Partner's conversational style

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    Hi there,

    So, my boyfriend and I have been dating for over a year now. We live together and our relationship is pretty great, overall.

    However, there are some times when I get annoyed by him. He’s a smart guy and he has a tendency to talk about abstract and esoteric (e.g. philosophy) topics in a long-winded way. Even if I don’t interject with anything, he’ll still keep talking. Sometimes it feels like I’m in a lecture rather than connecting with my partner. To give you a better idea, I’ll give a recent example:

    We are at a coffee shop, sitting at a table, one morning, with our coffee. We’re going to hang out until we meet his stepdad for brunch. I have a notebook and I’m reviewing notes that I’d took recently (studying programming). There’s some light conversation and then he starts talking about modal arithmetic. Honestly, at this point, it’s pretty early. I don’t want to have a conversation about this — it’s overwhelming me. However, I’m not sure what to do or change the topic to. He basically proceeds to talk for the next 15-20 minutes and we leave the coffee shop.

    We’re now on a walk and he’s still talking about modal arithmetic or some other abstraction. At this point, I feel my anxiety starting to peak because I have no idea how to escape this conversation. I fumble in my purse for a rock I like to handle when I’m feeling anxious. He looks at me and he says, “What’s wrong?” I can’t remember what I said, but it didn’t quite convey the idea of “I don’t want to talk about this.” He says, “You want me to shut up?” And I said, “yes.” He was angry after that. I ended up crying.

    I just felt really helpless. If I had had my way, I would’ve just preferred to quietly observe nature on our walk or have some light conversation. Maybe that means I needed space and shouldn’t have gone out that day? We ended up discussing it and my partner said it would be helpful if I could let him know I started to feel anxious. Or if I changed the topic — although that doesn’t usually work IMO; he often stream-rolls right through my casual mentions of other topics.

    Anyway, I like being in this relationship. It’s just that I often find my partner’s conversational style intense and sometimes alienating. It bothers him though because sometimes he says I just look mad and disengaged.

    So, basically, I’m looking for any insight people want to bring and tips as well. My takeaway is that I should be more direct about my needs.


    We all have a finite amount of intellectual and emotional capital, just like we all have a finite amount of money in our bank accounts. It sounds like his conversations might be overdrawing your capital in this area. You seem to be in school, or at least studying, and probably busy in other areas. Kindly explain to your partner that sometimes his lengthy conversations can draw on your intellectual and emotional capital that you need to be putting towards other areas of your life. Also make sure to give him a way out, let he him know you value his ideas and would enjoy such conversions during a time when you have some extra energy.


    I absolutely do not want this to sound flippant as that is not my intention at all…but he stated he felt it would help if you told him when you started to feel anxious. So maybe do just that. If need be, sit down with him during a non conversational moment and discuss it with him a little. See if he can help you come up with a phrase or sign you can give to let him know you’re getting anxious. And maybe even come up with a signal for when you’d like to change the subject to a lighter one without having to say “honey, can you shut up about that now? “


    No, I don’t think it’s flippant at all. Honestly, I think I need a little “obvious” advice right now. It helps to intervene early before all I can observe is my own discomfort. Thank you so much!

    Yes, I am studying right now to become a software developer. My partner is also a software developer. I spend a lot of time alone and often at home, usually applying to jobs, studying and working.



    Here’s what I would try: Lay your hand gently on his arm, or take his hand. If he doesn’t look at you and make eye contact, give him a very gentle squeeze or caress. When you have his attention, smile and with as much love as you can say something like, “I’m sorry, but this topic is a little overwhelming for me right now. Would you mind if we discussed something else?” or maybe, “I’m afraid I haven’t had quite enough coffee yet to absorb what you’re saying. Can we please table this until later?” Especially now that you’ve already discussed this topic with him, I’m sure he’ll respect your request and by shifting the focus of your request from “You’re too verbose” to “I’m just not feeling up to it” he hopefully won’t take it personally.
    Hugs to you. 🙂


    Dear Mallory:

    I don’t think the problem is his intellectual prowess that is too much for you to handle, not at all. I don’t think you need to tolerate his … selfish lectures, ongoing diarrhea of the mouth just because he is a good partner in other ways.

    I like to call things as they are, and correct me if I am wrong, but when a person talks at you on and on and on, not paying attention to the fact that you are not involved in his output, that it is a one-way-output, from him outward, that it is not a conversation, not an interaction. It is a vomit of sorts, only the vomit is words.

    I would have a serious conversation with him. I would teach him that a conversation takes two. It takes the willingness of two people to converse (“co” is a prefix meaning together). Teach him what an interaction means, an action back and forth between two people, at the least. Not a one way stream of … anything.

    No wonder you get anxious. I would too and I do in such situations.

    It is not about him having a superior intellectual capacity that you are lacking. It is about him not having the simple understanding of the concept of a conversation, a discussion.


    Michelle Scott

    I’m not sure if I agree with some other comments, but sometimes you just have to make an effort to listen. I talk about a lot of things, and to be honest, I don’t care too much that my partner is truly listening and joining the conversation, as much as I care that he’s pretending to listen and being respectful. I feel so much better than when I had a partner who would interrupt and shut down the conversation because he was not interested or not comfortable with the topic, or whatever excuses I was given. It was rude and made me feel like I was not respected at all. I felt like less of a person in the relationship and more just an object that he wished I were something other than me.
    So my advice is that if you want to respect him and you appreciate him for who he is, just listen. You can let him know that sometimes you won’t be able to contribute much, but you will be a good listener.

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