My boyfriend and I haven’t always been good communicators. It’s taken a long time and a lot of hard work to get here, but now that we are, our relationship has improved dramatically. In fact, we’ve gotten so good at this whole communication thing that we’re totally comfortable sharing our feelings and calling each other out on our crap. At this point, I’m pretty sure we’re going to go the distance.
He used to tiptoe around giving me any criticism. For the longest time, my boyfriend seemed afraid to give me any sort of criticism. If I left the dishes in the sink all day (one of his pet peeves) or got to his apartment much late, he’d either let it go like it was no big deal or not bring it up at all. It sort of struck me as odd that he let so much roll off his back. I tend to be quicker to call him out on things that bother me because I’m much more direct than him. It just seemed like he was trying to avoid any sort of confrontation with me for so long and sometimes it created a weird tension between us.
He was afraid of hurting my feelings. One day, he called me out for doing something that annoyed him. Apparently I did it often, but this was the first time he’d ever brought it to my attention. I was glad he did, but I asked him why he’d never said anything before. Turns out he was just afraid of hurting my feelings. While I appreciated that he was sensitive to my feelings, I told him that being upfront was more important to me. I never wanted him to harbor any resentment toward me for not being able to speak his mind.
He never felt like he could be honest in his previous relationships. It’s crazy how past relationships can influence current ones. As we talked about his communication style, he explained to me that his previous girlfriends were much more sensitive to criticism than me and that sometimes it was hard to be completely honest because of it. Unfortunately, he was bringing that same baggage into our relationship.
Him realizing that I can handle the truth was a game changer. Some men are conditioned to believe that women have to be treated delicately, lest we go insane or die or something. While my boyfriend never doubted that I’m a strong woman who can handle criticism, I do think that he felt like I was more sensitive than I actually am. While I am sensitive, I’m also capable of being logical and taking things at face value. Sure, there’s emotion involved since the criticism is coming from my boyfriend, but I’m capable of taking it in stride.
It took a lot of coaxing for him to stop filtering himself. After this initial conversation, I kind of had to train myself to recognize when he was feeling uneasy/annoyed/upset about something that I’d done and then coax out the unfiltered response from him. It was exhausting, sure, but part of the process was reminding him that I wouldn’t hold it against him if he was honest with me about how he was feeling. Sometimes a person just needs some repetitive reassurance that the world won’t end if they talk about what’s on their mind. It worked wonders for us.
Now, he doesn’t hesitate to call me out when necessary. The first time he called me out without prompting, I couldn’t believe it. It’s one thing to always ask someone to do something and it is an entirely different thing for them to actually follow through on doing it. To be honest, it felt great.
Sometimes his criticisms don’t feel awesome, but I’m still grateful for his honesty. It doesn’t feel great for my boyfriend to tell me that I inconvenienced him when I was super late to pick him up or that my indecisiveness and my tendency to radically change plans at the last minute is irritating to him. Still, I’m learning to be ultra grateful for his honesty. I feel like so many of us want open, honest relationships but we don’t know how to react when we get exactly what we’ve asked for.
He knows that he can trust me not to dump him or become defensive about it. One thing all of this honesty and communication has taught me is how to control my reactions. I learned early on that responding defensively to my boyfriend when he did open up to me would only cause him to shut down and start bottling up his feelings again. It’s been really critical for me to take a deep breath, give him the benefit of the doubt, and hear him out. After all, that’s exactly what I expect from him.
I know his criticisms come from a place of respect and love for our relationship. There is a difference between treating someone like crap and giving constructive feedback, and my boyfriend never makes me feel like he has anything but good intentions. He’s always careful about his delivery, which I appreciate because before, he wasn’t even sharing! Our relationship is so much stronger now because his communication has improved, but also because our relationship is built on a foundation of mutual love and respect for each other.
Our relationship is so much deeper now because he can relax. I didn’t know that my relationship would reach such depths as a result! I mean, of course, communication of any kind has the potential to strengthen and improve a connection because it creates trust. However, I think that the fact that my boyfriend can tell me how he’s feeling without also worrying about my feelings so much has given him a new freedom to bring more of himself to our relationship. That makes me happy and makes me feel like he’s in it for the long haul.
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