I'm never wrong, you're never right
March 15, 2012 11:46 AM   Subscribe

is it a red flag if a person never thinks they're wrong?

I'm in a (good to great) relationship with a guy I love. He's funny, brilliant, interesting, and kind—after three years, I still think talking to him is the single best way I can spend my time, and think he's the hottest thing in pants.

HOWEVER. When we fight, it's terrible. I don't feel like we're people who love each other trying to reach a solution, I feel like he's just interested in winning or making me feel like crap. He very, very seldom owns his part in anything that ever goes wrong between us, like, he has done so maybe three times in three years. And I've started noticing that he interacts with the world this way, too—everything that goes wrong is always someone else's fault, never a result of something he did. Honest mistakes are interpreted as someone deliberately trying to screw him. Sometimes he tells me about a situation he ran into that day—an argument with a clerk somewhere, or something—expecting me to be indignant on his behalf, but even in his version of the events it always sounds to me like he misinterpreted/escalated a situation that could have been smoothed over easily.

He's not getting into fights or disrupting our lives with this tendency, but I'm starting to wonder if this is normal or not. I've always been someone who is quick to apologize/feel guilt, even when something isn't my fault, and I spend a lot of time thinking about other people's sides of things. I know this isn't necessarily good, either. But is the way my guy behaves just how confident, normal people behave? Or is it a red flag? If it's bad, do you have any ideas on how to broach this with him? I want our difficult interactions to be more successful, and I want his life to generally be less stressful, too.
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (64 answers total) 26 users marked this as a favorite
In my opinion, it's neither "right nor wrong" - it's just a matter of "this is how he is - can I live with it?"

If you can't, then you can't.

I know that's a really simple answer to really complex emotional question, but that really is my take on it.
posted by dotgirl at 11:51 AM on March 15, 2012 [5 favorites]

Massive red flag. How far will he go to shift blame? Is there a line he won't cross?
posted by Slackermagee at 11:52 AM on March 15, 2012 [4 favorites]

That is not so much a red flag as a marching band in red tunics and red caps, carrying block-long red banners that read "Stay the fuck away from this guy."

I'm sure he's a hoot to talk to, and yeah, confidence makes people sexy as hell, but he's going to make you feel like shit consistently now and forevermore.
posted by restless_nomad at 11:52 AM on March 15, 2012 [80 favorites]

Yes, I think this is potentially a big deal -- and I am one who almost never says DTMFA. The reason is the combination of his traits and yours; if you apologize reflexively, this will lead to a potentially large imbalance in your relationship that he will probably almost helplessly exploit. You should try to address this.

Perhaps you can abstract with him in the terms here.
posted by Clyde Mnestra at 11:52 AM on March 15, 2012 [3 favorites]

It's common enough that you might call it "normal," but that doesn't make it good. It's bad.

There are two ways to approach this that I can think of:

1. When he gets into a fight with you, you stay cool, you wait until he pulls a characteristic move, and you call him on it. You explain why it is bad.

2. You have a talk about this without any triggering incident, when he's not on the defensive.

The key is always to stay calm and focus on the problem, not the person.
posted by adamrice at 11:52 AM on March 15, 2012 [3 favorites]

I feel like he's just interested in winning or making me feel like crap.

If, when you're in an argument, and the first thing he says is the most hurtful thing he can think of, then yes, I'd say it's a red flag. You shouldn't be apologizing for when things don't go his way. At some point, he's going to have to know that not everything is going to work out in his favor. That's how life works.
posted by ThaBombShelterSmith at 11:53 AM on March 15, 2012 [1 favorite]

Sure, it's normal. Hundreds of millions of people are assholes.

Okay, that was flip. But this behavior is a huge part of the mindset of the biggest assholes I've ever known. And here's the thing -- unless he changes, he will never improve himself from how he is now. Because he doesn't see himself as needing to improve.
posted by Etrigan at 11:53 AM on March 15, 2012 [7 favorites]

This is NOT how confident people behave. Think about it -- confident people have enough confidence to know that if they're wrong now and then, that doesn't make them a bad person. It sounds like this guy doesn't have the confidence to believe "it's okay to be imperfect".

HAVE you tried broaching this with him in the past? You say that you've been together for three years; have you told him that you feel like he wants you to feel like crap when you fight? How has he reacted?....

As for how to broach this if you haven't: I'd start with a lot of "I feel when you" talk: "I feel like [foo] when you do [baz]". This isn't an accusation, this isn't a statement of him being wrong about something. It is a statement about YOU, and how YOU roll. He didn't know it, you're telling him, now he knows. Ta-da. At least - that's what he can tell HIMself. And that can open a dialogue.

