I Have a Great Boyfriend with Issues. Should I Stick Around or Cut My Losses?

After 4-6 weeks of dating, I've been in an exclusive relationship with a man 4 years my junior (I am 36) who has had some significant struggles in his life: he is aware of their impacts and is actively addressing them - most recently leaving a relationship that had activated some of his own issues. As someone who has overcome my own history of dysfunctional family life and personal strife, I admire his commitment to his own health, and empathize with his journey. In many other ways he is also fantastic: he owns several properties, has several degrees in engineering, has managed to find a job where he has ample time for extracurricular activities, maintains a close network of friends, maintains a humble self-perspective, and seems thrilled to be with me: he helps me with things that are difficult (both family strife and car repairs!), enjoys meeting my friends and family; he's introduced me to his friends and some of his family (with whom he has a very complicated relationship). We seem to share a vision of what our futures look like. He tells me he thinks we complement each other well and that we have a long future ahead of us.

But...his shadow self emerges, and I recognize I am still getting to know him. He has acknowledged that he has an ambivalent-anxious attachment style (with the tendency to retreat when he is feeling emotionally challenged, but still a deep need to connect), which he is making sense of in therapy and independently. But, as someone with an anxious-frightened attachment style, this can be particularly provoking for me. He is always open and available to speak about my needs and feelings - but is not always equipped to handle my expressions. I've noticed this can stir up some maybe-not-so-long-lost feelings of abandonment for me, and wonder if this means that we are doomed?!

I can see he genuinely cares about me and is eager to make progress. I wonder about the balance of "wait, grasshopper" and " believe the negatives" - both of which I have read from your columns. I wonder - should I cut my losses or stick things out a bit longer to find my pot of gold at the end of the rainbow? I know there are other interesting men out there (they are still pursuing me!), but I am still more interested in seeing what this man has to show. Am I deluding myself!

Anne

The good:

You have the awareness and self-esteem to realize your boyfriend is not the last man on Earth. At any point in time, if you don’t feel like your relationship is taking, you can always go back to the well and know there is an endless parade of suitors out there.

The bad:

You have anxiety issues. He has avoidance issues. You need more safety and intimacy, and when you don’t get it, you feel triggered. He needs more freedom and space, and when you express your anxieties, he withdraws. Anxious/Avoidant attachment partners are, in my opinion, the worst possible pairing because your needs are, essentially, mirror images of each other.

Anxious/Avoidant attachment partners are, in my opinion, the worst possible pairing because your needs are, essentially, mirror images of each other.

Now what makes things even harder to navigate is this: you’re really stuck on this guy. And you’re writing to me to make sense of what seems like contradictory advice, “wait and see,” or “believe the negatives and run.”

Honestly, you don’t have to decide today.

It sounds to me like he’s a good man, who is into you and is working through his issues.

That’s a huge start. You can’t ask for much more than that, in fact. Which is why I see this situation through a prism of cautious optimism. He’s a man of character. He’s caring.

Why bail on a promising relationship just because there’s a hint of trouble?

Only one reason: fear. And you can’t let fear make your decisions in life.

You can’t let fear make your decisions in life.

As I see it, the script of your relationship has yet to be written. Is this man equipped to be your future husband? Only time will tell.

As you’ve identified, there’s a chance he won’t be able to overcome his past, but it seems to me like he has all the best intentions in attempting to do so.

One of my favorite quotes is: “The only risk is the one not taken.”

“The only risk is the one not taken.”

Take the risk, Anne.

It may not work out, but you’ll regret it if you walk away now.

Join our conversation (12 Comments).
Click Here To Leave Your Comment Below.

Comments:

  1. 1
    SSJ4Gogeta

    I wonder if she would consider staying if she was 10 years younger than she is now. I can’t help but think that that almost anything can be spinned into a red flag and one would only tolerate red flags (Maybe it’s an orange flag in this case) if they felt they couldn’t do much better than they are doing now.

