Someone who follows by blog articles closely recently wrote me an email and explained that he had read many of my entries on gay relationships. He asked, “How do you know when your gay relationship is over?”
I gave this a lot of thought, and reflected on the countless the gay male couples I’ve done counseling with over my 20 years in practice with gay men, and the stories of my individual clients and how they described their previous relationships, and how they all ended.
Here, in no particular order, is a summary of my thoughts, based on my experience and observation, of when you are probably looking at the sad duty of “moving on”. This is true when:
1. You are unhappy in your relationship more than half the time, week after week, month after month, when other things (like your job, family, health) are just fine.
2. You deeply and existentially want something in your life that he firmly does not (kids, relocating to another city/country, or (after MUCH discussion) monogamy or non-monogamy — although this one can be worked on; see my other articles here).
3. He is involved in something that you just can’t be a part of ethically or legally: crime, unethical business practice, exploiting workers, children, animals, the environment.
4. You can’t stand to be around each other; both you and him experience chronic irritability; “proximity contempt”; almost constant criticism; devaluation that makes you feel bad about yourself or lonely in your own relationship; there is no “value-added” purpose to being together whatsoever, not just at transient times of occasional “boredom”, but really ALL the time, and you’re happier just when you’re alone.
5. You know there is dishonesty (especially his) over and over again, in a way that you find depressing (over sex, money, exes, mother, job).
6. He has an addiction (alcohol, crystal meth, cocaine, heroin, etc. – even excessive marijuana) that he is not acknowledging or doing anything to get help for, over and over, in a way that leaves your emotional, physical, social, and domestic needs chronically un-met.
7. You spend so much time apart with separate friends (or other men) and you actually don’t really miss each other; you’re glad to be away from him most of the time.
8. He consistently puts something else (his parents, work, pet, ambitions, another guy) ahead of you, even after you’ve tried to talk about it repeatedly.
9. He abuses you verbally, emotionally, and especially physically. Physical violence even once needs intensive therapy for all concerned, usually separately and only later together.
10. You feel exploited financially and feel that you are in this relationship because of what you have, not because of who you ARE, or because you are relying on him, or attracted to him, only for his money or financial security he represents, or because you’re seduced by a luxury lifestyle or goods, but you’re not happy with him apart from “things”.
11. You shouldn’t have committed to this person by living together too soon, but you did so anyway for “convenience” or “circumstance” or “impulse”, and your own inertia (or laziness) has prevented you from moving out and moving on.
12. You’re frustrated by the indignity that he has identity and self-loathing issues about not being “out” as a gay male adult make you feel devalued or non-existent as a same-sex partner, while he is putting social status, conservative “morality” or “family money” (heterosexual privilege) above you.
13. You realize he’s not over his past relationship yet and therefore is not fully “emotionally available” to you; you’re a place-holder or a vessel/object for him to use as a tool to defend against tolerating his own loneliness; when you feel he doesn’t love you for you, but just because “you’ll do” and you’re “better than nothing.”
14. He’s so distracted by PTSD symptoms that he doesn’t have emotional energy left over for you after fighting his phantoms regarding his upbringing, accident, abuse perpetrator, combat, ex-partner, etc. He needs PTSD treatment and therapy before he can heal enough to be strong enough to be anyone’s partner.
15. He is so pathologically jealous and emotionally immature that he cannot tolerate your even reasonable association with another guy without reactionary and irrational implosions of anger, despair, manipulation, “cold shoulder”, passive-aggressiveness, or violence; when he sees you more as his “possession” that he owns, rather than seeing you as the autonomous guy that he loves and respects as a separate individual with your own rights.
16. You no longer can access feelings deeper than a superficial “pleasant-ness” or distanced “admiration” for him as a person; having purely platonic feelings that developed over time after passion and eroticism faded; “growing apart” without a clear insight as to why. (This is perhaps the saddest feelings of all that contribute to a breakup). While the “hot sex” early in a relationship can fade, and that’s normal, it should never feel like a “complaceny” or a “sentence” that you need to “do your time” in.
17. He doesn’t “do what a partner does” – no birthday recognition, no anniversary observance, doesn’t include you in “family” gatherings, not even tasteful public affection, doesn’t include you in work functions where other staff bring their (heterosexual) partners, never says “we” (only “I”) with friends, no shared property, dreams, or long-term goals, and overall just does things very differently from the way a heterosexual man would treat his wife/girlfriend.
There are probably more (feel free to comment), but you get the idea.
How does a person deal with any of these? What steps can you take if you find yourself in one of the above situations (or similar)? You can:
1. Decide what the problem is. What does it all boil down to? Can you use one of the above examples to describe your feelings about the situation?
2. Decide if the problem can be mitigated by a discussion, or series of discussions. Does there need to be a change in the way that you or he thinks? How you or he behaves? How you or he deals with emotions? What changes can EACH of you make toward contribution to a solution to the problem that threatens the relationship’s existence?
4. Brainstorm some options. No matter how crazy, list them. Trial separation? Opening the relationship? Couples counseling? Using a relationship book or workbook? Attending a couples weekend seminar? Having a family meeting? One (or both) of you attending individual therapy? Changing your social life so you interact with healthy/happy gay couples?
5. Evaluate your options. Take each option you kind of like, and list the pros of trying it versus the cons of trying it. Couples counseling very often can be effective and provide life-long relationship skills. But are you BOTH willing to sacrifice the time and money it takes to do that? Are you invested in your future enough to do that? Or would you rather save the time, energy, and money and just be liberated from the relationship right now? (I’ve seen many couples make this decision, one way or the other).
6. Selecting and implement the best option in behavioral terms. What will you (or your partner, or both) start doing that you didn’t do before? What will you stop doing that you’ve been doing for a while? What behaviors will you (or he) change, on a consistent (even daily) basis? How will you each support these behavioral changes with how you communicate? Who, outside the relationship, will be your support? If you decide to break up, how can you do this amicably in terms of property, belongings, finances, children, or pets?
7. Negotiate how you will handle either your future together, or, if you decide to break up, what will your “post-relationship relationship” look like? Are you now just “somebody that I used to know” (with thanks to Gotye for that!), or are you drinking buddies? Movie buddies? Fuck buddies? Neighbors? Colleagues? Workout buddies? Or just strangers to each other in the broader gay male community?
8. Establish a new period in your life where you are healed from the troubles of the past. You embrace your individuality (even if you stay together!). And you get to a healed emotional place, without lasting scars or bitterness – so that you are truly emotionally, physically, and socially available to someone – whether to someone new, or the partner you already have.
Resolving relationship dilemmas that deplete your spirit and quality of life – and learning to turn over a new leaf in how you relate to others – can you help you to…have the life you want!
For more on relationships/sex issues, see my book, “Self-Empowerment: Have the Life You Want!” available on Amazon.com or LuLu.com. For couples counseling in my office in West Hollywood, or individual counseling about these or other issues, contact me at 310-339-5778 or Ken@GayTherapyLA.com.