How to Strengthen Your Relationship/Choosing my battles wisely
Dear Ms. Crandall,
Hello and thank you for taking the time to address my email. My name is Matthew and I am a (soon to be) 23 year old aspiring therapist from small town, USA.
I'm writing in order to get your advice regarding my relationship with my boyfriend. At the end of next month he and I will have been together for a year and, overall, I could not have asked for a more appropriate relationship at this point in my life. He is a very good person and treats me well yet over the course of our time together I've become increasingly aware of his less-than-savory habits which, I know, is bound to happen as a relationship between two people progresses.
One of the first things I noticed is that he has a terrible habit of leaving things undone until the very last minute. Normally this wouldn't be a problem if it were small things like not putting a dirty glass away or leaving the lid to the toilet up but recently I've noticed he willfully dismisses big things too and that's becoming too much for me to handle.
For example, it was like pulling teeth to get him to see a doctor after he continuously complained about aches and pains but when he finally did we discovered he has a hernia and rather serious stomach issues which required an immediate change in his diet. As someone who's grown up surrounded by doctors due to rather severe health issues of my own (autoimmune disorder that causes spinal arthritis) it astounds me to see someone taking such a ho-hum approach to their health.
It extends beyond that though as he also doesn't seem to particularly care about hygiene. His room is an absolute pigsty to the point where, because of my own conditions, it's physically dangerous for me to spend too much time in there as I'd more than likely end up falling and having to go to the hospital. There have been other instances as well like not changing things in his car that he knows need to be dealt with etc.
Yet despite knowing all this he does nothing about it. Clothes remain strewn all over, car problems aren't resolved until it's being towed away and when I try to talk to him about it he gets defensive and says I blame him for everything.
Part of me understands where this behavior may be coming from since he says he and his siblings grew up very poor. I can't pretend to know what that's like as my own family has always been comfortable so I try very hard to give him the benefit of the doubt. Yet the things he ignores could end up seriously hurting himself or others and I don't know how to have the kinds of conversations with him that we need to have without him getting offended.
Besides, I feel like no matter what I say he will just continue to do what he wants until such a point comes that he's either forced to change or (God forbid) one of us gets hurt and then he pulls a 180 due to feeling guilty.
We both pride ourselves on having a healthy, honest relationship (especially among people our age) yet with these particular problems we seem to be stuck. There are other minor issues as well like him not telling me how he feels or what's bothering him until it's reached a boiling point. Are you seeing a pattern? He likes to brush things under the rug.
Any advice? I have no desire to leave him but I can't go on like this forever, especially not if we plan on living together anytime soon.
In any relationship you have to figure out and respect individual rights. Then you have to acknowledge and speak your boundaries.
Rights: Any person has the right to live the way they want to live in their own space or home, if they own the home. That does not guarantee others will go along with it.
So, if you are sharing the rent then you need to agree on what takes place in your shared space but in your own private space you get to live the way you want.
Then, you need to figure out if your boundaries have been crossed and what to do about it. Acknowledging your boundaries mean that you figure out what you will or will not do, and what you will or will not accept. Since you have the freedom to live the kind of life you want to live you then must decide if staying with your partner is good and healthy for you. If it is making your life better or worse and if it falls within your standards of what you want in life.
So with that said, your partner's health is his business. Since it does affect you somewhat you do have a right to appeal to him that you worry about his health because you care. Then you can ask him to call the Dr. or do whatever he needs to do and then your part ends and there should be no more nagging about it. The rest is up to him and it is no longer your concern and you should let it go.
As to his private room, that too, is his business. You, however can choose not to enter his room and probably should not since it bothers you. You can tell him that you consider his room a health hazard and you will not go in there. You can tell him in a loving way and not as a parent chastizing a child, and then tell him that he has a right to live the way he wants to live but you choose not to go in there. It is always nice to use humor to alleviate the tension so that you do not come across as a nag, as well.
Nagging doesn't work and it ruins relationships so what you need to do is to sit down and make some agreements for your shared space with consequences if either of you does not live up to your commitments. Who cleans what, what standard for cleanliness in your shared space, requirements of cleanliness of body, etc. because those things affect the relationship. Consequences can be fun. It could be a certain number of pushups, taking the other person out to dinner, or some other fun thing. The main thing is having a spirit of cooperation and caring about the shared part of your relationship.
Then, if your partner does not cooperate or care that much about the relationship you then have to decide what you will or will not do or will or will not accept in order to stay in the relationship.
You can also make agreements on your communication and interaction. Example might be a rule that when something is bothering you, you must tell the other person or you do not get to complain later. Use your intelligence and sit down together and make agreements. Good relationships do not just happen. They have to be negotiated and structured, to a degree, in order to work.
I do hope this helps and answers your questions. If not, replay with more questions. I wish you well,