Hypothetically, how do we handle real arguments over hypotheticals?
January 11, 2018 9:12 PM   Subscribe

The moral of the story is: damn you, Tonya Harding. BF and I can't seem to figure out how to have value-centric conversations. Perspective please.

My boyfriend and I have been dating around 1.5 years and we have a really happy relationship. Much of what makes us so happy is that we're great friends. We laugh together all the time, we like to talk for hours about television, art, and movies. We're really similar socially, we have great sex, and in general, enjoy being around one another. The issue is that nearly every fight we've had started with a conversation about a hypothetical situation, that turned into a conversation about values, that led us both to digging our heels in the ground and being mean and surly.

Tonight's blow up was while watching the Tonya Harding special. I made the comment that I feel bad about the fact that Tonya's life has been so hard for her; bf responded, "why? she's clearly not a good person." This led to an hour long slog about whether or not a person can make choices that are unforgiveable.

If this were an isolated event, I would chalk it up to two people being dumb and not very thoughtful about how they're having conversation with each other, but we've had at least a handful of fights that start off with something banal but end in two people huffing in different rooms.

I realize that two of my problems are in conjunction here. 1) I enjoy engaging in discussions about complex topics, conversations that start with a question and end with more questions; bf doesn't really love that. He's intelligent and sharp, but doesn't really see much point in talking for talking's sake. It's too emotionally heavy for him and he'd rather talk about topics that are lighter in nature. 2) I'm a teacher in a hard-to-serve school, which means I'm pretty good at keeping my head in tense emotional situations, but bf doesn't really have those skills; when he starts to get upset, he doesn't really listen to what I'm saying, which makes me upset, leading to the huffing in opposite rooms.

I guess the real answer here should be "don't engage in conversations that might be contentious" but I just don't always know what's going to be contentious. Or perhaps, "try to keep the conversation free of emotion" which I feel like I try to do, but bf doesn't do as well (I'm sure I have room for growth in this area, too). Or maybe the answer is, "hun, this is what normal relationships are like. People only fight about the things that are really important or really, really stupid." I'm hoping this is the case. It's just that I don't fight with any of my other friends about value differences. We can just talk and be different.

I'm just curious your thoughts. What am I missing/should be doing better? Is this a normal part of other people's healthy relationships?
posted by orangesky4 to Human Relations (27 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
 
I think as a general thing, it’s normal to have something like that happen once in a while. You‘re opening up with your partner and vulnerability means that sometimes, there‘ll be hurt feelings.

The question is, what happens after the huffing. Do you go back to being happy (in which case, that doesn‘t seem to be a problem), do you have another clearing talk where you just decide to disagree on that one (also fine) or does it result in a simmering resentment/walking on eggshells kinda situation?

Back to my point on vulnerability: I think it would be really sad if you couldn‘t have ‚contentious discussions‘ with your partner - you should feel safe with him, and he with you. Also, ‚keeping the discussion free of emotion‘ sounds like something that shouldn‘t be necessary in a relationship.
posted by The Toad at 9:27 PM on January 11 [2 favorites]


I have dated guys like this. Things were always great until we got twisted in a weird discussion about something inconsequential. The last time I dated a guy like this, I noticed it was a pattern that had repeated with the last several guys I had dated, and I started really paying attention to what was happening underneath these arguments. In my particular situation, it was actually a fundamental incompatibility--these men didn't respect my own knowledge or judgment about things. I see that a bit when you say that he doesn't really hear what you're saying when things start to get tense. That kind of dismissal is--well, it's dismissive and deeply hurtful. I definitely may not have all the same values as my partner, but I have a lot of respect for their values, and I need them to respect mine even if they're not the same as theirs.

My exes all needed to always be right, even during discussions about complex, often ambiguous things that I frankly often knew much more about. My expertise never mattered to them, nor did my opinions or ideas. It was a bit subtle, but in all of my relationships with arguments like this, where I started asking questions about whittling away a part of myself -- "don't engage in topics that might be contentious, even though I don't always know what those are" -- there was, at the core, something that did not work for me.

