap every time I’m around her, and that’s okay.” But it took an embarrassingly long time and some seriously horrible boundary-crossings to figure that out!

        Basically, tit-for-tat values are not the same thing as happiness, good character, or sanity. They confer no magic points, and are not as important as actual, tangible things such as “I can barely get out of bed today because as soon as I do this fucked-up friend is going to expect that I call her.”

        1. Sorry for extra bonus reply to myself! I was thinking about this more on my drive to work, why I used to do this, and it occurred to me that this sort of overly simplistic, mandatory, easily exploitable value system I used to have (you helped me, I help you! you forgive me, I forgive you! If I have ever been angry in my life, that means you get to yell at me!) was something I used when I didn’t have a sense of myself as a good person. Being a good, worthwhile person was something I had to perform constantly, and prove constantly, though this series of what seemed like reasonable rules at the time. You’re flawed? I’m flawed! I’m not allowed to be hurt by your flaws because that would be hypocritical because I have sometimes hurt others. There! Good person points earned! That’ll stem the tide of my inherent awfulness for awhile.

          Not that these are inherently bankrupt value systems — helping others, having empathy, those are all great tools to have in your toolbag for getting through life in a way that is pleasant and meaningful. But until I believed that I was inherently, at my core, good and worthwhile — that I wasn’t just one step away from being a worthless monster at any moment — I was susceptible to having my worth and goodness defined by the people around me, their feelings, their beliefs, their reactions, and what they wanted from me. If I didn’t perform the tit-for-tat value dance, I lost my goodness, and that meant I was fair game to be hated on and abused, because bad people deserve bad things.

          I was just thinking of it because my abusive ex was “depressed,” too — I don’t mean to be a dick, I’m sure he actually was depressed to some extent, but his “depression” was also a way to control me. If he was depressed and lashing out and I decided not to take it, BOOM, now I’m a bad person, because *he* held me once when I cried, and I’m so selfish I can’t return the favor. Or if he was depressed and I didn’t feel like scuttling all my plans so I could pull him out of bed and dress and feed him and listen to him cry, well, he took care of me when I was sick once, apparently I can’t reciprocate. And in my mind, I had this idea that leaving a sadsack man was just the lowest blow ever, because god knows I had been in bad ways before and friends had stayed loyal to me, and so if I couldn’t do the same I didn’t deserve that loyalty. To leave him, I had to make my peace with being a shitty evil monster who hurt the people I loved and didn’t deserve kindness, and I just decided that would be better than living with him because GOD, he treated me like I was one “didn’t bring you a glass of wine when you didn’t want to get up” away from that all the time anyway.

          Anyway, main point is, LW, if you feel like you have some obligation to stay with your dude through this bad patch because he helped you through yours, that won’t actually make you a worthwhile person, and it won’t gain you any points. You are a worthwhile person to begin with, you don’t need to earn it through pain and unhappiness. All staying with dude will do is keep you with dude, so if that’s a good enough prize, go for it, but if you were hoping for something more, eeeeeeeeeeeeeee run.

          1. PFCMarie, I just wanted to say I LOVE the person you have made of yourself, after all the shit you’ve been through. You are living proof that depression is a big fat liar. ‘Cause you were the same person inside the whole time, and now that the clouds have parted you shine like a star.

    9. I really like your plan. You are making difficult choices, and I know that can be hard work. You have my support and my respect. I offer the thoughts below in case they may be useful.

      I encourage you to make your choice about whether to stay in the relationship based on what is healthiest for you. Possibly from conditioning from being brought up a girl in mainstream American culture, I know that I sometimes stay in a relationship (or conversation or whatever) because I think the other person has earned it, or I owe it to them. Perhaps you do this too. Through many years of counseling, I am coming to see that this is not fair to me, and not the best thing to do. It’s really not about whether he is a good person nor whether his reactions are understandable. It’s about whether you are better off in this relationship with him, staying away from him until you can be together without fighting, or some other possibility.

