Advertisements

#816 “A new relationship that should be great is complicated.”

Hi Captain,

I’ve dug through your archives but haven’t seen anything specifically on this topic–apologies if I’ve overlooked something–but I’m wondering what advice you have to give for partners who make the decision to work through a mistake and rebuild confidence in each other.

Long story short: I’ve been dating my partner for a few months, but we’ve been very close & important presences in each others’ lives as friends for about 2 years before we began dating. About a month ago he made a very stupid, but not unforgivable, mistake involving an ex of his as they tested the waters to see if they could function as friends (turns out, no, they can’t). He has been nothing but honest and forthright about it since it happened, and although we were both unsure before this happened as to how seriously we could commit to each other (eg: neither of us felt comfortable using boyfriend or girlfriend as a term then or now, but agreed what we are is much more than just “seeing each other.” It’s somewhere in between), since this all went down we have both doubled down on supporting and prioritizing each other as a couple.

We are also both going through the joyful process of cutting an ex out of our lives, because in both cases they love us more than we can ever love them & cannot healthily function in a 100% platonic environment with us at this moment. So space and time is in order for healing. Which is giving us both anxiety (both for ourselves and for each other) and making us very sad. We are trying to balance that line of support–historically we have leaned on each other during times of anxiety and stress–and also take into play your “not my circus, not my monkeys” rule to manage our anxieties and control issues (eg: I think he’s taking the “typing http://www.google.com with one finger when he could just use Chrome” route to cutting his ex out, and desperately want to tell him to metaphorically scooch over so I can do it for him, but his path cannot be my problem so long as he handles it in a way that doesn’t hurt me).

We both lead full lives with hobbies that we share, hobbies we don’t share, friends we share, friends we don’t share. I’m doubling down on the self-care and detachment (from trying to control the way he handles his issue with his ex) and he is staying present and vigilant about executing his goals while also practicing self-care. Even still, it’s difficult. Now that the holidays are over it has been particularly hard not to ruminate, and while I’m journaling and working through several aspects of this within myself, I also feel the need for support. (Just today I emailed my old therapist to see if she takes my new insurance) After keeping it to myself for a couple days I finally confessed to him that I’m still struggling and feeling sad/hurt/anxious. He said he is too, but that we’re living with it as we work through it, which feels very accurate. And then I felt guilty for bringing it up at all, which is a whole different barrel of social conditioning worms (I am female, partner is male–late twenties, early thirties respectively).

I guess my question is: we’ve decided to stick it out and work through a difficult time… now what? Both of our ingrained reactions are to cut and run when things get messy, but we want to try (with the understanding that it could fail anyway) and I’m feeling a little lost for what to do. Is this just how it is?

Sincerely,
Longing For A Reset Button, Would Be Happy With A User Manual

Dear Looking For A Reset Button,

What I am getting from your letter is that your old friend/new romantic partner a) messed around with his ex after starting to date you, b) has agreed to cut said ex out of his life, and c) has not done so yet.  – (I think he’s taking the “typing http://www.google.com with one finger when he could just use Chrome” route to cutting his ex out”)

You are also cutting your own ex out of your life, and your current partner is the one you would normally talk to to talk about these things, but since the… incident… you’ve both agreed to not talk about it for a while to spare each other’s feelings. Which means, practically, that there is all this dramatic “stuff” going on which you are maturely and rationally deciding to not talk about together, so…there it sits…Not Talked About. But not Gone, or Unimportant.

You weren’t necessarily technically exclusive when your dude messed around with his ex, so you’re not sure you should use the word “cheating” to describe what happened, and yet? You kinda feel cheated on. “We can’t ever be friends because we can’t trust ourselves not to sleep together”/”I’m cutting off all contact with Ex…verrrrrrrry sloooooowwwwwwly” (aka he has not yet cut off contact) is the emotional territory of the “mistake” he made and his relationship with is ex and the source of the ongoing anxiety between you. But because of your very kind and mature “not my circus, not my monkeys” approach of trying to let him work everything out on his own time, you feel like you can’t even ask questions like “Hey, are you still talking to/hanging out with your ex? Do you really think that’s a good idea? Are those 10 or so texts* vibrating on your phone across the room in the last hour from your ex? Do I have anything to worry about? I really want to be cool about everything, but I honestly can’t relax because I’m worried about more ‘mistakes’ down the road. Can I get a little reassurance here?

(*The screenwriter in me can’t help picturing a scenario where your phone is almost out of battery so you see if you can use his to confirm the showtimes of the movie you are about to see and instead of reflexively handing over his phone he is like “I’ll look it up!” (even though he is driving) or he does hand over his phone and when he does a text from Ex comes in and it’s like “It was so great to see you yesterday! xxooxx“)

I think you are doing the right stuff by reaching out to your support system for additional perspectives. Call that therapist you’ve been thinking of reaching out to. Make plans with your friends and make sure your free time isn’t revolving around the relationship right now when it feels so unsteady.

Furthermore, give yourself permission to stop being so cool/chill/laid back and spell out what you want, stuff like, “I want you to have whatever level of contact with your ex is comfortable for you – you work that out however you need to and I don’t really care. However, I do care a lot about how much that whole thing is allowed to impact me and us and it bothers me that this is a source of conflict between us so early into our relationship. If the merest contact with Ex is still a temptation to have sex/If a message from Ex or thoughts of them can still throw off your whole day/OUR whole evening together, then maybe you just need more time to sort your stuff out before you try to date me, or you need to work a little harder to talk to a therapist or some close friends and get that stuff out of your system so it’s not looming over my time with you. I love you, and I want to be with you, but for me a good relationship means being not having to work at being in each other’s company. You can’t be down your phone-hole all evening, or sigh dramatically and then say ‘nothing…well…I can’t talk about it because of…our agreement’ when I ask you, ‘what’s wrong?’ If you need more time to sort yourself out before you can relax and just be with me, I’d rather wait a bit and have us both come correct than fuck it up.

I’ve imbued your probably perfectly lovely partner with the personality of Emo Kylo Ren in this blog post strictly for hyperbolic illustration purposes, so don’t feel like you have to defend how great he is against my unfair “dramatic sigher” mischaracterization. If you’re also recently out of a breakup, you’re probably used to your romantic life involving a lot of work, and telling yourself stuff like: “We’ve got to work through this” “Let’s work it out!” “I’m willing to do the work, if he is.” “Good love takes work!” “We can work it out!” You’re two-ish months into a great new relationship, and you’re writing to me because this thing that should be making you very happy is making you very anxious instead and your effort to be the cool, chill, relaxed girlfriend is backfiring because YOU ARE NOT ACTUALLY RELAXED RIGHT NOW. Whatever happiness and trust in a relationship looks like for you, write it down for yourself and remind yourself what that is, talk it out with trusted folks, and ask your partner for it.

My other suggestion is to regularly check in with yourself about how you are feeling. I’ve been having good luck with iMoodJournal, an app which reminds me a few times a day to record my mood and to assign key words to certain moods. Since I suck at naming my own feelings, it’s been pretty helpful to have a prompt to record them and simple words/color associations to do it with, and it’s been REALLY helpful to have the data and the associations over time, like, “Hey, this certain day of the week is always crappy, what goes on on that day that brings me down? Huh, it’s the same hashtag of (terrible coworker’s name)(most hated task) all the time, how interesting,” or, “Look, right here’s where the new head meds kicked in. The day-to-day didn’t get perfect, viewed but over time, the whole curve corrected slightly upward.

Whether you use an app or a journal or a mood ring, maybe try gathering some honest FEELINGSDATA. So sexy and romantic, right? This is my reasoning, though:

If your relationship with this guy is gonna work (and by work, I mean, “make you feel happy and good”), it is going to take time. By forgiving his “mistake”, by agreeing not to pry into how he handles things with the Ex, by being careful and gentle about each other’s feelings, by admitting that you both have tendencies to bail at the first sign of trouble and pinky-swearing not to do that this time, what you are buying in exchange is that time – “We need a little more time to work this out. I think that the prospect of a romance with you is worth the trade-off of this awkward time.” During that awkward time, you hopefully build up new associations and memories to chase the bad ones out, and you both refrain from doing anything that would open old wounds or repeat bad behaviors, and then you figure out if what you’ve built is worth sticking around for.

But how much awkward time? When do you get to relax and be happy? I think this is where the data can help. Another few weeks or a month of things being weird and unsettled between you? Maybe okay? Another three months of things being weird? Verging dangerously into “uncomfortable is our baseline” territory. Data over time combined with your friends/counselor as sounding boards can really help here, too. If your friend asks you, “So, how are things with New Boyfriend?” and you vomit out a 45 minute Tale of Unhappy Feelings, maybe it’s a very off day and you’re just venting. If you do that every time the subject comes up for several months, maybe things are…not good?

I hope you can trust him and I hope everything works out the way that you want it to. For now, rebuild some trust in yourself – in your own instincts, in your enjoyment of his company, in your friends, in your ability to take care of yourself when you feel off-balance. That’s the part you can control.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Advertisements
151 comments
  1. Mary said:

    I think that in addition to the Captain’s great points, one thing you need to figure out is whether or not you two can still have *fun* together. You’re focussing a lot on the work that you are both doing, but is there room within that work for some good simple straight-forward enjoyment of each other’s company?

    As you both know, it takes time to rebuild trust after a wobble like that, and you definitely need to have the long, processing talks and understand where each of you are coming from. However, if it’s going to work, you sometimes have to put the wobbles to one side and go, “OK, now we’re watching a film and pointing out all the historical inaccuracies, because that’s how we roll! No more serious talk tonight!” Or, “Let’s cook! We can stop and ask each other for hugs and reassurance now and then, but the point here is that you and me are flipping excellent together in a kitchen, so let’s do it!” “Right, let’s get out of the house and go to that exhibition we both wanted to see!”

    In my experience, you can’t actually rebuild trust and intimacy solely with the deep and meaningfuls. Especially not early on in a relationship, when you should be having fun most of the time anyway. It’s a tricky balance, because you’ve got to have room for things to be left slightly unfinished, and not to just shove problems to the side, but you also need to keep reminding yourselves that when you are good together, you’re really good. You need to find the chemistry and the fun and the enjoyment of each other’s company. If you don’t have that, it doesn’t matter how the deep and meaningfuls end, because the relationship isn’t going to be a good thing for you anyway.

    Good luck, Looking!

  2. CL said:

    Honestly, I think you just need to tell him to call you when he has gone no-contact with his ex.

    I know you like him, but it has only been two months. This is too early for you to be patiently putting up while him while he makes mistakes and works through a “process” that will eventually lead to him cutting out the ex that he sort of cheated with. If he’s ready to move on and be with you, there is no need to taper contact and make it a big complicated process. He would just do it.

    I would tell him, “I need you to stop talking to your ex now. If you aren’t prepared to do that, we need to go our separate ways for now. I’m not going to wait for you, but I’m open to you giving me a call in the future.”

    • Anothermous said:

      Ha, this is a much more succinct and to the point version of exactly what I was trying to say. High five!

    • espritdecorps said:

      “I know you like him, but it has only been two months. This is too early for you to be patiently putting up while him while he makes mistakes and works through a “process” that will eventually lead to him cutting out the ex that he sort of cheated with. If he’s ready to move on and be with you, there is no need to taper contact and make it a big complicated process. He would just do it.”

      I second this so hard. To the point that I’m having trouble understanding why it’s a bad thing that your “ingrained reactions are to cut and run when things get messy.”
      Cut. Run. Rinse. Repeat. That’s how dating works. You’re trying to find someone that you WANT to be with when things are messy, not forcing yourself to slog through married people problems at two months of dating.

