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Author Topic: Why Am I so Bad at This?
skiesofgreen
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I don't even really know where to start so I'm sorry if this is all over the place and confusing. But I need to get this out somewhere and I need someone's advice because I just don't know what to do. I feel like an inconsiderate jerk and that's the last thing in the world I want to be.

To make a long story sort I had a fight with my boyfriend and he doesn't feel appreciated and to some extent even loved. He feels that I'm all words and no actions and I don't go above and beyond to show him how I feel. For instance he feels he's put way more effort into presents than me (which is true) and when he talked to me about this after our anniversary I didn't automatically do something to make up for it, but was waiting for his birthday to do better and he says he would really have expected me to do something immediately not wait. In my mind I just thought it would cheap and like I was just trying to passify him if I did something right away. And now that I say that outloud, or since I said it out loud to him, that sounds pretty silly but it's really how I felt. And he asked me why I didn't come out and visit him at his work at all this summer and I legitimately wasn't sure he wanted me to. He said something near the beginning of the summer saying not to come out and I just backed off, even though in retrospect he probably was just saying it offhandedly/he doesn't even remember saying it. And he asked me what I thought would happen if I did come, like did I really think he'd be angry with me. And honestly, I had to say yes. I legitimately felt like there was a possibility he'd be angry with me. And then he said "if I heard someone say that to me, out of context, i would think that person was in an abusive relationship where they were constantly afraid of upsetting their boyfriend."

And part of me wanted to say "I was, and that's why I feel this way." And the other part of me stopped me, because lots of people have been in abusive relationships, but that doesn't give you the right of way to be jerks to people or to treat them like they're the abusive person when clearly the are not and they've never given you any reason to suspect you of it.

And he said things like "I feel taken advantage of" and "I've started asking myself 'would she do this for me' before I do stuff because most of the time the answer is no and I don't want to keep putting myself out there only to get hurt" and "I'm mad at myself for putting up with this for so long, I'm mad at myself for not being angrier earlier"

And I just feel like such a terrible person. Because I love him and the last thing I want to do is to make the perso I love feel like I don't appreciate them and are taken advantage of them. ANd in some ways these dialogues are like reverse dialogues of me and my abusive ex. Where I keep saying it'll get better but the same problem keeps coming up. And I don't want to be that, I don't want to be that person. Not that I think I'm abusive, but I'm clearly being a bad partner. In fact, just the things like "you're not putting enough effort" "if you loved me you'd show it" are all things I said to my ex. And it just freaks me out. And all I can do is apologize and try harder, and I have been trying, I AM trying, but I just can't seem to get it right. And I just don't know what to do.

I just don't know what to do.

[ 09-18-2012, 02:17 AM: Message edited by: skiesofgreen ]

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Robin Lee
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HI SkiesofGreen,

This is a tough space for you to be in. Relationships take constant work and attention, and it is true that all of us bring our own stuff into a partnership with someone else, which can complicate things even more.

Taking the example of you not visiting your boyfriend at work because you thought you weren't supposed to: Your boyfriend expected that you would. You thought you weren't supposed to and were afraid of what might happen if you did. Neither of you is "bad" for the assumptions you made. And yes, your boyfriend made an assumption. You are not expected to be a mind-reader, and if he wanted you to visit, it was on him to let you know that specifically. I'll add that for most types of work it's not unreasonable to think that it wouldn't be appropriate to go visit and hang out with your partner while he's at work.

Do you know what your boyfriend means when he says that before he does things for you he thinks about whether you'd do the same for him? If not, I think it would be a good idea to ask him. In fact, it sounds like it's past time to talk about what your expectations of each other are. It sounds like there have been a lot of assumptions, and perhaps even some falling back on what you both think is expected in relationships rather than what you both expect, can each do, and what you'd each like from each other.

Giving presents and visiting at work aren't love; they're only two ways of expressing love and caring. What are some other ways of expressing love and caring that you and your boyfriend do? What are some ways that you, specifically, try to do this?

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Robin

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skiesofgreen
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We have had conversations about expectations, and I've asked him if I've been adjusting to what he felt was lacking, and he's confirmed that I was. But, I guess he also has felt in some ways I'm not. For instance he feels I just "do what I need to" to make him happy (ie what he's told him will make him happy) and don't go above and beyond. He used the work thing as an example of that. And although he never did ask me to come out, his parents and grandparents on separate occassions came to his work place to take him out to lunch and to be shown around so I suppose it was clear he didn't mind some people coming.

