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Dear Life Kit: My boyfriend says I need to live on my own before we move in together

Photographs by Issarawat Tattong/Getty; Westend61/Getty; Eoneren/Getty; Collage by Becky Harlan/NPR
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Need some really good advice? Look no further than Dear Life Kit. In each episode, we pose a few of your most pressing questions to an expert. These questions were answered by clinical psychologists Julie Schwartz Gottman and John Gottman, authors of Fight Right: How Successful Couples Turn Conflict into Connection. The conversation has been edited for length and clarity.

Read more of The Gottmans's research-backed tips about how to have fights that result in "compassion and connection."

First of all, it sounds like you are being patronized. Indeed, that is why you feel like a child. He is saying "You're not mature enough to live with me." And he's placing himself in a superior position to you. So it's a form of condescension, even contempt. He's saying, "You're too immature for me." So it's no wonder you feel resentment.

Before you reach a compromise, there needs to be more discussion to try to understand what his position is. What is he afraid of in terms of moving in with you? Obviously, there's some anxiety on his part and he's not expressing it. Why is he feeling so anxious about you moving in and you having to change yourself in order to suit him?

Then share with him what it means to be asked to do these things. How it might feel insulting to you. Then recount your own experiences of having lived with a roommate and the maturing you've already done.

There are a lot of people who are not comfortable with touch or expressing things in words depending on their cultural background, their family background and so on.

As far as communication goes, maybe he can start by looking for what you're doing right and saying "thank you." For example, "Thank you very much for emptying the dishwasher." You can also model, if you're not already, lots of compliments and appreciation for him.

Then try and understand his world around touch. Is he uncomfortable with touch in public or also in private? This is something you might want to explore with him. Ask him some questions about it. For example, "What do you feel when I reach out and touch your shoulder? What do you feel when I take your hand? What does touch mean to you?" Once you've done that, then perhaps you can ask him, "Is there any form of touch that you feel comfortable with? For example, just holding my hand?"

I would add: How does he express affection and respect toward you? Does he do it through texting? Gifts? Service? Like cleaning the gutters or mowing the lawn or something like that. Look for the other ways he's expressing affection and respect.

After five months of a relationship, they're totally normal. It probably took me (Julie) about two years to feel secure with John, that I was well-loved — and I had to hear those reassurances over and over again.

A lot of times we are so terribly self-critical that we cannot take in the reassurance that our partner is giving us because it doesn't fit with our impressions of ourselves. So work hard to crack open your chest and take in the love and reassurance your partner is giving you, because indeed that is a gift, and it is real.

If he wants you to hear him, he's sabotaging getting listened to. Let him know that you feel blamed and that puts you on the defensive. What he needs to do is describe his own feelings about the situation (not about a personality flaw in you, but the situation he's upset about) and what his positive need is.

Say this: "Describe what you're feeling, like 'I'm angry, I'm upset, I'm stressed' about what situation," and then he needs to say what he needs from you in order to feel better about the relationship.


Have a question you want to ask Dear Life Kit? Whether it's about family, friendship, work conflict or something else, share it here.

This digital story was edited by Malaka Gharib. Listen to Life Kit on Apple Podcasts and Spotify, or sign up for our newsletter.

Copyright 2024 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Becky Harlan is a visual and engagement editor for NPR's Life Kit.