Good luck.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 11:53 AM on March 15, 2012 [22 favorites]

I'm not saying this guy is an abuser, but even mild paranoia (thinking everyone is out to screw him) and defensiveness, plus the idea that you can make someone feel bad if they "deserve" it are a recipe for misery, and possibly abuse.

Not necessarily now, but if life gets hard and he needs someone to blame, well, he'll be willing to blame you and make you feel like shit. It's an awful quality in a partner.
posted by the young rope-rider at 11:54 AM on March 15, 2012 [7 favorites]

Been there, done that, never gets better. Leave before it does both of you in.
posted by mostly vowels at 11:54 AM on March 15, 2012 [2 favorites]

But is the way my guy behaves just how confident, normal people behave?

I can't tell you from "normal" but genuinely confident people have the confidence to 'fess up to their mistakes knowing that whatever happened isn't the end of the world. Insecure people, on the other hand, think confidence is believing they are infallible. Behavior like this guy's will eventually get him into some sort of trouble; it's just a matter of time.
posted by griphus at 11:55 AM on March 15, 2012 [5 favorites]

But is the way my guy behaves just how confident, normal people behave?

No. Confident people are not threatened by having their errors pointed out to them, when this is done respectfully. Confident people are wrong all the time, just like everybody else, but -- because they are confident in who they are and what they are worth -- they do not insist on living in a bubble of unreality in which their wrongness is hidden from them.

Your boyfriend sounds like the opposite of a confident person.

Or is it a red flag?

I don't know. It is a concern to you. And that's enough: you're the one who is in a relationship with this person. Your concern is valid: you're not making it up. You have reasons -- and probably good ones -- for being concerned. (For what it's worth, it would be a red flag to me if I were in a relationship with someone like this.)

If it's bad, do you have any ideas on how to broach this with him?

It's not likely to go well. This is something that he's doing because it benefits him in some fashion. This is the classic "how can I get my significant other to change something about themselves?" You can't.

On re-read, I notice that you describe yourself this way: I've always been someone who is quick to apologize/feel guilt, even when something isn't my fault, and I spend a lot of time thinking about other people's sides of things.

It might be worth thinking about whether you have overstated what this guy is doing because he's so very different to you. The picture you've painted is one of an obnoxious boor (sorry, but it's true), and, while there are no shortages of obnoxious boor out there, it might just be that he's drawing a sharp contrast to your usual way of being.

But if you conclude that the picture you've painted is accurate, you have your answers.
posted by gauche at 11:57 AM on March 15, 2012 [6 favorites]

Genuinely confident people can acknowledge being wrong, because it doesn't threaten their sense of self. Never being able to acknowledge or accept being wrong is not actually a sign of confidence, but of insecurity.
posted by scody at 12:01 PM on March 15, 2012 [14 favorites]

In my opinion, yes, this is a HUGE red flag.

If he never admits that his behavior plays a role in his interactions and relationships (including the one he has with you), he will never, ever, see any reason why he should change his outlook, attitude, or behavior. If everything is someone else's fault, he never has to take any responsibility, or develop any empathy or compassion. He gets to get his way all the time about everything and expect other people to accommodate him, and if they don't do so he doesn't have to think about himself or examine whether or not he was being reasonable or rational, he gets to throw up his hands and say "everyone ELSE is wrong!". It's a great schtick for selfish, immature people who want followers and servants, not partners.

OF COURSE his behavior impacts his iterations and relationships with other people! And how he chooses to interpret the intentions of others plays a huge role too. If he's not willing or able to acknowledge that he's part of the equation and has the ability (and sometimes responsibility as a reasonable and rational human) to change too, that's a huge, huge problem.

It's not confidence, it's not okay behavior. It likely means he's either a) arrogant and selfish or b) extremely insecure and selfish. Either way, this is not a good foundation for a partnership that's not entirely composed of you doing all the work and accommodation to meet his needs and expectations.
posted by Kpele at 12:01 PM on March 15, 2012 [4 favorites]

That is not how confident, normal people act. People who are confident are confident enough to recognize their mistakes and admit them to themselves. If they're strong, they're also confident enough to admit them to other people, but even if they aren't that strong, they should still be able to back away from their mistakes.

It sounds at the very least like your beau needs to learn that one should never attribute to malice what can be explained by indifference or incompetence (and, sometimes, insanity). Most people have few enemies, though acting the way you describe is a good way to acquire new ones. The fact that he has, rarely, admitted an error is a plus, but not much in the face of all the counterexamples. He might benefit from counseling, but whether he would be willing to do it depends on him, not you.

In a certain perverse sense, it's good that he doesn't act this way only with you; it doesn't seem that he's being controlling with you, but rather, with the world as a whole. On the other hand, you need to gauge whether you can stand this behavior for the foreseeable future.