When he says he doesn't know if I'd do the same he means that he second guesses doing nice things for me now because he doesn't feel I'll reciprocate. For instance I was having a hard day at work on day and there was no dinner when I got home, so apparently his first thought was to bring me over dinner and chear my up but he checked himself because he didn't feel it was something I'd do for him. I didn't respond with "of course I would" or anything because I feel like hypotheticals are pointless -- both parties will see the outcome they're inclined to see and there's no way of arguing to make them come round because it's just that, hypothetical --- but maybe i should have.


He believes in showing love through gestures, like buying someone hot chocolate just cause, and leaving them notes and doing nice things you don't need to do but want to because you care about the person. I think I'm more inclined to just Be with the person. Like, talking and cuddling them and having fun with them and making them laugh and listening when they have problems, that's (without outside factors like him wanting/needing other things) enough for me. For him that's not really an adequate display of love, in fact I think he views that kind of passivity as almost unhealthy, or at least abnormal. Which it might be (less common I mean) but that line of reasoning does irrittate me. I thin there may be a grain of truth in the unhealthy bit because I do think I have very low expectations and I do think those were at least partially formed after my experience from my ex and to be honest I just have such a hard time judging what's healthy and not. THough he didn't use that line of arguing this time and, overall, I think he's gotten better at not assuming that I'll know what he wants (for instance he actually talked to me directly about the present issue rather than expecting it to change and talked about us having different expectations rather than one being right -- though he did think it was unusually and uncommon for someone to not think large presents were in order).

Anyways, sidetracked, but overall I think I show him love through 1) talking to him and listening to him/attempting to be there for him 2) cuddling him 3) spending my time with him 4)writing him letters 5) leaving notes behind to chear him up* 6) trying to do small things to britten his day (like get him his favourtie kind of icecream when he's had a rough day)*

As a start that's a list

*things that I do at least partially (or more now) because he's mentioned he needs it to feel loved

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Heather
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Can I ask if there's something else, something bigger, going on?

In other words, is his upset really *just* about these things, or have you two been having any other larger issues? Or has he, in his life separate from you?

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skiesofgreen
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We had issues earlier with the fact that he was uncomfortable with the fact I'd been in a casual relationship before I met him which he felt was incredibly unhealthy (and it was unhealthy) and that I couldn't see it as unhealthy until recently (I've been in counselling for a little bit now). And he was very upset that I got irritated when he brought it up (I felt attacked when he did and like he was shaming me) and he found some conversations later (in march) that I'd sent to said guy during the first month of my and my boyfriend's relationship that were very flirty and which caused a lot of problems. He felt very betrayed. He also was upset that I never out right told said person that I was in a relationship over the first few months of our relationship when he would occasionally contact me and rather only avoided seeing him. I'm horrible at conflict and just wanted to ignore the issue because I figured knowing I didn't want to be with him was good enough, but my boyfriend felt that I was not considering how those actions would make him feel. I didn't realise this until March, he says I would have realised it earlier if I'd been more willing to here what he had to say about his issues with that relationship.

He hasn't brought any of those issues up with this argument, though I do think it still bothers him to some extent, and I'm really not sure if that's playing into this or not. However I think he's felt he's been putting in more effort basically from the get go though he didn't bring up to me until several months in and at that point I didn't fix it the way he needed because I didn't understand what he wanted from me (either from not listening or miscommunication).

I also think he has a huge fear of getting hurt and opening up to people (just in general - he was bullied as a kid and I always wonder if that plays into any of this).

But I'm not sure, there hasn't been anything directly at the forefront as an issue. For the past couple months we haven't really experienced any conflicts, though I do know he's been worrying (as he puts it). He worries constantly, I feel like he's been worrying since the start of our relationship, and apparently what he's been worrying about over these months has been me not putting effort in (especially in the early months of the relationship) and feeling very hurt about it all, and I think it'd be safe to guess he's probably also worrying about the whole flirting with the other guy early on as well.

So, essentially, I'm not sure if there's more to this. It's been a constant theme throughout our relationship and we have had other issues, but none of those other issues have been brought up recently.

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Heather
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So, this past big conflict -- which sounds pretty big -- would you say it's resolved or unresolved between the two of you?

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skiesofgreen
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I don't know. And I suppose an I don't know probably means unresolved.

By that I mean we have gotten to a point where we aren't arguing about it any more, where I have apologized and explained the situation and he has decided he still wants to make this work. But, at the same time, I know he still worries about it. I also know he's not willing to talk about it anymore (when I've tried to help him through his worries he originally would talk about it but he's no longer open to discussing it and says it just hurts too much). I got very frustrated a few months after when I felt nothing was getting better and as though he was being vindictive to me (during one discussion he said a couple things I found very hurtful and when I addressed that he said "well it's not nearly as bad as you've done to me") and told him "to make this work at some point you'll need to let this go" and told him he needed to get it out some way, talk to someone, write me a letter, he couldn't just worry and hope it goes away, we needed to do something about it and he just got really angry and told me he was trying and that I was acting like it was his fault that he felt upset when it was me who had hurt him.

