Adjusting to partner's tattoo
June 14, 2016 1:24 PM   Subscribe

My partner would like to get a tattoo on his upper arm. The subject he's chosen is adorable and not problematic. However, I'm having trouble with the concept of a new, permanent thing I'll be looking at every day.

I have OCD, and tend to be somewhat apprehensive about new things in general. I've gotten used to my partner looking one way, and once he gets the tattoo, I'm afraid I'll be super distracted by this new thing and always hone in on the tattoo instead of, say, my partner as a whole.

My rational mind says that this won't be a problem, and that I won't even consciously notice the tattoo within a couple of weeks. But the catastrophizing part says, "What if you don't adjust, and it's always distracting? What if your distraction affects your relationship?" etc.

I want to be 100% supportive of the tattoo, since it's something he really wants, and not just pretend to be supportive (he'll know the difference). I fully acknowledge that people's appearances change with time and circumstance. Help my gut catch up to my brain, and my best intentions as a supportive partner, on this. Anecdotes about resolved ambivalence toward tattoos are certainly welcome. Thanks!
posted by delight to Human Relations (20 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
I don't even notice my own tattoos unless I see them in a picture or something. And I don't expect my partner to be "100% supportive" of anything I do on the tattoo level. Unless it's on your partner's face, you won't be seeing it every day. Be patient. Avail yourself of the expectation that your support is essential for your partner to get this thing they want. Allow yourself ambivalence, you're not the one going under the needle(s).
posted by late afternoon dreaming hotel at 1:29 PM on June 14, 2016 [7 favorites]

My rational mind says that this won't be a problem

Correct! It won't be a problem.

Think about it like this: your partner gets haircuts, right? And they're like super close to the face/head which is pretty important to us deep down. I bet that's not a problem!
posted by destructive cactus at 1:37 PM on June 14, 2016 [12 favorites]

It takes time to accept change.
posted by aniola at 1:40 PM on June 14, 2016 [1 favorite]

this is a good exercise for not letting your own struggles influence how other people act. i have ocd too and it's tempting to think 'if i can just control everything and everyone it will all be fine', but we know that's not how it works. encourage him to get the tattoo and if it stirs anxieties in you, you'll have a good chance to learn how to manage those specific reactions which will benefit you in the future.
posted by nadawi at 1:42 PM on June 14, 2016 [35 favorites]

I had similar feelings about my wife. She started with a not terribly small piece on her shoulder. Over the past year and a half, that's expanded to both shoulders, upper arms, a sleeve on one forearm and more pieces on the other forearm, and a rather large chest piece.

You'll just grow to love them as part of your partner.
posted by Special Agent Dale Cooper at 1:54 PM on June 14, 2016 [2 favorites]

Sometimes I'll be shaving my legs and I'll go to do my left ankle and I'll be like where did I get that weird bruise oh wait no it's a tattoo I've had for fourteen years now, I just got used to it and don't even realize it's there most of the time so on the rare occasions I DO notice it it's kind of a surprise. Don't worry, you really will adjust surprisingly quickly!
posted by Mrs. Pterodactyl at 1:59 PM on June 14, 2016 [2 favorites]

Your rational mind is right. It won't be a problem. You'll stop noticing it after a while. I have a very visible tattoo, and I tend to forget that it is on me.

I get that I don't have OCD, and it's probably different for you, but seriously, it's something you will get used to. Or you won't, but there's nothing you can actually do about it? Unless you're honestly willing to break up* with your partner over it.

I would do self-talk about this along the lines of other things that are outside your control. How do you handle the thought that it might rain on your vacation, for instance?

*My tattoos never lost me a relationship, but I have dated a few people I could tell didn't find them attractive. It was not a big deal.
posted by Sara C. at 2:07 PM on June 14, 2016

[Couple of comments deleted. If you object to this question, go ahead and skip it please.]
posted by LobsterMitten (staff) at 2:09 PM on June 14, 2016 [2 favorites]

Could you or he draw a tattoo or get those stick on tattoos? You can work on some exposures by forcing yourself to look at it and then refocusing your attention to whatever else you were doing.
posted by yes I said yes I will Yes at 2:14 PM on June 14, 2016 [5 favorites]

I also do not have OCD -but have a lot of tattoos - and my husband has tattoos. I literally don't even "see" many of mine that are always in my view. Like my wrist for example. Don't even remember it's there even when I'm looking at it. Not to mention my husband has an awful, bad tattoo on his side that we laugh about. If I imagine his nude stomach I literally don't even "see" the tattoo in my brain. I mean, this is a messed up, bad outline of a tattoo that's BIG like, 6" big. I don't even remember he has it. I don't even remember he has his cool tattoos too until I look at them again. And the same goes for me. I'll literally look at one of my own tattoos and go "Wow, that's cool!" like an idiot.

His tattoo will just become part of him, like a scar, or hair, or a birth mark.

I agree this is a good time to realize you can't control people AND people will change over time regardless. Perhaps it would be a good time to talk to someone (like a therapist) about this more if you aren't already.
posted by Crystalinne at 2:22 PM on June 14, 2016 [4 favorites]

Your partner is going to change quite a bit over time. Get heavier, get lighter, hair goes grey, hair goes away. Get older, get wrinkles. This is something that's going to happen and you can't control that at all. So maybe use this as a way to train yourself to get used to the changes that inevitably happen to all of us, whether slowly or quickly, by accident or by design.
posted by xingcat at 2:23 PM on June 14, 2016 [7 favorites]

I came here to recommend a temporary tattoos. If you have access to an inkjet printer you can even make up a whole slew of them with the exact design.

