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#912: “My partner says he’s probably done with our relationship. How can I convince him to stay and work it out?”

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?

Thanks!
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.

 

 

 

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114 comments
  1. wwax said:

    I’ve moved countries a lot in my life and it sounds like you’re at the few months after arriving stage where homesickness hits extra hard too which will not in anyway help his wanting to stay with you if that means staying in a strange country. This is just a side note & not the major issue at play here but I thought worth mentioning. You may want to bring up if moving back somewhere he felt safe & a lot less dependent on you might help the relationship, or at least put him in a space where he’d be willing to work on it. To be honest though I think he needs a shit or get off the pot conversation. He’s either leaving you or he’s working on the relationship, right now he’s being a dickhead & keeping his bases covered & not worried about what it’s doing to you.

    • TO_Ont said:

      I don’t think moving to a new country is a side note or a minor issue. Would he want to live in this country regardless, whether they were together or not? If they break up, does he want to stay? How long does he want to stay? How long do you want to stay?

      I know some people move a lot, and people adapt to all kinds of things, but emigrating or even a move to the other side of your own country can be an immense, life changing, and even traumatic change. Adopting a new home, a new culture, a new community, a new language is HARD. Not adopting them and living as a perpetual visitor in a place is probably even harder.

      Not everyone wants to do it, even with the healthiest, most supportive relationship. It’s an immense life change to do ‘for someone’, if you don’t 100% want it yourself.

      • zyronife said:

        My own experience corroborates what you’re saying. When I was twenty-four, I moved from Kalamazoo, Michigan to San Francisco, California. It took me a full two years before I finally started thinking of San Francisco as home, as opposed to Kalamazoo– and that was a relocation I chose for myself, within my home country. Major relocations are stressful, even under the best circumstances.

        • Kelly L. said:

          This happened to me *moving across the same not-very-big city.* I don’t drive, and the previous place had been much more within walking distance of all the things I normally did–work, bars, coffee shops, restaurants, library, stores, everything. The new place was more comfortable in itself, which made him hang around the house more too, and by the time a few months passed, I was just so frustrated because neither.of.us.ever.left. I hadn’t realized how much of my life was built around “I’m going to go walk downtown and like maybe buy books and eat burritos or something” all by myself, and how much that helped me keep my sanity. And that was moving just a few minutes, in driving terms, away.

      • solecism said:

        More anecdotes along these lines: when I moved from the West Coast of the USA to the Midwest for graduate school, my then-boyfriend came with me. He never really adjusted, and I had no idea he’d be so brittle. He became almost entirely dependent on me, and the relationship became emotionally abusive as his neediness and insecurity ground me down and isolated me. When we finally broke up (years too late), he immediately returned to the West Coast.

        My now-ex moved from his city to my city when we transitioned from a long-distance to cohabitation. I thought it would go okay, especially as he had many friends in the area, and it involved a move over even less distance, but again, he handled it poorly and was more brittle than I expected.

        Again, 2 different men but within the same country, within the same language group. So I am not surprised that your boyfriend is finding the transition very difficult.

        • Turtle Candle said:

          I was almost on the other side of this. I was engaged to a man who lived in Canada; I live in the US. I was willing to accept moving to another country for him (I could understand why he didn’t want to live in the US). I strongly prefer to live in major or at least medium-large cities in areas that don’t get too cold; I was willing to compromise on the ‘cold’ part to some degree, within reason. I would have moved to Ottawa (where he lived at the time) or Toronto or Vancouver or a number of other cities happily. I was also willing to consider medium-sized or smallish cities as long as they were still cities and not rural towns.

          But his career was in an industry where job openings could be rare, and he wanted the freedom to move *anywhere*–including small towns so far north that they’re above the tree line. When I said that I couldn’t be happy somewhere that isolated or that cold–I REALLY don’t like being cold–he argued that as long as we loved each other, why should location matter? (My career is something that I can do remotely from almost anywhere, so that wasn’t a consideration.)

          But it *does* matter. I am perpetually grateful that I didn’t give in–partly because I feel like “I’ll move to your country, I’ll move to a smaller city than I prefer, I’ll put up with colder temperatures than I like (Vancouver and environs is about as cold as I’d like to get, but I could cope with Toronto or similar), but I won’t live in a small town somewhere so cold that trees don’t grow” is a reasonable compromise and I was unsettled that he wanted to push farther… but also because I know, I KNOW, that had I moved with him to Little House on the Tundra I would have become depressed, needy, and what you describe as ‘brittle.’ Loving him would not have been enough. I would have been miserable, I would have made us both miserable, it would have been all kinds of bad.

          • Turtle Candle said:

            (And by ‘didn’t give in,’ I mean we broke up. The inability to compromise on location wasn’t the only reason we broke up, but it was a reason, and a big one.)

          • Yikes! Congratulations on dodging a bullet! At best, it appears this man was way too naïve and idealistic to be a good life partner. At worst, it could have been an attempt to isolate and control you. I am just guessing here, since I don’t know you or your ex.

          • solecism said:

            Turtle Candle, I am glad that you made the choice that was best for you. I am sorry that he wasn’t willing to consider your needs seriously, so I am glad you are no longer together.

            With my Ex #1, I tried the soft break-up approach of “You are rooted here, and I am moving there, so I guess it’s over, and maybe I’ll write/call/visit.” That had been my MO for all my earlier intimacies, and it worked for me. And I had already tried to break up with him when his homophobia started showing. But I had never broken up with anyone before because I’d only ever had fuckbuddies, and the naked pain and tears were too much for me so I recanted. Moving away was attempt #2. But I followed advice about not making decisions for other people, and of course he wanted to be with me wherever I went, so I accommodated that. He did not have self-knowledge to know that this would be disastrous for him. And I did not have the experience with either alcoholism or relationships to know how ugly it would get before I finally pulled the plug for good and he accepted it (and ugly after it, too). Live and learn. I don’t really regret the 7 years of hard experience, but I do think about how different my life would be if I’d made different decisions.

            With my Ex #2, we still love and care for each other a great deal. And I waffled for 3 years before I finally decided this isn’t working, my heart isn’t in it, and we keep hurting each other, over and over. I had more experience with relationships, but not much with serious long-term depression, bipolar, mental illness, disability in general. I caused harm when I thought I was helping, and I didn’t think that the second relationship go-round would end up eerily echoing the first because they started out in such opposite directions. Ex #2 listened to me and heard me and saw me, which Ex #1 wasn’t really capable of, and yet still made choices that harmed me and made it clear that protecting himself was a higher priority than communicating or not hurting me or problem-solving together. I am very thankful, though, that Ex #2 has been supportive through the entire waffling and breakup and disentanglement process. Much less ugly, but in some ways way more painful.

            LW, be brave and let your boyfriend go. Do what you can to make it easier for him to transition back to home country if that’s what he wants, since it sounds like you’re in a much more secure position than he is.

          • If you love each other, why should location matter – as long as you’re living where he wants to live, ie, not the USA? Major side-eye to that nonsense.

          • welllll, moving to the US isn’t just about location change but massive loss of safety net, free healthcare and workers’ rights. I think that’s different to cultural/surroundings differences

          • Light37 said:

            Speaking as one who loves the cold and has happily lived in Alaska- you made the right call. The isolation is HARD. Also, cost of living is high. Like, $10 for a gallon of milk high.

          • he argued that as long as we loved each other, why should location matter?

            But shouldn’t that apply to him just as much as to you? I mean, if love is all that matters, couldn’t he also move to a city you would actually enjoy living in and deal with the impact on his career?

          • The cold. Oh, the cold. I moved for my husband and not even to the Canadian tundra, but man, is the cold awful. I was in Memphis, which has four lovely, mild seasons, and moved north for marriage. The second my husband is dead, I am moving back south. I hate snow.

      • Emma said:

        100% this. An international move isn’t something you can just go along with and reasonably expect it to go smoothly. You need to be actively engaged and planning how you’re going to integrate and put down roots there, or you’ll just feel isolated and crap. Whether that means language classes, joining ex-pat communities, studying or working in a social environment with people with whom you can communicate… whatever.

