Basically, I was extremely happy with my boyfriend for months and then we went on a holiday. On this holiday, I met his cousin and my boyfriend and I supported him at the time as he was going through friend issues. Consequently, my boyfriend became closer with him and so did I – to the point where we started introducing him to our friends that my boyfriend and I mutually share and are very close to. A few months later and the cousin has really been disrespectful towards me – he has been rude etc. Or thinking he can talk to me or treat me a certain way. To the point where it has caused me mass anxiety. Now, my boyfriend feels in the middle and I just want things to go back to the way they were before the holiday where he wasn’t involved so much in my life (I see him every weekend through the friends I’m close to). My boyfriend does not have it in his nature to cause conflict and therefore leaves the conflict and has not stood up for me. I have reached a point where I feel as if I cannot be with him unless he supports me and stands up for me. For example today he was at a braai and it was obvious I was clearly uncomfortable about him and I’ve made my boyfriend aware of this – yet he would laugh with him and make jokes with him while I didn’t want to talk to him. This is my boyfriends first relationship. Also, he is very emotionally manipulated – he gets scared of this cousin if he makes plans that the cousin isn’t invited to (like will he freak out scared) . I just want him out of my friend group and to see him as little as possible like a family member and not a close friend. I want to hope that maybe , he will even cut ties as much as he could with this person after seeing how badly he has treated me. I just want my number one person to understand that family shouldn’t be this involved in your friend group etc. And I want to feel like he’s in my corner. I don’t know what to do or say – is there any advice you could give me ? We are both 19.

To use a phrase, your boyfriend doesn’t like confrontation. That essentially means that some people are willing to tolerate abuse or unfair treatment to avoid upsetting a situation or appearing as though they are “causing trouble.” Because they don’t want to hurt someone’s feelings, they inadvertently allow others to take advantage of them, to tell them what to do or to boss them around. The end result is that they are often considered easy targets for people who like to dominate others. It may be his personality type or he may be inexperienced at handling aggressive or dominant people. As you mentioned, he’s only 19 and may not have much experience dealing with people in general.

If this is his personality style, then you can expect that he will behave this way in most or all circumstances of this nature. You rightfully want him to protect you from his disrespecting cousin, but in all likelihood that is not going to happen. Personality-wise, he may not be comfortable with the idea of appearing to “cause trouble.” Expecting him to change is unrealistic.

Your boyfriend might fit the category of a people pleaser. These individuals often find themselves catering to everyone else’s happiness, often at the expense of their own happiness. They worry and care about how others view them. Their core motivation is getting the approval of others. Once they gain the approval they seek, it helps them feel good about themselves but that feeling is temporary. Unfortunately, this behavior comes at the expense of their own happiness. They are in essence sacrificing themselves, their own wants and needs, for people who do not and will not reciprocate. People pleasers often feel a great deal of resentment towards the people who take advantage of them. What they might not realize is that the unfair treatment is often their own fault for allowing others to take advantage of them. It was of their own self-doing.

Another possibility is that your boyfriend is fond of his cousin and wants him around. He may even prefer his cousin over you. Though possible, it’s more probable that he is simply frightened of confronting his cousin. However, all possibilities have to be considered.

Dating is a process of getting to know each other. As you learn more about each other, and experience many situations, you will get a sense of what your partner is like. If you see something problematic, then that may be a sign that this person is not a good match for you. You may be more oriented towards partners who will defend you and not allow others to abuse you. This relationship may not be for you.

If you decide to end the relationship, don’t consider it a failure. You will have learned something important about yourself which is that you prefer a partner who does not tolerate your unfair treatment. That information will assist you in choosing your next partner. You might also consider consulting a therapist. It could help you to choose a better match in the future, should this relationship end. Good luck with your efforts. Please take care.

Dr. Kristina Randle