Ask Team Practical: Small Fights That Aren’t Small

It IS a big deal

Q: This is not really related to weddings but it is related to relationships, and APW and its readers tend to give the best advice available on the Internet these days, so here it goes. My fiancé and I recently got into a fight about rape scenes in movies. I have a real problem with rape scenes, they make me physically ill, they make my heart race, they often replay in my mind for days after I see them and they give me nightmares for weeks. I actively avoid movies that I know have a rape scene because I just can’t take it. My fiancé thinks I’m totally over reacting—that it’s just a movie and that I make far too big a deal about it. He gets huffy when I insist that he not watch a rape scene in my presence (six hundred square foot apartment with a sliding glass door on bedroom means I can’t just get up and walk out of the room).

I think that my response is natural given the violent images and that just because he is desensitized to it does not mean I’m the one with the problem. I also think that at the core of the issue lies the very real statistical threat of rape for me (a woman) and the less likely threat of rape for him. But what’s worse is that I know his mother and sister are both survivors of sexual assault! To me this is a man who has seen the physical and mental violence of rape and yet he can’t understand why it would bother me to watch it on a Saturday night? What do I do about this? How do I approach this with him to get him to understand my point of view?


A: Dear Anonymous,

There probably isn’t any way to explain that haunting, persistent, but also immediate and visceral reaction to seeing images of sexual violence. I get what you’re saying. Probably a lot of our readers get it. But if someone doesn’t get it, I mean, I don’t even know how I’d begin to describe it.

The point isn’t helping him to understand. And that’s lucky, but here’s why. He doesn’t need to. It bothers you, so he shouldn’t watch it around you. Period. Whether he gets it or not. Whether the images on the screen are “fake” or you’re “overreacting” just flat doesn’t matter. Only you have to live with the gut-wrenching nausea and nightmares, and in the face of that, his sacrificing this show or that movie is a small compromise.

Of course that “r” word is going to incite a lot of opinions and emotions amongst this here readership. Even if we take that away—pretend that this is about something else, like those Sarah McLaughlin puppy commercials or watching someone vomit or the use of the word “moist.” Even then, when it isn’t something so complex and awful, what should be important to him is that it causes you discomfort. And that should be enough to make him knock it off around you.

It’s easy to chalk this particular issue up to silly or small. It’s movies! Trivial. But these are the sorts of compromises that we make all the freaking time in marriage. If something bothers my husband and is sort of inconsequential to me, then I stop doing it around him, end of story. Sparing your partner pain automatically trumps a little bit of primetime entertainment and getting your friend’s pop culture references on Twitter.

Put another way, one small, teeny-tiny sacrifice for the sake of your partner’s comfort is worth it. Worth it worth it worth it.

So how do you address it? You probably can’t get him to understand your emotional and physical response to rape scenes, so don’t bother. This isn’t even about whether or not this is a valid issue. The point up for discussion, that you should be trying to convince him is, “If this is important to me, it should be important to you.” Even when he doesn’t understand. Even when he thinks it’s silly. Just because you’re important to him. He may not understand the rest, but hopefully that part doesn’t need much explaining.

Team Practical, how do you adjust when things make Your Partner uncomfortable? how do you help them to see your side when things they do bother you?

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  • Totally spot on advice, Liz! In my marriage, sometimes we frame it as a respect issue – I find it hurtful and disrespectful when you do [insert thing here] even when I’ve asked you not to. That kind of reframes the focus from why the actual thing is important to why being respectful of each other’s wishes is important.

  • macrain

    It can be really freeing to accept that getting your partner to see something exactly the way that you do just is not going to happen. That part you can’t control, but there are other things you can. In the end it’s better to focus on what those things, and it’s more sanity saving.
    Nice job Liz!

  • MisterEHolmes

    Hm. I want to be 100% behind Liz on this one–I DO think we should make small changes to make our partners comfortable, and that he really should be willing to bend on this. That part of the advice is sound.

    But I’m not fully understanding why the asker can’t step away for the problem scene. I understand small apartments…hm. I feel like some sort of compromise on both their parts could be reached, especially because he may not know, going into a movie or show, that a problematic scene is coming.

    And I say that as someone similarly troubled by that kind of scene. I’m skipping the Girl with The Dragon Tattoo for that reason, but if my fiance wanted to see it, I’d find somewhere else to be or ask him to watch it when I can be distracted in another room.

    • Violet

      This is also all assuming that you know beforehand there’s going to be a troubling scene in a movie. Some movies you know in advance due to hype/whatever, but that’s not always the case (unless you read the synopsis of each and every movie you plan on watching on Wikipedia first?). Definitely some logistical struggles.

      • MisterEHolmes

        Definitely. And, to continue my example, I’ve heard Girl with a Dragon Tattoo is a really amazing great movie. It’s not for me, but I don’t know that I should slam the door on my SO seeing it altogether.

        • Violet

          Honestly, television sets. My partner and I live in a tiny apartment as well, but we watch everything on laptops now. So even if I overhear violence that I don’t want to hear, I just ask him to pop in his headphones. Easy.

        • Heather

          I read Girl with a Dragon Tattoo and had NO IDEA what was coming. Read the revenge scene on public transit and sat shaking at my stop for a full five minutes before I could stand. (thankfully it was the last stop!)

          When we decided to watch the movie, I had already told my husband what was coming (traumatized as I was when I got finally off the train that day), and I left the room when that scene happened. He told me he was sickened by it and felt it was gratuitous, but not as graphic as I had described it being in the book.

          I get nightmares from angst- so Mad Men (first few seasons in particular, haven’t watched much after the fourth) and Game of Thrones and even super suspenseful things really get to me. We have a deal now that we have to have “chaser TV” so that I can chill out by watching Pawn Stars or Pixar movies before I got to bed, lest I wake up gasping. It’s actually something we do every time we watch TV now, because I never know what’s going to make me feel the feelings in my sleep.

          • asdf

            Chaser TV. I like that. It’s really hard to control what disturbs us and to root that out of our subconscious. If I see something disturbing that I wasn’t expecting, my technique is to sit around on Pinterest and pin things to my bunny rabbit board until I feel more peaceful.

            I heard all the hype about GWDT and am glad I missed the boat because it allowed me time to figure out that there was stuff like that in it. I avoided it.

        • Emily

          I just watched Girl with a Dragon Tattoo two nights ago and am really sorry I did. It has horrible scenes in it and I was unprepared. I don not understand why the movie was considered so good (I haven’t read the book). I found it macabre and disturbing.

          In the context of this piece, my husband and I watch TV/movies very rarely and this is the first one we’ve seen together with (multiple) rape and torture scenes. I was touched that he fast-forwarded those scenes without my even asking.

      • Liz

        I’m very similar to the OP in my sensitivity to rape scenes in general, but also other sexual scenes that are intended to be disturbing. I know there are folks who would be appalled, but I IMDB just about everything we watch before we do. Usually the “parental guides” tell enough about the scene for me to judge if it’ll bother me, but without revealing key plot points. I seriously suggest this for anybody who’s similarly affected.

        But I do completely agree with you, Violet! Things pop up! And though you can quick step out of the room, often that few seconds at the start of a scene is all it takes to stick in your brain.

        • Violet

          Parental guide is a Great idea! You and I are very similar. Even for tv, I’ll wait until the seasons is done so I can know what happened in each episode to screen for myself. The problem is sometimes you find out too many details anyway (eg, GoT). So if she can safely see parental guidance things without it being too upsetting, that would help shield her, logistically-speaking.

          • Liz

            This issue the sole reason I’ve avoided GoT! You manage to watch?

          • Violet

            I have a lot of quirks that make particular things uncomfortable for me to watch that would SO NOT be issues for most other people. (ie, not even always about violence.) So I’ve had to adapt various strategies for those, which then I can apply to about anything (meaning, also violence). But that’s what I mean about this being a logistical challenge, because I know it’s taken years for me to perfect my art of watching stuff-without-watching-all-of-it. (And part of it involves watching with my partner so if something unexpectedly comes up, I can close eyes/cover ears and he can give me a nice hug when it’s done so I know it’s safe to look again.)

          • Jules

            I IMDB stuff too!!

            For GoT, I know I’ll never be able to watch it…so I wiki it instead. Curiosity satisfied. Still vague enough to not upset me (couldn’t read the books either…so it’s more than just graphic nature of things) for extended periods of time.

            Then again, I have a lot of triggers. Don’t ask. But I managed to walk out of The Avengers, which I otherwise loved, irked at the “He’s adopted” joke that Thor makes about Loki. Then I went on the internet where everyone told me it was no big deal.

      • Meg Keene

        Or, assuming you have a DVR, you can stop and fast-forward. To me it’s less logistical than about respect. “OMG stop, I can’t watch this,” is something that just needs to be listened to.

        • Caroline

          Yes, it’s about shutting it off or fast forwarding if it surprises you, not about knowing in advance.

        • Violet

          Oh for sure, if that’s an option for her. I wasn’t clear from the text if even the beginning part made her that uncomfortable, so she wanted him to avoid anything at all that might have a scene like that. If she can handle seeing the start and then he can fast-forward, that takes care of it. I’m pretty sensitive to things, so I think I was assuming she was as far on the sensitive-meter as I am.

        • La’Marisa-Andrea

          Yes. I have a hard time watching gang violence or gun shots to heads. I find it very triggering. My husband knows I am sensitive to this and he will fast forward through it or turn away or something so that I don’t have to see it.

    • Alison O

      I trust the writer that she cannot escape the movie while remaining in her own home, and she said her request is that he not watch it in her presence. So that seems to leave the possibility open for him to watch it when she’s not home, or maybe even on his computer with headphones on with the laptop not facing her. But I don’t think it would be reasonable for her to have to leave the house when she didn’t already plan to do so just so he can watch a movie at a given moment.

    • jhs

      I don’t think the letter writer assumes her fiance has psychic abilities about movie plots. It sounds more like if she knows a movie has a triggering scene, or if they’re watching a movie and it’s clear that scene is going to happen, that he be fine with turning it off and watching something else instead of leaving her with no place to go.

    • You know what’s interesting? I’d read all of the Millennium Trilogy before seeing the movie and my husband had not. He was terribly uncomfortable watching the rape scene. I was curious at the time if it was because he didn’t know it was coming.

    • KH_Tas

      I frankly don’t see how it’s her job to be the accommodating one, when he’s the one disrespecting her feelings and what she is asking is small (headphones. You can hook laptops up to tv antennas.) while expecting she leaves her own home (often late at night, if it’s live tv?) is large. I know it’s what’s expected of women, but it doesn’t have to be that way

      … yeah I’ve been asked to be overly accommodating a few too many times, why do you ask?

