Are You The Difficult One In Your Relationship?

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Type A. Opinionated. Passionate. Informed. That’s the positive spin. The flip side is Difficult. Stubborn. Argumentative. If you’re difficult, I ain’t judging you, but I am telling you that you’d BETTER find an easygoing partner. Tune in to this week’s Love U Podcast to learn how if a pain in the ass like me can find love, you can, too.


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  1. 1

    Good podcast. It’s always beneficial to do some reflection.

    I think these personality types exist on a spectrum and if you’re too far one direction or the other you can always bring it back towards the center. There’s nothing wrong with being opinionated just like there’s nothing wrong with being laid back. But in their extremes, highly opinionated people can be intolerant of others, which makes them intolerable to others and people that are too laid back can be extremely boring if they never have anything to add to a conversation or even come across as a doormat if they never stand up for themselves / others.

  2. 2

    So this made me wonder where the line is between being critical and being helpful.   For instance, what if your educated partner who has a public kind of job uses the word “irregardless”?   Do you point this out and say that “regardless” should be used instead?   What if they mess up their personal pronouns, do you point it out?   At what point do you keep your mouth shut and when do you open it?

    1. 2.1

      I think it depends on the people in the relationship and also the manner in which such advice is given. I come from a teaching background. I was corrected so often at the dinner table when I misused “I” instead of “Me” etc. There is a way to do it that isn’t condescending and isn’t about demonstrating one’s superiority but rather genuinely being helpful. There is also communicating within the relationship itself one’s preferences. Some people don’t mind being corrected, others have a personal pet peeve against it. I think it’s about deciding among the two of you what your personal boundaries are with things like that and then respecting your partner’s wishes.

      In my relationship I know that all those examples you offer are totally things I would politely and kindly correct in a partner (except maybe irregardless – it’s technically a perfectly acceptable word. The problem is it has a very bad reputation so . . . never mind I do think I’d correct that one too but I’d probably point out that it’s a matter of what others think of the word and if you’re trying to impress someone it might be best to use regardless instead).  Because I don’t want to see them embarrass themselves. And fortunately the kind of partner I’m with appreciates me looking out for him that way. And I likewise.

    2. 2.2

      Well I’m am over educated according to my mother,lol and I can tell you that teenagers are fantastic at criticising everything about you.   My grammar nazi daughter loves pointing out my irregular pronunciations and boy,oh,boy my son gets hell for some of the ways he has pronounced words he has only ever read. We have made it into a game – and I sure know how to get under my daughters skin. I just have to say everythink and she goes wild.   Between two partners – unless they have become super close then being pedantically picky about grammar etc. shows a high level of pettiness. My last partner did not have English as his first language – I’d be a total bitch to pick at this grammar. He knew more than one language, for petes sake.   I found it easy to never ever be ‘helpful’ or ‘critical’ – after a long marriage of pickiness which never should have gotten to that level – it was lovely just to accept someone for who they were warts and all. Of course, when his faults became dangerous to me – I left.   Interestingly, my ex husband was a smoker and it caused so much resentment and fighting and dissent in our marriage because he used it as a tool to leave the family home for hours on end to drink coffee, smoke and read while I was busy with the house and three little kids.   I hated him smoking and voiced that numerous times. I also didn’t want to be looking after someone with lung cancer in my old age while I had looked after my health. My next (and only) relationship was also a smoker and it never, ever bothered me at all. The dynamics were so completely different that what was a huge thing in one relationship (a marriage with children) was nothing in the other (a love/lust match in older life). In fact I would have been honoured to nurse this man through any illlness whether he brought it on himself or not.

      I guess my point is – you have to accept them because people never change from outside urgings. If you are finding you are holding your tongue a lot they are not the person for you. You will turn into a nagger. Find someone whose personal proclivities to pronunciation assassination don’t feel like a nail on a chalkboard.   The older I become I have noticed the less things, like that I care about – it is so freeing to be able to just not care how other people conduct their lives or their habits or their words. I let so much stuff slide now that I notice younger people really get worked up over. It’s making a rod for your own back.   If you can’t accept them don’t stay with them. People don’t change unless they want to. If they ask for help – that is when to give it to them. If they do something that directly impacts on you and hurts you – discuss those issues only in a respectful manner. But how does her misuse of words hurt you? So why bother and why let it bother you?

      1. 2.2.1


        “Well I’m am over educated according to my mother,lol and I can tell you that teenagers are fantastic at criticising everything about you.”

        LOL!   So true, and it can start at even younger ages.   Kids sure are humbling. My 11 year old granddaughter thinks my music is old, my clothes are unstylish, and why don’t I wear eyeshadow or want to go see the cool movies and go to the cool stores at the mall.   She has started “borrowing” my shoes and some of my shirts.   I told her I couldn’t possibly be as much of a dork as she thinks I am if she’s “borrowing” my stuff.   She just gave a half smile and a “meh”and walked away.

    3. 2.3

      Simple. You’re being helpful if they asked for your help (as in “hey ScottH, would you mind reviewing this essay that I just wrote and telling me what you think?”) If they didn’t ask for your help, you’re being critical.

    4. 2.4

      So the way I see it, suppose my gf was driving around on underinflated tires causing hazardous driving and poor mpg.   She likely wouldn’t have noticed because that’s just not her thing.   I would be remiss to not bring this to her attention.   That’s being helpful, not critical.   I actually did once tell a gf that her next stop needed to be a tire store to get one fixed because it was low.   She commented about some light on the dashboard but didn’t know what to do about it.   She ended up getting 4 new tires.

      Now suppose my gf was in the communication department at a large company and used the word “irregardless” and didn’t seem to know that she should be using “regardless” instead?   I felt that it was my duty to let her know that even though irregardless is a word (according to Merriam Webster, look it up), “regardless” should be used (according to M-W).   I used this as a way of bringing up the discussion with her about correcting your bf/gf and let her know that it made me uncomfortable to correct her but I felt that I needed to, just as if her tires were underinflated.

      Now regarding the matter of her having more hair above her top lip than I do, I never brought that up although I showed her the JCPenney youtube video about getting in the dog house and then she got clued in but it was not my intent to bring that to her attention although she subsequently made some changes in that department.   i really fixed her up for the next guy (yes, she broke up with me but not for those reasons).

      1. 2.4.1

        She broke up with you? Did you not get her something good for Valentimes Day?   Sorry, couldn’t resist   🙂

        1. KK

          LOL Jeremy.

          Scott said, “Now regarding the matter of her having more hair above her top lip than I do”.

          Why did this make me think of the ‘Jake from State Farm’ commercial? “She sounds hideous”! “Well, she’s a guy, so…”

          Sorry, I couldn’t resist either. 😉

      2. 2.4.2


        There might be more of a gender difference here than might be evident at first. Most men will  feel criticized,  controlled or mothered  before they consider that the woman’s intention was to be helpful.  Evan’s advice to women is essentially, “don’t do that, it’s not effective”.   In fact, it can even sound like “I need you to be different than who you are ” aka judgmental, demanding. If the man doesn’t know you well and the woman does this, it’s quite likely he will label her as ‘difficult’ and move on to the next, less difficult woman. Now, the woman in question might not actually BE difficult. But once someone has labeled you in their mind, it’s hard to get them to see it any differently.

        When a man “makes a woman aware of an issue” he is very likely to see himself as  doing something for the woman he loves, as ‘fixing a problem’. Hell hath no  sulking like a man not allowed to fix a problem, to paraphrase the quote. A woman can choose this moment to smile inside a little while the man does something that makes him feel good and important, or she can point out ‘the facts’. Which one is a more effective strategy?

        1. ScottH

          Hi Nissa- I get most of what you’re saying but let me put it this way:   if I was leaving for work wearing 2 different colored socks, should my significant other point it out or just let me go to work looking silly?   I would hope that she would point it out.   Similarly, a communications manager at a large company looks silly using the word irregardless in her communications and I think her partner should “help” her.

          Look, I get it- if my partner is trying to change who I am- if she suggests that I dress better, wear different cologne, make more money, drive a nicer car, etc… I’m going to feel like she’s trying to change the fundamental person that I am and that will not make me feel good and I will leave.   But we all can use minor help every once in a while without knowing it and I would expect my partner to look out for me.

          I do agree that the genders react differently to “help” and I do know that I’m very much a guy when it comes to “helping” my significant other.   Like YAG has said in another thread, men are problem solvers and I happen to problem solve for a living, so it’s in my blood.   I try to be aware of it but sometimes I slip.   Maybe that’s why I so much like the column that Evan’s wife wrote about Mulligans.   You need to understand that when we “help” you, we’re doing it in a loving way.   We see a problem and want to fix it.   The question is, where is the line between innocently helping our partner and trying to fundamentally change him/her?   Sure, we should never tell our gf that she needs to lose weight but I think it’s fair game to let her know that she has different socks on.

        2. Nissa

          ScottH, it sounds like you are a mature guy who can handle minor criticism and who can easily distinguish intent, so kudos to you. I guess I just come from the perspective of having been in a relationship where I thought that my guy was reasonable, when he turned out not to be. I was talking to my then husband about the guy who invented the polio vaccine. My ex says, I have no idea who invented the polio vaccine. My reply: really? I thought that was common knowledge. It was Jonas Salk. Him: No, that’s not common knowledge, no one knows that. It turns out we were both kind of correct: everyone in my family knew who he was, and no one in his family knew who Jonas Salk was.

          But my ex never forgave me for making him feel stupid, even though that was not my intent. So now I always err on the side of caution.

        3. Adrian

          Hi Nissa,

          I loved your comments on this matter so much that I read them both twice!

          In your opinion how would you tell if a woman was being helpful or if she was just subtly criticizing and giving a backhanded comment?

          I have noticed that sometimes people though trying to be helpful by pointing out one of your flaws, they also lightly mock you for doing something that they themselves view as something someone with common sense wouldn’t do.

          I can’t really articulate it so you may not understand unless you have experienced it. For example ScottH’s scenario with wearing the wrong colored socks. I have noticed that a lot of people would laugh or give a condescending grin as they “helped you.”

          As if they were saying without say, “I can’t believe you did that or didn’t notice that.” Almost as if they are saying that they are superior to you.

          When I read your story about your ex that was the first thought that came to my mind when you said, “REALLY!!! I thought that was common knowledge!”

          So in your opinion how does a guy know the difference?

        4. Nissa

          Adrian, it’s just my opinion, but tone matters a lot in determining 1)the intention of the speaker and 2) whether or not mocking is involved. For example, that word “really”. My intention with the word was “Really? Huh. ” meaning surprise, consideration of new thought. He probably heard “Reeaaaallly!” meaning scorn, condescension.

          It’s been my experience that people often hear things I don’t say until they get to know met  better. Then, once they have a context, they either correctly hear my intent or trust me enough to ask a follow up question.

          How do you know if a woman is being helpful or mocking you? Tone is the biggest indicator for me. I also know people who think they are being helpful, who also inject judgment and blame into their remarks (such as, “the other pants make you look much thinner, dear, and we know you can use all the help that you can get”). The two socks thing? You might have to guess about how the other person receives info. My dad, I would have told (I’d probably say, did you intend to wear different colored socks? Because maybe he might not care.   My brother in law, no way, because he likes to yell and would fuss for 15 minutes and turn it into an argument about how my sister doesn’t do laundry when he thinks she should. Frankly, my rule of thumb is that if someone else is judgmental, blaming or acting superior to you, that’s his or her character flaw that has nothing to do with me, so I shouldn’t take it personally. I’ve learned to say, “I feel blamed / shamed when you say that, like I’m stupid (or whatever feeling the comment generated). Most people will be very quick to correct your impression if it’s not right, or will make another  mocking remark if it is. Either way, you have your answer.

        5. GoWiththeFlow


          I am one of those rare women who has blue/green/black color blindness.   I once bought two pairs of shoes for work that were the same except for the color.   One pair was black, the other dark blue.   More than once I made it out the door with one of each color on my feet.   So I would appreciate it if I had someone available who could save me from embarrassing myself like that 😉

        6. ScottH

          Hi Nissa:   ”  it sounds like you are a mature guy who can handle minor criticism and who can easily distinguish intent”

          Some people (particularly my mother) might argue about the “mature guy” comment, but thanks.   I can handle major criticism too.   I just evaluate the truthfulness of it.   If it’s valid (as is often the case when it comes to major criticism of me), then I’ll consider it and consider changing and I might thank the person for trying to improve me.   If it’s not valid, it says more about the other person than me.   This is a valuable lesson I learned from my shrink.   Be very careful about who you give the power to to upset you.   There should be very few people in the world who have that power.   (Great book on that:   The Cow in the Parking Lot)    I’m sorry that your experience with your husband over Jonas Salk makes you reconsider every time you think about correcting someone.

          GWTF-   I can use plenty of help when it comes to clothes and hope that my partner, should I ever find her, will assist in that department in a loving way.

          I remember when I was a kid, i bought two pair of converse sneakers in two colors and couldn’t decide which pair to wear so I wore one of each.   It was funny.

  3. 3


    You keep your mouth shut about irregardless. You keep your mouth shut about “mute point” instead of moot point. It’s a small thing to be wrong about. That’s how you judge it.   You can ask yourself if you want to go to war over something that’s not worth fighting about. Choose your battles wisely.

    You asked where is the line between being critical and helpful. When someone uses the wrong word, they’re not asking for help. Unsolicited advice is usually not appreciated,   especially in small matters like language use.  If someone’s gonna walk into a pit of cobras, you can assume they want your help with that error.

    When I stopped correcting my ex-girlfriend’s incorrect use of language all the time, she appreciated it.   You could say that our relationship improved dramatically, but if she’s gonna step in a beartrap, I’m sure she’d like me to tell her It is there.

    1. 3.1
      Mrs Happy

      au contraire John,

      I love it when my husband corrects my grammar (doesn’t happen often).

      It doesn’t lead to a war, because I’m not defensive about my intelligence.

    2. 3.2

      John- it’s not just how I judge it.   A LOT of other people judge the “irregardless” people and if she’s my partner, it’s my job to have her back in a loving way.   If it becomes war, if she becomes defensive, then she can be on her irregardless and merry way.   Now stop judging me and keep YOUR mouth shut because irregardless is a bear trap.

      1. 3.2.1


        Stop judging you? You missed the point. You are feeling your own judgement, because I have no need to judge you. The lesson is to let the little things go. If you think saying “irregardless” is s big deal, then you don’t know the difference between big things and little things. You are being a little over sensitive.

  4. 4

    I have a question for the ladies. Do you ladies have these same issues with your lady friends, or just men? I’m curious, mostly because  I find having a best friend of either gender to be elusive.   Similar to man/woman relationships, there’s often an element of ‘the ones I like don’t like me, and I’m not interested in the ones that like me”. I do have friendships, but I notice they are based on common activities rather than similar degrees of desired intimacy.

    1. 4.1

      Hi Nissa,

      Fortunately, I have close friendships with women I’ve been friends with for many years. When I make new friends, like you said, it’s over shared activities, and those friendships either continue to grow or we eventually lose touch. I kinda think of it as the difference between forever friends and seasonal friends. Both are great, in my opinion, but my forever friends are almost like family to me.

    2. 4.2
      Emily, the original

      Hi Nissa,

      I do have friendships, but I notice they are based on common activities rather than similar degrees of desired intimacy.

      I’ve had close (what you would call best) friends at various periods in my life, but they seem to enter my life for a period of time (sometimes years) and then float away. A main life event happens for them (divorce, new boyfriend, etc.) and they disappear. Only one would I call a lifelong, true friend who was like a family member, but she passed away a couple of years ago. So now, yes, the friends I have are the friends I’ve made from common activities. I would not call them in a crisis. It’s not that kind of friendship.

    3. 4.3


      I had those same feelings about my female relationships for a long time. I had to do a few things. The most important one is what I described in my first comment on this thread–I had to work to become the type of person I really wanted to be; I had to deeply connect to myself.

      The second thing naturally came after the first: I learned to be my own best friend. I also followed advice Evan gives about relationships: I stopped expecting any one person to fulfill all my relationship meeds.

      I have one best friend and a few other friends with which I share intimate details about my life and vice versa.   But before I could deepen my relationship with any of them, I had to deepeny relationship with me.

  5. 5

    I was difficult, stubborn, and argumentative for most of my life. But over the past year or so I’ve put in a lot of effort to change because being that way made me unhappy and unable to fully connect with the person I wanted to be and with others. I believe I am a much better person now and other people have noticed–my children, my ex husband, my siblings, my mother. They treat me differently and my mother has even commented on how I’ve changed. Friends may not notice so much because I treated them better than the people who were closest to me, which is typical human behavior and unfortunate.

    Anyway, given the kind of person I’m trying to be and Evan’s advice that “strong” and physically “attractive” women should seek out men who are  more easy-going and somewhat less good-looking than they are, I’m no longer seeking the kind of men who mirrored my worse qualities: difficult, stubborn, and argumentative. I’m actively seeking that easy-going man. At the same time, I’m more of an easy-going woman than I’ve ever been.

    I’ve also found that, so far, Evan’s right that knock-out gorgeous men are usually the opposite of easy-going. So, I avoid them and, even when they message me online–like a couple have this week–I don’t crazy about it. I’ll reply as long as they continue to do it. I’ll even go on a date with them. But my expectations are low about a relationship actually developing with one of them. This wasn’t at all the way I used to feel about these kind of men.