        Perhaps I’m being too exacting here, but my test for whether or not to do an international move with or for a partner would be, “If we broke up the day we arrived, would I still want to stay?” It’s an approach which has served me well in the past, and it sounds like OP and their partner did that diligence on OP’s side, but not on partner’s side. Whether improving partner’s situation in the new country would help with the relationship issues, I don’t know, but it might be worth talking about.

        • I don’t think we know that LW and partner didn’t adequately prepare. I think that even if you make all the preparations you can imagine moving to another country might be too much strain for a person, or a relationship.

          • Emma said:

            That is 100% true! I made that assumption on the basis of LW saying their partner doesn’t have friends in the new country and is socially isolated, but maybe plans were made and they didn’t work out – you can never really foresee how a big life change like this is going to go down.

          • Saira Ali said:

            Agreed. My husband is a super gregarious extroverted social butterfly. Never met a stranger, etc. I moved to Japan for a job (before we were married) and he tried to follow me. He gave it his very best effort (his job was one where he could work from home from anywhere so that wasn’t an issue) but we just couldn’t make it work. He had trouble meeting people, and my outgoing gregarious funny charming boyfriend turned into a withdrawn depressed shadow of himself. It was super hard on him that I had a ready-made social group of all the other young gaijin who worked for my company, and his attempts to meet people at language classes and meetup groups were mostly unsuccessful because of a bunch of reasons that aren’t really germane to the point I’m trying to make, except insofar as neither of us expected to encounter so many difficulties based on our pre-move research. He went back to the US and we dated long distance for a long time while I decided whether I wanted to commit to staying in Japan or commit to my partner. (Spoilers, I chose partner and don’t regret it, but it was a really hard decision that took months for me to make.)

      • Manattee said:

        Completely agree. I think you can also usefully flip this question around. Now that you’ve gone through an international move with your partner and seen how they’ve handled themselves in a stressful situation, do you still want to stay with your partner regardless, whether you stay in the new country or not?

      • RSVP said:

        Moving is one of the major life stressors, right up there with divorce and a death in the family. Moving to another country where you don’t know the language, or at least don’t know it well, must be especially stressful. Especially if the move was somebody else’s idea.
        I used to live in a western Canadian city where just about everyone seemed to come from somewhere else to work in the oil industry when there was a boom on. We used to call divorce “the immigrant’s curse” because it seemed that people would move there from the U.K., or Europe, or the middle east, or even from the ‘States, and then divorce two or three years later, almost on schedule. They had the stress of the move, the different culture, and the new job, all in one go.

    • MK said:

      I don’t think he is being a dickhead that is covering his bases, I think he is trapped in a bad situation and is trying to get through this last month in a foreign country as non-confrontationally as possible. There is a good chance that the honest answer to the “why are you still here?” question is that he is broke, in a foreign country, with no support system around. Possibly he is not in a position to eat the cost of the ticket he already bought for the upcoming trip and buy a ticket home and pay for shipping his stuff back, so he is staying where he is till they go home, while being upfront that he sees no future in their relationship.

  2. Dizzy said:

    I think he’s just done, LW. There’s not a whole lot you can do when someone stops loving you, after all. I think it’s time for you to focus extra-hard on self-care so you can be prepared for the inevitable.

  3. Catherine from Canada said:

    Culture shock aside, and yeah it’s tough but ” that that moment has colored the relationship and he can no longer move forward. ”
    One moment? “One” wrong move and he’s done with you? This is not a relationship, no matter how long it’s lasted.

    I’m sorry, that sounds harsh but to me this all sounds like you’ve spent – what, six years? – bending “yourself into the shape of the most apologetic, accommodating, supportive girlfriend” and now that you’re doing something for yourself, he’s being pouty.

    • DropTable~DropsMic said:

      You’re right, it is harsh. I don’t think you can look at the way a multiple-year relationship ends and declare it “not a relationship.”

      We don’t know what the Big Fight was about, or how OP and Partner behaved during it, but I can think of a few scenarios that would color Partner’s view of things:

      * the way OP behaved was unacceptable in OP’s eyes and worth ending a relationship over

      * the way OP behaved solidified some feelings Partner was having about their dynamic, or served as confirmation

      * the stance OP was arguing for made Partner realize the two of them were fundamentally incompatible over a major life value or decision

      I’m sure others could think of more, but at the end of the day it doesn’t matter. There are plenty of things that could happen in a single conversation that could make someone decide to end a relationship. It doesn’t make all the prior years of that relationship null and void.

      • Yeah, I wonder, given that LW says that there was major conflict that culminated in this Big Fight, that it’s not really about the dishes, metaphorically, for Partner.

        I’m sympathetic to the LW, having had been in their position, but it’s probably better to let Partner go, when you read it either way.

        • DropTable~DropsMic said:

          I think this is definitely one of those things where people will see it differently based on past experience. People who have been really hurt by a partner leaving them, especially if they felt leaving was used as a threat or punishment, may be more inclined to sympathy with OP.

          Meanwhile, my worst breakup experience was with a partner who did not think I had the right to leave him, and kept trying to “prove” his “innocence” as an excuse to continue harassing me. So I’m very sensitive to suggestions that someone is breaking up as a “punishment,” even though intellectually I know there are broken dynamics where this is used as a threat.

          • Well, I definitely agree that if someone wants to break up, the best thing to do is to let them go, no matter how much it pains you.

            I am sympathetic to the OP because I was blamed 100% for the breakup, and it was done in a very impersonal, final way. So I suppose that’s my sensitivity, although it doesn’t trump yours. It seems like you tried to break up with your partner as kindly as possible, and I certainly did not get that from mine.

            I should reiterate that just because I am sympathetic with OP doesn’t mean I think they ought to try and get their partner to stay, though.

      • DropTable~DropsMic said:

        *was unacceptable in -Partner’s- eyes, excuse me

      • rosered said:

        OP also mentioned that they had major conflict that culminated in that Big Fight. They have been in conflict for months, so it isn’t some little thing that is easy to dismiss as something that Partner should be able to just get over.

    • RSVP said:

      I suspect that the “one moment” was more of a “straw that broke the camel’s back” thing.

  4. Violet said:

    “I made him feel stupid and blamed” (and now must do whatever he wants to try and make up for it and it’s still not good enough) sets off alarm bells for me. Male ego threatened by being in a less powerful position in the unfamiliar country alarm bells. Controlling abuser alarm bells.

    LW, you don’t say what you did that you’ve been taking ownership of, so there’s to way to try and objectively evaluate what any of us thinks is reasonable or not. And that evaluation from us might or might not be helpful to you. I’ll tell you one thing you did NOT do: you did not MAKE him feel anything. He’s responsible for his own feelings, and blaming you for them is a Bad Sign in my book. Note, blaming you for _making_ him feel _blamed_.

    I’d recommend NOT trying to get him to stay in the relationship. Stop that and focus on your own happiness. Does a partner with this kind of dynamic make it easy for you to be your happiest, most secure, comfortable self? If he wants to go, let him go. I suspect though that if/when you stop pursuing and making amends for The Bad Thing, his dynamic will change. Please be safe and take care of yourself.

    • TO_Ont said:

      I actually read it the opposite way, but who knows. And in any case, I suppose it doesn’t matter, if they’re not happy.

      • Turtle Candle said:

        Yeah. As far as I can tell, he’s not saying “You made me feel bad, so you must do X and Y to appease me or I’ll leave.” He’s saying, “I think this relationship is over.” I don’t see any “unless” from him–the LW is trying to change his mind, but I don’t see where he’s asking her to do that. He sounds, well… done.

        (It is weird and uncomfortable and makes me feel squidgy that they’re apparently playing business-as-usual for this limbo period, but given that the LW knows the local language and has connections and he does not, he may feel trapped. If he’d written in, I’d say he should just go *now*, but he didn’t.)

        • Friendly Hipposcriff said:

          If a situation has a definite end date – in my case, it was the end of a fixed-term lease and here, what sounds like a booked long-distance ticket – then I can totally see not getting out NOW but waiting it out. I cannot see the ‘acting in love’ and ‘making plans’ when, at the same time, you’ve declared that you want to leave.