Another question I would encourage you to ask is not "Is this normal?" but "Is this what I want in a relationship with my significant other? Is this something I want to do for the rest of my life?" Some people don't really want to have those kinds of discussions with their partners, and that's ok. I am not one of those people, and I can't really be in a relationship like the one that you describe. It's very important for me to spend my time with people who let me share my weird ideas, and hash them out and talk them through and disagree without it being hurtful or huffy. From what you asked, it may not be right for you either. But you have to kind of figure that out for yourself. It's ok if it's not for you.

Take care.
posted by sockermom at 9:45 PM on January 11 [63 favorites]


I'm not sure how the rest of the beginning of the argument went, but for me personally if I made some statements about "I feel..." about a public persona who doesn't have much impact on either of our lives, and someone else wanted to argue with me about that by insisting I didn't feel that way, or that the way they felt was superior by default, that would not be a person I'd want to be in a relationship with.

He can't read your mind, so he can't know what your feelings are better than you, and your views shouldn't be invalid just because his are different.

If they wanted to find out more about why I felt that way, even if it's a contentious discussion, that's something I'm more able to work with. Less than two years in, there's still a lot to learn about another person -- if you see them as an individual, not an extension of yourself.

Of course if one of you was a competitive figure skater or related or knew someone involved with this situation, it might be different.

nearly every fight we've had started with a conversation about a hypothetical situation

It might be helpful if you gave an example about what sorts of hypothetical situations these are? I'm puzzled as to why your example is about a real, actual historic situation when you say these arguments are about hypothetical situations.
posted by yohko at 10:03 PM on January 11 [3 favorites]


I'm pretty good at keeping my head in tense emotional situations, but...which makes me upset

So maybe you're both not very good about keeping your head in tense emotional situations, and that's totally okay. I've had these kinds of situations with other people a few times, and we'd either agree that we can't have those kinds of conversations, and so make them off-limits, or I'd relax and go into supportive listening mode when they got into a mood. Having said that, you can only make so many things off-limits and you can only go into supportive listening mode so often, so if even those options aren't easing the tension then you have a more serious conversation to have.
posted by davejay at 10:04 PM on January 11 [3 favorites]


One of the things that made my now husband a life partner and not just someone I dated for a long time was that we see eye-to-eye on most ethical and values issues. We have had some spirited conversations over the years, but one of the other things that I love is that we both keep respectfully listening as we hash through things and it's not unusual for one to readjust their opinion during a discussion in response to ideas that are compelling. It doesn't get disrespectful, dismissive, or fighty. I never realized how important this was to me until I had it. It allows me to deeply trust him.

If you find that the most appealing option to fix this pattern to tiptoe around certain types of conversations, I'd ask if that's really the best way to be true to yourself. Is he also disturbed by this pattern and putting as much thought into it as you are? If not, why not?
posted by quince at 10:31 PM on January 11 [12 favorites]


How do you match up on the non-hypotheticals? Do you share basic values when it comes to politics, children, money, life goals? I'm curious about where the future of the relationship is going for each of you. If after 1.5 years each person is invested in making it work and you are talking about a future together, then yes I do think these kinds of fights are ok. Or at least not the end of the world. But I took the liberty of looking at your older questions, and it looks like this guy doesn't necessarily want to commit to anything long term, and that a long running theme in your relationship is that you have great conversations about music, art, and TV, but he is not necessarily going to be the father of your children. I think at 29, if you do strongly want to get married and have kids, as you state, this guy is on the cusp of impertinently wasting your time. I'm not saying that in a sexist way. I think the bond between you can't be built on hypothetical things, it has to be built on real things, or it will quickly get very boring. The movie is a complete red herring, think about it. My vote is you deserve better.
posted by karmachameleon at 10:37 PM on January 11 [4 favorites]


In my particular situation, it was actually a fundamental incompatibility--these men didn't respect my own knowledge or judgment about things.

