Vail Relationships column: My fiancé criticizes me but can’t handle it when I criticize him
Dear Neil: My fiance will dish out a fair amount of criticism at me. But if I say anything that shows unhappiness about him, he falls apart, withholding affection and withdrawing for days. He tells me he absolutely can’t function if I am not happy with him, and he insists I need to be happy with him all the time or he will end the relationship.
I’m speechless. He will dish out criticism, yet I can have no complaints — ever. How do I handle this? He actually cries when I disapprove of something he has done. He is uptight all the time, but he blames me and says he is uptight because I’m not happy with him all the time. Help!
Speechless in Ohio
Dear Speechless: Being in a relationship demands that each person use his or her voice. Both parties must speak up about their likes and dislikes, their preferences about things both big and small, and both people need to set boundaries about which behaviors they find offensive or unacceptable. To do otherwise leaves at least one of you without a voice. And if you feel you have no voice for any period of time, your relationship will not remain close and intimate because you will become increasingly resentful, angry, withdrawn and distant.
Your fiance is telling you he is very fragile and has very low self-worth. Someone with high self-worth is able to tolerate differences of opinion, is able to compromise and negotiate — and can give in some of the times so that his partner also feels heard and valued. And this is your relationship, also, not just his. It is vital that you feel that your wishes, desires and choices are respected and viewed as equal to his. And no one has a relationship in which our partner is happy with us all the time, so he will have similar anxieties with any woman he is with.
You cannot marry him this way and be in a happy marriage. You are therefore left with no choice but to tell him you can’t live by his rules. You could suggest a way for both of you to air grievances, irritations or disagreements in a gentle way, however, by suggesting that — say, once a week — each of you be given the opportunity to speak about what would make the relationship better for you, and each of you would then get to make two requests of the other that would make you happier or less annoyed.
If he says no to this, I would recommend you let him leave. Although there’s no guarantee, I am betting that he would come crawling back to you because he has to know that no one will agree to these rules. If and when he does come back, force the above changes in the relationship. If you don’t, you will agree to have no voice in your marriage.
Neil Rosenthal is a licensed marriage and family therapist in Westminster and Boulder. He is the author of the best-selling book “Love, Sex and Staying Warm: Creating a Vital Relationship.” Contact him at 303-758-8777, or visit neilrosenthal.com.