My bf always asks if I'm okay, and it's frustrating.
May 3, 2015 1:13 PM   Subscribe

I don't like being asked on such a regular basis (five times or more a day) if I'm okay. I just want to go about my normal activities and feel my normal range of emotions without having to be self-conscious about it. I know he means well, but I feel like if I'm not always smiling and outwardly placid -- like if I'm trying to find something in the house or concentrating intently on writing an email -- then something is wrong, the kind of wrong that I suddenly have to open up and talk about to placate his need to know if I'm okay. 98 percent of the time, I am fine. I'm not a naturally perky person, and I'm a bit introverted so my inner life is important to me. I've mentioned all this to him several times. How do I get him to stop?
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (42 answers total) 12 users marked this as a favorite
You've already mentioned it to him several times and he hasn't stopped so...maybe he's not the guy for you. It sounds like you live together, so that sucks, but if you're this miserable and he's not changing, it might be time for a change. You can't really make other people do things, or stop doing things. It's pretty much up to them.

That all said, if you're the type to have big screaming blowups, you could try a big screaming blowup where you basically yell at him about how much you hate. this. particular. habit. and that you've asked him a million times to stop and JUST STOP ASKING ME IF I'M OK, I'M A GROWN ADULT, AND I WILL INFORM YOU IF I AM NOT OKAY, FOR THE LOVE OF CHRIST. PLEASE STOP, etc. etc. you get the drift.

That might help. But really, you might just want to move on.
posted by internet fraud detective squad, station number 9 at 1:18 PM on May 3, 2015 [7 favorites]

Have you asked him why he does this? To run one possibility, perhaps he grew up in a household where a family member had a hair trigger temper which required him to be constantly on guard by reading facial cues in order to get out of the way in time. Now he's in a relationship where he doesn't have to do that but the habit lingers. If that's the case, responding to his queries brusquely is going to ratchet up his anxiety, not lessen it.

Anyway, learn why he's doing it to help work it out with him.
posted by jamaro at 1:22 PM on May 3, 2015 [91 favorites]

Have you asked him why he does this? Does he have a history of abuse in his family, or is he a super extrovert who doesn't have a lot of experience with introverts?
posted by Hermione Granger at 1:23 PM on May 3, 2015 [1 favorite]

Be around him less. See him for dates after you've had time to unwind from work, get in the mood to socialize, and find your keys. If he's just...around while you're doing mundane life tasks, perhaps you're seeing too much of each other.
posted by quincunx at 1:26 PM on May 3, 2015 [2 favorites]

Would it be less annoying to you if it weren't those words, or if it weren't a distraction from what you're in the middle of?

Like maybe you can meet him halfway and come up with some nonverbal signal for "situation nominal," so if he feels like he needs to check in with you, he can for example make a ticking sound and you can tick back at him to indicate things are fine, or whatever. (Of course, if it's the reassurance-seeking itself that bugs you, this won't make it better.)
posted by LobsterMitten at 1:26 PM on May 3, 2015 [3 favorites]

"Sweetheart, I've told you I don't like to be asked. From now on, when you ask, I'm going to be silent and not respond. And I promise, if there is something wrong and I want to discuss, you'll be the first to know."

Your silence wil train him out of the habit.

My guess is he's doing it subconsciously as a conversation starter because an abundance of silence from someone else is a sign, somehow, to him, of discontentment.
posted by slateyness at 1:27 PM on May 3, 2015 [5 favorites]

Following LobsterMitten, have you tried giving him a squeeze (or just any kind of touch) or a smile? It does mean breaking concentration for a moment, but it might be less irritating than having to verbally explain yourself all the time. (Maybe just patting him on the arm while you're doing x would help. Does he really fret if you're not smiling all the time, or does it maybe just feel that way?)
posted by cotton dress sock at 1:29 PM on May 3, 2015 [6 favorites]

I did this once in a relationship. It was a bad relationship; my SO was continuously obliquely disapproving (this was later verified), inscrutable, and never upfront. As a consequence, I ended up hyper-vigilant and felt like he was ‘not OK’ all the time, even when he was not directing his discontent/ introspection at me. I’d been sort of trained as a child to continuously scan my environment for signs I was failing someone (dysfunctional/ abusive family, volatile and explosive mother, dad co-dependent and all too willing to use the kids as scapegoats when he was my mum’s target), so I slipped into this pattern easily.

