Relationship I (33f) didn't know about my partner's PTSD and triggereed him hard. Can you help me analyze?


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I (33) didn't know about the PTSD from domestic abuse by an ex girlfriend of my boyfriend (39) of 9 months and triggered him badly. We stayed in contact via text so far, with the exception of today, and today of all days he got really bad news from work. Can I check in on him via text?

Background: He and I work together.

In my life I had one violent incident: I slapped a work colleague on the cheek at a work event 10 years ago after he called me a slut for dancing. This man laughed apologetically afterwards and tried to hit on me later on. I saw the slap as a symbol of insult, but after what happened last week (I slapped my bf on the cheek as well) I realize this is a questionable framing. I didn't have bad memories connected to this event that I'm aware of and only even remembered it because of what happened now. Noone in my family has a history with violence. My former relationships (3) were harmonious and phased out in still ongoing friendships.

7 months in in our relationship my bf started to send me what I thought was graphically vile misogynist music that was popular during his youth. It weirded me out a lot that he would send me this out of the blue, and I never had a man expose me to stuff like this. I let him know harshly that I find it tasteless and dumb, but I never admitted that it emotionally weirded me out.

Misogynist music came up three other times, but the frame was different this time. My bf was embarrassed and tried to make me see it from a different perspective (which was legit given the context), but another vile song was just for trolling, again. However I brushed it off as dumb shock value.

Fast forward to last week: we were at a workshop where he and I went to an unserved hotel bar. There was a group of about 30 men from another company and I was the only woman. I don't care about that at all, I worked in an only men office before and feel comfortable among men. My bf and I were drunk and at one point he started to tell me how sexy I am and that I should start dancing for those men. I hardly ever feel pressured by people and neither did I feel so there, which he knows, so I laughed it off. At one point it became annoying and I wanted to change the subject so I made a distracting joke, which worked. The evening started to get blurry, but I don't remember the mood being off overall. At one point the men left and it was only him and I. He recited something of one of the misogynist tracks, but I don't remember the context and whether it made joking sense in the context. I do remember suddenly out of the blue telling my bf about the one time I was scared of men in my life (nothing happened there in the end) and that I wanted to do something meaningful with this experience of fear then, that had been alien to me before. I told him that I took a few lessons of kickboxing to work through this experience. Now, my behaviour gets creepy. After I was done telling my bf this anecdote, I suddenly remembered something hurtful that he said during dinner with our work colleagues and asked him about it. When he affirmed having said that , I slapped his cheek. I wasn't blacked out, I do remember doing it. Toxic as it may sound, but I expected the slap to have the effect of him calming me down, and me being able to tell him that he was mean. I guess I expected a similar situation like the one with the guy from work 10 years ago. To my surprise my bf was in utter shock and had to leave, telling me he swore to never let this happen to him again and that he was full of adrenaline. This was the first time I heard him say something about a possible bad event from his past.

The way I remember it is that I slapped him because of the dinner thing, I didn't remember the misogyny stuff having anything to do with my action, but I now consider that it might have been my subconscious reason given the analogy to the other event. (which doesn't justify anything of what I did, I just want to understand myself and the situation better).

It was immediately clear to me that something horrible happened after his reaction and that I did something horrible to him. I apologized via text immediately. It is not in my nature to beg for forgiveness or make promises so my message wasn't emotional, I said I did what I did and I know I can't undo it.
He texted me the following day and we chatted about what happened. All of the following took place via text, we haven't seen each other yet. In the first chat is where I remembered that the only other time I have acted out physically in my life before was when I slapped that man at the work event for calling me a slut and I told this to my bf. My bf said that him telling me to dance for those men was inappropriate and he seemed alienated to have done it. I didn't imply that it was bad what he did, I described it as a joke between us that perhaps unconsciously reminded me of the other one.

