Oh crap. What did I just do?
I’ve been dating this guy a few months and I’d say we’re pretty close to each other. Intimate enough to be honest with one another. And normally he’s a mellow, genuine guy. Tonight, though, his older brother was in town, and for some reason, he became a huge braggart and it made me really uncomfortable. He was talking about nothing but himself and showing off all sorts of things around the house – from the big tv to his microbrew collection in the fridge, to how he’s trained his dogs. Even the brother looked bored. It was a little sickening to see him ingratiate himself to his big brother. Personally, I think my guy is better than his older brother, who is stuck in the fifties with a housewife at home and 3 kids in parochial school.
After he dropped his brother back off at the hotel, I had a word with him about his behavior tonight. I tried to be really gentle and to get him to see things from his brother’s perspective. I tried not to sound like I was criticizing him. I asked him what he thought a conversation should be, and whether or not he thought he’d been really exchanging ideas with his brother or just talking at him. I said it was understandable that he’d grown up as the kid brother and so he’d still feel eager to please his older sibling. I wanted to make him feel I understood him and that I accepted him no matter what.
Long story short, he got mad at me for bringing it up at all. He said he didn’t appreciate me psychoanalyzing him. He said I ruined his night and then went to bed mad at me. I’m now typing alone in his spare room and I think I’ll end up sleeping here tonight just to give him some space.
Evan, I know women aren’t supposed to try to change men. In my mind, I honestly did first try to make the distinction between a) asking him to change himself without reason; and b) suggesting that he become more aware of the thought or intent behind the things that he says.
I know I screwed it up along the way tonight. Any pointers as to how I should have handled this?
I love your question because I don’t really know the answer. But that’s never stopped me before.
Why You’re Still Single points out the subtle difference between constructive criticism and destructive criticism.
Constructive criticism is given for the benefit of the recipient. “You might want to get less emotional when asking your boss for a raise.”
Destructive criticism is given for the benefit of the speaker. “Your constant complaining is making me very unhappy.”
So because YOU were uncomfortable with his behavior, HE had to listen to a lecture psychoanalyzing his motives for acting that way.
While I have no doubt that you intended to teach your boyfriend a useful lesson, unfortunately, what came across was that YOU felt that he was being immature and unlikable. So because YOU were uncomfortable with his behavior, HE had to listen to a lecture psychoanalyzing his motives for acting that way. Your criticism was designed more to improve him so that he doesn’t embarrass you, as opposed to him asking why you thought the night was so tense.
Your letter makes it clear that you’re self-aware and that you were really doing your best to tread lightly on this sensitive area. And yet, he STILL got upset at you. What’s a well-meaning girlfriend who wants to change her boyfriend to DO? …