  • Alison O

    Ugh, I hear you. I’m not a big movie person to begin with, but the sexism, violence, and sexual violence that is so rampant in movies and TV is really, really upsetting. Recently I was hanging out in the living room when my partner and his friend were figuring out a movie to watch. They started with the Psycho remake…which early in the movie involves a rape. The movie was terrible in general, so after a little while they switched to Thelma and Louise. I’ve heard what a great movie this is…I read the plot on IMDB, and when I saw there was another rape scene coming up, I left. I talked to my partner about this later, as he didn’t know that that’s why I left at the time, and he could easily accept why I would find this disturbing even though he doesn’t react in the same way.

    I think the principle of respecting your partner’s wishes IN GENERAL, as Liz drew out, is key. I do think the specific subject matter here is relevant, though. If the writer’s issue with her boyfriend was that she hates the smell of bananas and he disregarded this and bought them and ate them in the house in front of her, I think his giving push back about her needs and wants would be a little more understandable (though if she insisted and it was clear it mattered a great deal to her, he should relent in any event and eat his banana elsewhere). But with watching simulated rape, it causes me concern that the guy is resisting her wishes so much (as it sounds from the letter like this has been a reoccurring issue) when this subject is so obviously disturbing to many people, loaded with historical and ongoing oppression, etc. etc. If it were that hard for my boyfriend to get where I’m coming from with regard to this, I don’t think he would be my boyfriend.

    • MC

      Yep, I was going to write basically everything you said in your second paragraph. As someone who works for a violence prevention org and has many friends that are survivors of rape/sexual assault, the amount of pushback on this issue would be a big problem for me. If the OP does want her fiance to be more understanding on this topic, I would suggest looking into some resources or documentaries where survivors speak about their own experiences, triggers, etc. Obviously those can be painful to watch as well (so maybe the OP doesn’t need to be there) but I know for many people, hearing about the realities of survivors of violence makes it much more real, and having some exposure to those truths may make it less appealing to watch those scenes in movies/TV.

    • Kayjayoh

      “They started with the Psycho remake…which early in the movie involves a rape.”

      Woah. I did *not* know this. I have never bothered with the remake, and now I never will.

      • Liz

        Whyyyy add unnecessary rape, why why why.

        • lady brett

          i read a very good article by a fiction writer (male, i think) a while ago about rape being one of the laziest plot devices – that if he was inclined to use sexual violence in his writing, he took it as an indicator that he needed to think deeper about what he was trying to accomplish, and that there was almost always a better way.

          • Moira Katson

            I think you may be referring to, “We have always fought,” which is an incredible article and everyone needs to read it. (In my opinion.) And it was nominated for a Hugo Award because, well, it’s awesome. Although that one was written by a woman. Still, here’s a link:


          • Sarah E

            This is definitely a MUST read. Must must must.

          • lady brett

            yes! that. definitely a must-read (and clearly a must re-read given my fuzzy memory).

          • JDrives

            This article is AWESOME!!

          • Caroline

            Wow. That is a powerful article. Thank you for sharing it!

          • MC

            I LOVE this (and really want to read that article now). This is a wonderful response to everyone who claims that rape scenes add “necessary complexity” to fictional stories.

          • Caroline

            Seanan McGuire has a greata article that is her response to when people (men) ask “when is Toby (one of her female protagonists) going to get raped?” (her answer is “Never.” It’s a fabulous examination of rape in media and how people expect certain types of female characters to be raped, because it is a way of tearing female characters who get too strong or powerful or empowered.

          • Wait, this is seen as necesary? Seriously? What the ever living fuck?

          • Caroline

            Yes, apparently, it is a question she gets A LOT. I’m with you on it.

          • Crayfish Kate

            Was it Ferrett Steinmetz? I read his blog every day, & here’s the link to the post about women in fictional plots.

        • This reminds me of the articles I’ve seen floating around about Game of Thrones – how not once but TWICE the show has changed scenes from the books to make a consensual sex scene into a rape scene. WTF? Even worse, there’s a quote from one of the directors about how, in the most recent occurrence, “it becomes consensual by the end.” ….oh, right, well, that’s okay then.

          • Jules

            ….Also Downton Abbey. :(

            I am actually really interested in the storyline and universe of GoT, but I couldn’t get past the torture, incest, and rape. Instead, I read the Wikipedia summaries of the seasons :|

          • Sarah

            Ugh.. yes, I have watched about half and episode of GoT and couldn’t watch anymore for the same reasons. There are a lot of violent things that I can’t stand to watch because I can vividly imagine it happening to someone in real life. Yet with other shows, I don’t have a problem with the violence. No one is more surprised than me about how much I love the Walking Dead (although admittedly, I generally have to cover my eyes at least once an episode).

      • Meg Keene

        I know, I read that and was like, “DID NOT SEE THAT COMING!” What? We’re doing rape-y remakes now? “What’s going to make it special?” “I don’t know. What if we add a rape scene?”

        THE FUCK. THE FUCK. Are they going to to a Birds remake this way too???

      • Alison O

        Ha, I haven’t seen the original so I didn’t know this was not part of it. That makes this remake even more of a turn off. Opens the door to seeing the first one again, which is surely better on all counts. But…probably still wont. ;-)

        • Winny the Elephant

          Psycho was the first movie where the motion picture standards people allowed a flushing toilet to be shown on camera. Up to that point it was deemed too offensive to be shown on screen. Rape would have definitely gone too far given the standards of the day lol

    • Sarah E

      I completely agree. In a general sense, my partner and I have very different tastes in moves and TV, so he watches those things without me. Sometimes I feel like a wet blanket, but not much anymore because we found other shows and movies that we’re both interested in, and he has other friends to go to the theater with (or he goes by himself).

      However, this really IS a hugely loaded topic. Ignoring trivial non-understandings like not tolerating the sound of chalk writing or whatever is completely okay. But if I tell my fiance that I have repeated nightmares and a degree of mental trauma and a gut-level fear in reaction to something and he. . . gets huffy at me?! Total bullshit. The nature of our relationship requires that he care significantly more about my mental well-being, and brushing aside such concerns is not acceptable on any level, general or specific. Especially when “turning off the movie” is pretty minor inconvenience.

      • KEA1

        YES TO THIS. It is easy to turn off a TV/movie. Much easier to do that than to go through whatever amount of conditioning/desensitizing would be required to have violent images no longer cause a visceral reaction.

        • Liz

          And honestly? I hope I am forever impacted by the things that should impact me. Violence, people hurting one another, inequality- that really SHOULD shake us a bit.

          • KEA1

            Yep. Totally with you on this. I’m grateful that my own physical reactions to disturbing imagery aren’t debilitating, but I’m also grateful that I have the capacity to care. Also I’m extremely grateful that I don’t own a TV and rarely watch movies.

    • Meg Keene

      I just want to throw out my two cents that I think (obviously, but worth saying) the reaction is different for different people and different couples and different interpersonal relationships, and that’s ok. This wouldn’t be a “not my boyfriend” issue for me. In my experience, it’s way harder to get (sane, progressive, feminist) guys to see where we’re coming from on these issues than it even REASONABLY should be. (There were some blow up conversations in my life after the Dylan Farrow revelations, and I think there was a lot of progress made. Teachable moments are not a bad thing.) I feel like the continuing education of people I care about (male or female, but let’s be honest… usually male) on the subject are important. Just because we live in a society where, for whatever reason, it’s harder for them to get it, doesn’t mean they’re worth writing off, for me.

      In my book. I respect that’s not true in everyone’s book. But I didn’t want anyone to feel badly about not wanting to write people off over stuff like this.

      • Alison O

        For sure. And, I will add that I don’t know that my partner would have so readily accepted my concern about this had it surfaced early on in our relationship. This instance came after lots of teachable moments and conversations between us over some years to the point where he’s a lot more attuned to issues of this sort than he was before and compared to the average dude. I remember when we first got together he took issue with my pointing out his privilege as a white straight smart handsome well-educated etc. man even though he was not privileged economically. So people can definitely change.

        And even if they don’t, what is a deal breaker for one person is not for another, or just how it factors into the whole balance of what-i-like-and-don’t-like-about-you-vis a vis-your-willingness-to-compromise-and-my-willingness-to-tolerate-versus-what-you-like-and-don’t-like-about-me-vis a vis-my-willingness-to-compromise-and-your-willingness-to-tolerate that is unique to the relationship. Seems to me it’s rarely ONE THING that spells doom; it might be the stick that broke the camel’s back, but that implies there were other sticks. Poor camel. :(

        Also, I used the word “accepted” intentionally, as for his reaction to my disturbance, rather than “understood”, because I don’t know that he understands it, but he does *accept* my feelings for what they are (for me). And I think that gets back to the fundamental point Liz makes that is regardless of what the disagreement is about it comes down to respect.

      • Winny the Elephant

        Letter writer here: I’m definitely not looking to write the guy off. He is very respectful towards women and he really has a good grasp on the violence and abuse that women face everyday. As I mentioned in the letter, he’s seen it happen first hand.

        There just seems to be a disconnect in his mind between rape in T.V. and movies and rape in real life. He thinks that my discomfort is just a result of being too sheltered when it comes to movies and I ultimately think that he’s been desensitized to the violence. For the life of me I can’t get him to understand why I have such a visceral reaction to it because in his mind it’s make-believe. Plus this is all mainstream media stuff, how do I get him to understand that the violence is extreme when it’s everywhere?

        • La’Marisa-Andrea

          I don’t know that you will. I mean, you just said it: he has a clear separation between what’s on television, ie, fake and what’s real.For me personally, that’s far less bothersome than his refusal to compromise with you on the issue so that you aren’t a captive audience to something you find traumatizing in your own home.

        • notreadytotalk

          Something I just realized is that while someone may, abstractly, understand that what they’re watching is bad/traumatizing/fake, they don’t understand why it serves as a trigger for you. Yes, even if you explain the roots, because for some things you just have to have been there. I can watch explosions in The Avengers all day; I wouldn’t expect a war vet to do so. I can’t watch people get raped even if they don’t show it graphically and even if I know it’s “fake”.

          Like La’Marisa, I was more sad that it seemed like you got written off. His comments came across as judgy rather than coming from a place where you’re trying to understand your fiancee’s aversion. Overreacting, too big a deal, and just a movie – yes, of course you know it’s just a movie, but it triggers certain emotions in you that are perfectly normal. And it’s far less an inconvenience for him to moderate what he watches (I mean…unless that’s all he watches…) than it is for you to “go to counseling and learn how to control your emotions”.

        • Ann

          I don’t know that you’ll be able to get him to understand that the violence is extreme, but you should be able to get him to understand that it is something that you don’t want in your home and he should respect that.