      Sometimes good friends make shitty lovers. Maybe when he’s ready you’ll be amazing together, maybe you are fundamentally incompatible. It doesn’t matter.
      Right now you as a person who is maybe falling in love with him, and him as someone who is still in love with his ex are not compatible as lovers, At all.

      Cut. Run. Date other people. If he wants you, he knows where you are.

      • Hey Nonny Nonny said:

        “You’re trying to find someone that you WANT to be with when things are messy, not forcing yourself to slog through married people problems at two months of dating.”

        Thank you. I can’t put into words how hard this sentence hit me. So just. Thank you.

        • espritdecorps said:

          *hugs*

        • espritdecorps said:

          I ended up with Darth ex because everyone around me had paired up, and I’m dating, but not falling in love. So I convinced myself, (and let him convince me) that it was from being too picky and unwilling to stick it out. Ugh. Terrible wasted years.

          It’s worth waiting to find the person you can’t live without. Who fills you with joy in the first year or two of dating. No, it doesn’t last, but that person will be the person who is making sure you have dress pants for work even when they are furious at you.

          • LeighTX said:

            “That person will be the person who is making sure you have dress pants for work even when they are furious at you.” This is the greatest description of a lasting marriage I think I’ve ever seen.

      • icewindgale said:

        I dunno, folks. I’ll be honest, I doubt I’d stick around in this situation either, but the reasoning here sounds a bit to me like the opposite of the sunk costs fallacy (i.e., you don’t have much history so cut your losses). I always recommend evaluating one’s possible courses of action based on future gains/losses, such that the past is only relevant insofar as it helps estimate what one can reasonably expect from the future. If OP has a high level of confidence that the long-term gain will likely outweigh the short-term blah, then more power to them.

        • Vicki said:

          I think it’s less “you haven’t got much history, so cut your losses” than “people try to look their best early in a relationship. If this is how he treats you/behaves when he’s trying to impress you, that doesn’t bode well for later on.”

          • Mel Reams said:

            Thiiiiis! The beginning of a relationship is when you still see your partner through the warm glow of New Relationship Energy. If things are obviously wrong this early on, how much worse is it going to be when you don’t have the shiny newness of the relationship smoothing over the rough edges?

          • espritdecorps said:

            Yes. That’s it exactly.

            Someone who puts effort into wooing you because you’re amazing and they want to keep you, has a reasonable chance of being someone who ten years later, will load and unload the dishwasher without being asked because you’re amazing and they want to keep you.
            Someone who is ‘wobbling’ two months into the relationship, has a reasonable chance of enjoying your care and resources for a year then giving you an STD as a parting gift.

      • Light37 said:

        ” You’re trying to find someone that you WANT to be with when things are messy, not forcing yourself to slog through married people problems at two months of dating.”

        Yes. This.

    • neverjaunty said:

      Yes, this. OP, I hope you will not take this as DTMFA, because it isn’t – it may very well be that your SO just needs to handle the separation process from his ex in his own way, but the thing is, you do not have to wait around for it. If he figures it out, he can let you know, and you can take things from there. You shouldn’t have to sit there in anxious limbo, second-guessing whether you are being chill enough, while he does.

      Honestly, reading this made me tired on your behalf.

      • Redgirl said:

        “Honestly, reading this made me tired on your behalf.”

        Yes. This whole relationship feels *grueling* to me reading about it here.

      • Mookie said:

        Yes, exactly this. It’s like Marge Simpson keeping herself in a cat-like state of readiness such that she’s not sitting in a chair, but rather the air above it. All that tight, constrictive tension, all that waiting and selfless denial of your own needs and suppression of your own pain when in the company of someone you’re devoted to and carefully managing, is going to need an outlet or you’re liable to burst.

    • Agreed. Otherwise, you might find yourself in the parking lot of the SPSJT outside of Austin, crying, begging, telling him – even as the rest of you watches in horror as your self-respect disappears, that you will “be whatever you want me to be!”

      Don’t be the woman who lets a guy tell her that he is Not Sure and he Needs Time To Think but Does Not Want To Break Up! He doesn’t get to put you on a shelf while he gets his life together.

      Not saying he is a bad guy (although the guy in the may be true story was) – but he did just get out of a relationship and he probably really is confused. I like the advice to tell him to call you maybe and you might be there and might not. You are moving on. You cannot put your life on hold while b he gets his crap together.

      Signed,

      Been there and did it all wrong, but did lose 15 lbs in the process (which have since returned, plus friends)

      • diathena said:

        In the future, could you avoid using numbers/pounds when talking about weight? I read the comments here because it’s one of the very few online spaces where I feel safe from eating disorder triggers, and I think it’s kind of a site policy not to use numbers(?)

        Sorry to interrupt!

        • JenniferP said:

          Yes please! Sorry, that one slipped by me.

    • unagi said:

      Another vote for a break.

      An ex of mine had an excellent theory – the ‘probation period’ method of relationship vetting. For everyone there’s a certain initial period, which may be 2 weeks or 6 months or whatever, it’s very individual and you can mostly detect your own in retrospect. During that phase, you’re in a total haze of happy hormones, and you can see nothing wrong with the person at all, life is ALL GOOD. Which is delightful indeed. But if during that phase you see something is wrong, you should bail. now. immediately, without second-guessing yourself. If you’re able to detect a problem at all during that phase, it’s not just a little thing that needs to be worked out, it’s huge. And I’d add that not only will it poison your entire relationship, it’ll also be the reason why you end up breaking up, after untold amounts of avoidable misery.

      Note that leaving immediately is extremely important. Why? Because we’re the kind of animal who loves to wallow in that oxytocin soup of warm fuzzies. If you should instead decide that you know — is dreadfully wrong, but that you’ll just break up with them after , when that deadline rolls around you’ll be ensconced in a relationship, and it’ll be all too easy to talk yourself out of it, to rationalize that they’re not -that- bad, that you’re eating better than you ever have, you haven’t finished ripping their fabulous music collection, that gorgeous sweater you’re knitting for them still needs sleeves…

      Two months seems way too early to be asking for advice on what’s not working for you..

      • Light37 said:

        This makes sense. I approve of this theory.

    • Jessica said:

      I’m a big proponent of the ultimatum.

      Ultimatums get a bad rap. Like heaven forbid you know what your deal breakers are and clearly lay them out for another person in order for them to make choices with the knowledge of what your decisions will be.

      In past relationships, I’ve had to lay out scenarios where if things don’t change, I’m going to leave. In most of the cases, I haven’t known exactly when I’d hit my breaking point, but I have laid out timeframes and explained my limits, and then my partners always seemed surprised when I followed through. Sometimes, when you lay out an ultimatum, the other person doesn’t “choose”, but that is their choice; they just didn’t choose you.

      My point is, you know you’re on a trajectory that will take you to your breaking point. It is completely fair to say that you need him to break off contact with his ex, as he agreed, NOW–not eventually, not slowly, not let the space between them grow until they’re not in each other’s lives, NOW. This is, btw, your circus. You are in a relationship with him and the monkeys are throwing poo.

      • TDot said:

        I had to post a comment after maybe a year of lurking, because I love this. “Like heaven forbid you know what your deal breakers are and clearly lay them out for another person …” –> sums up my thoughts way more eloquently than I could.

        • I think you are both right, and that ultimatums that (i) aren’t intended to be controlling or punitive but instead merely outline your known boundaries in relationships, and (ii) you actually follow-through on, rather than moving the goalposts and weakening your own stance, aren’t so bad. You’re the expert on what your boundaries are, LW. Your boundaries apparently include a dyad relationship that is monogamous only, and that is not unreasonable if that is how you roll. Other commenters are right that lingering because the happy hormones feel awesome is not a good idea, either. Clean break now, and you can start afresh later if he gets his ducks in a row before you move on to someone who is less encumbered with tempting exes that haven’t been cut off appropriately yet. Otherwise you get more enmeshed with someone who is stomping your “monogamy only” boundary, and that’s a big one.

          Trust, I know it is difficult. But if you were friends before, you can be friends after. I’ve done it, and some of my exes really broke my heart badly. I’m even friends with one ex’s wife, and she’s a cool gal (and we obviously have a lot in common, liking the same person). You won’t be friends OR more if your partner isn’t respecting your boundaries now, while you both have the warm fuzzies of a fresh two-month-old relationship, because persistent boundary-breaking likely indicates that you two will break up later rather than sooner, and it will hurt a lot more.

      • slythwolf said:

        Gosh, all of this. When I left my most recent ex, it was just as much the fact that he was shocked (SHOCKED) I would follow through on my stated boundaries, as the fact that he did the dealbreaker in the first place.

  3. Anothermous said:

    When my husband (before we were married–this happened years ago) had a “cheating” moment (i.e. an incident that wasn’t technically cheating but sure made me feel cheated on), I absolutely and without guilt set down the ultimatum of he could either continue to have contact with her or with me, but not both. So I agree with the Captain’s interpretation of him doing the finger-typing version of cutting out his ex: he’s not cutting her out. But in order to feel safe in this relationship, you need him to cut her out. That is a valid need.

    Where I imagine it gets sticky for you is the fact that your relationship is new. There’s probably a little voice in the back of your head going, “But we’re not very established as a couple… how can I make that kind of demand?” However, as you have pointed out, you’ve known each other for a while, so while this dimension of your relationship is new, the relationship itself isn’t. And again: you need the ex gone in order to feel safe in this relationship, and that need is based on direct evidence, not paranoia.

    So frankly, I think you’d be perfectly within rights to tell him to shit or get off the pot, so to speak. Good luck, believe me, I know it’s hard.

    • Chessie said:

      There’s probably a little voice in the back of your head going, “But we’re not very established as a couple… how can I make that kind of demand?”

      I have definitely felt this way in previous relationships. One thing that’s helped me has been to frame it to myself, not as “I am asking for this thing because I am a needy person and why can’t I just be cool,” but as “It’s important for me to be straightforward about this thing that I need *now*, because I can’t just keep on being cool forever and it’s not fair to anyone for me to put up with it until it reaches crisis levels.” I am really bad at advocating for my own needs in relationships, and it helps me to see my failure to advocate for my own needs as a harmful thing for me to do to — harmful to my partner, harmful to the relationship, harmful to me.

      (I really hope I don’t sound like I’m criticizing you, LW. I just know that it can be really tempting to play peacekeeper and try to be cool about things, even when the things are not things you should be being cool about, and yet even knowing that it can be hard to bite the bullet and speak up. This is the tool I use to talk myself into it.)

      • slythwolf said:

        The way I frame it in my head is “communicating clearly about [thing] early in the relationship will help the two of us determine how compatible we are before we get all emotionally compromised about it”.

    • EGBGOTU said:

      Agreed with Anothermous. Remember, actions speak louder than words. And in this case, his action of ssssllllooooowwwllly mayyyyybeee cutting his ex out? Is weak. You shouldn’t have to feel like you’re in a contest with an ex. Fuck that. Tell him to call you when he has it sorted out, and MAYBE you’ll still be around. Seize your power, Girlfriend.

  4. bleh said:

    Seems like a good idea to take some time for yourself, and try again or not when he has it figured out. Or, what CL said.