      I have some understanding of depression, having lived with it for at least 25 of my 43 years. I can understand why he says that talking won’t help, no-one can help him, you won’t understand because you are not in his situation. Sometimes when I am in the grip of depressive thinking, everything feels hopeless, I feel powerless, and I cannot even verbalize out loud the thoughts running around my head. Despite that, I doubt things will change until he takes some action about it – talking with you, finding a support group, going to counseling, starting an exercise program – something that shifts things for him. About the most you can do to help him is to let him know you support him and to remain nonjudgmental. That will help if and when he is ready to take on the depression, but he needs to do that.

      You also wrote in a comment that “I worry I’m hurting his feelings and all that jazz. Not that he says it – it’s just more that I’m really sensitive to that kind of thing.” That sounds like something I’ve done. I can twist myself all up trying to guess what the other person is thinking or feeling. Finally, I’ve decided that I am better off asking the other person whether they feel hurt, then trust them to tell me. The other person is responsible for their own feelings, and it only causes me misery to worry that maybe I said things wrong even when they tell me I didn’t. You’ve got enough on your plate without having to second guess that.

      I did break up with a good guy who was a long-time boyfriend because we weren’t right for each other. I wanted to talk through relationship issues, and he never did. He would keep telling me things were fine, then suddenly blow up at me. Now I’m married to a good guy who is a good fit. I trust him when he tells me he’s not upset about something (and often don’t even have the second-guessing thoughts anymore). Our communication styles mesh well, so we can talk about relationship challenges that come up. He’s not better than the other guy, just better for me.

      What does your counselor say about your relationship with Guy #2? You might take some of what you read here, and run it by them to get a professional opinion.

      You get to choose what to do. I agree with others that you don’t have to settle for “not terrible”. Whatever you decide, we support you in finding happiness. I hope you have other friends who support you too. **Jedi hugs!**
      – Janice

    10. “I mean, it has to be hard knowing that your girlfriend stayed in an abusive relationship.”


      It must be hard to think about your OH suffering in a relationship, because no-one wants to think about people they care about being hurt. But STAYING isn’t actually that hard to understand. Abusers keep you there by undermining your self-esteem and cutting you off from your support network and limiting your ways to get out. They do this before they start abusing you, in small, subtle ways. You stayed because you didn’t see the relationship as abnormal; you stayed because you couldn’t get out; you stayed because you thought the abuser would change, or because they promised you they would change.

      I might be angry that a friend chose to stay in an abusive relationship, at the abuser, but I’d understand if they felt they couldn’t leave.

      ‘Why did you stay with such a horrible person’ is just another form of victim blaming.

      If he really, truly wants to understand why you stayed in an abusive relationship, there are so many resources all over the web which explain it.

      Why is he making your pain about him?

      1. Also, someone else’s past is not about you.

        LW, you didn’t stay in an abusive relationship AT your current boyfriend. You didn’t even leave that relationship AT him, you did it for your own reasons, though with his help. He didn’t pick you up like flotsam drifting in a storm, or someone floating in a boat without oars or drinking water, he helped you rescue yourself.

        Yes, a decent person may be angry at their current partner or friend’s abusive ex, but that’s anger is theirs to manage. If you are over the anger, or would rather not think about it, they aren’t entitled to vent to you. There are seven billion other people on this planet, including other friends, professional counselors, bartenders, and strangers on long-distance train trips. He can talk to some of them about how it’s bothering him.

    11. It doesn’t have to be his fault, his intention, he doesn’t have to be a monster, a bad guy, or even being a jerk.
      Regardless of how understandable, how reasonable, how justifiable, how mostly-fine, how infrequent his poor behaviour/mood/attitude is, it is effecting you enough that you felt moved to ask for advice because you wanted it to improve. You want the behaviour/mood/attitude of his which is negatively effecting you to cease, because it is negatively effecting you. Yes?

      He doesn’t have to be a bad guy, or be doing it on purpose, to do things that hurt you. It can be rare and entirely inadvertent, and you still don’t have to put up with it. There is no quota of things-that-make-you-feel-shitty in a relationship that you have to endure in order to feel like a good person or supportive partner. Somethings he is saying, doing, expressing, some of the ways he is treating you, however infrequent or justifiable or reasonable, are hurting you. You don’t have to put up with it.
      You don’t have an obligation to be hurt or upset accidentally because he doesn’t do it on purpose.

