Q: My boyfriend and I have been together for almost 2 years, and everything was going great. I moved from another state to be with him, and I have yet to find a job here, so we are pretty much together all the time. Well, my problem is now he’s saying that he feels I analyze him a lot and he feels undermined in the relationship. He says that he feels like I don’t give him any credibility. I try to speak with him and assure him that’s not the case, and I explain myself a lot to get him to see where I’m coming from so he doesn’t feel bad and could have more understanding of me. He says that he genuinely wants the relationship to work but he feels that his gut is telling him that something is wrong. I went to counseling and she told me the main problem is that its HOW I speak to him and not what I’m saying. So I’m fixing that issue and I’ve been getting my point across much better to him. However he’s still feeling bad about us because he said he’s having a hard time feeling like I’ll actually change. We both really love each other and want things to work out, however I just would like to know, whats the likelihood of my boyfriend getting over those feelings? If I am changing and we’re working on communication issues, then is it possible that he’ll be able to get over these issues with me? Thanks a ton!
A: Hi, and thanks for your question. Having problems with communication is a very common problem in relationships, and perhaps one of the biggest reasons behind disagreements and arguments. That said, based on the things you wrote as well as the independent opinion of a third party (your therapist) it does appear that perhaps there is a problem with the way in which you communicate, rather than the actual content of your message. Most of communication is actually non-verbal- a great deal of it is physical as well as vocal tone and intonation. That is why it is much easier to read someone in person rather than over the phone, or over the phone versus email. So my question to you is why are you speaking to him in such a way that his “gut is telling him something is wrong”. What does that mean? Does that mean that he feels you are condescending or don’t respect him? And if so, why is that you feel that way? You see, the way in which you speak is a reflection of the way in which you feel. Based on all of this, it would appear that you don’t have the best opinion of your boyfriend and he is picking up on that. Is that why he feels that you won’t “actually change?” That indicates a great deal of doubt, and surely it must be based on something. Why is he feeling like your communication with him won’t change?
All of this makes me think that the problem is deeper than it appears on the surface. If you would like to improve your communication, I would suggest reading a book “Verbal Judo”, which is written by a former cop who learned how to use effective communication techniques to diffuse potentially dangerous situations. It’s the best book I’ve read on making yourself clear and avoiding fights and arguments. However, my best advice for both of you is to sit down and explore this whole issue of how you are making him feel with the things you say. If you are condescending or disrespectful, you both need to find out what is causing these feelings within you. Perhaps this is why he is unsure- because even though your communication may change, it won’t alter the basic way in which you view him. And if so, he’s right- this issue will not be resolved until you figure out what it is about him that makes you want to make him feel bad.
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We are familiar with the patient who denies that he is sick or has problems of any kind. The nurse, by her comment, tone of voice, or facial expression, often unwittingly uses the same defense to avoid discussion of a problem that she thinks should not exist or an idea that she considers meaningless or perhaps even frightening. In effect, she has closed both her eyes and her mind to the patient’s problem. When the nurse uses denial, she shuts off an avenue of discussion and avoids helping the patient to identify and explore his difficulties. Peplau points out that when the nurse “denies the validity of the patient’s feelings…in order to feel safe the patient may have to give up attending to what he feels and indicate verbal acceptance of what the nurse has indicated he should feel.
When tension is due to a partner feeling that their cultural identity is being ignored it is referred to as a nonsupport problem. This is a threat to one’s face, and individuals often cope with it in the same ways people cope with identity freezing.