If I were you, I'd send your question to my favorite advice columnist, Carolyn Hax at the Washington Post, either by email or as a question for her Friday live chat. I'd love to see what she and the rest of the peanut gallery have to say.
posted by brianogilvie at 12:02 PM on March 15, 2012

No, this is the way people who are assholes in arguments behave. Is it normal? Well, it's common. But as everyone has said, that doesn't make it good, and that doesn't make it something you have to put up with.

At least one of the top marriage and relationship researchers (I think it's John Gottman, but I might be wrong) has said that one key factor in the success or failure of relationships is whether the parties can argue with each other fairly and respectfully. It sounds like your guy isn't good at that, and he might need to learn those skills.
posted by Sidhedevil at 12:04 PM on March 15, 2012 [2 favorites]

After reading your description of this guy, the first word that came to my mind was "manchild".

This guy's a manchild.
posted by Evernix at 12:05 PM on March 15, 2012 [3 favorites]

But is the way my guy behaves just how confident, normal people behave?

No, this is how narcissistic assholes behave.
posted by elizardbits at 12:05 PM on March 15, 2012 [14 favorites]

Just another vote for yes, HUGE RED FLAG. Do you really want to spend your romantic time and energy on someone who is more concerned about their ego's well-being than yours?
posted by smirkette at 12:06 PM on March 15, 2012 [1 favorite]

Rethink your definition of "kind"
posted by MangyCarface at 12:07 PM on March 15, 2012

…I feel like he's just interested in winning or making me feel like crap. He very, very seldom owns his part in anything that ever goes wrong between us…he interacts with the world this way, too—everything that goes wrong is always someone else's fault, never a result of something he did. Honest mistakes are interpreted as someone deliberately trying to screw him.

yes, this would be a big red flag to me. if a person's default when he doesn't get his way is to make the other party feel like crap, that is a problem. when he can't acknowledge the role he has played in a situation, that is a problem. someone who never believes he is in the wrong never learns—and that is a problem.

look, everything else about this guy may be the cat's pajamas for you but his inability to own up to himself is not going to go away without some major self-work—which is not going to happen if he never believes he is wrong about anything. in fact, this is a trait that will only become magnified the more years you spend with this guy. maybe you are cool with it (altho, if you are coming here to ask about it, you're probably not), but i couldn't be.

But is the way my guy behaves just how confident, normal people behave?

no, as others have pointed out, this is not how confident ppl behave. confident ppl are secure enough in themselves to acknowledge when they are wrong, and to learn from it to change and improve themselves.
posted by violetk at 12:10 PM on March 15, 2012 [2 favorites]

Count me in for a red flag. Think of how he will be with your kids, if you want to have them with someone.
posted by Currer Belfry at 12:11 PM on March 15, 2012 [1 favorite]

You should talk to him about it.

BTW, has he ever apologized to you for something he's done that has hurt you?

If he never apologizes after an argument AND resists maturing towards a more realistic way of perceiving people's motivations and engaging with the world, then yeah, it's a flag.

I think you have to open a dialogue with him to get your answers. We have no way to know if he grow up when it comes to this bad issue or not.
posted by jbenben at 12:16 PM on March 15, 2012 [1 favorite]

Confident people don't have to swing their weight around, because they know it's there and have no insecurities about proving that to anyone. That's pretty much what confidence is.

What you have here is someone who:

1. Always needs to be right, and
2. Always needs someone else to be the problem

That's not confidence, it's the opposite. He sounds immature. You could try telling him about this sometime in the most non-confrontational terms you can muster but I wouldn't be surprised if he takes it as an attack. If he does, then there isn't much you can do. It's sweet that you want his life to be less stressful but the problem is that he's the reason for most of his own stress.

No one can tell you exactly where you personally should draw the line; I know that if I were dating someone who exhibited this behavior, I wouldn't stick around very long. For you, it may be different. You need to ask yourself, "What if this never changes?" If you think that would be a dealbreaker - and no one's saying you have to think it is - then you should try to bring it up gently and calmly a few times and if it doesn't go anywhere then you should probably bounce. If you feel like it wouldn't be a huge dealbreaker then you should try to bring it up gently and calmly a few times and if it doesn't go anywhere then oh well, he's still hot and a sparkling conversationalist.
posted by FAMOUS MONSTER at 12:21 PM on March 15, 2012

As witness the 20 or so people here giving you advice that they are sure is 'right', our brains as humans are set up to always think that we are right, and that the data that we are currently in possession of is enough to draw a correct conclusion.

That said, I think (though i could be wrong) that the issue here isn't that he's "always right", but that he's let his ego run more of his life than you are comfortable with. I would guess that his "overconfidence" may be hiding some fear or insecurity.