This. A lot of guys want a girlfriend around but only as long as you don't challenge their built in assumptions about life or try to assert any control or superiority. I've found that when someone says "I don't like to talk about politics/ art/ meaning of life" it means, I don't think it's worth my time to talk about that with you. Which is only OK if neither one of you wants to discuss those topics.
posted by fshgrl at 11:14 PM on January 11 [13 favorites]


I think this is something where you want to spend a little more time getting at what you yourself are trying to say or trying to find out. Are you trying to figure out whether your boyfriend is fundamentally a compassionate person? Are you wanting him to respect your own compassion even if he doesn't share it? Are you poking at these topics because any area of disagreement is uncomfortable for you and so you dig and dig even if it's not actually important to you? Are you reaching out to make conversation and feeling rejected when he harshly shuts it down?

There are good and valuable reasons to have hypothetical conversations, conversations about the future, conversations about things happening in the world and how you feel about them. And hopefully you can have these conversations without him being dismissive of you or you of him. (His reaction is pretty dismissive in the anecdote you give, though I don't know if that's a pattern.) But for the specific details you need to look at yourself and your relationship.
posted by Lady Li at 11:21 PM on January 11 [4 favorites]


This is a pattern I'm well familiar with, except I'm like your boyfriend in this situation. I am more quiet and introverted by nature, whereas my husband comes from a loud family and has a social circle mostly made up of performers. My husband and I have extremely similar ethical and moral values on about 99.9% of subjects, and in the 0.1% where we differ, it's probably an issue of "we agree on the principle but not the implementation" or "I am more cynical about just needing to burn shit down". I find usually two things contribute there:

1) I tend to get defensive. In part because I'm used to having to defend my positions tooth and nail against people whose values differ greatly from mine (I am a woman of colour in a heavily white male industry), when I get into Debate Mode I am really bad at realizing I'm digging my heels in and backing down. (I once backed myself into a corner of defending Linkin' Park. I don't even like Linkin' Park.) I am especially bad at giving the other party the benefit of the doubt when I'm in that mindset, and because I'm generally smart, I can zero in on details that make me Right even if they're largely inconsequential.

2) My husband doesn't find debates emotionally taxing the way I do, but he's also not as good at being 100% rational and calm as he initially thought he was. Intellectual debates that escalate into emotional arguments don't happen if only one person is engaging. He gets frustrated that I'm frustrated and he takes my being upset personally, and it spirals from there.

The key here is that we have conversations about these fights after the fact. I know I get defensive because I feel personally challenged, and he knows that he escalates easily. It's a thing we're working on together, because we both want to continue having conversations about interesting subjects without feeling hurt and upset after the fact. (I don't know if you two live together, but it's worth keeping in mind that you likely spend much more time with your partner than with any individual friend, and that kind of proximity can often amplify differences in communication habits that wouldn't be a big deal with someone you saw for lunch once a month.)

My question to you would be: have you talked to your boyfriend about these patterns? Does he agree that it's a problem? Would he be willing to address these with you, either as a couple or with a therapist? Is he dismissive/unwilling to listen in any other context? (I agree that his comment in the Tonya Harding example, as written, is pretty unimpressive.) This is not a thing that you can address by yourself, regardless of how you change your behaviour. It's totally possible to change patterns and habits if both people are committed to finding a middle ground that works for both of you, but it has to be a joint effort.
posted by Be cool, sodapop at 11:38 PM on January 11 [14 favorites]


If you have disagreements about ethics that extend to practice and not just theory, sooner or later it will not be a hypothetical.

What does "she's clearly not a good person" mean to him in practice? Are you OK with the answer to that?
posted by PMdixon at 11:40 PM on January 11 [14 favorites]


When my partner and I hit a topic that results in either or both of us becoming anxious or overly emotional, either one of us can call a stop by using the phrase "How about them [local sports team]?" We have discussed the situation in advance, recognised that there's times conversations should be abandoned and that's our codeword for that. (We did try to navigate those chats multiple ways, but after a certain point, we just can't do it).
posted by b33j at 2:35 AM on January 12 [3 favorites]


Almost every argument starts with something "hypothetical" or "trivial." You don't usually sit down and say, "Let's hash out this big, serious issue." It's more like you're just having a normal conversation but then somehow a subject comes up that means more than it seems to mean. You're not really arguing about that episode of Buffy, or how to fold the towels right. It's really about something much deeper and more personal.