    • emmaclaire said:

      Violet, imo you’re reading to much into the writer’s explanation and I don’t think it’s helpful to imply that because he said “I’m pretty sure I’m done with this relationship and there’s nothing you can do to fix it” means he’s being anything other than honest and sincere. Like, that’s 100% a thing he’s allowed to say. He also has the right to say “You blamed me for something that’s not my fault and it made me feel unfairly guilty which is not ok”. The writer even owned up to it entirely and said, “Ya, I did that”. Sure, there are ways in which that dynamic can be used to manipulate, but in a healthy relationship partner 1 should adjust their actions if partner 2 explains how partner 1 does shitty things gives partner 2 Bad Feels. Plus, the way the writer frames the relationship implies that there is a history with the writer “making him feel stupid and blamed”; the partner claimed to be “burnt out”. So, if the writer already had this nasty habit it’s going to stress the relationship further since the partner is isolated from any social circles and literally has nowhere to go to get some space. If anything, I’m worried about the partner and not the writer.

      Ya, it’s shitty that he’s hanging around and making plans, but people do that kind of stuff when they’re stuck. He’s in a foreign country with, what sounds like, no resources, so unless he want’s the most bitter month of his life he’s probably going to follow the writer’s lead until he can get back home. Long story short, I agree with the advice that the writer should focus on separating out finances, putting a hold on making future plans with him, and being reflective about what they want their single life to look like….if he has a change of heart about the relationship he’ll let the writer know.

      • Saira Ali said:

        Well said Emma! I’m dismayed by how often people take “You are responsible for your own feelings” to mean “I can behave as completely shittily as I want, and if you feel bad, welp, it’s your own fault! You are responsible for your own feelings!” Gross. My ex pulled that shit. “You’re angry and upset” “Well yes, because you cancelled a date, again, with no apology or explanation, and were rude to my friends, and said you didn’t care about me. That made me both sad and angry. ” “No one can _make_ you feel sad. You chose to be sad!” Bye Felicia!

        • OH GOD I HATE THAT. I wound up apologizing for making my ex feel discomfort because I was hurt by them flippantly cancelling a date without an apology. Did I ever get that consideration back? No, it was “well I’m not trying to be mean to you,” followed by the implied “so if you’re upset it’s your own damn fault.”

          It’s taken months for me to realize that I wasn’t being oversensitive, I was reacting normally to shitty behavior. Sorry for the tangent!

        • CommanderBanana said:

          Yeah, my mom is fond of saying that “you can’t control what other people do, but you can control how you feel about it!” Actually, you can’t – feelings are tricksy hobbits.

          Now, I can control someone else making me feel bad by breaking up with them and no longer having them in my life, sooo.

          • Angel said:

            My mother is fond of the related “you can’t control what people do, but you can control how you respond to it” which I think is a little more realistic. Feelings, no. Actions, probably.

          • My mom who’s very much into yoga and new ageism (and not being nice in general) has a whole lecture about we are just a cart driver and the horses are our emotions. So when I was feeling upset it was always because I was a bad cart driver and not because she tried to trip my horses

          • Majikkani_Hand said:

            Reply to Ruler of cats because it won’t let me:

            That’s a terrible analogy if it’s meant to imply we alone control our emotions–horses are living creatures with minds of their own, and can be prone to loosening harnesses, panic, bolting, stubbornly standing still, screaming, kicking, stepping on feet, or even biting random people! A good cart driver can mitigate some of that, and a trainer can mitigate a lot, but they’re still independent beings and the driver is NOT in full control.

        • I’m dismayed by how often people take “You are responsible for your own feelings” to mean “I can behave as completely shittily as I want, and if you feel bad, welp, it’s your own fault!

          This this this! “People can’t MAKE you feel a certain way” is bullshit for the exact reason you said. Your actions damned well have an affect on the people around you, and bloody well do MAKE them feel things. Part of being a grownup is accepting that actions have consequences, and what I see in “nobody can MAKE you feel a certain way” is a refusal to accept that fact.

          The one situation where I think it’s remotely useful to say that you can’t make someone feel a certain way is if you’re trying to love them happy or healthy – you can’t make someone not depressed no matter how hard you try and you should never blame yourself for that. In pretty much every other situation I’ve ever seen it used in, it’s just some jerk making excuses to be a jerk.

          • X. said:

            Yes yes YES.

            There’s a difference between “being responsible for your own feelings” and “taking responsibility for your own feelings.” Most people don’t get to choose how they feel – only how they deal with those feelings. And “dude, you hurt me and that is not okay” is as valid a choice as “a bad thing happened to me but I will try my best not to let it ruin my day” is.

            (I know there are certain individuals who thrive on outrage/offense/conflict, but I will never understand why people think someone would choose, voluntarily, to feel like shit – I’ve never encountered anyone who enjoyed or looked for opportunities to experience hurt, humiliation, disappointment, guilt, or self-loathing. Never mind things like depression, which are actual conditions and not passing emotions.)

      • Saira Ali said:

        (Not saying the OP is doing this. We don’t have enough information about what happened at the party that made OP’s partner feel blamed. Just pointing out this is a common occurrence in geeky circles and it drives. me. up. the. wall.)

      • tinyorc said:

        I agree with this. Also, more generally (not aiming this at you specifically, Violet), framing every single relationship problem as “who’s abusing who in this scenario?” is not helpful. Especially in situations where we have bare bones information, such as this letter.

        Abuse comes in many forms and doesn’t always read as overt cruelty and manipulation, and it’s heartening to see wider recognition of this fact, particularly in the relationship advice community. But also, sometimes relationships go to shit and partners are awful to each other and everyone’s hurting, but no one is abusing anyone. Sometimes people just get stuck in a place where they bring out the worst in each other and they can’t see how to move forward without causing more damage. This is a sad but very real facet of life and relationships. Most of us are always trying to do better, but we don’t always succeed.

        Recognising abuse where we see it is so vitally important, but conflict and unhappiness in a relationship does not always equal abuse.

        • KittensMakeEverythingBetter said:

          This! Thank you, tinyorc.

        • twomoogles said:

          Yes, we all bring our own experiences to any question and I think that’s showing here, but it can be hard when people are certain of their interpretation. *personally* I read this as a “nobody has been abusive, both people are stressed and have made bad moves, Partner is using one thing as a reason to break up when he was probably unhappy for awhile.” But, that’s my perspective and I recently saw something very similar happen with friends.

      • syrens said:

        YES to all of this, Emma.

  5. slfisher said:

    I learned a while ago never to try to keep anyone in a relationship where they expressed the wish to leave. You want to break up? Bye. You need space? Let me know when you’re ready to come back. Etc.

    If it were me, I’d assume we were now broken up and act accordingly, whether that means moving or whatever.

    • YES THIS. It’s exhausting, draining, and plain terrible for both parties if you try to argue your partner back into staying.

      • Anne On said:

        Yeah, by the time a thought like that is expressed OUT LOUD, it is hard to work around.

        • It’ll be at the forefront of your mind. Also, I’ve learned that bending and twisting yourself into pretzels to please your partner doesn’t work. Ever. At best they don’t appreciate your effort, at worst, you break up anyway.

    • Yes. This.

    • I agree. There’s a difference between one partner telling the other “Here are some things I want to work on in this relationship, and if we can’t fix them, I’m done” and one partner presenting the break-up to the other as a fait accompli. LW, from the way you worded things, it sounds like this situation is of the fait accompli variety. Assuming you are broken up is healthiest for you and for your partner.

    • FelineGlorificus said:

      I LOVE THIS! When I was a young lass I had a boyfriend say “I’m not sure that i want to be in a relationship” I told him “Then you aren’t in one.” Apparently I was supposed to get all lawyerly and defend our relationship, if someone wants me to do that kind of emotional labor they really need to pay me and it ain’t cheap. If someone isn’t sure and is uncertain enough to bring it up to me; well that says enough to me. Vaya con dios Jeremy

      • High fives for younger you! I had a dirtbag highschool boyfriend who pulled that shit on me over and over. After that relationship fiiiinally ended I decided no one will ever *attempt* to break up with me again: they will succeed whether they actually wanted to or not.

