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LeavesNoTrace's avatar

Significant other doesn't realize that he's kind of condescending?

Asked by LeavesNoTrace (5674points) January 13th, 2017

Okay, so this is something that I am admittedly a little sensitive about. When I was a child, I suffered from multiple speech impediments and excessive shyness. Because it was the early 90s and I lived in a conservative small town, I was assumed to be mentally disabled and tracked into special education classes.

Even at the age of 5–6, it was humiliating, and I felt singled out and defective. Why was I being forced to play with blocks with a child who drooled on themselves while my other peers got to learn about the stuff I wanted to? I struggled with negative assumptions about my intelligence all throughout childhood and adolescents. Teachers talking down to me, etc.

Fast forward to adulthood: I graduated college with Latin Honors. Worked as a fashion and commercial print model and now have a great 9–5 job. (Total “Ugly Duckling”/“Cinderella” story in many regards. I wasn’t expected to do any of this…)

My partner is a wonderful man and the love of my life. We are a great match in all regards. He often tells me that I’m intelligent and that he thinks I’m smarter than him. I don’t think that’s true—we’re about an even match intellectually.

However, he is a trial attorney almost a decade older. I think that because his career depends on arguing cases and being right, sometimes he can be a little pedantic and condescending without realizing it. It’s usually subtle, and I’m not sure if I’m making a big deal about nothing or if my irritation is legitimate. But when I perceive it, it’s like this reptilian part of my brain kicks in, and I feel so defensive and angry.

It’s not typical for us, but we’ve both been super stressed about our careers. Especially in the past week or so, he’s taken on this weird tone where he speaks to me like I’m some petulant adolescent girl and it drives me bonkers. When he asks me for the third time if I can handle doing some basic task or if I understand some simple political or legal concept, it drives me wild.

I can’t help but have a defensive response and snap back at him with something like “Do you really think I’m that fucking stupid?” or “Who do you think you are? Atticus-Goddamn-Finch?” which then kickstarts a 15-minute pissing match between us about who is being defensive and who is being condescending and yadda, yadda… Usually, this is responded with both of us apologizing and offering the other one food or booze or to watch a movie but I worry that we’re getting into a pattern of unhealthy communication.

Anyway, I’m not sure if there’s an appropriate way to address this behavior that I perceive. If I should brush it off or should I keep calling him out… We adore each other but I just have zero tolerance for being treated like a dimwitted child.

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13 Answers

Espiritus_Corvus's avatar

It’s the stress you described. People under stress regress to juvenile behaviours. Stress the most macho of us enough, and we can be reduced to a quivering mass of thumb suckers. My forte was never psychology, so that’s about all I know about it, but it seems to me that during times like this, stress relief will help. Physical exertion, meditation, yoga, sex, whateve it takes.

Let this go long enough and it could build into unnecessary long-term problems, insults that you reember, etc., over stimui that is merely temporary. You both are reacting nomally to stress triggers. Either remove the cause of the stress or find an effective way to deal with it. the cause is temporary, don’t let it build into something permanent.

LeavesNoTrace's avatar

@Espiritus_Corvus Now that you mention it, it has been about a week since we engaged in a “horizontal tango”, which is unusual for us.

Now excuse me while I call my waxer… ;-p

Zissou's avatar

Talk it over some time when things are relatively calm.

Espiritus_Corvus's avatar

LOL. You have a really nice night, Trace.

tinyfaery's avatar

Oh, man. As someone who has worked for lawyers for over a decade, take it from me that ALL lawyers are condescending. I think they teach a class on it in law school. I have actually told a few of the lawyers I have worked with to stop lawyering me. They do it like it’s second nature.

Just tell him you are not in Court and let him know how much it bugs you. If I have been able to make a few lawyers change their interactions with me I’m sure you can get your partner to listen to you.

CWOTUS's avatar

If I were you, I’d play into that; totally play the part of the clueless ingenue who has no idea how the world works, and no comprehension of what other people think, say or do. Bat your eyelashes at him – a lot! – with a few, “Well, ah declare!“s thrown in. Compliment him to a nauseating extent about how smart he must be and how it hurts your pore haid to think such hard thoughts. Really, camp the hell out of that. Camp it hard.

It helps even more if you have a withering observation, a keen comment or an insightful question at the end of his lecture that proves you know or understand even more about the topic than he does, or which disproves everything he has claimed, or supports the opposition to his argument or some other such, but we can’t have everything.

Cruiser's avatar

If these words are a new development in how he speaks to you, there could be a number of reasons he is saying careless things in front of you….stress, drugs, alcohol, another woman, or he is simply a Type A passive/aggressive.

Anyway, I have read your OP 3 x’s now and am very curious why you started with such a detailed back story of your difficult childhood and then how you blossomed later in life and how that ties into how your partner is speaking in a condescending tone? I can only think his words are picking at the scabs of the pain you felt when you were in an uncomfortable place in your childhood and his words are searing into your psyche and brings back pretty sad and painful memories.

I would confront him in a gentle way and simply say how you have suffered emotionally a good part of your life and when the person you love the most treats you like a child and says crappy things in how that really cuts deep. Then ask him if there is anything wrong that is making him so seem so stressed.

JLeslie's avatar

People who are accustomed to arguing will use it as a way to engage. If you’re not talking enough or having sex enough or just not engaging enough in whatever way, an argument is a way to feel the other person’s presence. Since you are under stress it’s an easy go to.

He shouldn’t be condescending to you though. Try to talk about it when you two aren’t fighting. Tell him specifically what hurts your feelings.

johnpowell's avatar

It took around 8 years for my dad to start beating his wife and children. It took my sister’s husband about 5 years to do the same.

I hope you have some economic power in this relationship.

ARE_you_kidding_me's avatar

As others have said it’s probably the stress same thing happend in my marriage and was fixed by a job change for both of us and a change in environment. We were never condescending to each other though, just pissy and frustrated.

LeavesNoTrace's avatar

@johnpowell Yes, I am gainfully employed. And while I appreciate your concern, my partner is not, and will never be, abusive.

funkdaddy's avatar

This reminds me a lot of my wife and I, so I’m hoping maybe I can provide you with a little bit of background from his side and what has worked for me. I’m not saying we’re the same, but maybe there’s some overlap that will help.

When my wife and I disagree on something, or I make a suggestion, she sees me as arguing that I’m always right. I’m sure she’s seen this as condescending and pedantic, just as you describe.

From my perspective, I wouldn’t express disagreement or make a suggestion if I didn’t believe in my position, and that makes it worth discussing. I honestly don’t see most of we do/did discuss as “arguing”, and generally value disagreement as a way to learn.

With friends, I disagree much more and do it quickly and openly. I say they’re full of it, they tell me why they aren’t, and we move on. It’s easy and non-damaging.

What it took me forever to understand is that to her, if I think I’m right, or even have a better way to do something, I must also think she’s wrong. Further, it’s very important to her that I think she’s intelligent, and that I value that. I do, but this is where that reptilian part of the brain kicks in that you mention. She knows deep in her, without questioning it, that I think she’s friendly, hardworking, good with people, beautiful, but she’s always a little worried I don’t think she’s smart/intelligent. I think we all have something like this, maybe he can identify something in himself that’s similar to help him understand.

So when I say I disagree with her in a basic way, especially when we’re under stress, it trips all those feelings. It’s like I’ve questioned the most important things about her.

For years and years I thought that was borderline ridiculous, she’s educated, graduated with honors, has her stuff together better than I do, and I’ve spent half my life with her. Of course I think she’s intelligent and competent! I wasn’t going to handle my best friend and confidant with kid gloves in every conversation for the rest of my life. At some point she needed to develop that internal confidence and trust the fact that I always think she’s intelligent while recognizing that I’m allowed to have a differing opinion. She was being defensive, right?

What changed it for me is I realized I would extend just about anyone else the courtesy of being respectful and taking the time to explain my view with all the qualifications and kindness (like you would a client, colleague, or someone who wasn’t as familiar), so why not her?

The other piece is that it’s not “in every conversation for the rest of my life”, it’s only when we disagree. Which really isn’t that often. I can spend an extra couple minutes every once in a while.

So, I said I would try to remember all of that in the moment, but asked her for one thing as well. I need her to try and start over with me when I trip into a disagreement without expressing everything “the long way” the first time. Basically, “let’s back up and then have this conversation the way we should have had it the first time. I’m sorry.”

The key is, you gotta do it early, right when you realize you didn’t start off right, before too much is said about things that have nothing to do with the original disagreement.

It doesn’t always work, but just having that all out there, and knowing we’re both trying, really helps. It also opened my eyes to just how important it is to recognize and complement her intelligence and ability to get things done. It’s more important than recognizing those other good traits (e.g. hardworking or beautiful) that she already has that core of confidence about.

For what it’s worth @CWOTUS’s suggestion would make me laugh hard and probably diffuse the situation in the best way, but it sounds hard to pull off when you’re already angry.

I hope something here helps you and yours as well.

LeavesNoTrace's avatar

Thanks @funkdaddy What you said is very helpful and puts things into perspective. We had a nice, stress-free weekend with no hiccups and a lot of affection. I think after the week we had, we both needed it.

We also spoke about it the other night. He’s working hard to keep his law firm afloat and a has a lot of burdens right now with representing clients (about whom he cares deeply) and keeping the business profitable. So yeah…a lot of stress.He apologized for speaking down to me and told me he would be more mindful of it in the future. He’s a wonderful man and a great partner. We feel lucky to have one another.

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