Reader Confused and Lonely writes,
My boyfriend and I have been through a lot. I had just recently left an emotionally abusive and manipulative relationship when I met him almost 2 years ago, so I had some pretty big walls up when we started dating. So for the first year or so of our relationship, it was me working on all my issues (therapy, medication, and anything else I could do to get better) while he stood by. He tried to run away multiple times. Every time we got in a fight, he'd threaten to leave. But it was more of a "I don't want to inconvenience you" type deal. He's been single for most of the last 10 years, and me coming into his life hasn't been easy at all. He's used to being alone a lot, and having another human in his small apartment was very stressful for a while.
Now he doesn't try to break up with me when we fight anymore (yay!), but he still doesn't seem to "get" being in a relationship. He seems to treat the relationship like it's 50/50, and when things are about me for a day too long, he starts to get grumpy, so I try to do things to take care of him again and cheer him up. I'm a competitive athlete, and he doesn't come to a lot of my events, and when he does, he's grumpy or ignores me, so I don't even want him there anymore.
Also, he barely shows any affection. We rarely kiss. Ever. When we have sex, he doesn't make eye contact or come even close to my face. To initiate, he grabs random body parts, even though I've told him multiple times that turns me off. He has worked through some major body image issues and had a possible eating disorder, but I'm not sure if that's what's going on.
I grew up with a manipulative narcissistic father and have been very untrusting of men. I realize that I may have started out trying to "fix" things in my boyfriend that I couldn't fix with my father, but I'm trying to look at this stuff as objectively as possible. I'm trying not to ask too much, and I just want to understand why these things happen. I also can see marriage in our future, but I don't think we're ready at all. I want to work through these major things before we commit to a life together.
This is a very sad question because it sounds like you are struggling but trying to make the best of it because you are unclear about what healthy relationships should even look like. Here is what I think. When you met your boyfriend, you were in a bad place. You were vulnerable and probably wanted to get into a new relationship to heal from the previous one, and subconsciously to show that you could make a relationship work. Your previous boyfriend was narcissistic like your dad, but your current boyfriend sounds the same way.
You are continuing the pattern, also known as imago theory, of finding someone like your caregiver and then trying to change this person in ways that you could never change your caregiver. In the cases of your boyfriends, you take narcissistic, emotionally abusive or emotionally neglectful guys and try to make them into warm, caring, and emotionally generous partners. This doesn't usually work.
There is hope. You are an insightful and motivated person and you're working a lot on yourself. You have likely changed a great deal over the course of these past two years. It sounds like you may be on the verge of realizing that your current boyfriend is a slightly better version of your dad, and of your previous boyfriend. But it also sounds like you really don't want to consider this relationship a "failure" and it also sounds like you want to get married. Been there, my mid-20's friend (I'm guessing your age but I think I'm spot on).
Listen to me, though. Don't marry this guy unless you get into counseling and work on these issues. Reread the email you sent me. Your boyfriend is a scorekeeper, he doesn't like events where you're the center of attention, even temporarily, and he is unsupportive about your passions, or worse, shows up in a foul mood. How is this man going to act when you're wedding planning? If you want kids, how will he be as a dad, when nothing is about him for the first basically six months of the baby's life? Further, he is not affectionate or loving. He doesn't even make eye contact! Sex often gets worse after the first two years, not better. What's it going to look like a year, or ten, from now?
You need to think about why you feel that you deserve to be in a relationship with a man who is not affectionate or generous. Your boyfriend obviously has many of his own issues. I am sure his own childhood was not spectacular. But this man is telling you in no uncertain terms that he is not husband material. He even tried to "run away" from the relationship many times before, and now you consider it a victory that he's given up on that and now just passively acts sulky and distant. This is not a victory.
I know that it is hard to give up on two years of your life and realize that a relationship just isn't going to work. But I urge you to strongly consider the possibility that you have to believe your boyfriend when he tells you explicitly (as he used to) and implicitly (by being inattentive, unloving, distant, and selfish) that he is not a relationship type of guy. As you yourself said, he was single for most of the past decade. Finally a woman who was vulnerable enough to ignore all of his difficult qualities emerged, and that was you, immediately-post-breakup. And your own childhood made you ripe for the picking to fall for another narcissist. This relationship may have run its course, and that is something to talk about in depth with your own therapist.
Thanks for writing in, and good luck making a decision. You are worth more than how you're being treated though, so whether it's with him or someone else, make sure that you get the love and respect that you deserve. And till we meet again, I remain, The Blogapist Who Says Get Some Of These Books About Narcissists.
This post was originally published here on Dr. Psych Mom. Follow Dr. Rodman on Dr. Psych Mom, Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest. Pre-order her book, How to Talk to Your Kids about Your Divorce: Healthy, Effective Communication Techniques for Your Changing Family.