You can choose whether to stay with him and be compassionate but firm about it, or whether to go, but my thing for this would be to make sure that you're looking as close to the 'root' of the issue as possible. Not ever admitting to being 'wrong' and framing oneself as a victim of circumstance is a symptom, not a problem.
posted by softlord at 12:22 PM on March 15, 2012 [1 favorite]

My ex was like this. She is now... my ex.
posted by Guy_Inamonkeysuit at 12:33 PM on March 15, 2012 [4 favorites]

Red Flag. To err is human. We all mess up. When you say "I feel like he's just interested in winning or making me feel like crap.", that takes it to a different level.
posted by WestChester22 at 12:36 PM on March 15, 2012

I'm starting to wonder if this is normal or not

I'll join everyone else and say no, it's not. I know one person like this in my life - thankfully just the one - and he infuriates me. He can have interesting conversations about things, and he's not an awful human being, but he is completely incapable of taking responsibility for his own actions and behaviors. It's almost as if he doesn't even realize he's done anything wrong. And if someone were to point out to him the specific thing he did wrong, he would say, "Well, I didn't do/say that. You're misinterpreting me. That's not what happened." He has a hundred tactics to divert attention from himself and rewrite the history of his actions.

I have yet to figure out how to deal successfully with these kinds of people.
posted by lholladay at 12:37 PM on March 15, 2012 [3 favorites]

My therapist said something to me that might be helpful here. He said, "your brain can lie to you. Your brain lies to you all the time, in fact. But your body never lies."

What he meant by that is that you can rationalize all kinds of things. You can live in a world in which your boyfriend's behavior is totally acceptable because it's just how confident, normal people act. If you want to, you can convince yourself of that. Or you can convince yourself of something else.

But you feel like he's just interested in winning. You feel guilt. You feel bad when he does these things.

Those feelings are you body telling you truth, which is that you feel bad. Whether it's normal or not, red flag or not, something you can rationalize or explain away or even live with is your brain telling you a story. Your body doesn't even know how to lie.
posted by gauche at 12:41 PM on March 15, 2012 [35 favorites]

I think it's good that you are someone in his life who can point out what other people might be feeling/thinking. Sometimes he will value this input, other times he will be annoyed by it.

I don't think it's a red flag the way people are making it out to be, it sounds like you are two very different personality types that tend to get along very well. Of course there will be times when you don't see eye to eye, and the longer you are together, the more each of you will have to compromise to make sure the other has room to breathe and be him/herself.

I dunno if it's worth broaching as An Issue. Just be mindful and when you catch yourself trying to remind him about how the other person might have felt, try to ask yourself why he came to you with this story in the first place. What is he looking for? What are you comfortable giving? Get through it as considerately as possible, and then move on to something else that you can both relate to more easily.
posted by hermitosis at 12:42 PM on March 15, 2012 [1 favorite]

Contrary opinion here. I'm like you, my spouse (of 19 years) is like him. This bothered me too until I realized my spouse apologized differently. Rather than saying "sorry, I was wrong", I get a mice dinner, or thoughtful gift and most important of all I begin to notice an effort to change their behavior to address whatever the fight was about.
I do think its related to confidence issues, and I do think its a flag, but it doesn't have to be an omg red flag run thing.
posted by forforf at 12:43 PM on March 15, 2012 [2 favorites]

I have a sister who is like this to the Nth degree. It is not normal and it is beyond exhausting. I've related my view to her on more than a few occasions using more than a few different tones and I might as well have been trying to teach a cat to speak Arabic.

The likelihood of a reasonably happy, successful relationship with this person is about nil.
posted by ambient2 at 12:43 PM on March 15, 2012 [1 favorite]

I get a mice dinner

The day has come - cats have learned to type, and of course the first place they turn up is askme!

Also, not normal. And really, really annoying.
posted by hazyjane at 12:47 PM on March 15, 2012 [11 favorites]

It would be a huge red flag for me, and it sounds like it is for you, too.

What softlord said about this behavior being more of a symptom than a problem rings true for me. I have three people in my life like this, and two of them have fairly severe issues with anxiety and insecurity (rooted in a history of abuse) that I'm pretty sure contribute heavily to this sort of behavior. Of course, it's not necessarily this; the third was just coddled his whole life by a family who refused to believe he could do any wrong constantly bailed him out of trouble so he never had to deal with the consequences of his actions, so he "grew up" (hah) believing that things should go his way all the time and taking it highly personally whenever they didn't.

But regardless of the source, and regardless of whether it's "normal" behavior, the important thing is whether or not it's something you are willing to deal with. It sounds like you value him and the relationship enough to try to make it work, so I encourage you to do so. You may find out that it's just a matter of drastically different communication styles, or that it's a symptom of a problem he's willing to work on. But if he continues to disregard your feelings (which is the big red flag for me), then he's probably not the sort of guy you want to continue sharing your life and your heart with.
posted by rhiannonstone at 12:48 PM on March 15, 2012

This is a person uncomfortable with himself and unless he changes his ways there will always be tension. It is a very bad sign.
posted by caddis at 12:49 PM on March 15, 2012

Yes, it's a red flag, but it's also something he can work on, if he realizes it's a problem. He may not. To be fair, how he is reacting to these situations might be a result of a bad family dynamic, where the other family members "fought to win", or bad experiences in his past that have now conditioned him not to trust others, so that he assumes malicious intent when there is one.

