“My Boyfriend and I Don’t Know How to Argue”


I’ve been in a relationship for a year with this great guy with whom I have great chemistry and feel so in love with. The only thing that bothers me is how we argue. I get annoyed at a lot of little things and I am aware of how taxing it can be to another person. Although I try not to verbalize my annoyance, my boyfriend can tell how I’m feeling, will make me explain why I’m upset, and then will get angry and defensive.

A recent example: He was texting someone while we were hanging out, but it was just one text to someone he hasn’t spoken to in a while. He could tell that I was annoyed, even though I remained silent, and he asked me what was wrong. I said “nothing,” because I was still annoyed but I didn’t want to blow up at him. He continued asking me and I got even more annoyed until finally I told him why I was upset. The second I explained he started to defend himself. This almost always happens when we argue – he keeps asking why I’m annoyed, I refuse to explain until finally I am forced to, and he gets upset regardless and it turns into an argument.

I told him this and he reasoned that, if I don’t tell him what’s wrong, I’ll bring it up later. This is partly true, which is why he’s started forcing me to express my feelings right away. However, I’m not happy that, when I do, he reacts poorly. I understand that a lot of these arguments start because I get easily annoyed, but it’s unfair that when I do explain what I feel he always tries to reason why it was “wrong” for me to feel that way and doesn’t offer a solution that actually helps the situation. It’s like he is always setting out to debate with me and prove himself right instead of help the relationship.

HELP! — Annoyed By the Little Things

You sound very hard to please. You admit that you get too easily annoyed at little things (and, yes, your boyfriend sending one text to someone he hasn’t spoken to in a while is a “little thing”), you react to these annoyances by being passive-aggressive and basically forcing your boyfriend to ask you what’s wrong. Then, when he tries to defend his actions, you get hurt and angry and engage in an argument with him. Over something little and dumb! You want him to offer solutions, but really there are only two solutions: he stops doing little things that annoy you; or you stop getting so upset by the little things.

Realistically, there will always be little things he does that annoy you because he’s human and apparently you err on the side of intolerance. You know that about yourself (which is good–self-awareness is a very important thing), so it’s YOUR job to work on being more tolerant or find assertive ways of expressing your intolerance in a way that gets it off your chest without demanding an apology or inviting an argument, unless these little annoyances are truly battles you want to have. (Remember: In a relationship, you must pick your battles).

Here’s an example: Your boyfriend does a little thing that annoys you, like texts (or replies to) a friend he hasn’t spoken to in a while. When he’s done, if this is a battle you choose not to pick, you could say, “I know it’s not a big deal at all, but I just got annoyed when you diverted your attention from me for a minute to text your friend. I realize that’s not something that should warrant an over-reaction on my part and I’m working on being more tolerant of these kinds of things, but I just wanted you to know how I’m feeling in the moment and that I know the issue is mine to work on.” You’re acknowledging your feelings so your boyfriend doesn’t have to pry it out of you, but you’re also owning responsibility for them and not putting him on the defense.

If, however, you feel like this IS a battle worth having — like if you really don’t want your boyfriend to ever text anyone while in your company — you need to own that and tackle it in the moment. You might say: “Hey, I know you haven’t talked to your friend in a while, but when we’re together I expect all your attention and don’t like it when you take a minute to text someone else. It makes me feel [fill in the blank].” Then offer whatever solution would satisfy you, like, “Maybe next time, you can wait until I’m in the bathroom or after we’re done hanging out to text your friend. Or, you could ask me if it’s ok if you take a minute to tell your friend that you’re busy but will get in touch later.” Just understand, that by picking this battle, you ARE putting your boyfriend on the defense. And he’s certainly entitled to defend himself/his actions or disagree with your demands. And understand that even silence — especially when it’s accompanied by passive-aggressive nonverbal cues — is picking a battle. If you have trouble controlling your passive-aggressive nonverbal cues, don’t be nonverbal. Use the tactic I suggest above: tell your boyfriend that you’re upset, but that you realize what you’re upset about isn’t worth an argument and you’re going to work on your intolerance because this particular issue is your problem, not his.

