How Do I Have a Relationship Discussion Without Causing a Fight?

I’ve been reading your blog religiously for two years and find it both entertaining and seriously useful. I have never read any kind of ‘self-help’ in my life and would generally approach it with a great dollop of cynicism. But I’ve found your ‘mirroring’ approach has done wonders for me in recent years and I find myself much more in a position of power as a result. I’m Irish and we have a totally different dating set-up over here than the States, but I feel the core message of your advice (letting the man reveal his intentions) manages to cross the cultural divide!

Ok, so here’s the deal: I’ve been seeing an amazing guy for six months. After three dates he asked me to come off Plenty of Fish. We’ve met each other’s families. He’s great with my son. We’ve talked about a future. He’s told me he loves me. All of that good stuff! There has been no conflict so far because everything is rosy in the garden.

So a small (seemingly insignificant) thing has come up and I’m worried that if I address it, the genie will be let out of the bottle and this ‘everything is perfect’ vibe will be lost. You’ll laugh now, but here’s the problem:

I’ve been involved with a series of men who haven’t wanted to become ‘involved’, i.e. meet my son, my family or anyone belonging to me.

I felt I could just be myself with this new guy immediately. So I told him how hurtful I had found these other scenarios and how I really wanted someone now to be my partner. Early on, I had told him how important it would be to have him at my birthday dinner, for example, or at our big group Christmas night out. The latter is imminent and we have a night planned. My closest few friends and their partners will be out and its seldom enough we all get together these days what with work, kids etc. everyone is dying to meet him and he’d promised he’d come.

Only now he tells me, casually, he’s going ‘to skip it’ as I’ll ‘want to have a natter’ with my friends. I just said, ‘uh, ok’ because I don’t want to be giving out to a guy who has only, so far, been very good and considerate towards me.

I suppose I place more importance on this ‘friend-meeting’ issue that most because I’ve never really had a boyfriend before who wanted to go there. I’ve always gone for alpha commitment-phobe types who shun all that ‘boyfriend behavior’. My new boyfriend is completely a boyfriend: he calls every day and makes plans and talks about ‘us’. So I thought, for sure, I’ve hit the jackpot this year! I’ll be accompanied to my Christmas drinks! I was also really looking forward to showing him off because I think he’s great. It’s not a case that he’s socially awkward or shy – the opposite! He’s fantastic with people and a really confident, intelligent, attractive guy.

How do I approach this conflict without ruining things? Should I just let it slide? Or should I tell him it’s really important to me and give him a chance to change his mind?

I know it seems like such an insignificant matter but it’s taken on epic proportions for me!

C-From Ireland

Molehill, meet mountain.

It’s been six months. He’s a great boyfriend. He calls every day, makes plans, and talks about your relationship. He’s met your family and gets along with your son.

And you’re going nuts that he wants to give you time alone with your friends?

Leave these “epic” emotions out of it because your reaction is disproportionate to the stakes involved.

I’m not telling you to let it slide. You feel what you feel. You have the right to talk with him about what you’re feeling. What I am telling you is to leave these “epic” emotions out of it because your reaction is disproportionate to the stakes involved. It’s no different than this recent post about Christmas expectations dashed by a clueless but devoted boyfriend.

As to how you approach this conversation, it’s essentially the same way you should approach ANY relationship discussion. I pulled this straight out of Dr. Jamie Turndorf’s “Kiss Your Fights Goodbye” and I recommend you use this as your new Bible.

1. The Disclaimer – “John, you are the best boyfriend ever. I’ve never felt so safe with a guy as I have in my six months with you. What I particularly love is how we can communicate everything and it only makes us stronger. Thank you so much for restoring my faith in love.”

2. Presentation of your issue“You’ve always been so enthusiastic about spending time with me or my son or my friends, that I was really surprised when you said you didn’t want to come to Christmas dinner. I know you felt that I’d get more quality time in if you weren’t there, but the truth is, everyone else was going as a couple and I wanted you there with me. It’s not your fault that you didn’t know how important this was to me; that’s my job. I just didn’t want to build up resentment for you not reading my mind, and I didn’t want to make a big deal about one lone party.”

3. Suggestion for the future“I promise to do a better job of communicating my needs when things come up, and I want you to assume in the future that I ALWAYS want you by my side on holidays and celebrations. Can you do that for me?”

What do you think he’s going to say to that?

