But you're hurting me!
January 20, 2012 2:27 PM   Subscribe

How (specifically) do people in successful relationships let an intimate partner know when he is being insensitive and hurtful?

I recently started dating someone (a couple of months ago), whom I really like. We have a lot in common and he is a genuinely nice person who says things like "How can I make you feel loved?" and "I want to take care of you." He's very affectionate and sweet.

However, he can be very insensitive to others. He seems to have trouble figuring out what will bother someone and to be a bit selfish.

Examples:
- He and a friend were at a pizza parlor and he invited me to join them as I was in the neighborhood. He told the friend "You're not hungry" (when he was) and made him leave some for me. Which was nice for me, but kind of an insensitive way to handle it with the friend.

- Once, he rolled over after sex and just started watching TV. I got upset and he couldn't figure out why.

- He made some stupid blanket statement about something (like "all x's are y's" -- when the truth is much more nuanced than that) and I started laughing, thinking it was a joke. He got annoyed and said that my laughter was "inappropriate".

- He wants me to go on hormonal birth control or the IUD. I want him to use condoms - hormonal birth control messes me up and IUDs scare me. We discussed it and decided to use condoms for vaginal sex and have unprotected sex of other kinds. But he keeps bringing it up and it drives me crazy.

We've talked a bit about this, and he told me to let him know when he does something to hurt me.

I come from an abusive and dysfunctional background (in a million ways) and I don't know how "healthy" people handle this. When he does these things I just tend to shut down and get very cold. It's hard for me to figure out what to say because I tend to assume that no one cares if they hurt me anyway.

I've tried to make a joke of it sometimes. Other times he can tell that I'm getting upset and hugs me. But I'd like more strategies for dealing with this.

So, Mefites in successful relationships:

- How do you let your SO know that they've upset you?
- How do you do it without making a big deal of it?
- Especially, how did you do it in the early stages of your relationship when you were still figuring each other out?
- Also, this is within the range of normal, right? I have so much difficulty figuring out how people actually relate to each other.

(Yes, I'm in therapy. I'll probably always be in therapy!)
posted by sockratties to Human Relations (37 answers total) 16 users marked this as a favorite
 
Usually my wife just turns to me and says, "Hey, you're being an asshole."
posted by Rewind at 2:34 PM on January 20, 2012 [47 favorites]


I'm a guy. Usually when I'm being insensitive, my wife says "you're being a jerk", or she lets me know in other ways. Since she's a nice, normal person (ie, she's in the right, and is not manipulative), it's up to me to fixed my wayward, manly ways, and make it up to her.

So you can just say (if it's a battle worth fighting, and the examples you cite certainly seem to be) hey, you're being insensitive.

In all honesty, the guy sounds like a jerk. Pressuring you into unprotected sex? Whaaa?
posted by KokuRyu at 2:35 PM on January 20, 2012 [11 favorites]


We talked about how to best communicate when feelings are hurt. Sometimes that method is a text or IM (which strips emotion out) to say "I felt this way when you did this", sometimes it's as straightforward as us telling each other when it happens. The key for me has been to realize that it's usually not intentional, and that we can talk through it, and it's no big deal.
posted by Nimmie Amee at 2:37 PM on January 20, 2012 [1 favorite]


The general answer is that they plainly state what they think and feel (without judgement) trusting that the other person knows what is being revealed to them is meant to make the relationship better for everyone involved. A big deal is not made of things that shouldn't be a big deal because there's no assumed antagonism on either side. The relationship is a team and both people need to work at what they're not great at and the only person who can tell them what's going on is the other person in the relationship. It doesn't matter how far into the relationship you are for plain-talking to debut. The earlier the better, in act.

So, for instance, you would say "I would like you to [whatever] with me after sex instead of just rolling over and watching television because when you do that it makes me feel [whatever]."

The thing with the friend, well, you want to leave that between the two of them. Different sort of friends have different sort of dynamics. If people heard some exchanges between my friends and I out of context, they would think someone is getting punched in the face imminently. Let him handle his friends the way he handles his friends.

The thing with the IUD? He's being a dick and you need to plainly tell him that as far as devices and chemicals that go into your body are concerned, you get the last word. Tell him that you made up your mind and constantly bothering you isn't going to make you change your mind.
posted by griphus at 2:38 PM on January 20, 2012 [13 favorites]


You've only been dating a couple of months. Everything else aside, it's completely inappropriate for him to be pressuring you about your birth control plans. Getting an IUD is a big deal -- it's expensive, it can cause complications, and for many women the insertion is very painful. It's also not really his business this early in a relationship. Bringing it up once? Sure. Continually haranguing you about it? No. I would be annoyed if my husband acted that way.