Basically, every time your boyfriend does a little thing that annoys you, you have to decide immediately if it’s worth having a argument over. If it isn’t, you express your annoyance right away but take the stance that your being annoyed is a bigger problem than the actual act that annoyed you and you realize that and are working on it. If the little thing is actually something you want to debate, you go with the
second tactic I suggest and offer some potential solutions that would satisfy you with the understanding that your boyfriend may not be open to those solutions and that the two of you are going to have to find a compromise or simply agree to disagree.

If all of this sounds like a lot of work, well, that’s the price you pay for sweating the small stuff. You can’t walk around being overly-sensitive and passive-agressive and expect your partner to just suck it up and deal without getting annoyed back at you, and defensive, and frustrated. Until you let the small stuff roll off you back and you don’t fume or pout or whatever other nonverbal signal you’re sending that indicates you’re upset, this is how it has to be. Intolerance and over-sensitivity is a problem of yours. You’ve acknowledged that and that’s a great first step. But now comes the next step of actually working on that problem, trying to overcome it, and, in the meantime, not letting it adversely affect your relationship so much.


Follow along on Facebook, and Instagram.

If you have a relationship/dating question I can help answer, you can send me your letters at wendy@dearwendy.com.


  1. Avatar photo something random says:

    This is good, solid advice. Another suggestion that might work is taking a break before you start talking to give yourself time to calm down and consider the context of your feelings and whether you need to manage them or if they speak to a more substantial relationship issue that needs to be worked out. This is especially useful if one or both of you have trauma or triggering issues that sometimes play out.

    If you go this route you should tell your boyfriend that you are having feelings that you are still processing and ask for a little time so you can adequately explain yourself. Be specific about the time you will discuss things. Don’t leave him hanging and make sure he understands that you needing time is a reflection on you not on him or the severity of any particular issue. If you need ten minutes to walk around and come up for air and figure out the source of you sensitivity then ask for ten minutes. When you come back in ten minutes be prepared to not only express your feelings in a non-dumping way, but to really listen to your boyfriend’s feelings, too. Make sure you are validating his perspective. And ask for validation, too. It’s amazing how much that helps even if you both still disagree with each other.

    If you decide this is something worth trying out, explain this to your boyfriend before conflict arises so he knows what is going on and doesn’t feel confused and disregarded.

    1. I don’t know what I would do if I sent a text to somebody I haven’t talked to in a long time (or anything little thing that might be annoying to her), and my wife all of the sudden got up, and was like “you know what, I need to go take a 10 minute walk right now to gather my feelings about what you are doing”. I have a feeling there would a lot of anger when she came back. Sometimes people take non-serious things way to serious, and I think to have a huge overreaction to something small since there is already a problem with this is just going to make things worse. I think it would be better for the LW to stick with finding a way to better word her feelings, and acknowledge that she is working on them. I would save he the walking away for ten minutes for a much bigger fight.

      1. Avatar photo something random says:

        “you know what, I need to go take a 10 minute walk right now to gather my feelings about what you are doing”.

        The point of walking away is that the letter writer is aware that her feelings might have NOTHING AT ALL to do with what her boyfriend is doing.

        When people get irrationally angry sometimes they are simply immature and lack perspective. Sometimes its because they are uncomfortable sitting with any form of irritation. Sometimes they’ve picked up the bad habit of making someone else responsible for all their personal feelings and put someone else in charge of fixing their disappointments. But sometimes irrational anger occurs because they are taking an issue and making it about a different deeper issue without even realizing it.

        I hear what you are saying about somebody asking for a break every time you blow your nose or scratch your butt or send a text to gather their thoughts. That sounds super high maintenance. It is definitely a technique that can be over applied and isn’t an end all. Definitely, 100% see Wendy’s advice. But if you are seeing red, I do think it can be useful to take a break and cool off your engines so you can argue/discuss things sensibly. It doesn’t sound like the letter writer in this case thinks its all that applicable and that’s fine. The more I read her updates the more I realize this advice simply doesn’t apply to the letter writer. I guess I could delete it but hearing all the reasons why it doesn’t apply and all the ill-effects of over-communicating are interesting. So I’ll leave my foible out here.

