Is The Relationship Doomed If My Boyfriend And I Can’t Talk About Work?

work colleagues having an argument

Hi Evan: I love your stuff. I definitely send girlfriends to your blog, but I’ve never seen this addressed, so here goes. I am 42 and have been divorced 5 years (2 daughters). For the first year I dated A LOT. At a year post-divorce I was seeing 3 men. I was doing some research for work and met a tall, handsome, scientist (me too), who skies as obsessively as I do. PERFECT!! We have crazy chemistry, like the same sports, and work in the same industry. I dumped the other three guys within a week.

Turns out he is a TOTAL bachelor. He’s in his late 40’s and hasn’t dated anyone for more than a year in the past 20 years. Not the best relationship track record. Fast-forward 4 years of dating him. In the past, he has always left his relationships once it’s “not fun anymore”. He is a commitment-phobe and definitely anti-marriage, but I’ve convinced myself that I don’t need to be married again. He has committed to me to an extent that he’s never done before. HUGE strides in that arena.

Trying to figure out the “why” is pointless because figuring it out doesn’t change anything.

The ONE thing that “gets” me is that our INTELLECTUAL rapport is weird. Whenever we talk about work (usually MY work—I work as a consultant in an industry that he regulates) he FLARES. He gets angry with me and my “communication”. It’s the weirdest thing. He has said that I have an “aggressive tone” but I’ve never heard that from anyone else. People say to me “you’re so INTERESTED in your work, you have passion for what you do” not “you get an aggressive tone” when you talk about your work. (To me, that says “you’re too masculine”.) I stay calm (I’ve been called über rational), and he usually apologizes for being a jerk. When I called him on his frustration/anger the other day, he GOT it and bent over backwards for two days to make sure “I am happy and am getting what I need.”

I just hate that he gets so pissed off when I talk about work. It makes me question the whole thing since intellectual rapport is so important to me. Why is this part so hard? Why the “flaring”? Why do I frustrate him so much? Is this a deal-breaker? (Side note: He grew up in an alcoholic family with a narcissistic raging alcoholic father, and his grandfather was his male role model.) My dad says that he’s just insecure because I’m a powerful person. —Miki

Dear Powerful Person,

You kind of painted yourself into a corner, didn’t you?

You’re in a four-year relationship with a man who grew up in an alcoholic family with no strong father figure, a man who is a consummate bachelor who has a poor track record with women, a man who is a self-professed commitmentphobe who doesn’t want to get married, a man whose temper flares when you talk about your work… and you’re asking ME to fix it?

I’m a dating coach — and the great part of being a dating coach, as opposed to being a therapist, is that you can a) talk just as much as you listen, b) say anything on your mind, even if it’s “unprofessional”, and c) not spend any time delving into the past. My job is to focus on the present and future. And as I wrote in “Why He Disappeared”, trying to figure out the “why” is pointless because figuring it out doesn’t change anything.

So who cares why your boyfriend is the way he is? Let’s just assume that you’re not going to change him after 50 years. The real question is what are you going to do now?

Are you comfortable spending the rest of your life having this work-related argument?

Are you comfortable committing to a man who doesn’t believe in commitment?

Are you comfortable committing to a man who doesn’t believe in commitment?

Are you happy with your status quo, because your status quo will probably not change.

In other words, Miki, THIS IS IT.

This is your boyfriend.

He ain’t changing.

As such, there’s no point in complaining that he has anger management issues and is intimidated by powerful you. Five years from now, he’ll still have the same issues.

There’s only two choices: stay or go.

My wife is perpetually late. It annoys me to no end. I passive-aggressively complain about it and joke about it all the time. It’s not bad enough that I’d end our otherwise delightful relationship, however. The good FAR outweighs the bad, and since we’re married, I’m confident that she’s not going to bail on me one day.

You don’t have that luxury.

If you try to change your boyfriend, he’ll probably resent you and break up with you. Nagging girlfriend. Perfect excuse for a commitmentphobe.

If you don’t try to change your boyfriend, you will have to deal with his many psychological issues for the rest of your life. Do you want to do that? Can you do that? Would you be happy doing that? Or do you think you can find another great guy without those issues?

All relationships involve tradeoffs and you are a perfect example:

You got your chemistry: Tall! Handsome! Scientist! Skiing!

You also got a guy who has been fucked up since birth.

I’m not going to tell you what to do.

I will simply point out that it’s not about how you can change him to be nicer to you; it’s about whether you can accept him for his considerable baggage for the rest of your life.

If not, you know what you have to do.

Join our conversation (26 Comments).
Click Here To Leave Your Comment Below.


  1. 1

    My favorite line of this article is…”You also got a guy who has been fucked up since birth.”   That sums up so well the idea that people who are a mess and have been for a really long time will continue to be a mess.   We’re not terrible people if we don’t continue to subject ourselves to the messes that they are and instead choose to separate ourselves and live healthy lives.

