My boyfriend and I have been living together for a couple of years now. Whenever I try to decorate or improve our space, he complains and puts his foot down saying that we don't need anything. Yet at the same time, he also complains that our place is a mess and that he wishes it looked better. Anytime I try to offer an idea for improvement, I get shot down, which wouldn't be so bad if he offered an alternative idea, but he doesn't. Once, I went ahead and did some painting when he was away, and when he came back we ended up in a big fight. In the end, he really liked it (I used a paint color that I knew he liked) but if I hadn't done this, the room would never have been painted. I really want to make our place nice, but I feel he thwarts my efforts every time. What can I do? He says that he wants us to work together, but he also refuses to make a decision on anything, so we do nothing. I can't just go ahead and start improvements without discussing it with him because it will end up in a big fight.
Dear Decor Dud,
I want you to go back and read your own letter right now before we talk about this. Pretend it's a letter that your sister or your best friend wrote to me and try to read it objectively.
Okay? What did you notice? What I noticed is how frustrating your whole situation sounds. How it seems like you're trying to be part of a team with someone who doesn't want to be on your team. How you seem to be trying to express your voice and your point of view but, at the same time, are overpoweringly scared of causing conflict.
I'll be honest: I hesitated about whether or not to publish your letter because I'm afraid that others reading your words will dismiss you. They might read about your situation and think the answer is so obviously to stop trying to work with this pig-headed boyfriend of yours. But what they might not realize is how hard it is to get any amount of perspective on your own problems. I'm glad you wrote to me, Decor Dud, because that's exactly why I'm here: to help you see the forest through the trees.
You only asked about how you should work with your boyfriend to improve your decor, but I think what you really need (and perhaps are secretly looking for) is someone to tell you that it's NOT okay that you feel "shot down" whenever you attempt to express an opinion. I'm worried that you are so afraid to start a fight that you stifle your own wants and needs. But here's the thing: your wants and needs are exactly what your relationship is supposed to fulfill. I want you to be in a situation where your ideas are considered — Nay, celebrated! — and you don't feel frustrated. I want you to ask yourself if this is the right relationship for you. Your decor will work itself out when you feel like you can work with your partner towards a mutually beneficial, loving home.