That said.

It depends a lot on the person, but generally speaking the best way to have this sort of conversation is to be as straightforward and as calm as possible. "I'm sorry, I know condoms are a pain, but I'm not ready to put an IUD in right now. It's my body and this is what I'm comfortable with right now, okay? We can talk about it again in a few months, but let's just leave it alone for now." "Hey, I really appreciate that you wanted me to have some pizza, but it made me feel kind of bad when you took it away from your friend like that. I know you meant well, but if I'm hungry I can just order something on my own next time, okay?"
posted by Narrative Priorities at 2:39 PM on January 20, 2012 [7 favorites]


Your examples:

- Friend says "Actually, I'm going to finish this." You say, "Let's get another slice."
- You (teasingly): Hey, we're not done here! Come cuddle with me, we'll watch a movie later.
- ignore it, if he brings it up again say in a perplexed tone, "Why do you think all Xs are Y?"
- I've never been on BC, can't speak to this one.

Your questions:
- Ideally: "look, I'm really upset that you did/said X. I felt hurt/rejected/whatever. Can you do Y next time?"
- see above
- see above

I am so not perfect, but the spot where we get into trouble is always, without exception, because we make assumptions, and not simply because we disagree. Oh, he rolled over? The sex must not have been that good. He wants to play video games instead of spend time with me? I must bore him. He didn't make dinner reservations? He always expects me to do everything! Ad infinitum.

Talk, talk, talk. If it's becoming a "big deal," take a break from talking until you're both calmed down. If he never takes you seriously and always says you're overreacting, he's not the guy for you.
posted by desjardins at 2:41 PM on January 20, 2012 [5 favorites]


First, you are a healthy person. Don't diminish yourself and your needs by labeling yourself as anything but.

Second, even those of us who did not grow up in abusive/dysfunctional environments have a hell of a hard time confronting people when they're rude/unkind/dickish to us. Confrontation sucks. The way I've reframed confrontation in situations like the ones you've described is to realize that all I'm doing is sticking up for myself and what I deserve, and repeat that to myself as matter of factly as possible ad naseum until I freaking believe it. Then if something happens, I say in the moment, "Hey, that was kind of a sucky (comment, action, thing, whatever)." and let that person respond without talking over them. If that person then says to me, "Well, you shouldn't be hurt/offended/whatever.", I say, "okay, goodbye" because nobody gets to tell me that the way I am feeling is wrong.

Finally, while it is in the range of normal to experience a bit of give and take within a relationship, it doesn't sound like your BF respects you and your body and your feelings as holistically as he should. Given your background, I am worried that you might see the super nice parts of him too brightly and that these other warning signs are getting lost in the niceness of those good things. He may just have some rough edges, but honestly, my ex was also a "genuinely nice person who said things like 'How can I make you feel loved?' and 'I want to take care of you.'" and he ended up being a major control freak who trivialized all my emotions and feelings of suffocation until I couldn't take it anymore.

Others will be able to address your other inquiries more eloquently than I can.
posted by These Birds of a Feather at 2:42 PM on January 20, 2012 [11 favorites]


Also, this is within the range of normal, right? I have so much difficulty figuring out how people actually relate to each other.

Given the examples you cite, my personal radar would ping a bit on the not-abusive-but-still-pretty-jerkish side of things, especially the part about the birth control. Keep in mind that trying to insist that you use a method that you don't like, and then exposing you to possible infection via unprotected sex, directly contradicts his statements that he wants to take care of you and make you feel loved.

If he's young (early 20s or less), it might just be an immaturity thing (still annoying but possibly more a function of his age than deep-set personality issues). If he's older than his mid-20s, my radar pings even louder.

Given your background, you might find the book How to Be an Adult in Relationships helpful for you in thinking about what's healthy and unhealthy (which I would suggest is a more productive way of thinking about it than "normal" vs. "not normal") relationships.
posted by scody at 2:43 PM on January 20, 2012 [8 favorites]


Ok, saying "you're a jerk" when he's being a jerk is fine, but with some people that just won't land.

Bring it up when it's not fresh. When you get back home from the pizza parlor, say "hey, you were being kind of jerky to your friend back there". It shows you aren't just caught up in the moment and I find it's a bit easier to actually have a conversation about it.

Especially, how did you do it in the early stages of your relationship when you were still figuring each other out?

Don't be afraid of calling out jerky behaviour early on. You're setting expectations right now for what kind of relationship you'll have in the future. If he doesn't like it he can screw off.

Also, this is within the range of normal, right? I have so much difficulty figuring out how people actually relate to each other.