You can ask your partner to put them on, but maybe it would help if you put them on you, in places where you'd see them (like the back of your hands) and just got used to seeing the symbol all over the place?
posted by sparklemotion at 2:26 PM on June 14, 2016 [2 favorites]

I think there's no guarantee you'll like them, in my experience, but you will get used to them. As others have said, aging (at the very least) will produce other permanent changes you'll have to get used to as well, it's not fundamentally different. Just like with those, you can get used to it / accept it even if its not what you would have wanted or chosen yourself.
posted by thefoxgod at 2:27 PM on June 14, 2016

You'll notice it for awhile, and then you won't. Whatever shock you have at the change will fade; you won't be forever shocked. Plus, you may end up loving it! Regardless, try to focus on how much partner loves it and you'll be OK. There's really nothing physical that I can imagine that would distract me from "seeing" my partner as a whole. Your relationship with your partner and your connection to them is much larger and much stronger than a drawing on one of their limbs. The idea of the change is probably much harder to bear than the change itself will be.
posted by quince at 2:38 PM on June 14, 2016 [1 favorite]

You don't have to approve of or support your partner in this, if you don't want to. You do have to accept it, however. You don't get a vote or a veto when it comes to decisions your partner makes about his own body. Your choice is to either accept it fully and without resentment (note that I didn't say you have to like it) or to leave the relationship. If it's a dealbreaker, then it's a dealbreaker. If it isn't, though, then you need to get to a place where you're OK with your partner's decision to get a tattoo.

A good and generous partner will be willing to work with you to help you get to a place of acceptance if getting there is difficult for you, especially since you have a condition that might make that harder for you than for most people. At a minimum, he should be willing to listen to you talk about your reservations, and to reassure you that he's still the same person and that you will, in time, come to see his new tattoo as normal and unremarkable. He should validate and recognize your feelings, even as you reassure him that you respect his right to make choices about his body.

But it's still his body. It's his choice, and you mustn't try to coerce his choice by using your reservations as emotional leverage. I'm not saying that that's something you would do—it's just tricky sometimes to walk that line between expressing reservations toward a partner and using those reservations as a lever. You can feel what you feel, but you can't make him responsible for your feelings in this case.

Also, I'd like to echo what people are saying above: this change of appearance is similar in impact to someone switching from glasses to contacts, or shaving off their facial hair. It might be a little startling for a day or two, but you'll soon get used to it and in time you will stop noticing and it will just be the normal way that his face looks. The only difference is that it won't change back again.
posted by Anticipation Of A New Lover's Arrival, The at 2:50 PM on June 14, 2016 [3 favorites]

Maybe this is totally off-base (I don't have OCD, but lifelong and sometimes intense anxiety that includes aversion to change), but if you haven't read this "grief-stricken" mother's op-ed about her son's tattoo, maybe give it a go? (Don't read the comments maybe, as they're predictably vicious). If you can laugh (sympathetically) at it, so much the better.

I know the point isn't to shout down your feelings, even when you can acknowledge that they're irrational, but reminding yourself of the far extreme of this kind of thinking might give your rational mind a bit of useful backup. Like, when you find yourself fixating on the new tattoo, just think "tattoo mom, delight. You're being tattoo mom."

That sort of thing is useful to me when I'm catastrophizing, but you know you.
posted by wreckingball at 3:21 PM on June 14, 2016 [6 favorites]

Well, my husband got a tattoo without even telling me. I didn't know for nearly two weeks for reasons not worth mentioning here. After reasons, he said, "I have something to show you, " and he lifted up his sleeve. I got a tattoo many years before he ever did and am not at all tattoo adverse, but I was still really annoyed he didnt bother to tell me.

So perhaps you can use this to reframe your experience that at least he's told you?
posted by zizzle at 4:33 PM on June 14, 2016

This is a "fake it til you make it" situation. Your gut may catch up to your brain, or it may not, but your opinion matters not one bit here. Your partner's body is his own and this is his choice.

You also probably know that entertaining those what-ifs is playing right into your anxiety. You are letting your OCD have a little party just by allowing them. You don't know how you'll feel about it. You don't know what the experience will be like. It might be awesome! You might hate it but that might turn okay too! Think of this as good practice for dealing with the inevitable changes that happen.

(I have OCD. My partner has had major body changes too. I had the same problems. I feel for you. But this was good practice for me and it's good practice for you too. You can do it.)
posted by epanalepsis at 6:37 AM on June 15, 2016

Seems to me like you only want to accept his tattoo because it's the cool, progressive thing to do.

I don't like tattoos either, but I wouldn't break up a relationship over it.

May I respectfully suggest that you tell him the truth: that you don't like tattoos, but that it's his body, his choice and you respect that.
posted by Kwadeng at 4:16 PM on June 16, 2016

A belated thank-you for all of these thoughtful replies. I'm not going to mark a particular Best Answer since I got a little bit of wisdom from each one. I'm feeling more confident that this really won't be a big deal and that I'll be able to adjust. Thanks again.
posted by delight at 2:41 PM on June 21, 2016 [2 favorites]

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