How do I stop my strong feelings for my girlfriend from making me needy and thus sabotaging my own relationship?
June 2, 2012 10:37 PM   Subscribe

The background: I normally don't have trouble dating but that's because I maintain an emotional detachment that makes it easy to plan and strategize - thus making calculated and well-planned decisions. Love, on the other hand, is something I almost never experience - but I seriously have it bad right now. It's impairing my judgment and it's become clear that I need help.

My girlfriend is going through a stressful time in her life and it is affecting our relationship negatively. We've both discussed that it's important for me to be present in her life during this period. The trouble is that I care about her so much that it is impairing my judgement and making me do stupid stuff. For example, I initiate long conversations about my feelings - she's an INTJ personality type so that's the last thing she needs to hear (I'm an ENTJ, which is why it's even more baffling that I engage in such uncharacteristic behavior). She then withdraws from me, which makes me even more nervous about the relationship, and then I try to be even closer to her like a scared puppy dog. In short, my worrying about the relationship is actively screwing up the relationship - I'm trapped in a negative feedback loop. I need some mental tricks to regain a certain level of emotional detachment around her, so that my being in love doesn't result in me losing the object of said love.
posted by wolfdreams01 to Human Relations (19 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
posted by misspony at 10:41 PM on June 2, 2012 [2 favorites]

When you love somebody you sometimes need to step back and do what they need you to do, rather than what you want to do. Make that your mantra. Next time you start going off about your feelings and stressing her out, stop yourself and then say, "Whoa, excuse me. You probably have some work you want to get done right now. Can I make you a fresh pot of coffee?" or whatever would actually be helpful for her.
posted by milk white peacock at 11:06 PM on June 2, 2012 [3 favorites]

Your rational brain may just be acting up because you don't know how to 'solve' this 'problem'. Ask her to explain more what she needs from you. Then when you know that you can actually apply your rational side and do it.
posted by fearnothing at 11:11 PM on June 2, 2012

Ask her to explain more what she needs from you

I would definitely not do this. Just be as chill and flexible as you fucking can. Its going to suck, but you trying to meddle is just going to make things worse. What is the stressful time? Studying for a Qual? Relative with medical troubles? Well whatever it is, you want to be a pillar of support, not an anchor.

As to how to do this, which presumably means more time away from her if she's studying or working, well, spend more time with friends, get a new video game. Take up woodworking. Medicate yourself in whatever way works.
posted by Chekhovian at 11:18 PM on June 2, 2012 [2 favorites]

Yes, chill the f out and let her come to you a bit. Is it possible you don't have much else to do with your time?
posted by rhizome at 11:35 PM on June 2, 2012 [1 favorite]

First of all, this isn't about creating emotional distance or detachment. Investing in emotional distance is another surefire way to sabotage the relationship. The problem isn't that you love her so much; you just need to learn how to balance supporting her during difficult times with how you feel about her difficult situations. Take a deep breath and remind yourself whatever is happening is not about you and you cannot fix whatever is wrong. Most people just want to be listened to, hugged, and pampered even in small ways (cook her favorite dinner, watch a movie she wants to that you would normally hate with a good attitude, etc). Those are ways you can support her, while remaining emotionally close and still feel like you are doing something, even if it may feel like it's not enough. It is understandable you have feelings about what she is going through and the urge to express them is natural, but, as you realize, not always appropriate. I would suggest either saying those things to someone who isn't your girlfriend (a good friend or close family member) or perhaps writing them out, just so you can get them out without adding to her stress. That doesn't mean you should never express your feelings about what she is going through to her. In fact, it is important that you communicate openly, but pick the time and frame it in terms of trying to find ways to alleviate the stress of the situation for both of you while recognizing that may require some extra effort on your part. Just don't overthink or get in your own way, and you will be okay. You love her, you are in this together, and you got this. Just breathe, and find other outlets to release your frustration and anxiety during this difficult time. Best of luck to you both!
posted by katemcd at 11:46 PM on June 2, 2012 [10 favorites]

Why is she withdrawing from you? Because she wants to internalize issues and not involve you in them? Because she is struggling to deal with them even with your support (which may appear smothering)? Your worrying seems to be exacerbating the issue, whatever it is, from what you've described. It would be wise to respect her needs. (NB: I have strong personal opinions on how withdrawal is altogether unhealthy for relationship maintenance. Yet, it's how she's wired -- and she might not be able to help that. We are who we are, yes?)

I don't want to tell you what to think, but perhaps it is unhealthy for you to emphasize the objectification of "her" -- your use of markup is telling. I would personally concentrate on the relationship. Take a step back and concentrate on the things that you can do to support her without making her feel that your attention is a negative thing. Bake her cookies if she loves them. Tuck her in at night if you cohabitate. Rub her damn feet with gusto while you veg out on the couch together. Sometimes, the best way to maintain a handle on a situation is to let back on the intense level of agency that one feels, and instead concentrate on the many intangibles that have so much lasting effect. You can be supportive without working your ass off to find a direct and immediate solution.