After the above relationship ended, that over-apologetic, reassurance-seeking behavior spilled into all of my relationships for a while. Strangely, I was cured (mostly) by my driving instructor; she had a serious word with me and told me she will let me know, explicitly, if something is up. At all other times, if she didn’t explicitly mentioned issues, it was because everything was fine and she was quiet/ frowned/ whatever for other reasons.

It took a few reminders (and it was hard – seeking reassurance had become reflex), but after a while I managed to re-program myself on this. She never lost her patience with me though, and was incredibly consistent (great instructor, too).

It’s possible that boyfriend also comes from an anxiety-provoking background (family, relationship) and can’t shake the habit on his own. What about having a serious conversation with him and reassuring him you will always let him know if something is up, and at all other times he needs to control himself?
posted by miorita at 1:34 PM on May 3, 2015 [38 favorites]

Could you give him some guidance about what you would like him to do instead? I agree with jamaro that this sounds like anxious behavior from someone who grew up having to monitor the emotional temperature of those around him just to keep things on an even keel. So it's care and anxiety driving it, and is probably something that is pretty deep seated and will take some practice to get over.

So you've made it clear what you don't want him to do, but he may not have the life experience he needs to know what to do instead. Something like "Hey when I'm working on the computer, I need a 20 minute block to really concentrate. Could you wait to ask me things until then?" or "If you're feeling worried, do you want to give me a little squeeze on my shoulder or on my hand? I can give you a little smile to let you know things are ok, and it won't break my concentration."
posted by goggie at 1:35 PM on May 3, 2015 [4 favorites]

"Hey bf, I know you're only doing this because you care about me, but I'm not a naturally perky person, and I'm a bit introverted. Please stop asking me how I am. I'll be sure to let you know if I'm not okay."

Then smile, hug, or whatever you guys do to show there are no hard feelings, and move on with both of your days!
posted by neeta at 1:37 PM on May 3, 2015 [1 favorite]

Ask him if he's okay every three minutes until he gets why it's annoying. Set a silent reminder on your computer or phone. If he's doing it out of habit or boredom then this should point out the issue. Yes, this is passive aggressive but you have already been direct.
posted by fluffy battle kitten at 1:38 PM on May 3, 2015 [3 favorites]

Silly, but worked for us: the answer to the question is a number between 1 and 10. 1 for everything is fine; the higher the number, the more distress. The number means how many hugs or kisses you want from the asker.
posted by meijusa at 1:46 PM on May 3, 2015 [26 favorites]

"Sweetheart, I've told you I don't like to be asked. From now on, when you ask, I'm going to be silent and not respond. And I promise, if there is something wrong and I want to discuss, you'll be the first to know."

Your silence wil train him out of the habit.

Wow. Jesus, no, don't do this. If your plan is to announce you're going to give somebody you presumably care about the silent treatment to make them act the way you want, you might as well break up today.

Talk about motivation, try to reach some compromise, maybe assure him that if a problem that _pertains to him_ comes up that you'll involve him. But man, don't do the passive-aggressive stuff some people in this thread are suggesting, you do not want to become the sort of person that turns you into.
posted by mhoye at 1:56 PM on May 3, 2015 [50 favorites]

How do I get him to stop?

When I was seriously ill and finally got a proper diagnosis and my two sons were asking me like 40 times a day "How do you feel?" and I finally got tired of it, I began replying to that with "I'm going to do a website in German and Spanish with hourly and minutely updates on How I Feel so you will be forced to at least learn a foreign language in order to get an answer to that."

(It is funnier if you realize that, at the time, the idea that I could run a website was a ridiculous assertion and ignore the fact that I run multiple websites currently -- imagine a homemaker who barely knows how to check email threatening to do this. Also, my grasp of German and Spanish is wholly insufficient to update you in either language on How I Feel.)

