There's no need to avoid criticism and conflict in relationships and life - you can handle them. Girl with earphones

Photo credit: Amminopurr SXC

If you’ve found yourself associating conflict and criticism with rejection and have compromised yourself in unhealthy relationships as a result of avoiding experiencing them / reacting poorly, I share my thoughts on changing the meaning of criticism and conflict in this adapted excerpt from my new ebook, The Dreamer and the Fantasy Relationship

You receive ‘feedback’, both positive and negative, not just verbally or through people’s actions, but from life itself. When you keep experiencing the same situations, it’s life throwing up the same lessons until you learn them. It may seem like ‘negative’ feedback initially because you may experience what appears to be an unfavourable result, but it then paves the way to positive feedback through the subsequent results and lessons learned.

You can only learn to handle criticism and feedback with reality, which gives perspective.

Change the meaning of criticism from “I’m not good enough” or “I’m a failure” to “Someone is asking me to listen …” If you don’t, you’ll focus on bathing in a sense of inadequacy and withdraw into yourself.

Listening doesn’t mean agreement and criticism doesn’t equate to “I must change to stop disapproval”.

Sometimes, in fact often, what you perceive as a potential conflict really isn’t. It’s important to calm down and not let yourself get carried away with what you think that the other person is thinking or overinvesting your time and energy into formulating a response or even a ‘defence’.

Even if feedback is negative, if you can look beyond your nose and recognise the lesson, whether it’s from the feedback itself or what receiving it means about the person/situation, you only stand to gain.

Criticism isn’t the same as disapproval of you as a person or rejection. Listen to the feedback. Is it actually a message saying that you are a ‘less than’ person? Or is that how you see it?

Let this idea go that experiencing conflict is a sign that you’ve done something ‘wrong’. It could easily be the other person, or both of you, having a misunderstanding, or something of nothing. You don’t get to know this if you’re already going “Wah wah wah it’s me!”

Criticism and conflict also doesn’t mean that a relationship is over or on the way to being so. Part of being a mature adult in a relationship is being able to have a disagreement or not always hear what you want to hear, and not put the relationship in jeopardy each time. You’re then both free to be available and truly intimate with one another.

Someone’s criticism isn’t always accurate or the right thing for you. You can listen to it, let it percolate, consider the suggestions and look at where it fits with your agenda and your values, and then choose a course of action that’s right for you.

Let me assure you: any form of ‘feedback’ that involves you screwing yourself over while busting up your boundaries and values, is not in your best interests.

Criticism or feedback is not an opportunity to be disrespectful or even abusive. It’s not a free pass on decency. When done in a mean-spirited or abusive manner, it’s their character.

“Who are you to judge?” should help you work out in your mind whether the person is qualified to critique you. If they are someone who has consistently treated you with care, trust, and respect, or a customer, or you know there’s a genuine basis for the criticism, hear them out.

If they are someone who claims to be trying to help you and being ‘honest’, while being dishonest about their own part or even deluded about who they are, they are not qualified to be telling you who you are or giving you improvements tips.

Accept that you cannot like or love ‘everything’, just like you cannot be liked and loved by ‘everyone’. If you have this burning desire to gain someone’s approval, question it. What do you think you’re going to experience?

Even when you do express actual disapproval or they do, it’s not the end of life as you know it. Whatever the disapproval is, it doesn’t put a final judgement on someone. What it may do is show a difference in values, which means you’re incompatible. Buh-bye!

When you refuse to accept feedback and yes, at times, criticism, you’re saying “I have nothing to learn” and “You cannot say anything that I don’t like because you’ll upset me.” No relationship of any kind, romantic or otherwise, can progress even an inch without the room for respectful feedback and at times, yes, criticism.

When you accept that you can and will experience it, you can prepare positively for it, by having the self-esteem and perspective to take it.

Don’t react immediately. One of the first things you’ll learn by not having an instant reaction and running with it, is that the sky doesn’t fall down and whatever you think that the worst is, isn’t happening. Don’t reply (if you’re face to face) until you’ve taken a few breaths, relaxed into yourself and feel a bit more balanced. Definitely don’t fire off texts or emails in anger.

If you immediately react angrily or defensively, you’ll likely end up feeling regretful and then believing that the criticism or manner of conflict was justified even if it wasn’t. You’ll then focus on your reaction and making amends for that, instead of the issue at hand.

Someone who adds value to your life, will bite the bullet and say the necessary and the uncomfortable because they want to see you succeed. You’ll also find that someone who is genuinely offering you feedback, isn’t basing the need to or desired outcome on something to do with them.

Make sure you manage your ‘frequencies’ and ‘filters’. Short of running off every time you sense criticism, you will have to experience and handle it. How much of a negative impact it makes on you, and what you stand to gain (if anything), is greatly altered by ensuring that you know who to tune into and who to filter out their crap.?

Just because someone does give you feedback though, it doesn’t mean that you have to implement it. It’s feedback, not a directive or a court order.

When you deem that someone disapproves of you, whether it’s because they’re not interested, or they make a criticism, or they don’t want the relationship that you want, that doesn’t mean that you are unacceptable. They’re just one person, who I must point out again, are just not that special.

Sometimes criticism really isn’t about you, which of course is weird to hear when it appears to be directed at you. Sometimes when people lash out, it’s also about their own circumstances, especially when you realise that their reaction is so disproportionate to the matter at hand, it sure as hell isn’t all about you.

People see things from their perspective. Many people when they express concern, opinions, and criticism about you or your life, are not thinking about you; they’re either thinking about what they would be like under the same circumstances or are objecting to your actions inconveniencing them.

Sometimes criticism means “Please stop making it difficult for me to eff around with you and do things on my terms.”

Is there any truth in the criticism? What is it that you don’t like about it? You don’t have to accept a criticism in its entirety, but if you do recognise the truth, don’t ignore it.

It’s OK to compromise, which is finding a solution that you can both live with, but this is very different to compromising yourself by sacrificing your boundaries and values. Make sure that you recognise the difference.

You’re not a child anymore, so make sure that you look at criticism and conflict through adult eyes and adjust your perspective. Now that you’re an adult, how would you teach a child how to cope with not always hearing what they want to or dealing with conflict? Now pass some of that advice on to you.

Own your right to express disapproval and to deal with or even instigate conflict, and you will respect the right of people to express their disapproval or to instigate their own conflict. You don’t have to like it and neither do they, but this is better than feeling victimised when you silence yourself or go against you.

Your thoughts?

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95 Responses to Learning How To Deal With Criticism & Conflict For Improved Self-Esteem & Relationships

  1. yoghurt says:

    Bingo! I have an unpleasant confrontation to have at work tomorrow and I’m DREADING it – it is spoiling my evening.

    I’m sitting here feeling as though The End Is Nigh, and I don’t know why. There really is no way that it can result in me losing my job (although it might make the working environment unpleasant for a while) or ending up homeless on the streets whilst Son is taken away from me, but that’s the level of the Doom Feelings that I’m having.

    Also, I’ve made the situation worse by being over-conciliatory before now, that’s my own fault but it has to stop somewhere.

    Argh… I’m going to go back and learn this post off by heart.

    • I’m sure it will be fine today Yogurt especially now that you’ve taken the internal drama of what you feared may happen down from a 10 to about a 4 😉

      Sometimes these situations have to happen in order to force you to find a middle ground. You’ll remember this experience and know that you have to speak up and hold your own, even in the face of potential conflict.

      You will be fine. You’re not helpless and you’re allowed to assert yourself. While they may not be singing and dancing about it, they’ll respect you more for it…even though they might not let on about this either.

      • yoghurt says:

        It was fine :) The colleague in question took it remarkably well and I then further asserted myself by going to management (who also scare me on occasion) and making a case for incorporating a greater degree of care into our handling of said colleague.

        That’s all very vague – it’s a sticky situation and I tend to get the flak from both sides (middle management, *tchuh*, should be called stuck-in-the-middle management) BUT I also found it really useful to remember what the article said about being prepared to compromise on some things but not your values.

        So the dramatising was unnecessary. Also realised that I’ve been appeasing and trying to stay on the fence in this situation for ages and all that’s done is prolong and heighten the worry about it. Lesson learnt.

        • yoghurt says:

          Thanks Natalie, by the way. I know that the article was on relationships but it was really useful from a work perspective as well!

    • tired_of_assanova says:

      Argh! I am in exactly the same situation with a passive-aggressive who can’t see that I’m not the entire problem! I have been careless and made mistakes and that has impacted them, but they’ve also done crappy things as well.

      Has made me feel sick the entire weekend. I have to face them again tomorrow.

