“OK, I know this is silly and there are way bigger problems in the world, but still. My boyfriend's Instagram account is full of pictures of his dog, his nieces and random shots of beers he likes, but very rarely does he post pictures of just me or even the two of us. (We've been together for a few years—there are plenty of options.) Should I be worried that he's ashamed of me, or am I just being paranoid? I want to bring it up, because it is bothering me, but I don't want to seem like a crazy girlfriend demanding that I'm featured on his IG.”
First, let’s address how you worded your question. Here are some words you used to describe your concerns, and your feared perception of your concerns:
Ouch! The fact that you’ve been holding onto this for years, and the language you use, tells me you may have some harsh internal scripts about yourself. Alas, you’re not alone. Many of us live with a little gremlin or inner critic inside our own minds. We may tell ourselves the kind of things we wouldn’t accept even from a stranger on the street.
How might you talk to a best friend having the same challenge? Can you apply some of this kindness to yourself? If you can work on this, it will undoubtedly serve you in this and many other situations. Now, let’s examine some potential steps you can take to address your concerns with your boyfriend.
1. Keep the curiosity
I want to applaud you for questioning this rather than assuming your fears are facts. It’s so easy to fall prey to “mind reading,” or drawing conclusions about what others are thinking, even though we really don’t know. As you try to figure out what is going through your boyfriend’s mind, you’re also recognizing that you haven’t yet asked the only person who can give you that answer: him. Keep that curiosity, as it will be an asset when you do communicate. But first, let’s turn our attention towards the person you can best figure out and control: you.
2. Expand your perspective
Should you be worried that him posting more dog and beer photos than couple photos means he is “ashamed” of you?
I encourage you to expand your perspective here to recognize there are a multitude of reasons people act the way they act. Maybe he just really loves the dogs of Instagram; maybe he considers his romantic life more private; maybe he prefers to be less publicly demonstrative.
The truth is, I can’t tell you what is happening for him, anymore that you can read his mind. But reminding yourself that there are a wider range of possible explanations is one way to get unstuck and mobilized towards a more productive conversation with him and with yourself.
3. Just ask
I have no idea what you’re boyfriend is thinking and feeling. But I do know that the only way to find out is to ask him. If he feels how you fear, or it’s the worst-case scenario, I believe you are much better off knowing this.
But give him a little credit and give the relationship an opportunity to grow by practicing communication. If you stay together many more years, I guarantee you will face other challenges. So this is important maintenance and practice.
I hope these frameworks help, but I think the real value is going to come from learning to accept your concerns versus judging yourself for having concerns; asking your boyfriend what he is thinking versus trying to mindread; giving the relationship a chance to grow by bringing up the topics that can drive a wedge if not spoken.
Sarah Greenberg, MFT, is a psychotherapist, board certified coach and consultant to mental health/human development start-ups. You can connect with her on LinkedIn, via her website, or through her column at Psychology Today.
Editor’s note: This content is for informational and entertainment purposes only. It does not constitute medical advice and is not a substitute for professional treatment.