    I’ll keep messaging my 7’s (on a 1-10 scale of physical attractiveness) and let the 10’s drive the other 50 woman they are in contact with crazy over the fact that these men have noticed them.

  6. 6

    When I was doing a ‘Management Skills for Middle Managers’ years ago, one of the things which really stuck with me was the statement: “Uninvited help is seen as criticism”.

    If someone mispronounces a word, or says things which are grammatically incorrect, I don’t give a **** as long as I can understand what they’re talking about. Though if they’d asked me to look over a job application before sending it in, I’d point out the mistake.

    If someone was going to work wearing non-matching socks, I’d ask if they had another pair like that in the cupboard… I had a very short-lived relationship with a guy who deliberately wore one red sock and one blue sock because he felt it made him look eccentric and that was the impression he was trying to create. The relationship was short-lived because he told me I should get my (very long) hair cut short because it would give me ‘style’.

    I’m easy-going, but unfortunately some people see this as being a pushover – and then it’s essential to establish boundaries (a gentle ‘eff off’ usually suffices). I guess it’s all down to respect, really. If one person has a strong sense of what is their responsibility and what isn’t, where they finish and the other person starts, they will respect those qualities in others and won’t need to push other people around or tell them what to do.


    1. 6.1

      Cathy-  “Uninvited help is seen as criticism”.

      This seems like it must have conditions attached to it in order to be useful.   What if you saw a child being bullied?   Would you not help for fear of the kid seeing your help as criticism?   What if your partner was about to drive off the road?   Would you not help him/her?   There are so many times when uninvited help IS appropriate.

      BTW, the period belongs inside the quotation (in the US anyway).

      1. 6.1.1

        Uninvited help may well be useful in the general scheme of things; it’s just that it’s likely to be seen as criticism. Thank you for your help with punctuation; I’ll bear it in mind if I’m ever called on to write anything in the US. I… I grovel in humility.

    2. 6.2

      I jokingly say the difficult ones should be forced together to learn their lesson! Here in the South we use to have a saying that you tie their tails together and throw them over a clothesline.

      Why should the easygoing ones have to be punished for being easy going by getting a difficult partner? Forget that. I want someone easy going like myself. Y’all difficult ones are going to have to learn to be nice, or else live alone.

      I am easy going in a relationship, but don’t mix that up with being boring. I’m a type A in that I am career-driven, and opinionated about current events and culture for which I’m educated.

      What I am not opinionated about is my partner’s outfit choices, the way they sit, the way they hold their fork or pronounce a word. If you Difficult Ones did not like those things while we were dating, you should have saved your partner the misery instead of waiting to say something with blistering criticism after your partner had already invested in the relationship.

      I cringed when a mismatched couple I know fought because the simple country wife called an expensive painting he bought a “pitcher.” I percieved the highly educated professional husband for being cruel and not accepting her for who she is–a multi-dimensional person to whom he was superficially attracted only because of her exterior beauty. That is not the same as being Type A, in my opinion.

      You would be hard pressed to find another person who is as easy going in relationship as I am. For me to criticize someone’s ironing skills it would have to mean that their clothes were obviously so wrinkled that people would snicker at him in public. My now ex-husband, on the other hand, would criticize me to no end as I was putting on my freshly ironed clothes that weren’t pressed to his standards. I like the cocaine analogy in Evan’s podcast, but all I was doing is using the occasional artificial sweetener in my unsweetened tea and my ex-husband treated like I just murdered somebody. He took me to eat at casual dining, and the biggest topic of conversation was how I could not sit correctly in a booth–and why was my leg placed like that. (Note that I generally have good posture.) He was not career driven, nor was he type A.

      Being the difficult one does not depend on being type A or type B.

  7. 7

    Well said Evan. The ‘elephant in the room ‘ issue is that nobody mentions how hard it is to fall in love. Especially in online relationships where transactional is a key word. For any person, especially   an older ones, to fall in love doesn’t happen too often. Men are even more pragmatic than women when it comes to online dating. So, perhaps instead of talking about love, we should talk about reasons to be in each other’ company and go from there?

  8. 8
    Anna Z

    My mom gave me some excellent advice:   In a relationship, BE the difficult one. Don’t marry the difficult one.

    1. 8.1

      My mom said the same thing. haha. Good advice.


  9. 9
    Kalinaki Zomu Isabirye

    Nowadays relationship rules changed women tends to understand men more than had it used to be, this creates a hard moment between the lines of the lovers hence each party becoming elusion.

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