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saying no

Hello! 

I’m struggling to find good ways to respond to my boyfriend when he tells me what I should or need to be doing. I’m in therapy to recover and get to a place where I think that I’m good enough & love and trust myself again (after years growing up having that constantly undermined), and therapy has been going very well. 

I believe that my boyfriend (of almost 2.5 years) wants to help me succeed, be better, and do what we both know I’m capable of. The way he goes about it though, is damaging my self-esteem and is a constant source of “you’re not good enough” for me. 

He wants me to exercise more, eat healthier, help out more with the cleaning, and take better care of myself. All good things. But the way he goes about it is “you need to exercise today”. If I tell him I already did, he tells me that walking doesn’t count, that it needs to be more strenuous exercise. He’ll get mad if he thinks that I’m not exercising often enough, or if I stop doing as many “good things” like eating veggies and working out, while he’s out of town. He never lashes out with his anger, he just doesn’t talk much when he’s mad. He says that he still loves me even if I don’t do these things (but it doesn’t feel that way to me). 

We’ve never reached a good resolution about this, and it keeps coming up. I’ve asked him to stop trying to get me to change, that you can’t change other people, but he refuses to accept that, to the point that he says it’s the stupidest thing he’s ever heard. We both are very logic- and reason-focused people, but he’s come to the conclusion that, “if she just does these things, I won’t have to deal with her being depressed.” 

It makes me feel like nothing I do will ever be good enough, that he will always focus on what I’m not doing instead of what I am trying to do. He says I need to do more, try harder, and not let myself be comfortable. Everything I do in therapy has been trying to build confidence, motivation, and self-respect from within and stop relying exclusively on it externally, and then I go home and grapple with someone telling me that I need to do these things to be better.

Is there a chance he will realize that the moods are part of the package, and something I’m trying to work on gradually, not all at once? How can I respond when he gets mad at me for not being good enough? 

Thanks, 

Terrible at Advice Column Nicknames

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Dear Captain Awkward,

My husband and I are newlyweds. He is currently unemployed and job searching. We are living on my income and it isn’t much. However, I place my health at a high priority because I’ve had high healthcare costs in the past. We eat well, but we make up for it by almost never dining out. We budget carefully for when we do dine out and for our discretionary funds and we’re financially responsible.

We’re not exactly poor, but we do watch our budget. However, many of our friends don’t seem to understand this. When we arrange hangouts, we try actively to schedule something that doesn’t cost money or costs little. We even prefer having a single person over to going out to dinner with that person, because it is literally cheaper to cook for 3 than to pay for 2 at a sit down place in our area.

Our friends don’t seem to understand that we’re not poor, and that we don’t want to be treated to dinner. Everyone wants to go out, and when we ask about how much the place they want to go is, they offer to pay. This is not what we want. We just want to pay for our food or ask to hang out somewhere a little more affordable. We are hoping to have a family in the next 5 years so I’m saving very carefully.

We would say something like:

“I’d love to hang out, but we’re on a tight budget and we’re trying to eat home more. Would you like to come over for brunch instead of going out? I can make an amazing gingerbread waffle and some bacon and eggs, and Husband makes amazing pour-over coffee.”

And get this:

“No don’t worry, my treat!”

I know some of these friends are in financial difficulty too and their money is tight. I can’t tell if it’s cultural, because many of them are from my culture (Chinese) and we really love to treat others to food. That’s how we show love! I think it’s great, but how can I tell them that we can’t keep going out on their treat and enforce it lovingly but firmly?

Regards,
Trying to Adult

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Dear Captain Awkward,

I’m a journalist and also like to write short fiction in my free time. I feel weird saying this but I guess it helps with explaining the problem: I’ve gotten pretty good (part of the job) and I’ve done well in contests and such in the past, so I think it’s safe to say I’m becoming a good writer. I love getting critiques because they’re super helpful if given by a knowledgeable person.

Sometimes, however, someone very well meaning but who doesn’t have much experience writing will give me a critique that I know isn’t very good, but I know they meant well– the most recent time this is happening being with my boyfriend.

A couple weeks ago, he asked me if I would like him to critique a story I was working on. I didn’t think it through too much and said I’d love that, but the critique he gave back was really unhelpful and nonsensical at some parts. I love him dearly and he’s a great guy but I know he’s not the best at giving writing critiques. He continues to ask if I need help/want him to critique again. It’s super nice of him! But I know it’s not helpful at all. …but I don’t want to hurt his feelings by saying so.

This has happened with other people in the past as well. My question: how do I gracefully accept a bad critique someone’s given (bad not out of malevolence) and, if they ask, explain why I didn’t change what they said I should change? This is most striking with the boyfriend situation, since I see him all the time and since he reads my writing, he would know that I didn’t listen to his advice. I really don’t want him to feel bad for taking his time out to do something so nice either.

Help?

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Once a month I try to answer the things that people typed into search engines to find my blog as if they are questions. It’s an exercise in mixed results.

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Captain and Crew,

I’ve been married to a wonderful man for almost 5 years now. He and I have worked hard to have a marriage based on openness and honesty.

We decided fairly early on we weren’t in a hurry to have kids, if ever. We wanted to have time to be just us. Then I had some medical issues which required a snip of the tubes, so it hasn’t even been an issue for many years.

The second question my MIL ever asked me was if I was going to give her grandchildren. To the point she stopped talking to us for a year after the marriage when we told her it wasn’t happening.

My husband has always, always handled her and stood up to her on our (and my) behalf. He’s never tried to make me do what she wants even superficially for “family harmony”.