The issue isn't how to avoid contentious issues. It's what to do about them when they come up. If you guys don't argue well at this stage that isn't necessarily a deal breaker, but it's something you need to work on.

Bill Burr did a bit about the underrated phrase, "Hey, fair enough!" It doesn't mean you agree with the other person, it just means something like, "You may have a point, and in any case I'd like to stop arguing now." He's a remarkably scrappy, divisive fellow, but maybe he's onto something there. Maybe you guys should try the occasional "fair enough!"

A lot of guys want a girlfriend A lot of people want a partner around but only as long as you don't challenge their built in assumptions about life or try to assert any control or superiority. (FTFY. Also, challenging assumptions may be good but trying to assert control or superiority in a relationship is really not good. )
posted by Ursula Hitler at 2:57 AM on January 12 [5 favorites]


The situation you describe actually isn't hypothetical, though. You were trying to give your opinion and your BF shut you down with a pretty childish reaction.

I cannot favorite sockermom's comment enough because I was engaged to someone like your BF. The tipping point when I decided I had to break up with him was after seeing an ad for a movie about art rescuers during WWII, I wondered how the movie would dance around people trying to save art while millions of Jews and others were being slaughtered.

After I said that, the ex went on a fairly insane tirade so I was saying EVERYONE who saw this movie was a Nazi and hated Jews and things got really weird, really fast.

In the next few days, I had the epiphany that not only did he have zero respect for my opinion, he wasn't interested in hearing anyone's opinion but his own. I was able to see he was just so much more self-centered than I had ever realized. Once I was able to make sense of the this pattern, a lot of little pieces fell into place and I made him move out.

I would have you consider how often this type of stuff is happening. Is he really respectful or does he get huffy and try to shut you down? Does he always need to be right?

Another question I would encourage you to ask is not "Is this normal?" but "Is this what I want in a relationship with my significant other? Is this something I want to do for the rest of my life?"

Quoted for truth.
posted by yes I said yes I will Yes at 3:04 AM on January 12 [17 favorites]


When my ex did this, I started to realize that it came up where the situations we were discussing touched on feminism. If the discussion opened with me sympathizing with a woman being mistreated (like your Tonya Harding example), he could never just agree and sympathize also. He would start out, "to be fair..." and point out something she did wrong or something good about those who mistreated her. He had a battle-of-the-sexes worldview, where every positive word about women has to be balanced out with either a positive word about men or a negative word about women because anything else would be unfair. And when I thought about what that meant for our real life relationship with me as a woman, who would like a partner to support me without having to instantly even the score by tearing me down a little or requiring me show an equivalent amount of support to him, well, realizing that I wasn't just extrapolating from the hypothetical but that there were real and recent and hurtful examples of that actually happening in our relationship, is what got me upset.
posted by Former Congressional Representative Lenny Lemming at 5:04 AM on January 12 [24 favorites]


I made the comment that I feel bad about the fact that Tonya's life has been so hard for her; bf responded, "why? she's clearly not a good person."

Is it that he disagrees, or is it that he lacks empathy?

Does he ever come back later and apologize and say that you had a good point, or he loves your perspective? Are these conversations leading you to start thinking twice before you say anything?

I don’t know what you’re looking for in a relationship right now, but my husband and I have gone through so much together in life – illness, death, family crisis, parenting - and our ability to communicate about the really big decisions has been so important. This would be a dealbreaker for me if these conversations weren’t resolving eventually or becoming less frequent.
posted by warriorqueen at 5:17 AM on January 12 [11 favorites]


I guess the real answer here should be "don't engage in conversations that might be contentious" but I just don't always know what's going to be contentious. Or perhaps, "try to keep the conversation free of emotion" which I feel like I try to do, but bf doesn't do as well (I'm sure I have room for growth in this area, too). Or maybe the answer is, "hun, this is what normal relationships are like. People only fight about the things that are really important or really, really stupid."

d) none of the above

The "real" answer as far as I'm concerned is "you both keep expanding your toolkits for having these conversations until you find a way to talk about hard things together that works for both of you." From your description, it sounds like you are in a place of starting with a larger toolkit, but neither of you are actively looking for new ways to have these discussions.

