He was abusive. Should I stay?

-- Question for John --

About 3 months ago, I met a wonderful man. I am so in love with him that it scares me to be so vulnerable… which is why this threw me so badly: A week ago, we went to a party (which I had a weird gut feeling about) with neighbors of his. At the party, he didn’t have much to drink, but quickly became confused, forgetful and belligerent.

He told me that someone had approached him for a threesome with her and her husband and he had said “no”. The wife then came over and handed me my boyfriends # (which he had given her) saying “you should see this” as if she wanted to let me know he was going to cheat. He says that he was approached by the couple who wanted to “swing” and he didn’t know how I would feel about this because I had previously had relationships with women, he thought that I may want to try it. So he gave her his # so he could check with me later that evening before giving an answer. Well, a huge fight ensued b/w us, and I made it clear that the relationship was over. As I had mentioned, he had been acting weird during the evening & on the way home, he was screaming and crying & threatening to harm himself at the thought of losing me & then became verbally abusive (he never hit me and I know he wouldn’t).

This is not like him at all, and he does not remember a thing. He has spent the past week calling me and trying to get me to work it out with him. It turns out that the neighbors neglected to tell us that it was a “swing” party because they wanted to get my boyfriend into bed. He believes that something was slipped into his drink as he only had 2 beers and a mixed drink and cannot remember anything and he felt as if he’d been hit by a truck the next day. He does not see how I can throw this relationship away after one incident. I do not know who that person was and that scared me.

My parents and friends already know what happened and would think I was stupid for going back with him. He is so hurt and really wants to work it out. He now knows that I only want to be with him and there is no more confusion about wanting a third person to “participate”, if you will. I miss and love him and his son terribly, but I do not want to return to an abuser, but I don’t believe he is! I am also not sure if I should trust his story about the couple. I am hurting and confused. Should I return to him and try to work it out, or stick with the “once an abuser, always an abuser” theory? I don’t want to go through that again. Am I using this as an excuse to “run away” from the relationship b/c I am afraid of being so vulnerable? HELP!!

-- Answer from John --

During the first 6-12 months of a new (meaningful) relationship the following things are usually true: (1) We are in the honeymoon, delirious in those wonderful love feelings; (2) We are harboring big fears around our vulnerability, which may come up as things stay so wonderful because we get afraid to lose something that great; (3) We gradually get to know who the other person really is — through their behavior — and this usually is different than the person we hoped they were when we did not yet know them, but were projecting our highest wants and needs on them during the honeymoon.

Usually something happens between 6-12 months where the energy shifts, as we move from fantasy to reality with the real other person — and we may deeply doubt and question whether we are with the right person after all. This is when the “Honeymoon is Over” and the next phase of love may (or may not) begin. It is a time of reckoning, taking personal and interpersonal inventory, and, if the two partners can convince each other to do so — to together face the challenges that come up and — this is the most important part: LEARN THE LESSONS THAT YOU ARE BEING TAUGHT BY THE RELATIONSHIP. This means doing your own personal growth in view of whatever comes up to challenge you.

It appears that you are doing this questioning now, and you are wondering what elements of personal growth are there for you. Certainly one element is setting very clear boundaries for yourself that abusive behavior and non-monogamy is ABSOLUTELY NOT something you will allow to be in your intimate relationship. Good for you on that one. These properly should be non-negotiables if you are at all serious about a longterm relationship working out.

So what about this guy? His # ends up in the hands of these people? And he exhibits highly reactive and abusive behavior when his inner emotional stress meter reaches a certain level? Both are good causes of concern. I, for one, have never bought — even for a moment — the theory or excuse that some drink or drug “made me do it” — and I cannot recommend you start buying that one now, no matter how much you love him. This kind of victim-based excuse is a classic sign of the lack of personal responsibility. As is his freaking on you emotionally under the stress of insecurity of potential abandonment. You have every reason and right to look at these pieces of behavior as huge red flags and warning signs — they are clearly over the boundary line of what you will accept in your life.

On the other hand, I might be willing to listen to him if he were to show up with something OTHER than the following: (1) more excuses; (2) crying and wailing pleas that he “cannot live without you”; and (3) flowers or sentimentality designed to make you swoon again. None of these will change the fundamental conditions that created this riff. None of these will signal any attempt on his part to seriously examine what happened, confront himself, take absolute 100% responsibility for it (rather than blaming the sinister, drug-slipping neighbors). None of these will demonstrate a clear commitment to learn, change and grow from this (which, by the way, would include looking at where his abusive behavior comes out of the stress of insecurity).

I have counseled many young men who have committed acts of stupidity and abusive behavior, both verbal and even physical. Most if it does indeed come out of fear and insecurity and learned behavior patterns from childhood. It can be worked with. It does take time. There are no guarantees. But it requires a man’s full-out motivation and desire to do so — and not just out of the motivation to “save” a relationship or keep from “losing” their woman. It requires motivation born of deep soul-searching on his part, confronting his own patterns, and clear resolution to change them for his own self — whether the relationship survives or not. Anything short of this is just an attempt to put a bandaid over a deep wound. It will not heal.

I hope some of these sobering thoughts are helpful to you. If your guy does show up with some greater degree of personal responsibility and/or you are somehow moved to giving it another try, I suggest you lay out your boundaries very clearly — not as threats but as certainties that repeat behaviors will not stand — and that you insist that the conditions of your continued involvement include an ongoing demonstration that both you and he are doing the personal growth a longterm happy relationship requires (once the honeymoon is over).