Adding to the tension is the fact that for ten years her ex husband brutally abused my husband. When my husband finally talked to her about it and asked why she didn’t allow him to live elsewhere, her reply was “I didn’t want to admit I was wrong. I would rather you be abused and hurt than hear ‘I told you so’ from my mother”. She has also Whitewashed the abuse and makes it like they had a Rockwell childhood.

There has been therapy for all of this, don’t worry. And continues to be.

Husband and I are now talking about having kids in the next couple years, especially now that we have found out My body has reversed that surgery all on it’s own (super mutant Fallopian tubes for the win).

We will need to set boundaries, probably All over again. Going into it this is what We would want:

1. She would never be left alone with any of our kids. Ever. She has a history of poor decision making and drug use.

2. We would need to restrict how much time she is visiting for our own sanity, and to be honest, mainly mine.

3. That she will not argue every aspect of our parenting choices.

So when is the best time to establish these? What’s a good script that doesn’t involve my overprotective tendencies an easy out? Can I just hide being pregnant until the kid is like 13?

We are not telling anyone I am fertile again, but we are discussing all of this potential madness.

Thanks for your advice

Not yet a momma but already dreading grandmomma drama

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Hello Captain!

Something has been bothering me for a long time – I have been accused of “leading guys on.” When this happened in college and grad school, I shrugged it off because the guys who would accuse me of this were always ones that took any female attention as romantic interest in them or they had a crush on me, but I had told them, usually several times, that I was not interested in them romantically, only as friends.

I am a friendly, smiley person who is easy to talk to/confide in (which is good since I am a healthcare provider now), so I am guessing that helps lend to their idea that I am romantically interested in them. But if they paid attention, they would see that I am like that with everyone! However, I do make a point of not flirting at all, not touching them in any way, and only meeting with them in groups to avoid any accidental messages going through to guys that I suspect have interest in me. 

But I feel like it keeps happening! And it is really starting to make me angry because I am trying to make professional connections (and hopefully friends!) and I am so tired of guys coming onto me out of nowhere or when it is clearly inappropriate.

For example, I went to a business lunch with two professionals. The second person never showed up, so we had some drinks and chatted. We talked about our relationships a bit (me = my boyfriend is awesome, him = having a child completely changed his life and marriage). We went back to his office to talk more (business, I thought), when he said, “if I was younger, I would have thought that you coming back to my office meant you wanted to sleep with me.” I was shocked. I wrapped up the conversation and ran.

Something similar happened with another healthcare provider. We were exchanging treatments, and because he was so easy to talk to, I ended up confiding much more in him than I usually would with someone. He ended up confiding his marriage problems to me and a few sessions later, he stated that he “could not be alone with me” because he was “afraid something he would regret would happen.” I assured him that I would never cheat on my boyfriend, so he had nothing to worry about from me, but I respected his wish to stop our exchanges. I was upset about this for a few weeks because I thought I had finally found a new friend to talk about our practices and daydreamed about double dates with him and his wife.

There is a third guy with the same basic thing of us hanging out, him coming onto me when I thought we were just friends, me having to leave ASAP, and then never talking to him again AND actively avoiding seeing him (which means I have to skip professional events I would like to attend but not enough to risk seeing him).

Both times, these guys were married AND we had talked about my wonderful boyfriend. I know they are unhappy with their marriages, but I am clearly happy with my relationship, and even if I wasn’t, I would never cheat and I really resent the implied accusation that I would do so. With the unmarried third guy, the same still stands because he knew about my boyfriend.

My boyfriend only knows about what happened with the third guy because I was so distraught over it (it was actually the first event). He said that I am too nice and naive. I know I can be pretty oblivious when reading signals that are related to me (it’s so much easier to observe what’s happening with other people!), but I am actively doing everything I can think of to avoid sending misleading signals and avoiding “compromising” situations.

What am I doing wrong? I can’t possibly be leading every guy on, can I?

Thank you for reading (and thank you for all of your previous posts!),
Not Leading Them On (On Purpose Anyway)

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Hi Captain,

I was re-reading post #247 about highly difficult people (they will not change!) which I have found very helpful and I have a question. I have a highly difficult person in my life (my Mother-In-Law) who blessedly lives very far away (yay!). So most of the time I live my life like she doesn’t exist. Until…there is a visit. It seems like a lot of your advice is try to be nice, and when shitty people get shitty, leave. You also advise for the offspring of the highly difficult person to do around 50% of the visits alone. But what do you do when visiting involves an airplane flight. I feel like “Suzie couldn’t come because she had to wash her hair” won’t fly.

Also what do you do when you are staying in their house or they are in yours, for like multiple days? I think you are probably going to say hotels, but hotels are like a huge deal for my husband’s family. They don’t do them (I know crazy right). They would rather sleep on the world’s most uncomfortable sofa bed than pay for a hotel. Do I lay down the law and say we are staying in a hotel when we visit? What about when she comes to us? I am all about boundaries and keep setting them in relation to her as time/need arise and my husband is mostly on-board with these. He still suffers from a bit of the ‘don’t rock the boat’ syndrome. And staying in a hotel would like capsize it.

The other piece that I’m not sure is relevant is my parents happen to be Amazingly Wonderful People and we love when they come visit and they do stay with us and it is all rainbows and unicorns. So I am asking then to treat our Moms in very different fashions (I know they are different people duh, but I feel a need for evenness – get over it right?).

I guess I’m looking for either a magical solution to multi-day visits of awfulness or permission/encouragement to rock the boat and let it sink??

The Ship is Going Down Anyway

Hello!

The ship IS going down anyway, so talk to your husband so he’s not blindsided and you both have some scripts ready to go, and go ahead and rock that boat! PERMISSION GRANTED.

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