3 minute read
Q. I love my boyfriend and he’s kind. We disagree on some political issues but that’s OK; our backgrounds are different so I can see that in context. The problem is, sometimes, especially when he’s been drinking, he says things I find offensive; he can make racist and sexist jokes. I pick him up on it and he can get quite cross and tells me not to censor him.
He is a caring, decent man and would be the last person to treat anyone with prejudice – to him, it is about humour and being himself, but it upsets me and makes me question what sort of man he is. How can I talk to him about this without us arguing? Name supplied
A. I think of a racist joke as being like a marker buoy. When swimmers or sailors see a big orange inflatable bobbing on the waves, we know it’s telling us something: the limit it’s safe to swim or a hidden hazard perhaps. Both you and your boyfriend see the buoy, but you disagree with what it means.
For you, it might be the limits of his kindness and for him it might be about protecting the bonds with his friends.
It’s not romantic, but a large part of creating a relationship is managing differences. The aim is not always to resolve them, but to understand. A leading researcher into couples, John Gottman, says that up to two thirds of arguments in a longterm relationship will be linked to something deeper that won’t change. One way of putting it is: when choosing a long-term partner, you will inevitably be choosing a particular set of unsolvable problems.
What problems can you live with, and how do you navigate the ones you’ve got?
In this case, I suggest picking a time when there’s no alcohol, and you can tap into a mindset of looking for clues beyond the obvious. It almost doesn’t matter what the answers are, but practising better questions and listening are skills neither one of you will regret.
In this link, the therapist suggests that we need to be kind, curious and humble. It might help to start your question with ‘I wonder’: ‘I wonder what it means to you when I get upset about these jokes.’
Any woman who identifies as political will be accused of having no sense of humour, because jokes are one way to decide who is in or out of our gang. Please don’t let the fear of what you might discover stop you from asking the questions.
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Mary Fenwick is a business coach, journalist, fundraiser, mother, divorcée and widow. Follow Mary on Twitter @MJFenwick. Got a question for Mary? Email firstname.lastname@example.org, with ‘MARY’ in the subject line.