‘My boyfriend is very critical and since having issues with his business partner, his comments and moaning have got really bad.
‘He has a comment for everything, even how I sit in a chair, and is miserable around his family, who don’t even seem to notice.
‘When he’s not stressed, he’s attentive and funny but it’s always there. I got defensive recently and told him I don’t want to be around him when he’s like this but he says I’m overreacting.
‘I’m considering suggesting couples therapy.
‘What are your thoughts?’
If you let a puppy sit on the sofa once, it naturally thinks it’s always allowed up there.
‘Then you’ll have a grubby, hairy sofa for the rest of your dog’s life,’ says James McConnachie. ‘Of course, cuddling a dog on a sofa is rather lovely, whereas having a boyfriend who gets at you is not, so you’re right to make a stand — and make it early.’
Happy individuals don’t criticise others because they observe life through a lens of contentment.
‘Unhappy people are annoyed with themselves and they deal with this by being annoyed with others,’ says Dr Angharad Rudkin.
‘When we chuck our difficult feelings on to others, it is called projection. Your boyfriend is clearly stressed, tired, worried and tense and by criticising you, he is subconsciously releasing some of his negative feelings.’
To get a puppy off a sofa, it’s always best to offer an alternative, says McConnachie. ‘Like a nice comfortable dog bed on the floor. And it’s the same with your boyfriend — he needs to discover another way to ask for help, one that doesn’t involve putting you down.’
Because that’s what he’s also doing here. He’s telling you he’s struggling. The question is, can he find another way to do it?
‘The fact that his family doesn’t notice how unpleasant he is suggests that he’s lived with conflict and criticism his whole life,’ says Rupert Smith.
That doesn’t mean you have to become a part of it, though. You describe your response as being defensive when you made a justifiable comment on how badly he is behaving.
‘If you think that’s defensive, maybe consider why you’re so quick to assume you’re doing something wrong,’ says Smith.
Couples counselling is an option but first talk to him when he is more relaxed. ‘Plan things together that take him away from work and ask him what he and you can both do to help him cope with these feelings,’ says Rudkin.
Firmly, kindly inform him that he has to learn to manage his emotions. ‘Every time he gives a negative comment, let him know that it is unfair,’ she adds. No relationship can survive without respect. If he won’t change, you have a decision to make.
Rupert Smith is an author and counsellor
James McConnachie is the author of Sex (Rough Guides)
Dr Angharad Rudkin is a clinical psychologist
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