Emotional roller coaster is a sign: It's time to leave
Q: My live-in boyfriend (of five years) and I are in our mid-20s and have talked about marriage, but he snaps at me often, over what I see as trivial issues. Today, he mentioned some food looked like it was going bad, and I asked him if he'd used it or just noticed it. He raised his voice slightly and said he was just letting me know, stop pestering him, and he doesn't want to have a discussion about it.
This is just one example. I was away last week, and in the day I've been home, he's said something sharp to me five or six times. It's jarring to come back to this roller coaster.
I admit I can be critical and a little controlling, but I actively work to improve my temper. I don't know if our relationship is normal or if most couples are always pleasant to each other. Lately, I've been having (overwhelming) thoughts of how we would divide our stuff and whether I'm strong enough to live alone. He treats me well most of the time, and we love each other. Am I overreacting?
Carolyn: Either someone treats you well all of the time, or you need to get out. Do not settle for "most of the time." You can have a raging disagreement and still treat each other respectfully throughout.
You've cited two precursors to emotional abuse: One is that "roller coaster." The ups lift your hopes, and the downs kill your confidence. Classic.
The other is your self-doubt — about your strength, and about your ability to judge what's healthy. People always ask, why stay with an abuser? You've just answered them: Because people tell themselves it's better than being alone, and any relationship would be the same as this one.
Listen, listen, listen to the voice telling you to get out. Find that strength.
Re: Delaware: I couldn't disagree more about couples always being nice to each other.
I've been married 25 years and there are times my wife and I — who love each other dearly — are downright nasty to each other. We're human and we give each other the right to be human and not always walk on eggshells. The key is letting things roll off your back — forgiving and forgetting — and getting back to the business of loving your spouse. We usually conclude our nastiest arguments in the sack.
Carolyn: I couldn't disagree more that the only choices are between occasional nastiness and walking on eggshells. The key is recognizing that nastiness is the product of several failures, not just the failure to bite your tongue. It's a failure to communicate effectively, to solve problems before they build to such anger, to consider the other person's humanity, to know your place as an equal — as a person who has no business being so harsh a judge of another.
I believe we all make deals with people, and if your marital deal is that you're both believers in getting "downright nasty," then it's not my place to say otherwise.
However, while mistakes are human, justifying nastiness is a choice. We ask our mates to put up with all the frailties we can't control. The least we can do is spare them the ones we can.