        • Esselyn said:

          I will always count breaking up with my first boyfriend as one of the hardest and bravest things I’ve ever done for exactly that reason. He dumped me with no warning (literally, from “I’m ready to propose” to “I need to be single for a while” in a week) then changed his mind, and even though I wanted So. Very. Badly. to rewind everything, I didn’t let him hit the reset button. I told him he was going to get six months to figure out just why he needed to dump me, I was going to take six months to see if I could trust him not to do that again, and then we’d talk about dating again.

          Spoiler: we did not start dating again.

          • Anon, Goodnight said:

            Yeah, when I was in college, I lived with a boyfriend for a couple of years. Towards the end of my junior year, he started talking about having me move out for the summer and then getting back together in the fall. I said that if he really wanted me to move out, I wasn’t coming back and we would be over. (So be sure.) After a week or so, he said he was sure, so I made my plans and moved out. Guess who eas super confused in the fall when I wouldn’t take him back?

    • For me, “Let me know when you’re ready to come back” would feel as if I was committing myself to wait for a person, and someone who is expressing desire for space is someone it is not good for me to wait for. But I’m a pine-r, trying to break the habit of pining– your mileage may vary.

  6. ScholarlyCactus said:

    Honey, I don’t think this is going to go well unless you cut your losses and try to make Your Very Own Life That Is Yours.

    You can’t make him stay. The Good Captain is right, there’s no “charm offensive” you can do to woo him into falling with you and forgetting all the hurt he’s obviously feeling right now. And even if he does… What stops this from happening again? You two can love each other all you want, but would you rather one half be constantly miserable (but still a couple!) or both of you be more content (but separate in romance).

    While I don’t think this relationship is abusive (from the information presented here), I DO believe it’s veering dangerously close to “unhealthy for all involved”. I DO believe that even if it doesn’t last, some separation will do the two of you some good. Who knows? Maybe he’ll heal and decide that he’d like to get back with you. But you can’t force that.

    So, following along that conclusion, here’s a bit of advice if you care to listen:
    *Self care. Self care self care self care. If you can, indulge a bit. Take time to lick your wounds. Spend time with people who make you feel valued (who aren’t him!) Eat and sleep regularly. If you aren’t feeling physically up to par, emotionally you’ll be worse off (pot to kettle here, but I digress).
    *Figure out how to separate everything. ESPECIALLY your money. Little things you thought didn’t matter before will suddenly become Big Deals That Cause A Huge Fight, like that silly knick-knack of a cat you both made fun of when your weirdo aunt got it for you? That will become a Big Deal all of a sudden.
    *Maybe go live somewhere else. If you can. The distance may offer some perspective.
    *Go do other things! Take up knitting! Volunteer at an animal shelter! It’s harder to actually DO it but you’ll feel better and it gives you less time to ruminate on “what ifs”.

    This advice is probably going to be a repeat of other’s advice. I’m okay with that, because the more people you hear it from, the more you might believe it.

    I wish you the best of luck, no matter how this whole thing goes.

  7. If you changed your relationship to be something you think he would want to stay in, is it a relationship YOU want to be in? Is it actually tenable as a working, long-term, relationship? Or is it an intense, honeymoon-like, relationship where all your focus is on making him happy? Because if the relationship he wants ISN’T how you actually want to be, then no matter what, one of you will be unhappy in it.

    • X. said:

      THIS.

      I once did this for a year, because I didn’t want someone I cared about to leave my life, and that person backtracked on their initial “this isn’t working for me anymore” and said they wanted to try. I tried to make myself so small, so accommodating, so undemanding and unintrusive, that I nearly disappeared, mentally and physically; the other person took advantage of my willingness to be an unprotesting doormat at every turn, because I couldn’t complain without fear of losing the relationship. By the time we were finally quit of each other, I wanted to set both of us on fire (only I’d trained myself so hard to believe that everything was my fault that all I could do was collapse in on myself), and I don’t think it would have been such an enormous, traumatizing deal if we’d just let it end at that first big rough patch. Despite what I told myself every step of the way, there was pretty much no universe in which it would ever have ended with both of us feeling secure and unresentful and non-guilty about each other, after that initial pull-apart.

      LW, it’s important to grieve for the relationship that effectively ended when your partner said he couldn’t continue – because the relationship you’d previously had *did* end with that statement. You can’t go back to a time where you don’t know he’s capable of feeling the way he feels now. Can you go anywhere with the relationship you have now, in light of knowing how he feels? Even if you could somehow make him stay, would you ever be able to feel secure in trusting that he really wanted to be there? How much would you worry about ending up here again in a month, or a year? How much space would there be in your life for your own wants and needs, and the validity of your feelings, if you’re going to spend so much of your emotional energy trying to make him feel a certain way? Do you think you’d be able to look at him as a partner, rather than a wild animal that will startle and bolt the instant you move in the wrong way or make the wrong sound? Instead of being a partner in the true sense of the word, would he just become a source of constant worry and insecurity? What is it you’re hoping to save by persuading him to stay, knowing what he thinks and feels now?

      I think Cap’n is right – you can’t force him to feel a certain way about you, and you can’t make him stay if he doesn’t want to – but I hope some of those questions might help you to begin letting go and taking care of yourself.

  8. Celeste said:

    I read your letter and kept flashing on the song, “Let Him Fly”….”It would take an acrobat/ I already tried all that/ I’m gonna let him fly.” Once somebody says they can’t see a future with you, it’s best to listen. How much nicer it would be to be with someone who actually has desire to be there! I agree with the good Captain and the talk you need to have about what to expect from the next month. I think it’s really only you who has been having a pleasant time lately, being in love etc.

    P.S. I’m really sorry it didn’t go the way the you wanted it to.

    • rosered said:

      It made me thinkg of “I Can’t Make You Love Me”
      ‘Cause I can’t make you love me if you don’t
      You can’t make your heart feel something it won’t
      Here in the dark, in these final hours
      I will lay down my heart and I’ll feel the power
      But you won’t, no you won’t
      ‘Cause I can’t make you love me, if you don’t

  9. Sheelzebub said:

    LW, I’m not going to speculate what these issues are. I’m going to point out that your partner is saying “I am done” and then says he’s giving you this chance because he wants to be with you but he’s burnt out. OK. That sounds like it’s done to me. Believe him and accept this.

    Cutting to the chase: Follow CA’s advice. Take him at his word and proceed as if you’re breaking up. Sort out your finances (separate your bank accounts, etc.), your stuff, and your living situation. Get all of that stuff sorted, then let him know that you’re taking him at his word, you respect his decision to break up, and you think it would be better if you each returned home separately (you to visit, him to live). Tell him that you understand he doesn’t want to be with you any longer, that you accept it and respect it (though you’re sad about it) and that you also understand he will not be coming back with you after his visit to his family. If you have a 2 bedroom place, move into the other bedroom. If he wants to make travel plans, tell him “You want to break up. I’m accepting that. I don’t think it’s helpful for either of us to make travel plans when we’re breaking up.” Repeat as necessary.

    If he says the whole “Well, I’m giving you a chance because I want to be with you!” you can just say “You’ve told me that you feel burned out and that you can’t see me as a supportive partner. I am sad about that, but I believe you. I think you’re right, it’s best we end this, and that we do so in a mature and amicable way.”

  10. Lurks@Work said:

    Not to derail, but the OP never mentioned that THEY were female, just that their partner was male. They could be a gay or pansexual couple. The advise applies regardless.
    OP, it takes two people to who want to be in a relationship to make it work. He has checked out in all but body and while it is okay to let him know that you love him and want to work it out, you need to live your life as if he is leaving and may not come back. If he does great! Don’t hang on to that expectation, though. I wish you luck!

  11. This LW’s partner says they want to break up, but hasn’t done any breaking up of either their emotional or physical-space relationships. It’s reminding me of a letter I read recently (here maybe? I can’t find it) where a partner basically put that letter’s writer on trial for a month until the partner decided if they wanted to break up. I’m itching all over with dread that when this LW’s partner said that “although he says that he sees me being a more supportive partner, he still feels like he can’t continue this relationship” and stayed put, they meant “I’m enjoying your efforts to gain my forgiveness, but they’re not good enough yet, please continue trying to appease me”.

