Vail Relationships column: Dealing with a crazy-making boyfriend
Dear Neil: I am dating a man who has major trust issues and erratic mood swings. He’s bought me things that I warmly accepted, and then has accused me of being a user and thinking of him like he was an ATM machine. He’s thrown hurtful insults at me and they will never go away. Although he has low self-esteem, he has tried to convince me that he’s the best man out there. When I moved in with him, he told me he felt like my prisoner, but every time I left our condo, he wanted to tag along. Recently he left me, and I stopped communicating with him because his angry words hurt me. But my retorts hurt him back, so now he says he can’t forgive me. I’ve found that I want him back. I want to believe it takes someone like me to love someone like him.
What Do I Do?
Dear What Do I Do: You are with a man giving you double messages. He wants you, but he can’t be close with you. He can hurt you, but he can’t tolerate being hurt by you. He can freely give to you, but if you take what he offers, he will accuse you of using him or of being a leach. He can’t stand being your “prisoner,” but he can’t let you out of his sight. He wants to live with you, and he equally wants to get away from you because he doesn’t trust you or your motives.
This is a man who, indeed, has very low self-esteem, and he is sabotaging what he also wants very badly. Nobody can succeed in having a close relationship with him this way. He won’t let anyone get terribly close before he pushes her away. So how intimate, attached and devoted a relationship do you think you can have with him the way things are right now?
So what do you do? If the two of you decide to get together and talk things out, confront him with these double messages and set some ground rules and boundaries regarding what’s acceptable to you and what isn’t. How about if the two of you agree to stop leveling hurtful, angry words at each other? What if you questioned his invitation for you to move in with him, yet he felt like a captive when you did? How about his message that he’s the best man out there for you, but he thinks that gives him license to insult and demean you? How about asking for an apology for his hurtful words and alienating behavior—and an ironclad agreement about how future disagreements will be handled differently?
If he won’t agree to these basic rules of civil, respectful behavior — or if he agrees but fails to follow through — you will keep getting this crazy-making behavior until you cut the relationship off with him completely. And then you will have learned that someone like you cannot love someone like him without completely losing yourself.
Neil Rosenthal is a licensed marriage and family therapist in Westminster and Boulder. He is the author of the best-selling book “Love, Sex, and Staying Warm: Creating a Vital Relationship.” Contact him at 303-758-8777 or visit neilrosenthal.com.
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