My fiancé and I have been living together for over a year. We come from different backgrounds and have had some problems from the beginning of our relationship. I feel he was spoiled as a child and can be selfish. I grew up in an environment that encouraged generosity and believe what’s mine is his, and vice versa. With him, what’s his is his, and so we always end up getting two of everything. I’ve tried to learn and adapt.
Things between us were fine until I got fired from my job and decided to become an entrepreneur. He had a difficult time accepting that my priorities had shifted away from him and toward my new business. I thought we had worked out our problems, but in the last month I’ve been through a stressful ordeal: I got evicted, had to find another location for my business, and needed to hire a lawyer. He hasn’t been at all supportive.
His parents were going to come for Thanksgiving, but they’ve backed out because he told them we were having problems. His parents seem to like me and I’ve always made a special effort with his mother, calling her and being attentive.
I decided I needed some time away to get my act together; we agreed we love each other and that it was not the end. I moved into my sister’s house one day while he was at work.
Four days later, after some serious soul-searching, I realized I’d made a huge mistake, and that my priorities were screwed up. I went to our house to apologize and found that he’d redone the whole place—our photos were gone from the walls and all signs of me and our relationship had been erased. He said he wasn’t breaking up with me but wants some space. He suggested we talk after the holiday and figure things out then. He admitted he didn’t know if he felt the same way about me. That felt like a needle to my heart.
The hardest part was when he told me that he had talked it over with his mom and that she said I never had anything nice to say about him anyway. That isn’t true. I felt betrayed by his mom, especially since I’ve tried so hard with her. I got up to leave and he pulled me close and said everything would be fine.
I went home and wrote him an email telling him I respect his space and the time he needs to take. My question is, will he come back?
My simple answer to your question is that I have no idea if he’ll come back. It’s impossible for me (or you, for that matter) to tell whether he’s trying to punish you for leaving and planning to take you back, or if he’s seriously reconsidering your relationship.
That said, let’s take this one step at a time. If he does come back, I believe both of you need to consider your expectations, behavior, and ways of resolving conflict, or I fear you may find yourself right back in this situation in the future.
First, it sounds like you made a dramatic shift from focusing on him to concentrating on a new business, and that you ended up in some financial and legal trouble. I certainly wouldn’t dissuade you from becoming an entrepreneur, but to have a successful relationship, you have to be able to honestly and realistically discuss major life decisions like this beforehand. Did you consult him prior to launching your business and discuss how it might affect your relationship, not to mention your pocketbook? Is it possible he was caught off-guard with the business plan and then the eviction and legal issues added to his confusion?
Next, I wish you’d given more details about why you think he’s selfish, but I think I can comfortably say that it isn’t exactly realistic to think that you’ve “adapted” to the problem of him always thinking “what’s his is his.” Nor is it realistic to address that problem by buying two of everything. That’s going to get very expensive! Do you have two ketchup bottles? Two televisions? Is there any sharing?
More importantly, you need to look at what’s at the root of this issue. Couples sometimes avoid confronting major issues by one or the other quietly giving in, or doing the most expedient thing. These approaches may seem easier at the time, but both are likely to create resentment, which is, as I’ve said many times in this column, a poison for relationships.
In my opinion, if you get back together, the two of you need to sit down, possibly with a therapist, and hash out your emotions, behavior, and boundaries around some very basic issues. First is how to split or share your resources. Disagreements over “money” and “stuff” are likely symbolic of deeper issues involving power: who has it, who wants it, and how to divvy it up.
I also see a pattern of impulsivity here. When disagreements arise (and they will!) in a mature, long-term relationship, it’s not ultimately going to better the relationship to abruptly take action, like moving out while he’s at work or stripping the walls of all evidence of a relationship.
Instead, try to negotiate your differences in an honest, constructive, and respectful way. One way to do this is to use “active listening.” Here are a few pointers:
- Make a date to talk with each other about a particular subject. Pay complete attention to what the other person is trying to say without bias or distraction. Avoid waiting until the other is finished without listening so you can get to what you want to say.
- Try “mirroring:” Repeat what the other person says, and have him repeat what you say. This ensures each party feels heard.
- “Check in” on the other person’s feelings and don’t make assumptions. Make a habit of asking how the other person feels and then listen.
- Use “I feel” statements, instead of “You’re always” statements.
Now, let’s talk boundaries, particularly those around his mother. While maintaining respect for her is important, you can’t let her come between you—and that includes him sharing every detail of your relationship with her. I also suggest that you analyze whether there’s any truth to his mother’s accusation. You seem to know it’s a boundary violation to speak ill of your fiancé to her, but is it possible you did it without realizing it? I ask more to suggest you learn to observe your own actions and take control of what you say than to focus on his mother’s interpretation of you. Now, it is possible that your fiancé may be just saying that to hurt you, and if so, again, this kind of tit-for-tat is, to me, a sign of an immature approach. The two of you need to treat each other with more respect and trust, learn to make decisions about how you want to live, and present those decisions in a united front to both sets of parents.
You also say that what hurts the most is his mother’s “betrayal.” This surprises me. If you love this man and want to marry him, I would think breaking up with him would be far more significant emotionally.
Which brings us, finally, to the breakup. I hope you find your way back together if that’s what you both want. But if you do go back with this man, I encourage you to do some real work on your relationship so that this isn’t just the first of many breakups and breakdowns.
My best to you both, and thanks for asking.
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