  2. 2

    Evan you are so right when you said “trying to figure out the “why” is pointless because figuring it out doesn’t change anything”

  3. 3

    It is amzaing to realize that there is one word that some many women   (me included) are reluctant to say……….NEXT

  4. 4

    Do you like a challenging relationship?   (You were divorced – was your ex full of drama/passion/excitement as well?)  

    The problem with being Type A / “aggressive” / “passionate”, is that we find these traits attractive in other people.   Like Evan’s comment about his wife, I find chronic tardiness infuriating… but I have best friends who are tardy.   And while I find men who are similar to me in personality exciting, they share my flaws as well.

    I think people who are a little less Alpha and a little more Beta are a bit more laidback and that can be frustrating, but they may also be easier on you.

    Is it a dealbreaker?   Only you know.   Do you also only like relationships because they are fun?   How similar to your boyfriend are you?

    I don’t know if your dad is necessarily correct about him being insecure.   Your dad is a firsthand witness, but I can think of other scenarios.   I dated someone who was in the same industry as me, and sometimes I felt browbeaten because I felt he wanted me to conform to his viewpoints about things.   It would be the same if you were talking to someone who was passionate about politics – maybe you agree with them, but just don’t want to hear about it or don’t care that much and it can be exhausting.  

    No one is going to have everything.   Are you “having fun” or not?   You don’t seem to want someone who will be there for you and your daughters.   Maybe “fun” is all you want, and you can drop the debates about work.

  5. 5

    Evan, I’m with you 100% on 99% of your response.   But that 1%?  

    “and since we’re married, I’m confident that she’s not going to bail on me one day.”

    Now, I’m sure your wife is every bit as wonderful as you’ve described her, and as  a loyal reader and fan of yours, my hope is that you live long,   happy lives together & with your offspring. But your statement is simply misleading and unrealistic. There are no guarantees in relationships,  and lots & lots of marriages end.

    The main reason I bring this up is because a reader could get the idea that if this guy did ask her to marry him, and she agreed,  that would prove something about him, something positive because he’d be willing to deepen the level of commitment. When actually he’d still be the same guy with the same hangups and who — in my opinion — has some disturbing, volatile  traits. Only now  he’d be her HUSband.   No thanks.

    I know you didn’t mean marriage is the answer to her dilemma, but your statement seemed to weaken what is otherwise a very direct and wise viewpoint.

  6. 6

    Perfect example of “What you see, is what you get”!

  7. 7

    I totally agree that she should get out of a potentially dangerous relationship and keep moving.

  8. 8

    I apologize to Miki as this comment is not offering any advice for her situation.   I thought Evan covered it quite well:   if she is not happy with her boyfriend as he is, don’t count on him changing and get out.
    Miki sees this guy as having a bad history with women.     He has avoided the pain and expense of a divorce.   He has been living a lifestyle which has worked for him.    Miki has a failed marriage behind her.   She was dating 3 guys at the same time all of whom she dropped at the same time.   She suspects she has been gently told that she is abrasive when she talks about her career, possibly with the result of driving men away. She has been dating a guy for 4 years she has serious reservations about.       I wonder if somewhere her BF is laying his story out on the table telling his friends that Miki is a wonderful woman, but he has his doubts about continuing to date her because she has a troubled history with men?

  9. 9

    What jumps out at me is in this second paragraph:  In the past, he has always left his relationships once it’s “not fun anymore”. He is a commitment-phobe and definitely anti-marriage, but I’ve convinced myself that I don’t need to be married again.  

    Here’s a commitment-phobic man who bails on relationships when they’re “not fun anymore”.   He  repeatedly gets  angry at Miki when she discusses her work. She’s allowed him to veto the discussion of marriage, and she’s been with him for 4 years. I can’t help but wonder if he isn’t looking for a way out now that the relationship has gotten too close and too comfortable for too long.
    He’s insecure because she’s a “powerful” person? So he has to undermine her confidence?  

  10. 10

    In Miki’s defense, when we figure out a guy with whom we have amazing chemistry is a commitment-phobe, one of the first things we continue to do is convince ourselves we don’t necessarily want to be married again. We do that in hopes that we can somehow hang in there.   However commitment-phobes often display plenty of erratic behavior that leaves us off balance and confused.   I get it Miki, I have done this. But is this the example you want to set for your girls?   Do you want your girls to learn that this is the kind of man they should chose?   If one of your daughters came home with a man like the one you’re with, I’m thinking you would tell them to get rid of him in a hot minute.   Treat yourself with the same care that you would your daughters.

  11. 11

    Amazing chemistry is natures way of indicating to a women she should procreate with him. Amazing chemistry ignores long term goals and objectives.

