The healthy way to deal with those little petty disappointments in a relationship?
October 17, 2009 10:03 AM   Subscribe

The healthy way to deal with those little petty disappointments in a relationship?

I've been dating someone for a few months now and things have gotten to a good semi-intense level. We kind of chat throughout the day via gchat or texts and talk most nights, just to give you an idea where we are at.

As I've gotten older I've tried my best to express the things I'd like or want in a relationship. For example you tell someone, "I'm having the worst day, can we talk later tonight for a few minutes?" I'll kind of get a few texts, but a brush off of "I'm drinking with friends" or something like that and no call. I don't really care if they're busy, but it just stings for some reason to me that they can't spare five minutes. Tell me if it's weird to ask that as well..but they'll come to me quite a bit if they are having a tough day.

So my question, how do you deal with those little things? Brush it off.. say something? I sometimes will go for a day long hike the next day just to kind of keep busy, but sometimes I come back to "where were you? what's wrong?" and honestly I really have no interest in fighting, I guess sometimes I'm not great in relationships. Please help me out. If I'm being too sensitive, please tell me and I'll really work on it.
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (18 answers total) 13 users marked this as a favorite
Say something. You're not being at all unreasonable. From what you've said, the person you're dating isn't giving you the degree of consideration you're giving them.

So next time, follow it up. When you see him/her next, let them know that you would have liked to have had a chance to talk, and that you felt let down that there wasn't even an apology. Expect an apology at that point.

Normal behaviour from his/her end would be to say "Look, I'm really sorry, I'm out with friends right now. Can you hold on for a couple of hours until [time]? We could chat then".
posted by le morte de bea arthur at 10:10 AM on October 17, 2009

Be more assertive about what you want--in the example you gave, you could have called your boyfriend and said something along the lines of "Hey, I know you're busy, but I need to talk to you tonight. Could you step outside for just five minutes?"

Also, if this is something that has happened in the past with every person you've dated, maybe it is time to lower your expectations. If this is something that you've only had to deal with since you started seeing your new boyfriend, you should perhaps consider finding someone who is more responsive to your needs. Either way, a healthy relationship shouldn't have to force you to "learn to deal with disappointment" on a regular basis.
posted by halogen at 10:11 AM on October 17, 2009

I'm concerned that the only options you see are saying nothing or fighting. These are not good options. The actual answer to "Where were you? Are you OK?" is:

I went for a walk to clear my head. I had a bad day yesterday and it would have made me feel better to be able to talk it through with you, but the walk also helped.

Classic communication techniques: "I" statements, positive language, no blaming. If, faced with insurmountable reasonableness and clarity like that, your partner cannot apologise, take some responsibility for being shoddy, or do better in future, then I would have the harder "I sometimes don't feel like I'm getting the support I need from you when I think I've asked for it clearly. How can we do better at this?" conversation.

And if that still doesn't get you what you want, this guy is never going to step up and you need to step away - because that's crappy.
posted by DarlingBri at 10:20 AM on October 17, 2009 [7 favorites]

The solution to inconvenient emotions, I have found, is to go ahead and have those emotions. You should be irritated about this and work through it directly, because whether or not someone would call it "petty" is not going to make it less important to you. (I think it is important, but then that doesn't really matter either.) Say to your partner, "I know you don't mean to make me feel X, but I do feel X when you do Y." And take it from there.
posted by Countess Elena at 10:24 AM on October 17, 2009

The healthy way to deal with them is to talk about them in plain terms with the person directly responsible.
posted by fire&wings at 10:30 AM on October 17, 2009 [2 favorites]

Just make sure that when you are being clear about your needs, you are also being honest about the nature of the need. In my most recent relationship, a "five-minute" talk never lasted less than 2 hours.

It's amazing how much you can like someone and still hesitate to pick up the phone for that "quick chat".
posted by Aquaman at 10:42 AM on October 17, 2009 [7 favorites]

I don't really care if they're busy, but it just stings for some reason to me that they can't spare five minutes.

This is the important thing to convey. "I respect your time. It's just that this thing you're doing rubs me the wrong way."

And then there are at least three kinds of solution. One is for your partner to do things differently. ("Sure, I'll step out and call you when you're feeling bad.") One is for you to do things differently. (Example off the top of my head, not necessarily relevant to your situation: What if you could do a better job of anticipating when you might need support, and making plans in advance, instead of calling her up when you're already having the worst day and she's already out with friends?) And one is for you to keep doing the same stuff, but frame it differently and communicate about it better. (What if your partner texted back to say "Can't talk now. Tell me all about it tomorrow?" instead of just letting the conversation drop. Would that make you feel better or worse?)

What's important, in the ensuing discussion, is to make sure that you're not focusing too hard on the first kind of solution, the one where your partner does things differently and you don't. Usually, the best solution to this sort of problem involves both people doing things a little differently.

