Ahoy Captain and Commentariat!
I feel horrible for writing in with this question because Fiancee and I are supposed to be getting married in roughly 20 days. This was the healthiest relationship I’ve ever been in and the most serious, but I’m so stressed out I’m about to snap.
We met two years ago, started dating formally at the end of 2015, she asked me to marry her in March 2016, I said yes even though it felt a bit rushed.
1) Fiancée has a small dog that shits and pisses everywhere in the apartment. When we moved in last June she assured me this would stop now that it was away from her abusive stepdad. NOPE. I’ve told her several times how much it frustrates me and asked her to please clean it up and train the dog, but she just acts frustrated or depressed with me for asking and defensive of Dog. Though she does clean the carpets maybe once a week, Dog is still not housebroken. I am so done dealing with this creature. I want it gone.
2) She acts entitled toward my money (apparently it became “our” money when she moved in), her constant spending has run me $1,000 in debt, and she won’t stop even when I tell her we are out of money and to give me back my cards. (I am the only one currently employed.) I’ve raided my savings account to cover expenses so many times it’s practically empty. I have also brought this up several times to no avail. Her spending habits have me so stressed I have contemplated suicide.
3) She is so messy: dirty clothes all over the bathroom, bedroom, and closet; dirty dishes in the bedroom with moldy food on them; piles of garbage covering her side of the bedroom floor; and dried food left on the kitchen counters and stove after cooking, to name just a few. I have OCD and anxiety, and the mess is driving me insane. I’ve asked her to please clean up after herself several times, but nope. She literally screamed at me last night for bringing it up. She later apologized, but that’s not something I want to deal with forever.
4) We originally planned our wedding for Earth Day 2018, but in January she woke me up in the middle of the night — when she knows I won’t remember anything — and convinced me to bump it up to this coming Feb. 27. When I didn’t remember, she got angry and hurt (at least I think she did; her favorite way of being playful and joking is to act offended by something I did or said, so I have a hard time telling the difference), questioned my commitment when I was hesitant about keeping the new date, and claimed we had to because same-sex couples might not have that right given Trump, and I caved in and agreed.
This is not actually okay with me, but I’m too scared of hurting her feelings (she has a past history of suicide attempts), really dislike emotional confrontations, and don’t know how to deal with the potential fallout, since we live together.
5) I’ve got the feeling more than once that she’s just using the relationship to get out of her stepdad’s house, get more financial aid for when she decided to go back to community college, and to get on my health insurance. But I also have PTSD and depression from past abusive relationships, so this could legit just be paranoia.
6) Finally, she doesn’t have a job, doesn’t go to school, and we don’t have kids, and spends most of her days in bed watching Netflix, outside working on various projects watching Netflix, or playing video games. I’m honestly tired of bankrolling her extended vacation from the real world while I’m stressing out making ends meet and have very little free time.
Despite all this I love her very much and would love to make it work; she is kind, funny, talented, and smart, tells me often how much she loves me, that I’m beautiful, that I’m her muse for art projects and the love of her life, is physically affectionate, and does small things like bring me food when I’m busy or make me gifts from the raw materials I buy.
On the one hand I really want to spend my life with her because the good stuff is so good! But on the other, I often daydream about being single with just my cats in a clean, organized, dog-free home. We love each other a lot, but after almost a year of living together my opinion is that we don’t have compatible living styles.
Aside from breaking her heart and possibly forcing her to move back in with her abusive stepdad, my main concern with breaking up is who will get the kitten we rescued and raised since she was a day old. I honestly think I should get to keep her because I have income and can care for her, plus her step-dad hates cats and her mom is allergic. But Fiancée got to spend more time with Kitten when she was really young because I couldn’t stay up with her all night due to my job.
Can you please give me some scripts to 1) ask that she fix the above problems or I’m gone (without sounding like an asshole), 2) if she agrees, scripts to postpone the wedding to make sure the fixes stick and aren’t just lip service; or, if she doesn’t agree or she does but the problems continue unabated, 3) scripts to call off the wedding and break up?
Thank you in advance!
~Would I be dodging a bullet, or losing the love of my life?
PS: Please, no How to Train Your Dog tips – I do not like Dog and do not want to waste any more of my very limited free time dealing with it more than I already have to.
