Whether or not you should stay with your partner is a very personal decision. That decision can be life altering. If you were to stay with him, the two of you may eventually consider marriage. Should you marry, you will be legally connected to him. This kind of decision requires a great deal of thought as it is one of the most important decisions you may ever make in life.
You are right to be concerned. His behavior is problematic for the relationship. The proof of that is the problems it is causing. Should you decide to stay with him and he does not change, then you will have essentially agreed to accept his behavior. Are you willing to live with his behavior?
You asked whether there’s anything you can do to soften the blow of his “off” experiences?” That is a difficult question to answer without knowing more about what precipitates these experiences. More information would be necessary to make that determination.
If I could interview you in person, I would be interested in how long he has been in counseling and what progress has been made. It would be helpful to know more about what the therapist thinks is wrong? What happens when he shuts down? What is he thinking? Where does he go (literally) when he is like this? Does he stop talking altogether? How long has this been happening? Does he behave this way with other people? When did you notice it developing? What are the precursors to this behavior? Is he angry and hides so as to not physically harm you or is he feeling betrayed and can’t find the words to communicate his feelings? The answers to those questions, among others, will be important when determining whether or not you should move forward with this relationship.
You mentioned that he has his own therapist and you see one separately (but that you’re in between therapists at the moment). Couples counseling may or may not be helpful. In any event, the fact that you both are open to counseling is a very good sign.
Once you find a new therapist, he or she can assist you in exploring whether or not this relationship is right for you. You’ll want to examine your main question of what role, if any, do you play in how he behaves. He seems to be reacting to your behavior. Therapy is the ideal place to examine the dynamics of your relationship.
His seems to be displaying extreme passive aggressive behavior. Passive-aggressive people are in fact aggressive in their behavior. Giving someone the “cold shoulder” is a bold expression without ever saying a word.
The other problem with this type of behavior is that you never know what exactly precedes their behavior. People describe this experience as “walking on egg shells.” That expression essentially means having to be hypervigilant about what can set them off. That’s a very stressful way to live. It is impossible to communicate with someone who shuts down. Your boyfriend does eventually “come back online” but it’s important that he develop the ability to prevent his going “off” to begin with.
The purpose of dating is to see if the two of you are a match. It’s an opportunity to spend time with an individual, to gauge their reactions, and get a sense of whether you want to make a more permanent commitment. If you see behavior that is concerning, then it’s time to rethink whether you want to stay in this relationship.
At this point in time, it seems prudent to find a therapist and seriously examine whether or not this relationship is right for you. You need more information before deciding and a good therapist will be able to assist you in that process. Good luck with your decision. Please take care.
Dr. Kristina Randle