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Comments:

  1. 1
    Skaramouche

    Hehehehehehehe…this one made me chuckle. After almost 3 years married to a man who, unlike C’s boyfriend, doesn’t particularly enjoy these social “do’s”, I can totally sympathize. For this year’s work holiday party, he said “if you really want me to go, I’ll go”, meaning “I don’t want to go but if it’s really important to you, I’ll suck it up”. I realized that it wasn’t, I gave him the night off and took my sister instead. She had a blast. He went with me last year and the year before, I went alone. I’m finally used to this state of affairs but I experienced the same hurt as C in our early years. Find out why he is really not going, C. Maybe he doesn’t understand how badly you want him to go or he’s feeling awkward or something. I have come to realize a few things:

    1) “Meeting the partner” is a thing that only really excites girls and their girl friends (I’m sure there are a few male exceptions). Guys don’t really care and don’t understand the whole thing (at least mine doesn’t). If it is made clear to them how important it is, they generally play along.

    2) My husband is who he is. He has many, many desirable qualities and some not so desirable ones. Sometimes I wish he was more interested in accompanying me to my various affairs because my friends’ partners will be there but I’ve figured out that I can live without that. If I specifically request him to come, he generally does. I realize though that I’m asking him to sacrifice his comfort for mine so I try to limit the number of times I ask him. Sometimes I just tell him the truth…he is good eye candy and entertaining, I’m proud that I “own” him and I want to show him off :D. Occasionally, this tactic works and he volunteers to attend.

    3) I’m a bit more sensitive than average about people RSVPing and then cancelling. I’m a planner, especially when it comes to social events and my husband is more of a spontaneous guy. Even knowing this, “can I tell you later whether I’m coming” drives me NUTS. The way I see it, either you are free, want to go and can make the commitment or you are not and then you decline. In general, I have found that “I’ll tell you later” often means “let me see if something better comes along” or “no, but I don’t want to tell you that now”. Unless it’s an emergency, cancelling after RSVPing also means the same thing. I have also come to realize though that I thrive on having a full social calendar and knowing that I’m going to do “abc” on “x” night gives me something to look forward to. He just prefers to wake up, take pleasure in the empty day ahead of him and say: “wanna watch a movie?” at the last minute. So I have learned to modify my expectations and I generally give him a deadline by which point I need an RSVP. If one is not forthcoming, I assume he is not going and make my plans accordingly. Having said all of this, he is not a social deadbeat :P. He doesn’t make a habit of saying yes and then bailing. He just isn’t as social as I am and I have stopped putting him in the awkward situation of wanting him to go, asking if he will instead of telling him he should, hoping the answer will be yes and being sad when it isn’t.

    1. 1.1
      Jeremy

      I liked your comment, skaramouche, and agree with you.
      This guy just might not be into parties – particularly ones where he doesn’t know anyone. I know I am that way too. The only person he knows there is the OP, but she will be busy talking to all the other people there (that she does know). That isn’t everyone’s idea of fun.
      Having said that, if she makes it clear to him that it is important to her that he go, he will likely acquiesce. At that point, she should realize he is sacrificing his comfort for hers, and she should think of a nice way to make it up to him.

  2. 2
    marymary

    If he promised he’d come you could ask him what’s changed his mind? I’d hope that wouldn’t cause a fight!

    1. 2.1
      CC

      good point Mary! why do we always seem to overlook the obvious…ask him? also: remember the compromise: is it possible for him to stop by your “do” and meet your others, after you explain to them he has a commitment as well and wants to attend both events? sounds fair, win-win and you get to discuss him with your friends after he leaves (win-win-WIN)! ha.

  3. 3
    Dina Strange

    I really miss the time, when you could be yourself with a guy, instead of being afraid, and had to watch everything you say, and do.

    You know what…if a guy can’t tolerate occasional discussion, and cannot deal with you being yourself, why do you need such a guy. Are you gonna fake it your whole life?

    1. 3.1
      ScottH

      Well said!!!

    2. 3.2
      Karl S

      It never hurts to stop and check in to make sure your worries aren’t being blown out of proportion, plus it’s smart to ask about how to address topics of concern without framing the conversation in a destructive light where both parties get defensive and unnecessary conflict erupts. The OP is doing the right thing getting some consultation here and should be praised for it. Everyone needs to learn and relearn communication strategies in order to have positive relationships.