          It shouldn’t be any different than, say, the fact that there are no mushrooms in my house. It’s different from the stuff my allergic to (there’s a food out there that can kill me! That stays FAR away), but I just don’t like ’em. Don’t like the smell, the taste, etc. The husband loves mushrooms, but doesn’t eat them around me. It doesn’t matter that my aversion is kinda silly–he just respects it. Likewise, I currently have a roommate who hates the smell of fish. That means no cooking fish in the house for now, even though the husband and I love fish. It’s just a respectful “We have to share this space, and we each have a right to be comfortable in our own home.” thing. It’s not even an “I love you and I want you to be happy” thing. Just respect.

          (I say all of this as a survivor of rape, and I by no means intend to imply that being upset by rape scenes is as trivial as my distaste for the smell of mushrooms. What I’m trying to say is that IT SHOULD NOT MATTER where the desire to not have something in your home comes from, if you feel strongly about it. The fact that you don’t like it should be enough. Overblown violent rape scenes in movies/TV actually don’t bother me. What gets me is when you know what’s going to happen, the filmmaker shows the terror in the victims eyes, but you don’t actually see anything violent. Because that was the reality of rape for me. My husband is more bothered by rape scenes than I am, in no small part because he and I started dating soon after I was raped and he saw me experience full on PTSD flashbacks and psychosis.)

          What really gets me is rape *jokes*. I get PISSED. So no rape jokes in my house, from people, on TV, etc, which cuts out A LOT of TV and movies. And again, that’s respected by the husband and the roommate, because it’s something I need to be happy and comfortable in my own home.

        • Heather

          I, too, have visceral reactions to rape scenes, as well as emotionally and physically abusive scenes. I’m not a survivor of those experiences (thankfully), nor am I very close to many people who are survivors- but I do respond viscerally, and always have. I’ve not had to explain to my husband why I prefer not to watch those kinds of scenes- but I have had to explain it to myself, and to friends. This is how I frame it:

          Movies, TV, all scripted “make-believe” are DESIGNED to make you feel things, right? So if I’m watching a movie to be entertained, or to think critically, or just be distracted from life, I’m invested in it. Even if the movie is terrible, even if the scene is unlikely and contrived, the point is that I throw myself in wholeheartedly- plus, scripts use music and silence and terror to MAKE YOU FEEL, and regardless of the quality of the execution, I fall victim to the feelings. I’m super empathetic, so I feel like I’m in that story; when friends tell me stories about their day, I’m totally invested, without even trying- empathy. That’s how I explain my entertainment choices to people, and typically, they shrug and move on.

          I also have nightmares and nausea as a result of watching traumatic scenes, whether they’re on the news or scripted, and my husband won’t put me through that if he can help it. Nor would he judge me for it. I can say that while he doesn’t always viscerally understand my reactions, he recognizes that these are not teachable moments for him. Those scenes do not provide the moments to say “see? not real!” in the way, say, bad gory horror movies do (“see? cornstarch and food dye and terrible plots.”)

          I also tend to think about things in terms of kids, because I want to have some, and I’m not sure if this will help your fiance, but perhaps it will: If my 15 year old daughter were watching this, would I want her to think that it doesn’t happen, that she shouldn’t be aware? If my 15 year old son were watching this, would he think that this is “no big deal”? What about a 10 year old, exposed to this film/scene/show at a friend’s house? What about an 8 year old? There are some things (see: sex! Santa Claus!) that I am all for having an adult perspective on. However, sometimes a kid’s perspective is also valuable to have (bubbles are fun! Cloud-watching is great! Violence is scary!). Not sure that your fiance will ever understand what you feel, but perhaps a change of perspective would help?

          I think there’s a cultural weight here, too: the main difference between news and scripted rape and violence, is that one happened in REAL LIFE- and the news is (usually) trying to get you to feel for the victim, right (Steubenville notwithstanding)? The scripted scenes are designed to make you feel things, but it’s not always for the victim. Often, I feel that such scenes are monetizing and therefore trivializing the violence. As mentioned, I tend to FEEL so strongly, that for each scripted scene I view, what is happening is real for me- and if I ever get to a point where I don’t feel that way, I want to be reminded that this violence actually happens to people All. The. Time. I don’t want to be desensitized, because I think that would trivialize what the reality is for survivors, much in the way “rape jokes” do.

          For all the inherent respect about what I won’t watch, there have been times that my husband and I have had moments of chosen compromise on hot-button items. For instance, I cannot stomach the “c” word and though he believes that language only holds the power we give it, he doesn’t use it around me as a matter of respect, and while it took a long time to get there, overall he has decided that he respects my feelings enough to make a small compromise and cut it from his vocabulary. I emailed him this post, and this was his response “To be fair, it’s hard for me
          to hold back on certain words that I am desensitized to and you are not.
          But it’s definitely true what she [Liz] said about it being a small compromise.
          Though it’s hard for me to equate your feelings on a particular word with my
          own, it’s of no consequence to me to withhold from saying it.”

          I will say that I am the outlier in our group of friends when it comes to certain things. I found it really offensive when a Friend (A) of my husband’s made a repeated joke of being borderline violent in bed with a girl he was seeing, and I made it very clear to all our mutual friends that I was uncomfortable with the conversation and found it unacceptable. I wanted to write off Friend (A) immediately, but that wasn’t an option- and I’m glad for it. After a year of multiple references to that experience, I had a very definite teaching moment wherein I was able to get through to Friend (B) that no, it wasn’t funny, even in hindsight, and yes- you are being disrespectful by continuing to bring it up. It upsets me every time you mention it, so please stop. I was firmer and more serious than I’d ever been with him. Friend (B) was mortified, but his eyes were opened, and I haven’t had an issue with those topics since. Hopefully it really sticks with all of them, but if not- I know my husband will back me and ensure that I’m not subjected to that kind of “humor” again. Again, it took awhile to get to the level of understanding that I wanted, but it absolutely is possible.

          Much love to you. Having patience to really unpack these things shows maturity and commitment. You’ll both get there, but it will probably take time.

          • And with mirror neurons, we have an actual physical reaction to what we see too. The research is pretty cool. I’m not a scientist or anything, but I have read just a little about them because I was curious how they relate to how an audience watches theatre…

      • amanda

        Thank you! I would love to hear more from women about talking to their otherwise sensitive, progressive, amazing partners about sexual assault and other similar issues. One thing that has worked for me is to try and get him to empathize a bit more–to understand that he may never be able to understand what it’s like to be physically dominated and/or sexually assaulted. I think it’s literally difficult for some men to get in that headspace.

        It has not been easy and sometimes is embarrassing but I have walked him though several of my own experiences of being intimated, followed home by a creepy man, stalked, etc and I think it has helped make it less abstract for him. Just saying, this is how I felt in that moment and I carry that experience with me always (and this is how it manifests when I’m watching a rape scene, walking home alone at night, etc)–he just doesn’t have any experiences like that and I think hearing it explained that way by someone he loves deeply helps him relate to this issue in a larger sense.

        And also, you know, every other lady you know probably has at least one experience like that.

        But, I feel like there is more progress we can make and am really interested in how other people have used “teachable moments” or other strategies of getting through.

        • notreadytotalk

          For the sake of this conversation (and in hopes that other women out there might feel less alone and ashamed), I had sex once that was nonconsensual, 2 years ago. To this day, I’m confused and ashamed and have a lot of emotions about it. And maybe I will never really move past it completely.

          When I was 16, I dated someone for the summer that I didn’t like that much, but he wouldn’t go away and we worked together, so we went out. He slapped me once. It took me another month or two to break things off entirely and this wasn’t anything remotely extreme (violence-wise).

          When I was 18, I dated someone who had a lot of home issues and had a pretty hard life growing up. When we broke up, he attempted suicide three times. The third time it was while I was on the phone with him. His school sent him home on medical leave; they were threatening more severe action for all the disturbances. He then moved back to our hometown and began dating a girl at my high school, showed up at my prom. When I went away to college, he began dating a girl at my college. I lived in honest fear for awhile that he would go on a rampage.

          I have a wonderful SO who knows all these things and has listened to me at-length try to work through my feelings, but I never truly expect him to understand how someone who’s otherwise very smart, confident, and lots of good things could let this kind of stuff happen to her. Or why I still can’t watch these types of scenes, even though I never expect him to treat me like that. Sympathy, not empathy.

          Also….is part of this just that..anatomy-wise, it just seems like it’s way more dignity-robbing when a man rapes a woman versus the other way around (or man raping a man, which I realize is more common probably)? Especially for a feminist? I dunno.

          I’d like to add, lastly, that I don’t think it’s embarrassing AT ALL. Trust your instincts. I mean, it doesn’t mean you should sleep with one eye open all the time, but walking home alone as a woman? Legit enough reason to be aware.

          • amanda

            Thanks for sharing your story. I think sympathy is really important but … I can’t give up on empathy. Even if he doesn’t fully understand, I think he can (and to give him some credit, has) become more understanding of the emotions surrounding some of these topics.

        • Liz

          I’d like to think about this a bit. I know that in the 7+ years of knowing me, my husband’s perspective of these things has changed DRASTICALLY. He’s always been a good guy, of course, but his perspective of this stuff has widened and broadened. I don’t know exactly what changed for him- it was probably pretty gradual.

          • Kelsey

            I cannot stand the word rape used in the context of sports or politics.
            That was the first fight I had with my now fiancee–he said that one
            sports team raped another when we were out with a group of people, and I
            text him about it after and he brushed it off and defended it. I saw red. After that fight, he agreed not to use the word rape for things other than sexual assault, mostly to appease me. Two years later and we’ve now gotten to
            the point where we have had conversations about how to influence other guys
            not to say this without being dismissed/making it worse, and the
            response if one of our theoretical sons were to say something similar. Yay for continuing education, as Meg put it!

          • Kelsey

            Tangentially related, and very interesting: “Violence against women: its a men’s issue”


          • amanda

            Gradual makes sense. I am gradually understanding him more and more over time and again, he’s already pretty great. It’s definitely nice to hear how other people approach this kind of stuff and what topics they’ve explored.

      • I recently had—let’s call it a Teachable Moment—with my smart, progressive FH over the Game of Thrones controversy that was harder than I thought it should be (in my ideal world it would have been not hard at all or instantaneous agreement). But I also happen to think that he is the kindest and most respectful person that I know—way more so than me! So, yes, sometimes you don’t want to write people off for these things.

  • karyn_arden

    For a long time (about 2 years), I used to call my husband “weird” just as a vague comment. One day, he told me that, while he didn’t necessarily find it offensive or demeaning, he didn’t like it. So I stopped because it made him uncomfortable and I don’t want to make my partner uncomfortable.