That's not to say that this is in any way your fault, mind you. I think blame is pretty much irrelevant in this sort of situation, and it's totally okay for you to feel however you feel. It's just a pragmatic observation — whether or not you share the blame for the situation, whether or not you think there's any blame to share, finding a compromise solution will probably keep the two of you happiest the longest.
posted by nebulawindphone at 11:08 AM on October 17, 2009 [1 favorite]

(Huh. Looks like DarlingBri and I leaped to opposite conclusions about genders. Anyway, I think all the advice so far applies to all genders and orientations, so just swap the pronouns around as needed :)
posted by nebulawindphone at 11:11 AM on October 17, 2009

I'll kind of get a few texts, but a brush off ... and no call. I don't really care if they're busy, but it just stings for some reason to me that they can't spare five minutes. Tell me if it's weird to ask that as well..but they'll come to me quite a bit if they are having a tough day.

I don't think that it's unreasonable to be hurt that they aren't calling you when you clearly request some time to talk, but I think you need to take some clues as to how this person deals with their bad days to see what they are expecting from you. This person calls you when they have a bad day and they get the time to talk to you because they initiate it. I feel like there's a tiny little element of "prove you care and call me" going on here from your side, and either they detect this and are purposely drawing a boundary and refusing to bite, or they are just so used to going and getting what they need that they don't even think to come to you instead.

So, bottom line, to get what you want from this person, you first need to know what it is you are asking for. Are you looking for proof that they care or are you looking for comfort. If it's comfort, then it's simple - call them whenever you want to and talk to them right then about your bad day.
posted by The Light Fantastic at 11:35 AM on October 17, 2009 [3 favorites]

If I'm being too sensitive, please tell me and I'll really work on it.

I don't know whether you're being too sensitive. You might be too sensitive or you might not be. You're really the only one here that can tell. But let me lay out a couple of scenarios for you and you can consider whether they are possibilities.

Basically I gather from your post that you are in near-constant-contact with your significant other. Occasionally you will have a bad day and need to talk to your SO some more, during the time they have set aside to not be in constant contact with you, perhaps with friends that they have neglected since the beginning of your relationship, who may be a bit upset that their relationship is suffering and apply pressure to your SO as well.

Reading your story, I think that this has happened more than once. If this is happening a few times a year, then that's probably fine, but if you have a bad day and have a need for your SO to drop everything and listen to you every week or two, then I think you are a bit dependent and they may find it hard to deal with. You should perhaps develop a richer support system with others you can rely on in addition to your SO.

I have bad days, too, just like everyone else, and when I need to talk to someone about how things have gone wrong, it generally takes a lot longer than five minutes. It is really irritating when someone asks me for something and is not realistic about the effort required to fulfill the request. If I don't do it, then I will hear somewhat manipulative complaints about how I couldn't do this little, little thing, that really wasn't that litle. If I do it, then I only get credit for a small thing—I take significant time and effort to help you, but to you I have done almost nothing, something automatic that I am supposed to do. It devalues my time, my contribution, and makes a no-win situation. So, as Aquaman said, make sure you are honest about what you need requires. (And as The Light Fantastic said, there's no need to text someone to ask them to call you. Having some sort of preamble via a different mode of communication is extra evidence that it's going to be a Big Deal.)

Consider that your SO might not want to have near-constant-contact with you and really wants some more time to themselves or their friends, but since they like you so much they are willing to deal with chatting online, talking on the phone, and listening to your problems a lot more than they want to. They have a hard time expressing that they would maybe like to be in contact a little less, because many people overreact to a desire for more space, think their relationship is doomed, and become even more needy in response, which creates a death spiral of a self-fulfilling prophecy that dooms the relationship in actuality. But at a certain point they have a limit to how much they are willing to suppress their own desires and it looks like you may have found it.

Whether these scenarios are true or not is irrelevant: you have needs and you should communicate about them. Just when you do make sure you leave a space for your SO to communicate about their needs, and consider that their view of things might be very different from yours. And that as hard as you find it to communicate about your needs, they might have an even harder time communicating without feeling like they are setting themselves up as the bad guy that cares about the relationship less.
posted by grouse at 11:42 AM on October 17, 2009 [3 favorites]

It all depends how often you're having these "little issues". If you have these issues frequently, then you need either (a) a psychotherapist or (b) a guy who gets off on needy women. If only infrequently, then he should make time.

Why don't you just bitch about your bad days over IM like a normal person? A healthy complaint is "Omg! You won't believe what Jan fucked up today! I lost the fucking Smith account when she double billed him! I'm going to make sure this isn't viewed as my fault! I'll bug ya about it if I don't figure out how." See now he know (a) the problem is Jan's fuck ups, not him, and (b) you've given him time to contemplate maters (if you need help thinking).
posted by jeffburdges at 12:15 PM on October 17, 2009

An essential key is to lose any expectations or "good people would ___" assumptions, and remind yourself that your needs are not their obligations (and vice versa). I know we all know this but amidst the Communicate Your Needs / You Deserve A Good Relationship drumbeat, it can be easy to forget what that communication is supposed to trigger, which is just a conversation that leads to more mutual understanding and compassion.