      • Polly says:

        Hi ToA,

        I don’t know the situation or the politics but I think if it was me I would apologise for my mistakes and the impact it had on them then distance myself a bit and let things calm down. They may or may not apologise to you but if they don’t just let it go. I find apologies tend to be very disarming to passive aggressive types and take the heat out (or the quiet resentment!). It is just a professional relationship – unless it is a disciplinary matter it will surely disappear like yesterday’s papers.

        Like I said though I don’t know the facts, only that you aren’t feeling great about it!

  2. jennynic says:

    This post went right inside me, to the tender spot I tip toe around. I still feel some confusion over my last heartache, where I went wrong, what is my part, what was his. Trying to find the lesson meant for me. Reading this helped me feel and explore what I’ve been trying to ignore because of the discomfort it brings me. Gotta get to the center of it for my own release of my beloved baggage. Thank you Natalie, for yet another gentle wake up call. Where’s the tissue? The river just came over the dam.

    • Big hugs Jenny. Just remember – you weren’t the only person in the relationship and so you cannot have all of the ‘blame’. That and he was a bit of a crackerjack as well. The lesson is stop being a Florence, stop ignoring your feelings and giving the benefit of the doubt to shady stuff, and start focusing on creating the life that you want for you.

      • jennynic says:

        Yep, I did downplay my feelings that things were odd in this relationship, I was trying so hard to do things right on my end and analyzing my own behavior, that I didn’t notice the things right in front of me. When I did notice things were off, many times he told me it was him just reacting to my behavior, so I went back to analyzing myself some more. On good days, I can see the whole picture and know that I don’t need to take on his shit as my own. On bad days, I start the analyzing again, but the bad days are getting fewer. Thanks for the reminder to keep it real.

        • Chloe says:


          I just went through that where I felt something was off or missing on the relationship. Turns out he was an EUM. He accused me of alot, for example, if he got mad, he said, I made him mad and he doesn’t do conflict, it was always my fault. Sound like your guy liked to blame you too and we can’t take it on. I’m finding myself blaming myself for the ending, but really, it was him too. In fact, I wanted to move the relationship forward and he held back emotionally. At the end of the day, I see that I can’t even be friends with him because there was no friendship!! That sucks for me and goes against my values of being friends with my mate. Mind you, the one before that was different because we were friends, but I had to do NC and that is much more painful. Take care!

  3. Karina says:

    I can say I have just experienced harsh criticism this past week. When speaking to my personal financial adviser on going to school full time for the second semester, know what his answer was “there’s nothing you can do with a journalism degree. Newspapers are dying, so I don’t know what you can even do with that.” Gee…thanks for the vote of confidence. Oh and let me see….last time yuu watched the news, did you see yourself giving out the information or someone else who might have gone to JSchool? TURD! I was furious! But you know what, I just said, “well, there’s plenty you can do with journalism since I used to write for a newspaper not too long ago and still freelance for people who are actually interested in reading about what’s going on in the parts of the world they don’t have access to. Plus, I have been working for 10 years with an undergrad degree in journalism, so last time I checked I HAVE done something with it. Anyway…thanks for the opinions, but I think I’ll stick to my own for now.” I hung up and decided that’s not the type of person I want around me. He’s good for financial advice, anything else he can suck it! It simpley amazes me that the minute you want to do something meaningful with your life, all these idiots come out of the woodwork to shut you down. Well, ahem…my advice to them is…BITE ME!

    It’s taken me a long time and still on the journey to really not care what others have to say about me and sometimes to me and I’m the type that internalises everything. Example, my ex EUM, he was such a big critic and not even in a good way. And I let myself believe that I was this horrible person because I was always arguing with him about him ditching me for his best friend, about him saying I only wanted attention when I was severely depressed, about me being late to places for being hispanic and of dark skin. All that did quite a number on me, yet everyone around him thought he was God! BS…now I’m learning that he’s his new gf’s issue and that he might treat her like a princess, but at the end of the day he must look in the mirror and not be happy with who he is. I on the other hand am starting to feel at ease with my choices and getting rid of him was the best one so far.

    Thanks Nat! =)

    • The interesting thing with your financial advisor is that it wasn’t so much criticism, as feedback and unsolicited crappy advice. He’s not a careers advisor so while he can express an opinion, he’s not an expert. I find that when people make general statements about career paths, they tend to be ill informed and I do find that it’s a generation issue. Speak to people from the West Indies, Africa and parts of Asia and many of their parents want them to be doctors, lawyers, and accountants and are horrified at the idea of creative paths.

      You don’t need his validation or anyone else’s other than your own. It doesn’t mean people won’t express their opinion but as long as you’re behind your choice, you want give a rats anyway.

      • Karina says:

        You’re absolutely right Nat. It just seems that ever since I got into grad school it has opened up a floodgate of negative comments from all people. My family is so happy with my decision and some of my firends, but everyone else around me is just trying to bring me down. Good thing I’mnot even listening to them and following my heart. It’s been a while since I’ve felt this good about something and that’s the feeling I have to hold on to. This is also helping my self esteem. This post couldn’t have come at a better time.

        • Rising Up says:


          I’m a journalist with an international newspaper, and I can tell you that, while things are difficult (as they are all over), the news trade continues to live and even thrive, so that so-called “expert” can go jump in a lake.

          As a way to ensure your success, get some training in the digital side of media as well, go for your degree and enjoy the journey.

          What’s on the other side rocks!

          • Karina says:

            Rising Up! Thanks so much! My undergrad is in journalism, so I have some experience…but I really want to jump back in after a hiatus in it and realizing that it’s what I was truly meant to do. And yes, he can certainly jump in a lake! Thanks so much for giving me a lot more hope, I am aware of the struggles but then again everything in life is one. =)

  4. Laurie says:

    I think some of the hardest criticism to take is the kind we inflict upon ourselves. I had convinced myself after my divorce that I had learned my lesson. I knew what my flaws were and I was determined not to repeat history. And I didn’t commit any of the previous mistakes in my last relationship. I just made new ones. I feel like I have a black thumb when it comes to relationships–eventually I will ruin it, despite all my best efforts. It’s incredibly depressing.

    I keep putting one foot in front of the other: it will be six weeks no contact this Friday, and I’ve pursued new opportunities, gone to counseling, etc. But I live in this fear that there is something fundamentally wrong with me. If there wasn’t, why did my ex leave? What is wrong with me that I pushed him away and made him resent me? I’m so far from perfection, and I keep trying to take criticism from others and from myself to become a better person. I know I’ll never reach perfection, but I just want to know that I can get close enough to ensure that I’m not going to sabotage any future relationships. Sorry for the whining–just in a lot of pain at the moment.

    • BanannaBubbles says:

      Hey Laurie,

      Just wanted to let you know that I feel your pain. It’s really hard not to internalise things and blame yourself. I was there myself last year. It’s only been 6 weeks, cut yourself some slack and allow yourself to grieve.

      Also something you do need to learn (and I have only really started to understand this just recently) is there is no such thing as perfection. Truly there isn’t. And even if you were able to obtain perfection, you would still find that the person you were with isn’t perfect and why would something perfect want to be with something that’s imperfect? (I hope that makes sense :)

      I’m starting to get to a place where I can accept myself and my perceived flaws (by others and myself) and realise that I am awesome just the way I am, imperfect and all :) And sooner or later I will meet someone who totally digs on that.

      Take care, good luck and believe that things will get better, it just doesn’t happen in the time frame that we all wish it would. I just thought I would be over my EUM after a couple of months, in the end it took over a year but it really wasn’t just the EUM that I was dealing with but all my other baggage (long term relationship, AC, self esteem, etc) that I was dealing with as well. The EUM was just the tip of the iceberg.


    • Little Star says:

      Laurie, sorry that you feeling this way…I have to agree, that the most hardest criticism we inflict ourselves. I am on 4th week of NC with ACs, one day I am OK, another day I am not:-( And this stupid thought cannot leave my head: “I am NOT good enough to have a relationship with”!!! I do not know what I am doing wrong really, I can attract men very easily, but I cannot keep them. With my all BR knowledge, I cannot accept crap anymore, and start to demand a respect in the beginning, being honest about what I am scared of and what I am looking in the relationship…I know it is early days for dating new people, but sometimes I feel so lonely, that I desperately want to chat to someone. I started to talk to someone new, and he got upset that I admitted that I am a commitment phobe, that I want to take on step on the time and I have issues with trust. Now he distanced himself from me…HERE we go again…What I am doing wrong?!!!

      • Mymble says:

        You told him you were a commitment phobe, and he listened to you and believed you. if he is looking for someone who is emotionally available, would that not be the proper thing for him to do?