    I agree with Liz – if it’s something that bothers you or is deeply important to you, and YOU are deeply important to HIM… The natural conclusion is that he should make the thing that bothers/is deeply important to you something that matters to him. Even if it’s as small as not watching certain movie scenes while you’re in your shared apartment, it’s something that he needs to respect about you.

  • Acres_Wild

    Yes to all of this! I actually had a very similar discussion with my partner a few months ago about a rape scene/joke in a movie, where I was really affected and he laughed it off. He legitimately did not understand the extent of my feelings, but once I started crying, I think he realized how upset I actually was and backed off. I still don’t think he really “gets” it, but he knows it upsets me so we just don’t watch those movies together anymore.

    I think the reason it’s been a relative non-issue ever since is that there are plenty of movies and shows we both like that we watch together, and we just watch the other stuff when the other person’s not home. Maybe the letter writer and her fiance could schedule some time for each of them to be home alone, so they can each have an opportunity in their small space to pursue whatever loud/messy/annoying-to-the-other-person hobbies they enjoy.

  • I read once that our brains can’t really tell the difference between images on TV and images happening in real life because our brains evolved before there was TV and therefore understand everything we see as really happening to us. I don’t know if that’s 100% true, but I definitely find myself really, really disturbed by the things I see on TV sometimes — violence, rape, death…it just gets in my head and is so hard for me to just disregard it and move on! I don’t actually watch a lot of TV and I wonder if that’s why it bugs me more…because I just don’t feel as desensitized to it? I’m not really sure. In any case, I agree with Liz that whether or not you’re “right” to feel this way really isn’t the point…but I just wanted to say that I don’t think your reaction to this kind of content is strange at all.

    • Anon Woman

      I can’t watch scenes with rape or ones in which women get hurt. I get emotionally distraught, I can’t be physically comforted, I’ll shy away from being intimate with my very loving partner. It’s horrible.

      I watch what I consider to be a normal amount of TV, but there’s trauma in my past that makes stuff like this extremely difficult for me. And it was downright mild compared to what’s shown on TV. Knowing the psychological number it’s done on me and how long the road is to recovery….I get immensely sad and filled with rage and fear and shame when I think about women [specifically] who have endured far worse.

      So yeah. Here’s another vote for “you’re not weird” and another for him not needing to understand (can you? really?), just to make this reasonable sacrifice instead.

    • Liz

      Agree. I’m the very same way.

    • ElisabethJoanne

      I haven’t had a TV since I left home for college more than 10 years ago. I’m definitely more sensitive now watching DVDs than I was when I watched TV all the time. And we watch a lot of old stuff, so it’s not that today’s videos are more disturbing than what was produced 10 years ago. I’m more sensitive.

    • Class of 1980

      Scientifically, women remember traumatic scenes more than men. A lot of this has been studied in war situations where women retain the trauma much more than men. So that explains some of the OPs reaction.

      That said, I’m convinced that part of the insensitivity so many men have about rape scenes is that they can’t put themselves in the woman’s place. Show a guy some movies with men getting raped and see how they feel. It bothers them a lot more.

      To be honest, I didn’t get as upset when the men were raped in Pulp Fiction or Deliverance. Those scenes were GROSS, but part of me was happy for men to experience watching that horror being perpetuated on them for a change.

      I do believe that a lot of rape scenes are put into movies because they believe men want to see them. I really do. There was one old Charles Bronson movie that haunts me to this very day because it was so graphic and that’s when I realized that it was “entertainment” for some people.

      I say the OP should collect some movies with men getting raped, and make him watch them, one after another. Then have the discussion again.

      • This is similar to another idea I have…that someone should do an experiment where you have big, built pro-football-player-types catcalling men on the street, saying the exact same shit that men say to women. Prettttty sure that would be the end of “it’s not threatening, it’s a compliment!”

        • Class of 1980

          Well, would they consider it threatening if they were in jail? Uh, yes they would.

          I know it’s hard for anyone to mentally put themselves into a place they’ll never experience, so I don’t want to call out men in general for being idiots. But this is a conversation that must be had.

          I know a ton of men who are very sensitive to commercials and sitcoms that make men look stupid and clueless. We have to listen to each other.

        • Jess

          There are a couple of videos like that somewhere. I’ll try to find them online and post a link. There’s also some experiences I’ve heard of with the same thing, women saying things they have heard to men, that have happened at awareness events.

          I think it has to happen on a broader scale to be effective. One day isn’t going to make an impact, you can brush it off, put it into context of a single person or an event designed to do that.

          When men have to deal with people honking their horn at them or yelling “Nice Tits!” out their window while they’re going for a run wearing a baggy t-shirt and loose running shorts things will change. (last Sunday, btw, and I’m not a large-chested woman)

          Suddenly that experience made me feel a lot less like going out for a run the next day.

      • jashshea

        I was going to say this:

        “That said, I’m convinced that part of the insensitivity so many men have about rape scenes is that they can’t put themselves in the woman’s place. Show a guy some movies with men getting raped and see how they feel. It bothers them a lot more.”

        There’s a scene in The Shield that is male::male rape and I found it so utterly disturbing that I thought of it for weeks after watching. I watch many police procedurals (drama and reenactment), but this scene made me realize just how desensitized I was to violence against females in television/movies and really take notice of its prevalence. Now I’m disgusted by how frequently sexual assault is a throw-away plot element.

        • Sarah

          I know the scene your talking about. I think perhaps what made that scene paticularly disturbing was that the rape was clearly about exercising power over the victim…. which I know is what they say about rape generally, but unfortunately society still tends to think is about sex, particularly when it comes to males raping females.

          • jashshea

            You’re absolutely spot on – I hadn’t thought of it that way. Same with the Girl with the dragon tattoo scene with the counselor. That scene was horrible to read, but I feel like the movie handled as well as can be expected. I was ready to FF or turn off if needed.

      • Caroline

        “I think thaI do believe that a lot of rape scenes are put into movies because they believe men want to see them”

        Whether or not men want to see rape scenes the perception of them as good entertainment is clear. part of the issue. I mean, I find sexual/gender violence hard to watch, not entertainment. But it is also sexualized extremely and clearly intended to be both entertaining and arousing.

        We watched the movie W.E. about Wallis Simpson (was not expecting gender violence), and LITERALLY, by the middle of the movie, you could 100% predict that a man was about to start beating a woman up, because she had taken her clothes off or putting on lingerie. It happened multiple times, and there was not an instance where the two were not linked. Never once did someone get naked/into sexy clothes and not get beat up. And MULITPLE female characters undressed and were then beaten by their intimate partners, more than once each.

        And that isn’t unusual. It’s all about entertainment and arousal in some sick, twisted way. The media is filled with instances where sexual/gender violence is portrayed and the woman is portrayed in a way which is supposed to be sexy and appealing, while she is being beaten or raped. (I’ve never seen sexual/gender violence against a man sexualized but doesn’t mean it doesn’t happen)

        • Liz

          This is completely disgusting and appalling to me.

          • Caroline

            I agree!!!! It’s horrible.

        • Kelsey

          I think its really interesting that, from a sociological pov, there are rape-less cultures, which, frankly, completely flies in the face of super-pervasive ideas in America. In our media you hear that boys will be boys, or rape is the natural result of women being sexy or powerful or careless, or that rape is the height of prowess and masculinity (which is exactly what people are implying when they say something like, “did you watch x football team rape x football team last night”). Media reflects and affects our society, and if media says that sexy women deserve rape, that should be troubling, even if it isn’t “real”.

    • It’s the mirror neurons!

  • Anon

    Yes to all of this – and I think it might also be important to understand more about the fiance’s experience is. It seems interesting that he has two close family members who are survivors and is having the response he is having. It might be helpful to for each person in the couple to understand more about how and if that experience is informing his reaction to her reaction (so much reacting!). All that said, it would still be important for him to respect her needs regarding this issue.

  • Beelitenotfab

    Such good advice. Seriously, your discomfort should be enough.

    I am a survivor of child hood sexual abuse, I just can’t watch that stuff without have huge panic attacks, but even if that wasn’t the problem it doesn’t matter, he can do that when you aren’t present.

  • Anna Thaler Petersen

    My husband and I compromise all the time about keeping each other comfortable. It’s definitely hard work to figure out those compromises, and it’s definitely caused arguments and required explanations. It’s only because we’ve been living together for 9 years that it goes as smoothly as it does (most of the time). For him, he can’t stand to watch anything about the Holocaust. I’m Jewish, and I’ve been raised with Holocaust movies and imagery as part of the story of my people, so I don’t shy away from it, as unpleasant as it is. I hate shows where people are mean to each other (I can only handle Tosh.O for about 5 minutes), horror movies, or shows that have lots of beeped-out cursing. He loves to watch Hoarders, and it creeps me out. I love British period dramas, and he’s bored to tears by them. Whenever we sit down to TV or a movie together, we’ve gotten to the point where we just immediately start watching something that we know both of us like (home improvement shows, American Pickers, science shows, Modern Family, etc.). That shared down-time is important for our relationship, and we’ve grown to value it more than the chance to watch exactly what we might like.

    • Rachelle Reese

      HA! Our compromise shows are very similar! He also gets to watch his sports without comment from me and I get to watch the Kardashians and Say Yes to the Dress, though he usually does comment and I just shrug :)

  • Jessica Nelson

    Although I think this is a helpful way of re-framing things, I think it’s impossible to make the discomfort-causing-thing completely secondary. Let’s make the example ridiculous: what if the OP felt really uncomfortable/disturbed by seeing interracial couples kissing? That kind of discomfort clearly isn’t coming from a good place, and her partner would be totally justified in claiming that she should try to overcome her negative feelings.
    Or, as another example, I’m super freaked out when I see deer on the side of the road, especially after I hit a deer a couple of years ago (my only real car accident to date, knock on wood). My fiancé doesn’t just let me never drive at night, tho – instead he’s talked to me about it, pointed out that me stomping on the brake every time I *think* I see a deer isn’t safe either, and generally tried to help me manage this fear.
    So maybe the take-away concept is not that “my discomfort trumps everything else” it’s that couples need to talk about what’s causing the discomfort, and either agree to help the uncomfortable partner feel more comfortable with whatever’s going on OR have the partner causing the discomfort stop.

    • Liz

      I do think we’re saying similar (if not the same!) things in different ways. For your husband to walk through helping you with the deer thing, he has to first respect you and what bothers you enough to acknowledge that it’s an issue, instead of just shrug it off with a “get over it.”