    I know something less sinister could be behind the partner’s seeming to stay while saying they want to breakup, like finances, particularly if it would mean a major move back to their home country. Whatever the reason, I think the Captain’s advice for the LW to take their partner at their word that the breakup is real and to start working on the emotional side of breaking up is especially important if physical separation isn’t possible.

    • Lablizard said:

      I wondered if his visa, residency, work authorization depends on his residence with the LW. I also wonder if he has the means to return home or move to a new place if he chooses to stay in the country. He might be stuck there for the time being

      • NorahMancer said:

        Yeah, I feel like there’s not enough information in the letter for we the commentariat to say clearly, but the foreign country thing definitely complicates stuff. I’ve been in a relationship where I stayed in the same house for two months (though not sleeping in the same bed) for a mixture of reasons. That was a few hours’ travel from my parents’ home, in the country where I was born, in a city where I had friends, a job and reliable transit.
        My favourite response that I got to that was, “Shouldn’t he have been the one to move out?” (either because he was the one who ended the relationship or because he’s a dude and I’m a lady). Short answer, I was actually pretty glad to have an ironclad excuse not to live in that house any longer.

      • Turtle Candle said:

        Yeah. I had a friend who was in a (truly horrible) situation a little like this, in a country where he had connections and she didn’t. She couldn’t work, she didn’t have any friends or family there (except for friends she’d met through him, who had been his friends first–he did have local friends/family), she didn’t have much money, and she didn’t have any family or friends who could front her the $1500 it would have taken, conservatively, for her to fly home on her own–and even if they did, she would have come home flat broke with no job, a two-year gap in her resume, and noplace to live permanently. (We helped her as much as we could, but we couldn’t raise enough money to fly her home, and all we could collectively offer was rotating temporary couch space in our own cramped apartments.)

        So she faked being in love and gritted her teeth and waited until the pair of them were flying back to the US for a visit, and then broke up with him pretty much instantly and went to stay with one of us.

        And she at least was in a country where she spoke the language fluently!

        Now, unlike LW’s boyfriend, she didn’t say “I don’t want to be in this relationship anymore,” but that was because she was afraid he’d throw her out on the street and she’d be even more deeply fucked–homeless and with very little money in a country where she couldn’t get work and couldn’t fly home. But… yeah. The logistics of being in a foreign country, where the LW has connections and knows the language, means that the immediate “uh, why didn’t he just move out?”question is a lot more complicated.

        • Lablizard said:

          I know that in some countries foreigners can’t lease without a cosigner who agrees to take on the liability if the foreigner leaves the country before the lease is up. Other places they want the full amount for the lease up front (e.g. 6 months rent, 12 months). Some places will not lease to foreigners at all, so hotels are your only options. Of course, this couple is only stuck together for the rest of the month, so maybe getting something so short term isn’t possible?

          I am kind of reading his behavior as, “we are stuck in a crap situation, let’s make the best of it”. This quote:

          “[B]Since then he has made it clear that that moment has colored the relationship and he can no longer move forward[/b]. 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. [B]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.[/b]”

          looks to me like he is done with the relationship and, since it is only a month, bideing his time (and screwing it up a bit talking like there is a LW+him future). Although, since the LW wants the relationship to continue, I do wonder which person is initiating the future plans? Is it the BF (which is not cool) or the LW? Honestly, it sounds like a trying time for both of them and I wish them the best.

      • land_planarian said:

        I’d read “although he says that he sees me being a more supportive partner, he still feels like he can’t continue this relationship” as him saying ‘I see and appreciate that you’re trying, but I’m still done here’ (though it could be ‘audition for me harder,’ too)

        My general impression is it sounds like Partner is also sad about having to break up, and the combo of ‘would be alone in a country where he doesn’t work or speak the language’ with ‘breakup is thus-far civil, if sad’, maybe combined with some amount of not knowing what exactly he *does* want, is causing him to try to ride out this last month hoping to Not Make It Weird by making as few changes as possible. It doesn’t work that way, but lord knows I’ve tried the same thing hoping it would. (spoiler: it *really* doesn’t work that way & I should have couch-surfed til my ex could move)

        Either way, though, the LW’s course of action is pretty similar: take some steps to get more space for themselves. Make it clear they don’t want to keep living together, and if possible, use some of the remaining mutual good will to negotiate a mutually-workable way to separate.

        Above all, listen to what Partner is saying and stop trying to get him to change his mind: regardless of whether he’s feeling trapped and making the best of it, or trying to manipulate the LW into submission, or what, staying in a relationship with someone who wants to end it is a Bad Idea that makes any situation worse.

    • We don’t know if Partner did anything to show how broken up they really are. And that’s not what is important for LW.

      I believe that if LW takes Partner at their word, LW will be better equipped to make good decisions for themself.

  12. This is reminding me of a relationship with one of my exes. We were together for nearly five years, and the last two years or so were ROUGH. On the surface, things were alright and we would generally get along well and all. But periodically, I would be unable to ignore that something was clearly off. When I would talk to him about it, he would say things like our future together was not on his radar, he wasn’t happy in the relationship, he wasn’t sure I was the person he wanted to marry, etc. Basically he would say all the things that essentially mean “I would like to break up,” but he would never come right out and say, “I would like to break up.” So because he wasn’t saying it, I kept telling myself it wasn’t true, and that he wanted to be together but I just needed to do something to make the relationship whatever it was he wanted it to be. After a long time of driving myself crazy trying unsuccessfully over and over to make the relationship right for him again, I finally admitted to myself that maybe he just really didn’t want to be together anymore. So I broke up with him.

    Best decision I could have made. I only wish I’d done it sooner. Both of us are living much happier lives now that we’re not constantly trying to force a relationship that one person doesn’t really want to be in.

    Let him go, LW. Believe him that it’s over. If it’s NOT over and he just needs time to work through whatever problem he’s having, then someday he’ll come back to you. But it might really just be that it’s over, and it hurts less to admit a relationship is over and grieve it than it does to live in constant anxiety of wondering if you’re doing and saying the right things to keep a dying relationship alive.

    • Ahh triple post! My deepest apologies! 😦

  13. This is reminding me of a relationship with one of my exes. We were together for nearly five years, and the last two years or so were ROUGH. On the surface, things were alright and we would generally get along well and all. But periodically, I would be unable to ignore that something was clearly off. When I would talk to him about it, he would say things like our future together was not on his radar, he wasn’t happy in the relationship, he wasn’t sure I was the person he wanted to marry, etc. Basically he would say all the things that essentially mean “I would like to break up,” but he would never come right out and say, “I would like to break up.” So because he wasn’t saying it, I kept telling myself it wasn’t true, and that he wanted to be together but I just needed to do something to make the relationship whatever it was he wanted it to be. After a long time of driving myself crazy trying unsuccessfully over and over to make the relationship right for him again, I finally admitted to myself that maybe he just really didn’t want to be together anymore. So I broke up with him.

    Best decision I could have made. I only wish I’d done it sooner. Both of us are living much happier lives now that we’re not constantly trying to force a relationship that one person doesn’t really want to be in.

    Let him go, LW. Believe him that it’s over. If it’s NOT over and he just needs time to work through whatever problem he’s having, then someday he’ll come back to you. But it might really just be that it’s over, and it hurts less to admit a relationship is over and grieve it than it does to live in constant anxiety of wondering if you’re doing and saying the right things to keep a dying relationship alive.

  14. This is reminding me of a relationship with one of my exes. We were together for nearly five years, and the last two years or so were ROUGH. On the surface, things were alright and we would generally get along well and all. But periodically, I would be unable to ignore that something was clearly off. When I would talk to him about it, he would say things like our future together was not on his radar, he wasn’t happy in the relationship, he wasn’t sure I was the person he wanted to marry, etc. Basically he would say all the things that essentially mean “I would like to break up,” but he would never come right out and say, “I would like to break up.” So because he wasn’t saying it, I kept telling myself it wasn’t true, and that he wanted to be together but I just needed to do something to make the relationship whatever it was he wanted it to be. After a long time of driving myself crazy trying unsuccessfully over and over to make the relationship right for him again, I finally admitted to myself that maybe he just really didn’t want to be together anymore. So I broke up with him.