Anyway, after a few days or whatever of humorous but kinda assholish snark from mom, they gave it up and quit bothering me. Nor is that the only time I handled something like this in this way with my sons.

Sometimes being "nice" only reinforces a bad habit. If you are usually fine, then engaging him on how, no, really you are FINE and worrying about being all nicey-nice to him when it is annoying the ever living daylights out of you is the worst possible response. My oldest son tells me he quit asking how I felt in part because the assholish snark assured him his mother would actually live and was returning to her usual self, fwiw.

So I will suggest you come up with a funny, tongue-in-cheek way to shoot down the request for feedback. You acting like his question requires an answer only serves to reinforce the idea that the relationship is so fragile that it will unravel if he doesn't check on your mood every time you frown and will also unravel if you don't cater to his fee fees every single time he gets wrapped around the axel about one of your frowns. I would absolutely bust him on this, while trying to cushion the blow by being funny in the process.

Best of luck.
posted by Michele in California at 2:10 PM on May 3, 2015 [9 favorites]

Hi there, I'm your boyfriend. I do this to my wife and I sometimes drive her up the wall.

We've talked about this many times, and we've more or less identified why, although I still struggle with it.

The issue for us is, she simply doesn't emote and holds things in until they explode at some random trigger. This causes real problems. At the same time, I feel inappropriately responsible for her emotional well-being, so I'm trying to suss out issues before they boil over. If I'm asking, are you OK, it's because I'm sensing that her pressure cooker needs to let off steam.

This is bad, I get it. If I'm not literally the cause, then it's not my fault if she's feeling off. She may not even be feeling off and now I'm adding pressure.

Basically, I should calm the fuck down.

At the same time, you should ask yourself this: Do you hold things in? Do you truly signal your wants and needs? Do you hold grudges or act passive-aggressively or give him any cause to be worried about something you're not saying? If he asks, are you OK, and you're not, is that ever a little white lie you tell just to be nice in the moment?

Tell him to calm down, and then give him evidence that calming down is the correct, safe and secure way to go.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 2:15 PM on May 3, 2015 [60 favorites]

Maybe this is due to some kind of anxiety-provoking background, but it seems like it's veering into controlling behavior territory based on this:

that I suddenly have to open up and talk about to placate his need to know if I'm okay.

Like, what would happen if you didn't placate him and just said, "I'm fine and I have asked you to stop doing that, please knock it off."? Would he just keep asking and asking and go into a "but why??" panic spiral? Or, would he knock it off but then be all weird and sulky until you go through the reassurance dance again? If you've told him clearly that you need him to stop, and he's continually putting his need to be reassured over your need to be left alone - seems like a red flag.
posted by oh yeah! at 2:19 PM on May 3, 2015 [8 favorites]

I do this to my husband, though not quite as frequently as your boyfriend. I grew up in a hair trigger, verbally/emotionally abusive environment, and, yeah, I really like knowing ahead of time if I need to GTFO of the way before Something Bad Happens (what jamaro said). His most common response is, "I'm just breathing, honey" and sometimes, "no, but it's not you; it's fine." For me, it would never really be a matter of him "getting me to stop." He's gotten me to the point of being better about it, through fostering a trusting environment (though we've had our hiccups, some pretty major).

So, I'll echo others here and say that your first step to "getting him to stop" is to figure out if he's simply doting on you (and I'd be annoyed too), or if he's trying to protect himself through a learned survival behavior. If it's the latter, and I'll be really blunt here, then back off; it's not about you "placating his needs," it's about him seeking reassurance that you're not going to go nuclear on him out of the blue over something so minor as, say, asking a question, or maybe even putting the spatula in the wrong drawer (when you're searching the house for something, for example). Until you know the answer, I wouldn't go about it with the silent treatment, or thinking about it as him getting wrapped around an axle because you frowned and his feel feels got hurt -- because, man, that's not exactly how my panic attacks feel, and I haven't lived with my abuser for about seven years. Good luck.
posted by coast99 at 2:19 PM on May 3, 2015 [10 favorites]

Hm. The answer to multiple, excessive "are you okay" questions might be: [give full attention, interrupting what you're doing] are YOU okay?" Because if he can't learn to be ok without constant status reports from you, then it sounds like he might just not be the guy for you or you the one for him.

