Help me truly accept my partner and stop worrying about our relationship
March 5, 2020 8:11 AM   Subscribe

I (28 F) have been with my girlfriend (26 F) for 2 years and although I'm happier with her than I've ever been in my whole life, I still sometimes find myself judging her and doubting my feelings for her. The vast majority of the time these are minor irritations that I look at logically and tell myself to lighten up. Other times, I find myself losing respect for her, even though I realize I’m holding her to an impossible standard. This makes me really unhappy and anxious. My gf is incredibly perceptive and emotionally intelligent, so she sees this happening and feels hurt and devalued. She accepts me for who I am, so why can’t I do the same for her? She has asked me a couple of times if I’m truly happy with her.

I've read a lot about how contempt kills a relationship and really want to figure out how to let things go. I also just want to know more generally, if anyone else has gone through this with their partner and what you did about it. I'm not currently in therapy but I’m looking to try cognitive behaviour therapy. I found this post and this post super helpful but I wanted to add my own backstory, so here we are.

My judgements and doubts fuel her worries that she’s not good enough for me, and I completely understand why she feels this way. She doesn’t have great self-esteem, so that doesn’t help either. I then feel stuck and like I’m waiting to be caught whenever I want to communicate (which, admittedly, I’m not great at). I’m being too judgemental or I’m not being sincere enough; She feels like she’s walking on eggshells around me or I’m hiding things; I’m not accepting her for who she is but I’m not telling her what bothers me. Ad nauseum. She is generally very level-headed, gentle, reasonable, and good at communication, whereas I feel like I can’t do anything right on that front.

We went to my parents for the weekend and instead of simply enjoying my time there with her, I was increasingly irritated and that freaked me out. I was trying to balance spending time with my parents while still doing the activities she and I planned, I was frustrated that she seemed cold around my parents when they tried to engage with her (her first language isn’t English), I was annoyed and she was sad we had to cut our skiing short because we’d left the house so late (she wanted to relax in the morning and I hadn’t actually suggested a time to leave but figured we’d leave before 1:30pm), etc. What the hell is wrong with me? Why wasn’t I looking at things through her eyes and seeing that she was trying the best she could, and why couldn’t I just enjoy the weekend with her?

I’m realizing now just how incredibly damaging my attitude is and I want to change. I’m naturally observative, analytical, critical, and anxious. Logically, I understand that other people have different priorities and experiences that make their way of doing things right for them, but emotionally I still have this unjustified feeling of superiority. My gf has rightfully called me out on this when in the past I made “suggestions” that were actually me just being a dick and not remembering that she is a perfectly functional adult without me, thank you very much. I have made huge improvements in this area, and just shut the hell up most of the time because my opinion was not asked for nor is it any better than anyone else’s.

It goes deeper than just knowing when the shut up though. Why is it so easy to put the spotlight on her and wish she would change instead of turning that inwards and telling myself to chill out? After the weekend, we sat down and I very gently told her that I’d found myself getting stressed and judgemental while we were at my parents’ place and that it wasn’t normal and that I wanted to get help. She had been trying her best all weekend and felt very hurt, and doesn’t understand why I would still be judging her after 2 years of being together. We agreed she would reach out when she was ready, during which time I became more and more convinced that she was going to break up with me. After what we both admitted were the worst 2 days of our lives, she sent me a long message in which she was understanding and trying to see things from my perspective, but she’s still hurt and wonders that if little annoyances are still an issue, if I’m actually happy with her. She says that although she wants to be with me, I have some choices to make.

So there you go. We’re going to wait a few more days until we see each other, and I’m going to reply via message first so I don’t miss anything, then we’ll talk about it. Nearly losing her threw a lot into perspective for me. In a moment of panic in the middle of the night when I still hadn’t heard from her and was sure we were heading towards a break-up, I tried to convince myself that I’d be okay with a break-up and that it would be a relief, but 98% of my brain screamed at me about all the amazing things I love about her. So why then, instead of actively choosing to love her every day, have I been focusing on the negative?

