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It's so hard to tell people what works in a relationship. The only way to truly know you've succeeded is to realize on your deathbed that you're still together, and you haven't said, "Get that life-sucking piece of shit out of here so I can die in peace." From that standpoint, and my long line of failed attempts to not make a woman run screaming in the opposite direction, I can't even pretend to give advice on that. But what I can do is warn you about the almost biblical signs of oncoming doom, like ...

Being Constantly Up Their Ass


How It Ends

You've been talking to your boyfriend for over 10 minutes, and the most response you've gotten has been "Mmmhhmmm" and an occasional annoyed glance away from the TV when some cheap bastard snipes him from across the map. You put your foot down and ask, "You haven't heard a word I've said, have you?" He shoots out an irritated sigh and repeats your last two sentences back at you like a court stenographer with roid rage, adding, "You cheap, cheating motherfucker! How does he even see me from back there?" Pissed off, you leave the room and call your mom to vent.

Later that night, you walk up behind him while he's pecking away at his computer and put your arms around him. He casually turns his cheek for you to kiss, never taking his eyes off the screen, and doesn't even appear to notice when you walk away. You're going to bed. He's not.

Also, your bed is ridiculous and has too much shit on it.

This has been going on for months, and you just don't understand how it got this way. He used to be so affectionate. You held hands everywhere you went. You'd lie around on the couch together and watch movies. You'd kiss and say "I love you" two dozen times a day. Everywhere the two of you went, you crop-dusted crowds with a sickeningly sweet, kissy-face vapor trail that left entire sections of town bent over and vomiting bile. What happened?

How It Sneaks Up on You

What happened was the "push-pull dynamic," and given enough time, it's virtually unavoidable. It works like this:

Your favorite food is lasagna (if it's not, just insert your favorite food and pretend you have a soul). You have it about once a month because it's expensive and kind of a pain in the ass to make, but when you do, you can just eat that shit for days. Out of the blue, an uncle dies and leaves you some money and a shitload of mozzarella cheese -- so you start making it every day. About four days in, you're thinking, "Man, I love lasagna, but I desperately need a break from it." But since your fridge is packed from top to bottom with it, you continue. By the end of the second week, you not only don't consider it your favorite food, you actively hate it.

"If you want my attention, lasagna, maybe you could put on some makeup every once in a while."

The same thing happens in a relationship, because people are designed to need those occasional breaks. When they don't get that alone time, that balance between the two people becomes just a little lopsided and begins to tip, making one person feel like they have to put in the emotional work while the other becomes increasingly withdrawn, because they need that alone time to recuperate.

How to Avoid It

Though fixing a relationship is usually a two-way street, this is one of those rare cases where one person does have to shoulder the brunt of the work. Ironically, that happens to be the person who was doing all the work in the first place, and it's as simple as it sounds: They need alone time -- give them alone time.

"A little better. But do you have someplace a little more isolated?"

See, the beauty of the push-pull dynamic is that it works both ways. If the person hasn't completely checked out of the relationship, once you step back, they will eventually step forward. In the link above, they tell you to picture it as a physical space that a couple fills with emotion at equal levels. When one person pulls back, the other tries to compensate by giving more.

It's why a guy can break up with a woman and immediately run through the streets, screaming, "FREEDOM!" But one month later, he's calling her in a fit of drunken tears, begging her for another chance. When the bond was severed, she pulled out her emotional investment, and over time, he felt that tidal influence telling him to fill it.

You have to remember that one of the key elements to keeping a relationship interesting is keeping that "new car smell." When you're clinging to each other 24/7, you start to hear the same stories and see the same routines, and boredom sets in like a goddamn fungal infection. Occasional time to yourself allows you both to experience different things, which in turn allows for new conversations. Things you can share with each other, but don't necessarily experience together.

"So then I was like, 'White power? More like white powder!'"

Being Too Controlling


How It Ends

You've been a couple for a year, and your boyfriend keeps bringing up the idea of marriage. While you're sure you'll someday be ready, you're just not quite there yet. Finally, he has enough and sits you down for "the talk," where he puts it all on the line. "This is the last time I'll bring it up. If we're not married by the end of the year, I'm pulling out and moving on."

What he doesn't realize is that the message he just sent wasn't "I want to marry you." It was "I want to get married." That's a huge difference when you're talking about making a spiritual and legal commitment to another person. That idea eats at you for a few weeks, and finally, you decide that the worst decision you can make in a relationship is to continue it (or in this case, progress it) via an ultimatum. So you set his house on fire.

Issue resolved, baby.

How It Sneaks Up on You

This one always starts small and builds slowly over time. Let's face it: If your first date is filled with moments where the other person is demanding things like "You order the fish, or this date is over," it would last about four minutes. No, this is something that is introduced in the same manner that you ease into a cold pool on the first day of summer, or bring up the topic of anal sex.

While shopping, you'll hear small "suggestions," like "You'd look really good in this shirt. Why don't you get this one instead of the other one?" Later, it morphs into "You're going to wear that out to dinner? No, go put on something nice." Then it gets to be a regular thing with that person picking all of the restaurants, movies, games, etc. without asking for your input. If left unchecked, it eventually leads to the flat-out ultimatums. "It's either your friends or me. Your choice."

"But ... who's gonna draw dicks on my face when I pass out from a vodka bender?"

How to Avoid It

The biggest thing to keep in mind when dealing with a controller is that they feed on power struggles. You have to engage them in a way that isn't coming off like you're trying to control them. That starts an automatic fight, because regardless of the issue you're discussing, the only thing the controlling person wants is control. If you're willing to stay in that relationship, the only way to get past it is to skip the minor bullshit ("You need to stop shitting in the sink") and go straight for the heart of the beast ("I can't be in a relationship where my actions are laid out by another person").

Unfortunately, this personality is an extremely hard one to live with, and if you aren't emotionally equipped to handle it, it may actually be better to close up shop. Regardless of what you think of Dr. Phil, the man hits it right on the head when his weird-looking face says, "Ask yourself, 'What is it costing me to be in this relationship?' If the answer is your dreams, identity or dignity, the cost is too high." It all depends on your level of commitment and ability to confront the problem head-on. And your willingness to deal with sink turds.

"Hey, what the- OH, YOU SON OF A BITCH!"

Don't take what I'm saying as "You should dump that controlling asshole and go out with Trevor!" I'm just giving you a heads-up -- you have some pretty big issues to deal with if you stick around, and they won't go away on their own. Controlling people don't just wake up one day and say, "Wow, my actions are affecting others in a negative way. I should really change that about myself right now. Here I go."

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Not Knowing How to Argue


How It Ends

It used to be that you'd have lively debates about politics or religion. When things got heated, you'd find an excuse to end the conversation and take leave until you cooled off. But as time went on, it got worse, and now you find yourself fighting over the most meaningless bullshit imaginable. "I know the top was wobbling -- I have eyes! But it never fell down, so he's still in the fucking dream world. You're exactly like your dumb whore of a mother!"

At some point, you finally just have to decide which doomed path you're willing to walk. End the relationship and start over with someone new? Or stay in this one and feel your sanity seeping out of your skull, making that slow farting noise a balloon makes when you don't tie the end? Forever.

Sadly, I've seen the latter far more often. Even when it ends with a police car in the driveway and one drunken half of the party being hauled off in his underwear. For an example of this, watch any episode of Cops ever aired.

"I know my rights! I can do what I want in my own living room!"

How It Sneaks Up on You

Ever heard the phrase "spiral out of control"? This is almost always a case of two people who have issues to work out, but no idea of how to go about it. Instead of trying to resolve a conflict, they're trying to "win" a verbal contest. Instead of expressing their point of view, they're trying to bully the other into submission.

When things start to escalate, the words tend to get buried under tone, bad phrasings and the volume of your voice. As a couple, once you cross a certain line with any or all of those three factors, the words themselves lose their meaning, because you're both transformed from debaters to combatants. And the role of a combatant is to hurt the other while deflecting blows against himself. And of course the easiest way to deflect a verbal blow in a fight is to just tune out the words. To not hear them. Or to use a giant shield, because it's really hard to concentrate when the other person has a goddamn shield.