I'm sure to him, he's just expressing how much he cares about you, like saying "I love you" instead of just assuming it. My wife likes to offer to do things for me - can I get you a blanket for you feet? A cup of coffee? And then if I say no, "are you sure? I can just..." It's very distracting whether I say yes or no. Sometimes it's irritating. But she does it because that's how she shows she cares. If it makes her happy, then I guess it's not that hard to put up with. Plus, it's nice to be loved.
posted by ctmf at 2:25 PM on May 3, 2015 [3 favorites]

Have you tried having a conversation about it? Not just asking him to stop? It sounds like it's just a habit, and maybe actually talking about how you don't like it, might make him be more aware of it than just asking him not to.
posted by KernalM at 2:30 PM on May 3, 2015

I am very much like this. I probably ask my boyfriend a lot more than that. I worry constantly in life that people are annoyed with me. It stems from a tough childhood. I find it sad that you're finding him so annoying but it seems like you haven't tried to find out why he's doing it. A healthy relationship requires communication and rather than asking the internet how to make him less annoying, try talking to him instead.
Sorry if this sounds harsh but I found your question pretty harsh.
posted by shesbenevolent at 2:46 PM on May 3, 2015 [9 favorites]

BF: Are you OK?
You: I was, right up until you asked me that. Again.
posted by under_petticoat_rule at 2:52 PM on May 3, 2015 [5 favorites]

Hi, I too am your boyfriend! I am not particularly good at reading social cues unless I am paying very close attention, and it's pretty common for me to mistake "tired" for "irritated and going to snap at me for something." So I tend to over-focus on my partner's signals and get anxious about whether they are irritated or upset, which leads to checking in pretty frequently. I also have a coworker who is worse about this than I am, so I have some experience being on the opposite end.

To me, this behavior screams "anxiety." In particular, he might be anxious that you are going to be mad and he won't be able to tell before a fight happens. This could be about your communication with him--is it easy for him to tell when you're actually feeling irritable?--or it could be trained anxiety, from, say, growing up around a person who gets aggressive when they're tired. What he needs to work on is learning to trust your signals to actually let him know when something is wrong before fighting happens. In my experience, the best thing to do is to not snap at him in the moment after he asks--because that's just validating his tension that SOMETHING BAD IS GOING TO HAPPEN IF I MISREAD ANONYMOUS? Instead, go "yep, I'm fine!" and leave it at that--further reassurance is usually not necessary.

I also suggest taking a moment that you are not particularly annoyed with him to have a larger conversation about it, so that you can talk to him about what is actually a signal to indicate that you are upset or unhappy and he can talk about what he is picking up on and worrying about. Communication is the answer here! If you give each other room for him to be anxious and you to be impatient with the question, you may be able to come to a compromise--like "I promise to tell you, immediately, if I am irritated and need a break" and then actually following up on that thing to the point that his jerkbrain anxiety actually learns better.

While this behavior can be REALLY annoying, my experience is that snappishness or aggression is going to make it worse very quickly. This is not about a desire to annoy you, it's about insecurity, and amping up aggression is only going to exacerbate the insecure place he's coming from and make the problem worse. If this is way too irritating to deal with, I suggest you break up rather than responding crankily every time he asks. Frankly, it would save you some time.
posted by sciatrix at 3:43 PM on May 3, 2015 [26 favorites]

"Are you okay?" = "How are you feeling?"

He wants to know how you're feeling because he can't tell, because you may be giving off signs that are hard for him to parse.

I asked this all the time too -- but it's because my partner was not very emotive and I was always scanning for signs that things were not okay, so I would know if there was something I needed to address. He said "I'll tell you if I'm not okay." But guess what? Not once did he ever tell me when things weren't okay. He would explode or he would cold shoulder me, and I'd be kicking myself for not spotting it in advance. It caused me great anxiety, being unable to read his emotional state.

