Should I take him back?

By Daniel J. Tomasulo, PhD, TEP, MFA, MAPP

First of all, I come from a loving family where my parents have a good marriage. My dad is a very hard worker and both parents were very involved in my life. I am an only child. My mother (though very loving) is bipolar (I think it would now be called cyclothymic disorder b/c she doesn’t have depressed episodes) and I always had to be a very strong and self-reliant person growing up. She did yell a lot. I find now that I end up being emotionally exhausted in relationships because 1. I am 100% committed to persevere despite all obstacles in anything I do and 2. I end up with guys that take a lot out of me emotionally.

My current boyfriend is a wonderful man. I am still attracted to him, love him very much, and we have a lot of fun together. We have been together almost 3 years. He is smart, successful in his job, has good taste, and many talents. His family is supportive of our relationship and has been welcoming when we visit them out of state. He seems to be at his best when with his family, specifically his grandmother, aunts, cousins, nieces/nephews. We share a lot of similar values.

He had a not so great childhood; mom and dad divorced at age 9, (dad cheated, drank, was abusive) mom was rarely around and his older brother by five years was basically watching out for them until they were in their mid teens. He became sexually active at 13. I understand that his mother would do shady things financially, take her children’s tax returns for herself, etc. As a child, they moved in with his grandparents, his grandfather drank heavily and made them do lots of hard yard work on their 3 acre property, he also put them down a lot, called them worthless, etc. He says that if his grandmother wasn’t so grounded, making sure he went to church, guiding him, etc., he would have never been as successful as he is.

Our relationship has been push and pull since the beginning. We met on an online dating site; I dated several guys before deciding to see my BF exclusively and beginning a sexual relationship w/ him. He was hard to get, I became so frustrated in the beginning that when I was about to break up with him after our third month, I saw a book while in line at a coffee shop and bought it. Literally every chapter was entitled as something he was doing that was bothering me – canceling dates, not calling, being distant, pulling back, pushing my buttons, picking arguments that didn’t seem to warrant arguments. We worked through this phase and I do not feel like he “plays games” now, but he still has some issues.

Since then this has been our cycle:

1. Things are okay to great
2. Just when I feel like I have a glimmer of hope about our future he does something – either picks a fight or behaves in a way that hurts me emotionally, is disrespectful, pulling back
3. I attempt to address it and he either refuses to acknowledge what I say entirely (sometimes he responds with weird cooing noises, or inaudible gurgling sounds instead of answering my question or responding; I respond by saying, “use your words.”) or continues to upset me
4. I next reach a point where I am ready to give up on our relationship and attempt a break up
5. He begs forgiveness and panics, promises he will do better
6. He usually improves but it happens all over again with time

I’m exhausted. I wrote him a letter a month ago about all this and how it hurts me, I woke him up at 3am to read it and he did, even though he had to work the next morning. He held me as I cried but said nothing, we went to sleep. Two weeks after that I decided that I have been feeling so much resentment that I made the decision to just be positive and give it my all once again. It was great for two weeks, better than ever, then he pulled back again by leaving my place on my birthday when he originally planned to spend the night, when I asked him why he was going he would not answer me, responding with gurgling noises. I asked him to stay, he said “no, but I will take my leftover pizza.” He left. With the pizza. I called him and told him it was over, the next day he came and begged forgiveness, pointing out how great the last two weeks have been and how far he has come, promising he will work on himself.

This time, I told him I needed space to think and decide what I wanted. I suggested he seek therapy. He said he can do this on his own and he has his whole life to prove it to me. He reluctantly agreed to a 3-week break (we are not seeing other people) and I am thinking things through. He may have his whole life to work through his issues, but I don’t want to wait the rest of my life to be happy. I am in grad school (for applied psychology I/O) I have a full time job, and lots of interests that I have little time for right now. My friends are pressing me to leave him. I don’t know what to do, I want to give him a chance but it seems hopeless, and I deserve to be with someone that gives me everything I need. I wish it were he, but I question if I will ever be truly happy with him.

What should I do when I see him in two weeks if I decide to give him another shot? I was thinking about insisting he seek therapy as a condition of giving him another chance.

Thanks!

A: Thank you for your clear and well-thought-out concerns. The fact that you have noticed both your patterns and his is a very good observation. It is only when we can see our patterns and others that we have a real chance of making changes.

The 3-week separation is the right thing to do. I have written articles about this elsewhere. The only way true change takes place is by first stopping what isn’t working. By you recognizing how depleting your boyfriend and other relationships have been, you are taking the lead by stopping the most essential problem: trying to persevere.

The sabotage cycle your boyfriend has, pulling the plug right when things are good, is often a cycle that happens when there has been the type of dysfunction you identified in his family. I think it is interesting you have noticed this and identified it as a cycle because in some way it may be like your relationship with your mother. Your experience has been with a mother who required you to be resilient and the one taking responsibility. For you to heal the wounds from your family, and for him to heal his, couples therapy would be the way to go. To be honest it sounds like the two of you are close because there is such clarity on what the issue is, but this will not get better on its own. I suggest using the find help tab at the top of the page to locate a couples therapist. If that isn’t possible, check out a couples therapy weekend with skilled therapists. This may help you both find the correction and the love you both desire.

Wishing you patience and peace,
Dr. Dan
Proof Positive Blog @ PsychCentral

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Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 20 May 2011

APA Reference
Tomasulo, D. (2011). Should I take him back?. Psych Central. Retrieved on October 25, 2014, from http://psychcentral.com/ask-the-therapist/2011/05/20/should-i-take-him-back/