  5. LW said:

    LW here! Just wanted to say thank you so much to the Captain for answering this question!! So much good advice here, and so many things I am going to work on and sit with for sure. And I’m very excited to read/open to everyone’s responses. I want to give a quick update and then sit back and listen: 1) since writing this letter I’ve gotten back into therapy with a therapist who is amazing and we are starting the process of long-term work, and 2) partner has communicated with me firm boundaries he has placed with said ex regarding contact, and is upholding them even as she tries to push him for more (eg: she texts him and asks him to hang out, and he reminds her that isn’t on the table anymore). It’s not a perfectly clean “no texting no emailing zero contact” break, but my handling of my own ex situation isn’t perfect either (ex from across the country is trying to move to my city in order to get back together with me & is trying to get a job at a place where my partner used to work/we still go regularly , even though i’ve explicitly told him there’s no chance of us dating again–you’d think this would be enough cause to block this person entirely, but I still text him, even if it is sometimes in anger)

    There is a possibility this ends with us realizing there isn’t enough emotional availability to try something right now, but we are trying (likely against reason) because we are good together and for each other. Also may be worth mentioning for context that both of these previous relationships ended in the summer (his in june, mine in august). Really open and listening to what everyone has to say. Thanks again to all for your time and energy spent reading/answering this question!

    • neverjaunty said:

      Regardless of what you decide about each other, both of your exes seem to be making it clear that they don’t respect boundaries, and on TOP of that, it must be pretty tough for your and your SO to try to negotiate things with each other while these two people act as though your wishes on the subject don’t matter. Neither of you should be beating yourselves up for being imperfect, but cutting the exes out of your lives might be the best choice regardless of how the relationship goes.

      (I mean, WTF – you told the ex explicitly you are never, ever getting back together and his response is “ok, I’ll move to your city so we can date, and I’ll get a job somewhere that you can’t avoid me and your SO has to see me”? That is NOT OKAY.)

      • EGBGOTU said:

        That sounds like potential stalker material, right there. WTF. BLOCK

      • braennare said:

        Yeah, I’ve been in a relationship with a person whose other relationship (I do open relationships, generally) turned into a stalkery mess of manipulative tactics to get me out of the picture, and my partner “didn’t know what to do” and kept in touch even after that relationship ended badly until this person finally did something not even my partner could accept or explain away. I could have been saved so much second hand (and first hand) emotional turmoil if I had done some version of what CL suggested, like “this is too messy for me, stop encouraging that dangerous person now or get back to me when you’re done”.

        That you’re both in contact with exes who don’t want to respect the new state of affairs (and who you still won’t let go of), is a bad idea. Do they know you’re trying out a new relationship? Maybe tell each of them not to get in touch at all for say two (three?) months so that you can focus on getting on with your lives, don’t respond to them during that time, and treat as a stalker whoever can’t or won’t handle that gracefully? (There are some pretty good advice around here about dealing with stalkers.)

        That way, you get some time to yourselves, some time to feel what it is like not to be in touch with them (hopefully), and still a limited time during which you’ll to have to be disciplined about answering them/interacting with them. You’ll also keep the option initially open (if that is why you hold on to these people) for resolution and/or friendship in the future, if they can respect boundaries when you uphold them. Breaking off with someone forever can be daunting, breaking off with someone for a couple of months to see what happens and then take it from there can be more manageable, even interesting or inspiring.

        It’ll probably shake loose something useful.

      • Chessie said:

        (I mean, WTF – you told the ex explicitly you are never, ever getting back together and his response is “ok, I’ll move to your city so we can date, and I’ll get a job somewhere that you can’t avoid me and your SO has to see me”? That is NOT OKAY.)

        I know, right? That is so scary! LW, someone who ignores your boundaries this way is not a safe person to stay in touch with. I know that it can be really hard to cut someone off entirely. But by responding to your ex’s messages, you are showing them that they are still able to get your attention and you are likely feeding the fire.

    • Mel14 said:

      Hi, LW! I’m a long-time lurker on CA, and I’m de-lurking now to share a piece of advice that I’ve gleaned from many posts here in the past: your partner needs to not text his ex back AT ALL. It doesn’t matter whether his texts say “Let’s get together tonight” or “Hanging out isn’t on the table anymore.” Any text from him, no matter the content, is giving her attention, and it’s feeding her. He needs to make it clear there will be absolutely no more contact. He’s already set some boundaries with her. Great! It’s time to set the last one: “[Ex], it’s over between us. This is the last time you’ll be hearing from me. Don’t contact me again.” And then he needs to STICK TO IT.

      Same goes for you, dear LW! I know it’s hard to disentangle yourself from an ex, especially one who has shown such flagrant disregard for your boundaries (and if I were you, I would take a look at some of the posts tagged “stalking” here, in case things really start to go south), but you seem like an awesome, level-headed person, and I know you can do it! (Sorry if that sounds patronizing, I mean it sincerely!)

      Good luck, and keep us updated!

      • Courtney said:

        This is why phones have block functions. It takes a few seconds, and then you don’t have to worry about sticking to it. Your phone does all the work and doesn’t bother you with it.

    • addipanandosi said:

      I just want to say that if things end up getting too hard, you don’t need to hold on to this relationship in order to change the narrative about yourself being the kind of person who cuts and runs when things get messy. Sometimes things deserve to be run from, and you’ll know when you get to that point. You probably already know that, but still.

    • Msconduct said:

      LW, you say re your own ex …”you’d think this would be enough cause to block this person entirely…”. Yes, I do think that. You don’t owe us an explanation of why you’re not doing that, but I assume it’s because of issues beyond “I want to let them down gently” which I’m guessing (hoping) you’re working on with your therapist. (On the offchance that it is only the let them down gently thing: a gradual process may seem kinder on the surface than cutting off all contact, but in fact it really, really isn’t.) I can’t see either you or your new partner are in a good position to build a new relationship until these issues are resolved, but if you want to stay, you do need to give more weight to how being chill about your partner’s ex is affecting you. (And make sure you’re having honest conversations with him about how your continuing contact with your own ex is affecting him too.)

    • Redgirl said:

      Hi LW! I’m so glad you found an amazing therapist–it’s not easy to find one and I hope s/he is helpful to you.

      I have to echo others here in saying that I think you both need to block your exes completely, starting now. Just don’t respond–to anything. Not to tell them no, not to yell at them in anger, not for anything. Just ignore them. That is the only way they will stop pushing for more.

      You and your SO want a monogamous relationship (it sounds like.) Both of your exes have demonstrated that they are incapable of being platonic friends, and incapable of respecting your boundaries. The ONLY solution, then, is to block them. And yet neither of you can do it.

      So the question I would ask you is why? Why do you keep responding to your ex? What are you getting out of it? (because we don’t do things unless we get something out of them, even if it’s something that won’t help us in the long run) Are you trying to be nice and let him down gently? (if that’s the case, based on his behavior he will take all your attempts to be gentle as “evidence” that you still want him. The kindest thing you can do is rip the Bandaid off quickly.) Are you scared about your safety if you cut things off abruptly? Are you scared for HIS safety? Do you actually still have feelings for him? Are you unsure about your relationship with your current SO and having this issue between you provides a way to keep things from getting too serious? Does getting attention and desire from your ex feel good, even if you don’t actually want him in return? Do you feel like you need to *convince* him to see things your way?

      These are just possibilities, and maybe they are all wrong. But there IS a reason. I think that’s what both of you need to figure out first.

    • Johann7 said:

      “It’s not a perfectly clean “no texting no emailing zero contact” break, but my handling of my own ex situation isn’t perfect either (ex from across the country is trying to move to my city in order to get back together with me & is trying to get a job at a place where my partner used to work/we still go regularly , even though i’ve explicitly told him there’s no chance of us dating again–you’d think this would be enough cause to block this person entirely, but I still text him, even if it is sometimes in anger)”

      Both of you need to cut contact with these people completely. All contact, full stop. They are choosing to ignore and violate explicitly stated boundaries. This is not okay behavior for anybody.

    • oregonbird said:

      This sounds like a slightly more sophisticated game of s l o w l y. The ex?gf didn’t “push” his boundaries, she walked right through them and is still walking, which usually calls for a Big Concrete Bunker. He responded by encouraging her, and right now you sound fine with that, although it was the reason you wrote in the first place. You’re having convos with your stalker. It might be a good idea for you to back way off your current genre of dating, and talk to your Team about why playing with fire has been your choice in the past, and why its is now the mutual choice inside this relationship.

    • JenniferP said:

      Hi there, thanks for the update! And thanks for making some of the stuff I was reading between the lines more clear!

      There are a lot of posts on the site about making a clean break with an ex, but I will briefly review:

      1. “Ex, this whole ‘being friends’ thing isn’t working right now and I need us to make a clean break. Please don’t contact me anymore, and I won’t contact you. Thank you.”

      2. Block them everywhere they usually reach you – cell phone, email, social media.

      3. Do not respond to any further communications, even if they escalate contact. If they send 10 texts you don’t answer and one that makes you go “Stop texting me!” when they text you it is still Attention, which is still a reward for someone who is being stalker-y. They have now learned that it takes 11 texts to get your attention. Withhold attention completely.

      You can’t make your partner take these steps with his ex, but I hope you will take them with yours, especially since the relationship ended in the summer. Decide to be permanently done with this person and feel a weight come off your shoulders.

      The more I read of updates and other comments the more I’m leaning toward “Hey, I’d love to make this work, so let me know when you’ve made a clean break with your Ex and we’ll make it happen” as a good message for you to give to your current partner. I feel like he’s using some Jedi Mind Tricks about how it’s Just Too Hard, when it is hard, but not impossible and not unreasonable considering the ‘wobbles,’ etc.

      Good luck and good wishes to you.

    • The Aphid said:

      Hey LW – I’m reading a lot of comments saying that you and your partner NEED to cut contact with the exes, and while I don’t exactly think that any of them are wrong, I’m also feeling a little uncomfortable about them. We all choose to run our own risks, for our own reasons. You clearly know that, objectively speaking, you have enough cause to block your ex, or you wouldn’t be referring to your handling as “imperfect”. I hope you figure out how to cut this scary ex out of your life ASAP, but you are the only one who can figure out how that will work out for you. And if you don’t, and it does escalate, it is STILL YOUR EX WHO IS CHOOSING TO BE A CREEPY STALKER and no amount of texting him back will have made you deserve that. I am sure you know these things, but I feel like it is the kind of thing that bears repeating. It can be easier to see when it isn’t you, yanno?

      Also, you know that your handling of your ex doesn’t have to be perfect to want or ask that your partner get his act together with his own, right? Even if you’re still in touch with your ex, you can decide that partner being in touch with his is a dealbreaker for you. This strikes me as really, really not being a tit-for-tat kind of situation. If it bothers him that you’re in touch with your ex, he can bring that up as a separate issue. He’s of course allowed to decide that you being in touch with your ex is a dealbreaker for him. But unless the two of you deliberately make a deal that you are both going no contact together in solidarity, etc. or something like that, I think “but I do X so I can’t be upset that he does Y” is an easy trap but not actually cromulent. You ARE upset that he does Y, and that is legit, regardless of what’s going on with X.

  6. Dana said:

    I think what the above commenters say about telling him to please get back to you when he’s truly single has great merit.

    If you decide to hang in there and follow the Captain’s plan, one thing that helped me a lot in a sort of similar situation was setting myself a deadline. I really did need to back off and let go of a lot of things, and see if things got better in the relationship while I did less, but did not break up. And it was much easier to do this kind of “faking it till we make it” when I had told myself, “I will do this for three months and then revisit it in its entirety.”

    Then I didn’t feel like I was in some kind of open ended limbo.

    Best of luck to you. And I think the advice to make sure you make time for FUN is so important. Relationships aren’t supposed to be all drama. They are work, yes, but they should be fun and relaxing too.