Yes, the things that are bugging you are things that would bug most people. Actually, some of the things you mentioned (as you'll see from peoples' reactions to the birth control thing) will bug other people a lot more than they're bugging you. Your head is in the right place.
posted by no regrets, coyote at 2:45 PM on January 20, 2012 [2 favorites]


Don't be afraid of calling out jerky behaviour early on. You're setting expectations right now for what kind of relationship you'll have in the future. If he doesn't like it he can screw off.

This, a million times. You teach people how to treat you. If you don't treat something like a problem now, in six months when you get really upset, he's going to be bewildered because it never bothered you before (as far as he knows). If he doesn't shape up pretty quickly, he probably never will. Go into a relationship assuming he's always going to be the way he is now. If he's hurting you, and he doesn't address that when you bring it up to him, there's no reason to stay.
posted by desjardins at 2:48 PM on January 20, 2012 [12 favorites]


Most of the good advice has been said, but my suggestion is to stick to the template of

"when you did/do xyz, i felt abc."

"When you turned over and watched TV after we had sex, I felt like you didn't really value our physical time together." What you're doing is explaining and making explicit your reaction to his behavior. He can then be more aware of how his actions affect you, and choose to respond appropriately (or not).

If he's not a jerk, it'll probably be something like "oh, i didn't even know you felt that way" or "the reason i did xyz was qrs".

Don't let him tell you you're acting crazy. This is what relationships are about: coming to a middle ground between your crazy and his crazy that works for both of you.
posted by softlord at 2:54 PM on January 20, 2012 [5 favorites]


He's very affectionate and sweet... sometimes. He's also very insensitive to others, and to you, sometimes. Please be careful not to dismiss your concerns and feelings when he is hurting you just because he is not always like that.

In a healthy relationship, he will welcome opportunities to understand how to do the things that make you feel loved, not just feeling satisfied that he checked off a box that he said he wants that. Be honest and open with him. Part of "figuring you out" should definitely include figuring out that you are someone who stands up for herself and makes sure that her wants and needs get full, equal weight in the relationship.
posted by argonauta at 3:02 PM on January 20, 2012 [3 favorites]


Mod note: Please, please don't turn this into a birth control method debate.
posted by restless_nomad (staff) at 3:09 PM on January 20, 2012


It sounds to me like you are setting (healthy) boundaries, and that he is dismissing or ignoring them. That sets off a few alarm bells in my mind. Don't dismiss your feelings just because he does.

To me, when someone says they want to make me feel loved, that doesn't mean much. Actions tell me when someone cares. Also, i am not into romantic gestures, so take what I say with that in mind. It always seems to me that romantic gestures are very superficial, YMMV.
posted by annsunny at 3:09 PM on January 20, 2012 [4 favorites]


Directly criticize his behaviour. You need to know NOW how he tends to handle it. I also think it's way to early to be having any kind of unprotected sex (that leaves you at risk of catching something). It sounds like alarm bells are going off and you need to listen to your gut.
posted by bonobothegreat at 3:21 PM on January 20, 2012 [1 favorite]


The things this guy says set off alarms for me as well -- even the "nice" things. I would be very wary of someone who wants to take care of me. That sounds paternalistic and a bit weird. I think that two people in a healthy relationship should be equals who help each other. The situation where one person takes care of the other sounds somewhat controlling to me.

And the birth control thing really bothers me. Again, it's fine if he brings it up once, but to harass you about it? Not cool.

And I wonder about the ""all x's are y's" comment. It depends a lot on what the x's and y's were, but for some reason that strikes me as a comment indicating prejudice.
posted by merejane at 3:26 PM on January 20, 2012 [2 favorites]


The birth control thing makes me wonder if there actually is a way to tell this guy to take your concerns seriously -- when he has a stake in something you don't like, that is -- that he'll take seriously. Maybe there's some way to phrase "hormonal birth control messes me up and I don't want to have an IUD in my body all the time, they scare me" followed by insisting condoms or no protection at all that is somehow more powerful than other ways, like by waving a knife at him or something, but I can't imagine a genuinely nice person, as opposed to one who wants to convince you that he's nice so you'll give him what he wants, badgering you like this about things he wants you to do to your body that will a) change your internal chemistry in ways that you already know are harmful to you or b) will frighten you and possibly cause you great discomfort (i.e. intense cramping, if we're talking about the copper IUD).
posted by Adventurer at 3:50 PM on January 20, 2012 [4 favorites]


I think commenting on how he treats his pal at the pizza joint is a bit like being his mother, not his lover. Conversations about how he treats you and your body and your wishes would be more productive, I think.
posted by Ideefixe at 4:37 PM on January 20, 2012 [1 favorite]


With the birth control issue, you do need to make a big deal. The only way, in my opinion, that a decent person would push you on this is if they were ignorant about the problems associated with those methods. If he won't stop pushing, you have a problem.