      2. LW here. I agree the walk should be saved for something bigger. I guess what made me so mad in my texting example is that I told my BF several times already that texting while we are together (especially while having a meal at a table) really bothers me yet he did it anyway. When I expressed my annoyance, my BF just came back with his excuse that the text needed a reply for several days now (those days were also spent with me) and that’s when my anger blew up.

      3. Avatar photo Dear Wendy says:

        If your boyfriend had already spent several days with you and had been ignoring the text, then his taking a couple of minutes to reply REALLY didn’t warrant a freak-out on your part. You definitely over-reacted, which I hope you realize. I do commend you for being self-aware and being proactive in seeking help to manage your anger issues though.

      4. Avatar photo muchachaenlaventana says:

        Yeah–plus just one text? I mean I get the idea of not being on your phone when with your partner–and how that is something you two have talked about. But its a little controlling to have someone spend a few days with you and not even be able to respond to a text message from a friend.

      5. I know, and do see that now looking back, I was definitely overreacting and I was being unfair. I just don’t like that I have to go through with an argument every time so that I am able to see it, I wish I could see it already before I have the chance to react to it.

      6. Chrissimas says:

        Oh, so do we all 🙂

        I have no sense of how old you are from this letter, but I think that this is something that gets better w/ age. You already sound pretty self-aware, but I think that it’s a skill that can be developed. I’m 35 now and I am MUCH better at it than I was in my 20’s. I can kind of mentally take a step back and say to myself “I am super annoyed right now for no terribly good reason” and then decide what to do. I think just thinking about this will help you out a lot. Good Luck!

      7. Chrissimas says:

        Rethinking this a little – I don’t know how much of this was age and how much was cognitive behavior therapy that happened in my 20’s. It really helps you recognize your thought processes and feelings. I highly recommend it.

  2. Hey! LW here. Thank you both for the solid advice. I also decided to get therapy for my stress and anger management issues. No session yet but knowing that I’ve made the decision has already relieved me. I feel terrible for my BF who has been so patient with me (he is the first person I told about my decision to find a therapist) and so supportive. When I get mad at him, I really feel so out of control and like I can’t stop myself. I hope this decision along with new and better argument habits can help our relationship grow even more.

    1. Avatar photo juliecatharine says:

      That is so great good luck with therapy–it can be truly life changing. Be prepared that digging into this may bring up some stuff that is hard to wrap your head around. Really looking at yourself is hard work and sometimes scary as hell but it’s worth it!!

    2. That’s great, I think you are doing something that a lot of people wish they could do, but are too scared.

  3. Avatar photo juliecatharine says:

    Spot on advice. LW, listen to Wendy. Try to examine the things that annoy you and see if there are patterns that point to broader issues. To use the texting example–was it really the text or was that the tipping point for something else that bothered you? If it really is every minor thing in and of itself that pisses you off then I would try to think about why little things get to you and if those things annoy you with everyone or just your boyfriend. Relationships are compromise, our partners are not there to be the embodiment of our every desire and sometimes you have to suck it up. It’s really really good that you recognize the issue. I think with a little introspection and active monitoring of your reactions you’re going to find a way to let go of the unimportant annoyances. That should have a really positive impact on your relationship and life in general. If you can, learn to love the stupid stuff and laugh about it. We all do dumb stuff and have annoying habits but life is a lot more fun when you see the humor in it.

  4. Avatar photo something random says:

    What a refreshingly good attitude you have, LW. Best of of luck.

    1. Avatar photo juliecatharine says:

      Right? I was just thinking the same thing. I think she’s going to come out the other side of this issue with kick ass results.

      1. LW. It’s hard sometimes to have a good attitude especially with my stress management issues so this is certainly nice to hear, thanks

  5. I am going through the same thing right now. Actually my boyfriend and I had a discussion over it that started yesterday and kept going until today. I have resting bitch face syndrome and he is always asking me why I’m mad when I’m not even mad. I get annoyed easily and he takes it personal. He wants me to be a bright smiling person, 100% of the time, and I am just not like that. I know I have a bad temper and I have managed to keep some of my outbursts to a minimum, but it doesn’t seem enough for him. I have controlled my temper and picked my battles, but it always seems like I am the bitch and he is the saint who puts up with me. I have considered therapy, so I ‘ll try to go through with that option.

