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Identify what matters to you in partner, life

Washington Post

Hello, Carolyn: I’ve been with “John” for two years. For the most part, our relationship is everything I wanted. Every now and then, though, I pick up on things that really irritate me. For example, he really enjoys a comedian whose act is completely awful (in my opinion), with all the racist, blue humor you can pack into it. I really don’t like anything that comes out of this comedian’s mouth, and when I try to explain why, my boyfriend just says, “Yeah, but it’s funny and no one else says it.”

I completely judge him for liking this humor. Then I argue with myself that I’m too sensitive or trying to sabotage my relationship. John is otherwise a very nice person and treats me very well. I admit I lack self-confidence. In some ways I don’t feel “good enough” for him. Do you think it’s possible for someone like me to want to subconsciously end this relationship to “get it over with”? – C.

It’s possible. We subconsciously talk ourselves into and out of things all the time – a process usually set in motion by a truth we wish would just go away, something we prefer to banish from conscious thought.

In your case, it sounds as if you’re talking yourself both into and out of John. That would make sense, though, since it sounds as if you have two truths you wish would go away: that you don’t trust John, and you don’t trust yourself.

As for trusting John: You say he appreciates the comedy because “no one else says it.” Some people wouldn’t say “it” because they don’t believe “it” – assuming “it” is some politically incorrect line of thinking. Others are quiet because they believe “it” completely, but have learned there’s big trouble in saying so out loud.

You already know from John’s behavior in other situations which is true about him. It’s human nature to want to share what we believe and why, and why we’re right; even when we’re trying to be discreet, people have tells, John included.

If you’ve seen hatred in John, his treating you “very well” doesn’t supersede that; people are rarely one clear thing or another. The trick is to identify things that do matter, to you, so you aren’t sidetracked by small things that don’t.

Conveniently, this is also the path to trusting your judgment.

You, like John, are emitting your true feelings in spite of yourself. When those feelings don’t fit the narrative you had in mind – say, you’ve envisioned marrying someone, while your feelings are telling you you’re unhappy – then your mind starts searching for explanations that will keep your vision intact. “I just need X to change,” say, or “He’s especially stressed lately.” Your mind takes your unhappiness and puts a palatable spin on it.

To be more confident in your choices, make a conscious effort to work from your raw feelings, the ones that haven’t been processed yet by the rationalization factory. Train your attention on your everyday life, at home, at work, at play, at rest, alone, with John, with friends. Start naming your feelings and connecting cause to effect.

It’s not a perfect system; you’ll still make mistakes, feel confused, maybe even need help. Identifying feelings just helps you get off to an uncluttered start.

E-mail Carolyn at, or chat with her online at 9 a.m. Pacific time each Friday at
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