To me, the other issues are not on the same level at all. He rolled over on sex? Ask him why. He said something and you laughed? He may be the one who was hurt. (He may think you think he is dumb, and he may be right.) Both those seem like confusing situations, not necessarily hurtful ones. I would ask what he thought was going on before having any kind of reaction at all.

The one with the pizza? My partner has certain friends from as far back as high school, and they all talk to each other in what seems to me like an obnoxious, disrespectful way. (I made my peace with it, but mostly not by going out with that group, where the behavior seems to be confined.) Anyway I don't think it's usually productive to criticize how someone talks to a third person unless it's a waiter or someone else who isn't allowed to bite back. This guy's friends are (presumably) adults who can stand up for themselves.

I, too, came from a home environment where I didn't learn to stand up for myself in a healthy way. I find it makes it even more important to separate the important issues from the less important or ephemeral ones, when it comes to confronting people.
posted by BibiRose at 4:55 PM on January 20, 2012 [2 favorites]


I don't think he sounds like a jerk, but you need to let him know if he's hurting your feelings. If he knows that he's being hurtful/insensitive and doesn't change his ways, then he's a jerk.

But until then, he sounds pretty normal. Rolling over after sex? I am a girl, and I do that all the time. The pizza thing? Sounds like old friends banter to me.

The birth control issue is trickier. If you've already told him how you feel, he may still not get it. Time to lay down the law and be really assertive. If he doesn't let that go, then he's a jerk. For real. But he might not realize that you feel bullied/pressured by his pestering you on the subject.

(I think a lot of guys are annoying cavalier when it comes to birth control. FYI female, mid-twenties here, and I've had the same extremely annoying discussion with past boyfriends/dates/FWB's/etc. Hold your grown, and DTMFA if he doesn't respect your choices).
posted by ablazingsaddle at 5:02 PM on January 20, 2012


The pizza thing is his issue with his friend. Ignore.

The birth control thing is actually really creepy. Tell him you've made up your mind on birth control, and you do not want him to bring up alternate methods anymore. (Alternately, and depending on what kind of people you are, you can then tell him he should get a vasectomy every single time he brings up an IUD. But this really only would work with some people, and you absolutely have to tell him that you are unwilling to discuss changing birth control at this point before you start this.)

The laughter thing depends on what he said and in what context.
posted by jeather at 5:13 PM on January 20, 2012 [2 favorites]


I'm gonna go against the grain here and say that the BC thing does not make your boyfriend an insta-dick. He may consider your needs equal with regard to sex, and doesn't understand that your desire not to constantly ingest hormonal treatment trumps his desire to not wear a condom. To avoid this sliding into full-blown dickish behaviour, though, you need to quickly and clearly state the way things are:

'Honey, I don't want to go on the pill, nor do I want an IUD. Please do not bug me about it, because when you it hurts my feelings, and resentment is not a good feeling to have during sex.'

If he pushes you further, then that's a major red flag.

As others have said, openness is the key to most conflict resolutions - you just gotta bite the bullet and pipe up before those pesky emotions get a hold of you. Practice makes perfect: feel free to ask for a timeout when you get upset to give yourself time to figure out what it is you're feeling. Then come back and communicate directly. Of course, human nature dictates that it's never that easy - be prepared that your boyfriend may act defensive even when you're being totally reasonable, and forgive yourselves for having the occasional argument.

Lastly, don't be so down on yourself! I'm sure other mefites have the exact same difficulty in relationships, even with the healthiest of upbringings. If he has the capacity to understand and empathise then you'll be just fine.
posted by dumdidumdum at 5:15 PM on January 20, 2012


What stuck out to me was "when he does these things I tend to shut down and get very cold." It is 100% fine to take space/time for yourself when you're upset. However, it is also helpful to let your boyfriend know that you would like some space, and that you will tell him when you're ready to talk. That way you get the space you need, and he doesn't worry that he should be trying to cheer you out of your feelings.

With less serious things, where you might be tempted to laugh, include a little explanation. "In my experience, I've noticed that all Xs are [notY]." or "Dude, there are millions of Xs in the world; there's no way that ALL of them are Y".

The birth control issue seems to be the most frustrating ongoing issue. Have you discussed the reasons behind your respective positions? This is the one area that sent up "possible jerk" flags for me; it's your body, and he doesn't get to decide what you put in it.
posted by epj at 5:56 PM on January 20, 2012


If he knows this is an ongoing problem but is open to having you point out his jerky behavior to him as it's happening, consider picking a "safeword" (yup, like with sex, though not the same word please) you can say as shorthand for "Honey, you're being insensitive again" or whatever y'all agree the safeword means. This is very YMMV; some people like sharing the couple-y injoke they can use in public, while others find it annoying and twee. And it's a gentler call-out than straight up say "You're being a jerk" etc., so it can sting him less but he may also not take it as seriously.