This is usually a very minor issue, but occasionally I go into over-analysis mode and freak myself out. Aside from this, I find her refreshingly mature, open-minded, and self-aware, and her abilities to reflect on life/ourselves and how to make the most out of things is partly why I fell in love with her. She's attentive, compassionate, really driven in her volunteering, thoughtful, smart, and sweet. She's great at communicating and patient with me and my less-than-stellar communication skills. On many levels, I feel that we're deeply compatible. We both know that we're dedicated to learning from challenges and growing together, and I frequently find myself imagining our future together.

But I feel like my judgments hold me back from appreciating her fully as the amazing person she is, and contribute to that stupid nagging feeling that maybe one day I’ll be too focused on the negative to see the positive things at all. I know I have an incredible woman on my hands, and this is a problem with me, not her. So, I'm looking for some insight and advice. Thank you if you got this far, I know it’s quite the novel.

I can give example of these judgements but this post is long enough so I figured I’d stop here.
posted by Anon4689 to Human Relations (25 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
I know this is cliche on AskMe, but if you can afford therapy, it can be really helpful to have a professional help pick apart your problems and give you exercises and practices to help you grow good habits. Also, it will show your partner that you are taking steps to fix things.
posted by rikschell at 8:22 AM on March 5, 2020 [4 favorites]

Honestly, I see echoes of myself in this question, and while I don't have romantic relationships it's not good for the other ones. For me, I think it's the way I handle anxiety: By knowing when and how things will happen. When other people throw a wrench in the works, it's very easy to get annoyed with them and then to place the blame on them.

I agree that this is really, really good fodder for therapy. You're looking for strategies to help you break these harmful, judgmental thought habits. You mention you're looking into it, and I think you should.

In the meantime I try to identify and break those thought patterns in the moment. If I'm getting annoyed with someone, whether it's a friend or a stranger, I try to put myself in their shoes.

Maybe they just don't know we need to leave earlier if we want to have enough time skiing.

Maybe they're tired or overwhelmed. Living in a second language can be mentally taxing, more so if you're in an unfamiliar environment.

Maybe they didn't hear me.

Maybe they just do not care as much as I do, and that's OK.

... and so on. Basically, I try to cultivate empathy in the moment instead of in hindsight. I feel sorry for your girlfriend, because you describe her as "trying her best" - as though she spent this vacation in an effort to please you! As though you have a standard she was expected to live up to! It should be OK for her to just be herself, unless she has some sort of actually harmful habits. I get that perhaps the parents being there makes things a little different, but that's not healthy or pleasant. Definitely pursue the therapy.
posted by Kutsuwamushi at 8:37 AM on March 5, 2020 [21 favorites]

Seconding therapy. You're putting a bunch of stuff on her that isn't about her, and it's still going to be a problem for you after y'all break up*. But if you put some energy into learning how to manage your own emotions and communicate like an equal partner, if the relationship is salvageable you might be able to do so.

*Which you're probably going to do and it will be for the best for both of you, but don't convince yourself that the existence of the breakup is all the emotional clarity you needed because you'll just move on and do the same thing with the next one.

In pretty much everything in life, if you're asking the question "Why do I X?" the answer isn't something someone else can tell you, it's on you to process the stuff that makes you do X so you can do something different.
posted by Lyn Never at 8:43 AM on March 5, 2020 [3 favorites]

Read up on Ask Culture vs Guess Culture. Those concepts and terms in this context afaik started here on the green.

It's not necessarily always germane, but this is almost certainly behind the deal about what time do you leave for a trip: you guessed she'd know what you wanted, she was expecting you to ask if you had a specific time in mind. So maybe discuss this with her and see if you can work on using your words and she can work on picking up on habits and patterns as a way of meeting in the middle.
posted by SaltySalticid at 8:49 AM on March 5, 2020 [1 favorite]

With your insight and attitude I suspect you will be very successful in therapy. Definitely worth pursuing.
posted by Tell Me No Lies at 8:50 AM on March 5, 2020

One thing that struck me about your description of the weekend was that you phrase your annoyances as things that your girlfriend has done to you when instead they're things the two of you could work on together.

For example, when you're annoyed at her for cutting skiing short, why weren't you equally annoyed with yourself for getting both of you out the door earlier? You could have said at eleven or twelve "hey babe I really want to get on the slopes so let's head out in the next 15-20 minutes." When you were frustrated at her language barrier with your parents, why didn't you pull her aside at the first night and say "hey I really want this weekend to go well, are there ways you and my parents could connect without running into the communications barrier? let's brainstorm."

It sounds like you're blaming her for the stress you experienced trying to balance family time and gf time as well, but it was your decision to bring her this weekend. She's supposed to be part of your team, not an obstacle. If there's something you're bothered by, bring it to her and you'll work it out together.

Look, I can understand how frustrating it is when it feels like you have to guide a comparatively passive partner through every little step. I definitely get annoyed and like I shouldn't have to remind someone that if we don't leave we'll miss (whatever) or draw up an itinerary for them. But it doesn't look like you're giving your girlfriend the chance to prove that she can handle your concerns. Maybe she'll rise to the occasion and maybe she won't, but she can't help you out if you don't tell her you need it.
posted by storytam at 9:00 AM on March 5, 2020 [23 favorites]

Just to say something about the specific example you brought up: do keep in mind that the whole ski-trip incident happened in the presence of your parents. Even for people who had/continue to have positive relationships with their parents, there's just something about being back in that family structure that tends to 'de-age' us. We become more like who we were when we were being raised (or not-raised) by our parents, and to add into that the labor of integrating your girlfriend socially - on top of which are all the other issues you've already noticed - well, that's a lot of extra duress. I do think what you've described are legitimate concerns, so this is not to minimize that; but it's also to emphasize that there was also a lot of other stuff going on, psychologically speaking.

I also second the suggestion for therapy, and I notice you mentioned an interest in CBT. I would encourage you to not limit it to CBT (though if you're in the UK, I understand that CBT is sort of the default option via the NHS), because given the degree to which you seem overthink, CBT may actually worsen that tendency (just IME). Other modalities to consider might include Acceptance and Commitment Therapy, Mentalization Based Therapy, or relational psychodynamic/psychoanalytic psychotherapy. These all tend, one way or another, to center affect/emotion more strongly, and it sounds like that's what you are realizing you need the most help with.
posted by obliterati at 9:01 AM on March 5, 2020 [13 favorites]

For me this is 100% anxiety-induced behaviour. Critizing my perfectly lovely wife incessantly occurs when I'm very anxious, and has improved immeasurably after therapy, simply because I am very rarely that anxious anymore. So, I highly recommend therapy.
As to understanding it: I think I see us as a unit, something I want and need to be safe.
When anxiety hits, I default to both perfectionism and going invisible - so I need her to perfect and silent and invisible because my instincts are screaming that we are in danger (of course, here mostly isn't any danger, or it's the danger of disapproval and such).
I try to manage the anxiety, I try to be aware of when it hits, I try to explain this mechanism to my wife, so she knows it's not her - it's me, and I try to fully communicate in the moment: I can't always stop from saying "do you really have to be so loud and obvious" but I can follow it up by saying "don't you see we are in danger?!" and the ridiculousness of the second half casts a similar light in the first half.
I hope this helps - feel free to memail me.
posted by any_name_in_a_storm at 9:34 AM on March 5, 2020 [17 favorites]

This type of wave of judgment can be an attachment related behavior. You might want to read about attachment styles, distancing strategies, fear of intimacy and see if that gives you any useful information.

As an aside, if your partner is not a native speaker, I assume you realize you need to facilitate those relationships between her and your parents rather than expecting her to do it herself, at least for a while. That has to be an intimidating situation for her to be at your parents' house under those circumstances. It would be reasonable for her to expect you to take the lead on most things but it also sounds like you need to communicate instead of expecting her to know your preference and getting upset when she doesn't act on it.

Speaking as a fellow anxious person with idealistic and perfectionistic tendencies, good on you for trying to address it because it can really mess with the quality of a relationship. People are not perfect and will often deviate from our expectations, and having tools to handle that besides blaming them for being imperfect will be helpful. You probably hold her to the same high standards you hold yourself to, but you can't really achieve those forever and always, either.

I suggest therapy with a somatic component to help you get out of your head.
posted by crunchy potato at 9:43 AM on March 5, 2020 [7 favorites]

why then, instead of actively choosing to love her every day, have I been focusing on the negative?