So consider trying to clue him in more about how you're feeling, without him having to ask. Maybe try to say once a day "I'm feeling kind of annoyed with this project I'm working on" or "I'm feeling a little blue about that missed opportunity" and I bet you'll get a lot less of the anxious equivalent of "how are you feeling?"
posted by np312 at 4:01 PM on May 3, 2015 [31 favorites]

Just respond with "what's making you ask that?"

He may have a good reason. You may be scowling without realizing it. Or he may be worried because of past patterns. Or, maybe it's just a verbal tic and he needs to examine it and knock it off. I don't understand why people are advising you to be nasty and pick a fight about this. He's your boyfriend, he's not trying to hurt you, he's either unsure what's going on with you or expressing his own anxiety.
posted by fingersandtoes at 5:03 PM on May 3, 2015 [25 favorites]

My spouse did this way back when we were first dating. In his case, it didn't signal unusual insecurity or extraversion: I'm just quiet and hard to read, so he used his words. As we grew closer, the frequency of the question diminished.

I think the key question here is how your boyfriend responds when you say, "Huh? Yeah, of course I'm OK!" Does he keep pushing? Or does he accept your reassurance? If the latter, then the annoyingness will probably decrease as he learns how to read you. If the former, then I guess the right answer is "Now I'm annoyed!"
posted by yarntheory at 5:06 PM on May 3, 2015 [5 favorites]

Do you sigh a lot? See if you are sighing in these situations. I *personally* only sigh when I'm frustrated, upset, disappointed, or another emotion, and I kind of want someone (my boyfriend) to ask me if I'm okay.

Now, that boyfriend on the other hand, will just sigh to let out breath. He'll be doing something on the computer or in the kitchen or in the yard, and he'll sigh, and I will immediately ask "what's wrong?" to which he confusedly (and after about the 3rd time that day) annoyedly replies "nothing! I'm just BREATHING"

But, after like 2 years of living together, he's realized that I have some kind of trigger reaction to sighing as a hint that something is bothering you, and he now generally breathes like a normal person.

So, my answer is, check yourself. are you doing something in these situations that he's picking up on as a sign of him supposed to be checking in with you? are you sighing or hmmmfing or making a thoughtful noise or something that wherever he grew up was an outwards sign of needing to be asked?

Otherwise, I guess he's just being insecure about your feelings for some reason. He'll probably get used to it (it being your body language or facial expression or something that he thinks is currently emoting negative.)
posted by euphoria066 at 5:47 PM on May 3, 2015 [4 favorites]

I think asking if he's okay back might help reduce the frequency, especially if they come in batches. I find when I'm in a weird mood of any kind, I ask about people's mood more because I know I'm less good at reading people like that; generally this ends in a "I'm feeling off but I think I just need to do [x] for a while, I'll let you know if there's anything you can do." Reassuring touch, if you can manage it, also helps affirm connection and okayness in a relationship without having to get worried and ask. This strikes me as the kind of habit people develop after being in a family or relationship situation with a boiler keg or someone who doesn't show emotion well/hides emotion/is passive-aggressive/is abusive in various ways, and the mean responses to it are likely to just make it worse.
posted by NoraReed at 7:00 PM on May 3, 2015 [3 favorites]

At the same time, you should ask yourself this: Do you hold things in? Do you truly signal your wants and needs? Do you hold grudges or act passive-aggressively or give him any cause to be worried about something you're not saying? If he asks, are you OK, and you're not, is that ever a little white lie you tell just to be nice in the moment?

This, i've been this guy. And i've found myself doing this in my current relationship even.

It was entirely because i just couldn't relax in various situations or even when just hanging around the house because even though the majority of time i asked things were ok... anger/frustration would just come out of left field like a tidal wave. I learned to realize that yea, it wasn't out of left field. But it led to lots of thing, and lots of pre-emptive "And no, i don't mean it like that, i mean this specific thing" pre-qualifying of things i would say to try and diffuse anything i saw building.

