Dear Papa Bear,
I've never written a letter to an advice column before, pretty much being forced to, but here it goes.
My boyfriend, C, and I have been together for four and a half years. It's a long distance, online relationship (sorry if that bothers you since you seem tired of letters involving one) and we're usually happy for the most part. The problem comes from fights we have too often, particularly a bad one just this week, which is prompting this letter.
Our fights tend to be the same general thing, he's done something or mentions friends of his that I do not like at all and I get pissed and it escalates into a fight. On his side, he sees nothing wrong with them, but I just have a huge aversion to them and he feels there's nothing he likes that I won't get pissed at, but I feel it's not that many.
They are started by things that other people would probably consider minor, but they always escalate. When we argue our points in these fights and my view is questioned, he says he's just trying to understand why I feel a certain way, but I always feel that he tries his hardest to poke holes in my way of thinking and destroy my viewpoint. The fights always end with us apologizing and saying we'd try to avoid this, but they keep happening.
The latest fight was actually caused by an after-effect from a fight that happened a few days before. It started by him mentioning he was going to hang out with someone I don't like I'll refer to as D. The reason I don't like him is because around a year ago, C wanted to try a master/pet thing with him (we have a semi-open relationship) with -- as a pet, though, they hadn't even known each other for very long, but they lived in the same area. I was unsure of the idea, but I saw nothing wrong with him trying it out. After some time, C was hanging out with a friend of ours, J, who wanted to see what C looked like with a leash, collar, and these little dog or fox ears he had. J took a picture and showed me, but then sent a picture to D, despite C asking him not to (lately, C has told me the pic was sent to D before he protested, but he never said this at the time and I feel it's just a cover) and later that day, D told C that he felt he wasn't "master material" or something along those lines and dumped him as a master. C got upset because of this event. I was rather pissed at both of them, so I called them out on what they did, but they acted outraged that I dared to accuse them of having done something wrong.
The whole thing made me decide to never consider them friends, only as jerks, but C is still friends with them, something that baffles me. Another problem is someone from FurAffinity, called S, whose first interaction with us was insulting C’s character while I was defending him from someone else. C became friends with him after getting a very minor apology from him and I believe he shouldn't have given him the time of day, that we should have made him admit he was an asshole, then forget about him, but leaving him labeled as a jerk in our book.
So, when D was brought up, I let my displeasure be known, and C began defending him and J and I got angry over the fact that he tries to be friends with people who have offended him when the clear (from my point of view) choice would be to drop them. We argued over this, him being upset that I get so angry over him mentioning these people and me being upset that he still gives them the time of day. Though he claims he just wants me to stop getting angry at him for mentioning people I don't like, he always seems like he's trying to force me to forgive them by going on about how wrong I am about them or how great they really are, but he denies that. We eventually calmed down; decided to try another compromise where I would try to stop giving him grief when he mentions them.
Things calmed down for a while, but a new fight occurred involving another friend of ours who we were almost always on good terms with, E. While C and I were arguing, C had mentioned that E had said I was being childish, and that made me sore at him for a while. When things were calm, C had said E was worried because he had a dream that we didn't like him anymore and asked me if I still liked him. I said I was a little mad at him for calling me childish and C expressed concern over that, then feared we were going to start fighting again. I assured him we weren't, because I figured it was a minor thing that I would just get over and I seriously did not want to fight again. Then, C did what I consider an incredibly stupid thing, and told E that I was mad at him. E and I got into a fight with him calling me childish for my disagreements with C, complaining at how I hold grudges, and pretty much taking C's side and bashing mine for an argument that had already ended. He basically rekindled the sore feelings from that fight and then I got really pissed off because I had only been annoyed at E and I believed that my frustration would have faded after a while, but instead, C told him that I was mad, which forced a confrontation when C and I really wanted to avoid a fight. I was so angry, that I called both of them idiots in my fight with E and told him this new fight was their fault. That set him off, and he started saying how childish I was, how I was wrong to be getting mad at C, treating me like the bad guy when they were the ones who disturbed the water and brought it up, calling my frustration with him a grudge. Then, he got up on his high horse and asked if I was done and if we could talk like normal people, as if it wasn't their fault that I got angry. I then exclaimed that this fight was only because they agitated me by fighting my views when things were still sore from the last fight. He then just started defending C's point from that fight, effectively beating a dead horse. Then he said he apologized for calling me childish in the first place and decided to play peacemaker by saying he hated when C and I fought, despite the fact that things had already settled and the two of them decided to kick up dust into everything. I just wanted to stop talking to him and I knew that continuing to speak to him would make things worse, so I told him I wanted to cool down and we stopped speaking after that for most of the day.
At the same time, I was arguing with C. He said he TOLD me it was going to be a fight, as if it would have happened if he did not DELIBERATELY start it by telling E that I was mad. He called me a jerk and said I was proving E right. He then dared me to yell at him for agreeing with E, since he "knew I would." Then he had the audacity to say "you're talking to him now? Good *hugs* please don't be bitter after" when he was the one who had caused this fight. This made me say I wanted to tell them both to shut up and he told me to not talk to him for a long time.
So, they both stopped talking to me for hours and coincidentally, C then had a horrible day and E was under the impression that I was going to apologize and relayed this misconception to C. Later at night, E texted me to relay that I was close to losing C, that he had the worst day ever, and that he was pissed off. So, I texted C back and he vented on me, pissed that I had called him and E idiots, that we always get into an argument that goes nowhere and nothing changes, that it seems I'm apparently never wrong and that he's always seen as attacking me. We then talked over the phone to try and settle this and I gave some serious thought about my part in our fights.
Our fights tend to start because of something I don't like, but I escalate things to an extreme. When I think of myself, I like to think that I am aware of my flaws and that I acknowledge them as such, but I really don't. In our fights, I always see myself as absolutely in the right. My views in them always make so much sense, and I cannot understand C's. When C (or anyone, it seems) tries to argue his side in a bad fight, I take it as a personal attack and I start seeing them as an enemy and I struggle as hard as I can. Even when we reach a compromise, I never see it as a compromise. To me, I'm always the one who loses and has to make a change and I always feel that all C has to do is avoid these things, which I feel should be easy since I always think its something that, by its very nature, should be repellant to him. This perceived injustice always seems wrong to me, so I never make a long-term change. Also, thinking about how I disagree with C forgiving people who have offended him, I tell him that my habit of writing off people who have offended me is how I've dealt with things like bullying, or people being unnecessarily rude or cruel. I write them off as worthless jerks who don't deserve forgiveness, or even existence in some cases. More thought made me realize it's so easy to do that because none of the people I've labeled as worthless have been my friend. I have no emotional investment in them at all, so I can dehumanize them. My parents, my sister, C, E, and some friends have all upset me in the past, but I never wrote them off. If people I didn't know had bothered me in the same way they have, I would have written them off right away.
Of course, after realizing this, I immediately began to rationalize that C didn't know D long enough for him to be that important, or that S was a stranger who didn't deserve any chance to begin with.
Which brings me to another problem I have. Even after analyzing myself and realizing these problems, I am still seeing myself as in the right. I admit that I escalated the fights, but I blame C and others for starting them. I victimize myself to avoid bettering myself. I have a moment where I realize something bad about myself, then ignore it. I still feel that this latest fight was E and C's fault. E for having called me childish and C for telling him I was mad about it.
We both care about each other and don't want to end things, because we make each other really happy when not fighting (I know that sounds stupid), so now, C decided that he will see to it that something changes this time. Again, I feel cheated because it feels like I've lost and will have to change, and this time it's being enforced. He said one step I have to take is writing this letter to you, something I did not like the idea of. That probably has to do with how I always believe I'm right in a fight. I see myself as just fine with no need to change, and I think of getting help to change as somehow destroying who I am.
I don't even know what I should ask for. I wrote the letter like C asked, and knowing me, if you said something I disagreed with, I'd probably get angry again, even though you wouldn't be intending harm. I suppose I would like to ask for your opinion, please.
Angry and Apparently Always Wrong.
* * *
There’s a saying that goes like this: would you rather be happy or would you rather be right? When we insist on being right all the time no matter what, then confrontation is inevitable even when it is about very minor things, as you mentioned.
Papabear senses that both you and C may have some issues, too, stemming from childhood. With C, he may have been emotionally neglected, which makes him crave attention and friendship, even from people who don’t treat him very well. With you, you may have suffered some abuse, too, emotional or otherwise, that makes you defensive and irritable. These are just guesses, but it would explain both of your ways of behaving.
It’s good that you recognize you have a problem, but as long as you “feel cheated” because you have “lost” you will never stop fighting with your mate, which would be a shame because the two of you seem happy otherwise. The problem here is that you are quick to take offense and quick to anger. There are things you can do to avoid that, and here is a very good Web page from Sri Chinmoy to help you: http://www.srichinmoybio.co.uk/blog/inner-peace/10-powerful-ways-to-deal-with-anger/.
In addition to the above, you need to explore why you are such an angry person in the first place. As I said, this may have a lot to do with your upbringing, but you don’t talk about that in your letter so it is something you’ll need to think about and see if maybe that is a root cause.
So, that is some advice for you. But, in any relationship, it takes two to tango. Your mate is part of the problem, as well. As your mate, C should be concerned that he is upsetting you with his insistence on seeing people whom you don’t like. In all of this, while insisting on you changing your behavior, he hasn’t made any effort to change his.
Now, I am hoping that not all of C’s friends are people you don’t like because then that wouldn’t be very fair to him. You would be denying him all relationships outside of yours. I assume, then, that the two of you share some friends that the both of you like, even though you are in a long-distance relationship.
The key word here is “compromise.” You need to give a little, and so does he. You need to agree to try and control your anger and resentment, perhaps with the exercises I linked you to above, and he needs to show more consideration for your feelings, as well.
Also, think about this: you could take a lesson from C about forgiveness, letting go. It might be that C is a little too forgiving, but I’m not sure that’s the case as nothing you have said in your letter is so offensive as to go beyond forgivable.
In summary, here’s what you should do:
1. Explore whether there is a root cause to your being so easily angered and come to understand why you might feel so angry.
2. Practice the exercises discussed by Sri Chinmoy.
3. Ask your partner to also explore why he might be allowing himself to be stepped on a bit by others.
4. Work on a compromise in which you agree to control your anger and C agrees to be more considerate of your feelings and that, at least sometimes, you might be right about some of his friends.
5. Hang out more with friends you BOTH like (I guess, virtually).
6. Learn the art of forgiveness and letting go of old arguments. They only hurt you and your partner. Once an old problem has been resolved, move on. It is never fair in an argument to bring up old grudges that you have both agreed to forgive. That’s not fighting fairly.
Four and a half years is a long time to be in a long-distance relationship. Congrats for making it this long. I still say that any real relationship involves two people being in the same physical space together, and it could really help the two of you to resolve disagreements if you were. You see, a lot of misunderstandings can happen when dialogue is conducted via texting or emails or even an online game that includes audio or via Skype. The reason is that a lot of communication between partners is physical, not verbal. Body language and physical touch go a long way toward understanding, empathy, and sympathy. I hope you can take your partnership with C to that next level someday.
A note on comments: Comments on letters to Papabear are welcome, especially those that offer extra helpful advice and add something to the conversation that is of use to the letter writer and those reading this column. Also welcome are constructive criticisms and opposing views. What is NOT welcome are hateful, hurtful comments, flaming, and trolling. Such comments will be deleted from this site. Thank you.