  7. ctruex said:

    Another vote for what CL said. I’m a fan of the “treat it like a death” form of breaking up. That is, you treat your ex as if they died. You’re sad they’re gone, but it’s the way things are. You don’t sit there wondering whether a dead person is thinking about you, or who they’re with now. Immediate and complete cut off of all contact. The “friends again” part, if it comes, can come later.

    If he wants to cut off his ex, he should do it. He hasn’t. IMHO, he’s not ready to commit to you yet, even on a small scale. This would be true even without the not-cheating, but WITH that, it’s abundantly clear he’s not ready. Cutting off an ex is as simple as a few clicks of the mouse and a few settings on his phone. It’s a breakup, not a home loan application. So…. what CL said.

  8. Dear LW

    If the “mistake” is something sexual with his ex – his ex with whom he is still in contact – then I agree that now is a good time to express that it’s not actually ok for him to remain in contact with her.

    I think another element here is that even though you’ve been friends for two years, now your relationship has changed. While he remains in contact with Ex, you probably can’t be his friend or lover.

    If I’m right, the problem is that the relationship has changed, and going back may not be possible.

    That’s scary! A two year friendship at risk.

    What I’m trying to say, though, is that it is at risk because he’s not doing what will help you feel secure. It will remain at risk even if you don’t speak about the situation, because it’s the situation that’s the problem. Your reaction is not the problem.

    Jedi hugs if you want them.

    Also, being the chill friend and girlfriend is vastly overrated

  9. EGBGOTU said:

    First, I just want to say “THANK YOU!!!! <3" to the Captain and mods for doing this blog. I've learned so much, and felt so validated by this community. THANK YOU THANK YOU THANK YOU PLEASE ACCEPT THESE SANDWICHES OF LOVE

    The LW's subject strikes quite a nerve for me, and it's been a couple years since I was in a similar situation. After months of being the "cool girlfriend" I gave him an ultimatum, and it was quite ugly. He went on to cut his EXES out, not because of my ultimatum, but because of his own reasons.

    Since I'm a genius, I went ahead and married that guy anyway. Honey, never underestimate how that "wobble" in the beginning of a relationship can reverberate through the rest of it. You might be surprised at what can work that particular nerve, even years later, and how quickly things can go downhill.

    When you start out like that, I'm not sure if it ever goes away, because it becomes part of the foundation of your relationship. Is that a bargain you're willing to make? (pro tip: no)

    In retrospect, I wish I would have skipped the ultimatum, and just said to him, "It's clear you have some unfinished business to attend to. Why don't you go on and do that. Maybe, when that's finished, we might be able to see each other, or maybe not. But I love myself enough to not become entangled with men who are still playing games with their exes."

    Ahh, the power of hindsight. Please, anyone, everyone, learn from my bad example.

    • Courtney said:

      “I love myself enough to not become entangled with men who are still playing games with their exes.”

      I think that needs to be embroidered on a pillow.

      • Aoife said:

        Replace ‘men’ with ‘people’ and I want that tattooed on the inside of my eyelids.

    • Koffee82 said:

      “never underestimate how that “wobble” in the beginning of a relationship can reverberate through the rest of it”

      So much truth in this though!

      Yeah I got together with someone who tried to dump me right at the beginning after we had been intimate. Some random bs reason he gave. He changed his mind the day after and acted like he didn’t break it off. I went back to him like nothing happened (told myself he was just scared or whatever) and spent the next 3 years with him feeling like I was in the way. Oh, how I weep for that girl now!

  10. omj said:

    Life is a lot better when you give yourself permission to not be cool sometimes. This is true of basically every facet of life. If you’re generally pretty stable and with it and you have good emotional tools in place, and sometimes you just need to be a really uncool girlfriend/friend/sibling/teammate/party-goer because you’re unhappy otherwise, then just remind yourself that that’s OK. And then go be uncool.

    I don’t know, but I get the feeling when I read this letter that this LW has spent a lot of time hanging around advice services like this one, and is trying to do all the things that she thinks she’d tell someone to do if she were on the commenting end. But the thing is, that textbook “perfect” reaction isn’t going to work if it isn’t emotionally honest. So think about what you actually want, and if it turns out it requires an ultimatum or a big fight or a non-breakup “break” or some other thing that you would judge someone else for if all you had was the 1000-mile view of it, just give yourself permission to be the kind of person other people judge. And then do what you have to do.

    • espritdecorps said:

      “I get the feeling when I read this letter that this LW has spent a lot of time hanging around advice services like this one, and is trying to do all the things that she thinks she’d tell someone to do if she were on the commenting end. But the thing is, that textbook “perfect” reaction isn’t going to work if it isn’t emotionally honest”

      Yes, this!
      There’s no prize for most put-together person.

      I’ve needed to feel in control of myself after leaving a stalky, emotional rollercoaster of a relationship. Needed to know I would never be that person, would never make anyone I cared for feel the way Vader made me feel.

      After leaving someone that extreme, it takes a while to find the middle again.

      The mildest assertion of my boundaries justified a full-scale meltdown from him. After three years of locking down my emotions and thinking over all the possible interpretations of every word I said, it was difficult to have any opinions or preferences, let alone express them out loud.
      It took years to stop apologizing for visibly having a feeling (‘being a chick’).

      • Cactus said:

        I have also been in terrible boundary-pushing relationships, and I’m still trying to move past all of that, and figure out how to reassert myself, my boundaries, and my own feelings as having merit, and not automatically jump to “everything I do is irrational,” which was my exes’ zone.
        One thing I’ve noticed is that I now react pretty strongly to ALL pushing of boundaries. Like, Annoying Co-Worker and Too-Clingy Mother-in-Law might not be objectively Dangerous the way my exes were, but if they’re getting in my space and asking invasive personal questions and constantly trying to contact me on Facebook? My walls go even higher (and then the whining or passive-aggression starts, and then I feel guilty for daring to feel safe). I’m trying to feel okay about having boundaries again, but some people seem to take extreme offense at the very idea.

    • blairbending said:

      +10000000 to that second paragraph.

    • Victoria said:

      This is EXACTLY the impression I got and I just couldn’t put it into words as well as you did. Like, ‘if I follow all these steps to good communication and boundaries then everything has to work out perfectly, right?’

      I think the journaling + therapy approach can be very helpful, but if “it’s been particularly hard not to ruminate”, as the LW says, then sometimes it can actually exacerbate the problem. My mother has always been an extreme worrier, and meditation and guiding her mind away from the problem has been much more effective for her than talking about it too much.

      Which is not to say that will be helpful for you, LW, but it might be something to try, if you find yourself doing that hamster-wheel-worrying masquerading as thinking that we’re all susceptible to sometimes.

    • tinyorc said:

      “I don’t know, but I get the feeling when I read this letter that this LW has spent a lot of time hanging around advice services like this one, and is trying to do all the things that she thinks she’d tell someone to do if she were on the commenting end.”

      It’s ok to be

      It’s ok to be NOT COOL with something even you never verbally expressed it

      • tinyorc said:

        Ack, I totally borked up this comment and posted it before I was finished writing it, obviously. Mod, can plz has deletes?

    • Oh holy crap, omj–I’m a longtime (LONGtime) lurker on this excellent site, and I just had to come out of my hole to tell you that your second paragraph there kind of blew my mind. I think it’s extremely insightful regarding the LW, and moreover, I think it describes a thing that I do with startling clarity.

      Striving to be mature, reasonable, considerate, empathetic, et cetera is an admirable way to approach most things in life, but you’re absolutely right that focusing so hard on acting objectively “right” at all times can lead to a unique sort of frustration. So thank you, because you’ve really given me something to think about!

      • Hannahbelle said:

        Ha, yes! I did exactly the same thing when I first found CA–identified a worrisome choice I had to make about whether to attend a stressful social event, made a list of the three main categories of possible response, picked the one that seemed wisest, balanced, and most mature, took active steps toward putting it into action…

        …and found not only that I didn’t want to attend the event, but that I didn’t want to remain close to the person who invited me. That was very surprising, but I’ve never looked back.

        I think sometimes trying to do the right thing can alert you like nothing else to what you really want to be doing instead, and that’s worth knowing! I hope the LW doesn’t take this as some doom-laden prophecy, because her situation may be completely different. But in any case, the feelings that come up as a result of “trying to do the right thing” (especially when it isn’t) can be very informative.

      • *LIGHT BULB MOMENT*

        This is a lesson I really need to learn, too. I hadn’t really considered that it was OKAY not to be cool and mature about emotional stuff ALL THE TIME. Yes, take the high road, sure. It would be a punch to my pride not to behave well even when I feel like having a tantrum and sulking and being unreasonable, but there’s a middle ground between behaving well and behaving badly that is acknowledging your feelings about something you deem unpleasant and sad are VALID. So, yes, behave like a considerate adult and retain your dignity, BUT MAYBE ALSO allow yourself to admit that you DO NOT feel mature and cool about disappointment or other emotional blows. You’re allowed to admit to yourself that it doesn’t feel right or good or fair, and it sucks, and YES it is OK to feel shitty about shitty events. Yes, yes, YES.

        I needed to hear that one! I beat myself up EVEN THOUGH I typically behave as well as anyone could possible be expected to behave, because I ALSO go off by myself to punch pillows, cry, pout and wallow in how unfair it feels, and maybe I should allow myself to express my bad feelings about crappy things without as much “YOU SHOULDN’T” guilt and shame and self-criticism attached. I already knew I was clumsy, awkward and inept at healthily expressing anger and fear because I was brought up where my negative feelings weren’t ever validated (or allowed to just BE without me dealing with corrective measures and shaming), and was working on that, but apparently I am terrible at expressing disappointment and sadness, even to myself, too.

    • Jenna said:

      I have a pattern of putting others first and making myself useful and becoming a semitransparent background character, ingrained from a childhood where mom was very ill and then passed away, and reinforced with taking care of the people around me far into adulthood. I was very good at being the good girl, until it almost broke me. Then, I had to figure out what my actual feelings/wants/needs even WERE because I had been squashing them for decades.
      It’s ok to put yourself first. I recommend doing so BEFORE you have bonsai’d yourself into some weird shape around everyone else’s needs but your own.
      Find out what you need. Listen to your own needs and wants. Ask for those things, and if you can’t get them where you are, please go find what you need to be happy!
      It hurts me so much to listen to people bending themselves into pretzels trying to be good and reasonable and nice, when no one around them is taking the same care or bending at all.*

      *(are they bending? Or are they SAYING that they will do this thing, and then it doesn’t ever happen? Look at what they DO! My own breaking point was when I realized that the decisions were never final until he got his way. Never. )

      • espritdecorps said:

        All of this!
        Especially “I realized that the decisions were never final until he got his way. Never.” and “It’s ok to put yourself first. I recommend doing so BEFORE you have bonsai’d yourself into some weird shape around everyone else’s needs but your own.”

        May I use these? If you have a blog I’ll credit you.

        • Jenna said:

          Use it if you like. My only other blog is my tumblr, and I go by clockworkcanary over there.

  11. stellanor said:

    Aaaaaand now I have iMoodJournal and we’re going to see if I have moods other than “Meh.”

    • Anisoptera said:

      Hahaha me too…

      Although seriously, no moods other than “meh” is a sign of depression so I hope you and I both discover that we’re overestimating the ammount of “meh” in our lives. :-/

    • ana maria said:

      Me too – I just got diagnosed with severe depression and anxiety (yayy…?) and already started a “2016 good memories jar” since all my positive experiences just get flooded by the negative ones. So i’ll be using iMoodJournal to find the happy moments – and quantifying ALL the data (ahah) gives me some proof that I DO feel happy, I DO enjoy living, etc sometimes.

