#1225: “My boyfriend is very reactive to conversations about feelings.”

Hello,

I’ve (she/her) been dating my boyfriend (he/him) for one year now, we are both in our late 20s and sadly both still living with our families due to student debt.

For context, we also both have anxiety and he struggles with depression.

It can be very difficult for me to bring up any issues I have with his behaviors, because no matter how small they seem to turn into a big fight because he sees it as me criticizing him. He tells me how unfair it is that i’m always criticizing him when he never criticizes me. He seems to think there are loads of things that I dislike about him and that there is nothing he dislikes about me. Truthfully, I think he’s a wonderful person and a wonderful boyfriend and I tell him that constantly.

It also feels unfair to put me on a pedestal. I for sure do things wrong, I often run late (although due to living situations the burden of transport is always on me).

No matter how gently I approach him he still finds a way to make me an antagonist and then wallows for days (he won’t go out or do anything, he’ll cancel all his plans). I feel like by telling him how I feel about something I am pushing him into depressive moods, and it makes it hard to bring anything up.

Its not as if i’m being overly critical or focusing on the little things. It’s things like him wanting to cancel a date last minute to go play a game with his friends and me trying to say that it makes me feel like i’m not a priority (we have set date nights 1-2 times a week depending on his work schedule, I am very busy and if we don’t have set nights I won’t have any free time to see him). He also tends to respond in extremes “fine then i’ll never try to do anything else on a Tuesday ever again” it makes it really hard to feel as if we’re having a productive conversation.

He also works a part time job in a store while he’s on break from school and I work a full-time job in an office (i’ve graduated). He likes to game with his friends and stay up all night, which I can’t do if I want to be a functioning employee. So when I sleep over at his place (2 nights a week usually) he’ll hop in bed with me for ten minutes and then get up to game all night. He does it because he doesn’t want to feel trapped in bed all night (I get that, I lived with a boyfriend who wouldn’t let me leave the apartment without him and who expected me to go to bed at a certain time and stay there) but often him getting up as I’m falling asleep wakes me back up and makes me feel both a little sad and annoyed (I can sometimes hear him gaming and talking to buddies online although he tries to be quiet, also, is spooning me really that much of a chore?).

I feel as though I can’t talk to him about this without him going off the deep end, I wonder if its best to just stop having sleep overs. I really love him, I just feel as though he takes things so hard that I can’t really trust him with how I feel.

-June Wants to Spoon

Hi June Who Wants To Spoon:

It’s okay to have different sleep schedules and social priorities but I want to put this out there:

Someone can be a “wonderful” person and not mesh with you and what you need to have a happy life. I dated someone truly wonderful and kind who was basically nocturnal. I am not nocturnal. It was like living in LadyHawke, we had roughly two hours a day where we were both awake and possibly up for hanging out together and if we missed those hours (due to busy schedules, etc.) we were out of luck. If we tried to push it – If he tried to see me earlier in his “morning,” for example, or if I tried to stay up later – we’d be exhausted and cranky. And when I moved to a different neighborhood the whole thing collapsed, since the transit time ate too far into our mutually awake time. Love can motivate people to put up with all kinds of challenges, but it’s not a rule that it has to. Maybe you’d be happier with someone who liked spooning and sleeping next to you more, and instead of trying to change this boyfriend into one of those, you could break up and meet someone else.

The thing where he shuts down conversation about your needs and feelings tells me that even if you both moved out of your current family-living arrangements you’d still have some trouble getting your needs met. If you’re in a romantic relationship with someone and they ask you, “Can you do more of x please?” or “Can you do less of y?” you’re allowed to decide that no, you can’t or don’t want to give them what they need and figure out something mutually workable, but you don’t get to dismiss the whole question! It’s a (sadly) common fallacy, people convincing themselves that never asking for anything means that a “fair” solution is for the other person to never ask for anything, either, but life isn’t fair, needs aren’t fair, love isn’t fair. You asking for your date night to be somewhat sacrosanct doesn’t mean he never gets to make other plans, it means you’d like some advance notice and some effort on his part to schedule something else if he’s going to bail on the odd hangout. You’re also asking for some recognition of the difference in your circumstances  – you have packed schedule and a definite time you have to be up in the morning – and I don’t think that’s “overly critical.” I think it just is how it is. You are communicating reasonably and clearly and this is how he’s responding. What if this is the best he’s capable of?

Lovely Letter Writer, I’m sure you love this guy, but you sound like you’re in very different places in life, have very different communication styles, different bedroom needs, and that a lot of your time together is snatched here and there around your work life with you basically making it as convenient as possible for him to see you (you’ll just come to his place and he can spoon for a bit and then play video games all night) and him being kind of unappreciative? It doesn’t sound like he wants to work on any aspects of your relationship, it sounds like it bothers him when you have needs and express them and he treats you kind of like you are his parent who asked him to take out the garbage (You mentioned that he lives at home, does he take out the garbage without being asked or do his folks have to remind him all the time?). Learning to respond to constructive criticism and/or people in your life telling you things is a skill. It sounds like he’s kind of focused on other things right now, which doesn’t make him a bad person, but it maybe makes him not quite ready for you or compatible with you.

If this relationship is meant to be nothing I say can change that, but it is one of my missions in life when I see women in their 20s, people starting out in their careers, being awesome and respectful and thoughtful, is to raise the questions: What would you do with those two nights a week if you weren’t waiting for your boyfriend to come back to bed and notice you? What friendships could you nurture, what skills could you learn, what books could you read, what walks and bike rides could you take, what changes could you make in your community, what family stories could you learn, what money could you sock away (for your own place someday, for your own adventures in the world), what are all the things you want out of your life and does this boyfriend fit in the picture of all the things you are going to see and be and do? Do you see him behaving differently in the future or is your shared future More This? Do you think he thinks about how to be good to you a tenth as much as you think about him?

There’s a saying that the bulk of all advice is the advice-giver talking to their past self and that’s fair in this case, because I can see me throughout my 20s, sharp as a tack and bright as a new penny, waiting for some guy I rearranged my schedule for and tidied up for and got dressed up for because I’d been looking forward all week to our date night and then being made to feel like I was interrupting his very special plans to do the same sitting-on-his-couch he did every day, being made to feel like my needs and affection were “pressure,” and running endless “is he terrible at talking about feelings because he’s depressed or is he terrible at talking about feelings and he’s depressed” simulations. If I could get all the time from those nights I spent feeling like some guy’s extremely pleasant and accommodating interruption back, I could start a band, become fluent in several languages, circumnavigate the globe on foot and by canoe, and get a second graduate degree. My message for that girl/you/anyone reading this who needs to hear it: You can’t love someone into being who you need them to be.

What happens in the short term if your two “date” nights a week becomes one night a week, if you stopped commuting as much, if you stop sleeping over so much when you have work the next day, if you worked less hard on this relationship in general? Would the pressure ease a little bit and the time you spend together be more enjoyable for being even scarcer? Would he even notice? Would you still be driving all the way across town for 10 minutes of his attention? I hope you get some answers and I hope you get what you need, maybe from this guy, definitely from your whole beautiful life

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