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He's Pressuring Me: How Do I Tell Him?

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BeckisBack asks:

My boyfriend of 2 years is pressuring me to send him nude pictures of myself to him. My question is not whether or not I should send him the pictures, because I'm not going to. It's regarding what I should do about his overwhelming sexual desire and uncontrollable temper, and recent accusations he has made towards me.

Robin Mandell replies:

BeckisBack's question continued:

I've never been sexual with any of my boyfriends. I merely look for acceptance and affection in a relationship, and do the same for them in return. Another thing I will not do is exploit my body, and even though I trust him very much, I don't want to send a picture that could haunt me in the future. I also feel that, as a female, I have every right to respect my body and have the choice to say "no."

He has gone out of his way to guilt me into sending those pictures. Every night he asks, every night I say no. He's accused me of sending those pictures to other boys and cheating on him. I have no idea where he got this from and it hurts me greatly that he would say such things to make me do what HE wants, instead of respecting my personal decisions.

What do I do? He is not the type that someone can sit down and speak to calmly. He lashes out and has a HUGE temper. I care about him so much, but I don't feel comfortable sending him those pictures. How do I tell someone that will not listen to reason that he is making me upset and pressuring me? Thanks.

First of all, there are many many sound reasons not to send pictures of oneself with nudity or other sexual content to anyone through text or other online means, whether you know them or not. If you are a minor in the area where you live, sending sexual pictures of yourself could mean serious legal ramifications for both you and your boyfriend. Sending pictures is also risky because you then lose control of them, and don't have any say in who sees them or where they're posted. So, good call keeping yourself safe. It sounds like you're feeling confident in your decision not to send these pictures: I just want to back you up and let you know that I think your instincts are on target here.

From the way you describe him, your boyfriend, quite frankly, doesn't sound like he's very trustworthy or respectful of your wishes in general. You describe caring about him, but you don't describe getting a lot of caring in return.

It sounds as if your boyfriend is really pulling out all the stops trying to get you to send him these pictures, which smells an awful to me lot more like coercion than caring. In fact, there's no caring about you in these requests and how he's continuing to make them at all.

I hear you voice that you're loyal and affectionate with your partner, but again, there doesn't seem to be much acceptance or affection in return. Even if that pressure and disrespect is only around this issue, and he's nice to you about other things and around other aspects of your relationship, that doesn't make his behaviour here at all okay, desirable or healthy and, from what you've written here, it's clearly not okay with you. I'm glad to hear that: it shouldn't be.

No matter how much we might want to, we cannot change other people’s attitudes and behaviours. I think your boyfriend’s attempts to get you to do something you don’t want to do, and have made clear you don't want to do, are a prime example of this. Likewise, you may not be able to get him to stop trying to make you do what you don’t want to do: in fact, it seems clear that all your efforts at that have failed. You can talk to him all you want, use all your persuasive powers, but if he doesn't want to be persuaded (or doesn't care about what you feel, think and want, which is what it sounds like), and he doesn't want to alleviate your distress by listening to and working with you, there's just no way to change his mind.

What is it you look for in a relationship? I know he's your boyfriend, and he's been so for a while. I know that you really care about him. But what that doesn't tell me is what keeps this relationship going besides the fact that you've been in it for a while. From what I've observed (and, I admit, have experienced myself), people sometimes have a tendency to hold onto the idea of being in a relationship because the relationship was good, fun, or exciting when it started, and not really be conscious of the fact that it has changed over time, and not always for the better. In other words, it can sometimes be with relationships that people are going through the motions, and not recognizing when one or both partners has disengaged emotionally.

With that in mind, I'm wondering if it would be helpful for you to give your relationship a check-up and see if it still meets your needs and is what you want.

Another approach to this might be to write down what a good relationship for you would look like, then evaluate your current relationship based on that. Granted, an ideal relationship may not always be a realistic goal, but what is a realistic goal is for partners to work together, not against each other, to create a relationship that meets both their needs. Looking at some of the common relationship roadblocks might also help you evaluate where your relationship is now, where it might be headed, and what you want to do about that.

What can you do about your boyfriend's overwhelming sexual desire? Nothing. That's not something we can change in another person, nor should we be able to. You likely do not, after all, want your boyfriend, or anyone else, to be able to change how you express yourself and your relational needs. Likewise, it's not possible for you to change his. You can, and have, told him what sorts of expressions of sexual desire work for you, and it seems he's been unwilling to adjust the expression of his desires to meet your needs and wants.

However, this also likely isn't even about desire in the first place: emotionally healthy people can feel strong sexual desire and yet have no trouble keeping from coercion. People feel those feelings and manage and express them in only healthy ways with other people all the time.

To give you an idea of what this would have looked like had it included respect and consideration from your boyfriend, here's an example of what a healthy exchange around you sending him nude photos might have sounded like:

"Hey, BeckIsBack, I'd love to see some nude pictures of you. Will you send me some?"
"No, I'm not comfortable with that. I don't want to."
"I'm really disappointed, but I understand. If you ever change your mind, will you let me know?"

You then could have said that you would let him know if you changed your mind, or told him that you really didn't think you ever would change your mind since that that isn't what you want in your relationship, or any number of other answers. It might have come out that you two aren't sexually compatible in this respect or others, and that could have brought on a whole lot of different issues that you'd likely have to deal with, but that you would deal with in mutually respectful, caring ways. Had you just said no, with the assurance that you would let him know if you changed your mind, he then would have respected your "no" on this and not asked you again, and he certainly wouldn't have asked you every night you spoke.