I think you have the very reasonable desire to figure out what your personal boundaries are, your own "normal" that is different for every person. If something in an interaction with your boyfriend is making you uneasy, you don't have to keep quiet and continue for politeness' sake. It's totally okay for you to go safeword/"Time out, this situation is tripping my alarm bells, let's step back and take a break for a bit."
posted by nicebookrack at 6:10 PM on January 20, 2012


The things this guy says set off alarms for me as well -- even the "nice" things. I would be very wary of someone who wants to take care of me. That sounds paternalistic and a bit weird.

Oh jesus, yes. Let me demonstrate.

Abusive Ex: "I love you so much. I want to take care of you forever."
Me: "Erhm..."
Abusive Ex: [runs off to fuck someone else, screams at me for fucking someone else (which, obvs, I totally didn't), or starts pressuring me to have sex without BC. So I could get accidentally knocked up. When I said that I didn't think a baby was an acceptable situation he said, "what's so wrong with that? I am going to take care of you forever?"]

When he started tampering with the birth control is a whole other story.

To contrast, let's see:

Me: "I'm sad. I have SAD. I hate January. All the plants are dead."
Awesome Current Partner: [Shows up after work with a bunch of new houseplants, so at least the inside of the house will feel summery and alive]

Awesome Current Partner: [lists me as beneficiary on insurance, without going into a big production about it]

Me: "Ew. I feel sick."
Awesome Current Partner: "No. This is not good. You are more than sick. I'm really worried."
Me: "Nah. I'll be okay."
Awesome Current Partner: [drives me to the ER]

Note: Awesome Current Partner actually takes care of me. And lets me take care of him. Which is NOT what abusive ex did, despite his big talk, you know?

---

I don't know whether this guy is going to turn out to be abusive, but: a) he sets off my jerk radar and b) as someone with abusive relatioships in her background, I would not continue a relationship with him.

The above advice from other posters are good. Try telling him directly how you feel, or start asking explicitly for what you want. If he changes his behavior, awesometown. If he continues to be insensitive, then I can't say that I would think he's the guy for you.

also, keep your eye on this, and see if his behavior ever crosses this line. if so, I would totally consider him abusive.
posted by vivid postcard at 6:29 PM on January 20, 2012 [2 favorites]


I'm gonna go against the grain here and say that the BC thing does not make your boyfriend an insta-dick. He may consider your needs equal with regard to sex, and doesn't understand that your desire not to constantly ingest hormonal treatment trumps his desire to not wear a condom. To avoid this sliding into full-blown dickish behaviour, though, you need to quickly and clearly state the way things are:

'Honey, I don't want to go on the pill, nor do I want an IUD. Please do not bug me about it, because when you it hurts my feelings, and resentment is not a good feeling to have during sex.'

If he pushes you further, then that's a major red flag.


This. A million times.
posted by ablazingsaddle at 6:53 PM on January 20, 2012 [1 favorite]


- Also, this is within the range of normal, right? I have so much difficulty figuring out how people actually relate to each other.

Nope, not for me, nor desirable, nor what my happy and low-conflict, loving relationship looks like at all.

No one here has brought up a simple thing about your post that struck me:

A lot of relationships don't have these issues with at such an early stage, so there's less emphasis on the need to have so many assertiveness tactics/formulas-- basically, a counter-attack plan.

I'm not saying that the OP's need to develop healthy boundary-setting isn't important and admirable, but the fact that she has quite a few important issues with her boyfriend at just three months seems off to me. And, frankly, he says things that a lot of controlling and/or abusive men say.

Listen, I don't like:

"inappropriate"

as a response to a woman laughing at a man's opinion. He could have characterized her response as "hurtful" or "dismissive" or whatever, but calling it inappropriate smacks of paternalism. He's not your boss at work or your dad telling you to stop goofing off at a family function. He doesn't get to say your response is inappropriate as though he is an authority figure. That's not cool.

And more than anything, the fact that he straight up says,

We've talked a bit about this, and he told me to let him know when he does something to hurt me.

I just don't like that. If he's hurtful to you, it's 'cause he's being a jerk. Why is the onus on you to tell him about hurtful his hurtful actions all the time, rather than on him not to do them? I can't put my finger on why this seems off, but it really does. It resembles something, again, where he has the power and you just tell him when your boundaries have already been transgressed, your dignity compromised or your opinion dismissed.