Because you're trying to get yourself to completely ignore the negative, and that's not possible. You're holding yourself to an impossible standard and "trying not to think of an elephant" with this relationship. All people are sometimes irritating; when people are irritating, it's natural to get irritated. Wanting your partner to be the one person on earth who is never irritating is perfectly natural; we all want that. We all know we can't have that because no person is without flaws, but we still want it, and we can't always look fondly on partner flaws, especially when those flaws inconvenience us. You appear to have decided that if you can't love unconditionally 100% of the time and never feel angry, you're failing at love. Thus it looks like a huge life-destroying calamity that you got annoyed when you wanted to ski for x minutes but a partner flaw made you have to limit your skiing to y minutes. It's not a calamity. At all. Be annoyed. Your annoyance is not terrifying. It's fine. Don't sit her down and "very gently explain" that you were annoyed and you "want to work on that" as if being momentarily annoyed means you have a personality disorder.

You can observe your girlfriend being irritating, be irritated by your girlfriend, and continue to live happily with your girlfriend. It is not a catastrophe that you were disappointed that you only got to ski for x minutes when you wanted to ski for y minutes or that you had hoped that she'd make a hit with your parents but she was too intimidated to do that this time. Of course you wanted to do the fun thing for longer and of course you wanted everybody to love each other and of course you were disappointed that these things didn't happen this time. But you feeling disappointment is not a catastrophe. At all. That neither you nor your girlfriend were perfect on this trip was annoying, not destroying.

You don't have to beat yourself over the head when you get annoyed. It means that you're annoyed in the short term, not that you're an intolerant monster who can never be happy with anybody.
posted by Don Pepino at 9:43 AM on March 5, 2020 [29 favorites]

Nthing the suggestion that this may be a reflection of underlying anxiety, which definitely can manifest as irritability.
posted by praemunire at 10:02 AM on March 5, 2020 [1 favorite]

I agree with therapy but I have a short reading list for you. Sadly I can no longer fully recommend Jean Vanier's Becoming Human since it turns out he was a #MeToo shit but:

Leo Buscaglia's Loving Each Other
Harriet Lerner's The Dance of Intimacy and The Dance of Connection
Brené Brown, The Gifts of Imperfection and Men, Women, and Worthiness
posted by warriorqueen at 10:13 AM on March 5, 2020 [3 favorites]

I was annoyed ... we had to cut our skiing short because we’d left the house so late (.... I hadn’t actually suggested a time to leave but figured we’d leave before 1:30pm) ...Why wasn’t I looking at things through her eyes and seeing that she was trying the best she could?

This is puzzling. She was NOT "trying the best she could" to leave by 1:30 pm because she did not know you wanted to leave by 1:30 pm. You did not see her trying her best so of course you don't believe she was trying her best. Why would you tell yourself lies? Why would you expect yourself to believe this lie?

The underlying issue seems to be that you expect her to read your mind and know what your expectations are without you having to actually say anything to her. And if she fails to read your mind, you

(a) get angry with her for "not trying hard enough"
(b) try to correct yourself by saying, "no! she did try really hard! she can't help it if she tries her best and still screws up!"

...which is such a damaging read of the situation, especially when applied to someone with low self esteem. She is NOT "trying hard and screwing up". She's being expected to read your mind, and then being told she's a failure in spite of her best efforts.
posted by MiraK at 10:39 AM on March 5, 2020 [37 favorites]

I think a lot of us find it hard to take initiative and direct a situation when we are around our parents. Of course the two of you should have had a conversation about when you were thinking you would head out and not assumed that everything would be intuitive. Paradoxically, being afraid of the conflict of discovering in advance that you have different expectations - say, one of you likes to get up at 6:00 a.m. to be at the theme park when it opens and the other one thinks that vacation means you sleep in until 9:00 - means that you discover them much later and have a bunch of time to build up resentment and end up with a much worse fight.