      You want this behaviour to change, so you can feel happier. Yes, it’s better than Guy #1. Yes, he helped you out, he was there for you and put himself in a bad situation for you. Yes, he’s depressed. Depression is selfish. It can make people only care about themselves or be unable to think about others for a while, to accidentally hurt them when they don’t mean to.

      It might not be his fault but it’s also definitely not your fault and you’re not obligated to defend him. It doesn’t matter what we think about him. You want this behaviour, which is making you unhappy, to change. Like Captain said, tell him what you want to be different, and be prepared to leave if it isn’t, because no matter how good of a guy he is, if he’s making you unhappy and won’t change, then you may have to leave in order to be happy.

      I said it before but it bears repeating: remember, your needs have changed. When you got together with Guy #2, you were trying to escape Guy #1 in-tact. Now he’s out of the picture, you’re not in survival-immediate-danger mode, you need to heal and move on with life. Guy #2 might have been a great help for getting out of the dangerous situation, but it sounds like he’s a hindrance to the healing and moving on stage.

    12. I second the “why” above. It can be hard to know your significant other was hurt by someone, especially if it makes you feel guilty for not having somehow magically prevented it. But you weren’t in an abusive relationship AT him, as others have said; you weren’t taking action to hurt him by staying.

      I really did like the plan you outlined above, and I think it speaks volumes to how together and amazing you are, being able to lay things out so clearly for yourself in terms of a plan of action. He must have good qualities, because you are a terrifyingly amazing person who says he has good qualities! Just because he’s a good person, however, doesn’t mean you’re contractually obligated to stay with him.

      I mean, it has to be hard knowing that your girlfriend stayed in an abusive relationship. In his eyes, I could be doing it again. Staying with him when I shouldn’t. That’s one of the reasons he doesn’t always want to touch me or be around me.

      I’m not saying that those feelings aren’t hard for him to manage; despite the fact that I second the “why?” question above, he’s feeling his feelings. However, he may be making you responsible for managing those feelings. If he avoids you because he’s afraid you may just stay with him when you “shouldn’t,” doesn’t that place you in the role of reassuring him that you want to stay, he’s a good guy, and etc? Doesn’t that position then invoke the corollary that, if you leave, it’s because you “should”/because he’s abusive?

      There is no “should” for relationship endings, because you don’t need a reason. You can leave because you want to, because you feel like it, just because. And you can stay for all the same (non)reasons.

      As someone wrote above, no one will judge you here if you want to stay with him. Your plan is awesome. We believe you if you say he’s a good guy. You don’t need to defend him or your choices to us, because we will support whatever path you choose to take. Keep on being awesome, LW. 🙂

    13. [quote]I’m just worried that I’m giving you guys the wrong idea. I mean, he’s really not a bad guy. He’s a very good guy. He’s kind, funny, helpful. He just has certain shortcomings.[/quote]

      I have a friend like this! And the shortcoming is pretty minor: When he argues, he tends to get loud, and he gets freaked out by people who keep their voices even. When I argue, I tend to keep my voice even, and get freaked out by people who start yelling. (I for one have past experiences with people who used the style of argument that I’m not comfortable with, usually when I was not in a position to set boundaries. It’s super-upsetting, and much the same for him.)

      He is an awesome friend. I have called him in tears at close to midnight. I have gone on a four-hour bus trip on an hour’s notice when he needed me. He understands an incredible number of things that are really important to me, and he is kind and thoughtful and honest and good.

      If we were in a relationship with each other (instead of with our respective spouses), we would be *terrible* together. This is not because he’s not a good friend and an amazing person. This is because that if we were required to build a life together, we would be tiptoeing around disagreements and letting problems fester and quietly resenting the other because we couldn’t bring ourselves to be honest, and…

      Oh, god, it would be ugly. And he would still be an awesome guy. Just an awesome guy who was miserable and was making his SO miserable.