    Best decision I could have made. I only wish I’d done it sooner. Both of us are living much happier lives now that we’re not constantly trying to force a relationship that one person doesn’t really want to be in.

    Let him go, LW. Believe him that it’s over. If it’s NOT over and he just needs time to work through whatever problem he’s having, then someday he’ll come back to you. But it might really just be that it’s over, and it hurts less to admit a relationship is over and grieve it than it does to live in constant anxiety of wondering if you’re doing and saying the right things to keep a dying relationship alive.

  15. Brit said:

    It’s so painful to know it takes two people to start a relationship but only one has to make the decision to end it. No advice to offer but lots of well wishes and love to Partner with a Past.

  16. Dear LW,
    I hear “I’m done” as a break up. I didn’t always. I have said that I didn’t accept it.

    Now though? Now I realise that it’s freeing. Partner is done? Relationship is over. Now to figure out how to live alone. (For me, that would mean don’t wait for the end of the month.) And that, I think, I where the Captain’s suggestions will help.

    LW, I do know how painful breakups are. What you describe of your relationship sounds difficult and unhappy though. I believe that once you accept that you’ve broken up, you’ll have a very rich life in New Country.

    Jedi hugs if you want them.

  17. Sorry, this sounds really rough.

    When one relatively minor thing sets people off, it’s sometimes because similar things have bothered them in the past, but they either couldn’t articulate the problem or didn’t realize it bothered them until it felt too late to say anything. Maybe this was the one time he could explain how he felt at the time it happened.

    Or, maybe he has no idea why he feels like he’s done, but he believes he needs a reason, and so he’s focusing on the one concrete thing he has.

    Either way, following CA’s advice would still be the way to go.

    • rosered said:

      Sometime it means that the thing that is minor to one person is a major issue to another.

  18. kat said:

    Yeah, my first thought reading the title was “you don’t”. If he doesn’t want to be with you, as you are, you need to respect that, and he needs to ….get moving, basically.

    PS: where’d you get ‘girlfriend’ from???

    • Turtle Candle said:

      CA has said a few times that she often has more info than ends up in the printed letter, and in those cases may know the gender even if it’s not in the letter as posted. I’d assume that’s the case here, since she’s generally good about not gendering people without evidence otherwise.

  19. Tessa said:

    There are two possibilities: one is that CA is privy to some info from the LW that makes it clear they identify as a woman and just hasn’t shared that in the post, and the other is that CA accidentally assumed the LW is a woman (e.g. Referring to them as a “girlfriend.”)

    Either way, the post as published is heteronormative. There is absolutely no indicator in this published post of the LW’s gender, and by responding as if they are a woman, (whether or not CA knows that or assumed that) this furthers the oppressive nature of heterosexuality as the status quo, the default, and upholds anything else orientation or gender-wise as a deviation.

    As a gay woman, it’s a small thing to me, but exhausting nonetheless. Again, all that matters is the post as it appears here, and how it therefore affects all readers–not the facts behind the scenes.

    I’m sure it’s an oversight. I love CA. And I hope the LW can find a solution that minimizes pain for both the BF and themselves. I don’t envy them this coming month, either.

    • B. said:

      Uh, as it’s been said before, CA pays attention to people’s genders, and I don’t remember an instance where she’s misgendered anyone. So I don’t think she’s either being influenced by heteronormativity or uncounsciously pushing heteronormativity down our throats, I think the LW happens to identify as a woman.
      Would you rather she counsciously misgendered a LW to fight against heteronormativity? I know I wouldn’t.
      (FWIW, lesbian here)

      • Erinyes said:

        +1, as another queer woman.

        I disagree that “all that matters is the post as it appears here.” I think that correctly gendering people, if you do know their gender, is important too. The letter is for the LW as well as for passers-by.

      • Tessa said:

        No. It does matter how it appears because this blog isn’t just for frequent readers. This is something published on the internet, and lots of people can and do pop in and read random posts and then leave, without any backstory other than what’s been supplied, and that’s why it matters. That’s how publishing things works. I say that as a professional writer.

        I am a CA fan, but I would rather constructively criticize her choice here than blindly defend a heteronormative post. Because I get asked about my “boyfriend” or “husband” all the time. Because it took me until freshman year of college to even realize I wasn’t straight because I hadn’t considered that an option. And another 6 years after that to tell another living soul. Because there were almost no queer people in the media I consumed. Because it seemed deviant.

        This is a case of impact mattering more than intent.

        So for both vigorous CA defenders saying you’re also queer FWIW, it’s not worth anything. You don’t get to discredit MY feelings about heteronormativity just because you are also queer.

        Finally, how on earth would changing “girlfriend” to “partner,” the term the LW quite deliberately used to describe themselves multiple times, be CA “consciously misgendering” them??? That doesn’t even make sense.

        • B. said:

          Well, I seem to remember that the main advantage to having a comment section is so commenters can offer advice and support to the letter writers. This is, after all, an advice blog: its (our?) main purpose is helping the people who write in for advice.
          I agree that fighting heteronormativity is very important, but I think that if the LW happens to identify with she/her/hers, we shouldn’t use other pronouns for her. I’m assuming that the Captain made the right call about this LW’s pronouns because she has more information than we do.
          “So for both vigorous CA defenders saying you’re also queer FWIW, it’s not worth anything.”
          My identity is not worth anything? Well, that’s very rude of you. I’d like an apology, if you please. Offering a different perspective on a matter is not discrediting anyone’s feelings. Just because we disagree it doesn’t mean that your feelings (or my feelings, or Erinyes’ feelings) are invalid.

        • PintsizeBro said:

          This blog is an advice column and clearly advertised as such. You don’t need to be a regular reader to immediately understand that the LW is a real person asking a question about a real relationship.

          If the LW isn’t a woman and the Captain assumed, that’s a legitimate criticism. But the Captain is often aware of the LW’s gender even if it’s not obvious from the letter. If the LW is a woman, then the letter is not heteronormative, just heterosexual.

          Are you saying that the Captain should intentionally obscure the genders of the people in the letters when she knows what they are? Because it sounds like that’s what you’re saying.

          • kat said:

            If the actual letter makes no mention of gender? YES. If the letter as presented to the readers makes no mention of gender? YES.

            Is gender relevant in this situation? Do readers read into gender? Would this situation read differently if they were both men? Should it?

            Why refer to lw as ‘girlfriend’ when lw refers to themselves as ‘partner’? Speaking as a person who is consistently misgendered, this rubs me raw. If lws gender were important, that should come out in the letter, not just the response.

          • Actual Trans Person Who Is Constantly Misgendered said:

            Agreeing with kat here, and frankly seeing everyone fall over themselves to defend even the possibility that the Captain has accidentally misgendered someone? Because that’s all people are saying, that it could be an accident. Nobody is infallible, even the Captain makes mistakes, and everyone pretending that the Captain can never make a mistake ever that she’s the perfect ally forever and always needs to take a step back and remember that everyone messes up. Honestly this makes me not feel very welcome and it makes me feel not very safe in a place that tells me I should feel welcome and safe! This comments section is notoriously bad about misgendering people, and I’m sick of cis people banding together and talking over trans people whenever we bring it up. And no, being a cis queer person has absolutely no relevance to the situation.

            I’m sorry for being harsh, but I’m so sick of trans people being talked over in these comments and i’m sick of people acting as if concern about misgendering a person is “derailing”.

          • JenniferP said:

            Responding to this discussion in general.

            The LW has a female-presenting name and photo in email. Using “girlfriend” was likely a slip I made based on that. Sometimes I do have information that does not appear in letters that colors my imagination. Sometimes it’s plain old heteronormativity.

            I don’t want to mis-gender people (but yes, sometimes slip up). I appreciate the benefit of the doubt and I definitely don’t appreciate people making others uncomfortable to defend that.

            Letter Writers are invited to specify preferred pronouns in submitting questions and I would prefer it that they do especially if the possibility of being mis-gendered is in any way upsetting to them.