    Speaking of red/orange/yellow flags, what imperfections can exist in a person without them being any sort traffic light coloured flags? Are imperfections by definition at least yellow flags? Afterall, I did make the point almost anything can be spinned into a red flag.

    It seems as we humans are spoiled for choice, we tend to end up making the poor one regardless.

    1. 1.1
      Karl R

      SSJ4Gogeta asked:

      “Are imperfections by definition at least yellow flags?”

      Not necessarily.

       

      SSJ4Gogeta asked:

      “Speaking of red/orange/yellow flags, what imperfections can exist in a person without them being any sort traffic light coloured flags?”

      If an imperfection doesn’t worry you, it’s not going to be a flag.  For example, my wife is perpetually late.  The same was true of every previous girlfriend, so I’d dealt with it before.  It doesn’t drive me stark raving mad, even in the long term.

      I think of yellow flags as things that could end a relationship, but really take time to figure out if they will be a problem or no big deal.  For example, the standard neat/messy odd couple.  Some couples can make it work.  Others can’t.

      I think of red flags as things that will generally kill any relationship.  For example, one person wants a deeper relationship, but the other one just wants a friends-with-benefits arrangement.

  2. 2
    Marika

    Evan said

    As I see it, the script of your relationship has yet to be written. Is this man equipped to be your future husband? Only time will tell.

    And

    One of my favorite quotes is: “The only risk is the one not taken.”

    Brilliant!!

    It’s probably been a few months now. Anne, did you take the risk? How did it go?

    Happy holidays all!

  3. 3
    Emily, the original

    I think I remember a commenter on this site who had read the book “Attached” writing on another post that, once past 30, the dating pool is made up of a disproportionate number of anxious and avoidants because the secure attachers are already paired up. I ‘m wondering if there is some truth to this.

    1. 3.1
      Evan Marc Katz

      I’d say 40, not 30, but yes, secure people are more likely to get and stat married, leaving the dating pool rife with anxious and avoidant attachment styles.

      1. 3.1.1
        Emily, the original

        The freight trainers or the hokey pokey players.

  4. 4
    John

    Anne said:

    I admire his commitment to his own health, and empathize with his journey. In many other ways he is also fantastic: he owns several properties, has several degrees in engineering, has managed to find a job where he has ample time for extracurricular activities, maintains a close network of friends, maintains a humble self-perspective, and seems thrilled to be with me: he helps me with things that are difficult (both family strife and car repairs!), enjoys meeting my friends and family; he’s introduced me to his friends and some of his family (with whom he has a very complicated relationship). We seem to share a vision of what our futures look like. He tells me he thinks we complement each other well and that we have a long future ahead of us.

    This is a damn good start Anne. A better start than most get. Take a chance and see where it leads.

  5. 5
    Becca

    Agreeing with Evan here, and I’ll add that though the writer has been through therapy and is obviously cognizant of things in her history,  I dispute that she has completely worked through them if she’s still being triggered by these things.  I’ve learned in my relationships that my fear is MY fear to work through, as much as my partner’s fears are HIS.

     

    Yes,  your partner should, to the best of his ability,  avoid hurting or scaring you!  But if you know he needs space and you know your anxieties may respond poorly to this,  perhaps more therapy is in order for both.  I say this without judgment, as I am currently in treatment myself for severe triggering issues that have resulted from abuse over the course of several years.  My attachment style has gone from anxious to withdrawn,  and I can see this situation from both sides of the fence.

     

    He’s expressing his need for space, taking care of his need,  and then coming right back to her.  This is good.  She needs to be able to reciprocate by understanding that his need for space at certain times is not reflective of his feelings *for her*, and in order to do that she needs to be able to distinguish clearly and quickly which feelings are her core fears and which are an appropriate response to inappropriate action on his part.  It sounds like she knows he’s not going anywhere,  but she’s still allowing her triggers to take over instead of dealing with them in the moment.