For instance, in my current relationship I've found that a good strategy is when I start to feel frustrated about the conversation, I say so, and I articulate why (and this is NOT natural to me). That cuts me off from getting truculent, and it lets my partner know what's going on in my head so she sees I'm not just digging in on some "hypothetical," I'm responding to a real thing happening in the moment. Sometimes she responds in kind or is the one to initiate that shift in the conversation. And presto, we've had a small fight but a bigger coming together by letting ourselves be vulnerable.

That's one example, I'm not saying it's the way forward for you two. Whatever you try, the key thing is you BOTH have to try. If you're trying and he just keeps falling back into the same patterns, well, you may find a way to communicate that avoids the immediate hurt feelings of the conflict*, but I bet over time you'll (rightly) begin to resent how much you had to work to make that happen while for him it just magicked into being with no effort.

*Conflict is not inherently bad, it's inevitable, but we are most of us varying degrees of bad at dealing with it.
posted by solotoro at 7:08 AM on January 12 [2 favorites]


He says:?“Why? She’s not a good person.”
You say: “When you say that I feel upset or sad or defensive... I’m not sure why or I wonder if you think less of me for my bad choices...”
In other words, don’t jump from his statement to “Well what about if...”
Stick with the impact of it on your feeling right then and there. Be curious about what you feel and why.
posted by SyraCarol at 8:28 AM on January 12 [4 favorites]


Thanks, all, for your responses. To clarify, after we have a conversation that turns sour like this, we do come back and have a conversation about how we had the conversation and see to find out what our mutual trigger points were. In this instance, he felt like I was communicating in the style of a debate so he immediately felt defensive; I didn't perceive that I was communicating in that way and got upset when he started getting upset and straw-manning my responses. When our heads are clear after these frustrating talks, we can both see where each other is coming from, admit our own wrongdoing, and brainstorm ways to do better in future conversations. (To answer someone's question earlier if whether I was upset about his defensiveness or his lack of empathy in general, if I'm going to be honest, I would say both.)

What's hard is that my bf isn't an asshole, promise. Honestly, if you met him, you'd like him. He's one of those sweet, funny, nerdy guys who has great long friendships and takes care of his family. He listens to me and supports me and is always very understanding when we have conflict. The comment about the different-sized toolkits is real. He's getting better, in large part because I'm his main relationship that forces him to talk about his feelings, but he's not nearly as adept at navigating how and why he's feeling a way and what course of action to take as a result. He's not "Metafilter Member Response"-level by any means. I enjoy our relationship 98% of the time, the 2% being these kinds of conversation, obviously, and I'm not sure that this is something I don't want to put up with. Has anyone else had relationships (romantic or otherwise) where they saw a person with fewer tools in their emotional toolkit develop more?
posted by orangesky4 at 9:15 AM on January 12 [1 favorite]


1) I enjoy engaging in discussions about complex topics, conversations that start with a question and end with more questions; bf doesn't really love that. He's intelligent and sharp, but doesn't really see much point in talking for talking's sake. It's too emotionally heavy for him and he'd rather talk about topics that are lighter in nature.

To me, this is the crux of the question. I tried to think of how your boyfriend might write the question from his perspective: "My girlfriend and I get along great, except in situations where she wants to engage me in these really stressful, emotional philosophical debates about completely hypothetical situations. I don't really like spending a lot of time thinking about philosophical problems--it stresses me out, and it doesn't impact my life. She always seems really cool and calm in these debates, so it kind of adds insult to injury when I'm getting emotional and she's staying so perfectly logical and rational. Sometimes it even feels like she's steering me toward some kind of 'gotcha' moment, even though I know she doesn't mean it that way. Ultimately, it seems like she sees my inability to engage in random philosophical debates as some kind of emotional deficiency--almost like something she sees as her job to help me exercise and develop by making me do it more often. But it's not fun for me, and it makes me act like the worst version of myself."

So your actual question for yourself should be: assume you can't have conversations like this anymore. As in, assume that if you identify this pattern starting to happen, you (both you and him) need to acknowledge it's happening and shut it down, rather than continuing. Do you still want to be in this relationship?
posted by capricorn at 12:11 PM on January 12


(As an addendum to that, the answer for me is usually "no". I've had relationships in the past, though not romantic ones, where I can't talk about values without some version of this dynamic happening--I've been on both sides--and it's always been a sign that I need to put some distance between myself and that person. But it's something you have to decide for yourself, which is why my comment ends in a question and not a DTMFA.)
posted by capricorn at 12:17 PM on January 12


I think the reason conversations about hypotheticals like this can get so upsetting is that they reveal a persons worldview and values in our real lives. For example, Tonya Harding is a real person and the portrayal you watched was of the events in her actual life. For someone to be able to watch the crazy amounts of violence and abuse she suffered from her mother AND THEN her boyfriend, coupled with the fact that her abusive, violent husband was the one who perpetrated the assault and tanked the career she'd sacrificed her whole life for with no other safety net, without thinking twice, and handwave it away because 'she wasn't a good person' says... not good things about his capacity for empathy, his understanding of abuse, his conception of the systematic abuse of poor and vulnerable women in particular, and it would unsettle me very much to hear this too. This is real life, real consequences. Not a Buffy episode.

I have disagreements with my husband over various forms of art. But there is no heat of this kind behind them because we both already know each other's values and respect each other's opinions as people who love each other (whilst not seeing eye to eye on everything). I remember an ex of mine getting suddenly defensive when people would ask about my job (I was temping at a women's shelter). Initially I didn't notice because he had no reaction to my hiring, but me talking about it, even when asked by someone else, was a problem. I later realised he had a lot of trouble accepting he had privileges and any mention of the problems of people in shelters, women, mental health, lgbt, poc he would get very defensive. I remember once he went on a long rant about 'no one can prove those child abuse allegations on Michael Jackson' and then told me off about 'appropriate conversation topics' we were allowed to have on holiday. Fights about fiction or celebrities are real life stuff that can indicate bad things about people.

Only you know your boyfriend, and this stuff can even come out after a relatively long time, when you've invested a lot of your energy, attention, care and time in someone (not to mention the real opportunity cost of meeting others better suited to you) so it doesn't seem like it's worth falling out over a silly fight over a celebrity. But it's worth keeping in mind what these little fights are about and what they mean for you and your values and long term goals IRL.
posted by everydayanewday at 12:48 PM on January 12 [6 favorites]


I think it's possible to develop a larger toolkit, in part because I definitely have.

However my husband wasn't developing it for me. I was actively developing it for myself. And a lack of empathy can be a real issue, not just in adult partnership, but in parenting, if you are thinking you might end up there.

In your original post, you said "don't engage in conversations that might be contentious" was your solution. Personally, I could never, ever accept as the partner of my life and heart someone that shut me down in the way you're describing, because part of what I most want to share in life with my partner is my responses to art, movies, books, friends' lives, etc. etc. I also believe in the value of empathy.

So if that's the choice you're having, then I would not personally want to compromise myself to that degree. It's not about declaring someone an asshole. I think I would like to repeat myself for the millionth time and recommend Harriet Lerner's books to you as something to read about patterns in relationships, and see if anything resonates.
posted by warriorqueen at 1:06 PM on January 12 [1 favorite]


If you're both aware that this is a thing that happens to you, I'd have one more meta-conversation about it that isn't about a specific fight. If you're both up for it, agree that whenever one of you senses that this is happening, you can bail on the conversation by saying "hey, we're doing that thing we talked about." They you or he can deploy that as soon as a conversation that starts out normal starts getting tense.
posted by Ragged Richard at 2:32 PM on January 12


This is real life, real consequences. Not a Buffy episode.

