My boyfriend and I are in our late twenties, have been dating for almost a year, and are seriously considering becoming engaged. He has many wonderful qualities, including being reliable, a hard worker, very affectionate, and always willing to talk about anything. My concern is regarding some personality differences that have come up between us.
I tend to be very sensitive and not deal with criticism well (a flaw of mine, I know). I can handle it better if I’ve asked for it or at least know it’s coming, but when it catches me off-guard I get very upset. My boyfriend, meanwhile, is very opinionated and loves to give his two cents… seemingly on EVERYTHING, and sometimes not very tactfully (a common scenario is when I’ve cooked dinner for him and the first thing out of his mouth is that it’s “okay” but that it needs x, y, and z). His comments are always in the name of being “helpful” and I do believe his intentions are good. I also realize that his comments probably would not be offensive to everyone- but they drive me crazy.
When he notices that I’m upset (which he’s actually pretty good at doing) he’ll try to talk things out with me, which typically results in me acknowledging the truth in what he said and him acknowledging that he could have said it more delicately or waited until I asked his opinion. But then the cycle repeats again… and again… and again… I worry that he’ll become less careful in choosing his words after the wedding vows are said, or that the criticism will eventually wear me down to the point that my self-esteem is in jeopardy. Can you succeed in marriage with a conflict like this if both parties are aware of it and keep communicating? Abbie
You have presented me with a real-life, very human, question. I will ask God to provide to me a very real and human response.
You clearly seem to like your boyfriend, you present him in such a good light despite the fact that he seems to have difficulty in being empathetic. Your situation reminds me of that old bromide, “we have two ears to listen and one mouth to speak”. Your boyfriend, while smart and observant (he particularly notices your flaws), does not appear to have the wisdom to know how to speak appropriately to you.
Does your boyfriend know that you are probably at least as competent as he and that sometimes you just do things differently? You describe what I call the ‘know-it-all syndrome’ which may be rooted in insecurity. The problem with being a ‘know-it-all’ is that we often don’t know how to be kind to others. Moreover, we probably don’t even know when we don’t ‘know-it-all’ and that we’re just being rude. You seem to indicate that your boyfriend falls into this category; his behavior does not seem to you to be incidental. In your own words, it has even reached the point where you worry if even your own “self-esteem is in jeopardy”
Which then leads me to these questions Abbie:
1) Why have you selected someone who is damaging to your self-esteem, and;
2) Presuming that he has all the great compensating qualities you state, why have you not yet been able to satisfactorily address this with him directly?
You may be bringing a bit of your own self-esteem deficit into the relationship. If you are not able to address your needs now with your boyfriend, your marriage will likely confirm what you already seem to expect. Ironically (but thankfully), it is up to you to deal with your boyfriend’s traits.
Being successfully married means that you must be able to address each issue with your partner; now would be a great time to start that process. I did not say that you cannot have differences, you naturally will. Nor should you expect to agree on every issue or every personality trait, even after it has been discussed. Marriage researcher John Gottman has determined that 69% of all marital issues will be persistent, nonetheless we must come to some ‘comfortable’ understanding of what each partner can accept.
What does this mean? You are not likely to change your boyfriend’s personality, thus you must either learn to accept what you are experiencing or you must learn to address directly the behavior traits which are unacceptable. Then, if he becomes considerate of your needs, you win. OTOH, if he cannot show you the change you need, you’ll have to make the hard choice of which life you’d like to lead. BTW: If he cannot make these changes in the limerence phase of your relationship, it is unlikely those traits will change at a later date.
Thanks again for your question Abbie; I invite you to inquire if there is any part which needs clarification or if you have follow-up questions.
PS: Please visit this page and check tip #11 to use when you address your concern.
Ron Kaufmann, MA, CO LPC #11336, EMDR Clinician
National Certified Counselor #267299
AASAT Certified Sexual Recovery Therapist
Recovering Hearts Counseling