But in order to make the early conversations work you have to be able to have them without starting off on the attack or on the defensive. And you have to get the self-awareness to know what information you need and put some buffer on your expectations. Ex. You say "so, start out bright and early?" If she says "I want to relax a bit in the morning", the natural human thing to do is to try to interpret what she said in the way that agrees is closely as possible with what you said. (I see this at work every day. Actually listening to what someone says is pretty hard.) So maybe you figure she wants half an hour with a cup of coffee and a newspaper. But actually she wants two or three hours to finish her book, have a nice breakfast, go for a walk, and take a long shower. If you have decided in your mind that half an hour of relaxing time is "reasonable", 27 minutes in to those 3 hours you will be grinding your teeth trying to figure out why she isn't wrapping it up.

I found counseling SUPER helpful for how to talk about things like this without starting off on a bad foot. It probably saved my marriage, or at least made it one I'm happy to be in instead of always annoyed and on edge.
posted by Lady Li at 11:02 AM on March 5, 2020 [5 favorites]

I think most commenters are missing how pervasive the issue is for you, OP. No matter how articulate you are and how self reflective you can be, the fact is you constantly feel superior to your GF and you constantly feel like she isn't good enough for you. You know you shouldn't, but that doesn't mean you have stopped. Your irritation with her isn't a one-off, it's been a constant in the relationship. You have been through several rounds of talks with your GF about this exact issue, and it still remains. Your GF has asked you multiple times whether you still feel she isn't good enough for you: she has picked up on your true feelings even when you think you're doing a good job of keeping a lid on it.

The worst part is that she is, by your own admission, working very hard not to piss you off. That is ... both heartbreaking and concerning. Because let's get this straight: she should not have to try hard. She should not have to do the work. Having to EARN the approval of your so-called beloved AND STILL FAILING? Is soul-killing.

I'm reacting pretty strongly to this repeated theme of your GF "trying her best all weekend" and "doing her best", because I have been your GF. I've been there, worked my ass off to meet my partner's requirements and rules - which my partner "knew" intellectually were stupid but nevertheless could not stop being irritated at me for. This dynamic fucked me up. FOR YEARS.

What you're doing to her is not right. For me, it was the most lasting damage out of all the abuse in the relationship. Please consider taking a break from the relationship. Go figure out what's going on with you, and make sure you aren't hurting her in the meantime. Your self awareness does not mean very much if she is still being subjected to your constant disapproval and irritation with her no matter how hard she works.
posted by MiraK at 11:11 AM on March 5, 2020 [34 favorites]

Long, long ago I was the gf in this situation, and while I commend you for your insight, please, as MiraK said, stop with this condescending “doing her best” crap. My partner who acted a lot like you ultimately left me because I guess my best wasn’t good enough. I was devastated and it took me a while to see that there was no “doing my best” and also that’s not how healthy relationships function. He came crawling back of course, but at that point I could not in a million years ever allow myself back into a relationship like that.

As you know, the issue lies deep within you, but you’re not going to get there without a ton of personal work and growth. Also, you mention this feeling of “superiority” you carry with you always—I’ve found those people are typically the most insecure and often anxious among us. What does feeling superior to everyone—including people who love you—do for you? What is its function? (Also this isn’t a CBT kind of issue. There is deeper work for you to do.)

I won’t say what should happen in your relationship, only that I wish I had left SO much sooner. Again in ref to MiraK’s excellent comment, that relationship, after it ended, left me working through painful feelings for a long time. I had to build myself back up after being broken down in tiny ways over and over by someone I really loved. Ever since I’ve been on high alert to avoid people with these tendencies, and have done a good job steering clear. My time and love is worth so much more.
posted by namemeansgazelle at 11:51 AM on March 5, 2020 [12 favorites]

I'm recently out of an on-again-off-again relationship of about two years where I think my partner, who is in general a lovely man and human being, maybe felt and behaved in ways similar to you. His ambivalence became a defining characteristic of our relationship. I think part of him truly believed that if I was a tiny bit different, his ambivalence would be resolved, when really the ambivalence started with him.