"For some reason, I have no desire to argue right now."

How to Avoid It

Without counseling and changing core aspects of yourself, the argument-riddled relationship has no good ending. There are thousands of sites out there with excellent tips on how to argue constructively, but it boils down to these basic rules:

  • Don't attack -- no name-calling or neck-punching.

  • Don't bring up shit from the past -- stay focused on the issue at hand.

  • Listen as much as you talk -- it's an exchange of perspectives, not an open mic night for your bitching.

  • Be calm -- if shit gets real, take a break and start with the first rule when you get back.

  • Remember: It's about resolving issues, not a contest that ends with a winner and a loser.

"Now, let's discuss that toilet seat problem. Discuss it ... to the death."

Making Them Your Mommy


How It Ends

You get home from work three hours after your husband. When you walk in the door, you find what appears to be a small Armageddon in the living room. Dishes are still in the sink from three days ago, the laundry is piling up and ... what the fuck is that smell? Did someone hide a body in there?

As you pass your husband, who is sitting at the kitchen table, meticulously painting the intricate scales of his pewter wizard/dragon combo miniature, he welcomes you home and asks, "I'm starving. What's for dinner?" When you wake up from the ensuing rage blackout, blood and human hair matting your clothes, you discover that the eastern half of your town is gone. Just ... gone.

It's been going on for years, and it just gets worse over time. He acts like a 14-year-old, and you're his mother. You didn't want another child, you wanted a husband. You're so sick of doing chores while he does hobbies, and it's not goddamn fair. Why can't he just get up and do one lousy load of dishes? Just once? No asking. No bragging afterward, like he just donated a kidney to a dying man. Just get up and be a goddamn fucking adult!

"See what I'm doing here? That means I get to do the weird shit in bed tonight, right?"

Quietly, angrily, you start running dish water.

How It Sneaks Up on You

I personally think this one stems directly from the person's parents. When a guy depends on his wife to do all of the chores, I think it's kind of obvious that he had always depended on his mother to do that stuff for him. In which case, I think it's perfectly reasonable to allow his wife one free shot at her, for producing that level of helplessness in a fellow adult.

But it's not just men -- I've seen women do the same in return. The most common form I've seen it take is in finances. She'll simply dump her check in the bank and then let her husband worry about paying the actual bills because she's "not good at math." If she wants to buy something, she asks him for money, permission or both. She's assigned him the role of her father. And it's kind of creepy.

"Oh, get an extra $20. I need to upgrade my stupid '90s hat."

It eventually gets to the point where the person playing the dual role of spouse and parent feels like they're supporting the entire marriage while the other person just rides along, providing the occasional orgasm in return. And just like the other cases, they either let that linger, choosing to live in misery ... or they tally up their losses and move on.

How to Avoid It

I know so many couples like this, and interestingly enough, they all handle it the same way. They wait until they're away from their spouse, and then complain to their friends. What they don't understand is that by not confronting the guilty party, they're enabling the behavior. The only way around it is to address the problem with the source. And not by passive-aggressively painting dicks on all of their clothes.

Confronting is always key.

As crazy as this sounds, there's a good chance that the guy playing video games while the bathroom marinades in piss stains doesn't even know there's a problem. If he's been taken care of his entire life, he most likely thinks his actions are normal. He's been taught that his role in life is to go to work, and then find something fun to keep himself occupied and out of other peoples' hair. The same with the woman who can't be bothered to look at the bank statement. That's something the "man of the house" does.

If the problem is brought to their attention and they still refuse to do anything about it, that's a whole other issue that requires a counselor or lawyer. But most rational, sane, not-pieces-of-shit humans tend to at least make an attempt to fix a problem when it's brought to their attention.

For more Cheese, check out 5 Ways You Know It's Time to Get Married and 5 Bad Ideas for Dealing With Bullies You Learned in Movies.

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