Look, I know he may be partly saying this because he's not a mind-reader and you need to speak up for what your boundaries and values actually are. But I have to say, given your background, and the fact that you seem to be a somewhat (maybe very?) sensitive person, this is going to emotionally exhaust you and cause you anxiety if you have to go back and forth with him frequently, negotiating what you need all the time. A bit of conflict is inevitable, but unless you thrive on it (which you obviously don't) this is not a dynamic that creates peace of mind.

Also, I know people have different perceptions on what is gruff or vulgar, unkind or unacceptable, but if you have to tell him frequently that he's crossing the line rather than him just being on a similar wavelength to you, it's not about you being uncommunicative, it's about him being a jerk or insensitive or just not for you. Example: I've had to tell my boyfriend, "That hurts my feelings!" maybe three times we've been together, and it's not because I'm a doormat, it's because he respects me and we simply don't have those issues on a regular basis.

Anyway, the last example here (and a really important one, as others have pointed out) which points out that he's trying to be authoritative/paternalistic toward you is that he thinks his birth control preferences are more important than yours. He's being petulant and hounding you, basically, to give in to him on an issue that has to do with your actual health. His pleasure is more important than your health. This is what he's saying, make no mistake-- you already told him your feelings about other birth control methods.

So, anyway, no, my opinion is no, he is not treating you well, it doesn't seem like a very healthy relationship. I wish you'd grown up with better examples so you could see this more clearly, for yourself, and to know how different a really supportive and respectful partner would behave under the circumstances you're describing.
posted by devymetal at 7:07 PM on January 20, 2012 [10 favorites]


Yeah, just a couple of months is still firmly "Trying To Make a Good Impression" territory, not "Yeah, I fart! Everyone farts!" territory. I think there's an unhealthy gap between "How can I make you feel loved?" and rolling over to watch a movie right after sex. One of these things is not like the other.

As to how to communicate dickish behaviour, I don't so much recommend "I don't like when you x, because it makes me feel y". I think too much "I feel" language can be easy for a certain type of person to over-ride, because well, feelings are subjective, right? And your feelings are probably irrational or something anyway, and he didn't mean it and jeez, would you just go on the pill or something already, this condom is really fucking up my awesome spontaneous sex experience. I prefer, and have found, even with my current loveable partner man, "I don't like it when you x" is just quicker and cleaner. I can be very waffly and sound very unsure and defensive if I get too explainy.

And honestly, if someone said something kind of dumb to me, and I laughed because I thought they were joking, because surely they don't think whatever issue is so simple and they got all huffy and said my laughter was "inapropriate", I'd feel a little thoughtful about that.
posted by thylacinthine at 9:56 PM on January 20, 2012 [1 favorite]


If you really want to help turn him into a good boyfriend, you are probably going to have to teach him some things. Give him information about the reactions and problems women can have dealing with hormonal birth control and the expense and difficulties attached to choosing an IUD. There should be absolutely no pressure from him to dispense with safe sex and undertake a more troublesome method (for you) until you are very sure the two of you are going to be in a committed relationship. That's just my view, but I think you have a right to take that position. If something goes wrong, you are the one who will deal with the bad reactions or the pregnancy or whatever. If he doesn't see that level of risk is very unequal, he needs enlightening. If he doesn't care, DTMFA.

Maybe rolling over and watching TV when you didn't even know why was a one-time thing but this early in a relationship, it's at least evidence that you're not communicating very well and you need to understand each other better.

All X are Y? Talk more. He really doesn't sound great. You are already wired to accept too easily being treated badly so you have to study this and think about what you want and then talk about it. Stay with therapy and learn as much as you can.

You deserve to have a good man and the way you have a chance is first of all by not accepting a lesser model.
posted by Anitanola at 10:06 PM on January 20, 2012 [2 favorites]


The birth control issue is total bullshit on his part. I'm male and would expect to be kicked to the curb for that.
posted by ead at 10:06 PM on January 20, 2012 [3 favorites]


The template my boyfriend-now-husband and I got in couples counseling was "When you do X, I feel Y. I don't like feeling like that. I would prefer that you do A or C; that would help me to feel M." In the case of a long-term, trusted relationship where there's baggage on one or both sides that y'all are deliberately trying to work through, there's a whole separate template with more details, but this will do for now.

The birth control thing, though, deserves a firmer tack, something along the lines of "Listen, this is my body, my brain, my self, my decision. I am the only one who decides what goes into my body. That goes for pills, IUDs, and your penis if it comes right down to it. If you're not willing to respect my birth control decisions, you don't have to have sex with me."
posted by KathrynT at 11:43 PM on January 20, 2012 [6 favorites]


I come from an abusive and dysfunctional background (in a million ways) and I don't know how "healthy" people handle this. When he does these things I just tend to shut down and get very cold. It's hard for me to figure out what to say because I tend to assume that no one cares if they hurt me anyway.