    1. It is one thing to control anger and stress issues and another one to change completely how one is. And sometimes I feel like my BF wants me to change entirely who I am. I am not a smiley person but I am also not a bad one. Sometimes I wonder how much does one have to compromise in a relationship to be ok, but is it even worth it to change so much. How much to change, is the question.

      1. Avatar photo something random says:

        It sounds like you are exploring a lot right now. Good luck to you, too.

    2. I don’t necessarily think that your boyfriend is in the right. But, adults should be able to control their outbursts. Not that everyone doesn’t lose their temper at times. But, if you have to keep your outbursts to a minimum getting therapy for your anger seems like a good step.

    3. Avatar photo muchachaenlaventana says:

      Ha I struggled with this- I also have a bit of what the LW has going on, or used to more but have learned to let the small things go. But the resting bitch face/not always 100% bright and smiley, is like my temperament is just a bit moodier than my boyfriend’s and the other night we were hanging out and having dinner and hes like “whats wrong with you, are you mad” and it just gets old. Like I am not going to be 100% happy all the fcking time. Even if I am down or bummed, it likely has nothing to do with you, but then my sadness like infiltrates him and he gets bummed and we are off our zen for awhile. IDK he sometimes says how hard it is to deal with my moods, and I get that and empathize with him-but also I am human and deal with his stuff too. I have though been learning if I am in a bad mood or a bit of a funk, sometimes its better to actually not see him or hang out because it just will be counterproductive. That or I just snap myself out of it and we can have a nice night. But my mood really impacts him and I guess the deeper you get in relationships this is the stuff that you begin to learn.

      1. Exactly. Most of the time it has nothing to do with him, but he bitches anyways because I let other things “interfere” with our relationship. Other than this, our relationship is great.
        I’ve told him that he is the most capable person to get me out of a bad mood, he has done it so many times when I feel super down or annoyed he can hug it out. But sometimes he gets tired of that too, and chooses not to, but bitches about my moods.

      2. Avatar photo something random says:

        Ale, pardon me for prying, but I can’t tell whether you are just identifying with this letter, venting, or soliciting advice for your own situation?

      3. Mostly identifying and venting. Taking advantage of the advice offered here for my own benefit. Like therapy for anger management, taking a walk before one blows up, etc.

  6. I dunno. Not every thought has to be verbalized. You have to learn to let some things go. To me, “pick your battles” means that you decide what is worth your time and energy, and what isn’t. If it is, then you have a conversation with your boyfriend about it. But this should be reserved for the big things – like your boyfriend has been thoughtless (he doesn’t give you enough of his time and attention, he isn’t reliable, etc).

    I really have to wonder why you got so upset about one text to an old friend. You couldn’t let him have that moment? Do you never text anyone in his presence? I think you should look inside to why something like that bothered you so much, and what you can do to let it go. Telling someone every time you are the least bit put out – whether they did anything wrong or not – will be exhausting and annoying for them. It’s actually controlling, in my view. So fix yourself and be someone you would want to date.

    1. Avatar photo something random says:

      I completely agree that not every thought has to be verbalized and every feeling requires a “battle”. I feel like the advice I gave earlier would be better suited for a different letter. Especially since the letter writer herself chimed in and said it wasn’t about anything else going on. It was about her having a feeing she didn’t like and rather than quietly acknowledging her annoyance and putting herself in check, she chose to outwardly express that anger albeit passively, until her boyfriend fixed the situation by asking her what was wrong.

      I will say this letter writer seems to genuinely want to take responsibility and learn about herself.

  7. LW, my first impulse was to take some cheap shot at you for immaturity, but seeing your subsequent comments and your commitment to improving yourself, i now feel it would be too mean and also unproductive. So I’m just going to leave you with this. A long term relationship, even between two people without the anger issues you have talked to us about, is going to involve a lot of petty dumb little conflicts over time. Because sometimes everyone is a jerk, and your SO is the one who is always around, absorbing your crap by default. The single biggest lesson I have learned about making it work for a long time is that you simply have to get over yourself (not you, everyone). Whether you are wrong or right, you just have to let most of it go. Sometimes you’ll be right, sometimes you are being a jerk, but you still never get to “win.” Nobody does. If there is any serious issue and you won’t let it go and you feel you HAVE to be heard, you HAVE to win, those are the moments that most threaten a relationship. You will always be courting this response: “OK, you win, but I’m done.” I hope that you learn to be cool. At 49, i admit I’m still working on it.