He was quick to find fault with me (and in general has a negative filter on the world, though he doesn't necessarily show that widely), and he was also sometimes terrible at communicating expectations he had for me, and sometimes verbalizing the opposite. As two examples: he was getting involved in a new sport and bought some new equipment for himself, and picked up a beginner piece of equipment for me. He told me he got this, but he was never really clear how much he wanted me to use it and get involved in the sport; I felt intimidated by the sport and his being further ahead. It later came out that he was frustrated I didn't get engaged with it sooner. If he had told me, I would have made an effort earlier--or told him no, but at least then the issue would have been resolved. There was also another event we scheduled about a month out, and there was a book related to this event. He lent it to me. I asked him if I should read it, and he said no, he didn't think it would be that important. I looked at the book a bit but didn't prioritize it over my other reading. Months later he told me how disappointed he was that I hadn't read the book (and that he had only then realized that it wasn't helpful that he had specifically discouraged me from reading it).

I don't know if this sounds like you at all. My partner and I had a loving, supportive relationship in many ways, but it always felt like he was holding back. It was only when I retreated that he would realize how his behavior was pushing me away. And I do think that his own insecurities and some of the tough stuff from his childhood were a big part of the problems we had.

He's in therapy (at my urging), and I think he's found it helpful to start to untangle all of this. I've also been in therapy for ages, and my therapist thinks he has a long road ahead. So please do that. Please be more willing to look at your own behavior and stop blaming your girlfriend. The thing is, since a lot of this stuff is with you, it's not necessarily the case that you wouldn't have similar problems in any relationship. If you don't want to spend your life like this, figure it out now. There's no guarantee your girlfriend is going to stick around while you do this work, though.

I do have an audiobook recommendation: Fierce Intimacy by Terry Real is excellent and my partner and I both listened to it and learned so much about ourselves, each other, and previous relationships. He specifically talks about people who feel superior to their partners and how this is a defense mechanism and how it's hurting you and your partner. I recommend it strongly.
posted by bluedaisy at 12:34 PM on March 5, 2020 [6 favorites]

It strikes me, from reading your post, that this isn't just a relationship issue for you. You say:
I’m naturally observative, analytical, critical, and anxious.
And that seems to be true! Your question is about not directing these impulses toward your GF, but here's some stuff you had to say about yourself:
What the hell is wrong with me?
I still have this unjustified feeling of superiority
me just being a dick
stupid nagging feeling


All this is to say that I think therapy is a good idea, but I'd make sure it's not just focused on your relationship, but also includes how you talk to yourself.
posted by Ragged Richard at 12:41 PM on March 5, 2020

Amorphous but maybe you struggle with self-compassion and self-judgement? You may be habituated to a judgemental and disapproving way of thinking. That takes personal work.

Complete opposite direction: You might not want to be in a relationship with someone you don't respect and hold obvious contempt for. Your partner deserves more, too.
posted by j_curiouser at 1:34 PM on March 5, 2020 [2 favorites]

Another vote for therapy and I think that working on your communication is key. You bring up that you know you're not great at communication, so it's not like this factor is a mystery to you. When one partner doesn't communicate well and thinks that their point of view should be obvious, it's a huge problem. You clearly have plans and expectations that you're assuming she has somehow managed to pick up through context or being the obvious choice. You prize your own abilities to be analytical and observational and I think you may have allowed that to bleed into a conviction that you don't really have to develop your own communication skills because someone smart enough will automatically come to the same conclusions as you. This is a fantasy. Your inability to communicate well coupled with your own combination of ego centrism and anxiousness creates a terrible situation for people who are in relationship with you. Your wishes and ideas are opaque, you don't communicate them clearly, and then your anxious state of mind gets you so frustrated that you behave in ways that are hurtful and damaging. Your girlfriend feels negatively judged by you. She has lingering doubts about whether you even think she's competent. She walks on eggshells around you. That means that you've been unpredictable, quick to anger, and have a history of hurting her and eroding her sense of self. You can't simply say, "I'm bad at communication" and walk away as though recognizing it is enough. Your lack of ability to communicate effectively and in a self-aware manner is hurting the people you're closest to. This is not an us problem. This is a you problem. These are the types of problems that are best addressed in individual therapy.
posted by quince at 2:01 PM on March 5, 2020 [8 favorites]

I nth the suggestion of therapy. In the meantime, here's some food for thought: "I can't have one rule for her and a different one for myself."
posted by purple_bird at 2:07 PM on March 5, 2020 [1 favorite]

People are being kinda harsh on you! I appreciate that you're owning this as a problem & seem willing to work on it. I definitely have shades of this in myself. For me, at least, that miserable repressed critical frustration is worst when I am not open & honest about what I want.