    1. 5.1
      AdaGrace

      @Becca

      perhaps more therapy is in order for both.

      It’s also possible that one or both of them have gone as far as one possibly can with therapy without actually trying to date.  Theory’s great, but eventually you have to put it into practice to be able to refine it.  No idea whether that’s the case here.

      (And like you, not making any judgments… I spent a lot of time in therapy too, thanks to my dysfunctional family of origin)

  6. 6
    Clare

    Since Anne doesn’t say what the boyfriend’s issues are, it’s difficult to guess whether they will turn out to be a major problem later on. Different issues present different problems in a relationship, and people also handle their issues very differently from one another.

    Anne’s boyfriend’s good qualities sound great – he sounds very balanced and stable. But I’m not sure what she means by his “shadow self,” and she doesn’t say. If this shadow self consists of red flag behaviour like verbal abuse, lying or some other kind of worrying trend, then I would caution Anne to beware. But if it is simply him wrestling with his inner demons and not causing Anne any particular harm or major upset to her life, then I would probably advise her to try to be patient and supportive, while staying busy with her own life. He needs to sort these issues out himself, and it sounds as if he is trying to do that.

    As far as him needing to retreat and her becoming anxious and having her own abandonment fears activated… I can sooo identify with this. I have experienced this exact thing in a few of my significant relationships. It’s good that her boyfriend makes himself available to talk about her needs and feelings, this is a big plus. I’m not sure what she means by “not equipped to handle her expressions,” but I suspect that he is like most men and feels overwhelmed and unable to deal with her fears and feelings and finds it too much and this is when he withdraws. What I would say to Anne, from hard-won experience, is to be gentle and understanding with herself and him. It’s a difficult emotional position to be in, and neither partner will be at their best. So the best thing if possible is to give them both a bit of cooling off space and to communicate with each other when they’ve both calmed down. This is easier said than done, so if she feels provoked by his tendency to withdraw, in my experience this is totally normal. I’ve found it is important not to blame oneself or the other person and to be pretty forgiving. These times are a good opportunity to assess whether this man is a good long-term bet and whether she can live with these issues.

  7. 7
    loubelle

    OP, this was my ex to a tee!. he had many issues, depression, his ex wife cheated on him then his next girlfriend did. he had E.D, history of self harm.his family are controlling and he allowed them to treat me appallingly..and himself …the works. he was avoidant and disappeared for a while when things got difficult whilst i am a woman who confronts issues and likes to solve it and get it out the way to move on. not possible with an avoidant it makes you frustrated, sad and lonely. i ‘stuck’ around for 5 years. i gave it my best,. if he is willing to work on himself and YOU  see he is actively doing that then id wait around, for a while. BUT, dont wait forever like i did. whilst he said he was working on things, nothing ever seemed to improve and it sucked the life out of me. he was an emotional vampire. he ended up more confident because i allowed him to take away my confidence. dont wait forever and make him aware of that.. not in a threatening way. say you love like him and are willing to make it work, but if the problems dont seem to be getting better then you have to leave for self preservation. it took me 5 years to do this, now i wouldnt give a year.

  8. 8
    loubelle

    contd:

    btw i was also ‘frightened’ of losing my investment in him! i treated him alot because he had never had that from another woman and had a dim view of not trusting women. i wanted him to know i wasnt like the others. i cooked three course meals for him, i treated his family well and bought presents they rejected..any outing we had i planned it (and paid for alot of it too) that was my fault..i was silly trying to make up for his exes issues.. i bowed down to his problem with not trusting women whereas he knew where i was every minute of every day, even to the extent of sending him pics to prove i was faithful and loyal lol. however, i wanted to do that. i wanted a trusty relationship but i gave too much. it wasnt my issue. it was his. carry on with your life and do not over pander to him. he will take you for granted. cut your losses within the year if no signs of benefit for you there.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *