Have you ever found yourself in a predicament where you thought you were in a great relationship, only to realize as time goes by that you aren’t so sure? Sometimes the basis we build a relationship on seems to deteriorate over time. How do you know if it’s time to move on or to try harder here (...)?


Caroline from Hartford, CT writes:
“At the beginning of my relationship with my boyfriend of 20 months, it felt like we were both committed to making the long distance work. We called each other almost every day and spoke for two or three hours at a time, sometimes late into the morning hours. Within the first month we had to face a lot of pressure from my parents because rumours surfaced that he was less than ideal. He was open and honest with me about everything and we weathered it. Lately I have had a nagging feeling that he’s not emotionally mature enough for the type of relationship I want. The way he takes hard news is just like a child giving ultimatums and threats if things don’t go his way. Trying to reason with him is near impossible. I end up just waiting his “tantrum” out. I’ve tried to express to him my frustration but I don’t think he understands. Plus he has had a hard past dealing with the divorce of his parents and having to be on his own since he was 17. He’s gone through a lot of rough spots so when I push him to try harder, I get met with stubbornness and a claim that he has done well so far, why can’t I be happy with that. I feel mislead by that because when I entered into the relationship with him he told me he wanted to change and be a better person than he had and that he felt I was helping him do this. Can I bring these things up with him and get feedback without him feeling attacked? Or is this a relationship I need to end?”

I’m sorry to hear you’re having trouble in your relationship. Twenty months is a long time, which tells me that even if you’re going through a rough time right now, something about this relationship has endured. A lot of people don’t make it twenty months—many marriages even end before that much time has elapsed.

That being said, there is a lot which is non-specific in your question and therefore hard to address in a specific fashion. I do notice though that you mention in the beginning though that you two used to call each other a lot. While you don’t mention this again later in your email, it sounds to me as if there has been less communication than there used to be. Did this happen before or after you started to find it challenging to approach your boyfriend openly? If it happened before, perhaps that has been a contributing factor to the degradation of the relationship.

I think you show maturity in understanding some of the basis for why your boyfriend may be as sensitive as he is. As you said, he has had a rough go at life. Perhaps one thing which is causing you two to have trouble communicating though is that you are each measuring his mileage differently. In many ways it is easier to see the potential of another person than it is to measure one’s own. When you look at your boyfriend, you see him from outside—you see what he could do and be, but the very difficulties he has faced (and maybe even overcome) may be causing him to have a harder time seeing in himself the great potential which you do. Simultaneously, he may feel that your high expectations are clouding your own view of what he has accomplished to this point. Sometimes what looks like a small accomplishment from the outside is actually something enormous for another person. He may also interpret your high expectations to mean that you view him as a failure—not that you simply see greater potential for him, and indeed respect him highly.

Time may heal some woes, but with others it can sometimes have the opposite effect. Your boyfriend sounds to me as if he is exhausted. Perhaps another thing which might help you to recover your relationship is if you found some way to recharge. That can be tough when you’re dating long distance, but perhaps you can still find some way to relax. If it’s at all possible, meeting up in person both to discuss things openly and also to take a break from discussing—maybe just to go on a vacation and relax a while—might help as well.

Regardless, only you can figure out whether you are ready to move on or whether you want to keep trying to mend this relationship. Hopefully some of these ideas will give you a place to start if you still want to heal the situation. Good luck!

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