Can’t decide when to break up

By Dr. Marie Hartwell-Walker

I am 19, my boyfriend of a year and a half will be 18 soon. We met through a friend. I wasn’t living with my family at the time, his family kind of “adopted” me. They adore me, and treat me like a daughter. After several months of living with them, I moved back with my parents. I am still with my boyfriend. When I met him, he was attending high school irregularly, missed most of freshmen through junior years, and started what would be his senior year as a junior (he has now accumulated enough credits to be a senior). He is currently attending a once-a-week, half-day special education program at his local high school. Most of the work he needs to complete he is supposed to do independantly, at his house. As far as I know, he does next to none of it. He also attends an afternoon program for gifted students four days a week. This program does not assign homework. His mother has recently confided in me that he will probably not graduate this year. I am furious and disapointed. He has held one job (his first and only) in the time we’ve dated. The entire time he held it, he complained, had emotional outbursts, and took out his frustration on everyone around him. He frequently called out. He lost this job after a month, after he deliberately missed a day and didn’t call out.

I have worked several difficult, full time jobs in the past year, from housekeeping to waitress. All the money I made I “shared” with him, even though his family discouraged it. I told him I can understand if he doesn’t want a job during the school year if he felt it would interfere with his schoolwork. The problem is, he has an EXTREMELY lax schedule, and I think he could at least manage to get his work done, or else have some sort of job. He disregards this, and continues to happily mooch off of me.

I have told him that there are plenty of people his age with much more demanding schedules who manage to get work done, or hold a job. I myself am a college student and I work part-time. I told him that, come fall 2010, I would expect that he be enrolled in college, or have a full-time job, or at least do SOMETHING besides sit on the couch and try to convince his mom to buy him a pack of cigarettes. This always leads to horrible conflict between us. I have given up bringing it up because he takes it out on his family, I have had his sister call me in tears saying he punched another hole in the wall, or is threatening his brother.

By now, you have probably guessed that he has some mental issues that were already established. He has been in and out of treatment and institutions from a very young age. He has a history of violence, as well as a history of EXTREMELY messy breakups (he ended up in legal trouble on one ocassion). I knew exactly who I was getting involved with when I met him, but at his best he is incredibly sweet, loving, and open. However he is also a bit childish and immature, he speaks to me in “baby talk” and usually wants to be taken care of, sometimes I feel like his mother, and I have almost no sexual feelings towards him.

I’m not totally sure why I’m in this relationship. He just makes me feel loved, and I think his childishness can be endearing, we certainly have a ton of fun together. However, he also seems incurably lazy and a little selfish. Ultimately, next year, in fall 2011 I am planning on transfering to a different college out of state. I like to think I could work on salvaging this relationship for another year, and maybe if he matures, he could move with me, get a job or go to school himself, and just hope for the best. On the other hand, I think my previous ultimatum was fair, that he complete a non-demanding high school course and do something to move forward, go to college or get a job (preferably both).

Which should I choose? Is it wrong for me to “string him along” for another year? Is it worth it? Can he move forward, or am I just hurting both of us? What about his temper? Should I consider it more? He doesn’t like most people, he blames them for a lot of his issues. He’s also pretty racist, and seems to really hate women. He usually encourages me to stay away from people too because, according to him 1)guys only want to hit on me and 2)girl friends will only encourage me to cheat on him. So usually I just hang out with him. I feel like I’m seeing “warning” signs, but sometimes I think I’m being paranoid, because lots of people HAVE been pretty horrible to him.

If I were to go through with a breakup, I have no idea how to handle it. I have become so close to him and his family. I don’t want them to feel as if I’m running away from them and saying that all the anger I will cause their son is now their problem to deal with, not mine. I love these people and I don’t want them to get hurt. How would I handle that?

Finally, my boyfriend has been terrible to his exes. I don’t want him to think of me that way. I know that the messiness of one breakup in particular was caused by him and his girlfriend at the time, but Im afraid that even if I’m as graceful as I can be about ending it, he might still hold it against me, or refuse to leave me alone, or hurt himself. He has become totally attached to me, and says he “wouldn’t be able to live” without me. We are both currently in our longest relationship. His family says they have never seen him act like this with another girl, which makes me think breaking up would be even worse. At first the attention was flattering, but now I’m worried about his independance, and my own peace of mind. What am I going to do?

A: What a difficult dilemma. I think you already know what you want to do. His sweetness and adoration were intoxicating stuff for awhile. But love isn’t enough to make a relationship work. To last over the long term, people have to respect each other and be able to count on each other. This relationship is becoming way, way off balance with you moving forward into adult life and responsibilities and your boyfriend retreating from it. Further, he is using emotional blackmail with threats of hurting himself or losing his temper if you were to redefine the relationship. Not good.

As much as you care for his family, it is not enough of a reason to sign on as this fellow’s caretaker. If they love you, they will not want you to do that either. If you are worried about what his family will think, you could talk to them ahead of time about what you plan to do and ask for their support. I don’t think “stringing him along” is at all a good idea. The longer you accept the terms of this relationship, the harder it will be to change them.

I can’t tell you what to do. I can only suggest that perhaps the way to manage this might be to get him to mutually decide to take a break while you are at school. Let him know that you have confidence in him and that you think he has what it takes (if you do) to take charge of his life and to man up. Whatever his mental issues, he can get into treatment again and begin working toward more independence. Then see what he does with his life. At that point, you’ll be in a better position to decide what to do about the relationship.

One last thing: If he becomes violent with you or harasses you or threatens you, let him know that you will immediately call in law enforcement and will get a restraining order. Then do it. You don’t have to put up with that. He shouldn’t be given reason to believe he can get away with the same bad behavior yet again.

I wish you well.
Dr. Marie

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Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 3 Apr 2010

APA Reference
Hartwell-Walker, D. (2010). Can’t decide when to break up. Psych Central. Retrieved on August 28, 2014, from http://psychcentral.com/ask-the-therapist/2010/04/03/cant-decide-when-to-break-up/

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