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Very Confusing Relationship

Question:

I have been with this girl for almost 2 years. I love her so much and can’t imagine myself without her. But she has issues. Issues that I can’t seem to escape or help her with. It doesn’t take much to hurt her emotionally. Things that most people would shrug off or resolve with a honest apology, send her spiraling downward ruining her day, weekend or even longer. For example, a few weeks ago she called asking for a ride from work to pick up her car from the shop. She needed me to pick her up at 5 so we would have plenty of time to get her to her car before the shop closed. I showed up at her work at 5:03 on the nose and it turned into a horrible ordeal. She said that when she said 5 she meant before 5 and three minutes late is LATE!!! We still made it to her car with plenty of time to spare but that didn’t matter anymore. When she gets upset, she gets really upset. It’s on her mind constantly and she looses all motivation and she can’t seem to escape her sorrow of it. She gets very upset when she thinks about my previous relationships and the small number of women I’ve slept with in the past. It drives her crazy and I end up feeling guilty even though I have done nothing wrong. I am the only one she has ever slept with and the thought of me with other women is too much for her to bare. She knows I’d never cheat on her. I’m as loyal as they come but the past puts her over the edge. She threatens to break up with me all the time. She says that the pain she feels from me is too much. She would rather feel nothing than what she is feeling now. She says I hurt her all the time and she can’t take it. I know I’m not perfect and I don’t do everything right but every little thing is treated like a horrible unforgivable act. And if she has been drinking, "which is not done all that often", it’s like she opens the door to her inner most hatred. She’ll call me in the middle of the night and keep calling till I answer. When she’s mad at me, that’s when things really get ugly. She says things to me that I don’t want to repeat because they hurt just thinking of them. She says horrible cruel things to me and just keeps repeating them. If I hang up, I’m the jerk. If she hangs up, she expects me to call her back. The weird thing is, I still love her more than anything. And I know that deep down she loves me but this relationship cannot work like this. Something needs to change. I don’t know if she has some sort of personality disorder or not. If she did, that would explain a lot. I just want to know how much of this should be placed on my shoulders. Right now, pretty much all of it is on my shoulders.

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Answer:

You’ve painted a pretty vivid picture of a difficult relationship, and a troubled woman you’re involved with. It sounds very stressful to be you, in this relationship. It sounds very stressful to be your girlfriend as well.

I guess part of why you’re writing is you are trying to figure out where the boundaries are between you and she; whether her accusations against you are accurate or figments of her wounded imagination. Assuming your report is accurate and you haven’t left out important details about how you behave towards her, it appears that much of this pain and stress originates with her. There are prominent abandonment issues on display here. Though she has you now, she is worried about your past behavior. The fact that you’ve been with other women in the past is alarming to her; she treats it as though you’ve cheated on her. She sees these past relationships as a threat to her present relationship. It seems to me that this is reactive on her part and an attempt to prevent the possibility of further abandonment by dominating you. She may believe that "the best defense is a good offense" and be aggressively and passive-aggressively working on you to keep you close to her and attentive. The motive for it all appears to me that she is very fearful of being abandoned, and of not being taken seriously.

You wonder if this behavior on her part represents a personality disorder, and so do I. The one that would appear to best fit (if any of them fit) would be borderline personality disorder, which is usually diagnosed in women who demonstrate powerful fears of abandonment, reactive volatile and highly emotional behavior in relationships, and a high contrast "black and white" rather rigid thinking style. This latter rigidity translates into borderline diagnosed individuals’ strong tendency to want to categorize people in rather polarized ways, such as good and bad; punctual and late (in your case), and loyal and disloyal. Being fallible human beings, most people’s behavior falls in between such extremes; a little good and a little bad too; mostly punctual but not perfectly so; mostly loyal but not always. This "grayness" or mixture of polar qualities is painful, too much to bear, for the idealistic and sensitive borderline individual, however.

It’s interesting to know about borderline diagnoses and the like, but ultimately, I think you should leave diagnosing to professional helpers. What you need to focus on is how you are treated in this relationship, whether you find it reasonable or abusive, and whether you should stick around or leave. Clearly you are frustrated by how things are working out. You aren’t sure whether there may be merit to your girlfriend’s claims, but mostly you are thinking that she’s not seeing things clearly or reasonably. You’re trying to figure out how to feel about how you are being treated. This is a very reasonable question that you should be asking yourself.

Provided that you are reporting the situation accurately, my own sense is that this woman does have issues of some kind, possibly borderline personality disorder issues or possibly something related to that. If that is the case, it is likely she has had a very difficult time growing up, and has experienced some significant losses, abuses or traumas. She may not intend to be treating you poorly, but the fact remains that she is treating you poorly, and on occasion, abusively. You, for whatever reason, are acting rather passively towards her, and are accepting this poor treatment. I think you are confusing love feelings for a license for her to walk all over you. This is not a healthy dynamic for you or for her.

I’d like to see you learn to stand up for yourself more and learn to assert your right to not be treated poorly to her. You don’t have to do this in a mean or nasty way, but I think you do have to learn how to stand up for yourself better or she will continue to treat you poorly. This life skill of standing up for yourself falls under the heading of learning how to be more assertive, so you may want to read up on assertiveness.

Right now there is maybe a stability to your interaction with your girlfriend, where she is volatile and you are passive and accepting. As you become more assertive, you will be politely and nicely but also firmly challenging her right to make wild accusations and to throw fits so as to punish you and herself. You can expect her to push back against you in an effort to maintain the status quo. She may escalate. This is okay. Try to keep your cool and to be a reasonable advocate for yourself. If you persist, your relationship may adjust over time to a new, more balanced status quo that you’re happier with.

If you see the relationship continuing on a more or less permanent basis, I’d recommend that the both of you consider going into couples counseling. What is lacking for you both is a perspective on what is reasonable behavior that each of you should be able to engage in without the other feeling taken advantage of. You can’t give this perspective to each other very easily because in some sense you are competitors, each seeing the situation from a different perspective and advocating for the primacy of that perspective (her more vigorously than yourself, but you too). However, you can perhaps both agree to share your grievances with a third party who can provide you with his or her more objective opinion about what is reasonable.

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Comments
  • Christina

    As someone who has personally expereinced having at times severe depression, I offer this. I think when your girlfriend is hurting, it hurts her so bad that she feels the need to have someone understand the way she feels and in return tries to hurt you. She probably doesn't mean to cause you so much confusion. It's good that you are still there and supportive. Without my supportive long-term boyfriend, I don't think I would have ever been able to get my head above the clouds. One word of warning... don't let her bring you down. You don't want to become codependent. Help her to see the beauty in herself and be there to catch her when she falls. It takes the strongest sort of man to do this when times get really tough, but the reward will be worth it in the end.

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