Adapted from a recent online discussion.
Unsure whether to stay? Ask if he's good for you
Washington: I'm dismayed and a little embarrassed to admit that I've been with a guy for eight years, and uncertain for about four.
It's not as if I haven't been working on this. In some ways we have a world-class connection — we can talk for hours about almost anything, even our friends remark on it — but I worry about some of the fundamentals. His approach to work, career and money has always been lackadaisical — he has rarely worked full time in the eight years — which makes me concerned about how much I can depend on him. He also has some anger issues.
He would like us to get married and I have repeatedly expressed reluctance. I am sick to death of this ambivalence and after a particularly lame stunt on his part recently, I decided I think I want out, or at least a break to get some perspective.
How do I know whether I'm doing the right thing? Do "breaks" ever work? This is particularly hard because he wants to continue living together and feels I'm "dismantling" our life.
Carolyn: Humor me, please, and talk to someone about the possibility that there's some emotional abuse/manipulation here. Men and women who are in relationships they're not sure about, but can't seem to leave, need to ask themselves whether the other person is pulling strings and/or eroding their confidence in their judgment. The "anger issues" and his blaming you for your doubts are two red flags here.
Now for specifics: What is the issue, for you, with his employment? Are you wondering whether it's going to change, or whether it's right to want to be able to depend on him, or . . . ? What is the open question here?
Don't be embarrassed about the eight years. Paralysis does happen in emotional situations, and often people need to get good and disgusted with themselves before they summon the nerve to get out. If this took you eight years to figure out, then you must have needed eight years to figure it out.
By the way, whether "breaks" work is irrelevant. If you want one, take it.
Washington: Carolyn: Thanks for the reassurance about the time length. Abuse is a strong word, but manipulation perhaps.
As for the question I've been trying to answer, I know the simplistic one: "Is he fundamentally a good guy?" I don't care if a guy is career-oriented, but I want to feel like an equal partner, not someone who's taking care of someone else consistently. Sometimes I feel that way.
Carolyn: That sounds like the wrong question. For one thing, if you're still not sure he's even a good guy, what does that say?
It's also misleading. For argument's sake, let's say he's a great guy. What then? Does that mean you owe it to him to stay?
No. You don't owe anyone anything other than to make your best decision and to be caring and forthright in acting on it. So the right question is, always: "Is he good for me?"
You know his character, and you know what he brings to your life. You also know what he takes out of you. These are the pieces that, when arranged in front of you, will make your decision for you.