This is really frustration behavior externally, and i realized that. But i REALLY don't believe it comes out of nowhere. Either he's been in a long term relationship, family or otherwise, where this developed as a defense mechanism... or you're feeding this with unpredictable explosions of frustration/exasperation.
posted by emptythought at 7:10 PM on May 3, 2015 [3 favorites]

To be clear though, i don't think this is your problem to deal with and i think it's an excellent reason to break up with someone. I mean, obviously, you can break up for any reason, but if relationship breakups were like returning items to a store this one would pretty much be filed under "didn't really work like it was advertised, and ended up being really annoying for the intended function".

If you aren't feeding this and he just feels the need to do it, then let him sort that shit out by himself. I truly do understand how it's infuriating.
posted by emptythought at 7:12 PM on May 3, 2015

It sounds like this comes up in situations where you're acting like he's not in the room with you while you're in the middle of something. My guess is he feels like you're ignoring him (and you are, right?), and this makes him uncomfortable. I mean, how is he doing? Is he okay? Do you ever stop what you're doing to ask him what's up?

Your boyfriend is trying to reach you when you want to be unreachable. That sucks for both of you. It would be worth sitting down with him and having a serious conversation about both of your needs in this relationship. He might need more from you than you're willing to give.
posted by wondermouse at 8:14 PM on May 3, 2015

I wonder if a reframing and compromise might be in order. Can he replace this behaviour with something that is less objectionable to you? (and to be clear, being expected to perform cheeriness or constantly reassure someone would grate on me too.) Years ago I read a relationship book which contained an anecdote about how ducklings that usually nestle together get lost and can't find each other, even when only a few inches apart, and just end up turning in circles and quacking. The author spoke about how she and her partner would almost invariably get into an argument almost as soon as one of them returned from a trip away, and they developed a ritual of quacking to each other to indicate that they had been separated and now were back together. I don't know how long you and your bf have been together, and whether you're in the kind of territory where you have dorky habits you wouldn't dream of telling anyone else, but I wonder if there's a different way to convey whatever he is looking for out of the "are you ok?" question. Someone above suggested reassuring touch, which might be less ridiculous than quacking. :-)

The other question is, can you change the way you interpret this behaviour? A long time ago in my relationship, my partner used to tap me on the arm or on the knee in the middle of a movie or something we were watching together, and I would get annoyed because it felt like he was trying to get my attention for no reason, and it was distracting. Then I realised that this was his way of requesting connection in a moment, to go from us both experiencing something to us experiencing something together. When I viewed it that way I went from feeling annoyed to realising I also wanted to connect, and enjoying that feeling of connectedness. YMMV.
posted by Cheese Monster at 8:39 PM on May 3, 2015 [1 favorite]

I've been the one asking, and like others have said, it was a combination of having recently been in a situation where I needed to monitor someone's emotional state to be prepared for blowups, and that the new BF was quiet /withdrawn enough that I wasn't getting cues I could read.

What he did that broke my habit is similar to what Michelle in California called "humorous but kinda assholish snark," mostly gentle sarcasm. "Oh, awful, can't you see I'm just fuming?" "I'm remembering how much your fart earlier stank. Phewie!" "Yes, having to wait for you these last five minutes is perhaps the worst thing that ever happened to me." That sort of thing. The normal replies ("no, I'm fine") did nothing to reduce my asking. ("Are you suuure? I'm really sorry!") But these replies cured me by almost mocking the underlying premise that I needed to ask because he was probably secretly upset about something. I came to see that the idea of sitting there secretly fuming was, to him, a complete joke, which quickly deescalated my fear. I didn't appreciate this at the time ("no, I really want to know!" "why are you being sarcastic when you could just be real and actually answer my question?"), but I did quickly begin to assume he was doing just fine.
posted by salvia at 8:49 PM on May 3, 2015 [1 favorite]

Is it his phrasing that bugs you? One previous AskMeFi question a while ago came from someone annoyed at being asked if she was ok, when the real question was "What is going on?"