Hey sockratties. I think one of the "skills" that growing up in an abusive and dysfunctional background gives you, is more of a tolerance than the average person for abusive and dysfunctional behavior. As well as behavior that doesn't rise to the level of abusive but is just difficult, inconsiderate, unpleasant, and so on. It is easier for you to stick it out and put up with the behavior. But also, you are simply just more WILLING to put up with behavior and try to work it out when others would just bail.

This is often not a good thing.

Here, you are looking for ways to work things out with someone who you even acknowledge to behave in ways that are insensitive and selfish.

I am all for you learning health ways to be and act and work things out in a relationship. But I think an important skill for you to learn first, is to just bail when you encounter dickish behavior and the people who perpetuate it. Not trying to live with it, not trying to work it out, just bailing and recognizing the ability to put up with it is an ability that won't get you anywhere good in life. Save the getting along, conflict-resolution skills for someone who is not starting from a baseline of inconsiderateness and selfishness.
posted by cairdeas at 12:47 AM on January 21, 2012 [10 favorites]


Also, this is within the range of normal, right?

No.

he is a genuinely nice person

He is not.

In the context you've provided, "I want to take care of you" comes across as more disturbing than endearing.
posted by ambient2 at 1:07 AM on January 21, 2012 [1 favorite]


1) In general, when I'm upset with my guy (who I've been with for years), I usually try to say something like "I'm sure you didn't intend to come off this way, but when you [did x] it made me feel [y] because [z]". We don't fight a lot, but I have found that it's easier to communicate when I focus on stuff that he did rather than making assumptions about where he was coming from. No one's ever perfect in a relationship but this is generally the way I approach this stuff. But we mostly get along, this doesn't happen that often.

2) Most of the other stuff didn't strike me as weird, but I don't think the birth control thing is at all OK, especially if you've been dating for a couple of months. It's one thing for a dude to express a preference or maybe ask you about it one time, i.e. "Have you thought about going on hormonal birth control or getting an IUD? I don't like condoms so it would be cool to have another option." But that is not the sense that I get is what's happening here.

3) Another thing to think about: I don't know if it is a good sign that you feel like you need coping strategies for getting upset about stuff when the relationship is so new. But every relationship is different, and you are probably best placed to know if you're happy or not, obviously you've only written about the bad stuff here.
posted by SoftRain at 8:34 AM on January 21, 2012 [1 favorite]


You asked, "Also, this is within the range of normal, right? I have so much difficulty figuring out how people actually relate to each other."

I had a few thoughts on that.

" ... who says things like "How can I make you feel loved?" and "I want to take care of you." ..."

Fine. This is appropriate in a relationship, he's asking about you and your needs and wants and that's good. However, if "How can I ..." or "I want to ..." ever seems to be veering towards "This is how I am going to ..." then be aware of the possibility that his potential for insensitivity and selfishness that has already pinged on your radar is surfacing. He is then telling you what he thinks you want / need and as he has trouble working out what bothers people (another way of saying this might be that he doesn't care what bothers people) he might be surprised to find it doesn't agree with what you do actually want / need.

It can appear a bit controlling, if someone else thinks they know what is best for us and that is what they try to give us. Not all the time - sometimes it's the loving thing for someone to say, "OK, I'm going to step in and shoulder part of (Situation X / Issue Y) for a bit because I can see that you're tired / fraught / struggling and I would like to support you in that", but there's a difference there that I hope you can appreciate.

"We've talked a bit about this, and he told me to let him know when he does something to hurt me."

OK ... except as others have said, he's actually now placing the responsibility of policing his behaviour on you. I've had people say similar to me and at best it's a lazy way for people to go on doing what they want without having to consciously think about how that might be affecting others.

Remember, the onus is on him to maintain appropriate and relationship-worthy standards of behaviour (as, in exactly the same way, he should be able to expect you to - I'm not for one minute intimating you don't treat him well, just pointing out that in a good relationship there is a responsibility one to the other and willingly borne to behave well towards each other as much as possible).

This is how it generally is. You tell someone once or twice their behaviour is upsetting you and then they learn and don't do it again, or try very hard not to. So if you find you're going over the same areas again and again, pointing out the same or similar aspects of his behaviour that are upsetting you, then there's something wrong - they either don't listen or don't care. Either way, they don't respect.

And like others here, my own radar went off at how early these issues are ... well, becoming issues. Life shouldn't be this difficult for you, so early on in a relationship.

" ... I come from an abusive and dysfunctional background ..."

