- Dr. Love in the Media
He Won't Propose
October 1, 2001 Ask Dr. Love Advice Column
My boyfriend and I have spent 5 years together. We met in our first year of med. school. Since graduating, I am living a 4 hour drive form him. He has to take his lisencing exams before we can get engaged.
He wants to take it soon, but he is not studying. Whenever I ask him 'how r ur studies'i get yelled at.
How do i get him to study without making him angry?
You have an agenda that includes trying to get your boyfriend to study, so that he passes his exams, so that he can finally become engaged to you. Each time you ask about his studies, he feels pressured with a capital p.
You are actually locked in a power struggle. The more you pressure, the more angry he gets and the more he digs in his heels. Your boyfriend also sounds a bit passive aggressive, which means that he expresses his anger by withholding. In this case, the more you nag, the more he becomes angry, and the more he withholds what you want.
You can break the power struggle and minimize his anger and consequent withholding behaviors by backing off and not nagging him. This is a short term solution to your problem, and one that may 'trick' him into popping the question. However, you have two larger problems, which you need to face.
First, I would be concerned by the fact that he is dragging his feet when it comes to becoming engaged. What does this tell you about his wanting to marry, and what does this say about his willingness to become truly intimate? Second, the way he handles his anger is going to create problems throughout your relationship. If you are locking horns with him now and finding yourself reduced to the nagging role, what do you think is going to happen over time?
This pattern is going to worsen, believe you me. If you intend to spend your life with this man, you would be wise to point out what is going on: namely that he seems to be dragging his feet when it comes to proposing. I would ask him to own his thoughts and feelings on this subject. Second, point out that he behaves in ways that invite your nagging (describe what he does--that he won't study or take his exams). Then, when you nag, he becomes angry and more withholding. I would ask him to look at the way he doesn't directly handle his anger.
When a person isn't willing to own his own anger, a common way of 'releasing' that aggression is to behave in ways that infuriate his partner. In this way, he projects his unwanted anger onto you and makes you the recepticle for his own unacceptable angry feelings? Another way to'release' disowned anger is through passive aggressive actions, in which the person sticks it to the other by withholding whatever he/she desires. In this case, marriage. We need to find out if his foot dragging is an indirect expression of anger and/or a sign that he is conflicted about becoming hitched. If he is resistant to marry, you will need to openly discuss the issue and resolve it before you go forward.
Likewise, we need to find out if he's passive-aggressive. If this is so, which I think it is, he needs to recognize this and work in therapy on changing his pattern, otherwise life with him will be hell. And, while we are analyzing psyches, you would be wise to look at yourself and understand why you are willing to fall into the nagging role. How does this relate to your history and childhood? Are you on the verge of recreating an unhealthy pattern that you experienced (did you have to beg for love from your parents?) or observed (did one of your parents emotionally deprive the other)?
I have given you all the direction you need to resolve not only the current issue but also the problems that are causing this issue to arise in the first place. Let me know what happens.
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