            In the absence of this specification from the LW, I can try harder to use gender-neutral construction and to do a second read to make sure I’m not accidentally assuming something that isn’t there. I’d appreciate it if readers also try to keep in mind that if the LW did not specify a pronoun or indicate a way that they wanted to be identified that it might not be crucially important to them either way. I recognize that I have massive cis-het privilege, so the parade of people who think that “Captain” must be a dude doesn’t grind me down personally the way someone with a marginalized identity gets ground down every day. I will try to be more deliberate about things.

            Color this thread closed. We’ll all try again another day.

      • Helen Damnation said:

        She has assumed gender before, because cisheteronormativity is strong and we all have to fight it off from time to time. Sometimes our brains fill in blanks without us noticing. I don’t know LW’s gender, or whether the Captain does. I’m sure she’ll sort it out when she has a chance, but she is recently married, remember, not to mention her day job. I’m sure she’s very busy.

    • Jennifer Sweeney said:

      Or maybe this is a heterosexual couple?

  20. 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?

    Oh, LW. This sucks and I feel so bad for you being stuck in this shitty limbo. My take on your situation is that your partner is Done but isn’t ready to admit it yet (or is making a misguided attempt to let you down easy, or is just worried that spending another month with the person he just dumped would be totally awful for everyone). Please don’t tie yourself up in knots trying to keep someone who doesn’t want to be kept.

  21. Katamari said:

    LW – if you’re in the “trying to argue your partner into not leaving you” stage, this relationship has run its course. The self-respecting thing for you to do now is break things off and spend your precious energy on something other than a partner who isn’t 100% committed to you. Hopefully one day you’ll find that person and realise it’s what you deserved all along.

  22. Nopetopus Cowgirl said:

    I really don’t love the way [it sounds like] he’s saying “I’m done. But… not so done that you can stop doing cartwheels and back flips to win me back. Who knows? If one of your flips is just flippy enough, I just might decide to stick around. So, you know, keep auditioning.”

    I recently got out of a relationship in just such a manner. It was all kinds of shitty. My partner kept saying she was done but maybe if I could change and prove to her how very changed I was, just maybe she’d stay. I went absolutely insane trying to “make up for” a whole bunch of offenses which I felt wretched about. (In retrospect most of the offenses were some variation of my refusal to allow her to isolate me from every single friend or family member who loved me.) And then a month or two of twisting myself into knots she’d say that she hadn’t really seen any effort from me.

    Okay. I’m reading my own stuff into this. LW’s situation could be totally different. But her desperation to please her partner and atone for her past makes me wonder if she’s being gaslighted.

    • Elder Grantaire said:

      Ohh man, I relate so so much to this. I was once in a similar situation with a friend (who I was in love with, and who alternated between flirting with me and telling me he was in love with me, and furiously backtracking and talking about how he was trapped, TRAPPED, in this loveless long-term relationship that he couldn’t POSSIBLY extricate himself from for *reasonsreasonsreasons*).

      He was acting weird and distant, I asked what was up and he told me he felt like I only ever talked about myself, never asked him about his life and he didn’t feel like I really cared about him. I apologised, and redoubled my efforts to ask about his life and generally support him. A couple weeks later, he started getting distant and weird again, so I once again asked what was wrong and was told, again, ‘You never ask about me and I don’t feel like you care.’ I started trying EVEN HARDER to ask about his life and prove that I cared.

      This cycle went on for months. I put more and more and more effort into trying to prove that I cared, asking EXACTLY THE RIGHT questions (most of which he ignored), and literally made myself physically ill for months on end with the stress of trying to prove to him that I loved him. No matter what I did, every couple of weeks I got ‘You never ask about me and I don’t think you care’. It got to the point where I started to believe that I was somehow hallucinating that I had sent the messages I thought I had (unfortunately, this mostly happened over Tumblr, which doesn’t let you see messages you’ve sent).

      For what it’s worth, although I am still kind of baffled by a lot of what went down, I don’t think he was gaslighting me deliberately. He had a whole host of Issues and I think his mind may have genuinely been tricking him somehow into thinking that I didn’t care…which does absolutely diddly squat to change the fact that I was gaslit for months on end, seriously damaged my health and sanity, and almost destroyed my self-worth to the point that for years, I had dreams about getting the chance to apologise TO HIM, and would have to grieve all over again when I woke up each morning to realise it wasn’t real.

      I don’t think anything nearly this extreme is happening in the LW’s relationship, to be clear. I just related to your comment super hard and wanted to share.

    • tinyorc said:

      “I’m done. But… not so done that you can stop doing cartwheels and back flips to win me back. Who knows? If one of your flips is just flippy enough, I just might decide to stick around. So, you know, keep auditioning.”

      Except, he hasn’t actually said any of the bolded bit. Like, at all. It sounds like a lot of ongoing relationship issues finally came to a head during a massive argument in a stressful situation, and that turned out to be the final straw for Boyfriend. It sounds like LW did or said something genuinely hurtful and is now trying to make up for it by being more consciously supportive. Boyfriend is acknowledging that, but he’s also being honest about the fact he’s burnt-out and doesn’t see a way forward for the two of them.

      Unfortunately, because he’s in a foreign country where he doesn’t speak the language and has no support network, he can’t just pack up and clear out, so they’re stuck living together for another month in weird limbo. It’s a miserable situation, but there’s nothing in here that suggest he’s demanding unreasonable levels of atonement or hinting that LW could be putting more effort into winning him over. LW is the one who is asking for another chance and who wants to spend this weird limbo time trying to heal the relationship, and while Boyfriend is not actively shutting out her efforts, he’s also being honest about his feelings and his outlook.

      • Light37 said:

        This. I don’t think anyone is being horrible here, it’s just a bad situation with factors that make it difficult.

  23. Britta said:

    I made him feel stupid and blamed for us leaving an event my friend was having

    Hi LW. One of the more annoying events towards the end of my marriage was when I dragged my husband to an event a friend of mine was having. He behaved weirdly in front of everyone, and then went to sulk in a corner by himself, and then said, look I don’t like this, I will wait in the bar around the corner for you. I said fine, see ya, and carried on having a fine time despite the huge awkwardness he’d created. My friends and I then went to some other bar and I texted him to let him know that I’d be coming home separately. He didn’t get the message until much later, since he’d been too busy hacking my twitter to send a bunch of tweets from my account about what a horrible bitch I was.

    When I saw the tweets the next morning, I was heading out to work. I woke him up and got him to remove his access to my twitter in front of me, and then left saying we’d discuss it later. I did damage control online (mercifully not much was needed, although the friendship with the person whose event it was never the same after that [no loss there]) and then when I came home that night we had one of the more interesting arguments we ever had.

    Loooooooooooooong story short, he was acting out because he was miserable in our relationship but wanted me to do the emotional work of breaking up with him. That happened, later (and on my terms). I could have bent and twisted myself into a million directions to try to save the relationship but he was already checked out and doing everything he could think of to make that clear to me, except saying it directly. It takes two people to work on a relationship for it to work. If you’re putting love out without getting love back, that’s not a partnership is it. So I think instead of you doing more to make it work, you should do less. Figure out what you want to do, whether he is there or not. Take care of yourself and your feelings first, and let his feelings take care of themselves.

    GOOD LUCK.

  24. ApocalyseMeow said:

    LW, this is so timely for me. After a nearly 6 year relationship my boyfriend told me he ‘thinks he wants out’ and feels ‘burnt out’ and we are in a limbo while he decides one way or the other. We live in the same house, sleep in the same bed, and I’m trying to give him space. We’ve agreed to be kind to each other, business as usual. It feels like a test, but I don’t know the rules. After not getting anywhere we saw a relationship counselor, who suggested he’s shut down from a type of ‘compassion fatigue’, because he’s invested so much in thw relationship. The captain has given me some new ideas to think on. I have no answer, but feel deep compassion for you. Take care.

    • Heidi Mull said:

      Actual physical space from each other can make a world of difference to these situations. A wise friend once advised me that if you’re trapped together by logistics, then you can no longer *choose* each other. In my experience even just a couple days apart can help a lot.

