I just watched your video on toxic relationships, and I’m a bit torn. I think I’m in a somewhat special kind of toxic relationship that sort of falls into a bit of a grey area with regard to the scenarios you went through in your video. Let me try to explain what I mean by that: I am in a long-term committed relationship (married 12 years, together 14). From the start, there have been some issues between us. They may appear like a variety of different things, but to my mind they all come down to a fundamental problem with communication.
For as long as I’ve known her, though I’ve only recognized the pattern over time, my wife has been unable to express her desires. This ranges from very small things, like if and when to go see a movie, to obviously giant topics like sex. By default, she’ll be vague and non-committal to the point that I end up having to make almost every decision in our relationship, big or small. And, quite frequently, I find out only quite a ways down the line (sometimes days, sometimes weeks or even months later) that I apparently made the “wrong” decision, made her do something she didn’t really want to do or in a way she didn’t want to do it, and that she’s been upset with me for that ever since. And, in the rare case that she does actually tell me what she wants to do, it’s clearly such a big deal to her (not necessarily the thing itself, but just voicing it) that it’s virtually impossible for me in that situation to tell her if I don’t want to do that thing exactly the way she wants to do it without her then getting upset over that. Conversely, she assumes that she can read my mind, always knows what I “really want” (without talking to me about it or, in some cases, flat-out ignoring some actual thing I said when I expressed a desire of my own), and regularly just tries to quietly adapt to that.
I have told her many, many times that I hate both of those dynamics. That I want or, rather, really need her to find ways of routinely expressing her wishes and desires, and to actually hear me when I express mine. That, without this as a baseline, we both essentially never really get what we want, because it’s impossible to ever find any sort of consensus or at least compromise unless we first have a mutual understanding of what our respective needs and wants actually are in any given situation. For one thing, our sex life has gradually come to a point of being virtually non-existent, which I would say is mainly the result of her getting bored, which is not really surprising if she never really gets what she wants, because I never really know what that is. But that’s really only one aspect of it.
The reason your video on toxic relationships triggered this letter is that I feel that, the way you describe some of the warning signs, we could both be seen as being “toxic” in this context to some extent. For instance, I’m frequently the one who’s in a way trying to force “reasonable” discussions about her/our wants and needs. That’s because I genuinely want to know what it is she wants because I worry that she never gets it and I know for sure (from conflicts after the fact) that that does understandably make her unhappy. But if you look at our relationship from the outside, without knowing much about this dynamic, and quite likely also from her perspective, I’m pretty sure that I’m the one who looks like he’s dominating (I always get what I want or at least what she thinks I want, after all), and the one who’s more openly frustrated with the situation, whereas she appears like the person constantly giving and giving in. But I honestly feel myself that her behavior is also toxic in the way that she effectively forces me into a position that I don’t want to be in by flat-out refusing to openly and honestly talk to me, and also by frequently making assumptions about what I want based on some imagined persona she’s created of me that I’m sure is at least in part informed by a good degree of resentment that stems from me unwittingly but inevitably “ignoring” her wishes all the time.
I’ve tried things like flat-out refusing to make a decision for the both of us in some situations or, more positively and proactively, suggesting new routines where everyone has “their day” to plan out without any input from the other person. And we’ve actually even tried couples’ therapy a few times, centered mainly on this issue (and some of the things that arise from it). But none of it has really helped. And, for a while now, I’ve been pretty much at my wits end and honestly just very exhausted. And, as you may have read between the lines of the previous paragraph, I’m also pretty unhappy that I may be coming off to other people (and, in a way, even to her) as the jerk here, as the guy who always decides everything and doesn’t give a shit about her feelings. And that also genuinely bugs me. Not so much because of outward appearances, but because that really isn’t the person I want to be and actually, to my mind, not the person that I am. And that leaves me feeling pretty helpless and unhappy myself.
Boom! There you have it. Any advice, Doc?