    3. 3.3
      CC

      So TRUE Dina! We are scared rabbits, afraid to have a normal conversation for fear the guy will run. It’s sad, but this is what things have come to. A very good point you have made. And all this does is raise the stakes and emotions on every event. I must say, Evan’s advice to let the guy know that you ALWAYS want him to attend with you would scare the s*** out of every guy I’ve ever dated. They would misconstrue this as a warning or a demand. Am I wrong? Maybe Evan has been married so long, and trained well, I do notice in his stories he is very good at letting his wife express and even own her anger without walking out the door. A man who gives his woman some freedom to small moments of dissatisfaction will have a happy relationship as she will feel hear and allowed to be herself. I find this unusual in the dating world. Other sites suggest you NEVER make a request or open discussion until the guy is all the way in (years) and already hooked. This seems manipulative, Evan does not suggest this, thank goodness.

  4. 4
    Maya

    Nice post Evan.
    Just m 2 cents in. Some PPL are just frekin introverted. Does not mean I do not want to be seen with you, but seriously can not be phucked to go to every DO that is offered even with a BF. Happy if he had a blast, I am happy that I had my introverted recharge at home without buzz of social life.

  5. 5
    Fusee

    Wow, what an excellent suggestion from Evan on how to start the conversation!

    Just a comment on the Letter Writer’s concern of “causing a fight”. Sure you don’t want to trigger negative feelings, and make a big deal out of nothing! However, if you approach the topic without any attachment to the outcome (being basically ok to go to the party by yourself), and with non-violent language such as the statement proposed by Evan (using “I” statements, owning your feelings and responsibility in the potential misunderstanding), the conversation should not cause a fight. If it does – despite being in the right state of mind and using adequate language – then you have more problems in your relationship than going without a date to the Christmas party. Your ideal boyfriend is someone you can talk to, and with whom you can resolve misunderstanding/conflicts/hurt feelings.

    My suggestion is to take this conversation as a test. Not a test of “Will he do what *I* want?”, but a test on communication and misunderstanding/conflict resolution skills.

  6. 6
    Peter 51

    A straightforward fight over in 10 minutes. Or an evening is much better than letting things fester unsaid for years.

  7. 7
    marymary

    Peter
    Yep, after our initial honeymoon period we had a few fights. We don’t anymore as we know what winds each other up and avoid doing that. However, I don’t see anything wrong with fighting per se and I expect we’ll fight again. It’s how it’s done that matters. And even with the best will in the world, people get tired, stressed, irritable, hungry, sick. Rare is the couple who agree harmoniously on everything at all times. They’re either very lucky, or one or both of them is suffering in silence.
    I don’t like to be criticised or even to hear what I could do better, however nicely it’s couched) but when it’s something important (relationship, job) I’d rather hear it than not. extreme conflict avoidance is not good for relationships IMO. It’s how I operated for years and it didn’t work for me.

  8. 8
    Joe

    I don’t even understand why this would be called a fight? Surely it’s merely a discussion?

    She: I’d like X; you first said you were fine with X, but now you’re not–why?
    He: Yes, I initially planned to X, but upon further reflection I’d prefer to do Y, for reasons A, B and/or C.

    She either accepts him at his word, or stews about it. If she chooses to stew about it, she should just cut him loose, because it’s just going to happen again and again until she explodes.

    1. 8.1
      CC

      In a perfect world. Not in the current dating climate. You’d be surprised what can cause a fight.

  9. 9
    Adelaide

    Evan,

    Like the OP, I am from this side of the Atlantic. I agree with her that the core of your advice translates very well and I too have gained much from this blog.

    But there are nuances of difference. I am British but my mother and a lot of my relatives are Irish and I know Irish culture pretty well. The OP knows her boyfriend and we don’t. She will have more relevant perspective than me on what I am about t say. But I have consistent experience that over here, long speeches aimed ultimately at raising an “issue”, but which begin “oh honey you are brilliant etc etc” do not go well with men. It’s like, they sense a great, big, fat BUT is coming, and it makes them tense throughout your nice words, however loving you are. The effects are not good and the guy can even land up feeling manipulated. Also I would say that such a long speech as you suggested the OP try, over here would signal that the size of the BUT was going to be extra, extra large. This is not justified here – according to the OP herself. The OP recognises that this is a “tiny” niggle and is self aware enough to appreciate there is a degree of projection going on from her past.