Time to cancel.
I am sorry that you are living out this object lesson in “feelings of love and attraction do not actually add up to long-term compatibility in close quarters with another human being.” I am sorry you are living this out under the pressure of “I might lose my right to get married at all.” It’s unconscionable that this would have to be a consideration for human beings in our country. I’m sorry that you and your fiancée have differing needs and values around money and day-to-day living and these are not gonna be resolved in the next 20 days even with the best of intentions on everybody’s part. And I am so sorry, but there is no universe where “I don’t enjoy living with you and I don’t think we should get married this month after all” isn’t going to lead to serious upheaval and hurt feelings, no matter how you deliver the news, but let’s see what can be done.
This is an honesty zone, so let me be honest: This relationship is draining every part of you and I think it’s gonna end. I know you’re not quite ready for that, so I’m designing a slower exit than the “change your locks and your phone number” ending I otherwise might, one where there are some chances to save things if she changes her behavior. I don’t think she will change her behavior, not in enough time to repair what’s already been broken, but if you need to hope and to use the word “we” for now in order to save yourself, okay.
You say are a survivor of past abusive relationships. I don’t think that makes you paranoid or unreasonable when you see red flags in subsequent partners or situations. I think that makes you entirely reasonable and possibly more able to spot potential problems than people who have not survived what you survived. If something in your gut is telling you “this feels crushingly familiar,” you could do worse than listen to it and let it protect you. For what it’s worth, I see a lot of red flags here, too, the two biggest being: The way she pressured/manipulated you into moving the wedding date. The way she screams at you when you try to have conversations about shared living space and finances. NOT OKAY.
Remember, also, that the awesome, loving parts can still be part of a bad relationship. If people were assholes 100% of the time it would be easy to avoid them, but I’ll bet even broken-glass-guy did *some* stuff that felt like love, that felt like home, that felt like belonging. We have a great ability to truly love people who are fundamentally incompatible with us and our happiness, the tragedy of which almost makes me believe in a cruel prankster Cupid and invisible-yet-pointy arrows sticking out of our backs.
The people we love are more than their economic contribution to a household or how many chores they do, and it’s possible to make agreements that one partner will support the other during a time of illness or stress or for more happy reasons like going to school or “I’ll make the money so you can make the art.” There are all kinds of accommodations that people make around disability, aptitude, economic circumstances that don’t look like a 50/50 split of every little thing. The thing is, it has to be an agreement between you, given willingly and freely. Not something that is taken, where the other person flops down on your couch for an eternity and lets you handle all the hard things and the hard work and then screams at you if you ask for something different.
It is okay to be angry at someone who sees you struggling and working all the time, who has been asked to keep unnecessary spending down, who has been asked to do some household chores or at least clean up after herself, and who offers no effort to make anything better. If she can’t work right now, then, okay, that’s a conversation, like “I think my depression is bad enough that I *can’t* work right now, and this is really is the best I can do around the house, so, how do we handle that together so this relationship is workable for you?” (Aggressive mental health interventions, budgeting together to hire a cleaner to keep the house in a state that makes you happier, staying in love but having separate living spaces, etc. There is stuff that can be done, or at least tried.)
She’s a fellow adult, and she’s got some heavy stuff going on and she’s been through some stuff in her life, but you need her to not keep garbage in your bedroom. If she loves you she will get that and do her level best to stop keeping garbage in the bedroom. Do we think she is doing her best to not keep garbage in the bedroom? (Spoiler: No, I do not).
Say she literally can’t stop keeping garbage in the bedroom. Okay, that sucks and it’s very sad and she needs a lot of help, but it’s still okay for you to want to spend your life with no garbage where you sleep, whether that means that you stay in love but live in separate spaces or whether you find someone else to spend your life with. Having standards for how your living space can be, having standards for how you want your partner to treat you (like, “Please don’t spend all our money when I’ve asked you not to“) and setting boundaries about what you need doesn’t make you a mean or selfish person who is somehow failing at compassion.
It’s okay to be angry. It’s okay to tell your partner the truth about how you’re feeling. It’s okay to set boundaries about what you need in the place where you live. It’s okay to want love to be better than this.