      [quote]It just is overwhelming for him sometimes, partially because of his own past. It’s understandable that it freaks him out. And it’s true that I’ve never been in his position, so I’m not really in a place to understand it. For all I know his reactions are completely reasonable; that’s the stance I’ve been taking.[/quote]

      They really aren’t.

      Listen, I understand that this analogy is not the same (and is not as good as some of the analogies you can find on this site) so bear with me, but it’s the best I can manage right now:

      Say you have a good friend, and this friend is in a car accident. It is not her fault! She wasn’t driving, and there is a gap between the time you start to realize there is a problem and the time you can safely get out of a vehicle that is currently in motion. In this case, that time gap was long enough for her to be badly hurt because the driver was a dangerous and irresponsible asshat, and the driver caused the collision that hurt your friend.

      So your friend gets her bones set, and gets physiotherapy, and goes on with her life. And life comes around to the point where you are often driving with your friend in the car. Perhaps you become roommates, and you work near each other, or something.

      Do you tell the friend that it’s hard to believe the accident was *really* painful? (Does this really mean “I don’t want to believe that the other driver was that bad a driver. Even though I’ve seen how awful he can be when he’s not driving, I’d rather entertain the possibility that my good friend is outright lying than think she might be right.”?)

      Do you tell the friend that the idea of giving her a car ride somewhere disgusts you, and you can’t stand to let her in the car? Do you do this because you think she might be choosing to put herself near a bad driver, and you don’t trust her to make that decision? (But only sometimes. Other times, you decide not to worry about your driving skills and let her in the car. It’s just that *sometimes* you want her to not be near you, and you accomplish this by telling her that you’re disgusted by the idea of having her around.)

      Do you think that you are being a good friend when you do these things? A kind person?

      Now, okay, maybe you have deep-rooted causes that make it hard for you to accept that you can be an okay driver. Maybe you’re afraid that you will screw up, and your friend will get hurt again, because. At that point the line is “Friend, I’m having a bad brain day and I’m going to freak out if I’m responsible for a passenger,” possibly followed up by “No, dammit, you cannot make this better by telling me it’s okay. This is not me saying something sad so you will cuddle me and give me attention (because I know you do that sometimes). This is me telling you I need space and I can’t be around you right now because of my own hang-ups, not because of anything wrong with you.”

      The line is not “Sorry, friend, I’m too ‘disgusted by’ what happened to you to let you into my car.”

      Yes, you have motivations for behaving badly. But your treatment of your friend still isn’t reasonable, and you don’t get to make your past her problem, you know?

      [quote]I mean, it has to be hard knowing that your girlfriend stayed in an abusive relationship.[/quote]

      Uhm. No. …well, it’s heart-breaking sometimes, and you can really feel for someone who wasn’t able to get out of a bad situation. But it is not the kind of “hard” that ever means you lose your temper and treat the other person badly. “Honey, you weren’t a superhero back when bad things were happening to you, so I’m just going to seethe and make things uncomfortable every now and then” is not reasonable behaviour.

    14. LW: it doesn’t matter if he’s a good guy deep down. Really. Does. Not. Matter. What matters is how he treats you. And, as you acknowledge, he has “certain shortcomings” in how he treats you – shortcomings that are unacceptable in a boyfriend. You don’t add up the nice things and subtract his emotional abuse and stick around if it’s not totally negative, any more than you move to the middle of the desert because the 100+-degree highs and below-zero lows mean it’s an “average” comfortable temperature.

    15. LW, I know it can be hard to describe someone well, especially when you’re trying to talk about problems in how that person interacts with you. And feeling that you’ve misrepresented someone can be distressing! I can’t count how many times I’ve complained about my spouse to someone and then followed it up with “I mean I love him & overall he’s a great guy, it’s just this thing…” [*]

      The thing is, Guy #2 can be a good person, and a bad partner, both. He can be the kind of guy who is an awesomely loyal friend, and yet kind of a dick boyfriend. If that’s the case with him — good person, not awesome boyfriend — the good news is that it’s probably fixable…with therapy. If he won’t go to therapy, or at the very least stop acting like a dick to you, it’s not your job to put up with the dickishness. You can choose to, if you want to, of course, but please do consider the possibility of a non-dickish person.

