Dear Captain Awkward:
My partner and I have been together for 6 years and we recently moved to another country where I know the language and have some friends. My partner has been focused on jump-starting his freelance career and doesn’t have many friends in our new country, nor does he know the language very well. Over the last few months, there has been some major conflict culminating in a moment when I made him feel stupid and blamed for us leaving an event my friend was having. This was all accidental on my part, but I have taken ownership of my words and actions. Since then he has made it clear that that moment has colored the relationship and he can no longer move forward. He is still here until we go back for a visit to our home country in a month and during this time we have been acting like normal – planning future trips, being in love. I had asked him to give me a chance to show him that I can balance out the past with our future. Today, I asked for an update and although he says that he sees me being a more supportive partner, he still feels like he can’t continue this relationship. What can I do in this next month to “re-color” the relationship? He is giving me this chance because he wants to be with me, but he feels “burnt out”. How do we heal and move forward? Is it possible?
Partner with a Past
Dear Partner With A Past,
I sense a much more dramatic story here than “We had a bunch of little fights and then one big fight when we left a party early, and now he’s done with the relationship” here. Like, what is this thing from your “Past” that is coloring the whole relationship? Was the friend who threw the party (or someone else who looms large in your current circle) an ex of yours, with some extra emotional baggage for you or your partner?
What I also sense is that your move is not going well for him overall. He is isolated and unmoored, not happy at being so linguistically and socially dependent on you and living there is very stressful for him. Culture shock can happen to you even when you know about it and are anticipating it. An international move, especially to a place where one person doesn’t speak the language, adds a lot of stress and pressure.
So, you have this month before you visit home. You’ve asked him what he thinks and feels, and he’s “made it clear” that he does not intend to move forward with you. You could bend yourself into the shape of the most apologetic, accommodating, supportive girlfriend and still not fix either his desire to continue in the relationship or overcome his stress about living where you are. Or you could believe him when he says that he’s burnt out and that the relationship might not continue.
If you knew for sure that this was the end between you, what would you do to protect your heart and set your coming solo life up the way you want it to look?
- Is it time for him to go back “home” now and not wait for your scheduled trip together? “You say you don’t want to stay with me, so, what’s keeping you here now?“
- Is it time to stop sharing a bed?
- Is it time for you to go stay with a friend and get some space from each other?
- Is it time to stop making plans for the future?
- Is it time to wall off your money from his money and separate your books from his books?
- Is your partner’s beef with you legitimate or is he overreacting/being jealous/controlling/blaming everything about his unhappiness on you?
- Is it time to have one last hurrah of good sex and travel and then a dramatic Goodbye Forever?
I don’t know, Partner With A Past. I don’t envy you this last month of limbo. I don’t think there is any charm offensive you can do or should do to keep someone involved with you when they don’t want to be, and even if you could somehow convince him to stay, how could you trust that it wouldn’t all fall apart again at the first sign of conflict? He has to want it for himself.
So, what can you control?
- You can say, “I love you and I hope you’ll stay” and then drop the conversations about what the relationship will be for now.
- You can say “Making future plans doesn’t work for me right now – let’s keep our conversations focused on the present.”
- You can make sure your economic situation and living situation is as stable as can be if the relationship dissolves.
- You can spend time with your friends and get out of the hothouse of Just The Two Of You.
- You can give him some space to make a good decision for himself and yourself some space to start to imagine life without him.
- Like the cheesy motivational poster, maybe you let go of him and see if he comes back to you in enough time for you to still want him to.
I wish you both well.