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He's punishing me

Posted by Meredith Goldstein  August 19, 2010 09:07 AM

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Q: Dear Meredith,

I would truly appreciate your advice and the advice of your faithful followers.

My boyfriend and I get into pretty big arguments 1-2 times a week. He will say something touchy, and I'll overreact, or vice versa. We have been dating off and on for two years. We have truly broken up twice, both of which were on my terms. The first time was because of a certain way that he was acting that I found inexcusable (and he would admit that it was inexcusable as well). But it was nothing that couldn't be worked through and forgiven. The second break-up was caused by my general unhappiness and feeling overwhelmed. I panicked and tried to squeeze him out of my life. I later regretted it, apologized, admitted my shortcomings and asked for his forgiveness. To my credit, I have completely changed for the better. I really have committed myself to him, I am more affectionate, and I have done things to prove myself. I have admitted all of this to him and have accepted the blame for the second go around. I should also mention that we have been back together for three-ish months, and have always been in a long-distance relationship. I am in my late 20s and he is in his late 30s. He usually makes me happy and makes me laugh. I do love him.

Because of our past, does he have the green light to be a jerk intentionally? Does he reserve the right to say hurtful things to me as a way to get back at me for my shortcomings in the past? Sometimes I even wonder if he hates me. He sarcastically refers to me as a martyr. I can't count on both hands the number of times that he was told me that I do everything for myself and that it's "all about me." I know that I would never date anyone that I felt that way about. And he has told me these things on more than one occasion, so it is more than a simple slip of the tongue during a fight.

I am not perfect and I know sometimes I upset him, but I do not do anything to provoke this type of hatred and misery.

I guess I just wonder if things will ever change -- is it possible to move on from a rocky past into a healthy, happy relationship? Or is this a period of time that I just need to endure because I kind of have it coming to me? I am so exhausted from the fighting and from his "you're going to break up with me again, it's what you do" comments. He is the one who is miserable, and I haven't done or said anything to make him believe that I would do that to him again. It's quite the opposite.

Please help.

– Misery in Massachusetts

A: You're right, MIM, he’s not supposed to punish you. He either accepts that you've grown and allows for a do-over, or he admits that he can't forgive the past and you both move on. You were able to forgive him after his "inexcusable" behavior. You didn't punish him, right? He isn't returning the favor.

Based on what you've told us, it doesn't sound good. He makes you feel bad. You fight twice a week. You said that you've "truly" broken up twice, which leads me to believe that there have been a number of other almost-break-ups.

I do think that distance is part of the problem. You go from not seeing each other at all to being together for two straight days. That's a lot of pressure, especially when things are turbulent.

My advice is to make a list of reasons why you've stayed with him. Include specific memories. "That time we went to the movies and stayed up all night, that time we made dinner from scratch, that time he introduced me to his family … ." Then show him the list. Tell him the list must grow. List-worthy interaction should be most of your relationship. He either helps you with the list or it's time to move on. You're done with the punishing and the second-guessing. If the weekly arguments continue, that's it. That’s your answer.

If your happy list isn't very long and you know for a fact that it's trumped by a much longer list of negatives, don't even bother showing it to him. Just let it be the evidence that you need to try something new. Take what you've learned from this relationship and use it somewhere else.

Readers? Is the list even necessary? How long are we allowed to punish a partner after they've wronged us? Is distance the issue? Is age the issue? Discuss.


– Meredith


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ABOUT LOVE LETTERS: Welcome to Love Letters, the place for love advice (giving and getting). Globe relationship columnist Meredith Goldstein and Boston.com readers are ready to take your letters and tell you what's what. Have a question? Click here to submit or email us at loveletters@boston.com.
Blogger Meredith Goldstein

Meredith Goldstein is a Boston Globe columnist who follows relationship trends and entertainment. She offers daily advice on Love Letters — and welcomes your comments. Meredith is also the author of "The Singles," a novel about complicated relationships. Follow Meredith at www.meredithgoldstein.netand on Twitter. Love Letters can be found in the print edition of The Boston Globe every Saturday in the G section.

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