      [*] This is a solid, good relationship of nearly 16 years’ duration. It is not complaint-free, because damn, nothing is in this world, but I promise you these things exist. Therapy helped, by the by.

  33. Oh LW, I have been in your shoes (not exactly, but a pair with many identical features). You said that you broke up with the abuser in Feb. 2012, and got together with # 2 a few months later, although he had been in your vicinity as a friend prior to this. So you guys have been together for 8?9? months or so. I have to tell you something: these major fights, the tension, his avoidance about dealing with a bad thing that happened to you are not things that happen in a healthy relationship, whether you are still messed up from the prior abuse that happened to you, whether he is depressed.

    My first long term relationship(3 years) was with a guy who was very covertly emotionally abusing me, and all kinds of hurtful things came to light after the relationship ended. I took a break and started dating again 4 months later. I was certainly guarded and had some very strong boundaries – but I had the first emotionally healthy relationship in my life. My new guy didn’t make fun of me, didn’t ignore my efforts, didn’t lie to me, didn’t stand by while his pals said insulting things to my face, didn’t yell at me or make me cry ! Healthy Guy and I had a few disagreements about what amounted to philosophical differences, where I maybe felt annoyed and exasperated, ditto for him, but no one was yelling, storming out, calling names or fucking someone else out of spite, then lying about it.

    Sadly, this healthy relationship lasted for a couple of years, but then I reconnected (as in talked to, not started sleeping with) with this person that I thought was the love of my life (from before the crappy 3 year relationship), and broke up with healthy guy, and got strapped in for 15+ years of really intense psychological abuse and manipulation. The BIG LOVE relationship got off to a glowing start, and I finally felt right, complete, understood, etc.. That is until the confusing behaviour began, the contradictions, the way over the top big gifts/big favours, then the complaints/resentment about how spoilt I was, and the way that his sad/bad/angry moods became like the weather, and I was a plant who was rooted in the ground who could only respond to the weather. This slope was way slippery, and after the trouble started IT NEVER STOPPED. Several individual and couples therapists later, none of whom identified or addressed his abusive and manipulative behaviour, I was trapped in a nightmare relationship that had slowly become completely focussed on HIM and his moods/opinions/preferences/schedule. Ongoing depression may have been an aspect of some of the wrongness on his end – but the cruel, hurtful, petty things that were said and done were utterly deliberate. There was a pattern throughout his life with former “friends”, colleagues, clients. That his behaviour was abusive dawned on me within the first year that we lived together. It was very hard to understand that this person that I really, truly loved, and admired, and desired, and liked many, many good things about would DO THIS ON PURPOSE, TO HURT ME, ON PURPOSE.

    If he is hurting you now, he will hurt you in the future, unless he makes major steps to address his attitudes and behaviour (this really isn’t about his feelings).

    If you haven’t yet, please do some reading about abuse and manipulation in relationships. Lundy Bancroft, author of “Why Does He Do That: Inside the Minds of Angry and Controlling Men”(which I found to be a such a helpful book that I am on my third copy) has written a new book called “Should I Stay or Should I Go ?”. This is aimed at women to help them sort out whether a relationship is worth staying in, working on or leaving. It addresses some aspects of abusive behaviour, as well as defining what a healthy relationship looks/acts like. It has many questions and exercises to help a women in a “difficult” relationship sort this stuff out for themselves. I have been out of my very traumatic relationship for several years,
    and even though I am not even dating, I thought this book brought up many questions and perspectives that were really helpful.

    *Suggestion for the Captain: Maybe a site bookshelf with recommended titles and comments from your readers about the books that helped/inspired them would be a good resource for newcomers and regulars alike ?*

    1. I don’t actually have a good resource list, so if you want to start putting something together email me.

  34. Also possibly relevant:

    I don’t want to push on the “what you should do” button here, just leaving this here to illustrate: 1) It takes a while to learn this one, 2) I’ve done it before and I’ll do it again, 3) everybody has and everybody will because 4) falling into the Good Enough trap is so, so easy, because hey, it’s Good Enough but 5) we all deserve better than Good Enough.