At the same time, take care of yourself. Find an outlet for your thoughts that doesn't directly involve her, so you don't feel like you're not doing something constructive. A post on the internet might do the job, but it seems like you might want to talk this situation out with someone who knows the both of you well. I feel that doing so would go a long way towards releasing that extroverted energy and frustration that you have pent up inside.
posted by peeet at 12:04 AM on June 3, 2012 [4 favorites]

I don't want to tell you what to think, but perhaps it is unhealthy for you to emphasize the objectification of "her" -- your use of markup is telling.

Yes, this stood out for me as well.

Look, she's going through some things. Don't wig out on her and make it all about you because then she'll think she has two problems on her hands.

Be there for her when she wants you to be, otherwise, find some other things to do. Keep your mind busy elsewhere so that you can stop ruminating on your relationship.
posted by mleigh at 12:31 AM on June 3, 2012 [1 favorite]

Seconding that your being in love is not the problem and you don't necessarily need to be distant (if anything, my experience with INTJs' affectionate mode is that they want constancy, so if you suddenly pulled back in the wrong way, she's not unlikely to pull back further). It's more like how you express your concern that matters. I mean, you know her relatively well, right? Yeah? In my experience (and maybe I'm crazy), INTJs are pretty straightforward and transparent in their needs and wants, once you know one well; at least, there's no huge surprises. So you should have an idea of what kind of behavior she appreciates and doesn't, as you seem to. It's as simple as rerouting your devotion to useful avenues.

I know this is totally different, since the INTJ in my life is my mom, but still. If I knew she was feeling stressed, I'd chill out-- normally I complain to her, expect her to listen to me and come up with useful solutions, expect her to be organized more than me, expect her to provide me with food, etc. When she's low, though, I listen to her-- she really appreciates it. And when you do something that's appreciated, it actually resolves any neediness-- I mean, this is why it helps that INTJs are straightforward. I can always tell when my mom appreciates me-- it's obvious. She relaxes, too. Everyone relaxes when they feel helped or understood. Your girlfriend might also appreciate physical care like my mom does-- such as being cooked for, taken care of, supported in all the minor daily ways she's so good at taking care of herself. If she's overwhelmed with something, make some aspect of the rest of her life as smooth as it's in your power to make it. Take her out and entertain her, distract her, make her laugh. Even when I'm feeling low-energy and can't do much in the way of care, I can make someone laugh, and that too helps someone under stress.

I also think she wouldn't mind talking about feelings if you say insightful things or analyze them fruitfully rather than just expressing them without going anywhere. I dunno, this is my area of strength as an INFP (explaining feelings as a way to relax people), so you may not want to try it-- but I'm saying 'feelings' talk isn't an automatic stressor, it's how you go about it. She's probably open to having feelings categorized and labeled-- if done well, that would probably interest her on a theoretical level, anyway, unless she's one of those INTJs who're just not interested in psychology or behavior of human beings at all. It's about approach-- theory is always a nice thing to wrap feelings in, and it's also best to focus on hers and not yours. The way I manage it is that I feel the warmth of connecting to someone more when I talk about their feelings than about mine-- when people are touched, they reach out first, and that's gratifying.

If all else fails, do activities with her that take both of your minds off the issues. Especially if she likes certain kinds of things (theater, or eating out, or a band), treat her to evenings out, especially activities you'd both enjoy and be able to talk about later. Your don't have to see it as a dichotomy of rational vs emotional behavior. There are other axes. For example, INTJs, being strong intuitives, tend to be exploratory and highly open to new experiences-- this is something that's always present. Processing new and positive experiences will surely refresh and energize her (and you). Having fun is probably something she isn't carving out time to do as much as she may otherwise if she's under stress, so make sure she does those things she enjoys, even if you just give her a ticket to a spa or something. Sharing fun escapist activities together is likely to insert newly positive feeling into your relationship, so it's a win-win for both of you.
posted by reenka at 12:31 AM on June 3, 2012 [4 favorites]

Thanks, you guys made some very interesting points. I didn't notice the emphasis in the way I phrased the question and now I am wondering if a certain degree of limerence may be at play here. Back when the relationship was amazing, I was more secure in her feelings for me, and (somewhat counterintuitively) I thought about her a lot less than I do now. Now that I am insecure in her feelings for me, I think about it a lot more and it leads me to "poke" and "pry" into her feelings, which is unhealthy. You're right, she's an INTJ and that means she's going to tell me what she needs - I just need to calm the f down and trust that. Thanks for the advice, all. :-)
posted by wolfdreams01 at 6:18 AM on June 3, 2012

Do you have a friend IRL with a lot of relationship experience, or at least some? Don't let him/her tell you what to do, of course, but I find a role model really helpful in situations like this. Also, this friend will get you out of the house and stuff. We've all been there. It's OK.