    1. “Get over yourself” is really at the core of this. Or, to put it another way, empathy. Looking at things from others’ point of view, and realizing that the world doesn’t revolve around us, and that we’re all annoying (and annoyed) sometimes.
      LW, your problem isn’t that you get annoyed. Everyone does. It’s that you SHOW it. If your boyfriend does something that annoys you, but it’s not something big enough that you want to bring it up to him. Well, if you’re visibly pissed off – rolling your eyes, sighing dramatically, walking away, etc – yep, you’ve just brought it up. What do you expect him to do? Ignore the fact that you’re obviously angry? It hurts. Of course he takes it personally.
      Look, half of having good manners is pretending to be having a good time when you’re not. We all get annoyed. We all learn not to show it most of the time. That’s how we manage to have relationships, and friendships, because let’s be honest, someone’s who’s pissed off all the time is really unpleasant to be around. We also do it out of kindness, because we don’t want to hurt someone we love over something petty.
      Cautionary tale: I know someone who never learned how to keep from showing her annoyance. And she gets annoyed a LOT. She singlehandedly destroyed her marriage. Her friends are drifting away, because, as I said above, someone who’s constantly pissed off is really hard to be around. She’s had problems at every job she’s had, because every little thing annoys her and she’s so hard to get along with. And of course, the bad marriage and job problems and lost friends just make her angrier. And the vicious cycle continues. Her bad temper prevents her friends from talking to her about any of this.
      Yeah, “get over yourself” is a very important life skill to learn. 🙂

  8. LisforLeslie says:

    Agree for the most part with what everyone has said with one exception: If, when you outline that this is your problem and that you need a few moments to process and deal with your own irrationalities, your boyfriend is unwilling to back off until he proves he’s “right” then you have a different problem on your hands. You are entitled to your feelings – but as everyone has stated so well – you are not entitled to make your boyfriend responsible for your feelings nor are you entitled to require your boyfriend to have ESP. Still, if he insists on proving that he’s right and you’re wrong… that’s a couple’s therapist problem.

  9. I can definitely relate to all these people in the thread as well as the LW — except my relationship issues are 95% things I’ve made up in my head, combined with some deep rooted fears of loss, experiencing life in general, etc., and a strong case of generalized anxiety disorder. Been seeing my therapist regularly to work through these issues, and so far progress is steady, but very painful. The relationship itself is fine, with the exception of the bf being stressed with work and my very bad habit of taking it personally when he’s having a bad day, and making his problems my own. I’ve been able to get past the anxiety and doubts at times, but in general I’m still incredibly stressed out. I can’t be the only person on here who’s had this issue. For me it’s definitely not person specific because I’ve had this happen with so many other dating prospects over the years. This time I just decided to work through it instead of breaking up with the person, which has never worked as a potential solution.

    Has anyone else with an anxiety disorder experienced something similar with a new relationship? how did you get through it?

  10. Avatar photo sobriquet says:

    LW, I wonder, are you a Highly Sensitive Person? http://hsperson.com/test/highly-sensitive-test/ If so, that may be part of the problem, though certainly not a problem in and of itself. I’m a HSP and so I’m pretty easily bothered, BUT I’m aware of it and know how to handle it so that it doesn’t adversely affect my relationships or my general happiness level.
    The texting thing, for instance. When I’m out at a bar with my husband, he will occasionally have to answer a work text or email which can sometimes take several minutes. When this happened at first, it helped me to recognize what I was feeling and sort of step outside of it and break it down. Right away I was able to figure out that it wasn’t the actual texting that bothered me, but instead my high sensitivity to my environment made me acutely aware that while he was texting, I was just sitting there like a doofus, waiting for him to finish. I was already a little out of my comfort zone in a bar- surrounded by tipsy strangers- so when my husband had to focus on a text for a few minutes, I would basically feel alone. Even worse- I thought that if people saw us, they would think he was just ignoring me like a bad date. That scenario made me uncomfortable, and being uncomfortable in public made me annoyed, which I initially directed at my husband until I realized what was actually bothering me. Once I realized this, my annoyance completely went away and I could manage the *actual* problem (feeling stupid and alone) and just surf Instagram while waiting for my husband to finish. Problem solved! Also, this just explained why I really enjoy drinking in social settings- drinking calms the high sensitivity WAY down!!
    So, all of that to say, IF this applies to you, then you’re probably not going to be able to stop feeling bothered by little things, but you ARE going to be able to direct your annoyance in the right places. When something annoys you, recognize it, ask yourself what exactly is making you annoyed, and then either realize it’s a personal thing or calmly address it with the person bothering you.

