General Question

LeavesNoTrace's avatar

How do I deal with my boyfriend's nitpicking?

Asked by LeavesNoTrace (5663points) June 7th, 2013

I love my boyfriend and am usually happy with him but sometimes his perfectionist tendencies really make me livid. I grew up with a controlling father and have very feminist tendencies. Because of that I deeply resent any man telling me what to do and then I wonder if I was meant to be in a relationship.

Example: We’re staying at his parent’s house for the time being and I really love them. They have been very generous to share their home and food with us and I tell them frequently that I am thankful. We have a good relationship and a lot of the perceived strife my boyfriend thinks is happening is really in his head. This morning we were having some coffee and bread and I decided I wanted some Nutella on mine since it’s freaking delicious and his mom specifically told me to have some. So I scoop out a modest amount and he starts in on me like “Umm watch how much of that you eat, it’s for everyone you know.” RIGHT in front of his sister. I was kind of embarrassed and shot him some side-eye as a warning to shut it. And he goes on to say that he “can’t tell me anything” because I “take it the wrong way” In my mind he’s lucky I didn’t say “I don’t need you to tell me how much Nutella I can put on my bread, motherf*cker” because it’s honestly what I was thinking.

He asks me to pass the jar and I set it down a little harder to emphasize that the subject is closed and he didn’t like that either. And we’ve been giving each other the silent treatment all morning. I think our issues about this are obviously much more than a little jar of Nutella.

I consider myself to be a very independent person and one of my recurring issues in relationships is feeling micromanaged or like I can’t be myself. Specifically in this relationship and my last one… After my grandmother’s first husband died, she never remarried because she didn’t want “another boss” in her life and I’m starting to think she had a point.

Another example, my boyfriend is currently unemployed, unable to find work in his home country. I came here with him and immediately found a part-time teaching gig to supplement my freelance income. I work in the afternoons and sometimes like to relax in the mornings just to write for my clients or even yeah, talk to my friends on Facebook or something.

Now, my unemployed boyfriend thinks it’s cool to criticize me about how I like to relax in the morning and do as I please in the mornings saying I’m “lazy” and “unmotivated” when he earns no income and I’ve been helping him with mine. It just doesn’t sit right with me and of course, he resents it when I point out the obvious. My stance is this: we’re in a relationship and I love you, but my life is still mine and I’m entitled to some time every day to do as I please, as are you. Get a better job than me and then we’ll talk about who’s unmotivated.

I love my boyfriend, but I really need him to knock this off. Am I being too sensitive? He sometimes pulls the old line of “you’re getting your period” or “It’s your Italian blood” but NO, I think my feelings are valid.


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33 Answers

marinelife's avatar

I don’t think your boyfriend will change. His criticisms are unfair. You are in a bad situation living with his parents. Can you get out of there?

Just tell him how you feel with the examples you gave above, but I am betting that he won’t and does not want change.

LeavesNoTrace's avatar

@marinelife I feel committed to our relationship and don’t want to end it without giving a fair chance. He is a kind person and has many wonderful qualities but this one thing rubs me the wrong way.

JLeslie's avatar

You need to talk to him. I mean really communicate. Setting down the nutella hard and flashing him a look is passive aggressive and not going to help. Also, you assuming he knows how you feel about what he is doing is not going to work. Explain to him how it makes you feel and that you won’t tolerate it. Once he understand what he is doing is unnacceptable then it is his choice whether he continues and risks you leaving him. But, until he understands how much it bothers you and why it bothers you, you have not given him a real chance to correct it. Your silence with the anger seething out in other forms is not really any better than his verbal comments.

If he continues to do this a lot for me it would be a deal breaker.

One thing that really bothers me about when my husband does or says something not very nice in front of someone else is it is embarrasing for me that I stay with someone who treats me badly. This does not happen often in my relationship, thank goodness, but I think women really don’t want to be perceived as a girl who will put up with a bad man. Society looks down on it. We personally feel embarrassed when our SO is the one who has the bad behavior. At least I do.

LeavesNoTrace's avatar

@JLeslie That pretty much sums up what I’m thinking. Him telling me how much spread I should eat was only half of the problem, the other part is that he choose to do so in front of his sister. It made me feel childlike and diminished that he thought that was an appropriate time to say it.

Another issue is that I think he feels a little emasculated by the fact that I’m currently working and he is not.

ZEPHYRA's avatar

If he does’nt get a job any time soon and you keep staying at his parents’, things will get worse as he starts to feel inconfident and unable to contribute. You should both stand on your feet, get independent first and then let things get so serious.

LeavesNoTrace's avatar

@ZEPHYRA We were already serious when we came here. We’ve been together for a while.

JLeslie's avatar

@LeavesNoTrace So, is this behavior a new thing since he lost his job?

Adirondackwannabe's avatar

@LeavesNoTrace I think you may have hit on it with your last comment to JL. He’s feeling like he’s not contributing and it’s in front of his parents so he needs to control things in other ways.

JLeslie's avatar

@Adirondackwannabe But, it is a bad way to handle it. If they are truly a united and supportive couple that would not happen, not to any extreme.

I guess we don’t know enough details. How long he has been unemployed, if the OP says negative comments to him about getting a job, or that she is paying for everything, etc. The OP alluded to already thinking this way, although she wrote it here like it is a reaction to what he is nitpicking, but I think he knows even if she doesn’t say it. Again a sort of passive aggressive silence on her part.

Adirondackwannabe's avatar

@JLeslie You’re right. Unless we can examine all the dynamics we’re just going from subtle clues in the post. There is usually two sides to every story.

LeavesNoTrace's avatar

@JLeslie We’ve been here in Ecuador since the end of January and I started working in March after taking some time to grieve my Mom. He has been unemployed since we arrived except for one occasional freelance translating gig I find him, but he hasn’t gotten anything in months.

I try to be sensitive to his emotions regarding this, especially since he supported me for a couple of months in the past when I was having some hard times. I told him that it’s only fair that I help him when he needs it since he would and did do the same for me. I emphasize that I love him and care about his well being and I know he’s grateful but he also feels badly which isn’t my goal at all.

I don’t mind helping him out, I’m not a very materialistic person but I don’t appreciate him criticizing me and acting like a hypocrite when I’m doing just that.

Sometimes he makes me feel like a useless person and when I tell him that he once again says I’m “taking it the wrong way” when I’m absolutely not. Another example: He goes on a free two-day vacation to Argentina flying first class with his pilot father. I’m left home alone and when he gets back he bitches me out for not doing our laundry and for being “lazy” the whole time he was away. I definitely busted out my shrill feminist voice that day and I think rightly so.

Yes, I do have a tendency to be a little snappy at times and I’m trying to get it under control. My mother just died, I’m in a foreign country away from everything familiar, learning a new language etc. But I’m doing the best I can and sometimes I genuinely feel like he doesn’t understand my problems and he never could.

KNOWITALL's avatar

Marriage is a give and take, as are relationships, but if you’re feelling this way now, I certainly wouldn’t make future plans.
My husband may tease me good-naturedly about what I eat or something, but he would never be serious or in any way try to ‘control’ my input, especially in front of family, only when alone or with besties.

JLeslie's avatar

@LeavesNoTrace It sounds like you both are going through some very trying times, and it is understandable that you both might lash out at each other in various ways. We tend to take things out on the people closest to us.

You said you are staying with his parents. I think that sometimes is harder on the adult child than the in law. Meaning more difficult pschologically for him than for you. My husband becomes his mother’s son when we stay them, know what I mean?

Have you talked to him about how his nitpicking makes you feel? That it reminds you of living with your mom like you are some sort of child? Ask him what his goal is when he does it. Is it to make you feel badly? He needs to be aware of himself, of his own intention in my opinion. A friend once said to me I don’t understand why people who love each other would say things to tear each other down, shouldn’t they say things to build each other up? That was a huge eye opener for me, because in my family it was not always the case.

I assume he is Ecuadorian, and I will go out on a limb that he has a little macho in him, so it must be very hard for him to not be earning money and be dependent. Honestly, I think all good men, regardless of nationality or ethnicity, care about being financially responsible, not necssarily having to be the bread winners, but just basically that they earn their way. My ex, who was Ecuadorian-American, he was not overly controlling, but at the same time he did expect me to center on him. I would never expect or assume all Ecuadorians are the same, don’t get me wrong, but definitely in that family the women had certain roles and the men others. I see it in a lot of Italian families too though, and you mentioned your Italian.

My husband who is Mexican-American, there definitely are some cultural differences between him and me, things we didn’t really understand or see until we talked about them. Overall we are extremely similar, even though he is a Mexican Catholic who grew up with quite a bit of money in Mexico, and I am an American Jew who grew up lower middle class in the northeast. Some of it is just family differences, not just big cultural differences.

Also, being with someone who reminds you of living at home as a child sometimes is what we subconsciously recreate in our lives, even if we don’t really want it. I would assume he had some of these tendencies even when he was working.

It sounds like you both can probably work through this and grow as couple. Death, moving, and loss of job are three of the biggest stressors people can go through.

LeavesNoTrace's avatar

@JLeslie It sounds like you can kind of relate to what I’m going through, being in a culturally mixed relationship yourself.

My boyfriend is now a naturalized US citizen but spent most of his life in Ecuador. I’m an American mutt who grew up in the Northeast in a small town. We met in NYC and fell in love very shortly after I had gotten out of a borderline abusive relationship with a man who was far too much like my father. I was supporting myself as a model and shortly after found a good job at a sort of glamorous NYC advertising agency. He was working two jobs to support himself but was working in the arts field so he was pretty happy. We broke up shortly when I took a job in Europe but then quickly decided to give it another shot since I was only staying for a few months. He even flew over to take me to Paris for my birthday. It was wonderful but I kind of felt like he held it over my head a little when it’s not like I asked him to take me. Then my mother passed away right after I returned and we decided to leave the US again together. It’s been a hard few months for us we are both resilient people and I think that is reflected in the resiliency of our love.

Ever since that last relationship and partly due to my childhood I have deeply resented any male telling me what I should and should not do. I’m really into personal freedom and try to respect that of my partners as well. I don’t participate in jealousy for example: I’m usually the first to point out a gorgeous woman or a fabulous figure on the street. XD

But he has this tendency to think he knows what’s best for me about everything in my life. How I should grieve my mother when he’s never lost someone close to me, how I should manage my finances when he and I have different situations, how I should “move on from my past” when I still want to keep my friends of 10–20 years close to me. It’s just not fair and I think he has a tendency to be very condescending and it annoys me. I sometimes have to remind him that I had a life for 22 years before I met him and I did just fine without his advice. I know it sounds cruel from his perspective but it’s the truth. I’m a pretty smart person and I don’t need the guidance of any man to tell me how to live. If he and I ever broke up, I would be just fine as a single person for a while.

JLeslie's avatar

@LeavesNoTrace From his perspective it might not be a man woman thing, he might just have ideas about how things should be done. I call it an “old world” mentality. I doubt he suffers from this to a large extreme, because he is with you and you obivously are independent. When you talk to him about it what does he say? Does he say that you should know it isn’t ok. Whatever it is you aren’t doing right? Some sort of standard everyone should know. Or, is he just finding ways to put you down.

Is his father the same way to his mother?

glacial's avatar

It sounds to me like he might be projecting a little. He is afraid that his own lack of work defines him as “lazy”, and without understanding where that discomfort comes from, he puts it on you instead of himself.

I would tell him exactly what you told us. And, as a separate issue, make it absolutely clear that his calling you “lazy” is not acceptable. You can’t allow him to speak to you so disrespectfully, whether or not you are in front of other people. He does not have the right to do that.

But slamming jars of Nutella is never going to get that across to him. Skip the dramatics and do the thing that is harder: have a real conversation with him about how you relate to each other. If he won’t listen, then you will have to make choices for your future without his input.

LeavesNoTrace's avatar

@JLeslie Well, yeah from his perspective it’s not a gender thing at all, and he generally fancies himself as liberal and progressive. He tells me that I can tell him what to do as well but the thing is I don’t and I don’t want to. I think that even in relationships you need to respect the individual and understand that couples do not have to see eye-to-eye on every little thing. Sometimes I have a hard time establishing where I end and he begins in the relationship and I’ve told him that we must remain two separate and distinct entities. He says he doesn’t want to “change” me but I feel like if he could, he would.

His biological father isn’t such a big part of his life any more but he says he was kind of a bastard during his childhood and abusive to his Mom. His stepfather is more like his “real” father now and is a really cool person whom he loves and respects a lot. In terms of his parent’s relationship though, his Mom definitely rules the roost and can be a little bossy and domineering to her husband. He definitely grew up with a strong female role model I can say but he’s also picked up on her tendency to nitpick others and try to control minor situations. He’s also paranoid about upsetting her at all times and always tries to have us walk on eggshells around them. It really stresses me out sometimes.

I love his family but sometimes it’s a little overwhelming, especially with his anxiety about the whole situation. We might be leaving soon, either to return to NYC or go to London if he gets an apprenticeship there. We find out what our destiny is later this week and we’ve both been pretty nervous about it. If we end up staying in Ecuador though, we’re definitely going to get our own place as soon as we can afford it.

JLeslie's avatar

When you talk to him allow him to express to you what might be bothering him about your behavior. It’s a vicious circle right now, a pattern.

What you said about the eggshells, brings me back to living there might be difficult for him psychologically. Another jelly touched on that also.

LeavesNoTrace's avatar

@JLeslie The thing is that I feel like we’re talking about the relationship constantly and sometimes I feel like the results don’t last. I just want him to understand that even though I’m his girlfriend I’m still me and that needs to be treated with some respect.

JLeslie's avatar

I see. Tough one. Maybe he is caught up in knowing that he is not trying to control you, but doesn’t understand that it still feels controlling to you. Does that make sense? Like when my dad tells me his opinion I feel like he wants me to follow his advice, but really he is ok if I don’t.

gailcalled's avatar

You are both getting on each other’s nerves, it seems. There are a lot of huge situational stressors; your mom’s death, your dad’s behavior and personality, your need to relocate hastily to another country and a different culture, your living with his parents.

That’s a lot to sort out. I would forget about the nutetlla. If it weren’t that, it would be something else.

Sit him down and try to sort things out, starting with the macro-issues.

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chelle21689's avatar

Sounds like my bf. He doesn’t do it as much ever since I kept getting on HIM about it.

Example: Before I even get out some food he says “Save some for my sister” or “Did you thank my parents” or stuff like that. I’m like “What do you think of me? rude??”

nikipedia's avatar

You had a controlling father, then found a controlling boyfriend, and have now replaced him with another controlling boyfriend.

He sounds awful. If I were you I would deal with it by finding a boyfriend who isn’t a dick.

Judi's avatar

Reading this and your other relationship questions there is a theme emerging.
As much as you dislike your father, people often have a tendency to get in relationships with people who are similar to their parents.
I think he feels the need to make you feel bad about yourself as a way of “putting you in your place,” especially since he really isn’t contributing anything financially to the relationship (He surely justifies this in his head because its HIS parents that are feeding and housing you but he knows that he is not personally contributing.)
It’s possible but I doubt this will ever get any better and without his participation in counseling will probably get worse.
You have to decide how you will handle it and if you are willing to live with it.

Cupcake's avatar

You have probably thought a lot about how different your boyfriend and your father are. You might want to really consider how they are similar. I think this is an important thing for everyone to consider. I didn’t even realize the similarities between my husband and my father until a year or so after we got married. I had been so focused on the differences. Fortunately the similarities are tolerable.

Your relationship sounds unappealing to me.

If my husband was out of work and relying on my income, he had better be super nice to me and not ever call me lazy. Period.

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Shinimegami's avatar

My advice is leave and find new lover, this one not good. Maybe he envy you have job, he not have one. Is Hell when he constantly criticize you. He not considerate and polite, is selfish and rude. I not date such men. My lover is extremely nice man, I appreciate him more when I hear your tale of horrible relationship.

LeavesNoTrace's avatar

Please don’t turn this into a witch-hunt against my partner. All couples have issues.

snowberry's avatar

First, he’s not going to change. Period. And then if he does, it will only be because he wants to. The question then is, do you still want to be in this place in 6 months, or 2, 5, 10 years from now? If you think this is difficult, you cannot imagine how difficult living like this would be with children (I know).

You can, however, change yourself. You can change how you respond to him. You can change your thinking about the situations you find yourself in. You can explore how it is that you are OK with things remaining the same, or why it is that you keep finding men who resemble your father so much..

I speak from experience here. I am not suggesting you dump the guy; I didn’t dump my husband, but I took a ton of self help classes, etc. From all I learned, this basically sums it up: You teach people how to treat you.

In my situation, my husband had to understand that I would really leave him before he began to take me seriously. Emotionally, I had already left, and then I finally told him “It’s divorce or counseling, but choose quickly or you won’t have a choice.” Anyway, until then, he took my continuing to remain as meaning that everything was still OK.

Some guys can’t handle the new woman they’re living with, because they only want a weak, unhealthy one, not a confident, mentally strong and healthy woman. My husband struggled with that too. It meant he had to grow up as well. You need to understand that if you get emotionally healthy, he might take off. And that would be OK because he would be the unstable one not you.

snowberry's avatar

And since I mentioned children, the pattern I have seen happen so often is that the kids take the cues on how to treat Mom by watching how Dad treats her. So if Dad is hurtful in front of the kids to mom, that’s how the kids will treat mom too, especially the boys.
It works Every. Single. Time.

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