Logistics time: I think there are a few things you must handle fairly immediately:
Step 1: Stop bleeding money. Work only in cash and/or your checking account if only you have access to it, set aside enough to cover food & necessities & an affordable small allowance for fiancée for the next couple of weeks. Report your credit cards lost and get replacements that only you have access to. (Closing the accounts outright will affect your credit score and your ability to get credit. You need to build up as much financial liquidity as you can right now so don’t do that).
Step 2: Have two awful-but-necessary conversations with fiancée. Both of them suck and I don’t know what the order is, but they are true and you need to have them. Maybe that’s the way to start: “I have two very stressful things to talk about and I don’t know where to start – can you hear me out while I say both of them before jumping in?”
Conversation A: “The wedding is coming up fast, and the closer it gets the more I know that I am not ready to take that step. We need to postpone.”
Conversation B: “We are almost entirely out of money, and we can’t continue on as we have. The stress of being in debt and depleting savings is weighing on me constantly, and talking with you about it hasn’t worked before now, so I’ve cut off the credit cards until we can get out of debt build up some savings again. Until [timeframe], our weekly allowance for non-necessities is $____, half for me and half for you, and when it’s gone it’s gone.”
She will have lot of stuff to say and very probably have an explosive emotional reaction. This is understandable and valid, anyone would be upset in her shoes. She’s gonna say, at very least: You’re not committed to me. You don’t love me. You’re gonna force me to live with my abusive dad. You’re being controlling about money. You’re treating me like a child. What if we miss our window to even have this right?
Let her say her piece.
- I do love you and I would give almost anything to make this work.
- Living together isn’t working, though. Between the mess and the constant spending- I’m incredibly unhappy, stressed, and uncomfortable in my living space all the time, and while the good parts are good, this unhappiness isn’t going away. It’s been a year…when do things get better?
- I’ve tried talking to you about the spending and about the mess, and it results in a) screaming at me and b) no changes whatsoever – I still live in a house full of garbage and crusty food, we’re broke and getting broker, and talking about it honestly gets me screamed at. So if talking about it with you won’t solve it, what do you think will solve it?
The points to repeat/come back to, when she argues/yells:
- I upset enough about household stuff and money that it is making me have suicidal thoughts. For my own well-being, I need to put the brakes on things.
- I know that I can’t commit to a life where things at home stay like they are now/I can’t get married without a vision and a plan for how this all changes.
- I hope very much that we can work on that plan together, but step one has to be postponing the wedding and getting our finances under control.
- Keep the conversation focused on yourself and your needs. “I am unhappy.” “I am not ready.”
Some things to leave out of the conversation right now:
- The dog. I’m with you – the dog’s gotta go, either with your fiancée wherever she lands next or to a nice no-kill animal rescue who will train it up and foster it with loving kind people who know what to do with it. Moderation note: Dogs are for people who want dogs and the Letter Writer doesn’t want a dog. Respect this boundary in the comments or learn to love having your stuff deleted.
- That said, she’s an abuse survivor who fled her old home into yours with a beloved animal. She’s not actually ever going to agree to give up the dog and if you bring the dog into the “postponing the wedding” conversation it will be a distraction you don’t need right this second. Trust the order of operations and file the dog under “business for another terrible conversation.”
- The kitten you got together. The cat may go with her someday or it may stay with you. The kitten is gonna be loved and fine wherever it goes, and there are bigger fish to fry in this initial conversation.
- Joblessness/aimlessness/Netflixness. Bringing this up right now is gonna create or add to a shame spiral that is counter-productive. It’s another conversation for another time, like, hey, if you hate this whole “allowance” thing, one way to take some of the financial stress off us/give you more spending money is for you to find a job, too, what’s your plan about that, exactly?
She may well ask: 1) Are you breaking up with me? 2) Are you kicking me out/sending me back to live with my Dad/making me homeless?
The answer to these things, realistically, is, “I don’t want that but I also can’t answer that right this second. I’m sure about the wedding, I’m sure about getting finances back under control, I’m sure I care about you. We can figure out the rest, I needed to tell you those two things today so we can make good decisions.”
