Is My Focus on Learning a Weakness in a Relationship?

Reader’s Question

I am really getting torn mentally and emotionally from what I believe is right and what I’m told is ‘right’. Due to some problems with my partner, we attended a couples counselling group for a 6-week session. A problem my partner has identified with me for the 2 years we have been together is that I “know too much” or always have the answer for everything and that I am “so mature” or so much smarter than she is.

In my life, there are certain things I think it is good to have a basic education in. These are based on my beliefs and values, but areas that I want to ‘succeed’ in as best I can would be as a partner, as a father (I am not yet, but when I do become one I want to do the best I can), my work, my physical health/diet, and financially. There are a lot of difficulties in any of these fields, but if I felt I was doing badly in any of them, it would have a bad impact on my overall life, where at the same time if I was doing better with them, my overall life or quality of life would be much happier.

When I was around 16, some family friends introduced me to a popular book written by Allan and Barbara Pease, and I learned so many things from reading it, and learned about so many differences about men and women that previously I did not understand. Understanding the reasons why we do things, instead of resenting and judging based upon a misunderstanding, made such a difference to me and I felt lucky to have learned about this.

But this is a problem for my partner because she feels that I know too much and am too smart, and when I try to explain that I’m not so smart — I was just lucky enough to have read some books and suggested reading one together or separately, to show where I get some ideas from. But she is not interested in any form of learning and hates talking to people about relationships or anything, including her family and friends.

I feel it is unfair that I can empathise with why she values having such a large selection of shoes and clothing despite the enormous amount of room it takes up in the bedroom, or why she has little to no interest in sports, or why she is not stimulated sexually by visual stimuli, yet I get resented for having a low interest in having more than 3 pairs of shoes or excessive clothes, or why I enjoy my ‘stupid sports’, or for being a ‘pervert’ interested in pornography. I find these judgements unfair and not based in reality.

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It feels as though I can roughly understand why she does many things the way she does because I took the time to learn about it, yet she has no interest in doing the same for me and resents me for things which are very normal in male behaviour.

When discussed in the group, I was torn to shredds by everyone for expecting so much (trying to read one book), and told that it will cause more problems by just reading and asking questions from people all the time, and if I keep learning about things while she does not because it makes the gap between us bigger.

It is true that it is my interest and I really enjoy learning about these topics I mentioned earlier, but it isn’t as though I expect her to devote as much time as I do by any means. But I don’t see it as unreasonable to spend some time learning in the basics from someone or something of anything you want to be good at.

If someone was going to be a parent, I wouldn’t find it unreasonable to learn and read about good parenting, even if they didn’t enjoy reading. If someone was going to drive a car, I wouldn’t find it unreasonable to learn and read about good driving or road rules. If I was going to engage in sexual relationships, I wouldn’t find it unreasonable to learn about STD’s and condoms or pregnancy first. If someone wants to get married, I don’t find it unreasonable to spend some time learning about some of the common problems marriages face and suggested methods to help manage them.

By doing things like this for just a few hours or days, you can potentially improve the quality of your life in these fields an infinite amount of times more compared to if you did nothing. Yet I was really shot down and nobody shared the view with me at all, including the hosting counsellor, and it has really shaken me up as I’m torn between considering am I really wrong in what I do and need to admit it, or am I not totally misguided and heading in a good direction with what I believe.

Not everyone is the same, not everyone will share as much interest or work with as much effort. I’m well aware of this. But I ask myself again and again and I really fail to see how people wouldn’t benefit from just some sacrificed time to better something in their lives. Some people don’t want to do things that they know are good for them because it’s difficult, and make excuses to justify it. Other people do what is good for them despite the difficult work. I just want to know which I am, or why my efforts in doing what I really believe is beneficial is my weakness instead of another person’s.

Psychologist’s Reply

Almost everyone recognizes the value of education. Everyone also knows that you can improve your knowledge and your life by studying and reading. Even knowing that, it may not be an individual’s personal style. Given a DVD recorder, some carefully read the instructions, some just start hooking cables and hope that it works, and still others call their electronic friend and ask him to install the equipment. It’s a matter of style.

Problems in your relationship are probably stemming from your attempts to change your partner’s style. Asking her to read or study something is probably not her style or personality. Everyone feels their specific style is perfect for them. She’s not upset by her lack of interest in reading or studying for example. Problems surface when we tell people that our style should be their style. That is seen as being pushy, controlling, demeaning, disrespectful, etc. Imagine your partner telling you every day that you should exercise five hours per day (it’s good for you!), eat only plant products, view no sports (it serves no tangible value to the society), etc.

Your style and preferences are not a weakness. Your partner is telling you, and it’s supported by the group, that you are overemphasizing learning and your personal style in the relationship. It’s not that your style is wrong, defective, dysfunctional or evil. I’m a big fan of the science, history, and learning channels on television — but I usually watch them alone while my wife enjoys home decorating and remodeling channels. A mutual acceptance of each person’s style in a relationship creates a good relationship. Your partner is feeling intimidated and demeaned by your insistance that your style is best for everyone.

What works for you will not work for others. Enjoy the differences in the styles of others rather than recommend that they can improve their life by using your style. People strongly defend their personal style…as you do in your question. Insistance that your style is best will eventually result in your being alone. When folks are surprised that a psychologist can explain “gravitational lensing” in astronomy — I typically joke about watching the Science channel too much. It’s not threatening that way, and we all have a big laugh.

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