This isn't all that uncommon, either. I had a friend who used to get mad at his wife because she had dinner ready when he got home from work! This guy didn't like to eat until he'd had a little time to de-stress after work, he was used to eating late, his Mom never even started dinner until his Dad came home, etc. Whatever, dude. Fine. You like to eat late.

But he'd get annoyed when his wife had dinner waiting when he came home, and instead of explaining where he was coming from, he'd decide she was inconsiderate, that she didn't even want to talk to him when he came home, that she was rushing him through dinner so she could watch her favorite TV shows, just basicalky a lot of crap. And he'd never actually said, "Hey, I don't like to eat this early," in so many words! He just grumbled passive-aggressively.

Which I felt was just ridiculous, because if I have cooked a hot dinner for someone like I'm frigging June Cleaver, I expect the response to be, "Hey, thanks for going to all this trouble so I didn't have to make myself something to eat!"

Anyway, guy's not my friend any more, because honestly he was kind of an arrogant douche, and not surprisingly his wife left him in the end.

Your SO's attitude has a certain arrogance to it, too. Is he really that important, that people go out of their way just to screw him over?

You might try seeing how he responds if, joking around, you point out that everything isn't always about him.. If he can laugh about it, realize he's getting worked up over nothing, there's hope for him yet.

But if he doesn't realize how annoying and self-destructive this tendency is, that's definitely a HUGE red flag.
posted by misha at 12:53 PM on March 15, 2012 [2 favorites]

I would say I am a confident person. I'm not an expert or crucial to my field, but I get glowing feedback from my supervisors and I compare very favorably to my peers. Very plainly, I get results. The reason I am confidant is because I know where my skills lay, but I also know my defeciencies. There are some things I am not good at, and I have made mistakes that negatively effected my projects but I took the time to stop and understand my mistakes and picki apart why I made them. I can be confidant because I own my mistakes and wrongness. I know what I can and can't do, and I know that through accepting criticism. If someone doesn't handle criticism their confidance is false because how can they possibly know the limits of their ability? So it's not confidance, it's weakness and insecurity.

Someone who needs to be right all the time and can't own their own mistakes is someone who can never be completely competent.

I know of a person similar to this, who just can't be wrong and is so confidant in their own abilities that they can't understand why things fail because they can't fathom the part that they played. People like that generally destroy their resources and don't know how to ask for help.

There is also a matter of an internal vs. external locus of control. Does he control his actions or does he think that other people control his actions. External locus of control is a massive piece of red fabric that could be a flag if it wasn't larger than the Atlantic Ocean.
posted by fuq at 12:56 PM on March 15, 2012 [2 favorites]

And I've started noticing that he interacts with the world this way, too—everything that goes wrong is always someone else's fault, never a result of something he did. Honest mistakes are interpreted as someone deliberately trying to screw him. Sometimes he tells me about a situation he ran into that day—an argument with a clerk somewhere, or something—expecting me to be indignant on his behalf, but even in his version of the events it always sounds to me like he misinterpreted/escalated a situation that could have been smoothed over easily.

This is your red flag. Even if he was still playing nice with you, this would be a very serious issue.

Unless he is in his early 20s or recently went through a major change that undermined his confidence, I would not expect him to change. And even then I wouldn't have high expectations for growth.

This is one of those things, like feeling free to lash out and be loud when you're angry, that the rest of us should always always always avoid.
posted by Lesser Shrew at 1:08 PM on March 15, 2012 [4 favorites]

My number one dating rule:Do not date men who cannot acknowledge their own flaws and/or admit when they are wrong. They will never change b/c they don't see a need to. Everything is always someone else's fault (usually yours).

A solid, stable, lasting relationship is based on how the two of you deal with the tough times. If you can't see eye-to-eye, if he can't even consider how he factors into any potential problems that may arise, you're sort of doomed.

I dated a guy like this for two years. Our negative interactions were a nightmare because he *never* admitted when he was responsible for a problem. Eventually, I stopped mentioning my very serious grievances to him because I was tired of arguing and feeling like I wasn't being heard. He made me seem like I was irrational or crazy (see: gaslighting) for confronting him about very serious issues.

People like this lack a very important character trait: empathy. If he cannot see things from outside of his own perspective, you are in for a world of headaches and heartaches.