      • grace says:

        Little Star
        I think it’s a bad move to tell someone you are a commitment phobe and have trust issues. If a man said that to me I’d be off as well. I’ve worked quite hard not to tell people about my past, not because it’s a shameful secret but because my motives are questionable. What I’m really saying is “I want a free pass for when I mess up” or “give me sympathy”. I am a person who can stand and fall on my own merits (well, that’s what I’m trying to believe).
        Where I HAVE shared it, it was with someone I’ve known a long time who was telling me about the dysfunction within her family. It was appropriate then to say that I’ve been through the same.
        You will never be perfect (sorry to break it to you) and you won’t ever be 100% ready to commit or 100% free from trust issues. I think a little caution, especially with someone you just met is okay. It’s okay to feel your way with someone in the discovery phase. I think it’s NOT okay to say, or even believe, “I’m gonna screw up – watch out!”. It may not be what you meant, but I think it may be what he heard. It’s what I would hear if a man I was getting close to said it to me.
        Don’t go blaming yourself. I feel that four weeks is a bit soon to start dating because you’re still bringing all your hurt to the party. Though I wouldn’t wait as long as I have (six years and counting), I feel like the catacombs!
        And bad and good days is normal. Even if you were blissfully married, living in your cottage with adjoining orchard and surrounded by bonny-cheeked children and rarebreed chickens (or whatever your fantasy is), there’ll be days when you’ll be miserable. While I’m not defending ACs our unhappiness is not always about them. Sometimes we’re just not happy and that’s fine.

      • tired_of_assanova says:

        I have had to flush so many people in the last week.
        One – FLUSH
        Two – FLUSH

        They’re just not that interested, don’t even make an effort to get back, nothing. SO LAME!! At least with fantasies, they’re always on time!

      • Little Star, I have to agree with the other commenters. Advertising your problems because you prioritise your need for attention is unfair to the other party. Why would this man call you? You have nothing to offer. It’s not his job to get you over your ex and fix your problems. Read all of the comments on here by readers who have been used for these very reasons – it ain’t pretty or fair. A golden rule of rejection recovery is don’t pass the rejection potato by rejecting someone else by using them as a rebound or emotional airbag. You are not ready to date – until you learn to trust yourself and have got over your fear of commitment, I suggest that you focus on you and find new ways to sustain yourself.

    • Laurie, I think you need to give yourself a break and use your time with the therapist to examine your need for perfection…which doesn’t exist. You are setting yourself up to fail and busting your balls. No person on this planet is doing everything right especially in their relationships. To suggest that you could achieve this is to suggest that you have nothing to learn inside a relationship and that you cannot handle learning from experience and applying. Listen with love to yourself and stop being so impatient and critical of yourself. It is a choice and habit – change it.

      • Laurie says:

        Thanks to everyone for all the advice and encouragement. I know I can’t be perfect in a relationship, but I want to believe that I can reach a point where I don’t make fatal errors that drive my partner away. I know there are specific things that I need to avoid in the future, and I am committed to learning from my mistakes. I’m really going to try to be more patient and loving to myself. It’s just a lot easier to change behaviors then it is to change feelings! I’m working on it, though.

      • Little Star says:

        Thank you very much for your comments Natalie, TOA, Grace and Mumble…YOU are so right that I should not date anyone, but I cannot stop thinking about my ex AC!!! I want to forget him and I cannot:-( that why I decided to go and talk to this new man. The reason I told him that I am commitment phobe, because he started “future faking” and had lists of things what we going to do in the future. I already heard this in the past with AC (who promised holidays, marriage, kids) and this guy remind me of him! I got scared, that why I told him that I am NOT ready and need to take things slowly. You see, he is another AC…I just wonder why I am ” so lucky” to meet ACs:-( I really need to go to your seminars Natalie, hope you will have one soon, in London. I need your help!

  5. lawrence says:

    Hi, Natalie –

    I was struck by something in Mira Kirshenbaum’s “Too Good to Leave, Too Bad to Stay,” which your article brought back to mind:

    “If I wanted to write a prescription for how to have a doomed relationship that was overwhelmingly too bad to stay in, I’d have both people say I can’t change. I won’t change. I don’t want to change, and I don’t see a reason to change, but if we find each other, it’s beautiful. The point is that you’re entitled to feel you want your partner to change things about himself.” [140]

    The attitude that we should be willing to listen to criticism, as you eloquently point out above, is critical. A lot has been written about how we can argue productively – what kinds of behaviors to avoid, and so on – and I had the thought the other day that it is nearly impossible to speak about changing things in a relationship without generating defensiveness. My thought was that if we could somehow eliminate “blame/accusation” from the equation we might be able to discuss things that are causing problems more freely.

    What I came up with was treating things which are positive or negative in our relationships as more neutral “causal forces.” The idea is that everything we do in a relationship affects our partner – but that doesn’t make you responsible for their behavior. However, understanding that what we do necessarily affects our partner – without casting blame on either of us – is a first step toward being able to discuss important stuff without generating a defensive response.

    Your article and my thoughts just seemed very complementary to me. :)



    • Ethelreda the Unready (formerly PJM) says:

      Lawrence –

      Defenses, defenses, defenses. That’s the key word, and it’s so hard to let them down after a lifetime of carefully erecting them to stop the lacerating pain!

      Many of us on BR have learned early – and hard – that parents had to be placated constantly, on pain of instant withdrawal of love. We have become people-pleasers to a high degree, which has led us into dodgy relationships.

      What you say is true – in a relationship, once it’s up and running, a couple need to be able to talk about real change happening on both sides, as a result of the relationship. This can happen in friendships and other family relationships as well. It’s paradoxical but true: part of the process of being able to have healthy relationships is learning to let your defences down and be open to the possibility of being hurt.

      I’m trying to be open to new intimate relationships at the moment, and it feels good so far, but I’m not going out and actively looking for a new partner. It has to be in the ‘I’ll cross that bridge when I come to it’ basket just now.

    • Great comment Lawrence. There is definitely too much focus on blame and not enough on responsibility. Whenever one thinks of blame, defensiveness isn’t far behind. We have to recognise that in all relationships, romantic and otherwise, there has to be room for feedback and we must respect one another and be conscientious in our actions and impact.

  6. I love the idea of considering what you would say to a child, and then applying that advice to yourself. Works for so many situations!

  7. tired_of_assanova says:


    As a person who was raised in a domestic and family violence and abuse setting, I was wired to be placating – if you disagreed with my father, you could expect to be bashed, hit, chased, punched, whacked, shouted at, screamed at, flying objects, financial penalisation – you name it.

    I have become a Queen of conflict and criticism avoidance. When I say no I feel bad, when I am criticised it hits the core. When I can’t please someone, I feel less worthy. I am a perfectionist. I try to please people too much. I had become a doormat.

    Of course this works perfectly for Mr Unavailables and Assclowns who don’t like answering questions, love to hide in the shadows of vagueness and can’t commit to a straight answer.

    • Naming it is actually half the battle TOA as you would be amazed at how many people feel as you do but have no real awareness or work hard to deny it. You also understand where it comes from – if I’d had a father like yours, I’d be conflict and criticism avoidant too. You associate the onset and experience of them with your childhood but you’re not dealing with your father anymore and now have power that you wouldn’t have had in those situations.

      My experience of criticism changed when I stopped relating to everyone as if I were dealing with my mother ie either trying too hard to please, being scared of failing, or getting incredibly defensive.

      What you do know is that you will never be in the position you were as a child again, so the worst cannot happen and you’re now more than equipped to stand up for you.

    • Karina says:

      Tired…I have been a doormat not only for my exes, but also for many of my friends, so I know what you mean. But actually owning up to why I’ve behaved this way has been helpful. Just last night I was thinking that I work too hard so people can see how great I am and that I’m not a bad person. So as I was in bed about to fall asleep, I asked myself “why are you working so hard to please others when these people are not even worried about pleasing you?” I decided that life is too short and I’m far from perfect. It’s time to say what I mean and what’s on my mind, thrown caution to the wind and live with my boundaries while not overstepping on others’ and vice versa. It feels good to realize that no matter what I do, people will not change unless some traumatic or meaningful impact has plagued their life. SO…I’m taking things at face value and if I disagree with something I say it, if others like it or not, that’s not my problem. As Natalie said, everyone is entitled to their opinion, but it is up to me if I want to take it in.

  8. Lon says:

    Oh my oh my- this lessen has realty hit me hard.
    I was the verbally abusive partner in our relationship and would blow very easily especially when critised I really took it heart.
    I had previously seen my behavior as a reaction to being with a partner that was never available, always had to work or do favours, he never wanted to spend quality time his family.
    We have recently split and he informed he couldn’t live with the disrespect and abuse any longer.
    I’ve never had this problem in any previous relationships, however this new lessen has taught me I need to re-evaluate what it means To me if I’m asked to listen or am criticized.

    • Ethelreda the Unready (formerly PJM) says:

      Hi Lon – me too. I’ve been that person. My first serious long term relationship was with a man with a personality similar to mine, and a domestic violence background similar to mine, and BOY did we fight, both verbally and physically.

      I’ve had to struggle for years with my temper, and also have had to assess my behaviour towards the most recent EUM when we had conflict. Did I cross the line? Was I abusive to him?

      Yes, I think I was, sometimes – verbally only, but he asked me a couple of times to hit him, which I refused to do, as I thought that was just plain weird. Too much masochism there, and I think his inability to let me go was feeding that masochism as well.

      But disrespect and abuse are never a good thing, whether they’re done with violent words (me) or done with passive aggression and denial (him). The disrespect in our relationship ran both ways – and it’s hard for me to face that, but then I remember the dream I had about him, where his head was on a camel’s body, and the camel turned round and looked at me with utter contempt, and then spat at me!

      It’s hard when you’ve grown up with harsh criticism – and I had mine in stereo, from both parents. Hard to forgive that and move on.

    • Hi Lon, I’m sorry to hear of what you’ve been going through. It’s a painful, humbling lesson to learn. For context, it’s important to remember that your behaviour was a part of the problem but not all of the problem. That doesn’t mean that he made you do it but you do have to isolate what factors have contributed to your behaviour.

      What you need to evaluate is what was different about this relationship from others? How did you feel about you? Has this changed from a previous relationship? Did a previous relationship or experience affect your ability to handle criticism? What were you fighting? The things that made you angry – what was it that bugged you and how did they make you feel?

      Sometimes people make up for lost time. They spend a chunk of their lives pussyfooting around everyone and silencing themselves and it gets so close to the surface like a pressure cooker, that they start losing your temper.

      Just remember that your anger is part of the issue but not all of it.

  9. Paula says:

    Thank you so much for this post Natalie, I have an instructor in my course that is a demoralizing b***h, and so instead of focussing 100% my energy in learning I will have to spare some to deal with her..Thank you for this post again
    Love you

  10. Older and wiser says:

    I’m usually to shy to make a post, but I read everything. I’m only making a post now because I feel very strongly that I could help somebody. It took me years to learn how to deal with criticism. I was thirty. My life is so much easier since I learn’t how to deal with criticism and how to stand up for myself. People used to say to me “Why don’t you stand up for yourself?” and I wanted to but I had know idea how.

    Then my sister in law who’s father is a psychologist recommended I read “When I say no, I feel guilty” by Manuel J Smith. Chapter 6 is entitled “Assertively coping with the great manipulator: criticism” . This book changed my life.

    I’ve also found Effectiveness Training for Women by Linda Adams helpful. Particularly using confrontative I messages. I now know how to speak up assertively when someone attempts to walk all over me. They don’t expect it because I’m a shy, quiet person.

    I have learn’t that people don’t respect you unless you can stand up for yourself. I have so much, more respect for myself now. I have also learn’t that conflict isn’t always a bad thing and I’m not afraid of it and sometimes good things can come out of it.

  11. Broadsided says:

    Some good advice here. I am guilty of being “reactive” and know that I have to implement the advice to take a pause before responding.

    One other category is non-constructive, petty criticism which has other motives – or which might actually indicate a mental health issue. My last boyfriend of 3 months criticized me for very petty and strange things before abruptly exiting. Said that I was “actually too short” (5’3″), I kept my house at the “wrong temperature” (while never complaining or acting as though he were cold), that I had “spider webs above my porch and did not seem to notice or care” (he was tall and noticed, I was shorter and did not look up enough I guess, ha), and I was “too thorough” in my approach to things (I thought this was good!). It’s like these were manufactured criticisms because there was nothing substantive and he was seeking a way to exit and there was nothing legitimate. Though as my son told me, he could be mentally unwell and these probably *were* serious issues in his mind, as my son didn’t think anyone would make anything up like that. Whatever the cause, thank God he left. To me, this indicates a dysfunctional side of one of those popular men that “everyone likes.” So, the only lesson for me here is – as my brother put it – “People can be weird.” And you never really know what is up with them. This man meanwhile wasted no time in getting back in the saddle and onto his womanizing ways. I think he tried a relationship but ultimately was not up for it or for one woman, much as he told me that’s what he wanted.

    BUT – here is my lesson. I was so dumbfounded when he left me citing reason #1 (the other 3 reasons were cited when he left me 2 weeks before – there was other complexity in his life involved so I gave him the benefit of the doubt and took him back) – I did not even know how to respond. I wish I would have just looked him in the eye, and come up with a practical response like “Are you serious? What is this really about?” I have never experienced criticisms like these in my life. And I’m an older gal. He future faked me big time from the get go – I learned it was future faking in retrospect, but ate it up at the time.

    My ex husband was a different story – classic verbal abuser. I was called “idiot” 1000x and did most everything “wrong” in his opinion. He was just…

  12. Spinster says:

    This is a good one. My mother used to shut everything down, so I’d shut myself down. As a result, I’ve had to teach myself how to deal with stuff like this. This used to be a huge challenge for me and I still have work to do on this, but I’ve come a long way.

  13. T says:

    There is so much goodness in this that I don’t know where to begin…

    First of all, I wish I’d known this while in my marriage. Sadly, it took a failed marriage and subsequent relationships before I was comfortable listening without reacting. Even still, there are times I react and then have to talk myself down from becoming the criticism itself!

    I also think that the criticism or advice that comes from others are things they do not like in themselves or things they wish to change about themselves. After all, we teach what we need to learn, right?

    Great article. Would love to read and review this book like I did the Fallback girl.

    Reminded me of this quote – “Anytime we perceive that someone else has weakened us, has downed us, has hurt us, has come “against” us, we really have to evaluate that honestly. Did they really, or did we decide they did, then hurt ourselves with that series of thoughts?” – Lee Travathan

  14. teachable says:

    so today &, i was extremely ill. hospital appoint etc. it was a blessing tho. whilst sleeping, mid arvo, EUM / mummys boy I dated b4 xAC called my mobile. thank goodness was set to silent so didnt answer. i deleted his number 12 mths ago & wudnt hav recognised it. last I heard frm him he said terrible thing 2 me. no apology in the message he left 2day though. even if there was it wud have been way too late. i deleted message / number w.out returning his call – thanks to wot im learning @ BR. flush. ugh. sorry i was off topic. ..

  15. cc says:

    keep this if its helpful, toss it if it isn’t…

    one of the things i learned (in acting school) was how to listen neutrally to criticism when you’re in a heightened emotional state. you just breathe and let your feelings be there, and listen without judgment to what the other person is saying. even if you feel/worry they are judging you. just breathe and listen neutrally without immediate reaction.

    it is very empowering. when you no longer knee-jerk assume that everything is wrong with you and that the other person is actually trying to annihilate you, you can take the criticism as just information – and you can hear much better what they’re saying and decide for yourself how much of it is correct, how much of it is off the mark, and how much of it might be coming from the other person’s own insecurities / unresolved anger, etc. it puts you much more in a position of choice on how to take it and how to respond.

    it takes practice, but its possible. even i could learn it, and i was the most super-sensitive kid and i grew up in a violent household, the combination of which meant that for most of my life i could not take criticism at all, at all, at all, could not hear it. i still have to gird myself sometimes, and i still take things hard, but much less so (and not go flying off the handle like i used to).

    • grace says:

      it’s helpful. my mother would beat us up for any reason but would go ballistic if we “answered back” . She threw me out of the house in the dark when I was eight because she thought I’d broken the tv and I protested I hadn’t. And then, get this – she sent my younger brother and sister out to find me when I ran off. I only went home because I saw them and was worried for them. So, yeah, I am twitchy about conflict.
      Anyway, I recently forgave my nutjob mother (it’s taken over 40 years) and someone at my previous church was giving me a bit of a lecture about how I should visit her. I visit her once a week which I think is plenty cos I get nothing out of it! I started seeing red as I was getting this lecture and then I thought “it doesn’t matter, they don’t know me”. And I said, very graciously, “yes, I do visit her. I do it for God”.
      It does help to take a breath and not panic or come out fighting. At least not straightaway. Also, most people are uncomfortable with conflict so, provided they’re not being complete tossers, it’s okay to cut them a break.
      And if possible, let’s not keep playing the thing over and over in our heads afterwards. It’s not worth it cos – they ain’t that special either.

      • SM says:

        Grace just a side note because I am a Christian too: I get better well sound Christian advice off this website than I do most of the time from my church peeps. Sometimes I think God is speaking to me right through Natalies words, telling me the reality and not the rosy- throw yourself under a bus because you have to be ‘Christianly’ to everybody. I’m not saying you shouldnt see your mom, you will probably be glad you did one day, but that sometimes these well meaning advisors dont know the whole story and dont need to be giving advice. That’s all…I know, I just got into an argument with my well meaning christian advisor (my sister).

        • cc says:

          this may be a bit off topic…

          oh, grace, i’m sorry. does it make me an abuser if i want to beat up abusers?

          to you and sm as well – i’m glad that your faith brings you joy and succor. but what you’re saying is why organized religion isn’t for me. it can gather sanctimonious, self-righteous people who wield cruelty and judgment in the guise of “advice” and “love”. that’s not love. i believe in endless generosity – but NOT in self-sacrifice, no offense to any self-sacrificing savior intended. imo, people warp that message for their own ends – witness the lecture grace was subjected to about visiting her abusive mother. pllllease.

          totally agree that the values NML espouses are more christian than a lot of christians i know.

          and grace – visit your mother if you want and not if you don’t. dammit. (sorry, couldn’t resist)

  16. lo j says:

    Hey Natalie, I get it!! I know what my boundaries are, respect them and others, and have learned not to personalize/internalize others actions and words, etc. But its as if I have to continually process this in my head as it (having boundaries) is not my “native language” How long does it usually take for this to be my normal and natural reaction/thought process? Its so empowering and I am so much happier, but my brain does get tired. Lol!

  17. A says:

    I come from a family with very poor conflict management skills. Nothing is ever discussed. My emotionally abusive father will go off about something one minute, then act as though everything is fine….people may be angry or upset and avoid one another for a while, but that’s about it. No apologies, no discussion….and in fact I felt as though I would often be criticized by other family members for actually objecting to his inappropriate behaviour rather than just tolerating it as they all do (I suppose they have just given up b/c he’s obviously never going to change and challenging him may just ‘make it worse’). My Mom just shuts down and gives the silent treatment if there is something she is upset about or doesn’t want to discuss. Even something as simple as “I’m sorry if I upset you” is too much for her to hear/deal with…she becomes incredibly uncomfortable and refuses to respond. A lot of extended family members have stopped speaking altogether over some conflict from years ago that probably wasn’t all that big of a deal. I think I’ve attracted people with similar patterns in friendships, unfortunately. I’ve had conflict situations in the past where I really just want to address the issue, but when I ask what is wrong or ask about a reaction, I just hit a brick wall of denial. I feel as though if we can just understand where the other is coming from, we can resolve it, but it never seems to work that way. It’s really frustrating when I feel as though I’m trying to move past the bad patterns that I grew up with, but when I try to “practice” better habits in the real world, it doesn’t work out. One of the most frustrating things that has happened to me twice now, once with a friend and once with the EU, was when I apologized for my part in things (in situations where I should not have apologized, truthfully, b/c the other person was incredibly rude and out of line) and the other took no responsibility of their own and did not apologize. The EU said nothing, really, and the friend took it as a chance to confirm that the issue was all my fault. I suppose I thought apologizing may diffuse the situation and make the other person less defensive, but I was wrong.

    • cc says:

      right, A, i had the same thing, everyone in my family thinking *i* was the crazy one because i objected to all the crazy.

      …cut to 25 years later, i’m the only one who has worked on herself, leading to my mother, who had always lived in denial, that country right next to insanity, APOLOGIZING to me because she didn’t protect us enough from my father (course it took my father passing away for her to see her part), which is a miracle unto itself. i told her ‘ok, but for this to be really meaningful, you have to apologize to all the other kids too’. and guess what? she did. and my brother said to me, through his tears, after she apologized to him, ‘you did this, we can all thank you for leading the way.’ well, yes. you. can.

      if i may…your good habits will only yield you satisfaction if you practice them with like-minded people. an EU will never own his contribution, that’s part of why he’s EU in the first place. that’s like seeking validation from an invalidator – never gonna happen!

      don’t give up on your good habits – give up on practicing them with people incapable of the changes you have made. THEN you’ll have satisfaction of being responsible in relationships that are truly mutual.

      • SM says:

        “your good habits will only yield you satisfaction if you practice them with like-minded people” I just got another reminder of that. My sister was complaining to me because her boss keeps wanting her to lie on legal documents with her name on them. She refuses to do it and thinks as long as she holds to her convictions he will quit asking her to do it. But he doesnt, it just keeps going on and on. So I gave her some good ole BR advice, a working relationship is like a dating relationship if your values dont match then you dont need to work there. And no matter how many times you tell someone you arent going to lie for them, if they dont hold those same values then they arent going to listen to you and it will continue to be a conflict.

      • A says:

        Thanks, CC. It must have been a shock to hear that after so many years. I’m glad your brother paid you some recognition as well. I don’t think it would happen in my case–I think anything short of physical abuse isn’t recognized by them as being a problem. That and my Mom has been around it for so long/never known anything else, I don’t think she would have that kind of revelation….in fact, I worry that if he passes before she does, she will resent me for not having a relationship with him and not being ‘nice’ to him now (I don’t speak to him unless I absolutely have to).

        I would not have guessed with certain friends that their ‘conflict habits’ would be so poor. Maybe it’s not something we find out until a conflict arises…..although when I think of the friend that I mentioned above, I did notice that she was negative about certain things in my life, particularly those career related. I tried to let it go thinking that it was related to her own job dissatisfaction, but it didn’t sit well, and maybe that was my red flag.

      • Happy Girl says:

        @cc “if i may…your good habits will only yield you satisfaction if you practice them with like-minded people.”

        I love this! It’s so true! It’s like Natalie says. Your boundaries aren’t there to change people. They serve to keep those who can do you harm out.

        I’ve been on both ends of this equation. My filter for deciding what is relevant and constructive, what is really being said to serve other people, and what is just rubbish has strengthened considerably over the past year. And that goes for what comes out my own mouth as well. But if I’m truly trying to have a down to earth, productive conversation with someone and all they hear is “ATTACK, ATTACK, ATTACK!” I’m dead in the water before I even begin.

        • cc says:

          a, sm, happy girl-
          ok, here’s where my hopefully constructive anger comes in…the horrifying, seemingly forever-lasting effects of child abuse and the resultant struggle we are all forced into as a result really piss me the eff off on your behalf and on mine.

          look. child abuse doesn’t end in childhood, it can persist our whole lives because it messes with our meters of right and wrong and what we deserve and what we accept. we don’t even SEE bad behavior that people who didn’t suffer abuse see instinctively until we train ourselves to. and we can spend decades trying to retrain ourselves and recalibrate our meters. this is really hard, and really unfair, but its the only way to stop living in pain. that’s why we’re on BR.

          and look. i almost feel bad that i told you my mother apologized, because most people don’t get that, so i’m sorry if it wasn’t helpful. please know that i never thought she would apologize, i never considered it an option, i persisted in my growth assuming it was never an outcome. yes, her apology helped, but what REALLY helped was my working on myself. by the time she apologized, it was kind of ironic, i didn’t really need it anymore. because the abuse never should have happened in the first place. it was more evidence of HER growth than a resolution for me. its like revenge, it doesn’t solve what you think it will. i’m grateful she apologized, but honestly? it kind of left me feeling a bit empty.

          please stay on your own sides, be your own champions. don’t perpetuate the abuse in your own heads. please love yourselves. when someone treats you wrong, don’t assign them authority over you – give them the discredit they deserve.

          • A says:

            CC, I appreciated your response and it was helpful. I’m glad you shared your mother’s apology (I hope my reply didn’t sound all ‘woe is me, I’ll never have that’, as it wasn’t my intent). I’m happy that she gave it to you, even if you no longer needed it…’s nice to hear that people can come to realizations that we never expected them to reach.

            About re-training ourselves to see shady behaviour, it’s interesting, I think I do recognize that something is off when it happens…but then I put up with it. I’m sometimes just more confused as to why it’s happening than anything…..maybe it’s hard to reconcile someone who seems to ‘like’ me otherwise being a jerk…..determining when something is abusive and out of line vs. someone being human and making a mistake can seem tricky when you’re invested in the situation.

      • Spinster says:

        “right, A, i had the same thing, everyone in my family thinking *i* was the crazy one because i objected to all the crazy.” –cc

        Hey cc, are we related? 😐 Hopefully things will turn out the same way for me (both of my parents are still alive) as it has for you. Keep up the good work.

  18. Stephanie says:

    Something that my shyness forces me to do is silence myself whilst dealing with men, dating and relationships and I just don’t know why. I’m not that shy that I find it impossible to make friends or meet people, in fact at work last week I was the only one within my team that was willing to give a presentation in front of the Chief Executive as none of the alpha males I work with were willing to do it. But with personal relationships I withdraw into myself and I hate that. Sometimes I think maybe that’s why it has taken me so long to overcome the experience I had with the disappearing AC. I don’t avoid criticism but I sometimes internalise it in the wrong way and end up feeling disgruntled or hurt. My best friend is always giving me advice on dating and relationships (she has encountered many ACs and EUMs and has self esteem made of steel!) and I am able to give her practical advice on finance, career prospects etc. She loves me for that, but I just want to get the dating and relationship side of things right for myself.

    I hope this makes sense!

    • FX says:

      Stephanie, I’m a confident extrovert in most areas of my life but struggle with communication and self-expression in relationships, too. In thinking about your comment, I think in my case it is fear rather than shyness at the crux of it.

      I’m afraid to rock the boat and lose someone’s affection/attention/ruin a present or future moment/hear something I don’t want to know, etc. I also internalize and go directly to feeling disapproval, rejection and hurt when anyone is critical of me rather than objectively considering the source and truth of what has been said. And, when I feel hurt, I shut down which perpetuates the cycle. Since I’m feeling wrong (or wronged) and nursing my hurt, I don’t take the necessary risk of speaking up and getting and sorting out the facts.

      “Criticism isn’t the same as disapproval of you as a person or rejection. Listen to the feedback. Is it actually a message saying that you are a ‘less than’ person? Or is that how you see it?”

      “Let this idea go that experiencing conflict is a sign that you’ve done something ‘wrong’. It could easily be the other person, or both of you, having a misunderstanding, or something of nothing. You don’t get to know this if you’re already going “Wah wah wah it’s me!”

      I have always been more like a stereotypical guy and avoided “relationship talk” as much as possible. It made me incredibly uncomfortable and, if it couldn’t be avoided entirely, I would try to smooth whatever I could to make it stop. I now see from what I’ve learned here that a big part of what I was experiencing was fear – both because of my response to criticism and because I might get red flag information that I would have to take action on and change the status quo.

      • Stephanie says:

        FX, thanks, you are right. The crux of it is fear. I fear that the “relationship talk” may go wrong, and I’ll ruin it by losing their affection, love or attention. So, instead I’ll shut down or try to play the “nice girl” and end up feeling like a doormat. I’m working on it though as I know this is an issue that I have.

  19. Chloe says:

    Thanks Natalie, this is good. I had criticism from my ex of almost 2 weeks (we were together 5 months). He accused me of wanting a ‘fighting’ relationship every time I tried asserting my needs. Granted a few times I did overreact, and I also appoligized, but he had it in his head that I want to fight, and that is not true, I want a emotionally available man who can communicate with me. He also had it in his head that I had too many boyfriends and am comparing him to the others. Considering I’m going to be 50 tomorrow and I’ve never been married, it’s not too many. He also had it in his head that I want to go back to my ex (NOT true). So, here I am, another broken relationship and I am wondering why does this keep happening? Since I am turning 50 I’ve decided to re-read my journals from the last decade…and I knew everything I know now 10 years ago! Yet, I still haven;t managed to find a lasting relationship. Any suggestions Natalie on this. I have had a lot of counselling, and yet…no success in this department. I seem to have the tools, know the answers, yet no success. What is one’s inability to learn or change all about? I can honestly say, I’m at the end of my understanding. Thanks!

    • grace says:

      Nothing to suggest but I hear you. I haven’t had one date in over five years. I’m 47 and realistically it may not happen (yeah, not even a date). I know lots of single women older than me, they’re in every church. Maybe God knows something – we’re the ones better off on our own!
      Still, I’ve been happier in the second half of these six years (cried over the ex in the first half) than I’ve ever been in a relationship.
      The sun came out today (the weather in the British Isles has been shocking) and I spent the afternoon at work chirping like a bird.
      As for you, sounds like you just weren’t compatible with your ex. It’s not all on you to know what to do, you can’t have a relationship on your own. But, yes, I get it. Another one bites the dust. Sigh.

    • Ethelreda the Unready says:

      Oh Chloe, I know just how you feel (only I’m turning 43 later this year). I read some fiction/faction I wrote in the late 90s recently, and I too knew all the stuff I know now, THEN! So how come I keep making the same mistakes?

      I guess part of the trouble is the age group. If you’re dating men in your/our age group, the single ones are usually single for a reason – which partly explains how easy it is to see married/attached men and fall for them instead, because at least they SEEM normal.

      If it’s any consolation, I remind myself at these times that most relationships fail. Think about it – all those people out there in partnerships have usually been through lots of failed relationships before they found a keeper, and the older you are, the more likely it is that you’ll have a track record. Don’t be too hard on yourself.

      Honestly, it sounds like you’re well rid of this one, though, if he’s paranoid about your ex’s. Surely he must have ex’s as well? This double standard never fails to piss me off.

      • Allison says:


        “If you’re dating men in your/our age group, the single ones are usually single for a reason – which partly explains how easy it is to see married/attached men and fall for them instead, because at least they SEEM normal.”

        I hope you were kidding?? I don’t think this is attractive at any age!
        Unattached is always unhealthy!

  20. Tina S says:

    Your post was the inspiration for MY post today– linked back to you:

    Thanks again- this one hit home :)

  21. Tulipa says:

    Own your right to express disapproval and to deal with or even instigate conflict, and you will respect the right of people to express their disapproval or to instigate their own conflict. You don’t have to like it and neither do they, but this is better than feeling victimised when you silence yourself or go against you.

    I grew up in a conflict avoident house, it was strange like everything was a secret or had to be swept under the carpet not dealt with openly with people expressing their opinions and disapproval of things, or indeed even just knowing the facts about a situation.
    For example my mum and dad divorced and my mum remarried and my dad decided it was too hard to be a dad and went to court and signed away his rights as a dad and handed them over to my step dad. Now granted I was young but I was given no explanation no reasons and it was a subject that was definately off limits even when I was older I was not allowed to express any disapproval of not knowing where my dad was or why I saw him no more.
    That is just one example of many where discussions and conflict were off limits.
    I grew up silencing myself thinking I had no right to my feelings or guilty if I did feel angry etc. I grew up thinking no one would listen to me and that my feelings didn’t matter.
    I still struggle when I do stand up for myself because I have the doomsday approach this relationship will now be ending because I am standing up for myself. I also stuggle when I stand up for myself and the person is dismissive or denies me my feelings or bullies me back 10x worse then I first stood up for myself.
    I struggle to know what situation is appropriate to say something and what situation is best to let sleeping dogs lie.
    I relate to much of what A said up above.

  22. Sad and Confused says:

    Thank you for this Natalie. I’ve been struggling to deal with negative criticism and verbally abusive comments from the ex-assclown for months now. I’m 4 months into NC, but I was so STUPID as to write an email to him the other day, explaining that all the things he commonly gave me grief about were simply reflections of his own poor character (constantly accusing me of having affairs even though I rarely leave the house, constantly reminding me that I’m not good enough at anything etc).

    But I never should have sent it. I know this now. It just opened the door for a new string of abuse, judgement and negative criticism that were fuelled with hatred and anger. His opinion doesn’t matter. Only my opinion matters. And I know he’s wrong (okay, and probably a paranoid delusional, too).

    Back to NC again. Day one, and counting.

    On a side note, after I finish writing this, I’m packing the dog into the car and driving 4 hours down to the city to stay with family for a few weeks. This will be better for me emotionally than staying on a big lonely homestead out in the middle of the Outback with no one around me for miles

    Thank you again, Natalie :)

  23. dancingqueen says:

    this is…unfortunately….a good post for me right now. Short of it: I have been dating someone exclusively for five months now. He is very respectful and kind and sweet and we spend every weekend together but never are able to see each other during the week because of his travelling all over the country. I was thinking I was falling in love but about six weeks ago I just started turning off sexually….I just dont feel the same. He and I have great talks and a ton in common. At first I thought it was me being EU but now suddenly he is calling less during the week even though we still spend our weekenda together. I spoke to him about it and told him that I like a daily text or something and he took it well and fixed that and now two days…no call or text. He is really sweet face to face and he always does lovely things for me like my yard work when he is around but I am feeling really disrespected…I dont want to have to say this twice!

    • Ethelreda the Unready says:

      @dancingqueen (my favourite ABBA song!):

      A couple of things sort of popped up for me as potential red flags:

      1) travelling all over the countryside during the week – are you sure he’s really doing this? I hate to raise doubts, but a classic EUM thing is being secretly attached, which means that he ‘can’t’ see you except at specific times. Do you have his home phone number?

      2) Are you guys sexual partners yet? And when you say ‘turning off’, have you turned him down sexually recently, BEFORE he went distant on you? This might be your clue – if he senses that you’re sexually off him, he might be trying to protect himself from a possible dumping.

      Maybe remind him about the text – but also do your homework on him …

      • dancingqueen says:

        Hey Ethelrelda thanks for the response:) Sorry but this might be looooooong……
        re; your questions: No I have been to his house-I am there all the time, we switch weekends back and forth between his and mine as he and I live 45 minutes apart- and I know that he is straight up with his job as he is the former boss of my friend, so I know how busy his schedule is. He flies out 2 times or more a week to various states.
        On the surface things seem great and in the beginning 3 months they were or so…..but lately things just feel boring and hollow, despite that I enjoy our time together-2 full days a week, all weekend- on the surface.
        I thought, or I guess think, that we share core values in terms of how we live our lives; we both supposedly value commitment and honesty. He grew up in the Midwest in a traditional family and seems pretty down to earth, but lately between my lack of interest sexually and his less contact during the week-the sporadic phone call or text, not daily contact when we are apart, even a daily email-I am feeling doubts.
        Firstly, I just don’t feel as attracted anymore, due to feeling like there is not the emotional connection in the relationship that I need. On a pure gentleman level, things are great; he is very respectful both verbally and with behavior-he for example, went out of his way a few weeks ago to search for the perfect flea market bike for me and drive an hour and a half to get it with me, or another example, he works like crazy in my garden helping me with all kinds of things without asking, or helps me read my thesis and edit it-but I never hear anything about his inner worries or world. It is like our lives exist on this plane on one level, but I don’t feel closer to him each month. I just feel like I know him better on the surface.
        I think that I am wondering if this is the same old same old just slightly” better” version of EU that I have had in the past; my “epiphany” relationship was a guy who did all the great things on the surface and then suddenly flipped out and was a total ass…..My current relationship does not seem the type to do that but I do know that his last important girlfriend, 3 years ago, for 3 years lasting, told him that he was not over his ex wife and had commitment issues. They used to have screaming fights. He said that he took “about a year too long” to break up with her, and I know that he let her move to another state with him, when he was not sure. I don’t want to be in another status quo relationship where, on the surface, I have the pants of a great relationship-“the looks of it with actions, etc” but not the shirt and shoes-the intimacy that is emotional, the verbal expressions of love, the sexual feeling that helps you feel close as well-I am really confused! I hate to say this but I wish I could cyrogenically freeze this relationship, until I figure out how I feel. For me this lack of daily contact, after my short respectful comments about my need for it a few weeks ago, is telling: I got a three word text this morning at 5 am, after two days of no contact, about wondering how I am, after spending the whole weekend gardening and biking together….this seems just odd. Plus I am PMSing which does not help:( Part of me just wants to bail. I don’t know how to handle talking out this conflict….

        • grace says:

          It may be sexist of me to say this but men tend to be more action-oriented than women. I don’t have emotionally deep convos with the men in my family but the other weekend a couple of them swept into my house, fixed my computer, wired a light fitting, hung up a picture, and unblocked the sink. Did I feel cared for? You bet.
          He may not feel the need for daily contact. I know a woman who travels on business who has to be reminded by her husband to check in with him. Instead of pursuing a daily text, how about a compromise of every other day? Or thereabouts, the thought or monitoring it makes me twitchy.
          I’m not a shining example of good relationship behaviour but in a five month relationship I wouldn’t expect daily contact. I wouldn’t even want it ! It’s okay if you do, but if he doesn’t it may be better to find a compromise rather than expect him to do it your way. And, here’s a thing, can’t you call him?
          That you’ve gone off sex is a bit of an alarm bell to me. It may not be his fault. If high drama turns you on, the lack of it can equal boring.
          I guess only you can call it – are you expecting too much? A relationship can’t fulfil all your needs. Or maybe there really is something missing.

          • yoghurt says:

            I dunno, Grace. I agree with you on the daily text (I wouldn’t like it either) but I also think that if he’s got a problem with it then he should say so and explain. Or compromise, agree to do it and stick with it.

            Mind, I now have a deep deep loathing for anyone saying that they’ll do something and then not doing (conversely I myself have been guilty of this a lot and I’m trying to fix it now). It smacks of that passive-aggressive ‘see how much I can get away with’ mind-messery. But I might be over-stating it.

        • Aurora says:

          Maybe you want a little more with him (progression)?
          I’m starting to see and understand that I start to get bored when things start feeling routine. Maybe spice it up? Throw in an extra date sometime.. like have him over, or go out, or pick him up after a flight? Or maybe you two need a heart to heart.. pour some wine and slowly open the conversation, you may be able to get him to open up about what it’s like when he’s away, or find out if he’s feeling like he did when he stayed to long with the ex.

          One thing I learned (barely) is that you/we can focus on what he’s doing or what may be missing, or you can focus on what you may be able to do to inspire change. I’m not talking about being a doormat or not being yourself. Just that, we can worry/complain about stuff like, he never takes me out anymore (for example) and leave it on him rather than realize, hey! I can suggest something to do too.

        • A says:


          Some men don’t like talking on the phone all that much, but at the same time, you’ve been dating for a little while and it’s a bit like you’re in a long distance relationship since you can only see each other on weekends. I’ve done the LDR thing before and I don’t think it would have worked for me if we weren’t in touch very regularly, so I get where you’re coming from. Since you don’t have the physical proximity, it’s nice to at least check in with one another, share the details of your day, etc, even if it’s only briefly.

          This worried me a bit too: “It is like our lives exist on this plane on one level, but I don’t feel closer to him each month. I just feel like I know him better on the surface.” I know that some people take a bit of time to open up (I’m one of those people) but if you’re not feeling like there is a progression and you’re not getting to know him better, that is concerning.

          Is his job going to be this way long term? If so, are you ok with having a long term relationship with someone you only see on weekends? I agree with Grace that you could try initiating contact during the week as well (as NML has said before, we shouldn’t leave it all to the guy). If he isn’t receptive to that, then I would try talking to him again by saying what you’ve said here: you only see him on weekends and understand why that has to be the case, but you would like to be in touch more during the week, and you’re also concerned that you haven’t gotten to know him as well as you would like.

        • Ethelreda the Unready says:

          @dancing queen –

          Well … You know more about your guy than I do, but it does seem that something is not right either with you or him or both.

          Have you considered that you may be EU – that you need drama to feel aroused?

          Or that yes, he is EU himself – and is holding you at arm’s length all the time, emotionally?

          Or both?

          Don’t let the PMS wig you out, though – NEVER MAKE BIG DECISIONS WHEN PREMENSTRUAL. Best advice I have ever been given, and when I use it, I’m always a lot happier!

        • Chloe says:

          DQ This is exactly what i am going through right now, we have been together 5 months as well. He sounds like your guy almost to a T. Polite, surface, and not emotionally open…..until I lead him to go there. I also asked him for daily contact and he did provide, however, I still didn’t feel closer to him. We also saw each other mainly on weekends and he liked it that way after we got intimate. He hated fights and blamed me for them, like I brought out anger in him (ignorant) I persoanlly think he has repressed anger and can’t handle it when he is, maybe your guy is like that too. I feel like I would have been the girl he went out with that he says they fought all the time (BS!) She probably got tired of his shallow emotions and reacted to it, like I did and this caused fights. I also do not feel closer and finding myself being angry when on my own and not feeling like I am even in a relationship. I don’t think my relationship will work for these reasons, but I am reading what others say too. Good luck! Sounds like he is EU just like mine, but nice. I want more depth myself and to feel a deeper connection….but do you think it may come in time? and how much time are you willing to give it?

    • Laurie says:

      Hey dancingqueen!
      I think Ethelreda makes some good points. My exfiance was also super sweet and thoughtful in the beginning, and we only saw each other on the weekend (because of my work). We hit a series of pretty big bumps in the road and then his texts just stopped. For a couple of weeks I initiated EVERYTHING. Not good. Problem is I kept begging him to initiate. He would throw out a crumb or two, I would get excited, and then it would wane. It was incredibly degrading.

      You’ve already told this guy about that you would appreciate hearing from him on a daily basis. That is hardly unreasonable in an exclusive relationship. In my opinion, the fact that you had to ask in the first place isn’t a great sign. Personally, I wouldn’t recommend hounding the point. You can’t force someone to consider you, and as you say, you are already feeling disrespected. In my case, belaboring the point only exacerbated that feeling.

      Weekend relationships can be illusionary. I wasn’t running around on my guy throughout the week and trying to cover anything up; but it prevented us from getting to interact during the mundane. I think it often creates a false sense of intimacy when you are only hooking up during the weekend. I don’t think it has to be that way, but I believe it was in my case.

      On the surface, it appears to me that if you are “turning off” and he isn’t really initiating, perhaps you both are incompatible?

    • Tea Cozy says:

      dancingqueen, I have mixed feelings about the daily text thing. I understand your desire to keep the connection alive with him during the week, but it seems a bit arbitrary to demand a daily text. What does that text signify to you? Why do you attach so much meaning to what is rather crumb-like communication?

      I don’t mean to interrogate — I’m really curious why this is an issue that triggers such strong feelings of disrespect if the guy is otherwise treating you very well. Are your Spidey Senses tingling about him being away during the week?

  24. Happy Girl says:

    One of the most frequent criticisms I ever received is that I was “too quiet.” I used to truly believe this about myself until I started to really pay attention to the people who said this. 9 times out of 10, they didn’t stop talking long enough for me to get a word edgewise, only talked about themselves, and pummeled me with sob stories to which I couldn’t appropriately respond. I came to the conclusion that I am certainly NOT too quiet-I just put a high value on what I say and who I say it to. Give me the right person, and we will have mutual hours of conversation. Point is, as Natalie said, always consider-and maybe even study-your sources.

    • Tulipa says:

      Hi HappyGirl, I know that criticism well too it is in a lot of my school reports and recent feedback from my employer was I was too quiet. I just think urghhhhhh. I too am not quiet if I know the person well and can be myself.
      I like what you said about people bombarding you with their troubles and stories I find that too and as for getting a word in you just can’t and if you do say something it is often glossed over and the conversation returns to them.

    • Spinster says:

      Story of my life, Happy Girl. LMAO. 😉 Good comment.

      • Stephanie says:

        I too am described as too quiet. To be fair I’m surrounded (at work and personally) by a lot of loud and very outspoken people. My daughter is also the complete opposite to me.

    • Tea Cozy says:

      I used to get that comment too, Happy Girl. I always found it rude. It’s not like we could turn around and say, “No, actually, YOU are too loud and talkative!” Heh.

      I’m no longer super-quiet, but I do really appreciate quieter people. I’ve found they open up nicely too when I ask them good questions. I think my culture (U.S.) waaaay over-values extroverts.

      So, rock on with your quietly thoughtful self! :-)

  25. Tina says:

    For me it can be extremely difficult to decipher between “constructive criticism” and just being plain ol mean. As I have gotten slightly older (late twenties) I have become a little more lax in terms of my appearance. When I was in my early twenties I was crazy high maintenance..perfect hair, nails, shoes all off the time, avid interest in fashion and make up…but this was all nothing but vain attempts to disguise my insecurities. As I have gotten older I realise that none of it was thaaaat important, that it’s something to be enjoyed but nothing to become obsessed with. Plus I like my slobby days and don’t feel like I should have to wear make up or be perfectly turned out every day. Unfortunately the men in my life did not respond well to this. With my last ex I would get criticism on my dress sense, make up application, hair removal habits and body. He believed that with some “work” I could be more attractive than I was/am. Of course at the time I thought that perhaps he was being helpful (he wasn’t) and it hurt. But I refuse and have refused since to budge and realise that these criticisms are more about the people who deliver them than the people who they are delivered to. I take care of myself, go to the gym, put on a little make up, buy the odd nice dress out of what I can afford, try my best with my hair..I shouldn’t have to be a glamazonian everyday to feel good about myself and earn respect from others.

    • natslayer says:

      Good on you Tina! A lot of men have these weird perceptions that we will stay frozen as the same goddess they worshipped at the very start, and ultimately says more about their insecurities than it does about your appearance. Glad to hear they are your exes. I used to be high-maintenance in that respect too, and only recently learnt that you can look as good as Miranda Kerr, but that counts for nowt if you have no self-respect for your own values and boundaries.

  26. natslayer says:

    That is extremely timely. I have been utilising skills learnt in CBT, and this falls very much in line with what I learnt! Criticism and conflict is part of your life, whether you like it or not, but it’s up to us how we internalise and learn from what is being said or done. Thanks NML! CBT session in a post, and bookmarked for future reference!

    • Tea Cozy says:

      CBT (cognitive behavioral therapy, for folks new to the term) is terrific stuff. So much of what Natalie writes is so well aligned with it — questioning irrational beliefs, reality testing our negative ideas, and so on. She nails it!

      If anyone is interested in self-help resources in CBT, the books by David Burns (“Feeling Good” is one) are good starting points. He has one on relationships that’s quite good, too: “Intimate Connections”.

  27. Larissa says:

    “Criticism and conflict also doesn’t mean that a relationship is over or on the way to being so.”

    It’s very hard for me to understand this, even at age 43 – not just in romantic relationship, but all the time, and it’s made me a crazy conflict/confrontation-avoiding bundle of nerves. It never ceases to amaze me that some people just say whatever pops into their heads, no matter how angry/mean/abusive/outrageous, and then continue on as if it never happened the next day, or even say the exact opposite! I am trying to learn how to master the basics, like saying, “That is not fair” to my boss when she lashes out because she’s in a bad mood. It is absolutely painful for me. I feel like if I stand up for myself, I am absolutely ending any possiblity of a good relationship (crazy, I know). On the other hand, I feel like if I keep just being a doormat, I’m going to go postal someday… :(

    • lawrence says:

      Hi, Larissa –

      This is just addressing the romantic relationship issue (my sympathies for your boss-situation :) ).

      I don’t think you’re crazy for suspecting that standing up for yourself could cause a problem with your man. Both sexes – I’m generalizing, of course! – need to tread rather fine lines at times when it comes to their basic natures. Men are by and large extremely competitive. They want to “win,” and therefore need to tread the line between being masculinely “dominant/confident” in certain aspects and “domineering/controlling.” Women often try to tread the line between being feminine/submissive and independent and assertive. Recently I read a blog by Hot Alpha Female, The Surrendered Alpha Female?! Is It Really Possible?, which considered the seeming paradox of being both alpha – independent, ambitious, assertive – and “surrendered” (feminine, non-controlling). You might find that article interesting.

      I reflected on something similar in my blog article: “Your Significant Opponent: Competitive Romantic Relationships.” The idea is that women and men ought to be careful to avoid a competitive relationship. Rather, cooperation should be the order of the day.

      And that’s where accepting and giving criticism – standing up for yourself vs. capitulating – comes into play. I think there’s almost an art form to giving and receiving good criticism, as well as handling the kinds of disagreements which arise from openly expressing yourself. I would strongly recommend psychologists John Gray or Richard Driscoll in this regard, since they dwell in considerable detail on the different ways women and men view these things.

      By the way, I never found you at all reluctant to assert your own opinions in our discussions – particularly on politics – on another site. :)

  28. FX says:

    Larissa, I think I can recently relate. This may not exactly be your situation but I had an email response to my email in a business situation a couple of days ago and thought the response had a critical tone. I had a constant icky feeling of waiting for the other shoe to drop until I spoke with the person today. I consciously answered the call with my usual perky tone – intentionally hitting the reset button myself, I guess. And, as it turned out, it was the right thing for me to do because there was no drama on the other end. I had magnified their criticism because of my own insecurities. I’m so glad I didn’t react to taking it personally. I am not evolved enough yet that it didn’t hit me in my gut but I am learning! I let it ride long enough to get more information and am so glad I did. I think if the attack isn’t entirely personal – even if it’s our idea that’s shot down, we benefit from not taking criticism personally and it isn’t busting our boundaries or self-respect to let it go. If I had said something out of anxiety to try to “fix” the (self assigned to me) problem, it would have created drama that did not previously exist. Ooohmmm!!!(Taking a deep breath as I do when AC memories come up I want to “fix,” too.) “

  29. dancingqueen says:

    @ grace, laurie, etherelda and everyone who answered my whine for help….thank you!!!!! i am still pmsing but already feeling a bit better. I have so much to think about from all you wise ladies….I am concerned about my lack of desire and also I am confused about why I feel that I need that daily contact especially when I am not a big talker on the phone. I guess I feel that, for me, if I am sleeping with someone they need to do the daily cute text just to show respect for our relationship….I guess also that I feel that maybe this is a sigh he is taking me for granted….not sure. But thanks for all the feedback ladies….I will try to figure this out if I can:)

  30. FedUp says:

    With a verbally abusive and controlling father and an enabling mother, I don’t find this works at all. Even when I call my dad out on his lies and BS, he makes us apologize anyway. Is it any wonder why I hate him?

  31. Lawrence says:

    Hi, FedUp (and others) –

    I think you’ve pointed to a problem when it comes to receiving and giving criticism. When you’ve been criticized a lot, you eventually reach “criticism overload.” In that state, you’re firmly in defensive/survival mode. You simply don’t have enough emotional reserves to handle more negative comments.

    We’re all naturally a bit defensive about being critiqued, but many of us have enough positive feedback to more or less immunize ourselves to very negative comments.

    My only thought for people who are on “criticism overload” is to find a way to get some positive thoughts flowing. Perhaps cognitive behavior therapy and/or any decent therapist might help. I’d strongly recommend David Burns’ FEELING GOOD if you want to take a stab at it alone, though it can be pretty difficult to dig yourself out of this kind of deep, dark hole without some help.



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