My point was that arguments often begin about something that doesn't seem directly related to your own life, but it's symbolizing a more personal issue. Also, please note that I put hypothetical and trivial in quotes. There are many subjects, from Buffy to Tonya Harding, that maybe don't seem like they would have a direct impact on your life but end up symbolizing something deeper to you.

I didn't see I, Tanya, but I did read the NY Times article that showed up on Metafilter the other day and I came away from it with a very different take on Harding than many here seem to have. I don't want to use this space to rehash the Harding-Kerrigan thing, but I will say that while I think Harding has suffered more than she deserved, the OP's boyfriend isn't necessarily an empathy-lacking monster for considering Harding a bad person, and he wasn't necessarily "handwaving" anything away. Harding's story is a complicated mess, and it's divisive for a reason. (It's worth pointing out that Kerrigan was a woman from a working-class background too, so hailing Harding as some working class, feminist hero is... problematic.)

I think the OP is probably accurate when she suggests she's more emotionally sophisticated than this guy, and they're trying to work on communicating better. I think we should be trying to help them do that, rather than just suggesting she DTMFA or making more general (and arguably sexist) comments about men. (And to be clear, that last bit was not a reference to what everydayanewday said and I actually thought her concluding paragraph was spot-on.)
posted by Ursula Hitler at 2:49 PM on January 12 [1 favorite]


The part in all this that I really think is problematic is this:

I guess the real answer here should be "don't engage in conversations that might be contentious" but I just don't always know what's going to be contentious. Or perhaps, "try to keep the conversation free of emotion" which I feel like I try to do, but bf doesn't do as well (I'm sure I have room for growth in this area, too).

When you start making your life smaller to try to control his reactions then that's a big red flag. If you're happy 98% of the time but that 98% is when you're both doing well and things are fine then think about what happens (or what you could see happening) when one of you is sick. How does he react when you have to break plans for some reason? When you're late? Then how does it feel when he does one of those things? If he holds you to a much higher standard than he holds himself to then that's something to recognize and think about.

If a relationship is great as long as nothing bad happens then the relationship isn't actually all that great, you know?
posted by dawkins_7 at 3:04 PM on January 12 [8 favorites]


He's one of those sweet, funny, nerdy guys who has great long friendships and takes care of his family. He listens to me and supports me and is always very understanding when we have conflict.

I don't know how to say this exactly but your boyfriend can still be a good person, but still not the right partner for you. If this is the same person your past question was about, everyone suggested that you really think about if this person is ready for a commitment. This is the person who will be teaching your children about listening to others and conflict. This person will have to set aside their own feelings and collaborate with you at the deepest level if you do get married. They will have to model for children how to set aside differences and support others even when they disagree with them. Unfortunately, you can not insert the desire to do this into them, or the ability. I think as a teacher it is easy for you to want to promote others' growth and to identify people's potential before they see it themselves. And maybe assume that if you see it and talk about it long enough, the person will grow. But others can not grow in these areas unless it is really their top priority.
posted by karmachameleon at 7:07 PM on January 12 [2 favorites]


Part of why I was recommending above taking a deeper look at your goals in the conversation and what type of connection or information you're trying to get, is that both my partner and I have grown our tool kits significantly in our decade-plus together. And part of how we've done that is by taking a better look at what emotional needs we're trying to get met in conversation and how we can:

1. Communicate that more clearly, and
2. Respond better when the other person is communicating what they need.

#2 means if one of us is making a bid for attention in some way even if it's frivolous, the other tries to recognize that and turn toward the partner rather than respond on the surface and potentially reject that connection. And for #1 on the communication side, it's helped for me to seek counseling about how to approach a conversation in a way that is open, leaves room for my partner, and clearly states where I'm coming from without assuming he's already in the same emotional state as I am. Giving him a few chances to positively surprise me with his thoughts and reactions has been very good for our relationship, much better than withdrawing or assuming difficult topics are off-limits would be.
posted by Lady Li at 12:59 AM on January 13


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