      • miss_chevious said:

        I started the memory jar a few years ago, and wow do I love it. I empty it on New Year’s Day each year and it always makes me happy. I hope yours brings you happiness, too.

        • ana maria said:

          thank you ^_^

  12. Charybdea said:

    This may or may not be the case for you and your SO, but “very close & important presences in each others’ lives as friends for about 2 years before we began dating” and “historically we have leaned on each other during times of anxiety and stress” are setting off a little bell for me, and that bell is: Oh, they were complain-friends.

    (Being: That friend with whom all the baggage of the other relationships gets dumped. The “Why do men/why do women?” friend. The press-red-button-for-unwavering-support friend. The friends who bond over how each other is the person who seems to actually listen.)

    If so: The dating relationship may only be two months old, but you already have a very established dynamic: This is the person to whom I will go and they will pet me, and tell me everything’s all right and I am right. And if so, that might explain why you seem to be having trouble not just taking over each other’s lives and going: “Here, like this,” or setting boundaries with each other like “Even though you are disinclined to, these are my needs and I need them respected.” Relationships based on, well, service provision (acceptance and emotional support!) are a great way to live in fear of what happens the first time you fail to provide the service.

    Again, LW, I can’t say from two lines and a hunch whether this is what’s lurking in the undercarriage of your current relationship, but if this is familiar? I’d suggest being very cautious about going forward with this relationship at all, period. I totally 100% believe that you love him. If you guys have reached that degree of intimacy over being each other’s ears and shoulders, though, I would gently say that it’s very hard to know if you both love each other, the people, the messy complicated delightful contradictory human beings, or if — given how bad your exes seem to be amazingly horrific with boundaries — what you are in love with here is being heard.

    • Hannahbelle said:

      That’s really interesting. I wish I’d known this was a thing (complain friends) before it became a Thing (he’s crossing my boundaries like a mofo but I can’t say no because then he’ll have Sad Feels and I’m All He Has and I don’t want to be like Those Other People who were So Mean To Him). I hear this, in other words. I don’t know if the LW has a similar dynamic, but man is that a useful piece of advice for those of us who have.

      • Neuroturtle said:

        Ohhhh, yes. “Not Like All The Others” is usually not a healthy place to be. Then you’re at their command, and somehow it’s just that the problem with “All The Others” is they have desires and needs and boundaries.

  13. Every situation is different, so YMMV, of course; but the smartest thing I ever did, relationship-wise, was to dump a guy I was absolutely CRAZY about, because of a similar…wobble. Not cheating exactly but it felt pretty…cheat-y? I tried to get over it for a few weeks, but I was stressed all the time about the relationship, constantly feeling insecure about it. I had the simplest thought in the world one day: As infatuated as I was with him, as great as he was in so many ways, I was happier before we were dating. I ended it, which sucked for a long time, but not forever, and went on to meet a great guy and get married.
    My ex, the maybe-kinda-cheaty one? he married the other woman, and mutual friends tell me he cheats on her on the regular. I shudder when I imagine how unhappy I would be.

  14. blairbending said:

    We are trying to balance that line of support–historically we have leaned on each other during times of anxiety and stress–and also take into play your “not my circus, not my monkeys” rule to manage our anxieties and control issues (eg: I think he’s taking the “typing http://www.google.com with one finger when he could just use Chrome” route to cutting his ex out, and desperately want to tell him to metaphorically scooch over so I can do it for him, but his path cannot be my problem so long as he handles it in a way that doesn’t hurt me).

    Here lies your answer, LW — he is not handling it in a way that doesn’t hurt you. Even assuming that his intentions to eventually end contact are genuine, he is HURTING YOU by not cutting his ex off immediately. The reason you can’t relax and have fun is because you are being hurt!!!!!! Unintentionally or not. And in my experience this isn’t the sort of feeling you can just process away with therapy and self care — in fact, real self care means accepting that this thing your dude is doing is hurtful to you, and therefore it is a problem that he needs to solve if he wants to stay in a relationship with you. (A solution could = immediately cutting off the ex, or an acceptable agreed timeframe for cutting off the ex. Or whatever works for you, so long as it actually works instead of just sounding reasonable or whatever.)

    And…. I suspect he already kind of knows that he is hurting you, after your “I’m struggling” talk. But kill that plausible deniability! He needs to know that you are struggling not because of any failure to ~process or whatever on your part, but because his behaviour re: his ex is hurting you and will continue to hurt you for as long as it continues.

    Here’s hoping that when this is made clear to him, he takes steps to stop hurting you effective immediately. If not…. well, then you will have valuable information about how much he values your wellbeing vs. his own and the ex’s.

  15. sara said:

    It sounds like neither you nor your new guy has managed to set good boundaries with your exes. Your ex sounds like he’s entering into stalker-levels of bad behavior and boundary violation, and I can’t recommend the Gift of Fear enough for this type of thing — it’s not a perfect book by any means, but does give good advice about cutting stalkers off and not continuing to give them the attention they crave (which is what your angry texts are doing).

    Frankly, it sounds like neither you nor your new guy is completely emotionally disentangled from your ex. Although you can always come up with some example of a couple who made it work despite a shaky start, I don’t think “still emotionally entangled with an ex” is an awesome place for any relationship to start. I think the best thing both of you guys could do in this situation is to just cool it for a few months to give yourselves some time to emotionally move on and experience being single for a bit. Especially in your boyfriend’s case — sure, you could make an ultimatum, but if this guy really wants to be over his ex, I think he should cut things off because that’s what HE wants, not because you demanded it. If he would be getting back together with her but for his feelings for you, I don’t think that puts you guys in a particularly awesome place. If you guys are really meant to be and your feelings are strong enough, there’s nothing to say things can’t work out beautifully once you’ve both had time to properly process and deal with your past relationship dramas.

  16. tawg said:

    LW, how does your partner react when you’re NOT cool with the situation? Do you feel any pressure from him to keep your feelings to yourself because he’s “already dealing with so much”? Are there any vibes that you voicing your concerns = you being unfair/untrusting/irrational?

    How does he react to your own very concerning situation with your ex? (Seriously, your ex concerns me. I have no advice on how to protect yourself from him, but I second the suggestion that you read through the stalking tags here.)

    You’ve had a wobble, and you’re both trying to recover from that. But, is he supporting you? Do you feel secure in your own thoughts and feelings around him?

    • LW said:

      slowly responding to comments here, but no, there’s no pressure or bad vibes from him when i’m not cool with it. (and i may have underplayed my level of not being cool with things in my letter. i’ve definitely had a few moments of “wow this really isn’t OK and if it happens again i’ll be gone so fast you will question whether or not i ever actually existed in the first place”) normally he is the one who is reminding me to tell him what i need from him (on a macro & micro scale, and my inability to ask for what i need is something i’m working with my therapist about as it expands beyond this relationship), or assuring me that he wants me to share my anxieties/concerns because we need to work through things together and support/prioritize each other. these are all direct phrases/words he’s used.

      his reaction to things with my ex is that he said he’s open to listening and especially to helping me out if things get worse, but that he is also maintaining his right to say “this is too much for me” if it gets there.

      • tinyorc said:

        Sharing and communicating and prioritizing each other is great, but at the end of the day, it’s all just advice column jargon unless that stuff has tangible benefits for the relationship. Otherwise you just spend the bulk of your time together “working things through” until you’ve talked the entire situation into the ground multiple times over without anything changing or improving. And honestly, that cycle can be just as destructive as a lack of communication, especially in a young relationship where your main priority should be having fun together. It sounds like you’re doing a huge amount of emotional labour to keep the relationship afloat right now and blaming yourself for your “inability to ask for what you need”.

        It sounds like you have very adequately shared your anxieties and concerns with your boyfriend. Your boyfriend can now actively support and prioritize you by ripping the bandaid off and cutting his ex out of his life, because he is committed to being in a relationship with you. If he’s not willing to do that, then he’s just paying lip service to your needs/concerns without actually doing anything to address them.

        Also, you haven’t gone into so much detail about your own relationship with your ex, but I’m guessing you didn’t make a “mistake” with him, so whatever is going on there isn’t really an equivalent situation and I’d strongly advise you to stop mentally framing it as such.

        • Anisoptera said:

          ^ This. Some people are very good at saying all the right things while continuing to do whatever they like regardless of how you feel about it. Such people are also quite good at implying the problem is how you communicate your needs, not that they’re ignoring them. So you run around and around in circles trying to find the exact right way to behave and communicate that will fix everything, when actually the person you’re dealing with knows exactly what you want and just…doesn’t care. They care enough to spin gaslighty fog around you every time it comes up, because they like being with you, but they have chosen to behave the way they are, fully informed of how it impacts you.

          I think it’s still worth working on your ability to communicate clearly because it removes ambiguity and is generally a great skill to have because other people aren’t mind readers. But in situations like this generally the communication is already pretty clear, and pretending it’s not is just a manipulation tactic. 😦

          • Hannahbelle said:

            Yep. It’s hard to tell the difference between someone trying to help you communicate better and someone trying to prevent you from saying what they don’t want to hear. Say it kindly, but say it often: “This is not ok.” And don’t let anyone try to shut you up when you do.

          • tawg said:

            My ex was excellent at doing this – saying all the right things, while using tone and body language to send a slightly different message. He was very good at saying that he respected my boundaries, but never actually demonstrated it, and used logic and very calm tones and supportive touches while he told me that my boundaries were silly and not needed and were actually hurting “us”…

            It took a long time, but eventually I accepted that what he was saying was pretty irrelevant to my reality. I was unhappy, I was without support, and things were steadily getting worse. Now I try to prioritise the “vibe” I’m getting from a situation over the “vocab” (how people are articulating the situation I’m in).

          • Anisoptera said:

            Urgh that description makes my skin crawl. Glad you’re out of it. :-/

            It’s super easy to get sucked in though, because usually we’re not just fighting to see the truth, we’re fighting with ourselves and what we want to be true. If someone says one thing and does another, but the thing they say matches what we want and the thing they do is very upsetting… It’s easy to just believe what they say and be relieved that it’s all OK and you don’t have to break up and move house and work out who gets which pets…

            I do the vibe thing too these days. I try to pay more attention to how I feel. If I feel all ooky in my stomach and stuff I try to work out *why* rather than just rationalising that it’s all OK.

          • newlife said:

            Anisoptera, you keep telling my story with your words. My ex used to always act like he wanted to help, if only I could be clearer! If only he could understand what I wanted! Honestly, he wants to be helpful, but I’m so confusing and unclear!
            It’s funny, since I’ve gotten divorced, So! Many! people have complimented me on my eloquence and how easy it is to understand my meaning. Must have been that quarter century of trying every combination of words know to humankind in an effort to be heard. Nowadays, I try 1-3 times and then write that person off of my “need to be involved with” list.

      • omj said:

        So obviously I only have so much to go on here, but I’m not really getting the sense from you that this relationship is any fun. I believe you that it ticks the right boxes and that you’re both good people who treat each other with respect. It’s great that you can communicate and set boundaries and such. But there just doesn’t seem to be much enjoyment here. A good relationship should most of the time make you feel empowered to accomplish things throughout your life; it shouldn’t be your primary problem very often. It should be energizing, and actively enjoyable. Especially two months in, even if you knew each other for two years before you started dating.

        I’m not saying you should break up, but I do invite you to take a step back and stop looking for the analytical/critical/left-brain reasons for why this is or should qualify as a good relationship. Instead, just search your feelings, young padawan. Do you look forward to seeing him? Do you have fun together? Do you laugh? Are you actually enjoying this relationship? The best relationship is like the best meal – it’s healthy, but it’s also delicious. It’s one of those kale smoothies with apples mixed in so you think you’re just getting juice. Know what I mean?