Basically that was the last time we discussed it and it ended with us deciding that I would back off and trust that he was working through his feelings and wait for him to do that in his own way, with the knowledge that I'd always be there to talk about it if he got to a point where that's what he wanted.

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Heather
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Yeah, I'd say I don't know means unresolved. I'd also stay his holding on to this rather than moving forward makes clear it is, too.

This may or may not be the only issue, but it's one you know is a big one, and which clearly sounds unresolved. Very clearly.

So, my best advice is to start with this big issue and resolve it. Even just doing that work may bring up anything else that's been sitting around creating conflict, and may also be something that allows you two to talk more about what's been going on now.

It sounds like attempts to resolve it in the past haven't gone so well.

How about this: how do you think it might go if you just opened by saying you feel it's clear that issue is unresolved, and you really want to work with him to resolve it, recognizing that may take days or even on-and-off weeks or more of working through it together. Then you invite him to do that with you, making clear you hear him in some of his worries, fears and not-so-greats about this relationship and feel this is one big way you can put some real dedication in. And to something that's much bigger than small gestures, which aren't going to magic bigger issues away, alas, or fix conflicts.

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Heather Corinna, Executive Director & Founder, Scarleteen
About Me • Get our book!
Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has. - Margaret Mead

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Heather
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(I should have added that I'd say this includes asking him if HE feels it's resolved or not. Very silly omission on my part, sorry!)

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Heather Corinna, Executive Director & Founder, Scarleteen
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Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has. - Margaret Mead

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skiesofgreen
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I don't know. I'm afraid he's going to say he doesn't want to talk about it, that he doesn't want to talk about it anymore, and that I'm avoiding the issue at hand (he really does feel I'm not putting enough effort in and I really do think this is a huge issue for him). I feel like he's going to say he's exhausted by all this and can't have conversations about it any more.

I also don't really know how to have the conversation. Like I legitimately am not sure how to go about it in a constructive way. He feels I get defensive in arguments, distract from the main point and also gets very irritated with my tendency to be quiet (I have a hard time speaking under pressure). And basically, I just feel I have no grounding in how to have a constructive conversation. I don't know when I'm being a push over and I don't know when I'm going to far to conpensate. I don't know where the line is between standing up for myself and making excuses and well, ya...

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Heather
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Okay.

So, would you say you simply don't feel like you have any idea of how to resolve conflicts?

What would be your assessment, too, of him in that regard?

I'm hearing it sound like neither of you have those skills, but I want to find out what you think about it.

--------------------
Heather Corinna, Executive Director & Founder, Scarleteen
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Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has. - Margaret Mead

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skiesofgreen
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I would sayd I don't really, no. At least not effectively.

I would say he has a better grounding but he also has very jard time letting things go and I feel he does see himself as more logical than others (wich to be fair, he can be) and I think that can shade his willingness to listen. I also think because he felt he wasn't listened to enough at the beginning of the relationship and didn't speak up enough that he isn't leaving much room for me to talk. To put in base terms I feel like he always "wins" the arguments now. Which probably isn't a very helpful way of thinking about this but it's the best way I have to explain it.

[ 09-18-2012, 01:32 PM: Message edited by: skiesofgreen ]

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Heather
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I think I can make sense of that.

Unfortunately, that sounds like a place where if something doesn't give, though, I'm not sure how this relationship can work.

I mean, if you feel like you can't resolve conflict, and he seems to lack the inability to let it go -- whether it is or isn't resolved -- that means conflict simply can't be resolved in your relationship. In other words, that it's just going to stick around and build up, the big stuff and the little stuff, no matter what.

Of course, if the only way conflict also is managed now is if you just basically "give" with anything and everything, that's also not workable, especially in the long term.

Have the two of you ever talked about this? About his inability to let things go and your lack of skills at dealing with and working to resolve conflict? Not about something specific, but about that whole general dynamic?

--------------------
Heather Corinna, Executive Director & Founder, Scarleteen
About Me • Get our book!
Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has. - Margaret Mead

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skiesofgreen
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We'be talked about the dynamic to some degree. But mostly in the sense that he doesn't feel I'm good at dealing with conflict. I feel it's hard for me to have the conversation because I don't really know what an ideal outcome is. I feel like to address our dynamic I would need a better idea of what a good conflict resolution would look like. And I would need a better idea of what part of my dynamics are unhealthy and what parts are ok to start talking about it. Otherwise I feel I would just agree with whatever my boyfriend suggests.

