Hello! I could use some advice. I have been with my girlfriend for four and a half years. I am 23 and she is 21. We have both had a couple of previous relationships, but nothing remotely serious. We currently live about 200 miles away from each other (3 hours by train) and our relationship has always been long distance in some capacity due to university, and now work.
We are both smart, capable people but we are quite different; in general I am very calm and balanced (though sensitive) while she is extremely emotional and over sensitive, mostly due to family problems. She is doing some CBT to deal with this and feels like she’s becoming much happier because of it.
The problem: over the last year we have started fighting about things. Stupid, insignificant things more often than not. It started when she was living with a group of people quite unlike her who she seemed to be conforming to; I got upset with this because I didn’t like what I felt she was becoming. We had a lot of fights there. She later agreed and recognised that they were mainly a bad influence, and now lives with some pretty cool people who I have no problem with. I expect that I probably sound like a jerk, but the situation was honestly ‘I am really not happy with how you are acting around these people and I want you to know that.’
After she had just moved out and the summer holidays had arrived, we went on holiday with my family (eek) and promptly broke up in our shared hotel room; it was like the pressure from the previous few months went critical. This only lasted one terrible day, where we were in separate hotel rooms crying constantly. She left the hotel and went for a walk at night without notifying anyone in a completely unknown place. I was worried sick. The next morning, after hours of tears and discussion, we agreed to get back together and were happy for a while.
But… arguments have kept happening and now it feels like there’s this spectre of ‘breaking up’ hanging over us since it has happened once. I really love this girl, but every time I go to visit or she visits I think ‘I really hope we don’t argue!’. It’s got to the point where I’ve said to her ‘I can’t do this anymore, we need to stop this or break up.’ Now she says she feels like there’s some ‘tally of chances’ and that she’s on her last one, so understandably she feels under pressure. But (and I’ve said this to her), that’s not how I operate! I love her and yes, there have been times when I’ve said (to myself) ‘if we argue this time, that’s it’ but there is no tally in my mind.
We are both terrified of hurting each other, we both hate arguing and when times are good, they are fantastically great. But when they are bad they are the *worst*. I guess my question is this: should we carry on and try to overcome the baggage (if, so, how can we do that?) or should we give up and move on?
– Baggage handler
Dear Baggage Handler:
I really shy away from telling people that they should or have to break up with a partner…it’s your life, right? What do I know?
However, this sentence?
“in general I am very calm and balanced (though sensitive) while she is extremely emotional and over sensitive mostly due to family problems”
This sentence contains the seeds of doom for your love.
Once you set up your emotional style as more calm and balanced (and therefore correct) than your partner’s, you are setting up a situation where you win every argument, you are always right, you are the one whose emotions can be trusted. You react. She overreacts. You are sensitive. She is over-sensitive. Whether you mean to or not, you are emotionally auditing partner – everything from her roommates to how she reacts to a breakup with you is up for judgment.
So it’s not exactly shocking that she feels judged and defensive?
Sometimes you meet young and you grow up together. But most people don’t marry the person they loved when they were 16-17 (when she met you), and most early relationships run their course for a reason. Your girlfriend is getting therapy, dealing with her family/childhood issues, and is in the process of morphing into the totally badass and amazing adult she is destined to be. The arguments could be an example of her overreacting to stuff and/or pushing your buttons, but it could be about her finding her voice and standing up for herself (imperfectly) because she doesn’t want to be seen as the less stable one anymore.
I also want to talk about the distance thing. You’re hearing about a lot of things after the fact instead of experiencing them right there with her. Since you see each other seldom, and there is great effort and expense involved, there is more pressure on the visits to be harmonious and special. Y’all are in the position of having to choose, all the time, “do we have this fight we kind of really need to have and maybe ruin the weekend, or do we just ride it out and try to keep the mood going?” I can see that leading to some passive-aggression on both sides, with small conflicts escalating quickly and you wondering why simple questions aren’t so simple.
Maybe you guys will ride this out and your shared history will only strengthen your bond. But since you asked me what I thought, I’m going to ask you to imagine a future where 1) you don’t have to ride 300 miles to see the one you love 2) you are not the caretaker of your partner, and 3) your girlfriend has a partner who doesn’t see her as over-anything and just thinks she’s straight-up great. It doesn’t have to be this hard.