Does he know this? I ask because although I (nor anyone else here, apart from you) don't know him, and he may be the sweetest person in the world (if maybe somewhat emotionally lazy), there are unfortunately some people around who might try and exploit this aspect - exactly in the way you framed it, that they think you don't know what is "within the range of normal" and that they frankly don't have to try so hard around you. Which is shoddy and execrable, but some people are like that.
posted by Martha My Dear Prudence at 1:16 PM on January 21, 2012 [3 favorites]


This

He told the friend "You're not hungry" (when he was)

was trivial, right?

No it's not.

I read on, and the next parts

I got upset and he couldn't figure out why.
He made some stupid blanket statement about something (like "all x's are y's" -- when the truth is much more nuanced than that)
I started laughing, thinking it was a joke. He got annoyed and said that my laughter was "inappropriate".
He wants me to go on hormonal birth control or the IUD. I want him to use condoms - hormonal birth control messes me up and IUDs scare me. We discussed it and decided to use condoms for vaginal sex and have unprotected sex of other kinds. But he keeps bringing it up and it drives me crazy.

only confirmed that first impression.

Here's my honest opinion, bluntly expressed: I don't think you're actually in a relationship with him, because I don't think he is relating to you as a separate person.

By telling someone else "you're not hungry", he is claiming to know something he couldn't possibly know unless he shared a brain with them. In a literal sense, it's treating someone else like they were an extension of him.

And then I got upset and he couldn't figure out why. My guess is this: he wasn't upset, and if he sees you as part of him, why would you be claiming to have a feeling that he knows he doesn't have? If he's coming from the mindset I think he's in, it would probably have seemed to him like you were saying black was white.

He made some stupid blanket statement about something (like "all x's are y's" -- when the truth is much more nuanced than that) When people are in the mindset I'm talking about make hasty generalizations about x's, hate x's, wage war on x's, exterminate x's, force x's to wear burqas, force x's to work in sweatshops for 16 hours a day - they don't actually hate x's. They don't know anything about x's. The x's they're doing these things to are imaginary, and all those imaginary x's are indeed y, so the treatment x's get just seems like a natural consequence of being y. When someone in this mindset makes a hasty generalization, talking to them about "nuance" will not get through because you're talking about a set of real people, and they're talking about a figment of their imagination.

That's why I think you're not actually in a relationship with him. Or rather, you are in a relationship with him and he is in a relationship with a figment of his imagination - and you just keep getting in the way, which is when the conflict arises.

You can't actually have a relationship with him if he's in this mindset. You can have something that looks just like one, and it can seem to go very very well in many or most possible quantifiable terms. But on a fundamental level, it's always a contest, because one partner has a win-lose mentality (my choice of birth control vs. yours) and the other thinks it's a mutual exchange, and can't figure out how everything always comes out wrong. It comes out wrong because you're in a competition with someone who wants you to be the loser, because there's no such thing as an interaction in which one person doesn't win and the other person doesn't lose. They might say they grasp such a thing as a win-win mentality, and argue as if they had a very sophisticated understanding of the win-win mentality, but every single thing they do, think, live, and breathe is win-lose because, outside of that paradigm, they're a fish out of water.

Well okay. I can't see inside your guy's head either! But the way you describe him makes it look like you're experiencing the win-lose control game with you set up to become the loser. I strongly suggest you read Controlling People for a more thorough exposition of the issue.

It's great that you picked up on this. You must have a very sophisticated radar for when something is wrong. The control/win-lose mentality has been practically the norm and I do believe the Patricia Evans book is the first one to really describe the phenomenon; I haven't read anything like it before or since. Kudos for recognizing it.

And to answer your actual question, Evans recommends saying "What?" when someone says "Oh, you're not hungry." Hopefully, if they just have some bad habits, saying "what?" can wake them up.

If it seems like it's not working after a few weeks, though, I strongly recommend that you reconsider your options. Evans has also written books on verbal abuse and the one thing that keeps people hooked is the belief that if they can just find the right way to explain, to get through to their partner, then they'll understand and the relationship can go back to being fundamentally good. But it isn't.

I think you might be on the verge of learning something a lot of people do not learn. It might come at a price, i.e. you might have to cut your losses with him. But the return on your investment will last a lifetime - instead of having to spend a lifetime paying for it.

Speaking of which, for God's sake don't get pregnant.
posted by tel3path at 1:40 PM on January 22, 2012 [3 favorites]


I think it would be perfectly fair for you to use an IUD at his request.

Providing, of course, that he is willing to insert a suitably-sized construction nail into his urethra, and wear it for an equivalent length of time.

Tell him that it will make you feel loved, and cared-for. I'm sure he'll find that an adequate incentive.
posted by mie at 9:23 PM on January 22, 2012


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