Dating and Relationship Advice

Dear iris,

I’ve been dating my boyfriend for three years, but recently I just feel like he doesn't understand my emotions and my feelings towards a few things. When I'm mad about something he said or did (with reasonable reasons), he always tells me that I need to reduce the number of times I'm angry because it’s too much. And our fights always end up with both of us becoming angry at each other, and no one wants to say sorry. I don’t know if he is being careless about my emotions or if I’m just me being too much to handle. What do you think?

Signed, Reasonably Upset

Dear Reasonably Upset,

You’re not too much to handle. Your emotions are what you experience, and you have every right to feel them. I want to make this as clear as possible since people who deeply feel their emotions tend to be written off as "sensitive". But we’re currently at a cultural shift where “suck it up” is a thing of the past. It’s great that you’re willing to talk about your feelings when your partner hurts you.

What’s not great is your boyfriend's reactions. What he's doing is called invalidating your feelings. Essentially he’s saying, “your feelings aren’t right for this situation. You shouldn’t feel what you feel.” And there are two issues with that:

The first is that everyone handles situations in different ways. There’s no one set of “right” feelings to have when your partner says something mean to you. There’s a wide range of responses, and in my opinion, being hurt and expressing that is one of the most healthy reactions.

The second issue I’m more concerned with is that your boyfriend is trying to dictate how you feel. While this might seem minor, it’s a slippery slope towards emotional abuse. In a sense, what he’s trying to do is manipulate your response in his favor, which isn’t healthy for the relationship or your mental health.

You say he just recently starting acting this way, though. I’d be curious to know if it really is the first time he’s done this or if the frequency has increased. If it’s a new behavior, there must be something more going on. Perhaps he’s feeling distant from you. Maybe he’s stressed and doesn’t know how to express it. Or, and this is only a maybe, he’s not sure if he wants to move forward with the relationship.

There’s only one person who can answer that question, and that’s your boyfriend. It might seem counterintuitive, but you both need to have a talk. Pick a time when he’s not busy, tired, or distracted. Let him know you have something important you want to talk to him about. Then, once you’re both focused on each other, relay to him what you’re experiencing without blaming him. State that you’re interested in figuring out why the dynamics have changed between you two. This talk could also be an excellent opportunity to create a boundary. Saying something like, “I need you to know that it’s not okay when you tell me not to be angry. You can’t invalidate my feelings like that,” might help him recognize the severity of the situation.

But in the end, you need to be prepared for both ways this conversation could go. If your boyfriend continues to write you off or doesn’t give you a concrete answer, I’d ask yourself if you’re willing to stay with someone who doesn’t meet your emotional needs. Does the relationship still make you as happy as it once did? Because if I were in your shoes, I wouldn’t feel fulfilled in a relationship where someone treated my feelings that way.

But who knows? The talk could go well, and your boyfriend could see the light. You just need to work up the courage to have the conversation so you can get a better understanding of where his head is at.

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