    • Meg Keene

      I really like this, by the way. Really really like this. Because you’re right, things that bother us often have a deeper root. And having a partner take that seriously (maybe more seriously than we do ourselves) and make us work it out, and maybe come to a better place with it… that’s the ULTIMATE of respect.

    • Jules

      What’s ridiculous about the first example, though, is that the example isn’t a trigger. It’s just bigotry. I don’t think it fits in with what we’re talking about here.

      Your trigger is a deer, from an accident in real life. What we’re moderating is your driving at night and the habits (braking) when you do so. This, to me, is still different than a trigger being a sexually violent scene in an otherwise avoidable (yes…entirely…I could go my whole life not watching media with rape if I chose carefully) situation in your own home. What we’re moderating here is intentionally triggering someone with TV/movies. It would be similar for a cancer patient not wanting to watch movies about cancer, or a soldier not wanting to watch war movies, or something of the sort…

      The original letter/Liz’s response didn’t particularly shout “discomfort trumps things” to me, but rather, he doesn’t understand and therefore is refusing (it seems?) to moderate his behavior. In THAT case, yeah, I think Liz’s response is spot-on in saying “don’t beat a dead horse…” since it seems like she’s having problems getting him to understand…then he probably won’t. Therefore, yes, I think it’s completely reasonable to go with the latter option you offer up, or at least throw it in the mix. No one will ever be able to change the way I feel about watching violent sex scenes, so unfortunately this is a no-compromise situation for me. And my SO doesn’t have the same feeling, but never watches that kind of stuff with me…and like Meg said, I find that incredibly respectful. When you refuse even when you don’t understand, it’s very much the opposite. It would make me feel invalidated, judged, belittled, and disrespected to hear some of the things from the original letter.

      • Jessica Nelson

        Jules – I agree the first example is ridiculous, but Winny’s SO probably thinks her reactions to rape are ridiculous. I was just trying to turn the question around to some reaction that almost everyone here would see as ridiculous. (Wait. I hope that EVERYONE here would think it’s ridiculous to feel uncomfortable at the sight of an interracial couple!) Also, I think that discomfort can trump things *short term* all the time. Mid-panic-attack is not the time to have serious conversations!

        Liz – Yup, I think we are mostly saying the same thing…I thought I disagreed with you more when I started typing, and then pretty much ended up in the same place!

        • Jules

          Right, right – I completely understand what you were going for, but……just….they aren’t comparable for me. In this particular column, content and context DOES matter a whole lot [emotional trigger, not bias; easily avoidable vs things that will happen in real life incidentally], so for me, it isn’t fair to make that leap because the most important parts of the analogy aren’t…analogous. I know it was only meant as an extreme example, but I don’t think they’re even in the same league.

  • April

    I’m another one who thinks that the content of this disagreement matters. I do agree with the article that it’s true that something that causes you deep distress should be, at the very least, interesting and concerning to your partner rather than off-putting.

    But, in this case, I also think that the actual content of your different opinions may matter very much. I speak as someone who just came out of a marriage where I numbed myself to those exact issues, and it was not wise. That kind of disconnect for him, while indicative of the cultural disconnect, is also about him, and who he is, and that can have a major impact on your relationship. In the long run, if not now.

    You may be able to resolve this particular issue (the movies) by determining that he should be respectful of your needs in general, but I think that looking at these needs in particular — the sensitivity to violence against women — is something that you’d be better off working out fully in the end. Even if you give it some time and bring it up separately from the movie issue. If you were my daughter, I’d encourage you to bring it up and work it out for the long term, as a general issue.

  • Yikes, this one is actually a pretty big deal! Liz is right, because it bothers you, he shouldn’t try to invalidate your feelings and act like you should be fine watching these scenes, just like he might be uncomfortable watching something else! And you would understand in that case!

  • Allison

    Great advice. I have a really big problem with the other “r-word” (the not-so-very-nice one for individuals with cognitive disabilities), due to working for an organization that worked with people with disabilities and having a family member with one. I tried to explain for months why it was offensive even if you were using it to describe a computer program. It didn’t work, but I finally went with, “Fine, please just don’t say it. For me.” That worked (mostly). So, even if he’s not saying it for what I consider to be the “right” reasons, at least he isn’t putting it out into the world, and I consider that a small victory.

    • Emily

      I have the EXACT same feelings about that word for much the same reasons- special education teacher, family member with an intellectual disability. My boyfriend still says it, but not around me because he knows it makes me upset. It would be better if he didn’t say it at all, but he also is wonderful with my sister and has volunteered for Special Olympics for years, so he does care about people with disabilities and me. So we compromise that he doesn’t say it around me and we’re both happy with that.

    • Rachelle Reese

      Every time I hear someone say that my eyes get wide and my jaw drops. It seems like people got over calling things “gay” a long time ago and the fact that so many think that word is an acceptable substitute just completely baffles me.

      • Winny the Elephant

        I’m always shocked by how people will say “gypped” a lot. I know people who would never say “retarded” or “that’s gay” but they’ll say “I got gypped”. A slur is a slur people!

        • Alison O

          I think it’s way less common for people to know where this word comes from. I realize I’ve never even written it, and writing it (or looking it up so you know how to spell it) is where you might see the connection if it doesn’t occur to you or someone tells you. Otherwise a lot of people probably assume it’s “jipped” or “gipped” or otherwise not something derived from any known slur. Though, even if people connect it with gypsy, I think the history of Gypsy/Roma is not well known enough that they’d understand the slur.

          • Anon

            Yes! Totally didn’t realize where this came from until literally right now.

          • Jules

            Used it once in writing, had to look up how it was spelled. It’s one of those words that looks funny no matter how you spell it. STILL missed the connection. Feel kind of enlightened now…

        • L

          I usually respond by saying “I think you meant to say that you got jewed,” when I hear “gypped”. Not sure exactly when we phased that one out, but hearing it is enough of a shock to make people really understand how “gypped” sounds to some people.

          • Do you mean that about “jewed” in a sarcastic way? Because that’s offensive, too.

          • L

            Yes, of course. It’s tremendously offensive, and most people recognize that immediately, whereas, judging from this comment thread, only about a third of people recognize “gypped” as offensive. Partly it’s the ubiquity of the term leading to a disconnect between the meaning and the etymology, but I think it also has to do with Roma being a universally marginalized and disempowered minority. And I guess I also find it a little funny or at least interesting to think about the casualness or familiarity of the bigotry that the term implies, on both accounts, hence the provocation. I mean, a slur like that is certainly colorful. In any case, I don’t actually do this anymore, mostly I did it back in college when I was much more of a smart aleck. Now, I’ll sometimes point it out in a “Hey, isn’t it funny that you just maligned an ethnic group without meaning to” kind of way and sometimes let it go. FWIW, I’m a little bit Jewish and not at all Roma.

        • Kelsey

          I never realized that is where the word came from, which is probably true for a lot of people using it. There is also the proximity factor–I’m unlikely to ever have a conversation that includes a gypsy, so I won’t have opportunities to offend them, while I am likely to encounter a person with an intellectual disability of a close friend or family member regularly. So, except for the fact that it keeps the word alive, I don’t emotionally damage gypsies by using the word “gypped”, but I could very well hurt a person with an intellectual disability by saying that the professor I’m complaining about is retarded. Take this conversation to France, and it becomes significantly more emotionally loaded. Which isn’t to say that using the word “gypped” is okay (I will avoid using it now that I know), but that it is relatively less hurtful than “retarded” for an American to use.

        • Jess

          I never realized it was a slur until last year reading something on NPR or spelled it gypped. Thought it was “jipped” my whole life.

    • Jules

      At first I didn’t realize which word you meant and thought it was “rape” (misread you). But hey, just because I need to vent right now, I wanted to throw in that I ABSOLUTELY HATE when people say “raped” and don’t mean “raped”. Example: I got raped by that biology test.

      There are a lot of reasons I have issues with this being misused, but in the end I would ask people not to say it in that context. For the most part, they were rather ashamed. I like to think it made them think twice in the future about using it, period, but who knows.

  • KB

    I think Liz’s advice is totally right in that it doesn’t matter what the behavior is, it’s enough that the person feels uncomfortable. I’m the same way with horror movies – I just do not want those images in my head, they pop up at weird times, and you just can’t “un-see” them, even with otherwise really good movies, like Saving Private Ryan or Inglorious Bastards. But I think it’s also important for the person doing the asking to explicitly say (even when you think it should be obvious), “Look, I’m not trying to control you or make you feel bad about watching it – I would just rather not be in this situation right now and I need you to meet me halfway by turning it off/putting on headphones/saving it for when I’m out of the house/etc.” Not everyone is as conscious of trigger points or themes – and I do agree with Alison O. that the level of pushback considering the content may be cause for concern – but I actually think that kind of discussion and reassurance may reveal whether or not it’s a gut reaction to being told what to do or a deeper lack of respect.

  • Caroline

    I think there are two things going on here. The first is a basic respect issue, that you need him to respect that these scenes are upsetting for you, and whether or not he understsnds, while you live in a small shared space, he needs to respect your discomfort/fear. because for myself at least, watching a rape scene is not a level of discomfort like playing music i’m not into. It’s more on the level of including ingrediants i am allergic to (not anaphalactically, but cause a health issue reaction) in dinner. it has real (mental) health consequences, and he needs to respect that. If he isn’t understanding that, may e a therapist can help you discuss it.

    The other is that it seems like you are upset that he doesn’t understand why it is upsetting. I’ve found issues like this, I have been much more successful in educating my partner and changing his mind about gender stuff when i frame it as sharing my own discoveries and learning. I frequently say, i readtdhis interesting article about… and over years of that, he’s really learned a lot about what it is like to be a woman in the world, and has become very aware of sexual violence in the media, of when he as a bystander can intervene in street harassment or classroom harassment and such. If i had tried to teach him or explain to him, he would have gotten defensive. instead, i just included him in my own educational path, as i learned to be more critical of media (while still enjoying it sometimes if it is a little sexist. but i turn off any movie or TV show with a rape scene. I just can’t watch that.

    • Yes! I’m pretty sure the huge number of times I say “I read this article” each day is the main reason Eric has become a total ally with regard to these issues.

  • Amy March

    I strongly disagree with this one. Absolutely, your partner should work with you. But you also need to do the work and it sounds like you aren’t. If he wants to watch an episode of Game of Thrones, that’s not unreasonable. Put on headphones, take a shower, go for a walk. Get counseling so that something on the tv isn’t so viscerally upsetting for you (not because it’s objectively wrong to be upset, but because your inability to handle your emotions about this is causing problems in your life). It’s no more a teeny tiny sacrifice for him than it is for you. And I’m not sure why you’re judging his reaction in light of his mother and sister’s experiences. His being able to distinguish fact from fiction isn’t a negative reflection on his moral fiber.

