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Values & Consideration


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Dear ENA,

 

I don't know if anyone is online this late, but I'm writing because of an ongoing problem I'm having with my boyfriend. [sorry, this is going to be long].

 

I believe that when people are in relationship with each other, it is important to consider each others' feelings, values and needs.

 

There are many things I appreciate about my boyfriend, however, I am frustrated with three issues that are high on my list of values and needs. While I don't put the demand on him that I put on myself in these areas, I ask that he do some minimal things in consideration of me as his partner.

 

We will have conflict over these issues, I will lower my standard/expectation, he will agree, and there will be harmony for a little while. In anywhere from a week to a few months he will drop the ball with no warning or reason. As though he had sudden amnesia, he brings us back to square one on why it matters in the first place when I ask him about it. It usually goes like this: first asking (and I swear I'm nice!): "I don't want to", further questioning: "I just don't want to, I need to make my own decisions (all with a sour look and irritated voice)", last probe: "if you don't like it, leave. Why does it matter to you in the first place?" The topics of conflict have to do with our communication, health, and living situation.

 

The problem as I see it is that he grew up with what he felt were domineering mother and older sister. If he agrees to do anything that is for my happiness or satisfaction (which he rarely ever initiates), he will suddenly feel as though I am dominating him. If I suggest activities for the day even, he becomes quietly resentful and with further probing he eventually will say he's irritated because I "have an agenda" to do things that I want to do. In all sincerity, on these occasions I didn't even care if we did them and was only proposing ideas. He would go along with them only later saying he didn't really want to.

 

When I try to sit down and talk to him about things, I tell him what I'm thinking and feeling and ask questions and he typically jumps right into the defensive or sits quietly giving me no response until he gets tired of sitting there waiting for me to just say nevermind or something. It's usually after a big conflict and I've given up (note any possible "demand" is gone at this point) that he will come back, be sweet and agree to whatever I was requesting in the first place. *He has the ability to be sweet and considerate. And with much patience and persistence on my part, I've seen him communicate very well and open up. I think it is very hard for him though.

 

The issue around the issues that I'm trying to get to in this post, is the problem I'm having with him being so uncooperative, avoidant in discussing feelings and needs, avoidant regarding problem solving, unwilling to work on improving our relationship and his own personal growth issues. I may poor a tone of energy into connecting with him, make a huge progress and then start back at square one the following week or month. We've been going around the same issues for at least a year and a half now. I want to practice positive communication skills together with him and build better patterns and habits. He doesn't want to.

 

I know this is not personal to me as I see the same behavior with his family.

 

Is this something that cannot be resolved? Am I not savy or "smooth" enough? I've heard women say that you have to do things in a way that makes a man feel like it was his own idea...? I don't really know how to do this, but I don't see him buying into any idea in these areas because even in areas he has desire to change he has no motivation to take on the challenge.

 

Bottom line, it seems that he doesn't want to have to put in any effort (in most areas of his life), if something makes him feel good and doesn't require effort he's in, if a challenge presents itself and things aren't fun and easy he'd rather bow out (unless money or games are involved and then there's still a limit).

 

I've been holding things together because I desire relationship, I do care about him, and I honestly wonder (sorry guys), if that's just something about men that women have to deal with when it comes to interpersonal relationships with them. Ladies, do you think that's true?

 

Also to the ladies, how do you get your needs met without a guy immediately thinking you're trying to dominate him or tell him what to do?

 

I definitely pick my battles and compromise on many things, but I don't want to feel that my needs and feelings are squelched to near nothing.

 

Is this just an extreme case and I'd do better to find someone else?

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Something important that I didn't get out of this: what, exactly, does he say or do that you don't want him to say or do? Or, what does he not say or do that you want him to do?

 

If you want to address something, it helps to be as concise as possible.

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Relationships take give and take. Both sides need to try to understand their partners. Your demands don't seem like much to you, but to him they probably seem kinda monumental. That and he probably has a shell built up against manipulative women (see mom and sister in this column), ie his vision is a little tainted by this and he probably uses it as an excuse to cop out on self improvement.

 

As a guy who's been there, I would like to face to face with him and tell him to stop being a and man up. If he doesn't like something, say so, and explain why. Then suggest a compromise. If he cares about you, then he should be just as willing to put something into the relationship.

 

I've been playing this same game for awhile too, and admittedly it is tough changing old habits and letting someone get to know me, but this girl is so amazing. I'd sell my kidneys for her. So, yeah, I'm open to change. It's weird and a little frightening... yeah... after 10 years of not physically being able to cry even when I was a tornado of broken glass inside... change comes slow, but it does come. I actually feel a little more like a human again now and less an angry spiteful bastard who had little ability to show emotions inside his hermit's shell.

 

What it's going to take from you is three things, patience, love, and perspective. Patience does not mean putting up with all the time or enduring crappy behavior. It means patience with mistakes and failures. Love meaning a soft touch and caring for him. Because if you do want him to open up, really open up, it's going to be like opening a clam or other mollusk- slow, gentle, and non threatening. The moment he senses trouble (real or imagined) that shell will be snapping shut again. Also, what he sees from you will be what coaxes him to open up. If he doesn't like a suggestion you make, then ask him what he wants to do. If he says it doesn't matter, challenge him not to be so boring. Suggest all kinds of crazy things. Smile! The final piece is perspective. Know where he is coming from. Try to see the world from his eyes. Don't just guess though, ask.

 

I will end on a sour note. You can dislike me for this one, fine, but hear it out. Quit the martyring act. If you think for an instant of how much you put into a relationship and what you're getting out of it, you're keeping score. And if anything will make him want to crawl back up in that shell faster I don't know it. Love doesn't keep track of who did what. If you come accross as someone who's keeping track, how will that make you any different from his mother and sister or other "scheming women" in his mind? Often in life we get what we give. One last quick question to consider, how often do you ask him to do something you think he would like to do? I know this last part is tough, but I try to see both sides of the coin... hence the name. I wish you the best. Love openly.