        Anyway, I don’t mean to presume that your relationship isn’t any of those things, given that I only have a couple of posts and some word choice to go on, but I do still get a “sounds worth it on paper” vibe from you. Is there a way you can set all this baggage aside and just, like, get out of town, turn off your phones, and visit a theme park or whatever other thing you do solely because you enjoy it? It may help you reconnect with what you actually like about this relationship, rather than what just sort of sounds like things you shouldn’t break up over.

      • Esti said:

        If you’ve had multiple moments of “wow this really isn’t OK and if it happens again I’ll be gone so fast you will question whether or not I ever actually existed in the first place” doesn’t that mean that it (or something similar) DID happen again and yet… you’re still there.

        Honestly, things should not be this hard 2 months in, and the fact that they are suggests that the hard-ness may just be an inescapable feature of this relationship. If you just judged the relationship alone, pretending you hadn’t already known him as a friend for years, would you still want to keep dating? Or would you have decided that given the short relationship all of the drama and hurt feelings were both not worth it and a bad sign for the future?

      • Uhm.

        So when you exercise your right to say “this is too much for me”–in the form of “wow this really isn’t OK and if it happens again i’ll be gone so fast you will question whether or not i ever actually existed in the first place”–he helps you talk through it and reminds you you should handle it differently?

        When he exercises his right to say “this is too much for me”, is it expected that you will also talk him out of that, or is that understood that that will be him breaking up with you?


      • i’ve definitely had a few moments of “wow this really isn’t OK and if it happens again i’ll be gone so fast you will question whether or not i ever actually existed in the first place”

        Multiple moments of not okness that mean you want to leave? Please think about this.

        normally he is the one who is reminding me to tell him what i need from him

        Er. Um. I hope he remembers all of these needs, and isn’t pointing out that if ooooooonly you’d teeeeelllllllll him…..

      • neverjaunty said:

        LW, I get the sense that you are following a narrative where you have decided that in the past, you have “cut and run”, and that 1) This is Bad and 2) you won’t do it in the future.

        Sticking to that narrative is going to make it harder for you (and your SO!) to make good choices.

        It is not ‘cutting and running’ to realize you are not OK with something and it needs to end, right now. It is not ‘failing’ to figure out that (as some people very wisely pointed out above!) going through all the correct, mature steps of open discussion and sharing feelings is still not fixing things. If something really-not-OK happened, YOU ARE NOT REQUIRED TO WAIT FOR IT TO HAPPEN AGAIN. There is no one-bite rule with relationship problems.

        Whoever said that line about how the saddest words are ‘might have been’ was an idiot. The saddest words are ‘dammit, I knew that was going to happen.’

        • The saddest words are ‘dammit, I knew that was going to happen.’

          Oh god, I need to learn how to cross-stitch RIGHT NOW.

      • oregonbird said:

        He’s let you know that during hard times you’ll be on your own. I’d believe him.

  17. Anisoptera said:

    Cutting and running gets an unfairly bad rap. My life would have been greatly improved if I’d done more of it.

    You’re two months in and the dude is already doing stuff you’re terribly uncomfortable with and then saying what you want to hear and then dragging his feet on implementing it. This is not a good sign.

    Women get a lot of pressure to try harder and to stick with things and make them work. Sometimes that amounts to burying all your feelings and trying to work out how you can get what you want by being the coolest, most patient, most hands off girl in the world. Your feelings matter. If you’re not happy cutting and running is a reasonable urge. Especially because you can pinpoint *why* you’re unhappy – it’s not like you wrote to tell us that everything is wonderful but you don’t trust yourself to be happy and good things make you nervous. You have specific, reasonable complaints that would make anyone think of cutting and running.

    I seem to be writing a DTMFA comment… And I get how hard it is to leave people or situations that you’ve been super excited about. Just…when I’ve had these doubts early on in all sorts of situations (relationships, friendships, jobs etc) they’ve usually been fairly accurate predictions. I’ve known from fairly early on in most cases what was wrong, and hanging out and trying for more months or years (or a whole decade) to fix it or work with/around it just made it hurt more. Leaving bad situations early is a very healthy and useful skill that I’ve spent my life trying to learn.

    • espritdecorps said:

      “Cutting and running gets an unfairly bad rap. My life would have been greatly improved if I’d done more of it.”

      Word!

    • neverjaunty said:

      “Leaving bad situations early is a very healthy and useful skill that I’ve spent my life trying to learn.”

      YES. This is an excellent life skill to have. Ending a problematic relationship early is not like abandoning a child or leaving a patient on the table during surgery.

      • Koffee82 said:

        Your comments are giving me life right now!

        My whole life sometimes feels like it boils down to not leaving bad situations early and spending too much d*** time trying to make things work. Somehow I think it comes down to feeling like this is what you deserve or this is the best that you can do. I think in romantic relationships the underlying fear is, ‘what if this is my only chance? what if there’s no one else out there for me?’ At least, I think this is what it’s been about for me deep down. I think the only way to combat this is to learn to cope better with uncertainty, and not by compromising your values and needs.

        Also, it seems like trying to be the chillest, most patient and laid back ‘chick’ is the road map for being the most anxious, tense and unchill chick. The irony is that the chillest and most patient people (that I know at least) are people who have really good boundaries. They are actually *impatient* and *unchill* towards people that are unreliable, inconsistent or unsure of what they want. They are also clear to themselves about what they want and are not willing to compromise themselves. This is just my observation, LW. I have most certainly been where you are. I think you have to really figure out what’s important to you here and not be afraid to set some hard lines.

        • Mel Reams said:

          The irony is that the chillest and most patient people (that I know at least) are people who have really good boundaries. They are actually *impatient* and *unchill* towards people that are unreliable, inconsistent or unsure of what they want.

          Well when you put it like that it makes so much sense 🙂 Not being sarcastic, I really like the way you described the boundaries and selfcare that *let* people be patient and chill.

          • Hannahbelle said:

            +1

      • Hannahbelle said:

        Your comments are giving me life right now!

        Ditto.

        Sorry for getting defensive last time we were in the same thread–I have a bad habit of rolling over and smiling when I feel attacked, and I think I erred to far in the other direction that time. Hope it wasn’t a huge deal.

    • Light37 said:

      I wish there was a way to teach this as a life skill. Sometimes we need to just leave- the job, the relationship, the city.

  18. firecatstef said:

    Maybe I’m a minority of one in holding this opinion, and maybe it’s because of my personal relationship history, and YMMV…

    …but I don’t think it’s OK for people to demand of their SOs to break off all contact with someone else. I can’t quite tell if that’s what is happening here, or if there was some kind of explicit negotiation and the parties mutually came up with that expectation of each other. Either way, though, it seems hard for both parties to keep to such an agreement, and maybe new negotiations are in order. Maybe they could agree that texting is acceptable but not hanging out with former partners in private?

    To clarify, if a person wants to decide for themselves to cut off all contact with a ex, that’s fine. I sometimes do that myself. But I’m not entirely comfortable with the idea of someone making that decision “because my SO demands it.” And I wouldn’t be OK demanding it of one of my SOs. I want my SOs to be able to make that call themselves; I would find it hard to trust their judgement otherwise.

    • Hannahbelle said:

      Maybe the issue isn’t so much the fact that he’s still in contact with the ex as that LW still feels uncomfortable about it. As in, whether she wants to or not, it sounds like she doesn’t actually trust his judgment (and the wobble she describes is why). It could be this is one underlying issue, that she feels she “should” be more trusting but actually isn’t. I don’t know that it serves either of them for her to just gut it out anyway and try to behave trustingly when it’s not genuine.

      • firecatstef said:

        Very good points; you can’t force yourself to trust. Thing is, LW is also describing her own relationship with her ex as “not perfect” apparently simply because they have some kind of contact. And when both parties have a behavior guideline tied up in their feelings of safety in the relationship, and both parties aren’t following the guideline, maybe the guideline should be renegotiated.

    • entendante said:

      I interpreted that part as something like the following:

      Dude: Gosh, I’m so sorry for (insert “wobble” here) – I just can’t help myself whenever I’m around Ex!
      LW: Welp, I’m not ok with the wobble, so if there’s no way for her to be in your life without the wobble happening, then it appears that our relationship can’t happen while she’s in your life.
      Dude: Oh, no, no, I’ll totally cut her out, then!

      …which seems like a reasonable thing for LW to say if Dude presented cheating (or, um, “wobbling”) as the inevitable consequence of Ex being around. Compare to:

      Dude: I’m so, so sorry that I violated your trust, and I’ll do anything I can do to make it right.
      LW: Oh, yeah? Well, since you obviously can’t control yourself around her, you need to cut her out of your life completely.
      Dude: I’m… not sure that’s something I’m comfortable with, actually.
      LW: Nope! You said “anything,” and if you really cared about me you’d block her from your cell phone right this second.
      LW, ten minutes later: (grabs Dude’s phone while he’s in the bathroom and checks to see whether he’s blocked her yet.)

      That’s kind of the way I usually picture “you must cut off your ex for me” conversations going, and I agree that those tend to be super-unhealthy-sounding.

    • Ms. Pris said:

      “I don’t think it’s OK for people to demand of their SOs to break off all contact with someone else.”

      I feel weird about this myself, but honestly I think that’s because I spent years being NVC’d to death and having my feelings minimized all to hell. Sometimes you have to think not of what’s “objectively mature” and right, but of what you need to remain in this relationship in a healthy way.

      It sounds to me like you don’t want to ask an SO to do this, but you want them to do it of their own volition in order to make you happy. But, how are they supposed to know it will make you happy for them to choose this, unless you communicate it?

      We are each able to set our own boundaries and decide what we can and cannot tolerate, right? So what if my boundary is “I need you to stop having contact with the person you cheated with.” It’s fair to communicate that, and what do you do if your partner refuses? Do you leave? Do you just say “Oh, ok, then,” and hang around being miserable?

    • My feelings are mixed about this–it’s not reasonable to demand with no reason that your partner cut someone off because you feel threatened by them with no evidence that there’s actually a problem, but it’s also not reasonable to act as though you don’t get to have boundaries about how your partner treats you and how they allow other people to treat you and your relationship. If you have a boundary and aren’t allowed to communicate it because it’s “not OK”, how is that a boundary?

      If you say “here’s the line, and if you cross it I’m going to leave”, how is that not also you “demanding” that action? Is it not okay to clearly state your boundary along with the consequence for violating it? If not…well, that doesn’t sound like a relationship to me.

      • firecatstef said:

        Agreed, people get to have boundaries and should communicate them. Personally, “you have to cut off all contact with your ex” is outside of mine. If my SO had a boundary like that, I hope they would communicate it, and I hope we would be able to have a conversation that would address their concerns and mine, so we’d both get what we wanted. (Maybe their boundary is not really about whether I have contact with my ex, but about their wanting to trust that I won’t cheat on them, or won’t get drawn into some drama with the ex. Maybe I can make agreements about my behavior that will let them not worry, while still letting me have some form of contact with my ex, if that matters to me.) If my SO really could not negotiate or compromise at all about that boundary, we’d probably have to break up.

        • In this case, for this LW, the solution to “I need to trust that you won’t cheat on me”, given that he’s already broken her trust with this ex, may well be “I would like you to cut off this ex, because you have made it clear that you aren’t trustworthy with this person.” I don’t think that’s an unreasonable request on the part of someone who’s had their trust broken, but even more, I think it’s valuable information to know that your partner is going to tell you point blank that their ex they’ve already cheated with is more important than your ability to trust them.

