When Giving Feedback Backfires

Share on facebook
Share on twitter
Share on linkedin
Andrik Lanfield from Unsplash

Hey Wendy,

I’m three years into dating an alpha male: He’s a paramedic, can direct an emergency scene, and also has the biggest heart and can express his feelings. He’s a good partner.

Recently, we were relaxing with a friend after dinner and he began to rub my neck. He started hard, and I said, “that’s too hard,” and he got softer. Then he moved to my scalp which felt good but also like it was pulling my hair, so I asked him to be careful with my hair. His response was “stop complaining.”

I got up for some water then sat beside him. He reached out and held my hand.

Here’s my question: Could I have asked for what I needed in a different way to get a better response?

Honestly, I was offended by his response to me and unwillingness to adjust what he was doing. He was doing something nice. I think I did say a few times how good it felt.

How do we ask a man to change something wonderful he is doing for us without offending him? Or can I relax and just ask and maybe he has some places he can grow? Or was the situation heightened because we had another person there with us? And perhaps deeper, is he defensive or are my words putting him on the defensive?

Kate T.

Hi Kate!

I love dogs. I mean I really, really, really love them. If you’re in my inner circle and you have a dog, I’ll dog-sit for you. I will woman-handle the crap out of your dog. One of my favorites is a German Shepherd/Great Dane mix named Molly. She’s huge, and she looks like she can take anything I throw at her. But if I accidentally touch her ears, even lightly, she yelps like she’s a pocket pooch I just stepped on in six-inch heels. When she does (I’ve done it twice—never again!) I leap back like I’ve touched a hot stove, and I come back to her gentle, soft-voiced, tender, loving, and intentional.

In the massage scenario, you could have handled it better and he could have handled it better. Ultimately, that moment serves as a reference point for communication improvements, which I’ll get to in the wrap-up.

His Part

So, how he handled it? Not great. Not great at all. Imagine Molly the dog yipping in fright and me responding by scolding her and telling her to stop complaining. Ridiculous, right? No! We don’t talk to those we love like that, unless we are just off our game. Clearly, something wasn’t feeling right that night.

If I had to guess, his reaction stemmed from his embarrassment in front of his buddy. He was showing his friend he is a kind, caring, sensitive boyfriend, and you pointed out that he wasn’t doing something right.

Your Part

So, how you handled it was fine. You provided clear communication and direction. There’s nothing inherently wrong with how you handled it. If you want to up your game, though, instead of “that’s too hard” you can whisper “softer, please” or “remember to be gentle, baby.” Think “helpful guide” vs. “director.”

One thing I know to be true is the fastest way to get a guy to never do something again is to criticize him or complain about it without offering something constructive or positive in return.

Now What?

Going by what you’ve provided here, your guy sounds like a pretty great person who had a bad moment—these things happen. And you can absolutely use this situation for the good of your relationship.

What I would do if I were in your shoes is I’d bring it to our Full Moon Ritual. My partner Dave and I ask 16 questions back and forth each month, and you can find them in this link.

I’ll demo for you, but understand that it will be a conversation between the two of you as individuals, so let this serve as a light outline.

I’d say something like, “Hey, something happened, and I’d like to talk through how we can handle it better next time. Remember when Ian was over, and you were massaging my neck? I love when you give me a massage! When I told you I needed a different pressure, it registered for you as a complaint, remember?”

Let him respond and listen for/gently acknowledge any apologies. Then…

“I don’t think that moment was great for either of us. What’s the best way for me to ask for a change without giving offense? That’s the last thing I want to do, and I definitely don’t want you to stop giving me your awesome massages, but sometimes I do need to let you know if you’re going too hard for me.”

Let him respond, and listen for what he needs in this situation.

Then ask, “Is there anything else you need from me?”

After he responds, then you can say, “Can I tell you what I need from you?” When he agrees, share anything that’s left for you, and any behavior modifications that need to be made.

Bottom Line

It’s a delicate balance to be the most considerate partner you can be but also not constantly be walking on eggshells. I don’t want anyone walking on eggshells (ouch) and I don’t want you to have to put up with something that doesn’t work for you, either. Instead of shooting for perfect, you can instead establish the best practice of being as kind as possible to each other. Sometimes we don’t always live up to our best, so oopsy-daisy, when you don’t, you can make repairs, modify behaviors, and thank each other for what you each provide.

Doing this at a later date, and in the safe container of a predicable monthly meeting (like the monthly full moon) is a way for both of you to feel secure that things will always have the chance to get handled.

Good luck, Kate!

Special note to my readers: After nearly nine years of monthly Full Moon Rituals, Dave and I have evolved, and I’m ready to share. Over this upcoming winter holiday, I’ll be updating the short instructional videos and offering a second (advanced) list (it’s shorter) for all you FMR experts out there who’ve been actively using the 16 questions. Keep an eye out for it. As always, it’s free.