    Final thing is, again with cultural nuance, the “you go have natter time without me” line, coming from a nice guy like this, may actually be a way of excusing why he doesn’t want to go, when he is afraid the real reason will hurt her (which he won’t want to do).

    So, with all that, what I would say would be:

    “X, you know, this Christmas do that is coming up? You know how you said you would let me go alone to have more natter time? That was so thoughtful of you, to say it like that, that you didn’t want to come. You are so right I love to natter.. But honey, more than wanting to natter, it would feel great to have you there beside me. What do you think?”

    Then let him talk. And listen. And ultimately if he doesn’t want to go, respect it. He doesn’t have to to do everything you want to be a good boyfriend.

    1. 9.1
      Evan Marc Katz

      You said pretty much the same thing that I said, Adelaide. You were warm, validating, came up with a solution, and asked for his buy-in.

      And since I didn’t write anything about “a long speech,” I would think we’re in complete agreement.

      1. 9.1.1
        Adelaide

        We are in agreement on substance – as always. I hope I made that clear. It’s just the details of the script. I recognise that you were being warm and all that good stuff. But across different cultures the precise words sometimes need translating. What absolutely is and absolutely sounds sincere in the U.S. can sound like gushing over the top praise. And I did not mean “long” as a critcism and I am sorry if it came off that way. I just meant that in my experience what you scripted was too long in that than any Irish (or British) guy in my life would, after two sentences or so, be looking tense and thinking, “Where is this going/what do you want/what did I do wrong?”
        Like I said, I could be wrong about the OP’s particular guy.

        1. Suzie

          Adelaide – as a fellow Brit I recognise what you mean. Evan makes a remarkable amount of candid sense, and the substance and intent of his script is spot on, but I’ve also found that applying American relationship guidance to British people often results in suspicion. I’ve observed many times (in platonic, romantic and professional relationships) that a friendly “you’re great” preamble is more likely to induce suspicion than put a Brit at ease. My (British) partner calls it the “sh*t sandwich” – he recognises it, in personal and professional relationships, as a tactic for delivering a criticism by sandwiching it between two positive comments. If I used Evan’s suggested script verbatim, I’d get a sentence into it and my partner would be pre-empting the criticism he expected me to say. Still, there’s no need to follow the script verbatim – can read it as Evan’s illustration of how to say “I feel this because of this” without putting the other person in the wrong – a genuinely nice sandwich – take the intent if not the exact mode of delivery. Bit of a shame, really, that so many Brits can’t hear a compliment without expecting imminent criticism!

        2. CC

          Adelaide, I agree with you. Too much build up and the guy feels he’s being put on the chopping block. That would scare me! The longer the intro, the higher the stakes. I like Mary’s idea of asking: “Hey honey, I was just wondering why you changed your mind about the party, it’s not a big deal, I’m just curious”. Look at me giving advice when I can’t keep my dating life rolling. I’m a 5 month woman, that’s when reality hits for me. What’s up with THAT Evan? What happens at month 5-6? Maybe that’s when I expect to be treated like I’m an actual part of their life, meet the friends, not be a last minute option, and when it doesn’t happen, I know the score? That’s sad I must admit it. NO more advice from me, listen to the experts.

  10. 10
    Karmic Equation

    I talk “guy talk” all the time. It’s easier than “girl talk” for me. lol

    Just tell the unvarnished truth and acknowledge the REAL reason (which he already feels). But do it with a feminine delivery:

    “Babe, I want to show you off to my friends more than I want to natter with them. Won’t you please come along with me? I’ll make it worth your while afterwards. I promise.” Said with a broad smile, hug, and sweetly feminine kiss.

    If he says no, then ask inquisitively, “Ok. I’ll be disappointed. But can I ask why you don’t want to come along?”

    1. 10.1
      CC

      Yuck. Sounds like begging and deal making re: sex. No good.

  11. 11
    Chiara

    Oy vey. This response confirms my worst fears about dating and men. Is it really unrealistic simply to expect to be able to communicate honestly and openly with your boyfriend of 6 months? I really hope that either Evan or the men here will answer this sincere question I have: WHY do women have to be “warm” and “validating” at ALL times towards men they are dating?? Why are we not allowed to be people?? Women are human beings, sometimes we get annoyed, or hurt, or disappointed. In the scenario above, the OP had:
    1.) Told her BF that she wants a true partner to share her life.
    2.) Expressly told him it was important to her to have her BF accompany her to holiday events such as this Christmas party, and:
    3.) “he’d PROMISED he’d come” (my caps).
    I think she has every reason to feel hurt, disappointed and let down. I think not following through on a promise is a big deal. Especially on something she has said is important to her. That’s definitely not a “molehill.” (And I also don’t get why men always seem to think THEY are the final arbiters of what women are allowed to be “legitimately” upset about. Grrr.)

