It’s a Relationship, Not a DIY Project

Dr. Deb would love to answer your burning relationship questions.

Today’s Advice Highlights:

  • How to communicate with your partner when they have a habit or manner you just can’t stand.
  • Suggestions for resolving culture-based personality differences.
  • Going beyond face value: Asking what’s behind the relationship’s conflict and why.
Dear Dr. Deb,

I’m happily partnered with someone trustworthy and considerate – my friends all say I lucked out with this one. We were very good friends for over 30 years before we became romantically involved. Our backgrounds are culturally different, with me born and raised in a rather strict German culture while he was raised in the U.S.

At 18, I lost both my parents. I think being an orphan who then became a successful model turned me into someone hyper-independent and very self-contained. But I’m also a very caring person, and I feel grateful for my partner. I have daughter who’s now in college.

There’s really just one thing I can’t seem to overlook about my partner: his excessive cheerful attitude. I know that’s seems like a funny thing to complain about, but the overfriendly way he communicates with others when we’re socializing makes my skin crawl.

When it’s just the two of us together, I feel more at ease. We have a natural and open way of communicating with each other and I feel that we’re in sync, especially whenever we travel. I know I can depend on him – and I don’t depend on a lot of people.

But whenever he starts with this cheerful Pollyanna behavior, I feel embarrassed. He exudes a happiness and niceness that some people appreciate, but I find incredibly annoying. I really don’t know why I’m so disturbed by it. I can’t help thinking how lame he is and wonder if our relationship will last.

When I try to bring this up, it inevitably leads to a fight. He accuses me of nitpicking and always finding fault with his upbeat personality. I want him to see my point of view about his off-putting chirpy behavior, but it makes him defensive.

Shouldn’t our relationship flow more easily than this? Is it normal to be so annoyed and embarrassed by someone you love to the point that I find myself thinking I’m with the wrong person?

Feeling Like a Villain

From The Desk of Dr.Deb
Dear Feeling Like a Villain,

In my line of work, I take very little at face value. For you, the issue is that your partner’s overly cheerful attitude in social situations turns you off. What I’m really interested in is why that turns you off and what’s behind your chronic annoyance with your partner.

Love is imperfect and everyone can probably say some things about their partner that they’re not exactly happy with. But your frustration with your partner’s overly nice behavior seems to go beyond that, so I think it’s important to examine this feeling. Is it rooted in a genuine desire to help him grow and improve? Or are you trying to mold him into someone he is not?

When does nice cross over into too-nice?  Ultimately, I would say the line is subjective and there’s no single definition. What we consider as too-nice behavior shows more about who we are as people, our life experiences, and what we’re looking for in a partner.

Maybe your style of communication and boundaries in social situations clashes with his. As someone raised in Germany, you may value directness and reserve in a way that he doesn’t as someone who grew up in the U.S. His joviality may feel too informal and emotional for you. 

So how do you resolve these cultural gaps? I suggest you approach your dissimilarities with an open mind and a willingness to learn. It’s not about one partner adopting the other’s preference; it’s about appreciating each other’s cultures and making room for the differences. If you wanted a partner from Germany, you wouldn’t have chosen him!

Since you’ve been friends with your partner for 30 years, remind yourself about how you become romantically involved. Did you feel embarrassed by his cheerfulness and social behavior back then? If this wasn’t an issue for you in the beginning, why do you think this bothers you now?

Here are some hard questions you may want to consider:

  • Does your annoyance have something to do with your need to condition your partner to your style of communicating?
  • Could your irritation mask your anxiety about the shift from friendship to intimacy?

Your answers will help you decide whether or not this relationship will stand the test of time. The fact that you’ve even considered ending the relationship seems like a red flag that needs immediate attention.

A relationship is a package deal. It’s about compromise and understanding different communication styles and ways of loving. If your motive is sincerely for your partner’s personal growth, I urge you to let go of the nitpicking and fault-finding approach that has made him sensitive. Take a more constructive approach and tell him about your concerns honestly and respectfully. As long-time friends and partners, both of you should come to a loving agreement without forcing your ways on each other.

Dr. Deb

<  The Look of Love: Staying in Love Through the Physical Changes

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