But really, these Myers-Briggs types only go so far.

she's an INTJ and that means she's going to tell me what she needs

I must say I don't agree at all. Not in the least. She is just a person trying to get by, like you and all of us. People are way too complicated to reduce to something like that. Imagine looking back on this post when you're 80.

Chill for a while, seek out your other friends, let her know (not multiple times a day) that you're thinking of her.
posted by skbw at 8:08 AM on June 3, 2012 [2 favorites]

You don't need to be detached, you just need to be able to vent these feelings to someone who isn't HER. And you can wear out your friends really fast this way, so I do recommend a counselor whose job it is to sit and listen and constructively help you unpack what you're going through.
posted by hermitosis at 8:17 AM on June 3, 2012 [4 favorites]

You shouldn't assume that she is always going to do what you think her Myers-Briggs type would.

But here, you know that she wants you to stop pestering her with your insecurities about the state of your relationship. I don't think it's a question of detaching. What you need to do is say to yourself, OK, I'm not going to bring my crazy to her. You can feel the way you feel, but you need to find someone else to express it to (or some other outlet, like a journal).
posted by J. Wilson at 8:33 AM on June 3, 2012 [2 favorites]

It has been my experience that, at least the women that I have dated*, are not big fans of a guy who bares his soul or expresses his feelings often. That's why your dad, or maybe your grandfather, didn't do that. They may have lived in a time that had very different standards of behavior than today, but that doesn't mean these men were just raving idiots.

I think you're misreading the situation as one of type, rather than one of human nature. If you do something repeatedly that repulses another person, they try to get away. If that makes you do it more, that's not going to work out well for you. You need to stop.

Scared puppy dog is usually not one of the qualities women list in something they want in a partner. INTJ doesn't have much to do with it. What you have said hints that, were she to leave, you would be unable to go on. Nobody wants that kind of responsibility hanging over their head.

* A notably self-selected group.
posted by Feel the beat of the rhythm of the night at 12:24 PM on June 3, 2012

I think you're misreading the situation as one of type, rather than one of human nature. If you do something repeatedly that repulses another person, they try to get away. If that makes you do it more, that's not going to work out well for you. You need to stop.

Right, I get that. It's not a rational behavior on my part, it's an instinctual behavior. What's I'm looking for are sort of little mental tricks that I can use to to get my brain working in the right direction when I feel that instinctive behavior kicking in, so that I can process and deal with the emotion in a rational way.
posted by wolfdreams01 at 12:40 PM on June 3, 2012

One question you could ask is, "Will [action] help me achieve [goal]?" Pick your goal--there are good ones in your question--and run everything by it. If the answer is "No," you have to find a really good reason that it is important--otherwise, don't do it. Use all of your resources to reinforce this path, e.g. use your inner voice or even your out-loud voice--"Because I want [goal], I am not going to do [action]."
posted by ramenopres at 6:54 PM on June 3, 2012 [2 favorites]

Another idea is to write out what you would like to say in a journal or record it on your phone/computer. When I do this I think to myself, "I can always say this when there is an opportune moment. I am getting it out and saving it so that I can use it at the right time." That way, you aren't putting it off forever--even if it turns out that you don't ever express those exact thoughts to her. If you want another level beyond simply venting, this can also be a good time to look critically at what you're going to share before you open your mouth and blurt it all out. :)
posted by ramenopres at 6:56 PM on June 3, 2012 [2 favorites]

I had a piece of wisdom pop into my brain when I was in a similar situation: Be awesome, and let the rest sort itself out.

Be the best version of you and do whatever it is you are good at (which you know your girlfriend likes or she wouldn't be your girlfriend) and relax. Trust her to come around when she's ready. This projects strength, good will and trust in your relationship. How lovely it is to know one's partner can do this when one is frazzled and not at one's best!

Your girlfriend's personality is probably more catlike than doglike (I'm an INTJ - I'm definitely more catlike). You don't get a cat to regard you favorably by chasing them and forcing cuddles on them. Go off and do something interesting, and the cat will probably come to you on its own to see what you're up to.
posted by griselda at 10:41 AM on June 4, 2012 [1 favorite]

I did successfully manage to stop being needy, but she broke up with me anyway for unrelated reasons. In any case, I appreciate all the advice - some of it was really helpful, and it may prove useful in future relationships.
posted by wolfdreams01 at 10:06 AM on June 12, 2012

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