      I’ve experience bits and pieces of this, and whenever I feel the slightest hint it, for me it means I need more alone time, usually a day and a night completely to myself. Before our relationship was so in sync I would sometimes need a whole week of space with just texting for communication. If I didn’t take these breaks when I needed to, then I would end up burnt out and unhappy in my current relationship. As it stands, though, I feel like the luckiest woman alive….because I return from my “me time” missing him like crazy and super excited about our relationship. 🙂

      In our earlier days, I would also come out of “me time” with a clearer picture of how we could tweak our relationship to be less exhausting for me. I really needed to be alone to realize those sorts of things.

      All the best to you during this difficult time.

      • Unoriginalnames said:

        Actual physical space from each other can make a world of difference to these situations. A wise friend once advised me that if you’re trapped together by logistics, then you can no longer *choose* each other.

        This.

        My husband and I are currently doing the dual household thing a couple hours apart for work related reasons, and yeah, parts of it SUCK. That said, we’re much more careful of how we spend our time together. We both feel more appreciated and it helps because I’m like you, Heidi, where I need “me time.” I don’t want to do this scenario forever, but I’ve had the same experience where when we do get to see each other, it’s awesome. We’ve joked that this was the best thing that could happen to our marriage, but we’ve also made the serious decision that we’ll keep separate areas for ourselves in the future. It’s amazing how much better I feel, and how much better a partner I am, and how much more I’m willing to work on this relationship, after a little quality time with a sewing machine.

        To the LW: Best of luck to you. It sound like you’re both in a tough place to be.

        • ApocalypseMeow said:

          This is wise, I like the idea of consciously choosing each other

        • NorahMancer said:

          I don’t live with my partner either. The other day I was over at his place and we were both supposed to be getting work done, but he kept crawling over to my part of the couch and snuggling me. “This is why we can’t live together,” I joked. He lifted his face out of my boobs and said, “But if you lived here all the time, then we would be be used to it and not distracted.”
          And that’s kind of it – I don’t want to “get used to it”. Part of what I like about our current situation is that when I’m at his or he’s at mine, it *is* special. We can plan to cook a fun meal together, watch a movie, cuddle, have sex, and enjoy every minute of our time together. Even if we just lie in bed poking at our phones, it’s kind of an extra treat to do it with my favourite person naked beside me. I like that when he’s there, I can focus on him, and when he’s not, I can focus on other things, instead of it becoming routine.

      • ApocalypseMeow said:

        Thank you for your response, that is a useful insight!

  25. Coaxed off the fence said:

    LW, I have some ideas for you about how to conduct yourself to make up for a terrible wrong you have done. Not saying you should do these things or that you actually did a terrible wrong. I’m in a marriage where a terrible wrong was done to me and I am still in the marriage. We have kid/s and a house in our name together, a fundamentally strong relationship and a loving history together, otherwise it would have been like Bye Felicia. You might not have the same sunk cost, and I agree with the commenters who are saying that trying to hold on to someone who doesn’t appreciate you is a recipe for soul-destroying disaster. But taking your letter at face value, the following things might be helpful…

    What My Husband Did to Show He Loved Me and Wanted to Be a Good Partner to Me After a Major Fuckup:

    1. Let me be mad. I will get reminded of That Time and it makes me mad, sad, and scared. He lets me have these emotions at him. He doesn’t wallow in OMGIAMTERRIBLE but he accepts it and gives me a loving shoulder to wail against.

    2. Have a fundamentally chill attitude. He’s an optimist and thinks we’ll be together forever. So when I’m upset with him, he puts it in perspective. We don’t wind each other up into a tornado of relationship-ending shrieking. He wants to be with me no matter what. So I don’t have to perform loving or forgiving, which makes it easier to actually be loving and forgiving.

    3. Take care of business. He does the things that make him a good life partner such as showing up to work every day, doing the things around the house that he does, working on his own happiness. It’s kind of like acting normal to create normalcy. There’s not an undercurrent of tension around everything either, he’s not acting martyred or like NOTICE MY VIRTUE. He’s just getting his shit done.

    I think from your letter that there’s been an atmosphere of tension in your home with your lover and the tension is driving him away. Do what you can to make an atmosphere of calmness and peace. This is NOT achieved by being elaborately accommodating and bending over backwards for him, because doing that is kind of a LOOK AT ME HOW AWESOME I AM and that’s really tiring to be around. Try to be relaxed and friendly and positive, accept his emotions as they come, and maybe he can start to feel relaxed and friendly and positive around you.

    • Your husband is a very wise (and imperfect, of course) man.

  26. tinyorc said:

    I’ve been the boyfriend in this letter: living in a foreign country, poor grasp of the language, very few friends. For the last year of my time there, I was freelancing, working from home and mainly sticking around for the sake of a relationship. I felt anxious and isolated all the time and ended up leaning heavily on my boyfriend for emotional support, which caused him to pull away, leaving me feeling even more lonely and anxious… and I’m sure you can where this vicious circle is going. He eventually dumped me and I moved home a couple of months later.

    So LW, I don’t doubt that your boyfriend is in a really bad place right now. It sounds like you want this new life in this new country and your boyfriend really doesn’t. It sounds like he’s been trying to make it work for your sake, but the emotional strain is beginning to take it toll. He’s in a new country where he can’t communicate properly and has no social groups outside you and your friends (not even a group of co-workers). He’s probably already feeling like a huge social liability, which is why he’s hyper-sensitive about being perceived as “stupid” or feeling “blamed” for spoiling your fun at your friend’s event. Whether this is the root cause of the conflict between you or if there are other long-standing issues you haven’t mentioned, well… the point is he’s not happy with the new status quo.

    At the moment, he’s attributing all his bad feelings to problems in your relationship, because he probably has a lot of shame around admitting that he can’t hack it in your new country. (I should add that there is absolutely no shame in this – many societies attach a lot of prestige to living abroad and give lots of social kudos to people who can successfully integrate into other cultures, and consequently people who discover that living abroad is really not for them feel like they’ve “failed” at some sort of major life hurdle. Been there, done that, bought the shirt.)

    In any case, the Captain’s advice is spot on. It sounds like your invested in your new country, so continue building the life you want to have there. Take your boyfriend at his word and adjust to the idea that your relationship will most likely be over in a month’s time. Once you’ve done your crying, be kind to each other and try to enjoy each other’s company on a day-to-day basis without worrying too much about the future (easier said than done, I know!)

  27. Pigeon said:

    You should treat him exactly the way you intend to treat him in the regular course of your relationship and hope that he decides it’s really what he wants. Anything other than that would pretty much be you attempting to manipulate him into staying when he really doesn’t want to. I don’t know what your “past” is, but if it has anything to do with manipulative tendencies on your part and/or emotional abuse (which your nod toward this recent behavior of making him feel stupid, blaming him for things that aren’t his fault, then trying to strategize on how to make him stay in the relationship against his wishes sort of sound like), then maybe consider getting therapy to not only help you deal with the breakup, but do a post mortem to help you in future relationships.

    Good luck to both of you, at any rate.

  28. Jess said:

    I can’t believe how harsh some of these comments are about the LW’s partner. It sounds like he’s being pretty upfront about his feelings and his practical choices are getting on a plane now or getting on a plane he already has a ticket for, at a time he has no financial security or local resources.

    I know if I was in his situation, and got called brittle, or told I needed to shit or get off a pot (among the politer ways he’s been referenced here) I’d be flipping some well deserved birds.

    But CA’s advice is exactly right.

  29. Modern Culture said:

    The LW was not specific about what happened between LW and Partner at that party so none of us knows what loud, animated or embarrassing things were said that made Partner feel stupid. There had been conflict prior to this event so I’m not convinced that Partner is being a dickhead; this may just have been the proverbial straw. Though LW has owned the words in the situation, some words, once heard, can’t be unheard; some damage can’t be undone. A former long-time friend got drunk one night and verbally eviscerated me in front of other guests, calling me stupid, an asshole, and a fuck-up because I had failed at a business venture. She had no connection to my business, no investment in it but thought others should know that I had failed. The other guests shut her up, made excuses for her, but the damage was done. Bottom line: sometime apologies won’t help if you’ve inflicted too much pain.

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