  12. 12

    “You also got a guy who has been fucked up since birth”. ROFLMAO. I love you, Evan! 🙂 This says it all. Evan hit the nail on the head with his assessment of this guy.

    What Miki has here with this guy is a nightmare. This guy IS the nightmare, and I’ve been  with a few nightmares myself-one that continues to come back every year, I might add. Anyway, sometimes we have to learn the hard way. It’s been 4 years; my only hope is that Miki will leave. Miki, there will be no marriage,  and no kids. There  won’t even be a relationship for too much longer. This guy is going to leave. When he does, you will have lost nothing. I hope you can realize that soon and move on.

  13. 13

    Oh, and Miki, your inability to talk about your work is the least of your problems with this guy. It is, however, a symptom of the wreck that he is.

  14. 14
    Preston Blain

    Figuring out whether the pros out-weigh the cons is a good idea. We are only human and no one is perfect. No matter how well you get on with someone, there will be things about them that irritate you. That’s just life.

    Time to figure out if the pros out-weigh the cons!

  15. 15

    About the communication issue … Miki may actually be too abrasive in how she discusses things at times.   I can only speak personally … I too have a great relationship with my very verbal father.   We have debated issues for as long as I can remember.   Now in my forties, it has left me with a fine skill, yes … but unfortunately, sometimes I get so involved in the discussion, I disconnect from how I come across. (My dad wouldn’t be bothered by this. He does the same thing.)
    In a group of friends, I tone it down, I’m funny, I back off when I sense emotions are getting involved, I easily keep my gun in its holster.   I do the same with the men I date … until I start getting comfortable in a relationship, then this boundary can become hard to control.   Sure, on most days with simple issues, I’m peachy.   But those bad days come around, those “passionate” work discussions arise- and boom! I’m too much, I pull out that gun and sadly wield it like a sharp shooter.   I lose all sex appeal and become “Laurel, the winner of all debates!”
    I hate to bring this down to sex … but it has helped me rein myself in and stir some kindness into my communication skills.   After all, who wants to have sex with a woman who can turn Hulk-ish in a discussion about work, or anything?
    Now, this may just be me, not Miki.   And there’s a lot more going on in that post …

  16. 16

    Real power comes in accepting you can’t change someone but knowing you have the freedom to walk away from that which you do not believe is good for you.

    We all have our baggage and Evan is right, nothing is going to change.   Does the good out way the bad?   Somebody elses trash is another person’s treasure.   You have to accept him as he is or move on.  

  17. 17

    Actually, I don’t understand the problem. If miki doesn’t want a marriage, she has the option to walk out of this relationship anytime. So, choosing THE most perfect guy for her is no longer necessary. Because she does not need to be with him for the rest of her lives. So! Just stay with him until it’s no Longer fun! Just like his idea.

    If we don’t need marriage, there should be no pressure isn’t it? We can just enjoy the good points of all these guys.

    1. 17.1
      Aqua girl

      Well said.

  18. 18

    What does it matter, if the rest of the relationship is tolerable? “Is this behaviour the deal breaker” she asks herself – well he bent over backwards to make sure she is happy and getting what she wants after a fight (which she may have provoked with her behaviour), so why won’t she bend over backwards and stick a cork in it, and discuss her work with her other friends or colleagues? I sense that she is needy and wants him to continually acknowledge her successes – maybe she feels inferior to him, like he is the architect of a building, and she is just the window washer. More going on here that she is admitting to.

  19. 19
    Kat Wilder

    If being unable to talk about her work is the only problem here, well, how much does that matter in the grand scheme of things? Not much. But it’s clear there’s a lot of other stuff going on. Others here have already addressed it – if you can live with the chemistry, drama and noncommitment, go ahead. If you want more, you know what to do.
    But getting back to what Zann mentioned (totally off topic), “and since we’re married, I’m confident that she’s not going to bail on me one day” is   a waaaay unrealistic expectation, Evan.
    As Zann said (and as I’ve experienced) marriage guarantees nothing; the person you marry and his/her moral compass may. So I’m hoping that’s what you meant. Because if you tweak what you said …. “change your (spouse), he’ll probably resent you and (divorce) with you. Nagging (wife).”

  20. 20

    Miki, as a therapist, I would spend some time on the “why does he do what he does”, etc. etc.   It’s the nature of what therapists do.     🙂
    However, what I have seen in successful/lasting relationships is both partners can live with what annoys them about the other person.   I have been married for a long time and my husband has a very poor concept of time.   It irritates me – sometimes more than others – but this is balanced out by other traits I love and find endearing.
    He is a great listener and problem solver and that is more important to me in the long run.   He has always listened to my work issues and I to his.   Not being able to talk about work problems is totally unacceptable to me.
    We all have to decide what we can and cannot live with.   I suggest you make a list of his pros and cons and assign a numerical value to each one.   Add them up, compare and see what you come up with.   It will be an eye opener.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *