How Can He Get His Boyfriend to Fight Fair?

We get a lot of advice questions coming in at EMandLO.com, but sadly, we just can’t answer them all. Which is why, once a week, we turn to you to decide how best to advise a reader. Make YOUR CALL on the letter below by leaving your advice in the comments section. 

My boyfriend and I have been together for 3 years. We’re very serious and have been talking about getting married, especially now that we can!  I love him, he’s great…except in this one area: When we fight, he gets super mad and resorts to low blows. If he feels I’ve criticized him in some way that makes him feel bad, he tries to hit back with something super personal, mean and hurtful. When we disagree, he gets dismissive and condescending. He’ll call me crazy or stupid and will melodramatically scream “We’re doomed!” or “We should break up!” He eventually comes around and apologizes when he’s calmed down. I don’t think he’s genuinely abusive, I just think he’s insecure and doesn’t have the right filters due to a less than stellar family upbringing. I expect fights in any relationship, I just think in a respectful relationship the fighting has to be FAIR — no insults, no low blows, no disrespect. How can I get my boyfriend to see and respect that. Or, to use his language, are we doomed?

— Whipping Boy

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10 Comments on "How Can He Get His Boyfriend to Fight Fair?"

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A lot of the discussion seems to be “what I would do” or pseudo-psychoanalysis of the boyfriend, but that is not the answer sought. I think the heart of this issue is to answer the question: what if it never changes? Is he willing to marry someone who in their worst moments may always revert to that sort of reaction? You alone cannot change him, all the logic/love/reasoning/therapy in the world cannot change him if he doesn’t want to; he has to see it as a problem and be willing to change and all the work that entails. That said… Read more »
Dave W
Your BF sounds like he has a super-fragile ego and lacks the tools to deal with certain normal situations. What’s particularly striking is that it’s not just fights or criticism that send him into DEFCON 5, but that mild stuff like disagreeing prompts his brain to issue an “extreme measures required!!” message. Maybe you’re already aware that he always needs to be right. This is something I find soooo tiring. Your tolerance might be higher than mine, but I don’t think anyone should have to deal with this. It’s the antithesis of give-and-take. Also, his apologies are nice, but are… Read more »
“That could indicate he’s self-conscious because he knows it’s not quite right. And it means he might stay calm if you two see a counselor.” See, that makes it worse to me. That makes it like, “so you KNOW you’re being an asshole, and would never dream of trying it on or even in front of anyone else, meaning it’s reserved especially for me?” That’s what I always tell my friends when they say, “my girlfriend is crazy.” I say, “does she act like that toward her boss? Toward a cop? Toward a stranger on the street? No? Then she’s… Read more »
Dave W
I can’t agree. The “makes it worse” response is overly egocentric to me. So, when the realization hits that they don’t do this with other people, you feel more upset? Doesn’t make sense to me. Does that also mean that on witnessing someone else endure that crap, you feel some relief? If I saw that, I’d think, “Oh man, it’s worse than I thought”. It just seems like spin designed to amp up the feeling of victimization or personal hurt. Same goes for the crazy girlfriend. I don’t think your friends were being clinical when they used the word crazy.… Read more »
“So, when the realization hits that they don’t do this with other people, you feel more upset?” Sure. A generally disordered personality is easy to blow off, or ignore, or empathize with. A clear-headed loved one who reserves their cruelty for you is a much more painful thing. “Does that also mean that on witnessing someone else endure that crap, you feel some relief? If I saw that, I’d think, “Oh man, it’s worse than I thought”.” It would explain a lot about that person, and again, yes, a certain relief comes with knowing that they’re an asshole across the… Read more »
Dave W
I agree that we’re coming at this from essentially two different schools of thought. Whereas I step back a little and try to see the big picture, I’d say that you view things through a more personal lens. First, to clarify something. When I said “around other people” in my first post, it was meant to be synonymous with “in a more public way”. I think that’s how you took it, given the boss, cop and stranger references. So, it’s not just their BF/GF who gets exposed to these behaviors, it’s usually their inner circle: family members, close friends and… Read more »
” Whereas I step back a little and try to see the big picture, I’d say that you view things through a more personal lens.” I mean this is you and me here speculating as to whether the BF is generally like this or whether it’s just in his relationship – OP’s letter doesn’t say. I guess my advice would be, “step back and look at the big picture if these things actually take place across the bigger picture, but view it through a personal lens if he pretty much only does this to you.” All good points you make… Read more »
Dave W
Your point is well-taken. I thought more about this yesterday and realized I was too harsh about something. I shouldn’t have used the word “spin” in my 2nd post, because it indicates that the sentiment is based on a re-arranging of facts after further reflection. But I believe now that there is a genuine emotional reaction in the moment. That reaction might even be the experience of a majority of people in the hypothetical situation, I don’t know. And it’s been said that feelings aren’t right or wrong, or “erroneous” either. It should have been enough to contend that actions… Read more »
I’d break up with him if I were you, or at least put the brakes on any plans for marriage. Nasty fighting is a HUGE red flag. I don’t have any advice because I don’t think you can work with this type of personality. How are you supposed to have a rational-yet-critical discussion with someone who explodes at rational criticism? I’m sorry, but your BF sounds histrionic, immature and unstable. All of which makes for a fun casual partner, but a terrible spouse. I say dump him in an email – so he can’t screamily interrupt you – and tell… Read more »
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