That doesn't mean that there's no hope, though. Talk to him, bring it up, tell him you love him and that you're really concerned about the way you two are communicating. Give him a few days to think it over. If he refuses to consider it, he's made the choice for you.
posted by chara at 1:15 PM on March 15, 2012 [22 favorites]

YES and a big YES. The worst cause for this is a lack of conscience at all. Cold blooded is one word that would come to mind. In your case maybe he is not but I would be very very wary of such a person
posted by pakora1 at 1:28 PM on March 15, 2012 [1 favorite]

I would recommend you hold off on calling it a red flag, until you take the time to sit down with him (not during an argument) to say "Hey, SO, it's been three years, and I still think talking to you is the best use of my time, and that you're the hottest thing in pants. However, there's a thing you do, and you've been doing it for three years now, and I want to talk to you about it to see if it is something you're aware of. It seems to me that, generally, you..." and then let it out.

It might be a wake-up call for him, and something that triggers thoughtfulness and eventual change. Or, it might start an argument, with him getting defensive and accusing you of making it up or seeing things or trying to find a reason to break up with him.

If it's the former, you're good. If it is the latter, that is your red flag.
posted by davejay at 1:32 PM on March 15, 2012 [6 favorites]

Or he might realize you are going to cause trouble if he behaves this way and try to cover until you stop bothering him.

It can be hard to understand how your behavior plays into how people treat you and how you interact. It's pretty easy to see how someone views the world, though. If this guy thinks the world is wrong and he's right all the time (Sarah Palin does this, you may have noticed) then the future is not bright.
posted by Lesser Shrew at 1:50 PM on March 15, 2012 [1 favorite]

For me, here's the thing: it really doesn't matter if we think it's a red flag or not. It's your relationship and you're allowed the right to not be okay with someone's behavior (or hygiene/jokes/style/way of kissing, etc).

What matters is that you've got a little inner feeling telling you that you're not happy with something your SO is doing, and you should listen to that voice.

Whether or not you DTMFA now or not is your call, but I'd start with listening to and then subsequently respecting that little voice that's saying, "I'm not happy here."
posted by kinetic at 1:51 PM on March 15, 2012 [3 favorites]

Seconding Etrigan. I've learned that the kind of man who's never wrong is toxic, and to be avoided at all costs. Bertrand Russell's famous quote about the cocksure comes to mind.
posted by Rash at 2:07 PM on March 15, 2012

This can definitely be a bad thing, but I used to date a guy like your boyfriend, and he changed. Slowly but surely, but by the time we broke up (for totally unrelated, circumstantial reasons), he was a much kinder, more patient, and less defensive person. So, idk.
posted by stoneandstar at 2:18 PM on March 15, 2012

My father is like this, only add in the maddening complication that he believes that Jesus speaks to him. So, not only is he never wrong - but he can't possibly BE wrong because he's receiving instructions straight from G-d.

When he is actually objectively totally balls to the wall wrong the mental gymnastics he uses to justify himself are nothing short of insane.

He and I stopped talking for other reasons, mostly to do with the aforementioned Jesus chit-chat problem. I have a son now, and my father can't even apologize to me in order to see his grandson.

If he's anywhere even close to the kind of "I'm always right forever and ever" person my father is, this guy ain't gonna change. Why would he? In order to change, he'd have to have something that he views as needing changing and nothing he does needs to change because he's never, ever wrong.

I put up with for years because it's my father, and like I said - our break had other causes - but holy carp is my life ever a lot less exhausting not dealing with that kind of bullshit.
posted by sonika at 2:19 PM on March 15, 2012

So I am this dude. Or I used to be. My big problem was that if I admitted I was wrong, that made me a *bad person* and the world was going to end and my boyfriend was going to leave me, and I would lose my job and wind up homeless in a gutter. My boyfriend made it clear that flip-out response wasn't cool and *that* was going to be the problem, not me being wrong about whether Target sold live Christmas trees. (Yes, that is crazy. Yes, I have been that anxious.)

So anyways, we worked it out. We made it a bit of a joke sometimes and he told me I was wonderful other times, and I took responsibility for myself, and you know, it's a lot better.

All of which is to say, if you really think he is wonderful, this may be fixable, depending on why he is acting that way. And talking to him is the only way to find out. If you think he is worth it, do that. It is certainly possible to change.

But if you are asking if you are entitled to break up with him because it bothers you, then yes. You are allowed to break up with whomever you want for any reason or for none.
posted by dame at 2:29 PM on March 15, 2012 [5 favorites]

Well. . . my father is never, ever wrong, and my parents have been married remarkably happily for 45 years now. Even the kind of "I feel" approaches detailed above don't work with my Dad -- he will happily deny that you feel something if he doesn't think it's what you should be feeling.

