Should we break up?

By Dr. Marie Hartwell-Walker

I am trying to decide whether I should break up with my live-in boyfriend of three years. It is very hard to decide because he has given up a lot of his own life just to be with me and I genuinely feel love for him, however it is really hard to continue living with somebody who I fight with all the time.

We met when I was at college in New York. After we had become intimate and had been so for about three months, I found out he was married. In addition, I found out he had a son with his current wife and another son from a past relationship. I wanted to let go, but couldn’t. He eventually left his wife and came to live with me.

After a year, I landed my dream job as a diplomat and it implied moving to the country where I was assigned. He agreed to come along with me and we were there for eight months. Now, I have been assigned to work in S.America, and he followed me here too, even though he does not speak the language or have any activities to do here except Spanish classes. He does ALL the work around the house except for the cooking, which I do. He still travels back to NYC often (with me most times) to see his kids and he has a good relationship with them despite the distance.

Currently, I am feeling horrible because we fight constantly (three to four times a month) and I don’t know if I can take it anymore. I must admit that many times I get physical during arguments and have thrown things, threatened and hit him before. There is no way for me to actually hurt him physically because he is very strong and tough… but I always feel guilty because of my lack of self-control. Sometimes I also drink too much and spew out hurtful words that I don’t remember the next day, until he tells me about them. More guilt for me.

We usually fight about the same issues. The most common reason for our fighting my complaints that he hardly ever talks to me, to which he always replies that I do not accept his personality. When we first met he used to talk a lot, I don’t know if it is my fault that he changed. In any case, when we spend time, it is really silent and I always feel bored and ignored. I constantly wonder what he is thinking about.

Whenever I ask him questions like “What are you thinking?”, “Why are you so quiet?” or “Are you OK?” he gets mad and we have an argument. During such arguments, he always finds a way to bring back one past issue in particular: During the first year of our relationship I reached out to my ex-boyfriend by email a few times, and my current boyfriend found out. I used to have a horrible cheating pattern, I cheated on ALL my other ex’s. However, although I did contact my ex at first during this relationship, I regretted it and stopped it ever since. This is the first guy I did not cheat on… and would never cheat on.

Besides the many issues I talked about, there are a few more, most importantly the fact that my parents hate him because I told them about one of the biggest fights we had, which got physical (mainly on my part, again).

I want to make things work, but I am afraid that this relationship has been irreparably damaged and I just do not know if it is fair to break up with a guy that has followed me to a foreign country and left it all for me. ¿Can it be fixed? ¿Am I just hurting him more by staying together? ¿Why can’t I just let go of this relationship? HELP!

A: I can’t tell you what to do on the basis of a letter. There are too many things I don’t know. But I can ask you to consider a few things. You met this man when you were only 21. You finished your education and followed your career dream, apparently successfully. Perhaps a guy who looked good to you at 21 isn’t so interesting now that you are older, educated, and in daily contact with other people who are trying to make a difference. It’s commendable that your boyfriend is doing all the household work, but is he also doing things that are helping him grow and be the kind of person you would be interested in having as a friend and colleague? I suspect that at least some of the fighting is about your disappointment in his apparent lack of ambition or interest in work or other activities. Perhaps the two of you don’t talk much because he doesn’t have much to talk about.

That being said, there is never a reason to get physical with someone you love – or even someone you don’t. Harsh words aren’t going to change things. Throwing things and hitting each other will only diminish your respect for each other and for yourselves. Those kinds of blowups generally are born of enormous frustration. I’m guessing he’s frustrated that you want more from him. You’re frustrated that he doesn’t want more for himself. I’m very happy that you haven’t added cheating to the equation. It does strike me that it’s entirely possible that you no longer cheat because you have grown up and matured. I do think it’s unfair for him to bring up a “contact” with an ex back when you were 21 as ammunition when he has left two women with children to raise on their own.

It may be that he “left it all” for you. It’s also possible he left it all for himself. Did following you mean that he doesn’t have to think about what he is going to do about having a profession or supporting his children in a meaningful way? Does living in South America get him off the hook from becoming a fully functioning adult?

It might be helpful for the two of you to take a big step back. He could go “home” to New York and figure out his own life while you do this tour. When you get back together, you’ll be able to see him through the eyes of the mature professional woman you are now instead of the college student you once were. At that point, he may have made some changes and you may be in a better position to evaluate whether this guy is the one for you.

I wish you well.
Dr. Marie

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Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 8 Nov 2010

APA Reference
Hartwell-Walker, D. (2010). Should we break up?. Psych Central. Retrieved on October 23, 2014, from http://psychcentral.com/ask-the-therapist/2010/11/08/should-we-break-up/