          At which point, of course, his ass should hit the curb so hard his shoes fly off.

        • neverjaunty said:

          But if you’ve made it clear that you can’t have a platonic relationship with your ex, then saying “I don’t feel comfortable with you being in contact with your ex” IS TRUSTING YOU. They are trusting your belief that honoring a relationship boundary and hanging with your ex are mutually exclusive.

    • Tyrannosaurus Vex said:

      I think about this a bit differently. I agree I don’t have the right to force my SO to break off contact with an ex. I do, however, have the right to break off contact with *him* if I decide that his continued contact with said ex is making our relationship too difficult for me. I am as free as he is too choose the people with whom I wish to associate.

      In this case, the OP would not be saying “you are absolutely never allowed to have contact with Charlie again.” She would be saying “you are free to set whatever boundaries you are comfortable setting with Charlie, but I have to tell you that if you continue to see/talk to/text with them I am not interested in pursuing this relationship.” Then the OP’s SO can choose what is more important to him — continued contact with the ex or his relationship with OP.

      • Tyrannosaurus Vex said:

        Um, that should say “to choose.” Stupid extraneous Os!

      • Neuroturtle said:

        This.

        I’ve been the one who was supposed to be cut off. Unlike in the LW’s situation this was a completely irrational, selfish demand… but it was still a decision he had to make. His hemming and hawing and blaming it all on her trying to avoid making a decision did more damage than anything else.

        Person A is allowed to make any demands you want, and B is allowed to say no, and A is allowed to say that’s unacceptable and leave.

      • Cassandra said:

        Agree, 100%.

    • tinyorc said:

      I think it’s such a context-dependent request that there can be no hard-and-fast rule as to whether it’s an acceptable thing to do or not.

      Like, “I object to you having an occasional coffee with an ex on the grounds of OMG THEY’RE YOUR EX” when there’s no history of “wobbles” or “mistakes” speaks to some fairly major trust issues that are really nothing to do with the ex and everything to do with the relationship.

      But then there’s: “If you honestly “can’t help yourself” around your ex but you’re serious about being in this new relationship with me, you need to cut off contact to show me that I can trust you.”

      See also: “Whenever you’re in contact with your ex, your life turns into a blackhole of drama that actively encroaches on all our fun times together and I’m not ok with that dynamic.”

      In this case, the LW has said her new dude was “testing the waters” to see if he and his ex can function as friends, and “turns out, no, they can’t”. That discovery came at the expense of a breach of LW’s trust, which this dude now needs to work to rebuild. Under those circumstances, I think asking him to stop talking to her altogether – or at least while he’s “doubling down on supporting and prioritizing” his new relationship – is not at all unreasonable.

      • neverjaunty said:

        It’s not even cutting off contact to show trust, in that case; it’s “You admit that in situation X, you can’t honor our relationship boundaries, so I have to ask you to stay out of situation X.” It almost doesn’t matter whether situation X is hanging out with a former partner, going to bars, or playing online games.

        Somebody who wants to keep the option open to stay in situation X is saying, in effect, “I want to take the risk of violating our boundaries.”

        • tinyorc said:

          Yeah, this is true. I mean, I personally wouldn’t be in a relationship with someone who was like “There are certain situations in which I will not be able to respect the boundaries of our relationship”, thereby forcing me into the no-fun role of Relationship Rules Nanny. Honestly, if I was two months into a relationship where these kind of “rules” already felt necessary for the sake of my own happiness, I’d cut and run so hard, but I sense that this LW is not looking for DTMFA solution.

    • moss said:

      My opinion is that if you need to set rules and boundaries around an ex who is present in your partner’s life then there’s a problem already.

      I can be around my ex without falling into bed with him because ew. And my husband knows and understands that I want nothing to do with him anymore but we have to talk a couple of times a year because we have a (grown) child together. Similarly, there is nobody in my husband’s life that I need to police and I know he would not cheat on me. From where I sit a good relationship does not have external sexual threats, because I am into monogamy and so are the dudes I get with.

      Once there is an external sexual threat, which in this case has actually been acted on, the relationship, from a monogamous viewpoint, is threatened. It’s not the EX that is causing the problem, it’s the lack of monogamousness in the current partner that is the problem, and that’s not a problem that goes away if you set arbitrary boundaries like acceptable texting hours.

      If you are monogamous, then what you need and deserve is a partner that loves and wants to be with only you. This is possible to have! There are people who are faithful and loving. Settling for anything less is settling.

      So I agree with firecatstef that cutting all contact with an ex is being too rules-y. But so are the other rules. A solid monogamous relationship doesn’t need rules like that because neither partner is susceptible to external sexual threats.

    • The issue is that BF did something sexual with Ex. When a couple is monogamous, it is totally legit to require dropping contact with people with whom your partner cheated as a condition of not leaving.

    • HeyNonnyNonnymous said:

      I don’t think it’s fair to say, “You have to stop doing X”, but I do think it’s legit to express, “You doing X makes me unhappy/uncomfortable/whatever”.
      There will be times when the person responds with, “I don’t want you to be unhappy! I’ll stop.”
      There will be times when a good response is, “Well, let’s see if we can work out a compromise.”
      And there will be times when the answer is, “That’s unfortunate. Maybe you should bring it up with your therapist.”

      • neverjaunty said:

        I do think it’s fair to say “You have to stop doing X” when X is “a thing that you have admitted is likely to lead to violating an agreed-upon relationship boundary.” Under different circumstances, X might be okay.

  19. gallantqueer said:

    Dear LW,

    Have you considered taking a step back? In my experience the time to double down on a relationship is not when things are rough, but when they’re going well. Maybe focus on your own shit for a little while and let the relationship be messy. It sounds like the stress on your relationship is coming from the outside, though of course those externals effect it.

    If the option above makes you unhappy, tho, definitely don’t do that.

    You can be in a relationship that’s rough and also be happy, in my experience.

    • grassideas said:

      “In my experience the time to double down on a relationship is not when things are rough, but when they’re going well.”

      This is brilliant. This is my experience as well.

  20. Heather said:

    Quick practical advice – sign up for a class together in something neither of you know anything about. Create some new shared experiences together, shake up the old routines, and see if you’re good as a couple.

    • tawg said:

      That’s a really good suggestion! Have fun, go on adventures, HAVE DATE NIGHTS. You mention that you need support, and I think having fun, good, loving times with your partner is a really great way to feel supported in calm moments.

  21. Dappled said:

    Long-time mostly lurker here, popping by to say that the suggestions to take a step back are great, but then equally, so are the suggestions to have some fun together, and I actually think these two ideas could be combined quite well. I’ve been in a situation last year where there was a wobble in partner’s behaviour that made me extraordinarily upset, brought up all sorts of things, etc, particularly, if I still wanted to be with partner. What sealed it for me is that we have a huge amount of fun. There’s been quite a lot of shit in the mix (I have bad immune health, and MH issues, partner has health issues) and things aren’t necessarily perfect, or smooth all the time – but, crucially, we are supportive and we try very hard and these issues arise in the context of a great fun, loving relationship. I go by 70%vs30% – other peoples’ percentages probably vary. As long as we’re having a good time and getting on well 70% of the time, I still think its a go-er.

  22. Just Plain Neddy said:

    Mr Neddy (I am Mrs Neddy) and I had a similar situation early on in our relationship when he did something he should not have done involving an ex. That was nearly six years ago and we are now sickeningly happily married and nothing similar has happened since. I think the key points in why we managed to work it out are the following:

    – He took my anger and hurt seriously and didn’t try to refocus the subject onto his feelings. Had he responded with “I am also sad and anxious and let me tell you all of my feelings about this” it would not have gone down well. Nope. You fucked up, you hear what that means and you face the consequences.

    – He decided to break off contact with the ex, completely, of his own accord, and did so immediately. He blocked her on all social media in the space of a day, without an explanation (honestly, the fact of “I have a new girlfriend and I’m not going to fuck this up” should have been enough explanation to her). No drawn out messages or farewells. No wavering. No “I’m going to go a bit quiet but leave things open in case I want this other option later on.” It’s been six years and they still aren’t in touch. I actually don’t believe in telling Mr Neddy who he can have as a platonic friend, and wouldn’t have insisted on his never speaking to her again, but the fact that he took this route at the crossroads made it very clear that he was fully committed to making our relationship come back from this.

    – I made it very clear to him that in the event that this happens ever again, it is over between us. I told my best friend about it and she phoned him up and yelled at him and he cried and cried. The ultimatum has been very much in place since then. We don’t dwell on it but it’s still there and he knows it.

    – I forgave him. All of this happened within a couple of days and has not been mentioned since. It’s something that happened, and we’re not pretending that it didn’t. A couple of years after that we got married and we have a stupidly happy, no effort and no work marriage full of laughter and geekery and fidelity! But forgiveness could happen because the ordeal of his misbehaviour was so clearly OVER. He didn’t leave the door half open there. He didn’t start on “I suppose this is a difficult time for both of us, with the feelings. Woe is me.” If he had, I very much doubt we would have worked it out at all.

    • E said:

      I’m really glad you shared this for a lot of reasons, but most of all to show an example of a relationship that didn’t start out all rainbows and butterflies but STILL turned out great.

  23. Lisa said:

    +100 to this. If you don’t remind yourselves why you’re together, you’re not going to make it because the ‘mess’ isn’t going to be worth it.

  24. Sunny333 said:

    I just wanted to add that the feelings involved in this scenario are probably familiar to a lot of people, me one of them. I’m sorry, LW, that this is how this relationship has progressed. The beginning of a relationship is so full of hope, and excitement, and expectation. Sometimes we end up rationalizing and excusing the other person’s unacceptable behavior because we want the relationship to work so much.

    I think this was mentioned, but comparing the situation with the LW’s ex to the one of the partner’s and excusing his behavior with it is not good. It all sounds very disappointing, and it seems that the LW is desperately holding onto hope. A lot of the therapy-like verbiage seems like informal equivocating. Like there’s a lot of language around how hard this guy is trying, in order to create some camouflage for him so that the responses will be more aligned with the relationship continuing. Not sure about this,though. I’ve been in this place, myself, so might be projecting.

  25. Amy said:

    The one word that came to mind on reading this letter was… ‘exhausting’. I have a brand-new job with about nineteen spinning plates and a toddler that I still get up with multiple times a night, and this still sounded like harder work than my whole life, much less my relationship of 12 years. My visceral emotional reaction was ‘run’, and cutting and running has never been one of my problems.

    LW, I have no doubt that there are good things you didn’t tell us, but this relationship seems to need an awful lot of therapy and self care and journaling and management at a time in which it should be exciting and energising. I hear you reasoning with yourself about why it’s worth it and good and you have to stick with it, and nothing about you enjoying it, enjoying him, feeling happy. When are you truly happy and having fun in this relationship? If that’s not there now – can you realistically expect that it ever will be?

  26. My sense is that a two-month old relationship that is actually going anywhere long-term shouldn’t feel like work. It should feel like floating on clouds.

    • espritdecorps said:

      Yep!

    • That makes me sad, because it make me realise I have never been anything other than thoroughly miserable in a relationship. Well, I have cats instead so that’s OK.

    • gallantqueer said:

      I wouldn’t necessarily say it “should” be like floating on clouds because I don’t think setting up a standard like that is useful. People are allowed to do things in different ways, even if it makes them unhappy.

      BUT I’d definitely encourage you, LW, to look for a relationship where you are floating on clouds at two months. Technicalities of framing aside, I think the Comradde speaks great wisdom.