You’re gonna have a sucky Tuesday & Wednesday this week, and again, I’m sorry, but you gotta take these steps quick to protect yourself (from her running up a ton more debt) and to tell her the truth about where your head is at so she can make good decisions about her life. Keep framing it that way, too: “I know this is heartbreaking, but I need to be able to tell you the truth about how I feel.” You owe her the truth and you told her the truth.
Other fairly immediate steps (also not necessarily in the ‘right’ order):
Step 3: Stop the Wedding Juggernaut. Some deposits may be lost, but cancel everything that can be cancelled, return everything that can be returned, and inform everyone that needs informed – officiant, venue, guests. Don’t worry about crafting something perfect, send a simple email to guests like “Our wedding is being postponed, so we won’t see you on [date]. We’ll let you know when there’s a new date.”
There may not ever be a new date, and that’s okay right now. You don’t have to decide that, just tell people you invited what’s up with February 27. You’re the one calling it off, so, take on the job of doing the awkward work of those calls and emails.
Some people will call to find out the story and some will call you to offer support and I can feel you cringing to your soul but this is a GOOD thing. You both need Team You(s) right now, and this is a quick way to summon them. A script might be: “It’s very embarrassing and hard to talk about it, but we take marriage very seriously and taking some time to work out some stuff was the right thing to do.”
Step 4: Assemble Team You(s) and tell them what is going on.
Do not shame-hide. You need your friends and family. She needs her friends (& any non-abusive family). One or both of you is most likely gonna need a place to stay, and somebody who knows a good place to re-home dogs, and somebody who knows a good entry level part time job. You need people who know what’s going on and who are poised to be your sounding board and to offer concrete help. You also need people who you can tell the whole truth to about what’s been happening in your house and how it’s making you feel. You’re not being disloyal if you seek support.
Step 5: Put some mental health support in place for both of you. If you decide to do couples’ counseling, cool, but I think you both need individual resources. You need somebody who is there 100% to help you manage your anxiety stuff and to help you make good decisions about what will bring you a happy life, so don’t stint yourself, ok? Since you mention a history of suicide attempts on her part, some of this support needs to be crisis support, like, writing down hotline numbers and figuring out “If she had to check herself into a hospital, which one near us is the right one?” Hopefully you won’t need it but write it all down as a safety net in case you do.
Step 6: The Future????????
There is a whole list of medium-term and longer-term issues that are above my pay grade and that can’t necessarily be figured out right now. I think you gotta live separately, whether or not you break up. She needs to find a source of income and make some plans for herself toward going to school. I don’t know how to solve that for y’all. One reason I stressed finances so much at the beginning is that if you have some savings and financial liquidity that can be a “Hey, we’re breaking up, but here’s some money for you to move to a new place and get you set up for a couple of months- I really don’t want you to have to go back to your Dad’s place” fund.
Whatever happens, I want you to remind yourself:
She has choices about how she treats you. She has choices about whether the wakeup call of “Oh shit, I’m not getting married right now after all and my partner is really unhappy with things” is enough to spur her to make some changes in how she treats you, your living space, etc. Also, speaking of choices, one forseeable consequence of pressuring & manipulating someone to move your wedding date up by a year is that they will balk when the time comes. One reason you’re in this situation now is that she steamrolled you before.
Cancelling the wedding is 100% the right thing to do. It will hurt like hell, but you should not marry someone you are not sure you want to marry, and telling them that news IS actually doing right by them even if they don’t want to hear it or agree.
It’s okay to want love to be better than this. “Relationships take work” our culture says, but yours is too much work and the wrong kind of work and it’s okay to stop wanting to do the work if it’s not making you happy.
You don’t have to solve someone’s whole life in order to leave them. I hope very much that your fiancée is able to get a job and a place of her own and live with her dog that she loves and begin the slow work of taking care of herself financially. I know that part of it is weighing on you hugely, like, you very much don’t want to banish her back to an abusive situation. But your apartment and her dad’s place are not the only two buildings on earth. You can be kind and offer help and support, but as the saying goes, “Don’t set yourself on fire to keep other people warm.”
I don’t envy you the conversations and the work ahead in these next weeks, but I look forward to the time that you can’t quite see yet, where you have that peaceful, quiet (dog-free) place to live.
P.S. I hope you have some good friends who take you to dinner on February 27.
P.P.S. Pledge drive week is on! Find out more here.