How can I help my girlfriend with her guilt?
July 11, 2017 1:40 PM   Subscribe

I'm getting a divorce for Reasons, one of the big ones being that we tried an open marriage and, big surprise, it didn't work. I've become close with a woman who was involved, and now she feels a crushing sense of guilt at being a "homewrecker." She's tearing herself up with the imagined judgement of friends. I don't think there's anything I can do here, other than to be open, supportive, and listen. But I don't want to miss an opportunity to help, either. What can I do / say?

I want a long-term, healthy relationship with this woman, and we've taken careful steps to take things slowly and identify points of failure in our previous relationships. She's asked for space and a few days of no contact so she can sort things out, so I'm honoring that. I'm sick at the thought that I might lose her, even though I know that it would be better to end things sooner rather than deal with crushing guilt for years.
posted by joebakes to Human Relations (10 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Respect her wishes to sort things out on her own and let her make the 1st move wrt coming back IF she wishes to do so.
posted by brujita at 1:57 PM on July 11, 2017 [12 favorites]

Yes, I'm definitely going to wait for her to make the move. I'm afraid of smothering her. It's taking everything in my power not to, because we had such a high level of communication before this. I'm shocked at how quickly this happened -- like she flipped a switch. Ugh.
posted by joebakes at 2:00 PM on July 11, 2017

One thing you may learn is that sometimes people choose polyamory because they don't want the feeling that they are someone's everything. So you may find that she needs time to decide if she wants to run with a relationship in a totally different configuration than originally. Dating someone who's married to someone else is really different than dating someone single.

I would suggest you take these days to focus on yourself -- reconnect with friends, get used to some of the changes in situation, see a show, eat yummy comfort food.
posted by warriorqueen at 2:12 PM on July 11, 2017 [14 favorites]

I hate to say this, but it's quite possible she's using "I feel guilty" as another way of saying "sorry, I'm not into you anymore." If she totally, absolutely wanted to be with you, she wouldn't feel so guilty.

I'm so sorry. I was sort of in your position a million years ago and it sucks so, so bad.
posted by Melismata at 2:22 PM on July 11, 2017 [2 favorites]

You are not the person who can help here. You need to recuse yourself from any assistance that is not explicitly requested.

The terms on which she originally agreed to a relationship with you have changed pretty dramatically, and you have an agenda that may be at cross-purposes to what she wants for herself. Let her work that out without influence from you.
posted by Lyn Never at 2:22 PM on July 11, 2017 [20 favorites]

What you can do is figure out the elements of this that are entirely within your control and purview. And, right now, no: that's not much from the relationship's perspective. But, there's also a whole lot you can still do for yourself, too. And the very best thing you can do is to let go of any feelings of panic, or desperation. They will not, manifestly, help you out. Because: beneath them are more precise emotions: fear, upset, deep empathy, love, confusion, perhaps a sense of remorse, or frustration. The more tangible they can become to you right now, the better off you'll be in honorably expressing what you feel, when it's needed.

I believe relationships, even in unsteadiness, are maintained by keeping mutuality, not individuality: and in turn, one should then respect that these outcomes can't be controlled. The upshot is – take the full weight of that which you love, that which you need, and that which you would will into reality – and you surrender the rest. Do some heavy-lifting peacemaking for yourself.

Let the rest be hers, for now, only. It's not that she can't still communicate at a high level. She's having such strong cognitive dissonance around this, I imagine, it's blocking her up. And if you are able to hold space for her to express that, wholly, safely, and without fear guiding your expectations, whenever she returns to talk, that's your ideal you should aim and work at, now.
posted by a good beginning at 2:59 PM on July 11, 2017 [2 favorites]

I don't imagine that someone who was looking for a one on one relationship with an available man would get involved with a couple. For whatever reason, she liked the occasional, non committal nature of it and is clearly ethical enough about it that the end result of this is affecting her deeply. Also, it sounds like the breakup of your marriage was fairly recent. Surely you need time to fully process this too before jumping right into something else, otherwise any ensuing relationship is going to be on shaky ground.
posted by Jubey at 3:03 PM on July 11, 2017 [5 favorites]

Make the divorce as amicable as possible, particularly if it was primarily your choice. Give your ex more than what a court might consider his/her fair share, speak well of your ex, etc. She'll feel a lot less guilty if the pain and drama is reduced as much as possible.

If you're not tied to your ex's location because of kids, consider moving a couple towns over to give both of you space from judgment.

If you can take a break from dating while you work some stuff out for the next few months, that would be wise, but I know that can feel worse since it removes such an important support.
posted by metasarah at 3:51 PM on July 11, 2017 [2 favorites]

"I care about you, and I want you to be healthy. This isn't your fault, and I think it might help you to work with a therapist to get through those feelings in a way that's as good for you as possible."
posted by spindrifter at 5:46 AM on July 12, 2017

Just to follow up, things are much better now. I think she needed time, and I needed (and continue to need) to work on my own insecurity. Thanks everyone for your help and suggestions!
posted by joebakes at 6:16 AM on August 6, 2017 [1 favorite]

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