  27. Anne On said:

    Just an addendum to all of the excellent advice already here.
    If you are journaling AND working things through AND settling in with a therapist while he is typing with one finger, your relationship is unbalanced.
    I don’t blame you for cutting on on this one. I hope everything works out well for you!

  28. Emotional Spreadsheets said:

    Normally I don’t comment, but a song showed up on my Tumblr dash and I thought of this post (as well as my own situation, I have to admit). It’s called “Don’t Wait for Him” by Side Saddle. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=80LPJSvBOIo

    “If the kid needs space to figure out just where you place, there are a lot of things you have left to do, but don’t wait for him to love you.”

    I suspect I’m going to be listening to this a lot over the next few days.

    • Hannahbelle said:

      I’ve been playing it constantly since you listed this. Awesome. Thanks for the recommend!

      • Emotional Spreadsheets said:

        You are so welcome!

  29. I totally second the ‘ripping off the band-aid’ approach to dealing with exes. My first ‘proper’ boyfriend tried to dump me by treating me like shit for a few weeks/months in the hope that I’d dump him. When that didn’t work he dumped me (just as I’d rejected starting a new relationship in favour of staying with him). After a while I started getting invitations to meet up (booty calls I guess) that went on sporadically until he moved away. I think he just didn’t want any commitment.

    My husband also tried the ‘letting down gently’ approach, but it lasted YEARS. Because he was off travelling the world on business and leisure trips with colleagues and friends, he’d tell me to do the same. Except that I had no friends who could a) take time off work b) take time away from their children and c) had enough money to pay for it. So I never did. He just spent years gradually distancing himself from me until I was tearing my hair out trying to figure out what was going on.
    Eventually he ‘moved out’ but nothing changed from my end (he was away Mon-Fri as before and stayed at weekends as before). It was only years later that I discovered he was seeing someone else and he still refuses to discuss it or her. After years of lying I think it becomes such an ingrained habit it’s impossible to change.

    I also found it much easier to completely cut off all contact with exes. But that’s impossible when you have kids. And all my exes happened in the 1980s, before mobile phones, texting or email.

  30. Just wanted to empathise with how hard this is for you, and to wish you strength. It wont be easy but youll get there in the end if you work hard at it.

    I know this may sound generic, but I read your words, Im just not able to say any more publicly.

    Youll get there if you plug away and keep the faith, trust me.

  31. Alexia said:

    Why is it that society’s “mature” option for women often ends up = “being the cool girl”, anyway? There’s something wrong with the whole idea that mature = forever unemotional and silent. Sure it’s better to hold your piece in some situations, but in a lot more situations, it’s better to Use Your Words.

  32. EGBGOTU said:

    LW, I’d love for you to keep us updated with what happens, if you’re comfortable sharing. I hope everything shakes out for the best for you.

    • LW said:

      Thank you! There’s been a lot to think about here–too much for me to respond to everyone to be honest–and I wrote this letter rather quickly in a moment of very high stress (which is no longer the case both in my life & in this relationship) so it’s missing context in places and somewhat misrepresentative in others (we are doing equal amounts of work in the relationship, he has cut out ex way more severely than I knew at the time of writing, we do have a lot of fun/laughter/affection/great bedroom time when we are together, etc), but there’s still a lot of truth to most of the comments here and a lot to think about. I will certainly update, however it shakes out!

  33. Kate Monster said:

    Dear LW,
    It’s clear you and your partner have been there for each other a lot. You love him, but are you currently in love with him? And is he in love with you?

    Someone else touched on this, but is the fate of your friendship bothering you? How would it feel if this were your story, 5 years from now:
    “He and I had a fling a few years ago/we were friends with benefits for a while. While we were both on the rebound, we could feel comfortable with each other and comfort each other. But we didn’t really go for the whole “boyfriend/girlfriend” thing, and it turned out we were better friends than romantic partners. It was awkward at first when we admitted that, and we only saw each other in big groups of friends for half a year after that. But we hang out every so often now–we were conscious to not just make it about our relationship rants, but to talk about the cool stuff in our lives, and that has helped me feel better about myself and like my life was more stable whatever my relationship status.”

    Are you writing because you want permission to dial things back? Not all exes have to have “Darth” in front of their names, and it can be nice to fondly remember someone as an “old flame” rather than as “burn the memories with fire!”

    I wish you the best in figuring out what you want and taking action to get there. You are worthy of feeling happy.

  34. Kitai said:

    I think one of the best things that happened in my previous relationship was when my bf had a minor case of mention-itis, to the point of having a movie night with her and half of our friends before sleeping through the one I was hosting the night after because he’d pulled an all nighter, I had luckily been going out of state for a week to do a short course and told him in effect to figure out who he wanted to be in a relationship with, and then turned my phone off.

    LW, this may not work for you because it was really lucky timing, but it may be worth taking a break from your relationship for a week or so so you can both evaluate whether you still want to be together, if you want to be single, and/or if he wants to be back with his ex. I will say, however, that if there has been no emotional turmoil (which is no excuse, but can be explanatory) surrounding the ‘wobble’, which there doesn’t seem to be from your letter, then there seems to be at the very least some pink flags flying at half mast.

  35. This is why the phrase “a marriage/relationship is hard work!” should be thrown into the sun.

    Yes, it behooves the parties to be mature and considerate, and sometimes there are challenges that need to be overcome. But it is not supposed to feel like hauling sacks of ore out of a dark cave. I do not think it is said very often to men; because it is often considered the woman’s “sphere.”

    In other words, she should do the “hard work.” And that’s just wrong.

    • espritdecorps said:

      “i do not think it is said very often to men; because it is often considered the woman’s “sphere.”
      Yep.

      When the hormones and excitement die down, you both have to deal with the differences between you that were being ignored in the rush of joy that finally you found someone who is amazing and loves you.
      Sometimes you need outside assistance to learn how to do that in a kind and fair way.
      Especially if one of you has been taught from toddlerhood to accommodate other people, and one of you has learned that things just seem to work themselves out when women are around, as is the case in many cis het relationships.

      “This is why the phrase “a marriage/relationship is hard work!” should be thrown into the sun.”

      Yes! Yes! Yes!

      It’s not that it not work. It’s that it’s work like planning meals, going to the store, and cooking food instead of eating out all the time because even though eating healthy is work, and take out is delicious, you feel so much better when you get enough veggies.

      But then you meet someone who is running themselves into the ground trying to squeeze an entire farm into their 1/4 acre backyard. They’re growing their own grain, raising livestock, putting raised beds of vegetables everywhere, keeping bees, doing all this work after a full day of paid labor, staying up nights trying to figure out if there is a square inch of untilled land that could be put to use.
      Starving because they won’t eat food they haven’t grown themselves, but they don’t have enough space to grow what they need, and they’re expending more calories farming than they’re eating.
      Their neighbors hate the smell of poop, the HOA is fining them every month, they’re in court for breaking city ordinances and neighborhood covenants. They’re deeply in debt, and might go to jail.

      They tell you “Eating healthy is hard work, but it’s worth it!”
      And you’re like “Oh, honey! No! This isn’t the right space for this. Why don’t you sell this house and get a farm in the country?”
      “Oh no!” they say “Here’s 20 reasons why that’s impossible. I have to stay in this house.”
      “Well, what if you just grew veggies and kept a couple chickens, sold off the livestock, paid your debts, and bought the rest of your food from local sustainable sources?”
      “No can do! Here’s 20 more reasons why the only way I can eat healthy is to do exactly what I’m doing now, you have to sacrifice for the things that are important in life!

      • Man, this is a great analogy.

  36. the815 said:

    Forgive me if this was already covered in the comments, but – WHY does he need to gradually taper off contact wit the ex-? Like, do they have kids together? Do they live together and one of them needs to scrape together money for a security deposit on a new place?

    If it’s not a quick, simple reason that can be summed up in one sentence, it’s b.s.

    • the815 said:

      **We are also both going through the joyful process of cutting an ex out of our lives, because in both cases they love us more than we can ever love them & cannot healthily function in a 100% platonic environment with us at this moment.**

      And for that matter, what’s keeping her from making a clean break from her ex-? I don’t get it. If it’s that they don’t want their ex-es back yet aren’t quite emotionally available for a new relationship yet? Then why are they trying to force a new relationship to happen? That’s kinda like starting a new job and then taking several lengthy phone calls a day from your old job because you’re kinda-sorta still employed there and they haven’t replaced you yet.

  37. Other commenters have ably conveyed their feelings about what your boyfriend did and what they think you should do about it. I agree with most of them, so I won’t re-hash that here.

    What I will say is that I empathize with the struggle the two of you are having while you move from Good Platonic Friends to Dating Partners.

    I experienced this struggle with my first (lovely) boyfriend. We had been very good friends for years before the slow-burn of pretending we didn’t have feelings for each other finally sparked into a relationship. We ran into the same problem you’re having regarding how to give each other support. We had a possible pregnancy scare (the condom came off during sex), and my boyfriend was really, really worried about it. I distinctly remember a conversation where he communicated that he was regretting the fact that I was no longer his Good Friend, because “whenever big stuff like this happened before, you were the person I’d talk to about it. And now we can’t do that, because we’re dating”. He wasn’t unhappy to be dating me, but he was definitely unhappy that I was no longer able to support him in the way I used to. (As for my part, I had several very good friends and family members who I could turn to for support, so I wasn’t relying on him as heavily to be The Person Who Helps Me Through This.)

    Because here’s the thing: the way you support someone when you are their friend versus how you support them as their partner can be vastly different. When you call on a friend for support, you’re calling on someone who will implicitly take your side. They can hear the worst of what you’ve done, hear all your less-than-saintly thoughts, and still support you. A friend is removed enough from your life that they can be 100% Team You without having to worry how supporting you will affect them.

    With a romantic partner — especially a romantic partner who has hurt you, or who is going through a rough patch that involves you (I’m thinking stuff like infertility treatment, or one partner becoming unexpectedly unemployed) — there are certain situations where you cannot healthily be a cheerleader for your partner, because doing so can come at the expense of your emotional health. You cannot be expected to put aside your feelings as a partner talks about hardships that are directly related to you.

    You should NOT be subjected to all of your boyfriend’s Feelings around cheating on you with his ex, because you are not unaffected by or unbiased toward his behavior in this situation. You can no longer support him in the same way a platonic friend could in situations like these.
    The full spectrum of his feelings around this incident could range between “I feel terrible that I cheated!” and “But there’s just SOMETHING ABOUT my ex….”. If he needs unconditional support and understanding in this situation, he needs to get it from a friend. He cannot expect you to be his listening ear and supportive shoulder in a situation where his behavior has caused you harm.

    It takes some readjusting, but it is okay (and, I think, necessary) to reframe the kind of support you are able to give each other once you go from friends to lovers. There are certain situations where the blueprint you used to use for supporting each other just won’t work anymore. You may both need to reach out and cultivate friendships with other people now that a key member of your friend support system has transitioned to a different role.

    • the815 said:

      YES. They need better boundaries like whoa.

      My BF used to bitch to me about his ex- (whom he has no contact with) early on in our relationship. I was like, I AM NOT an unaffected third party, DO NOT come to me with this stuff, EVER. Because by doing so, there’s no room for me, and you’re giving off the distinct impression that you’re still in love with her and it makes me feel anxious and like complete garbage. (Turns out he wasn’t still in love with her, just needed to vent, but it was completely unfair to expect me to do the emotional gymnastics of trying to be objective about some other chick he used to be hung up on).

    • This is a really helpful comment, and I think it usefully and beautifully lays out the differences between how friends and partners should balance supporting each other with self-care.

%d bloggers like this: