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Feelings are the true F-word.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Partners In Flaw

Posted by fxckfeelings on February 20, 2012

When love hurts, everyone’s a psychologist looking for a fixable issue. Trouble is, most love problems have deep roots that can’t be fixed without a single (or couples) lobotomy. Whether the problem starts with your feelings or the other guy’s (and, often, it’s clearly one or the other, not both), the big question is whether whoever owns them can manage them, not whether you can make them go away. In either case, if you’re prepared to accept whatever you find, you can stop love from destroying you, even if you can’t stop it from hurting your heart and your head.
-Dr. Lastname

I love my boyfriend—we’ve been together for 2 years and I’d like us to be able to live together when our kids (from previous marriages) are grown—but every few months he gets a strange look in his eye, his body language changes, and he acts like he’d rather be somewhere else. When I confront him, he’s apologetic, but admits he’d rather be alone, and then he goes back to his place and doesn’t call. I feel devastated, but I give him space, and eventually he’s back to himself and we settle into our talk-every-day routine. After the first time or two, I thought we’d worked things out and it wouldn’t happen again, but now I’m losing faith. I want him to get help. I can’t see how our relationship can go forward if this keeps happening and that’s my goal.

It’s weird, but there are some people who would really like to have committed relationships who are also allergic to them. Sadly, there is no relationship version of the poodle.

While such people have shaky moods, their values are solid. The problem isn’t that they’re distracted by beautiful new people or romantic excitement; they simply can’t stand too much domesticity for too long without getting short of breath and dying to be alone.

So the first question you should ask about your boyfriend is whether he’s had this problem before. My guess is that he has, which tells you a good thing and a bad thing; while it’s not personal or anyone’s fault, there may be nothing either one of you can do to change him.

Then there’s the second question, which is, how much can you expect him to control his restlessness in the long run. After all, some people are very good at controlling strong urges that run counter to what they want out of life, like highly sexed people can keep it in their pants, or thirsty drinkers who manage to stay sober. Before assuming you can’t live together, rate his ability for long-term feeling management.

The good news about his management is that you’re still together after 2 years and he doesn’t blame you (or your weight, insecurity, whatever) for his cold-foot problem. The bad news is that, other than feeling guilty about it, he hasn’t taken any new steps to keep himself in check. He hasn’t hired a coach or therapist, he hasn’t discussed living together or marrying, and he usually winds up backing off in a way that’s very hard for you to tolerate and that requires two households, with no merger in sight.

So before you say the words “help” or “therapy,” remind yourself that we’re all motivated to feel better, but not necessarily to tolerate feeling worse in order to get something of value. So, unless he’s interested in making sacrifices and tolerating pain in order to have the kind of domestic relationship you (both, presumably) want, therapy won’t work.

Assume, instead, that he is who he is and you’ve got what you’ve got. Instead of imagining how nice it would be if he could change, ask yourself whether you can accept the relationship the way it is, not the way you wish it could be. Ask yourself whether the pain of his emotional and physical absences is worth the benefit of his continuing love, knowing he won’t change, but life, after your kids move away, will.

It’s hard, when a relationship feels good and solid most of the time, to encounter a darkness that you can’t change. It’s easier to believe that love, therapy, and sincere motivation will win out in the end rather than accept grimmer reality.

If you do, however, face the sad facts, you can approach the problem without blame or any feeling of failure, and explore ways of being together without triggering his usual reaction, creating a relationshipdoodle of your own.

STATEMENT:
“I can’t help the emptiness I feel when my significant other wants nothing more than to be away from me, but I know it’s not personal and that we’re happy together most of the time. I wish we could expect to get closer once our kids are gone, but that probably won’t happen. Now I need to decide whether what we’ve got will be enough.”

I don’t think I will ever make up with by boyfriend unless he apologizes for smashing my windshield (he says he couldn’t have, but I saw him throw a rock at it, and he was too drunk to remember). I wish we had a more peaceful relationship, but he has to party a lot because of his advertising job, and he meets lots of successful people who are doing what I wish I was doing. It always makes me feel like a total loser because I can’t believe he’s staying faithful (though I think he is), so I drink, get stewed on jealousy and envy, and pick a fight. We then have a horrible blowout and things get broken. If he won’t even admit to destroying my car, how can I ever trust him again?

Yup, you’ve got a dream love; someone who’s doing cool things with cool people and he loves you back. Unfortunately, he’s not so much the man of your dreams as living your dreams while you try to catch up, and it drives you crazy with jealousy and self-doubt.

There’s no easy solution, because you can’t help your yearnings, ambition, or lack of self-confidence, and neither of you wants him to change his work or stop his socializing. You’re not blaming him for cheating or being cold, so I assume he lets you know he loves you, and it’s just not enough. Loving him is going to hurt.

Now that we’ve got through the hard part and you know that pain is inevitable, let’s look at what you’re doing to make it worse. You’re trying to ease it by drinking, but that allows you to vent your anger on him for making you feel like this and testing him to see if he cares. Then, after a brutal fight (crushed feelings, broken glass) “proves” he cares, you lap up the joys of making up. Except this time it’s not happening because he’s gone a bit too far.

You’re right, your busted windshield is telling you that you can’t go on like this, but the person you can’t trust is not him, but your own inability to manage your emotions. You don’t need an apology; you need sobriety and perspective.

Here’s an example of sober thinking; after excluding the use of chemical pain-killers or the relief of psychodrama, ask yourself whether the relationship is worth the pain of your jealousy and doubts. Don’t ask whether the relationship can make you happy, because it can’t, at least not until you get lucky in your career or he loses his. Instead, ask whether it can make you happy enough, and be meaningful enough, to be worth the unavoidable pain (and the sobriety needed to keep that pain from getting worse).

Whatever the answer, get sober, and stay away from the wild rage/lust make-up cycle. Today it’s a broken car, tomorrow it’s a restraining order, a blackout, or an arrest. You deserve something closer to your dream, instead of something that will become a nightmare.

STATEMENT:
“Love is tearing me apart, even though I think my boyfriend loves me and is a good guy. Instead of trying to get relief, I’ve got to get strong. Then whether or not we can make it work, I can protect myself from becoming a total asshole.”

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