He then opened up about the domestic violence he experienced which was beyond words terrible. And I wouldn't be surprised if he has never told anyone else. He explained the cycle of abuse to me, about how this is how it starts, first it's just a slap, respect is lost, then promises to be better and honeymoon and then it starts again. I was utterly weirded out about myself for potentially having reenacted such a pattern and asked myself whether i'm truly entering this cycle. I didn't exemplify at least the typical regret behaviour of that cycle - I will never ask for him to take me back or listen to me if he doesn't want to or give him gifts or some such thing. I also told him then that I didn't want to distract from what I did by talking about the parallel to the other event and the misogyny thing being a potential trigger of mine that I was unaware of. I told him that I will follow his lead with regards to contact between us without question. On the next day he initiated texting again and wrote about what we could do better in the future, being optimistic, but then he seemed more negative again, slightly bitter. Yesterday after I wished him a good day he thanked me and said that he acknowledges that a slap to a man could be seen as socially acceptable and I couldn't have known what effect it has on him, so he doesn't want to say it's over yet but he also can't just go past it for it evoked too many memories and thus he just doesn't want to say anything for now. I told him I completely understand and that I'll wait for him to be ready and that I'm always there for him.

After this from yesterday I didn't hear from him anymore. Today we got company news that informed us about something that means a career blowback for him that I know it's going to hurt his self esteem badly as I was there for him when similar but less bad news reached us in this matter. I wish I could support him just as a platonic friend for this, but I know I can't do anything and perhaps won't ever be the right person to do so ever again. I'm crying typing these letters but I already set myself up for loss from the beginning.

He and I never had a fight, our relationship wasn't dramatic but communcation was sometimes complicated. We can't see each other that much physically, so we text a lot and I often asked him about potential misunderstandings which in the beginning he explicitly encouraged me to do for good conflict culture. However I know it started to stress him out later-on, making him feel I'd question his commitment to me, which wasn't my intention so I stopped. Also, it wasn't reciprocal, he never told me about anything that bugged him about me, which I in turn always encouraged him on. This was during a time that he was more distant than usual and seemed like he forced himself to keep up normalcy (which I would never ask of him). During this time I told him that I sometimes feel like he's reacting to a different person than me, because sometimes I felt like he felt he had to justify himself to me, without me having any such expectations. He agreed that he might project older relationship patterns on to me then, seemed in thought about this, but he didn't explain any further. This was way before I knew about the assaults. I feel utterly appalled and alienated about myself for having put him through this.

My question now to you is: Can I write to him today to check in on him in a neutral way, just letting him know I'm there, or is this obtrusive?

My other question is: can you help me analyze what happened with us? After having read about PTSD, is it possible he subconsciously projected punishment for his abusive ex gf onto me with the misogyny stuff? Am I overinterpreting this? Also, did I really enter an abuse cycle or was this something different? Can slaps be seen as symbols of insult or are people that slap always in denial about being abusive? I want to know because I would immediately seek treatment if what I did was an indication of such a thing.

Goes without saying that I am deeply in love with this man and I will forever be grateful to him for showing me his beautiful love.
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I am not sure anyone can move forward in a healthy manner until abuse ends, and then they have to begin again, and take responsibility for their part(s). It's up to the person inflicting abuse to acknowledge and address their justification of abusive words and behaviours and work on what it takes to acknowledge and challenge their justifications, get self-control and do what it takes to replace the behaviours. Abuse is not a loving act. No one has the right to try to control and punish the other, no matter how dysregulated or how hurt or unheard they feel, and no one can take responsibility for someone else. If a person or people are upset they need to discuss it, after they have got back in control of themself/ themselves. Ideally with some love and respect for one another. Abuse harms all people involved. JMHO.
I have seen enough of the essence of this beautiful human being to always be fond of him and I know he did so with me aswell, but I think if he wants to stay in contact we will only move forward platonically anyway. Also if the interpretation you're offering here is fitting, I figure this could be prudent for healing - a female person not judging him and staying loyal without romantic or sexual entanglement and the opaque dependencies that go along with the latter. Does this sound reasonable in theory? In case it sounds like I'm lying to myself in regards to my motives: Obviously I can't 't exclude this. I don't think I am given my loner nature, but who knows.. Thanks again for taking this angle seriously.

Honestly, it’s not your job to heal him in any way. The underlying issues will still be there IMO even if you are just friends. I mean, if you don’t want to date a man who is misogynistic, why would you want him as a friend? You already know that he has negative views about women, so even as “just friends” you’ll still know how he feels.

Unless you mean “friends” in a strictly work sense because you must work with this guy, then I understand keeping the peace to not cause issues in the workplace.

My ex pushed me to the point where I wanted to hit him, and it scared the hell out of me. I was on the phone with him, so it wasn’t in person. This was a HUGE turning point for me as I knew that things were essentially over……but it didn’t end for maybe another year or more. Someone who would tear me down enough to cause that kind of feeling? Nah, not a good guy.
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