You might say, "last night when you couldn't step out for a chat, I felt disappointed. I'd really like it if we could be there like that for each other. It'd be great to know that the days I really have a hard time, you would want to make yourself available. Is that the kind of thing you'd be willing to do?" The question is key. Without it, you're just dumping your disappointment on them and inviting them to feel guilty. But asking that question, with sincere curiosity, invites them to tell you how they feel about this need you have.

They might say one of many things. "Oh, I misunderstood you, sure I can do that." Or "actually, my time with friends is vital to me, so unless it's a true emergency, I'd prefer it if you could take care of your own needs or find another friend to talk to, so I can focus on being with my friends." Then, you can try to understand what they're saying. ("Ah, so when I said ___, that confused you." Or "ah, so when I'm asking for help, it's keeping you from really relaxing in comfort with your friends, and that's something you really need." Or "ah, so you feel guilty for not spending as much time with them lately.") Then, with full understanding on both sides, you can start to find some solutions (or realize that none truly exist).

The one thing not to do is to label your needs "petty" and try not to have them. Sure, they're small and you could suppress or perhaps change them, but they're important, and this is where you're at now. Having conversations about them, even if awkward and unpleasant, is the way to work through the differences with respect for both of your wants, and come to a shared vision of how things can be. Otherwise, the differences continue to cause tension. In my experience, the fundamental incompatibility that most often ruins a relationship is not "they want A and I want B" but an inability to develop ways of communicating about this in a respectful way that has room for both parties' views. So, I think you're smart for putting your focus on how to communicate about this. Good luck!
posted by salvia at 12:19 PM on October 17, 2009 [1 favorite]

my thoughts:

I always assume that people who have "no interest in fighting" must have a lot of interest in "getting walked all over".

What's the point of relocating the conflict from your relationship to the inside of your conscience?-- you suffer just the same, and nothing changes.

Maybe you're avoiding this fight because it will be a hard one. You are already calling it 'petty.' (Is that what he will say?) Is the abandonment indicative of disinterest? That can be hard to accept. Might be better not to fight so that you don't find out.
posted by esprit de l'escalier at 12:40 PM on October 17, 2009 [2 favorites]

Do you have other friends that you can talk to about your bad day?
posted by trevyn at 12:43 PM on October 17, 2009 [2 favorites]

I fear that I am too old to understand the whole constant contact thing. Perhaps it is normal and fine, but I would find it suffocating and distracting. Also I don't really understand what you are trying get out of a 5 minute conversation. If I need someone to talk to 5 minutes would be pretty disappointing.

I suggest that you take days off this constant contact. Cultivate other friends and interests. Usually around 3 months is when the novelty of a relationship starts to fade and the constant contact seems to risk becoming banal.
posted by psycho-alchemy at 1:49 PM on October 17, 2009

> Also I don't really understand what you are trying get out of a 5 minute conversation. If I need someone to talk to 5 minutes would be pretty disappointing.

YMMV, of course, but if I've had a rough day, sometimes 5 minutes to express the badness and hear my SO's voice is all I need. I've called on a work break when I had less than five minutes to talk a few times for this reason. He, likewise, has called me to say that he doesn't feel well or is having a bad day. It's not always necessary to talk things out in any detail. It's like all I need is a long-distance hug.
posted by Cricket at 7:48 PM on October 17, 2009 [1 favorite]

"So my question, how do you deal with those little things? Brush it off.. say something?"

I'm a guy. I can think of two women I dated over the years who did this.

Woman #1: She did exactly what you said above. I had Big Important Thing I wanted to talk about that night, but she blew me off to hang out with her friends. This was out of character for her, so my first thought was that someone she hadn't seen in years was in town. And I was right. An old friend of hers from out of the country was passing through town, and it was a now-or-never kind of deal. Of course I didn't mind.

Woman #2: She did the same sort of thing - a lot. Once it became even close to being a pattern, it was the end of us dating.

The way I see it, a relationship is a 50/50 deal. Only you can decide if the person you're dating is meeting you half-way. Maybe it's ok if he blows you off now and then during the week since weekends are your together time? Or, maybe he is so caring and giving in so many other ways that you accept this flaw?

Then again... maybe he's just not living up to his end of the deal - in which case: buh-bye.

Best of luck figuring this one out!
posted by 2oh1 at 11:27 PM on October 17, 2009

P.S. Geez, I should do a better job actually answering the question! :)
""So my question, how do you deal with those little things? Brush it off.. say something?""

I put it in perspective. What's the bigger deal? What you get from the relationship, or when you get let down? If you're getting let down too often, you need to move on.
posted by 2oh1 at 11:38 PM on October 17, 2009

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