Is a Relationship Worth Salvaging?

(Sorry this is really long but I’m struggling - Also TW: codependency, trauma, emotional abuse, violent outburst, manipulation)

My partner and I have had a tumultuous relationship for the last few years. We are both young (I’m 21 and he’s 22) so this feels like a contributing factor to our issues. Part of me feels like working on the relationship isn’t worth it because we are so young and still growing into the kind of people we want to be. Part of me feels like working on the relationship might show us we are able to grow within a partnership.

At the beginning of our relationship, we would spend about 4 days apart and 3 days together. For me, this was a great balance because I had plenty of time to complete the things I needed to and I could look forward to planning eventful and meaningful weekends with my partner. He on the other hand wanted to be together all the time, and eventually, that did happen as he gradually stopped wanting to stay at his home because of family reasons.

Eventually, I felt somewhat suffocated having to share a tiny bedroom that barely fit a queen bed in the lower level of my mom’s house. I am also the type of person to internalize my struggles and retreat to an isolated state to recuperate after a lot of social interaction. This extends even into my relationship. I obviously still loved my partner but would need regular time to myself to feel as present as I could be when we were together. We encountered multiple rocky moments throughout that time and eventually ended up moving in together with a family friend of mine as roommates.

Even since the beginning, it was evident that my partner wanted to draw people close when he felt emotionally drained or upset and that was very different for me. I wasn’t good at validating his need for care and support in those times because I was used to taking time away to recharge.

Fast forward to our present relationship, we have been struggling severely with communication and finding a way to improve the health of our relationship. My partner finally suggested we do weekly check-ins, plan dates, and plan times to spend time with one another when our schedules are busy. He also wants us to identify boundaries, desires, and needs we have in a relationship. And this is absolutely wonderful! Except I feel somewhat resentful because I had been asking for all of these things and actually making them feasible for most of our relationship and he had been resistant to them. It’s only now that I am feeling incompatibility and a desire to end the relationship that he has pushed for us to do them.

We have had multiple conversations about me being done with the relationship and each time there’s some sort of miscommunication at those times where my partner thinks I am still committed to him, but when I do things for myself such as talking with new people ( to make friends), hanging out with friends, or spending more time out of the house than usual, he feels offended and disrespected. I’ve tried explaining that in those moments we previously had a conversation where I told him I was done. I explained that the only way I would be willing to work on things/stick to the relationship was if we showed some promise at being able to communicate, negotiate, and problem-solve together better than we had.

Unfortunately, I’ve been contemplating ending the relationship for nearly 8 months (6 of it was spent trying to salvage things). We were driving home from a party at 3AM where we had both drank and gotten high earlier in the night but had come down enough to safely drive, and he decided to talk about our relationship. He asked me point blank if I wanted to be in a relationship, and I said I didn’t. In the past, he would tell me I seemed like I didn’t know what I wanted in our relationship and that I constantly tiptoed around what I wanted to say despite me telling him what was mentioned in the previous paragraph. (I don’t know if I was genuinely sending mixed signals though so I feel bad)

He got so angry he sped through our neighborhood into a parking spot, came in the apartment, and immediately threw my keys. He then started to pack up all of his stuff while calling me a slew of names and telling me I’m ending the relationship for nothing and that I haven’t ever given a good reason that is completely unable to be compromised, fixed, or negotiated. He told me I haven’t really tried to work on our relationship and when I’ve made meager efforts, after him basically making it the easiest it could possibly be to work on things, that I was inconsistent and didn’t believe I could change for the better in our relationship.

He started throwing things around like sauce packets which spattered all over the walls and onto the ceiling, he slammed doors and drawers and threw my stuff on the floor. He demanded I give him my phone, and I did because I didn’t know if he’d try to snatch it or hurt me, and he proceeded to delete all images, videos, and memories I had on my phone of him then tossed my phone on the ground at my feet.

I tried to move into the bedroom to keep all of my stuff together so he wouldn’t break anything important. I placed some of my stuff on the bed and sat on the edge crying, waiting for him to be done. He came in about twice and got in my face repeating what he said previously and then asking me if I felt good, if being treated that way felt good because that was what he felt like most of the time- defeated, like I didn’t give a single fuck what he felt- like I didn’t care or love him. He went through my stuff in the dresser and through my med/vitamin box to see what was his (I’d already emptied them out though but he still ended up taking things of mine that he thought were his). In the process, he spilled soda on my clothes and threw my things on the floor.

I’m not the type of person to be reactive in conflict and I usually submit, but since being in therapy and taking it upon myself to learn/help myself, I didn’t want to accept fault for things I felt I didn’t deserve to. But I also don’t know how to stand up for myself just yet, so I sat in silence barely looking at him. This made him even angrier and at one point it sounded like he stopped moving in the living room so I got up to pee since it had been 2 and a half hours of yelling and moving stuff out.

When I came back out I saw he had dumped a gallon of water all over my stuff on the bed and then he proceeded to dump a second gallon on the bed. He then went and grabbed flour and poured it on top of everything. After that, he said some more mean stuff and left.