Maybe he just wants to know what's going on with you, and you admit that you like to keep to yourself. It sounds like you aren't into sharing a lot of your feelings or day-to-day stuff, but I personally would find it hard to be in a relationship with someone who didn't keep me in the loop on whatever was going on with them. Maybe he is just curious what is going on in your world and he isn't literally asking if you are ok or not ok, but just asking what's new. It's not apples-to-apples, but you may want to check out that other thread.

He likely won't understand why you would find his question is annoying, and yelling at him over it would just be bad.
posted by AppleTurnover at 9:09 PM on May 3, 2015 [1 favorite]

I do this to my boyfriend sometimes. Not 5x a day, but I ask him "how are you doing?" enough that I sometimes feel self-conscious about it. Right now, it's based in my anxiety stemming from his mental and physical health issues -- I feel like I really do need to check in, though I'm sure it's annoying for him. His response -- which I think is kind of genius -- is "I'm good, how are you?" It reassures me that he's fine while at the same time turning the question back at me. It's a bit automatic and perfunctory, like meeting an acquaintance in the street, and has the effect of dissuading me from asking all the time.

We do ask each other "what's up?" sometimes as well, and I think we both respond better to that. It's more direct in being a request for attention and emotional intimacy.
posted by Ragini at 11:17 PM on May 3, 2015

I had a girlfriend who asked if I was ok a lot. As someone who also has anxiety issues, I noticed she mostly did this when she felt anxious herself. She was basically asking me, "Am I ok? Did I fuck something up terribly? Does everyone hate me? I feel like everything's wrong, is everything wrong and fucked and if it isn't can you please reassure me of that?"

Sometimes it's just a verbal tic, like how some people say "I'm sorry" a lot. Sometimes it's someone having anxiety crop up in a weird way. A lot of times, it's a combination of the two.
posted by Juliet Banana at 12:47 AM on May 4, 2015 [9 favorites]

Very often this kind of behavior comes from people's relationship with their parents. How does his mom behave? Does she silently walk about wanting her kids and husband to "know" whenever she's not ok? Is someone else in that family not ok on a regular basis and expects others to do something about it? That's the kind of things to observe.

Just mentioning such a possible link and discussing that you are actually another person and don't need this kind of attention might help. A watchword routine could also work: you could suggest that whenever he says "are you ok" and you don't need his concern, you say "pink elephant" or something silly.
Some people's old interaction patterns are more deep-rooted however, and he might need some professional maintenance work if this really is like a tic...
posted by Namlit at 1:37 AM on May 4, 2015 [4 favorites]

I agree that this is likely the result of something (it would be pretty weird if it weren't). I am also 100% over trying to fix other people's emotional issues when they won't make the effort. It's not your job to walk him through exactly how to respect your needs. Nor is it your job to motivate him sufficiently to respect your needs. He just needs to respect your needs, as you've repeatedly asked him to do. Instead, he's ignoring them, and doesn't seem to even be attempting to adapt to them. If he truly can't stop this behavior, you're a bad match. If he doesn't want to stop it, you're a bad match.
posted by internet fraud detective squad, station number 9 at 6:49 AM on May 4, 2015 [1 favorite]

It is also worth noting that it is not always immediately easy to break a habit, particularly a habit motivated by anxiety and over-fixation. Nobody's perfect. It would be helpful to know how the OP had brought the topic up and what the boyfriend's response to the problem is--is this a situation where you brought the problem up and he responded "sorry, I know it bugs you but I find it really difficult to stop, so I'm not going to" or got defensive, or is this an issue where the OP gets frustrated and snaps that this is a pain in the ass and to STOP ASKING ALREADY? The first situation might indicate that there is a fundamental incompatibility here; the second one sounds like miscommunication being amplified by emotions.

I also don't think that "this behavior is bothering me, how do I minimize it" is necessarily best answered by "DMTFA" without trying to answer the actual question posed by the OP. YMMV.
posted by sciatrix at 7:36 AM on May 4, 2015 [3 favorites]

These different approaches don't need to be mutually exclusive. Someone can understand where their partner is coming from with their anxiety, and with playing out old histories in the form of panicked tics, etc., and also be very clear about things they aren't willing to put up with-- whether through humor, or momentary harshness, etc. One is not required to just suck it up and endure disrespectful behavior if it really, truly bothers them and feels invasive.

