Ask Professor Foxy: Do I Need to Say It’s OK When It Isn’t?

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Dear Professor Foxy,
In the spirit of full disclosure, I must be upfront and say that this is not a sex question. It is, however, a relationship one, and I really wanted a pro-woman opinion and didn’t know where else to turn:
Sometimes my boyfriend behaves badly (e.g. doesn’t consider me in a way I want/need), and sometimes this hurts my feelings. I believe that communication is important in a relationship, so I will usually tell him “I need you to know that when you did XYZ it hurt my feelings because 123.” I usually do this level-headed and am able to make a good case. When he sees how his actions have impacted me, he will apologize. Which I appreciate. But, how do I respond to that? Usually when people apologize, we say “Oh, that’s ok, don’t worry about it,” or some variation of that. But I don’t want to say that. His behavior was *not* ok, so why would I tell him it was? I don’t want to be discount his apology either, or be punitive by saying “well, next time think of not only yourself.” I mean, I would LOVE for the offending behavior to not have taken place at all, but reality is that it did. And I want him to still feel comfortable to apologize without being overly condemned when he behaves selfishly in the future. Any advice?
Thanks for any input!
It’s really not ok.

Dear IRNO –
Thanks for writing in. Sex and relationships are flip sides of the same coin. How you feel about your boyfriend likely impacts how you feel about sex with him. To draw a distinction is to draw a false line.
It sounds like you two are good at communicating and that you have a pattern that feels comfortable for both of you. I agree, you should not say “it is ok” when it is not. As women, we are taught that we must make situations better, smoother, and prettier and that we should not cause others discomfort even while sacrificing our own comfort and happiness. There is an ingrained mindset of “don’t worry about me, are you ok?”
There is no need to grant absolution, the situation has been addressed, he responded appropriately, it is done. Why not simply say “Thank you for apologizing,” give him a kiss, and leave it at that? By saying “it is ok” you are actually extending the situation by lieing/downplaying about what happened. You are right, it is NOT ok. There is no need to say it is.
Also, it is ok for him to feel uncomfortable and to think more about his behavior instead of just being forgiven by you. Those uncomfortable moments are how we grow. “If I feel like this now, I can see how she felt when I acted like this.” If your boyfriend needs more than in the way of resolving the situation that is for him to bring up.
While your letter does not go into it, I want to bring up one more possible issue. Does his behavior change? Part of the purpose of communicating with him about this behavior is to make lasting change in the way you function as a couple and how he considers your needs. If he consistently repeats the same problem, it may be time for a more indepth conversation.
Professor Foxy
If you have a question for Professor Foxy, send it to ProfessorFoxyATfeministingDOTcom.

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