I was so flustered and upset I tried to call some family friends and my mom, they told me to file a police report and I did, even though I absolutely did not want to because I still love him. The family friends came over and tried to help me clean. Since then I have found other things he wrote on like my car and some items I had in the kitchen.

He messaged me later in the day and wanted to apologize for everything, saying he’d spoken with his mom and felt like he still wanted to salvage the relationship. He said he just didn’t understand why I wanted to break up. I agreed to speak with him and his mom (her as a mediator/guide for the conversation) and I explained my side.

His mom said she felt that everything that went on was a normal part of relationships and that our level of miscommunication and frustration was normal. She also said that we are a good match because I internalize and isolate while he externalizes and craves closeness. To me this just signals that I will feel smothered and he will feel unloved because I’m not providing the level of love and attention he needs. I expressed that and she said that us dating people similar to ourselves would ultimately result in the end of a relationship. She said most people she knew had the same kind of dynamic as us and were eventually able to grow past the miscommunication.

Because of how passive and nonconfrontational I am, this entire situation was a huge problem and severe blow for me in the relationship. I know I still love him and if I could make it work I would (I told him we’d need to enter therapy immediately), but I am so scared I’ll get stuck again and if I do agree to work on things and I eventually still feel we are incompatible, he’ll never believe me, trying to force me to stay into the relationship. I don’t feel like this is a fear of commitment because I am more than willing to commit in the moment but still acknowledge people change and nothing stays the same forever. But I don’t know if it would even be a good idea to work on things. My family disliked him before, but now they especially hate him because they know me as a loving, nonconfrontational, and empathetic person who only wants to help/make things better. Would it be a really bad idea to work on things?

10000% nope. Someone destroying your things like he did, speeding and putting your safety in danger? That is not a normal part of a relationship. Does it happen often? Yes. I’ve been in similar situations, it def. happens. But it’s incredibly toxic and abusive in nature. And it shows a person that isn’t emotionally mature and is thinking mainly about themself and not about them AND their partner. Also his mother shouldn’t be a mediator in a conversation with you two. She’s going to side with her kid likely, and she’s too close to the situation. (Not to mention, she doesn’t sound like she has a healthy perspective on relationships either) It needs to be a third party, like a therapist, or if nothing else maybe a mutual friend.

So, I can’t tell you to stay and work on things or to leave. But I can point out some red flags I see, and also share my own experience. So, I too am a person that needs to decompress and have my own space and time after socializing. 100% an introvert extrovert here. The fact he reacted pretty resentfully when you needed your own space and time, and doesn’t respect that your needs are different than his, is a red flag. Yes, people with different dynamics can work and be in relationships. But 100% they are able to do so because they communicate honestly what they need, and then they respect their partner’s needs and don’t get upset that it’s not the same. My partner knows I need alone time. He lets me have that space, because he know it makes me healthy and happy. He doesn’t resent me for that, it’s just a fact and he accepts it as part of me and being with me. He wants me to feel good, and he knows I need space to do so. You deserve to be in a relationship with someone that can respect what you need and not pout about it and throw a tantrum.

I will say this, as a person who has been in a longterm relationship with a person that has some shit they need to work on, if you do stick around, don’t assume it’s going to be the both of you working on the relationship and growing within the partnership together. Don’t enter therapy thinking that if you go to therapy. Which if you stay with this person, you should 100% go to therapy together and that should be a firm condition if you agree to work on things. People don’t grow at the same rate (sure it might happen, but odds are against you). And I will tell you, it’s incredibly hard to be with someone a decade and in your 30s and you’ve changed and grown but they are still struggling with their shit and now you are trying to figure out if the relationship can continue to work or not. The thing about growing is when you grow it’s great, but the cracks in other’s foundations become more clear and you need to address them if you want them in your life. And that’s scary because sometimes people can’t grow enough to be with you, and you won’t know that until they try and do the work. I’m in that spot now. It’s really tough. Yes, I grew a lot with this person dating them through my 20s, but I’m not sure I wouldn’t have grown on my own without them. Untangling your life after putting in a lot of work is super hard. And if I could go back to 20-something me, I would have put more firm boundaries down and told me to tell my partner that look, these things aren’t going to fly with me, so YOU have to work on some stuff and we have to work together on some stuff if you want to be with me. I’m doing that now, and it’s terrifying waiting to see if your partner can rise to the occasion and put in the work they need to in order to make the relationship work. You can’t control that, so you just have to wait. It’s a shitty feeling place to be in.

I hope some of this makes sense. Relationships can be tough because people change and grow and go through things and life is messy. But if someone can’t listen to you, if they are super reactive, that is a hard road to be on. No matter what, you deserve a partner who doesn’t destroy your things, doesn’t delete your digital property, doesn’t use fear and intimidation against you. And you are 100% in the right to say that you deserve that. Apologies or not, they can’t behave like that if they want to be with you.

I’m sorry you are going through all of this, it’s super tough being in a place where you are trying to assess where you’re at in a relationship. At the end of the day, whether you stay or go, you voice what you need from a partner and don’t let them (or their mother, smh I can’t believe but 100% can believe he’d have her there to back him up) make you feel bad for vocalizing your needs.

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Lisa thank you so much!

It has been really hard because I do love him but I know that I’m quick to put aside wrongdoings in any kind of relationship because I want things to work and because I’ve grown up in a very codependent/abusive relationship with my father. So it is imperative for me to not get lost in wanting physical affection and brief affectionate words, and I keep trying to remind myself how he treated me.

It is also frustrating because my partner has viewed me as the person not growing for our entire relationship yet I’ve watched his social life completely deteriorate, his depression increased exponentially, and his suicidal thoughts become even more prominent. Yet he refuses to go to therapy because he feels like a therapist will demonize him and he doesn’t want to make friends with most people he gets to know because there is always something that he doesn’t feel they genuinely mesh on. He’s expressed that he just wants to be with me (but I would serve as a therapist, mom, friend, and lover if it were just me and I don’t want that at all).

He always felt I was socially inferior because I didn’t really interact with friends outside of school, I never made attempts to have a dating partner until I met him in senior year, and I didn’t go to any school outings except field trips and homecoming of my senior year. I think he also developed this perspective because I confided in him that I didn’t really know what I was doing when it came to romantic/sexual interactions and he’d already experimented and dated (minus penetrative sex) various girls growing up. Plus he’s always been highly sex-focused since age 4-5 so he feels I’m delayed in terms of sexual/romantic/emotional growth. I’ve also confided in him my struggles with depression and anxiety which have blocked me from trusting people’s intentions in our relationships (I felt I could be genuine in wanting their friendship but would assume they’d never be there for me or they would use me).

I have been in and out of therapy for most of my life and actually took up therapy consistently again for the last year or so. It has done me a world of good and I’m actually branching out to make friends, can set clear boundaries with new relationships, and I’m mending old ones with family. My partner doesn’t see that though because I still can’t make him feel secure in our own relationship (but he feels I have better connections with everyone except him, that I make efforts in every other aspect of my life outside of our relationship, and that I hide stuff constantly from him even though I would keep myself and my phone regularly available to him because he felt I was hiding stuff if I didn’t.) I’ve expressed to him though that when I try to set boundaries the same way I have in new relationships, that it seems to blow up in my face within our relationship. He feels I changed things too rapidly, that I switched up on him, and that I’m just being defensive.

I feel like all around we aren’t a good mix and I totally agree with you that just because something is normal doesn’t make it okay. I said that to him and his mom and I’ve also told him that in regard to the ways he fights with his sisters among other stuff. It’s just a struggle now because we still live together and I still would want to hang out as friends for our remaining 7 month lease. But he sometimes takes physical affection or intimacy/honesty in communication as a signal of romantic/sexual desire so I feel like I constantly have to tread lightly. Plus I don’t think he really sees that physical and emotional affection doesn’t always indicate sexual intention which makes things super hard because he ends up believing I’m just miscommunicating things or leading him on.

It’s nice to have some perspective though! My family, therapist, and psych nurse all see this as a domestic violence/abuse scenario and I get how it is. But I don’t know how to create a sense of closure for him where he’d feel like he doesn’t need me anymore to be grounded. I know its not my job though if he’s not mature enough to respect the situation. Him doing all of that damage and leaving was the closest I’ve ever come to feeling he would believe he’d be fine without me. Then he spoke with his mom and she convinced him how good of a pair we seem to be.

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No. 100% you cannot be someone’s everything. It isn’t fair to you, and isn’t fair to him either because that isn’t a healthy way to live for anyone. His hesitance to see a therapist sucks, been there done that, because truly it sounds like he’d benefit from it but isn’t in a space to listen.

Just because he’s had more experience and is highly sex-focused doesn’t mean you are delayed in comparison. And it’s shitty to even suggest that to you, I’m sorry a partner would do that. As someone who was sexually a late bloomer, I can assure you I generally have had a better and healthier sex life than some of my friends who have more experience because I was focused more on quality vs. quantity. Not to say someone with experience isn’t having a great sex life. I think it’s different for every person. This isn’t a race, we can all mature and grow sexually at our own pace.

It truly sounds like you’ve put in a lot of time doing the work in therapy to better yourself, kudos to that! But it sounds like while you’ve grown, he hasn’t, and some of his behaviors and lack of trust seem like him getting defensive or panicked that you’re moving onward in life and he isn’t. That sucks, but ultimately, you can’t help that, and a person not wanting to grow with you or support you shouldn’t hold you back.

Here’s the thing, and I 100% struggle with it too: you don’t owe this person a sense of closure. You don’t have to ground this person and be there for them, especially if it hurts you. You’ve given him chances to work on things, and he’s reacted poorly to those offerings. I know you said that you know it’s not your job, but it’s a good message to repeat. You tried, and you don’t have to stay to make this person feel better or move on. Even if they try and guilt you to do that, that isn’t your job.

Sending you lots of love and hugs, this stuff is so hard to navigate and props to you for really being open and honest and examining it all, shows great growth on your part as a person!

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