My anxiety comes out in really ugly ways sometimes, and while I want understanding and to not be viewed as intentionally cruel or monstrous, I don't think I get a complete pass on my behavior. If someone tells me what I am doing is harming them, I apologize and try to find ways to change my behavior. I don't always succeed. But it is my responsibility ultimately. So... if you have clearly communicated about your distress, and he genuinely can't stop because of the way he is wired and what he is capable/not capable of changing (or possibly not capable of changing with you as his partner, for whatever reasons), maybe you aren't a match. Which isn't the end of the world. But it's not necessarily black and white: understanding/empathy/possibly-martyrdom and cruelty/harshness/judgment.

One can be understanding, but also humorously firm about what is and isn't okay behavior, and be willing to come up with a compromise for other ways to calm the underlying anxiety (like scheduled once-weekly brief sitdowns to check in on the state of things, or whatever else might work.) Good luck.
posted by thegreatfleecircus at 7:37 AM on May 4, 2015 [1 favorite]

Maybe it's not actually about you at all. I ask my husband if he's okay because I want to make sure that I'M doing what I'm supposed to do, because it's easy for me to get wrapped up in other things (and he has a tendency to just not speak up about stuff, mostly because of growing up as the child of an alcoholic).
posted by St. Hubbins at 9:07 AM on May 4, 2015 [1 favorite]

I get hypervigilant about my partner's emotions, and while some level of that is appropriate because of his medical condition, if I weren't monitoring myself it could (and does sometimes) get way out of control. It's an anxiety thing, and a growing-up-with-a-family-who-didn't-express-feelings thing, and a my-partner-seems-fine-until-suddenly-he's-really-not thing.

We're 15 years in at this point and this isn't generally an issue anymore between us, for a variety of reasons. He's gotten better about expressing his feelings so I don't have to do as much guesswork, and so it's not a startling 180 where he's suddenly upset after he seemed fine five minutes earlier. I've gotten better about doing a little CBT routine with myself when I notice he seems withdrawn, working through what I'm observing and what I'm feeling and what the likelihood is that it's anything to do with me. Probably 90% of the time that's all it takes - I talk myself through whatever I'm observing, I realize he's probably either not upset, or not upset about anything to do with me, and that I now know he will tell me when he's ready if there's something else he's upset about, and I feel better without pestering him. The rest of the time, he understands and is not bothered if I do say "Hey, you seem worried/upset/anxious and I can't tell what's up - am I reading you right, and would it help to talk about it if I am?", and then we talk about it, and that's fine.

Which is to say this can be resolved. But probably not without an uncomfortable conversation or two in which you dig into why he does it, why it's bothering you, and what a good compromise might be, and then some additional conversations as you put that compromise into practice and see how it's working for you both. If it seems after this conversation like there's some anxiety driving it for him, then I'd really recommend he do some reading about CBT, particularly about some ways to combat the tendency to "mind-read" or catastrophize, and see if he can pick up any tips there that may help him deal with those anxieties internally at least part of the time.

Or, it would be totally reasonable to decide you don't want to do this kind of emotional work and to leave, but I don't think it's necessarily an un-fixable problem.
posted by Stacey at 11:55 AM on May 4, 2015 [2 favorites]

I would tell him he needs to cut it out, and if he doesn't I would start carrrying around a buzzer and buzzing it every time he asks you. :) I think it will train him out of it pretty quickly. :)

Frankly, even if you're NOT okay every time he asks, just want to stew a bit or you're not ready to share the big bad thing that happened, or you haven't figured out why you're upset, or WHATEVER, the point is, you actually do get to have your own internal life that he does not own. One thing my partner and I will sometimes do when we KNOW we're being unreasonably pissy is to say "Hey, you know, I am really pissy tonight and I don't know why. I'm sorry, but I need some alone time." And sometimes, that is what you need. And a partner should be okay with that, as long as every single night is not "leave me alone, I'm prickly" night.
posted by rainbowbrite at 11:59 AM on May 4, 2015 [1 favorite]

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