The dilemma I recently started my second career. It’s in an industry light years from my previous one. As the months pass, I’m gaining a tenuous grip on things, but there have been some difficult days and there will be more.
My partner of two years is already an expert in the same field. Recently, he became angry about me expressing my frustration with challenges of my new job, because I haven’t asked him for help. In response to his shouting, I felt flooded and frozen and couldn’t really speak. It ended with him in tears because he apparently doesn’t know what value he has to me if not this.
He’s an intelligent, clever man and early in our relationship when he tried to teach me a new language, he pitched way too high and I ended up feeling overwhelmed – how he explains things is not how I can learn. He covers the subjects he wants to share as opposed to those I need to learn.
I make a conscious effort to express gratitude for his love – he’s kind and affectionate – so it surprised me that this is what he needs to feel loved. He’s closed off to my experience of his teaching, so telling him “no” leads to an argument as he thinks I should feel differently. The result is I don’t feel I can vent if I’ve had a challenging day.
I’ve always tried to “choose my battles”, but there seem to be so many. I think he’d be happy if I just accepted that he knows better about everything. I don’t enjoy feeling like a doormat, but I’m so tired of defending my choices. Should I just accept his offer of help, even if I don’t want to, just to make him feel better for the sake of our relationship?
Philippa’s answer He doesn’t know better about everything. He especially doesn’t know better about what you want and need. And, no, you shouldn’t accept his offer of help, and the only explanation you need to give is that you don’t want to. He also needs to learn that it isn’t useful to tell someone what they should be feeling. We feel what we feel.
I wonder if, deep down, he feels insecure. Insecure people tend to act out their anxieties in two main ways: 1) by being needy and/or clingy and 2) being over-controlling. You seem to be getting a dose of both from him. Accepting your love, on the terms you want to give it, would, over time, make him feel more secure. Insecure people may have difficulty realising that they are good enough exactly as they are and so, sometimes, they compensate by trying to sound very clever and pitch things too high. They do this in order to sound superior and to make up for underlying feelings of inadequacy. He’s defining his whole self by his profession – I get that from his “if I’m not good for this I’m good for nothing” vibe. Your job is to convince him that he is not his job, but – first and foremost – he is a person and one who is kind and affectionate. Explain to him that you are with him because he is that person, not because of his expertise.
What you want from him is to be allowed to moan without being fixed; what he seems to want from you is that you should feel about everything the way he would feel if he was you. I think the latter is too much of an ask.
What people sometimes find hard to grasp is that we can all feel differently about the same situation and that other people are not necessarily going to react like we would. This is one of the main causes of misunderstanding in relationships. If we are not careful, instead of clarifying what the other person feels or wants, we erroneously assume our responses to a given situation will be the same.
We each put different meanings on to actions or sometimes words, and it is important that we check in with each other to clarify whether we are both taking the same meaning from what’s being said or done. No use me telling you this, I’d be preaching to the converted, but he needs to get that very clever brain of his around this concept or your relationship sounds doomed.
I don’t like that you wanted to vent about work yet, despite you being the one who is hurt and needing comfort, he turned it around so that he was the one venting, then crying. He sort of hijacked your turn to moan there.
Unfortunately, when insecure people act out on their feelings of insecurity by demanding other people do what they’d want instead of letting them be themselves – or when they continually ask for proof of their worth from their partner, but only on their terms – their fear of being alone can become a self-fulfilling prophecy.
I don’t want you to get bullied into accepting his “help”. The help you want is him listening, not him fixing you. I hope you get that message through to him somehow. Don’t be coerced into a situation you don’t want. Now he’s a bit calmer, perhaps have a go at communicating. If he is too closed off to listen, I think that is a red flag you might want to heed.
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