Like in your situation, I would want to leave for skiing earlier.... but I would second-guess myself, convince myself that I was being too difficult or demanding, try to talk myself out of wanting what I wanted.... even though I still wanted it. And of course my repressed critical frustration would burble up and was actually way worse than it would've been if I had simply acknowledged (to myself and my partner!) that I had a preference. Of course, acknowledging that I have a preference doesn't mean I get my way! But it is definitely a healthier starting point.

Like Don Pepino said above: feeling frustration, having preferences is not a moral failure or a catastrophe. Insisting that you shouldn't feel this way only makes things worse. Try being more honest --with yourself, and with your partner on a moment-by-moment basis. I bet it wouldn't be as catastrophic as you think.
posted by attentionplease at 2:29 PM on March 5, 2020 [5 favorites]

Has it ever felt safe for you to love someone?

My read is that even with a giving, admirable, reflective, patient and people-pleasing partner you are unable to give yourself over to relationship and partnership. You are hyper vigilant for disappointment and unrest. This, as you have probably realised reading all of these responses to the way you present your actions in this relationship, is explored most effectively by addressing your developmental psychology.

If you’re not policing all the possible areas of ‘danger’ to intimacy, you could end up [as you feel now] *disappointed*in your partner. An echo or spiral of your formation and orientation to the world. This is perhaps your home base, psychologically. You are afraid go over the edge of acceptance and trust and to love someone who is as imperfect as you are.

It may never have been safe enough for you to do that, and this set of behaviours and commentary reminds her she isn’t safe either, a familiar story for people with low self esteem. My read is that finding a critical other duplicates her developmental home base too.

The aim of relationship is *delight* in the other. When have you felt delight in the other, not just with this partner, but in life in general? Sit with those times, or ponder more if they are absent. What could you find delight in here with this partner in your life? It seems to me that there is much to delight in in this woman - she’s putting in the reflective work of intimacy, is attending to you, listening to you as you work through this manner of being that stems from early life experiences.

It is too heterosexual in focus in my opinion, and the summary of the book in the link suggests a focus on sexuality, yet the main arguments of Passionate Marriage by David Schnarch [that we need to learn adult differentiation] are an excellent prism through which to examine the dance of intimacy. Some of the exercises he suggests are worthy of practice and may help you.
posted by honey-barbara at 1:46 AM on March 6, 2020 [5 favorites]

Thank you everyone for your responses! There's a lot of insight and useful suggestions here. This has been both reassuring and sobering, and I've made an appointment with a therapist. The wait time is 3-8 weeks but I have a lot I can do before then. I binge-listened to Fierce Intimacy (thanks bluedaisy!) and found it incredibly helpful. Like a few of you have said, self-awareness on its own doesn't do much but by listening to that audiobook I feel like I have a set of tools and instructions on how to use them. My girlfriend and I are going to talk in a few days and figure out where to go from there.

Many of you are quite right in that this feels like a deeply ingrained issue and is not specific to my girlfriend, although she is the one it's currently hurting. The "trying the best she could" were her words, not mine, but the damaging effect is clear all the same. I appreciate your kind words and also the harsher ones. I needed to hear both.
posted by Anon4689 at 3:32 PM on March 6, 2020 [2 favorites]

I binge-listened to Fierce Intimacy (thanks bluedaisy!) and found it incredibly helpful. Like a few of you have said, self-awareness on its own doesn't do much but by listening to that audiobook I feel like I have a set of tools and instructions on how to use them.

Fantastic! Thanks so much for sharing this! I've recommended this book a few times, but so far I haven't heard if anyone has found it as helpful as I did.

By the way, one extra comment: you said that your girlfriend said she was "trying the best she could." That reminded me that I used to say to my partner, "I'm trying so hard." I don't know what your girlfriend means, but when I said this, I meant a few things, including "I am working on this as best as I am able, and I need for you to start working on this just as hard if you want this to work" and also "I am not perfect but I am trying to make this work; if my best isn't good enough, then you need to know you might not ever get more than this."
posted by bluedaisy at 3:53 PM on March 6, 2020 [3 favorites]

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