So, how does my mother stand him? It's a mystery for the ages, I suppose. He accords her a great deal of respect in general; he's highly inclined to talk her up, praise her, describe how wonderful, brilliant, and successful she is. He enjoys her company and conversation and wants to be around her. And when they're at odds about something where he just won't budge, my mother digs in her heels and goes mule-stubborn.

I don't want to hold up their relationship as something healthy -- they both have their issues, issues, issues (gesundheit!) -- but they have certainly made it work.

But I will say that I've known my father for nearly 40 years now, and, well, he has changed. Very, very slowly.

Is it satisfactory to you to think that your boyfriend might start acknowledging his flaws when you're both in your late 60s or later? Are you willing to match his always-rightness with your own semi-functional strategies? Are the mechanisms of negotiation present in your relationship satisfactory to you, and are you happy with the outcomes?
posted by endless_forms at 2:29 PM on March 15, 2012 [4 favorites]

Yes and no. Being right can be a self defense mechanism. I know someone like that and it was really frustrating. Then I changed things. When they were in that defensive space and needing to be right, I would start talking to them more gently, with more sympathy (not pity, mind you). What I found was that then they didn't need to be so committed to being right, as it would still be safe if they were wrong. It would really change the conversation, they would open up, and I liked being able to support them that way.

That being said, there is a difference between someone being stubborn about being right and someone trying to make you feel bad about it.

Have the conversation with him when you are not fighting, when you both are in a good space. Ask him his input on solving the problem as well, that way he has the chance to contribute, which will allow him to not feel so defensive and have to be right.

See how this goes. Try the conversation a couple of times. I think at the best, you both can come to an agreement on how to fight, at worst, it can really show you if he is at all interested in change.
posted by Vaike at 2:48 PM on March 15, 2012 [3 favorites]

Hmm, I'm a bit more hesitant to holler dealbreaker and red flag like some of the posters here. People are a complex melange, not totalities, and I think there can - like you say - be much good in a person. Perhaps I feel this way because significant people in my life are similar to your boyfriend - and I love them, and they love me, and yes, they have changed over the years.

The people I know that are like this generally have very low self-esteems. They have modeled a lot of their interactions of the world from a parent, and that same parent has often belittled and/or marginalised them/their feelings throughout their lives.

They fight, because they've had to fight. They are suspicious because they have been emotionally sabotaged at an early stage of life, and it has become a self-reinforcing cycle. They are, internally, often a bit scared.

Things that have helped change this behaviour: Making the person feel safe. Setting firm boundaries and sticking to them, as in "I won't be talking to you at all, until you apologise." Letting them know that forgiveness is ample, and that apologising is easier than not, etc.

It's up to you whether this is worth it, for you - but, without knowing this person beyond your description - I would say that it does not automatically make this person an arsehole, a potential abuser (I mean, really, we are all potential abusers if we're gonna go down this road on the basis of a small ask.me question), and a terrible partner for you. Dealing with this kind of person will require its own strategies, and maybe they'll never change. Maybe they will too. You're the person best-equipped to make that assessment.
posted by smoke at 3:19 PM on March 15, 2012 [3 favorites]

oh god, your post made my blood run cold because this is *exactly* how my ex behaved. she was exactly how you described your partner, to a t: confident appearance, and everyone else (including *me* if she disagreed with me) was either an "idiot," "pathetic" or out to get her in some way. maddening, belittling, stressful to be around.

it was only once i was away from it that i realized what sad poison it was. once i started having relationships with *actual adults*, i was so fucking delighted to realize that what you have described above is the exception, NOT THE NORM.

please get out -- i promise that true confidence is a lot sexier than this adult temper tantrum throwing. trust me. feel free to msg me.
posted by crawfo at 6:27 PM on March 15, 2012 [1 favorite]

Be prepared for him to say, "This is just how I am."

I recommend replying with, "This is just how I am, too. I'm someone who feels really uncomfortable with this behavior."
posted by alphanerd at 6:45 PM on March 15, 2012 [3 favorites]

I agree with people who say red flag. Please memail me.
posted by guster4lovers at 8:03 PM on March 15, 2012

It's a red flag that he needs to change or go, but from someone who used to have to win in arguments with S.O.s , he can change if he's willing. I had a couples counselor who was effective at showing us our partner's point of view to teach us to recognize and clear up misunderstandings. I also had an S.O. who was willing to remind and forgive me.
posted by morganw at 8:27 PM on March 15, 2012

Look, he's not necessarily an abuser or asshole but he might just be immature or insecure. I know a lot of guys who simply cannot be wrong because they are men and men are right. They're not bad people, they have many good qualities, I have seen them be kind and generous and go above and beyond for their SOs and family.

But they cannot let a woman be right, even if she is, because she's a woman. To get them to admit she's right is like pulling teeth. And everyone else is to blame for everything bad happening to them. And people are always trying to get them to do things they don't want to do. Rant, rant, rant.