    • H

      “your inability to handle your emotions about this is causing problems in your life”

      Wow. If you’ve read even a bit of this thread you can see that being significantly affected by violent rape scenes in movies and TV is extremely common. Our society has a huge problem with violence toward women and rape culture – they’s why these screenwriters and directors put in these rape scenes in the first place, to evoke a strong reaction from their audience. It’s rarely to advance a plot point, it’s far more often for the shock factor. The letter writer is disturbed by these scenes – and that’s normal, that’s what these showrunners want. If she prefers not to be disturbed during her free time in her home, she has every right to expect that her partner will respect that. It’s completely unfair to characterize her as some irrational person who is “unable to handle her emotions” when her wishes are completely rational and legitimate.

      • Winny the Elephant

        I think that this commenter is confusing experiencing emotions and being unable to handle emotions. Just because I experience a strong emotion and let it affect me doesn’t mean that I am out of control.

        • Amy March

          I don’t think you’re out of control. But you said it makes you physically ill. You can go with that , decide your emotions are justified, and continue trying to get your partner to change to accommodate you or you can try and change your reactions because they’re causing trouble in your life.

          • Winny the Elephant

            Ya I’ll work on suppressing a natural response to extreme violence…

          • Amy March

            If you’re not willing to try and work with him, I’m not seeing why he should be willing to work with you. Righteous indignation is not a friend to a healthy relationship.

          • KH_Tas

            I think (even inadvertently) gaslightling her (because that’s what calling someone overreacting is) means that he has a lot of ground to make up before he gets to demand she does lots of emotional work

          • Amy March

            Gaslighting? Wow. That’s a serious accusation to level at someone who is watching main stream tv. Sometimes telling someone they are overreacting just means they are overreacting.

          • KEA1

            explaining to someone that you have a visceral reaction to a disturbing image is not overreacting.

          • Amy March

            But getting so physically ill and emotionally disturbed by something your loving partner and millions of other people enjoy that your only solution is “he must not watch this” is something he might reasonably see as an overreaction. And digging in your heels with your partner and stamping your foot because your feels are objectively right doesn’t provide either of you with room to move forward and compromise.

          • KEA1

            It didn’t sound like digging in heels or stamping foot. LW made a completely reasonable request because, especially in a small apartment with no reasonable place to escape the TV, turning off the TV is easy. Yes, millions of other people enjoy that kind of entertainment. But compassion for a partner’s inability to enjoy it needs to take a much higher priority than comparison with what millions of other people do. Dismissing a partner’s request because you think they’re overreacting is not compassionate.

          • KH_Tas

            It’s not compassionate, and also, just because a lot of people like something doesn’t make it right.

          • Amy March

            Headphones. Closing eyes and putting hands over ears. Easy to do if you want to work with him. Hard to do if you think you shouldn’t have to compromise because you’re right.

          • KEA1

            Turning off the TV at the request. Easy to do if you care about your partner’s well-being. Hard to do if you think you shouldn’t have to compromise because you’re right. How do you and your spouse/partner handle that kind of impasse?

          • Amy March

            Exactly my point. She’s already tried getting him to change this and it hasn’t worked. So instead of continuing to insist he change, she could make an effort. It would be my hope the seeing her try to change , and hearing less judgment of the fact that this doesn’t bother him, would make it easier for him to sometimes just pause it. But if the message he is getting is “you’re a bad person for watching this stuff and I’m right and I don’t have to change” that’s a very hard position to work with.

          • Confused

            Here are some of your comments I’m not understanding:

            “he must not watch this” is something he might reasonably see as an overreaction That’s not what she asked, though – she only asked for him not to watch it in their tiny shared space on their shared TV while she’s present. NOT asking him to never watch it ever because it’s wrong that he enjoys it, or whatever.
            She’s already tried getting him to change this and it hasn’t worked…she could make an effort…would make it easier for him to sometimes just pause it. ….Not sure what you meant by “trying to change”, because the way you feel about something is not always changeable. I see what you are maybe trying to aim for…that she should “change” in order to make him more receptive…but really? She needs to go to counseling in order for him to “sometimes just pause it”? This in no way looks like a compromise to me at all. What is he doing to meet in the middle here?
            watch common mainstream tv in his own home …Does it matter if it’s mainstream or not? The point is that they contain disturbing scenes. I’m shocked that you say “in his own home” because similarly she can’t escape from this in HER own home.
            in addition to asking him to try and limit his viewing, you have a responsibility to mitigate the harm you’re suffering. It’s just not fair that the person who cries the most wins in a relationship. I don’t even know.
            Get counseling…….It’s no more a teeny tiny sacrifice for him than it is for you. I think that simply watching those shows when she’s not around is a teeny tiny sacrifice compared to telling her to go to counseling.

            I’m just baffled. To me the answer is not “compromise by working on yourself because it’s absurd that he can’t watch mainstream television around you”….not at all.

          • pookiesmom

            I have to say, while I respect your right to post your opinion, I find your comments infuriating. Have you ever BEEN to counseling? Because if this hypothetical therapist is worth a grain of salt, they would be horrified at the suggestion that they work with the letter writer to desensitize her to a very natural reaction to extreme violence. You know why certain articles, videos, etc. come with trigger warnings? Because sometimes avoidance is the healthiest way to deal with triggers. On a philosophical level, WTF is the matter with society that it is considered “normal” to be totally blase about watching women brutally raped and murdered for our own pleasure? I say this as someone who WATCHES these shows, but even I can see how messed up it is. Just because 90% of the general population is desensitized to violence does not mean that the majority is right or healthy or even desirable.

            The letter writer is experiencing TRAUMA that is being triggered by her partner’s actions. The fact that he is trivializing her reaction is a major red flag to me. Her right to feel safe in her own home trumps his right to watch his shows while she’s at home. It just does, I’m sorry. Furthermore, he should have a vested interest in her not experiencing trauma on a daily basis AS HER PARTNER.

            She shared an emotional need with him, and not only did he dismiss it–he criticized her for having it! That is a huge problem. If his emotional needs are not getting met in the relationship, if there is a deeper reason that he can’t be bothered to wear headphones when watching these shows, if there is a deeper reason that he feels so much more invested in these shows than his own partner’s emotional health, then it is his responsibility to advocate for himself. Advocating for himself is NOT THE SAME THING as trivializing a clear emotional need, which is what he did.

      • Amy March

        I specifically said that my comment was leaving aside whether her reaction is legitimate. Legitimate or not, it is causing problems for her. There are ways to help that. Being unable to have Mad Men on when you are in the house is pretty extreme. That must be hard for the letter writer, but there are ways to deal with that that don’t involve controlling her partner.

        I have a similar reaction to the letter writer to suspense- it makes me feel physically ill. But it’s pretty common, so while I try and avoid it I also practice day-dreaming around it, strategic bathroom breaks, etc. I think the letter writer’s dude go behave in a much more helpful way. But if she were meeting him halfway by making an effort to make this as ok for her as possible, and sharing that effort with him, and letting him know the space where she can’t make it possible, that might give him room to not feel judged and backed into a corner over his decision to watch common mainstream tv in his own home- where I think he should be able to relax without worrying about eggshell emotions too. It’s a two way street.

        • Alison O

          I don’t see this as an instance of “controlling her partner” but rather about her partner’s willingness to make loving, reasonable accommodations for her. Such compromises have to happen in nearly every successful happy relationship in one way or another.

          I would also take issue with how you make the point about learning to handle one’s emotions. I totally agree, there are things you can do to manage your emotional state, reduce stress, etc. and I wish more people knew more about those things. I actually hope to teach mindfulness as part of my career. However, the way it comes off to me in your comments is more like victim-blaming or something along the lines of saying to a schizophrenic person, ‘you just really need to learn to stop your hallucinations! (or to a veteran with PTSD, “stop having flashbacks and nightmares!”) It’s not that simple.

          And, in this scenario it’s not a great hardship for the partner to accommodate her. Plus, I would say by knowing that this is a trigger for her, and it is generally an avoidable one, it is a very reasonable healthy choice for her to think that not exposing herself to it unnecessarily is an easy, sensible solution. If she were having debilitating reactions to something she could not reasonably avoid, I might agree more that she should seek help in developing coping skills (although who’s to say she isn’t already and just didn’t mention it in the letter?). Though if the issue was THAT severe I’d be all the more surprised that the partner was not going out of his way to cater to her emotional well-being.

          • Amy March

            Well, I would suggest that someone having hallucinations seek treatment so . . .

          • Alison O

            Right, just as a person with cancer should seek treatment, but it doesn’t mean they can cure themselves.

        • Jules

          Changing how you feel about something (particularly when that something is rape, torture, graphic violence, or so on) is much less doable than simply not watching a particular show or movie in your roommate’s presence.

          Judging his reaction based on his mom and sister might be the reason he’s a little shut down to the conversation, but what I got out of that was “I can’t believe he can’t empathize with me because of how it has affected people he loves in his life”.

    • Winny the Elephant

      Letter writer here. I guess I just feel that my home should be a place where I can be at peace and feel comfortable. I think that I have a right to be at home without being subjected to violent sexual images. I’ve tried just walking away but we have a 600 square foot apartment with a translucent sliding door to the bedroom. I would literally have to lock myself in the bathroom with headphones on to get away from it and I don’t think I should have to.

      I also don’t think that having a visceral reaction to rape, even simulated rape, is a bad thing. What does it say about our society that we’ve become so numb to sexual violence, that despite the fact that it happens to the women all around us, we still consider it entertainment when it comes into our homes on a screen?

      • ElisabethJoanne

        I think there are 2 disagreements here. First, is LW/Winny’s reaction to one end of a normal range or desirable? (I think a case can be made for wishing we would all have strong reactions to depictions of violence.) Generally, if someone has a normal or desirable trait, we don’t expect them to change. Second, if it’s not normal and not desirable, is it a problem she should look into fixing?

        So, again with the allergy analogy, for food allergies, we generally just avoid the allergen. But for environmental allergies, we can’t avoid the allergen, so people get allergy shots. Then there are close calls that will be different in different families. Some people will get allergy shots for dog or cat allergies. Some people just won’t have furry pets.

        To me, movies are just not something worth seeking professional help about. But if my partner were a professional movie critic, or I thought my reaction to movies was part of a bigger issue, the calculation might change.

        • whale

          To me, having “nightmares for weeks” sounds terrible. And because of the current media climate, there is a possibility of seeing a triggering scene in potentially unexpected places even after taking precautions. Having a powerful, visceral reaction to violence is natural, but when it extends beyond the moment for a prolonged period of time … beyond controlling your environment as much as you can (including finding a compromise with your partner — perhaps he takes his laptop and headphones into the bathroom if he’s desperate to finish up Game of Thrones while you’re home), I’d recommend talking to someone to find a coping mechanism to allow you to sleep comfortably just in case.

          • ElisabethJoanne

            That’s fair, but it goes beyond the letter to life outside LW/Winny’s home.

            Back to my analogy – I over-simplified. Some people do get treatment for food allergies, because the allergen is common and the reaction is severe. My mother is allergic to wheat (not celiac, regular food allergy). If she were very sensitive, and her reaction were deadly, she’d probably have to get shots, because you can’t live a normal life and never be in the same room as wheat. But even with treatment, her house wouldn’t have wheat.

            I think I lead a normal life without much motion picture viewing, but if LW/Winny wants to deal with this beyond avoidance, totally her call.

        • Jules

          I also have to disagree with seeking professional help over something that’s intended to be shocking and NOT in our comfort zone in the first place, and that’s portrayed in an otherwise avoidable situation. Let’s make the assumption that Winny does fine otherwise and simply doesn’t want to watch this stuff. Yeah, I think that makes you pretty normal, just with a particular taste in movies. Kinda like…watching zombie movies will give me nightmares and I don’t like to watch them and I know they’re fake (OMG I HOPE.) , but I don’t feel the need to seek help over it, nor do I feel that I don’t have my emotions in control.

          Secondly, I would not call counseling vs watching a violent movie when she’s not around an equal trade-off. I would not call counseling a “teeny tiny sacrifice”, in the case that we are assuming it is necessary. AND HECK, if he HAS A LAPTOP and can watch this stuff where it’s not disturbing (could even be in the same room, on headphones, where she can’t see the screen), then it SURE as heck isn’t an even tradeoff.

          I read some comment earlier about this being “controlling”, but I would see that more as “you can never watch X movies ever” rather than “please don’t do this [thing that makes me uncomfortable] in my own home”.

      • Class of 1980

        I once lived in a 600 square foot condo for a while with a partner. If people haven’t tried that, they have no clue how impossible it is to get away from whatever the other person is doing.

        Boy, do I get it.

    • Karenina

      I am completely not desensitized to violence. Game of Thrones is watchable– barely—so although I love the drama, I close my eyes a lot. I cannot watch graphic violence. If I were to be forced to see any of a number of popular films (Saw, Django Unchained, Hannibal Lecter, Kill Bill, the end of Braveheart, Saving Private Ryan), I believe I would vomit and have nightmares for days. Are you suggesting that my reaction is a problem? That there is something wrong with me to be made ill at the sight of hacked limbs, skewered bodies, and burst skulls? I do beg to differ. Fiction is a powerful force, and visual violence in movies and TV is virtually indistinguishable from a tape of a real event.

      • Amy March

        I’m not. I have a similar reaction. I’m suggesting if your partner enjoyed those movies, and didn’t want to stop watching them, in addition to asking him to try and limit his viewing, you have a responsibility to mitigate the harm you’re suffering. It’s just not fair that the person who cries the most wins in a relationship.

        • Winny the Elephant

          “It’s just not fair that the person who cries the most wins in a relationship”.


  • Emily

    Thank you so much for this post! I’m exactly the same way about rape scenes, but that really is besides the point. Your advice really cuts to the thick of it, Liz. I try to make this point all the time in arguments with my fiance, but it often gets buried or ignored in the face of whatever thing we’re arguing about. Example: we live in an apartment that is the first floor of an old shotgun-style house, about ten feet away from either next-door neighbor. He grew up in the suburbs, I grew up on a mountain, and therefore our needs for privacy vary dramatically. I cannot STAND it when the blinds are open once dusk settles, because I feel on display in my own house. The neighbors could literally be standing outside our windows looking in and I wouldn’t know! To him this seems like insanity. But to him it’s also completely trivial, whereas I am viscerally uncomfortable and feel unsettled the rest of the night, as if my space was actually invaded.

    Moral of the story? You can bet your ass he’s reading this post tonight. Thankyouthankyouthankyou.

  • honey come home

    I think Liz’s advice is good, but I don’t know that it applies to this situation. The letter writer has told him it bothers her and he has refused to stop doing it. He “gets huffy” when she asks him to respect her. He thinks she is “overreacting.” It’s not as as simple as saying “This bothers me, please don’t do it” because he already knows it bothers her and has shown he doesn’t think it is a valid concern.

    I don’t have better advice to offer. I really don’t know how you get someone to empathize with you… especially if it’s your partner, the person who is supposed to love you the most, who thinks the way you feel is just… not important. The only thing that might work is being a broken record. It’s how I’ve addressed smaller issues with my partner: if it hurts my feelings, I say something, even when it seems trivial or if I’ve said it a bunch of times before. This works for me because my partner does think my feelings are more important than the “joke” he is in the habit of making that I find hurtful, or whatever, even if he doesn’t realize it immediately or he slips up. I hope everyone’s partner is that way! I hope it’s true for the letter writer. Have the conversation again, maybe at a time when it’s not immediate or hurtful (lunch? car ride? walk?) so that he knows it’s on your mind, you mean it and it’s not something he can dismiss as “overreacting” or ignore until it goes away.

  • Whitney S.

    As soon as I read this question, It made me think of this blurb I saw on Tumblr:

    “The odds of being attacked by a shark in the US are 1 in 11,500,000, but no one gets mad at people who want to avoid the ocean.

    The odds of a woman being sexually assaulted in her lifetime are 1 in 6, but if she doesn’t feel safe around strange men she’s a stereotyping bitch.

    Strange old world we live in.”

    Yes, Liz is right in that this can totally be solved in a “Be nice to the ones you love” way, but things don’t happen in a vacuum. LW, you aren’t crazy.

  • Cathi

    I’ll be honest: The main thing I’m thinking after finishing this is “…what on Earth kind of media does your fiance like watching that this is even a recurring problem?”

    Am I just weirdly sheltered by the fact that I don’t have a TV connection and don’t go out to see movies more than once a year? I can’t think of a single thing I’ve watched (Netflix and Hulu are my media sources) in the last couple months that even had a sexually aggressive scene. Granted, I’m cherry-picking what I’m watching, but I don’t think my tastes are THAT tame or unusual.

    • Winny the Elephant

      Letter writer here. You definitely aren’t watching a lot of mainstream T.V. if you haven’t seen any sexually aggressive scenes. From Mad Men to Game of Thrones to countless movies- they are everywhere. It’s actually quite shocking to me that we live in a culture where rape is so pervasive in our mainstream media. That’s what makes this so difficult is that what he is watching really is just regular T.V. and movies. It’s not like he’s watching hardcore porn

      • Jules

        Downton Abbey, House of Cards (I thought?), Girl w/Dragon Tattoo, The Duchess, Braveheart, Law & Order: SVU…. :(

        Cathi, it also might be that my sensitivity to this is high, so even watching something like that every so often would be a bigger deal.

        Thanks for the warning about Mad Men. Yet another drama crossed off the list…

    • Sara

      I don’t want to say you’re sheltered, but it is relatively common now a day. Not to say that’s ok, but off the top of my head I know Scandal had a lot of horrifying sexual imagery this season, and anything on SVU. Plus Criminal minds can be hit or miss…those are just the ones I watch.

      • Cathi

        I totally forgot about crime dramas, though without real TV I’ve just been keeping up with Bones, where if sexual violence is an issue it’s a before-the-episode thing that’s just talked about, not shown.

    • Game of Thrones. It’s a pretty big deal in the entertainment world right now and a lot of people watch it. So do I. Most of the time.
      Thankfully I saw SPOILER the uprising over the rape scene in this weeks episode on social media so I could opt not to watch this episode. But there’s a lot of, well…EVERYTHING out there these days and sometimes it just comes out of nowhere.

      • Jules

        ANOTHER JULES?! *waves*

    • Caroline

      I’d say it’s unbelievably common. I turn off the TV/stop the show at rape scenes, not always for sexual violence but it is upsetting.Recently, media I’ve watched/stopped watching with extreme sexual/gender violence have included: Supernatural, W.E., Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid (I’m told what was happening wasn’t rape, but it looked enough like it that I turned it off).
      I’m avoiding the latest season of downtown abbey because of it (although I hear they “didn’t show the actual rape”, honestly, cutting the camera away so you can only hear the actual rape is not much better in my book, or less upsetting.)As other readers have said, Game of Thrones.

      That’s just off the top of my head, in the last month or two, and I make a point of avoiding crime dramas (I guess supernatural is sort of a crime drama… And I have a total love/disgust relationship with that show, but I otherwise avoid them). And I’m in school full time and not watching a ton of media.

    • Channa

      Game of Thrones, perhaps?

      Don’t get me wrong, I love Game of Thrones. But it’s got a fair share of disturbing stuff.

      • One of the blessings of my incredibly dysfunctional childhood was that we didn’t have tv (not that that’s dysfunctional, it was just one of the things from my childhood). So now as an adult I don’t feel the need to have it, it’s not something I need to have to get through my day. We have tv through Netflix and hulu and whatever the tv channels put on their websites. I like this so much better than turning on something and just letting it play. I get to control when and if I watch anything (presumably others do, too). I grew up with the mindset that it matters what we read, watch, and say. It affects our lives and the world around us.
        Also, this whole discussion is baffling. I consider this to be a matter of respect. My partner knows I can’t handle violent shows. She asks me if it’s okay for something to be on and warns me ahead of time. She knows I’ll never go watch violent movies with her. That’s just how it is. There’s nothing to discuss, convince, or persuade. We respect each other’s differences.

  • ElisabethJoanne

    Someone mentioned mild food allergies below. Like, obviously shellfish can be great stuff. No moral judgments about shellfish. But if your partner is allergic to shellfish, it’s probably best to avoid or limit bringing it home. Similarly, certain perfumes and colognes give me migraines, nausea and vomiting. Some of these I actually like for the first hour, before my head starts pounding. But no way is that stuff going to stay in my home. If my husband tried to choose a thing above my health and comfort, we’d have serious problems. It’s not a matter of whether the food or the perfume or the movie is good or bad, it’s that those things are morally neutral, and a person’s health is more important.

    Now, if the LW didn’t have such a bodily reaction to the movies, if it were just a moral or aesthetic argument, I might feel differently. My husband listens to rap that I’m sure some feminists here would object to – that I object to. But he’s also made a case that it’s a legitimate artistic expression of feelings appropriate to what’s being referenced (which is not women or any particular woman, but, to over-simplify, social factors). He listens to his music with his headphones, and I don’t see it resulting in any disrespect, and that’s a situations that works for us.

    • Winny the Elephant

      letter writer here: This is the man who has given up eating anything with sesame seeds in the house because the smell makes me nauseated but he can’t understand why I can’t watch movies with rape scenes. Someone explain that one to me.

      • ElisabethJoanne

        Personally, I don’t think there is any explaining your reaction.

        Let’s step away from the super-charged issue of sexual assault. There are jokes I find funny that my husband doesn’t, and vice versa. Kitten, puppy, piglet memes do nothing for me, but obviously lots of people go ga-ga for them. I can’t predict what book/song/movie about family or friendship will make me cry – and I certainly can’t explain to my husband why they make me cry. Even if I’ve read the story or heard the song 100 times before, sometimes it’ll set me off, and sometimes it won’t.

        Maybe with therapy you can discover something in your past or personality that makes your reaction more extreme than other women’s. Others here recommend that. Not being a big motion picture person, I don’t think it’s worth it if this is the only way it pops up in your life.

        I’m no expert in talking about gender and sexuality issues with one’s significant other. I try to make it personal. If my husband makes a derogatory comment about women that I think is unfair, I try to point out how it applies to me, or how if he had that attitude about me, he wouldn’t have fallen in love with me.

        While I can’t always explain what causes my feelings, I’ve had some success in paying attention to them and putting them into sentences. What’s usually going through my head when I’m very emotional is: “Sad. Heart. Hurts. Stop. Sad. Ow.” But with practice, I can squeak out, “I’m sad. I can’t really explain why, but I’m thinking about [how we can’t have children, the teens drowned in Korea, my grandma who died 15 years ago…]”

      • Valerie

        This comment makes me think that he might be feeling judged for his taste in movies, and is getting defensive about it. I totally agree that he should respect your discomfort, and it seems like he’s willing to do so for other things. Maybe making it clear that you don’t think he’s a horrible person for liking Game of Thrones or whatever would help?

      • moonlitfractal

        That actually sounds like a good sign to me. Have you tried equating your reaction to violent media to your reaction to sesame seeds? Maybe if he’s understanding about one he’ll be understanding about the other.

        • Kelsey

          This makes me think of something Brene Brown says–one can only change their behavior when they believe that they are basically loved and accepted as they are. Aka shame doesn’t work. So in this situation, making sure to separate discussions of what you don’t want him to watch in the house from any assessment of him as a person or partner is really important. Which you may very well already do, and he’s hearing judgement that you didn’t intend.

  • Rachael

    I’m having a really hard time phrasing this comment because the reaction by the fiance is so different than that of my husband’s that I’m having a hard time imagining it. Then again I think maybe my actions are different than the writers as well. I refuse to watch anything too realistically violent, rapes, and generally anything off-putting (there is some strange content out there). Sometimes that is just an individual scene within a movie and I’ll cover my ears and close my eyes or I’ll go sit in the bathroom with the water on and my ears covered until my husband gives me the all clear. But at the same time, if it’s just a single scene I don’t insist that he stop watching it or that he fast forward through it.

    Other times it is just too much of a movie to get through and we’ll turn it off. My husband isn’t as affected by violent imagery as I am, but the fact that it bothers me is enough to turn it off without protest or question. Actually, he can usually tell if I’m disturbed and will suggest we watch something else. I don’t need him to empathize with the fact that it bothers me, but he respects that it bothers me.

    This reminds me of something my dad, who is the toughest guy I know, told me a few years ago that really struck a chord with me. He told me that after he had kids he refused to watch movies where a child dies, it bothered him too much. His rationale: “Why would I want to watch that?” Movies and TV are for entertainment. If you don’t find it entertaining, don’t watch it. I don’t think it’s too much to ask that your fiance respect that.

  • Channa

    I hate to say it this way but really, my husband tries to see my side (and I try to see his) because we are willing to and want to see each other’s sides. Since we want to do that, occasionally it takes time to actually come around to it, but we can do it. If we didn’t want to do that, it wouldn’t matter how persuasive the other was, we wouldn’t be able to do it.

    That’s really all there is to it for us.

    One thing that worked for me was this, though. We used to have a problem in which if I said something he really didn’t believe, he’d call it out with “no you don’t!” or “you know that’s not true” and I was upset not that he disagreed with me, but that he was dismissing my opinion, telling me what I thought or what I did or did not know.

    I kept trying to tell him that this bothered me and why, but he kept assuming that the thing that bothered me was that he disagreed. AUGH!

    Finally, I wrote down the dialogue of one of our disagreements:

    “It seems to me that XYZ. I think it’s because of ABC.”
    “Come on. No you don’t!”
    “YES I DO! Don’t you EVER tell me what I think! That is NOT OKAY!”
    “Whoa! I know you’re upset that I think it’s because of DEF…”
    “No, I’m upset that you’re telling me what I think.”

    And then I took a highlighter and highlighted the “Come on, no you don’t!” in that conversation and said “this. THIS is what angers me. It is really not okay to say this when someone tells you what’s upsetting them. It’s so dismissive. Why do you presume I don’t think the thing I just told you I think?”

    It worked. That hasn’t happened since.

    • Violet

      “Since we want to do that, occasionally it takes time to actually come around to it, but we can do it.”
      Channa, that actually sums up my partnership as well. As my partner says, “Without good faith, you’re nowhere.” What works for us is in an argument, when he says something I don’t agree with, I’ll say, “Hmmmm. Okay. How do you think I’d respond to that?” Having him say what I’m thinking (he usually knows what I’m thinking already!) is validating for me (“Hey, he gets me, even if he doesn’t agree!”) and good for him, (“Hey, she’s not attacking me, she just think something different!”). Doesn’t fix all problems, but our experience is like yours- if you want to resolve the issue, you’ll be able to resolve it. We run this relationship, it doesn’t run us.

  • Amanda L

    I feel the exact same way as you do about rape scenes. My husband isn’t the MOST sympathetic, but he doesn’t force me to watch them, nor do I find he watches a lot of movies where that is an issue. However, he has the same ‘it’s just a movie!’ reaction with my repulsion to bloody scenes or fight scenes. I just cannot watch it, and knowing these are actors does NOT make it easier for me to watch.

    I think Liz’s point that “Even then, when it isn’t something so complex and awful, what should be important to him is that it causes you discomfort. And that should be enough to make him knock it off around you.” Hopefully reading those words to him will get it to click in his head that this isn’t something he should try to ‘talk you out of’ but that it’s something he should learn to navigate for your sake.

  • Anonaconda

    Girl, I hear you. If those scenes bothers you that much, you shouldn’t be forced to watch them in your own home. He should absolutely hear your feelings and be willing to make concessions. It definitely concerns me that he may not be seeing your feelings here as valid.

    Here’s the thing, though. If my partner insisted that I couldn’t watch my favorite TV show in our home, that would really bum me out. I can think of a number of great movies and TV where rape is treated as the despicable act it is (like Top of the Lake, Rosemary’s Baby)– not that that has ANYTHING to do with your reaction to it, but I would be bummed to miss out on those shows & movies. He might not understand what you’re saying and feel like you’re judging his taste, which could make him defensive. What if he watched those sorts of things on his laptop, with headphones on, sitting away from you? Are you out of the house often enough that he has time to watch them when you’re not there? It’s still a compromise on his part, but it might be one that can make you both happy.

  • Sarah

    I’d just like to point out that that having the subject of rape in a story line doesn’t necessarily mean the show is bad or not worth watching. I totally understand why a lot of people would choose to avoid watching it themselves, but the truth is that rape happens in real life so it’s reasonable to have it be part of stories as well. I know for me personally, I find it worthwhile to see characters deal with rape (I’m thinking of Anna in Downton Abbey or Joan in Mad Men in particular, not sure how the recent Game of Thrones rape is going to play out yet) and how they move past it (at least enough so they can continue to live and function). For me, completely avoiding the topic seems like pretending it doesn’t exist when it clearly does and is worth discussing.

    • Guest

      It’s more in the way it’s treated, why it’s being used as a plot element, what messages it conveys and perpetuates, and so on – not in pretending it doesn’t exist, necessarily. Here’s an interesting article about Downton Abbey vs House of Cards rapes…

      • Sarah

        That article has an interesting perspective, but I disagree. I never thought Anna’s brutal rape was simply a plot device to further her husband’s character. She is a lower class woman in 1920s Britain – there were no resources or support for rape victims (if they were even considered victims?) and she did the best she could to take care of herself and her marriage. I’m sure it’d debatable what “message” is conveyed through that story line, but I always thought of Anna as a strong, resilient character. I don’t agree that Clare’s rape was handled or portrayed in a better way; her rapist was just another person she and Frank manipulated to their own advantage. Perhaps that can be viewed as more active on her part, but I wouldn’t say that myself.

  • TS

    a view from the other side…
    My husband hates scenes like the ones you’re talking about, and has a similarly visceral reaction to them. I can watch them without any issues (though curiously his computer game with people falling down and bleeding drives me nuts). A show I really liked had a scene in it which disturbed him and so I could never watch the show again if he was anywhere nearby. This is a show with 6 seasons, which continued to air for several years, and he would even change the channel for ads. Because of 1 episode 110 other episodes were declared off limits. It drove me nuts. I got huffy too. Not because he was being ridiculous (though that’s what he though it was), but because he was putting restrictions on what I could watch on the basis of a single scene. In all probability the thing he was so adamantly against me seeing was a standard episode of a drama series, with someone getting married/divorced/pregnant/fired/diagnosed with a life threatening disease (or all of the above), which isn’t exactly high art but it wouldn’t have hurt anyone for me to see it.

    Communication is great. TIMELY communication is better. Telling me that I can’t watch any shows with violent scenes? arbitrarily controlling and infuriating as hell. Telling me you don’t want to watch the current show because it’s too violent? sure, ok, what else is on.
    He’s probably not picking the show just to hurt you, but he also shouldn’t have to pre-watch everything in secret to make sure it’s safe.

    There are other things which are an issue for me to watch and we happily avoid them together by changing channel at the appropriate time. Issue arises, we fix it. No discussion required. But critically, we wait for a bit and then change back to the show we were previously enjoying (or he changes back and checks that scene is over and then I open my eyes…).

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  • anyadvice

    but if he doesn’t WANT to get it. If it spills over and feels like a huge flag about his larger inability to empathize and be caring for me…? I’m dealing with a different “trivial” issue that isn’t so trivial–it honestly feels like a deal breaker because of his dismissiveness–but I know that our relationship is otherwise very strong and healthy. I know no one else can answer this for me, but how do you know if you’re being short-sighted/pulling rank by demanding the issue be addressed versus when it really is a deal breaker??