Dear Rosie & Sherry,
I 've been with my boyfriend for almost six months now. He is loving, sweet and treats me wonderfully. But when there is a problem or my feelings have been hurt, he thinks I'm exaggerating and making things bigger than they are.
Then something inside me just breaks. I start to say hurtful things out of frustration, and then he wants to get off the phone, and I won't let him because I want to talk about the problem. But the damage is done.
I don't know why I seem to snap lately. I have been under a lot of stress at work and I'm looking for an apartment. But I can't use that as an excuse for the way I treat him. I need to figure out how to handle it when my blood's boiling, without crossing the line to being hurtful.
Any advice would be greatly appreciated. I feel like I'll lose him if I don't fix this.
It sounds as though you and your friend have some problems with communication that can be resolved relatively easily. We're going to give you some suggestions, and we'll also suggest a framework to help channel your feelings more effectively when you feel your "blood start to boil."
You and your friend seem to be caught up in a misunderstanding that commonly occurs, simply because men and women have different styles of communication and different ways of addressing problems. Like many women, when something bothers you, you need to talk it out. "Venting" in this manner probably helps you come to terms with many things that upset you, and helps you decide on a course of action when one is needed. Naturally, you want to share your thoughts and feelings with the person you feel close to -- your boyfriend.
Unfortunately, he doesn't want to hear a long conversation. This isn't because he isn't interested in what you think. It's just that we women tend to go on and on and men aren't attuned to that. Most men think that when women work something out by talking it through, we're complaining, "making a mountain out of a molehill," or asking them to help with a solution. Usually, women just need to vent feelings and thoughts, and all we want is to hear, "I know how you feel," or "I sympathize with you."
The two of you should think about your personal communication styles, and then talk to each other about them. You could learn a little bit more about different ways men and women communicate with a book like, "Men Are From Mars, Women Are From Venus" by Dr. John Gray.
When you understand each other's approaches better, you'll probably have fewer arguments. For example, one woman who had a problem similar to yours learned to tell her husband, "I need to talk something through, and would like you to be my sounding board for several minutes." Since he now realizes that his wife isn't complaining, but simply letting off steam, he's a good sport about listening. And after she's finished talking, she feels a lot better.
There's also a possibility that you do overact to some minor irritations or take things personally that aren't directed at you. This behavior could be something related to your growing up, when certain members of your family overreacted. Or maybe you behave this way because you are very sensitive about certain situations. If you would like to tone down your reactions, here's a simple trick you can follow to help put things into perspective:
Dr. Miriam Adahan, the psychologist and writer, suggests that each time something in life upsets or annoys you, mentally assign it a position on a scale of 1-to-10, with 10 representing the worst thing that can possibly happen, and 1 representing something you should take in stride. The next time you feel your blood boiling, place the annoyance on the 1-to-10 scale. The few seconds it takes to do this may actually help calm you down, think rationally, and put things into perspective. It works to diffuse a potentially explosive situation.
It may also help for you and your boyfriend to agree on a "code word" that you can use when something really sets you off. Mentioning that word will warn him that you're having trouble with self-control. The two of you can agree to let you blow off some steam and then talk about the issue later, when you are calm, instead of turning everything into an argument because one of you is too emotional.
In fact, anytime there's an issue you need to talk about, particularly if one of you is upset, try to table it for a time that you can both discuss it rationally. It may be hard to resist the urge to force your boyfriend to discuss a subject just because you feel the need to get it off your chest, but waiting has its benefits. A few hours later, you may realize that you overacted. Or, by giving yourself time to think about what you want to say in a rational way, point by point, you may be better equipped to resolve the issue instead of simply arguing about it.
We hope these suggestions will help you approach life's annoyances in a more balanced and effective way, and have a positive impact on all your relationships.
Rosie & Sherry