So - immaturity and insecurity mostly. This doesn't mean it can't become a bigger problem in the future, because he certainly does sound like he has some control issues and this is where things like that stem from, but he doesn't sound like a horribly manipulative person from what you've described.

Now - whether you want to put up with it is up to you - I'm not quite sure people like this change per se, they tend to mellow as they age, though - but I would never date someone like this.

I think admitting you've effed up when you have is one of the greatest things a person can do. It shows great maturity and empathy and a desire to connect with/reach out to another person as a human being.
posted by mleigh at 8:44 PM on March 15, 2012 [1 favorite]

I feel like the make-or-break times for a relationship are specifically when things go wrong for you and when you disagree, and fight. I mean... anyone can go on a sunny picnic together, you know? For as long as the picnic lasts. But it's the bad times that test us, and bad times come for all of us eventually; and more so as we have kids, get older, sicker, etc. If in times of stress or anger you not only can't count on him to work with you on problem solving (which generally involves acknowledging such mistakes as were made); but he's actively trying to "make you feel like crap"? I wouldn't sign up for a lifetime of it, personally.
posted by fingersandtoes at 9:17 PM on March 15, 2012 [4 favorites]

Seems to me like the problem isn't how he acts in your fights, it's that you are getting in fights often enough that it is a problem.
posted by smackfu at 6:06 AM on March 16, 2012

I feel like all the people who are saying it's not a red flag, have never dated someone like this. It is the worst of red flags, and as many people above have already said, I have an ex that was like this. Emphasis on ex. And just reading your description brings back that awful sick dread feeling I felt so often when I was with him. Chara said it exactly as I was going to, if I could favorite that one a hundred times I would. And I agree with some others who are suggesting that this is a common trait of abusive people, and they will gaslight you, etc.

The reason I was so afraid to break up with him, once I figured out that I needed to, was I knew his reaction would be awful. I was afraid he'd throw all the blame on me, refuse to take responsibility, and turn on me. Call me names, accuse me of shit, tell me what a terrible person I was an how I ruined his life. But I hoped, maybe I was just exaggerating to myself- would he REALLY do all that? Really? So I finally broke up with him. And . . . he did do all that. And more. He harassed me and I had to move and change my number after a year of it. Because he had no empathy and couldn't understand my need to be left alone. Anyway, what I'm getting at is- first of all, if you're also afraid to break up with him for similar reasons . . . that's a red flag. And secondly, that if you're going to do it, it's better to just do it quick like ripping off a band aid. If you think he's going to be horrible when you break up, just get it over with as soon as possible so you can start dealing with the fallout. Because it's not going to get easier the longer you wait.

So, sorry. Not to be a pessimist here. But as everyone else is saying, this sort of thing does not really improve over time. In my experience it only got worse because I just started letting him get away with more and more egregious stuff just to avoid fighting, until I felt like I was losing my mind. He was also fun and gorgeous and I thought I loved him, but I just couldn't take it. And I have to say, although it's been hard I've never actually regretted it. I feel relief now, and when I think back to how fucked up it was I know I did the right thing by leaving. I'm glad it's behind me.
posted by Argyle_Sock_Puppet at 7:06 AM on March 16, 2012 [5 favorites]

I was married to someone who had this trait. Notice I said was.

Are you hearing phrases like:

"When am I going to catch a break?"
"Why are they doing this to me?"
"Why do they always make it so difficult for me?"
"Once again, nobody listened to ME."
"If only they'd realize I can solve xyz problem!"

I did. My tolerance for it wore off once I realized it was a personality trait fueled by insecurity, not a situational phase.
posted by ImproviseOrDie at 10:15 AM on March 16, 2012 [1 favorite]

I married someone like this in '96. We divorced in 2001. She got therapy. I moved back in. Things are good. YMMV!
posted by Mr. Yuck at 10:31 AM on March 16, 2012

America's prisons are populated with people like this.

So are our C-suites. Ours is not a perfect system.

This guy's problems are his problems, OP, they don't have to be yours
posted by Lesser Shrew at 1:14 PM on March 16, 2012

I would read "Games People Play" by Earne (sp?) and quickly return to my adult ego state!
posted by misspony at 2:47 PM on March 16, 2012

Would avoid.
posted by ead at 11:17 PM on March 16, 2012

Your partner feels as if the only way he can be "one up" is for others to be "one down." He would rather win than be loving toward you.

Why is this acceptable to you? Yes, discuss your feelings with him, but remember, you are the only person you can change.

Recommended: Men Who Hate Women and the Women Who Love Them: When Loving Hurts and You Don't Know Why
posted by macinchik at 10:21 PM on March 18, 2012

« Older How do I charge for work as a starter illustrator...   |   Help me make my wife like rice! Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.