Dear Neil: I love my partner with all my heart, but we have reached a point where she may leave me. When we first got together, I lied about previous sexual partners. I wanted her to like me regardless of my past. She found out I was lying, but I was so afraid of being judged that I couldn’t tell the truth. This set me up as someone who lied and was untrustworthy. At work, I didn’t want to tell her that someone was very nice to me and perhaps was hitting on me, so I waited until I left that job. She got upset with me, thinking if I couldn’t tell her when it was happening, this was cause for concern.
The other problem is that she bought me a really nice gift for my birthday, but I was stressing, and when I get upset I yell. So I yelled as I was talking, and she felt as if I was yelling at her right after she gave me this great gift. In the past, we went to a counselor, but I didn’t change my behavior and now she doesn’t want to go to counseling with me anymore. I was advised to apologize, but instead tried to explain myself, which only made things worse. I feel like if we went together I could be more accountable. She thinks I’m a rude and ungrateful person. What can I do?
Dear Ingrate: You could get accountable all on your own. Among other things, what you’re describing is that you have such a fear of being judged unworthy and of not measuring up that you’re afraid of telling the truth, and were resistant to counseling suggestions that may have helped you to improve. Further, you feel entitled to yell when you get stressed, regardless of who else is around, and without regard to the effect your yelling has on others. These behaviors are guaranteed to insure that your love relationships will be contentious and chaotic.
This is your work, not couple’s work—at least not yet. It begins with your low self-esteem, fear of rejection and fear of not being good enough—which is driving most of the behaviors you describe. If you don’t address your fear of being judged and of being considered unworthy, you will remain defensive and have a very difficult time being genuine and honest.
Yelling in the presence of another person feels harsh and intimidating, regardless of your motives. Perhaps you might reconsider how to express stress and/or frustration that does not feel distressing or frightening to someone else. Also, there are several things you have said or done that indeed require an apology, such as misrepresenting your past, not sharing information that an intimate partner would reasonably want to know, expressing your deep appreciation for her wonderful gift and giving her the impression that you were yelling at her when she had done nothing wrong.
I cannot tell whether your partner has passed the point of no return, but if she hasn’t, these changes will help you begin to restore trust and respect with her.