Wednesday 24 January 2018

My boyfriend's lovely until he shouts at me

QI HAVE been in a relationship with a lovely guy for the past year and a half. For the first year, we were incredibly 'loved up' and thought we were partners for life. Now that the romantic flurry of new love has passed and we have settled into a more comfortable relationship, I am beginning to wonder if we are right for each other.

While I love my boyfriend deeply, he is quite a sharp person. He sometimes snaps at me and loses his patience with me over silly things. I get so upset when he behaves this way, and feel so bad about myself, but when I mention it to him, it's clear that he doesn't realise how hurtful he has been and just thinks that I'm over-sensitive and need to toughen up. He always reassures me that he loves me, and apologises, but it happens over and over again.

I can't seem to resolve this issue. All his friends joke that he's the nicest guy in the world apart from being "thick and stubborn". I know this is my problem, as I am extremely sensitive and have been depressed in the past because of a bullying incident at work, but I don't know how to handle my boyfriend's moods. I feel like I'm walking on eggshells around him.

He has so many good qualities that I admire, but his moods are clouding my judgement of him and I can feel myself beginning to resent him when he gives out to me. He tells me to stand up for myself more - but when I do this with him, I end up in tears.

My boyfriend's family life was, and is, very different to mine. His dad regularly hit him when he was growing up, and they still clash. When he's with his father, or in a family situation, he is at his rudest, swears a lot and is generally bad-humoured. With me, however, when he is not in bad form he is so tender and loving. I'm so confused. I don't know who my boyfriend is or whether we should stay together.

ATHE first thing you need to face is that there is something of a culture clash between you and your boyfriend when it comes to social interaction.

You see what happens when he's at home with his family: he's loud, rough and vulgar. It's not clear how far his whole family is like this, but they at least tolerate it. And as you've said, your family life is very different.

Your boyfriend has the capacity to behave in this rough manner. What's not clear is the extent to which he carries this behaviour over into your relationship. You're not telling me that he curses and swears and shouts at you, although perhaps he does. What you are telling me is that he can be impatient and snap at you, or criticise you. That's very different from being rough and vulgar.

More important, however, there's a real possibility that your primary problem is not the manner in which your boyfriend sometimes deals with you. Perhaps what's really distressing you is the fact that he's capable in the first place of having a difference of opinion with you, or an argument. Do you understand the difference? People who have been bullied tend to have difficulties with rows, or with anger, or with impatience. They fear confrontation.

Look at what you've told me. You feel terrible about yourself when your boyfriend is annoyed with you. Why would you feel terrible about yourself? If he's right in what he says, then you could acknowledge that, and change. If he's not, you should do as he says, and fight back.

What you call your boyfriend's moods may merelybe his capacity to be angry with you. And your sense of walking on eggshells probably has as much to do with your fear of confrontation as any real awfulness on your boyfriend's part.

The reason I'm trying to tease all this out is because you'll never be happy if you can't handle dissent. No couple stays 'loved up' forever. That means they have to handle their differences. You'll have to learn to deal withdifferences of opinion, or bad humour, or impatience in the man you love - no matter who that man may be. If you don't, you'll end up beinga doormat. You have to learn to be angry - constructively, but clearly.

Your boyfriend doesn't sound like someone who has any wish to put you down. Quite the contrary, he tells you to stand up for yourself when you feel he's being hard on you. He's not a bully. And he's also capable of great tenderness. And he loves you. I would therefore suggest you try to lay down a few ground rules with him.

If he does use bad language when he's annoyed with you, ask him not to. Tell him it's enough for him to say his piece. You'll hear him. He doesn't have to use a sledge-hammer to kill a fly. But be clear that you have no wish to shut him up. You'd just like to soften the manner in which he speaks to you when he's annoyed. Acknowledge that you do, indeed, have to learn how to have differences. Just ask him to try and couch his criticism, or annoyance, or anger, in less strident terms. Tell him that you'd like the two of you to learn how to have differences in a way that they can be quickly, and fairly, resolved.

Think of this another way. Your boyfriend learned harshness as the only language of dissent. It's not just that he doesn't realise how hurtful he can be to you, he doesn't realise how hurt he's been himself. Look at him. Think of his tenderness. His roughness belittles his own kindness of heart, doesn't it? You love him. Be brave enough, therefore, to be robust. Teach him to trust that you will listen carefully, and respond appropriately, without him having to shout his mouth off, or you dissolving into tears.

Well, try anyway. Of course it might not work out. But I can tell you, for sure, that you need to learn how to have rows. And this man loves you, and is not a bully, so he's worth some effort, isn't he? And more important, aren't you worth some effort? Wouldn't it be a lot better than just running away? Your choice, of course. Just think about it.

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