Reading what you've written here, it sounds as if you and your boyfriend are speaking different languages. Put another way, you're on completely different wavelengths when it comes to sex and sexuality, and probably with other things too. His interest in sex is not a bad thing in itself, but it's not what you want right now. That makes the two of you, in a word, incompatible as far as sexuality or intimacy. It sounds like your relationship needs to change. Actually, it sounds like it's already changed, and that change just hasn't been acknowledged.

While your boyfriend is entitled to his sexual interests and desires, that doesn't give him the right to coerce you, through shaming, threatening, or begging, into satisfying those desires. He also doesn't have the right to try to cajole you into sending him pictures by badgering or accusing you. Nor can you expect him to change if he really doesn't want to change.

Honestly, without knowing anything else about you, your boyfriend, or your relationship, these behaviours he's exhibiting sound like pretty textbook abusive and controlling behaviours. As I said above, even if he's respectful and nice to you around other things, this is really big.

What we know about abuse in relationships is that it tends to escalate over time. That is, it doesn't tend to go away by itself or with a partner's (or anyone else's) requests for change, and it can get more severe, more frequent, or both. And it tends to start, or start to show itself, with things just like this. In other words, if this relationship isn't already abusive and controlling in more ways or areas than this one, this is a big red flag that it's on its way to becoming so.

I realize it may sound surprising for me to describe this as abusive. The following definition of emotional abuse from Blinders off: Getting A Good Look at Abuse and Assault might help explain why I've come to this conclusion if you feel flummoxed:

Emotional and/or verbal abuse: Behaviors which are used to emotionally control, dominate, manipulate or intimidate a person. Emotional abuse is: threats, name-calling, belittling, criticizing, or using words or actions in an attempt to make another person feel stupid, small, crazy, ashamed or worthless. Other aspects of emotional abuse can include: isolating a person by keeping them from friends or family, dismissing limits and boundaries, intentionally withholding general approval or support, constantly laying false blame on a partner, attempting to control someone’s appearance or their physical freedom through threats or belittling, profound possessiveness or a pattern of harming someone then begging their forgiveness or shifting the blame for abuse onto them. Emotional abuse is often thought to be the most benign form of abuse, however, it has the capacity to harm just as deeply as any other type of abuse, and for many people who have suffered a range of different abuses, emotional abuse can carry the deepest scars, especially when it has occurred during childhood or adolescence. As well, emotional and verbal abuse often escalate to other forms of abuse over time.

I know this may not have been the answer you were looking for or wanted, but truly, the best advice I can give you is to get out of this relationship, pronto.

Whether or not it's abusive, it's clearly no longer healthy or enjoyable for you, and your boyfriend is obviously not interested in discussion, compromise, or attempting to see things from your point of view, even when it comes to something as completely yours as your own body. As much as it might feel better and less scary in the short term to stay in the relationship than to make a change through leaving it, it honestly doesn't sound as if you're very happy with the way things are, and won't be happy, as you shouldn't be, with these kinds of dynamics continuing. And you can be sure they will.

Changing him just isn't an option. None of us is so powerful that we can change someone else's feelings, beliefs and behaviours.

This doesn’t mean that, should you choose to do so, ending the relationship will be easy. Two years is a long time to be with someone, especially when we’re young. Sometimes, after a relationship of that length, at least some part of our lives is tied up, in a practical sense, with our partners’ lives. I can't tell from your question how often you see him, whether this is a long-distance relationship or whether you two are local to each other. Either way, I worry for your emotional and physical well-being. This isn't something you have to put up with, nor is it your responsibility to "fix" it.

Again, you really can't convince someone of something when they don't want to be convinced. If he hasn't already positively responded to you telling him you don't like to be pressured, he's not going to respond to that. His ignoring the feelings and needs you've clearly expressed to him says clearly to me that he's not interested in how you feel: he's just interested in getting what he wants, even if it's something you feel crappy about and don't want to do. Continuing a relationship with someone who doesn't have our best interests at heart seems like an unnecessary exercise in futility. All the love and caring in the world can't change someone who doesn't want to change. And continuing a relationship with someone who makes clear they could care less about how we feel when they want something from us for themselves is downright dangerous.

Sometimes, when making relationship decisions, it can help to look at what does constitute a healthy relationship. You can take a look at these two articles for snapshots of what constitutes healthy relationships and sexual consent (which is certainly, or should be, part of sexual interactions like asking a partner to share naked pictures).

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I’m getting the impression that this has, understandably, been really difficult and stressful for you. Do you have any support with this from family members, friends, or other trusted people you can talk to? If you haven’t talked to anyone about this before now, is there someone you know would be supportive of you, and would be able to listen to you and support you in whatever decisions you choose to make for yourself?

If you don't have anyone you feel you can talk to, or would just like to have more support, our staff and volunteers would be happy to talk with you at our message boards or through our live chat service.

I'm wishing you all the best in whatever decision you make with your relationship. Leaving is rarely as easy as an outsider can make it sound, so I'm going to leave you with one more piece that I hope will be helpful: should I stay or should I go? You already know what I think would be best for you: now it's just up to you to figure out, and act on, what you think is. You sound like a strong, confident person who knows she's worthy of real love, respect and care: I think if you lead with that person, you'll make the choices with this that take the best care of her.

written 18 Mar 2013 . updated 21 Jan 2014

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