    Content note: The post linked is SFW, but if you start clicking through to view the rest of the blog, it’s sooooooo NSFW.

  35. This is not the point of this thread at all, but there have already been some wonderful comments which I’m gonna reply to.

    I just wanted to thank every single person on this thread who has talked about their experiences with partners who were awesome and supportive about their abuse*. It’s helping me to feel like I’m doing a halfway decent job of supporting my wonderful partner, and teaching me to do it better.

    I’mma go somewhere and sniffle into a tissue for a bit now.

    *Uh…you get the idea, right?

  36. so i talked to guy #2. it went well. he agreed to go to therapy, although he says it probably won’t help. i made him promise to go in with an open mind, though. he apologized for the things he’s said that were hurtful. i told him that if things don’t change, i’m leaving. i almost did yesterday, to be honest… it was very close. and he knows that. so i think we have a real chance. and if it doesn’t work, it’s over.

    1. Good job having a scary, hard talk. I hope you see some pretty immediate results in him treating you better.

  37. Good for you, LW. I hope it works out. I must say that I thought this was one of Captain Awkward’s less helpful and considerate pieces of advice. It’s all too easy to condemn someone else’s relationship to the dustbin, ain’t it, CA? And her chorus of cheerleaders always yelling “girl, ditch that zero and get yourself a hero” – not constructive at all. Clearly you love this guy. I hope you make it through. Peace.

    1. It’s true, every time someone breaks up I masturbate to their hot tears. [/sarcasm]

      Or it could be that when someone calls you “disgusting” and can’t bear to touch you and implies that you are lying or exaggerating your past, they have maybe crossed over into “not a good boyfriend” territory and need to be jerked back hard.

      1. Hi Jennifer. I sent a reply to this, but it doesn’t appear. Did you censor it, or should I send it again?

        1. Pierre, I’ve read/moderated/spammed so many comments in the last few weeks I honestly can’t remember. Go ahead and send it again, if it’s appropriate it will show up.

  38. I know this isn’t a particularly relevant letter anymore. But I just wanted to say again that things are working out and our relationship is improving. We’re still on somewhat thin ice – after a reality-check like that, we’d have to be. But we’ve been getting along better, and he’s scheduled an appointment to begin therapy! I’m just really happy and wanted to share the news. Thanks again to everybody who gave advice etc.

    Also, Pierre specifically – I know what you mean, but the way this thread went was actually really helpful for me. I’m not great at discerning between normal-couple-fights and not-okay-fights, sometimes. So the things everyone said helped me to accept that some of what was going on was -not okay- and that I have the right/ability/choice to end the relationship over things like that without having to feel guilty. I chose to stay, like I’ve said. But it’s good to be reminded that the option is there and I don’t need to justify it. It justifies itself.

    But yes. Thank you again for the help, so much, it means more than I know how to explain. 🙂

    1. I for one am glad to hear how things are going for you. If some clear communication about what you need from him — and the therapy that is part of that — helps your current guy stop being the adjacent teakettle of badness and become a crepe pan of contentment, more power to you both!

      I definitely think you, personally, have what it takes to heal and move forward. It comes through in everything you say.

      As for your guy, even if he scoffs at the notion of Happiness as a Hallmark sentiment, hopefully he can see that gradations of happiness matter and are worth fighting for whether or not you believe in the promised land… and by acting accordingly maybe he will find himself happy someday even if he can’t imagine it now. You don’t have to believe in a place for steps in the right direction to take you there.

      Remember, though, no matter how hard he tries, what matters is whether he succeeds in being an asset to your life and your recovery, not the guy who drags you backwards. And if you did decide you needed to move on, he would have benefitted from therapy, and from the example you are setting about healthy boundaries, figuring out what you need from a relationship, and good communication. And from learning to fight to be less unhappy, at least … whether he is able to put that stuff to use in the short term or not. So the fact that he is trying should not be something either of you sees as something you will owe him for. Inspiring him to fight for his own mental health is a gift.

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