I think my boyfriend is being emotionally abusive to me. He says he is just trying to be helpful, but David has a judgmental opinion about everything I do.
He says I talk to my mother too often, which according to him, makes me clingy and susceptible to giving her money. But my mom is disabled and living alone on a fixed income. It’s important to me that I check up on her and I’m happy that I have the means to help her have a more comfortable life.
He tells me I am not ambitious enough and should be working harder to get a promotion at work. I have a great work-life balance and make the same amount of money as David.
He’s always telling me to watch what I eat, reminding me not to miss a workout and commenting on my supposedly expanding waistline. When I call him out on how hurtful this is, he says he is joking and just wants me to be fit.
And, according to him, I’m not thoughtful enough to others. He works in non-profit and also volunteers with homeless youth, which I’ll admit is a tough act to follow.
Aside from this, we have a good time together, which is why I’m still in this relationship. We’ve been dating for eight months and we’re both interested in becoming fathers, so that is a big plus. I hadn’t been in a relationship for a long time before we met and it’s really nice not to be alone.
I’d like him to stop criticizing me, but he won’t listen. What can I do?
A few years back, a friend called to tell me that his long-term boyfriend had dumped him. He asked me to fix him up with someone and said it’s better to be in a relationship than alone.
I’m thinking that you are in the same anxious mindset as my friend was. And you’re both mistaken. Sometimes it is better to be alone.
OK, David wants to have children, and you do too. But is it worth being with a man who keeps criticizing you even when you tell him to stop, just so that you can raise kids together? People do raise children on their own. Not to mention that a highly critical boyfriend is also likely to be a highly critical father, or that there are men out there who respect men they date and want to have a family.
I’m surely not the first person to wonder why you are with David. Or maybe I am. Are you telling any of your friends about what’s going on? Or are you keeping it secret because you don’t want to be embarrassed or risk hearing what they think?
Given that you’re staying with a guy who works hard to make you feel bad about who you are and how you live your life, I can’t help but wonder if there is something familiar about being told how much you need to improve yourself. Is this is an experience you’ve had before, perhaps growing up in your family? What leads you to believe you don’t deserve respect?
This is worth figuring out, because as long as you have poor self-esteem, you are likely to form relationships with people who agree with your low estimation of yourself.
If I’m missing something fantastic about this situation and you are determined to stay with David, here’s your challenge: Work on changing your attitude toward David’s criticisms. As Eleanor Roosevelt said, “No one can make you feel inferior without your consent.”
So what if David thinks you are a clingy patsy, lacking ambition, out of shape, and self-absorbed? Clearly, you have a different opinion. Why let yourself be bothered by what he thinks?
To be in a long-term relationship with anyone, you have to learn to tolerate being a disappointment, because it’s inevitable that you will at times let your partner down.
And if you choose to stay with David, you are signing up for a master class in learning to hold onto and strengthen your positive view of yourself, no matter what he says.
Your other challenge if you stay is to find a way to love him and enjoy your relationship even if there are aspects of him that you don’t like, his ongoing criticism chief among them.
Michael Radkowsky, Psy.D. is a licensed psychologist who works with gay couples and individuals in D.C. He can be found online at personalgrowthzone.com. All identifying information has been changed for reasons of confidentiality. Have a question? Send it to Michael@personalgrowthzone.com.