Dear Dr. NerdLove:
So, first things first: my partner (38NB, they/them) and I (28F) both have histories of abusive relationships. Their most recent partner before they met me was physically, sexually, and emotionally violent towards them; I had gotten out of a sexually predatory and abusive relationship with a much older man. We both understand that the trauma we’ve undergone shapes us, but does not define us. We’re working through it.
My problem is that I’m scared that I was simply the first partner in a long time to show them kindness and compassion, and that because of that they’ve spent the last five and a half years in a relationship in which, on some fundamental level, they do not want to be. This is in large part because I have a lot of flaws as a partner.
We live together and have done for nearly five years, but it was a case of me moving into their flat straight from my parents’ house rather than us picking a place together. I am long-term unemployed and contribute to household expenses as much as I am able but they’re still the primary breadwinner and I feel like I am leeching off them. I have triggers relating to showers (which I would rather not go into) that make personal hygiene difficult for me. I clean and help out and cook and the like, but I’ve had to learn how over the time we’ve lived together. I have serious depression and anxiety, for which I am receiving treatment and medication, but they had to poke and prod me into getting any treatment at all. I constantly feel like I have nothing to offer but being a considerate and caring partner – something that should be the default for any relationship, though the both of us are keenly aware that it is very much not.
Both of us drink heavily, something which lockdown has made worse, but they’re getting through a litre of gin every couple of days. They’re much more outgoing than I am and not being able to see their friends has hit them very hard indeed. When they’ve been drunk on the sofa, they’ve talked about how they didn’t see themselves ending up like this. Illness took their dreams of being a dancer in the West End, and now they’re pushing forty in a provincial fishing village that makes Toshi Station look like the height of urbane cosmopolitanism. And they look so sad when they say it. And then the next day, it’s like a switch has been flipped and it’s all smiles, and when I try to bring it up they brush it aside as me being paranoid. Which, to be entirely fair, is one of the symptoms of my anxiety disorder.
I love my partner, I really have to stress that. I love them with all my heart. I’m just terrified that I’m not worth loving back as much, and I can’t help but wonder whether or not I’m making my partner as happy as they make me. I struggle to tell what’s my paranoia and what’s a genuine issue that I should talk about with them. They’re a really awesome person and I just… worry that I’m nothing more than the first person to be a good partner, and that having had such an unbelievably fucking shitty partner for five years makes me look way better than I actually am.
We’ve been together, like I said, for five and a half years. I’ve been really happy. The happiest I can ever remember being. And I wonder if I’m the only one in the relationship who feels like that.
Or if it’s all in my head.
Thank you for reading,
Relevant Black Sabbath Song