~~PJ

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Thanks catfeeder. I tend to be very brief and specific when I approach him, however, on here I wanted to give as much information as possible (and open to further questions), and 2, I'm not bringing up the specific issues on here because it is more about his attitude which I described. On a side note, I find that when I talk about specific issues people tend to veer from the fundamental question and give their opinion on whether it's legitimate to ask xyz of someone - those opinions always fall on both sides.

 

I'll give an example, however, in case there it's too much information to grapple with:

 

In the area of communication, he often holds things in and then acts pissy or distant for days until I can finally weasle something out of him. I've asked him if he could let me know what his needs are and/or let me know when something bothers him before he gets all bent out of shape. One time, for example, we were on a plane and I was excitedly talking to him and he said, "It's nothing personal, but I don't feel like talking right now. Could we not talk right now?" He asked in a nice tone, too. I have forever praised him for this and asked he'd communicate this way more often. I was happy to comply!

 

He's not always passive, the other side of him comes as a rude remark or demand without consideration or explanation, but that's another story. (He's not passive-aggressive, he flip flops between passive and aggressive).

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Ahh, you nailed it Partime Judas. I love it! and I appreciate the challenge, too.

 

He is a hermit and all is as you describe. I agree with your assessment and solution (if I stick it out).

 

Me, oh yes, I have turned into an ugly martyr. It didn't start out that way at all, it's just the lopsidedness of the giving is so vast and I've come to feel so deprived that I am beginning to moan. It seems he doesn't see or notice unless I point it out. I agree I need to find another way to gain cooperation than pointing out the imbalance. I shifted at the points I really lost patience and it's been a slippery slope indeed.

 

I definitely ask him if he wants to do things he likes (not always his favorite favorite thing - seeing bands play cause I'm pretty burnt on it. Occasionally I go), but I definitely and regularly ask him or go along with him on things he enjoys. Good question!

 

I'm happy to hear you have found motivation to challenge these behaviors. I can tell it is tough. When my bf does actually open up it is such a beautiful and rewarding experience if not but for that very reason. I'd love to hear your progress and/or help encourage you along the way if you ever need it.

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I've been holding things together because I desire relationship, I do care about him, and I honestly wonder (sorry guys), if that's just something about men that women have to deal with when it comes to interpersonal relationships with them. Ladies, do you think that's true?

 

Also to the ladies, how do you get your needs met without a guy immediately thinking you're trying to dominate him or tell him what to do?

 

 

Is this just an extreme case and I'd do better to find someone else?

 

Perhaps you should find someone who is more compatible with you when it comes to communicating. If you feel so drained and upset by his communication style (or lack of it) there must be a better guy for you out there. I wonder how it would work with more important problems and kids. I guess your conflicts would be horrible.

I also read between the lines that you are really not that much into him but you fancy a relationship.

 

I really didn't understand the general idea or problems you guys are having....dunno...perhaps I don't get your style of writing. What I understood is that you find him passive, and resentful after he does what you want, but if there were no you he actually would be too passive to make a decision about anything. Seems like he is passive- aggressive with low emotional intelligence.

 

It this what I said was what you wanted to say I think you could find a new one.

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Your boyfriend does not demonstrate "low emotional intelligence" and clearly you care for him or you wouldn't be trying to work this out. I think the people we love present the most challenges to us exactly because we love them...if we didn't we would just say "Next!!".

I think Judas has some good suggestions....I, too, have been advised to not "keep score" in the past and my husband does it sometimes too. Once you can acknowledge a problem, it's easier to work on. You have acknowledged what you can do on your end...does he accept that there are things he can do better to contribute to a more equal partnership??

Best wishes

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Seeking Harmony:

 

The problem as I see it is that he grew up with what he felt were domineering mother and older sister. If he agrees to do anything that is for my happiness or satisfaction (which he rarely ever initiates), he will suddenly feel as though I am dominating him. If I suggest activities for the day even, he becomes quietly resentful and with further probing he eventually will say he's irritated because I "have an agenda" to do things that I want to do

 

Well, it is likely that the domineering mother and sister are/were part of the problem, but that is not your fault.

I can"t see why he would become resentful just because you suggest - simply - activities on one day. That would be normal in any house at any time. If his response to this is that you have an "agenda" to do things, then to me that sounds very paranoid.

Again, even if you are asking nicely and being un-domineering, he is still the small boy kicking against the "orders" (in his perception) from the domineering mother and sister.

 

I can only echo Siriana here:

 

Perhaps you should find someone who is more compatible with you when it comes to communicating. If you feel so drained and upset by his communication style (or lack of it) there must be a better guy for you out there

 

All the best

H

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This post confirmed what I'd suspected after the first post, and so I'm going to give a surprising answer that you may well feel incredulous about, but give it some serious thought. His behaviour is that of someone who is afraid of upsetting you, who is driven by a need to feel more loved by you. He never pushes his agenda except in moments when he bursts, because he doesn't want to make himself vulnerable or expose himself. He has regular sulking fits because he wants the thrill of you comforting him and being sweet to him. Things have developed into a situation where you are the dominant partner, and he is essentially afraid of you, or the control you have over his feelings; you have almost taken on a mother-child emotional dynamic. He feels completely unempowered, and are resentful of that, and you unwillingly have to take charge, and resentful of that. What to do about that? I don't have a definitive answer to that, but I would start by trying to make him feel more secure, because it is insecurity, inadvertently triggered by something in the way you behave towards him, that is at the root of it.

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