[ 09-18-2012, 03:20 PM: Message edited by: skiesofgreen ]

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skiesofgreen
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Just to add to that, we have also talked about his inability to let go, and he recognizes that it is something that he deals with and he stated that he's working to get better at not holding on to things.
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Heather
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So, I'm hearing you say that when it comes to resolving conflict, you don't even have any idea where to start.

Do I have that right?

I mean, in one of your posts, you don't sound all that clueless to me, honestly. It just sounds like you might have tried less effectively than you could have with more skills and also -- and this is a biggie -- have been trying to resolve something within something that already sounds very broken to me. And that's always going to make things much, much harder.

So: have you never been in any relationships in your life -- like with family, friends, a coach or teacher -- where you feel like you were able to be part of healthy conflict resolution or see some?

--------------------
Heather Corinna, Executive Director & Founder, Scarleteen
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Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has. - Margaret Mead

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Heather
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Just to be clear and not skip over something big, btw, overall, the ideal "end" of conflict resolution is for everyone involved to feel heard and for everyone involved to be able to reach a place where they can have some peace with something, either developing tools everyone agrees are doable to work through ongoing conflict, or, for things in the past, where everyone can just let the past conflict go and move forward without emotionally holding onto it.

--------------------
Heather Corinna, Executive Director & Founder, Scarleteen
About Me • Get our book!
Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has. - Margaret Mead

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Heather
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(While I'm at it, maybe you can also fill me in a little bit on what is AWESOME about this relationship?

In other words, while it sounds like some big stuff might be broken here, and like there are some dynamics that are really problematic, you both choose to stay in it, so I assume that's because, on the whole, the relationship is super-great and works in more ways than it doesn't.

Can you tell me a little about that?

--------------------
Heather Corinna, Executive Director & Founder, Scarleteen
About Me • Get our book!
Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has. - Margaret Mead

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skiesofgreen
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On what's awesome about the relationship:

I feel like we gell really well in terms of humour, views, things we enjoy. I like that we can have downtime together that really feels like downtown and makes me more relaxed in the way that usually only time alone does. I love the support he's given me and how good he is about making sure I'm comfortable and appreciated. I think I really fit into his family dynamic and I enjoy spending time with them, I also think he fits well into mine. I love that we make each other laugh, I love that we can be ourselves around each other. I like how much fun I have doing things with him. Just watching him play video games while I watch TV is fun when I do it with him. I like that we can be completely stupid/silly together without feeling stupid or silly. I like that he puts effort into getting to know my family and doing things with us and that he wants the same from me. I like that we can talk about world issues, that he's informed, that he cares about things, and that we share similar view points. I appreciate that I feel I can turn to him for support and expect to receive it. And ultimately I just love the companionship he gives me and I love how happy he makes me when we spend time together.


Have I had a relationship where conflict was handled well?

Not really. I was talking to my counsellor about this actually and the big thing we've seen so far is a pattern of conflict being handled badly in my family and me learning to avoid and pacify conflict. I have huge anxiety around conflict and letting people down. So, in my family conflict was handled very poorly, and in most other aspects of my life I've ignored conflict and avoided it or pacified it.

And I think you're right that I don't have no idea how to deal with conflict, but I guess I still have very hard times judging lines between what's making my point heard and defending it and what's making excuses/not listening to the other person. I also tend to shut down with conflict, which is equally unhelpful.

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Heather
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Ah, you have a counselor!

This is good: how about, especially since they talked about some of this already with you, you ask them for help with learning conflict resolution?

Heck, if you and your partner are up for it, maybe your counselor would even be willing to see you both together for one session to give you some places to start?

It sounds like you two have a lot together that's good here. A lot. But like you both need some big help in this area: how about seeing it out?

--------------------
Heather Corinna, Executive Director & Founder, Scarleteen
About Me • Get our book!
Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has. - Margaret Mead

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skiesofgreen
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I think I will, though I don't think going in together would be possible (it's a free service through a women's sexual assault help centre).

Also, I went over to the boyfriends yesterday with a cookie and letter and apparently that was all he needed to feel better (though even though he's feeling good right now I think there's still a lot of talking we need to do around all of this, so I'll still bring it up to the counsellor and then with him as well).

Thanks for talking to me! Also, would have any suggested readings or resources to look at around conflict management to get me started?

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Robin Lee
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HI There,

That's terrific that you got some positive feedback from your boyfriend for your actions. [Smile]

I wholeheartedly agree that this still warrants discussion and work for both of you.

If your counsellor can't give you two a session together, she may have suggestions for where you could find some free or low-cost counselling for the two of you to get you going in a good direction.

Heather is off today, but I'll check with her to see if she has any suggestions for resources and one of us will get back to you.

--------------------
Robin

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