Why does my boyfriend straighten up when I basically say, “I’m ending this”? I’ve noticed that when I’m silent or tell him we need space after a huge argument, he gets all, “Gina, Gina, Gina,” like on the episode of Martin when he told her to step and she left. —Anonymous
I have seen every episode of Martin at least five times, mostly thanks to the TV One marathons during the holidays. I cannot recall this specific episode. Are you talking about the general “Gina, Gina, Gina” when Martin is doing his usual “I’ve gone too far” act? Or like when he really went too far and took Gina for granted, and she left him and moved to New York? Based on the context of the question, I’m going to assume the latter for the purpose of this response.
So. Your man gets to begging like Martin Payne and straightening up as a sort of “Hail Mary” attempt to stop you from leaving him. It’s a grand gesture, or series of them, to show you him at his best and to prove to you that he can do right and to get you to give him a second chance. And evidently it works, because it sounds as if you’ve given him many second chances.
Here’s the thing with giving second chances: When you give them more than once, you’re not giving the person another try as much as you are entering a dysfunctional cycle. Look, people in relationships screw up and make mistakes. If it’s not a betrayal or something that crosses your personal boundaries and you still want to be in the relationship, it’s fine to communicate, forgive and move on. But what concerns me most about your question is that either a) you’re threatening to leave or creating distance over “minor” relationship offenses, which is manipulative (and I hope is not the case here); or b) you’re reserving your threats “to walk” for major screwups and he’s screwed up majorly many times.
Threatening to leave the relationship should be reserved for major screwups. And if you keep threatening but never go, you diminish the power of the threat. Your words say, “I’m leaving,” but your actions say, “If you just act right and apologize, I’ll stay and put up with whatever you dole out.” He has no real incentive to do right because he knows you won’t go anywhere if he puts up just a bit of effort for a short time.
Another issue is that your boyfriend clearly knows your expectations of him because in times of crisis, he manages to treat you the way he knows you want to be treated. But grand gestures are not enough. Relationships are judged on the day-to-day.
It’s like the guy who goes all out on Valentine’s Day but treats his lady crappy the other 364 days of the year. Does it really count? Or, on the flip side, there's the guy who treats his woman great but screws up Valentine’s Day. It means he had a bad day, not that he’s a bad boyfriend.
Your guy is the one who goes all out for Valentine's. He knows he’s been screwing up, and when it counts—i.e., when you’re fed up—he pulls himself together. But that’s not who he is day to day. Consistently, he’s the guy who you get so fed up with that you want to leave, and that’s what he should be judged on.
Also, his consistent screwing up when he knows how to be better is a really bad sign. It’s a sign that he’s not willing to make the daily effort to make the relationship work. Don’t confuse his not wanting you to leave him or his unwillingness to be alone with a desire to be in a relationship with you. If he wanted that, he wouldn’t keep screwing up to the point where you threaten to leave.
You’ve threatened to leave enough times. If whatever he’s doing repeatedly is serious enough that you give voice to your second chances multiple times, the relationship isn’t working. Just go on and go, lick your wounds and look for someone who is more compatible and willing to make the effort to keep you happy.
Demetria Lucas D’Oyley is a contributing editor at The Root, a life coach and the author of Don’t Waste Your Pretty: The Go-to Guide for Making Smarter Decisions in Life & Love as well as A Belle in Brooklyn: The Go-to Girl for Advice on Living Your Best Single Life. She answers your dating and relationship questions on The Root each week. She is also a blogger at SeeSomeWorld.com, where she covers pop culture and travel. Follow her on Twitter and Instagram.
Previously in Ask Demetria: “My Friend Wouldn’t Get Off My Case After I Told Her I Had Unsafe Sex”