I have been in a relationship for a year and we now live together. After about six months I realized there was a communication problem between my boyfriend Jack, and me.
He believes, when expressing a problem, there is nothing wrong with negative criticism. He uses such words as thoughtless, careless and selfish to express himself. He claims I am responsible for responding appropriately regardless of what he says. He calls this the “harsh truth.”
He claims if he says anything that hurts my feelings, I need to remember he didn’t mean to hurt me. It’s just that “truth hurts.” Jack does not agree with my feeling that his criticism is hateful, belittling and hurtful.
It’s my opinion you can express yourself without verbally attacking the other person. Hurtful criticism only creates more problems, which it has.
We started counseling, but Jack does not believe this is a shared problem with communication, or that we must work on it together if our relationship is to succeed. He believes he has excellent communication skills and I am the sole problem. He believes I am overly sensitive and need to learn in counseling how to receive criticism appropriately.
Jack believes in a healthy relationship, you each take turns “conceding” to your partner’s demanded solution to a problem, even if you have a different opinion. Is this how problems are solved in a relationship?
Autumn, the biologist E.O. Wilson was fascinated by the behavior of one colleague at Harvard. This man was notoriously weak in research and teaching. But he was a master of dominance.
At faculty meetings he would arrive early. As each person entered, he would look at him or her in a patronizing manner. When the meeting began, this man would address the chairperson as if he were spokesman for the entire group, and demand to know something.
He followed an unspoken rule: don’t explain yourself, take ownership of a space as if it belongs to you, and treat others as your inferiors. Wilson said this man’s performance always reminded him of a chimpanzee in the wild.
You had the wherewithal to bring Jack into counseling, which is good. But Jack may have picked you as a person he could dominate, which is bad. He is looking for women to abuse, but luckily, you’ve had the means to withstand him.
From his point of view, he has a problem. He needs to get you over the hump from fighting verbal abuse to accepting it. He’s a verbal batterer trying to teach you how to take a punch, and he builds himself up by tearing you down. It gives him satisfaction.
Constructive criticism never includes insults. But constructive criticism is not his aim. That’s why you need to ask yourself why you stay with a man who does something you know is wrong. If there is a role for counseling here, it’s for individual counseling, for you, to answer that question.
David Byrne, the lead singer of the Talking Heads, said, “You will never find the other ocean if you never leave the shore.” You are looking for that other ocean. It’s time to leave the shore. You need to be with a man who respects you, which means you need to respect yourself and guard your dignity.
No. Only two letters but so much power. Don’t explain or justify yourself. Just learn to use the word. On him. There is a harsh truth here. Jack acts like a chimp, and he can’t be domesticated.
~Wayne & Tamara
Column for the week of July 16, 2018
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Wayne & Tamara answer as many letters as they possibly can.