    I’m not saying she should yell at him, or be blaming or accusatory, but why can’t she simply express her disappointment and confusion as a person, as one adult to another? She’s not a mother dealing with a 6-year old! Why is it necessary to say anything about him being a great boyfriend first?? I really don’t get it. I don’t expect a man I’m dating to be validating and affirming 100% of the time (and in my experience, a man who is upset with you will NOT sugarcoat it), why are women expected to be? It’s like it’s the women’s job to be some kind of Stepford GF, always positive, always pleasing to the man–and never, ever display any human emotion approximating disapproval or even (God forbid!) anger. Yes, people in relationships should strive generally to be kind, and supportive and understanding of each other, but I really feel like women are not allowed to ever, ever behave for one moment in a way that is not ego-building towards a man they are involved with, and I’d sincerely like to know why. Do men just not see women as people? Or they do, but don’t care about our feelings…? Personally, for me it’s expecting too much to be required to follow this kind of script when I’ve truly been hurt by something–I’m not going to be mean to someone I love, but I’m only human, I’m not a saint, or a goddess. Like I said, I find this really depressing.

    1. 11.1
      starthrower68

      Those are some good questions.

    2. 11.2
      CC

      WOW Chiara! YOU SAID IT. This is the crux, is it not? Here is my theory: when was the last time you saw a woman get mad in a movie or tv show? Watch old movies, the women have a range of emotions. Now we are competing for dates with women on Prozac, Zanax and every other emotion suppressing drug on the market. If we pop off once in a while, it’s the end of the world. I LIKE to see my man’s anger when I’m dating. Then I know they can get a little miffed and ruffled without losing all control. Besides, if they have some investment in the thing, they should have a couple rough moments. Too even tempered is fake and suspect, and the men should find this as well. I love what you said! And I agree this is not a molehill, and a serious indicator that things could not be going where she wants and that he is allowed to disappoint on an important issue to HER. If we have to suck up every time we have a question for our guy, we are in BAD shape. This is an indication of serious power inequality and the new norm. Maybe she could simply explain that when he makes a promise, she would like him to follow through or give a better explanation than that. He’d bolt.

  12. 12
    butterduck

    I said “uh-oh” the second I read that she had told her boyfriend about all the other past guys who had disappointed her. In my experience,  guys don’t want to hear that stuff. It makes you sound like an emotional invalid when it’s really her problem to resolve, not his. To me the unspoken message is “somebody else hurt me, so you have to make up for it…as long as you live.” And then  you wonder why he suddenly digs his heels in.

    1. 12.1
      butterduck

      That could have been better- edited. Sorry for the dodgy grammar. 

  13. 13
    lala8

    I’ve been dating my boyfriend a year and we’ve met each other’s families, but he won’t invite me to his dad’s house.   I met his family once at Thanksgiving and that’s been it.  He hasn’t asked me to come back over.  Id like to get to know his dad and eventually his family better.  I don’t bring this up because I hate confrontation.  Everything else is wonderful in our relationship.   I just don’t know why he won’t invite me back over.  I don’t know if it’s because his last relationship (with his son’s mom….never married)ended badly and it was a nearly ten yr relationship and he’s treading lightly.   I’ve been hurt in the past and bringing stuff up is hard for me because of this…. 🙁

  14. 14
    Sarah Lund

    Just be civil. Communication is the most important thing, if you want your keep your relationship with him. If you both never talk to each other, properly, about worries, it can’t work out, because you’ll always be left wondering. It will show him that you think he’s important to you. At least he’ll know that he’s wanted. I couldn’t be with a man, who found it hard to talk about personal things. Some men just sulk, and that isn’t much help at all. I can’t know what he’s thinking, if he doesn’t tell me. Is anything actually that bad, that he wouldn’t want to talk about it? Avoid silver foxes. They’re trouble. Well, as long as he’s entertaining enough to be around, the rest will be easy.

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