    1. I tried this and even tried to find justifcations for checking more of the boxes, because I narcissistically desire to be found “highly sensitive,” but nope. I am a lout/clod. (This is not a diagnosis, just a conscientious self-assessment.)

    2. I really liked your comment! It’s the second time I pass by a self-test for Highly Sensitive Persons. I do recognize myself somewhat in those tests (scored a 16 on this one), but I’m pretty good at managing it without any particular method.
      I think what works best for me and my boyfriend is to be really honest about things that annoys me and to include him in a team of “you and I versus this thing that really annoys me”. For example, I am not annoyed at him turning on the kitchen fan, I am annoyed at the kitchen fan (ugh, that noise !), so let’s find a compromise about it. Sometimes it means the fan is on because we really need it but I’m allowed to complain about it (“I hate fans !!!”), sometimes it means the fan stays off because we can do without it. Sometimes it means I keep quiet and don’t complain but I make sure to turn it off as soon as possible. It’s just that at the end of the day, I am not angry at my boyfriend, I’m angry at the fan and that’s it.
      I think the slippery slope is when you start getting annoyed at somebody for causing the things that annoy you, even though they are completely normal behaviors (turning a kitchen fan on is a normal behavior, checking one’s text messages is a normal behavior…), instead of simply being annoyed at the thing causing the discomfort (the fan causes noise, the noisy bar…)

    3. snoopy128 says:

      I scored 18, this makes so much sense. Actually, the test for ‘is your child highly sensitive’ described childhood me to a T.
      Although my issues manifest more around issues with change or busy-ness around me that I can’t control.

      I agree with Miel, it is about recognizing what bothers you (the busy room ,being asked a lot at once, feeling awkward), not blaming other people (I’m so mad at my X because Im overwhelmed we are in a busy room). If this is the case, stepping out of the room may work to ease certain triggers

    4. Avatar photo something random says:

      This is really interesting. I always attributed my sensitivity to anxiety but I guess I’m just sensory sensitive just in general. I remember sometimes in school when a lot was going on I would frequently ask to go to the restroom and just sit in the stall and calm myself down for a few minutes. I still enjoy retreating to quiet places like woods and ponds. This is why I think I wouldn’t enjoy city life. The bustle and noise is fun to visit, but I think I would be a very irritable person if I had to live there. Its probably just another reason to stop at two kids and not have the large, loud, merry, family- I’d end up one of those moms who hides out in the craft room.

  11. The Truth says:

    I developed a theory a few years ago that at any given point, a relationship is never ever going to get better. It may stay the same, but they almost never improve. (Hey… I know you have a story saying otherwise, but I prefer not to let real life get in the way of a perfectly good theory).

    I also firmly believe that with women, you have to watch out for the tiny things at the beginning, because they are inevitably the precursors to the big things. (yes this probably goes for me, but I’ve dated very few men… ok, zero men)

    Now I’ve lost track of my point… oh yeah. LW, if he annoys you now, its going to be worse later. If you are acting pouty now, you will be bitchy later.

    People don’t change. You should either stop getting annoyed (very unlikely) or move on.

    And damn, that dude totally called her out on the whole bring stuff up later. I seriously can’t remember a single thing she has done to annoy me in the last month, but I bet she can list two or three things, which I will probably hear about during our next argument.

    Disclaimer: actually, my girlfriend is awesome and we hardy ever fight. In fact neither of us has ever raised our voice at each other anytime, ever.

  12. Bittergaymark says:

    Forget learning how to argue — you need to first learn to become somebody even vaguely worth dating.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *