‘People are saying my boyfriend is really obnoxious’

Tell Me About It: We’ve been together a long time, and no one has said this to me before

PROBLEM: I asked someone I know, more as an acquaintance than a close friend, if he had met my boyfriend. We’d have interacted the odd bit over the years, and I just wasn’t sure. This acquaintance said that he had met him, and that he was really rude when they met. He then said he was really sorry to be the one to tell me, but that a lot of people say this: “That George [my name changed – we are both men, for clarity] is a friendly guy, but his boyfriend is really obnoxious.”

As I can’t remember when this acquaintance actually met my boyfriend, I can’t think of a way to casually mention it to him to hear his side of it. We’ve been together a long time, and no one has said this to me before. How do I find out if this is something people have actually been saying over the many years?

Is it also possible that this acquaintance had a bad introduction or first encounter with my boyfriend (hopefully through some misunderstanding), and that other people confirmed that to him, as people often do to be agreeable?

How do I go back to being the person I was with all the changes of the past two years, or is she lost forever?

ADVICE: As you are taking the trouble to write a letter about this, it is worth assuming that you are troubled about this incident, and it is not a trivial matter raised by someone you barely know. You seem to be choosing someone not very connected to you, to make a judgment call on your relationship. It is also interesting that you have not yet spoken to your long-term partner about this exchange: either you fear his response, or you fear that it is true, but either way this must be having an effect.

The fact that you are secretly observing and monitoring your partner for negativity will result in a change of roles; you become the scrutineer and he becomes the object of review (even if he is not fully aware of it). That is a tough place for lovers and partners to play out their story.

You say that you have been together for a long time and maybe you are sensing that the relationship needs a review or a new injection of life (hence writing this letter) which is often very good for relationships, even if it can also bring uncertainty and doubt.

Perhaps you could suggest this and then both of you could look at how you want to commit to the next decade or so. At very least, you could look at what you, yourself are bringing currently and own up to how that is affecting you and the relationship. This could set the scene for some self-examination and self-development, thus modelling what might be needed for this relationship to thrive.

The job of the couple is to support whatever is needed for the evolution of the relationship and, at times, this requires tough love: we can only really criticise with success those we love and see as having potential.

If you see your partner as having no potential for change, then anything you say will come across as raw criticism and it will not allow you to support the change that is needed. So first, check with yourself that you are both committed to and have faith in the lifetime partner you have chosen and then take the courage that this will give you to be honest and open with him.

You will have to own up to hearing an acquaintance give an adverse comment and take the response (of hurt or anger) that this may bring. This will immediately bring you to the centre of what is happening and if you can both tolerate the pain of this conversation, you might find that you are engaging about what is really at the nub of the issues you are facing. Of course, the possibility is that a big distance has opened up between you (and your seeking of commentary was not an accident) but, in any case, the right and brave thing to do is to face up to the reality of your relationship and trash out what trajectory is needed.

It could be argued that by seeking verification of negative comments, you are about to blame your partner for what is wrong with the relationship, and this leaves you on the higher moral ground. But at very least you know that you have contributed secrecy and disloyalty, and this too must be included in the conversation.

Once you have had the conversation (it may take many, many discussions), then support the outcomes with whatever is needed, including practical and emotional steps, and then build in regular reviews where you are honest about your worries.

This would be real change, and one that will work both in your current or any future relationship you may have.