This All-Too-Common Relationship Problem Is NOT OKAY

Illustrated by Abbie Winters.
Dear Kelsey,

My boyfriend and I have been together for about a year and a half and we live together. I am so in love with him, but I'm not sure he's that in love with me. About five months ago, we were inseparable and loved being together. We could talk about anything and we hardly ever fought.

Cut to today — he's always snapping at me and getting crabby with me a lot for the smallest things (for instance, nudging him at dinner because I want him to look up from his phone). I feel like he's annoyed with me or tired of me all the time lately. I can never do anything right. I don't know what to do anymore.

Help me,
Almost Heartbroken

Dear Almost Heartbroken,

There are two famous quotes ringing in my head right now and I'm not sure which one you need more. So I'll just lead with both:

"You can't put back a petal when it falls from a flower, or sweeten up a fellow when he starts turnin' sour." — Nellie Forbush, South Pacific

"You teach people how to treat you." — Oprah, I think

However questionable the sources are, I've kept these lessons in my back pocket for years, because we all need them sometimes. I don't know what precipitated your boyfriend's change in attitude; it may be a temporary or a permanent shift. But I know this isn't okay. And I know there's probably nothing you can do about it. It's virtually impossible to change another person's attitude for them. The only business you can handle is your own, and right now, I think your business is showing your boyfriend — and yourself — how you are to be treated.

That doesn't necessarily mean kicking him out or walking out the door (though it may well come to that). It means you start by very clearly pointing out this pattern of behavior and how it affects you. Sometimes, good people do get stuck in a shitty behavior pattern without realizing it, and sometimes they can snap out of it. If you bring it to his attention like this, maybe that'll be the case for him — or maybe not. But really, the point is you letting him know, in no uncertain terms, that you will not take this unfair and unkind treatment, period.
Illustrated by Abbie Winters.

I realize this may not feel like a cut and dry case of mistreatment to you. On paper, it doesn't look like the model of abuse we're used to seeing. And even in the most overtly abusive relationships, it can be hard to see the problem when you're on the inside. So as an outsider, I'm telling you: Just because it's not abuse doesn't mean it's not a problem.

Now, I'm being quite conservative because I don't have much data to go on, but for all I know, your relationship could be overtly abusive. Verbal and emotional abuse is very real and very damaging, and if that rings even the faintest bell for you, please know that there is immediate help available to you with resources like the National Domestic Violence Hotline. I'd also suggest confiding in a friend you trust to get their take on the situation if you're at all uncertain. But even if there is no abuse going on in this relationship, that doesn't make it okay. It needs to end.

When you're in a hostile situation, you're on alert all the time. You say you're being constantly snapped at, you feel you can do nothing right. This behavior has made you feel both defensive and defenseless, and whether or not that was his intention, it's just not a healthy dynamic for any relationship. Something here has to change. Immediately. It's utterly unfair for you to be the one to instigate that change, but that injustice is simply not as important as you being secure and comfortable in your home.

Write down what you'd like to say and how you'd like to say it. This is always incredibly helpful in tough conversations, but in emotionally charged situations, I think it's mandatory. The script may change a bit in the moment, but it's important for you to get clear on what you need to say. Find a time very soon (I'm talking days, not weeks, and absolutely not months) and say it. Maybe it's a plan-ahead scenario, where you ask him to come talk on the couch, or maybe you'll need to bring it up the next time he snaps at you. Yes, an ideal situation is, well, ideal. But if you sit around waiting for the perfect mood and moment, then you may be waiting for a while. Time is a factor here, because relationships are full of slippery slopes and this is one you two must not slip down any further.

No one deserves to live with mistreatment of any kind. No one deserves to be in a relationship with a partner who's constantly annoyed with them or treats them with consistent disrespect. You do not deserve this; you deserve someone who will support you, look out for you, love you, be kind to you, and stick up for you. Right now, you need to be that someone for yourself. You're already doing it by reaching out to a stranger with an advice column. Asking for help is a vital start and you should keep doing it (whether it's that trusted friend, a professional resource, or both, as the case may be). Remember that no matter how vulnerable you feel, you are also your own knight in shining armor. You are the good guy. And that's what you deserve.

Welcome to Unprofessional Advice: a new column to help you handle problems of all kinds. Got a relationship query? Workplace drama? Is your roommate a narcotics kingpin? With zero professional experience and a complete lack of credentials, I will take on your issues with compassion and humor. Got a question? Email me at:

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