How can I make my girlfriend Laura feel safer in our relationship?
We have been dating for four years. For the first few years, I thought we had a close and loving relationship. I proposed on New Year’s Eve, 2015 and at first Laura seemed really excited. But very soon something felt different. She became cooler, had excuses why she couldn’t sleep over, etc. I confronted her about this and she told me that she was scared of getting married and wanted to break the engagement.
I think I understand. Her parents had a really bad marriage and she’s told me how some girls have broken her heart. So I told her I love her and would do my best to never hurt her. I asked her to give me a chance to show her that true and sincere love is a real thing.
While Laura said she was open to this, I started feeling like I was walking on eggshells. And a month or so later in the midst of our planning an engagement party, she dropped out of sight. A few weeks later she texted me and told me that marriage isn’t for her.
I really love Laura. So I told her that I don’t need to get married. I am happy just to spend my life with her. Again, she seemed to calm down and things sort of got back to normal. But a few months later when I suggested we start living together, she again started pulling away, saying she felt trapped and needed space.
This started a back-and-forth pattern where we’d agree on the amount of time we’d spend together but invariably she’d pull back after an initial smooth period. Last week I again brought up the idea of living together, which I thought was reasonable since we’d been spending four nights a week together. She yelled that I don’t respect her boundaries and stormed out. I haven’t heard from her since.
I have given this a lot of thought and I would rather be with Laura under her conditions than not be with her at all. But now I’m afraid I scared her off.
Are you really willing to live like this? A few nights a week and whenever you move a bit closer, Laura disappears? If so, you could let Laura know that you will honor whatever boundaries she sets and will never again push for anything more. Maybe she will give you another chance.
But before you make that move, please ask yourself if you want to spend the rest of your life holding back from asking your girlfriend for what you really want.
If you hoped for marriage — sharing a lifelong intimate relationship — why are you willing to settle for a few nights a week?
Are there other times and places in your life where you have put aside what is important to you? If so, how did you learn not to value the things that you most want?
I wonder what might appeal to you about the role of victim or martyr. And while you say that you want an intimate relationship, I wonder if this is actually true, considering your choice of partner.
Let’s say that you really would be content with spending two or three nights a week, tops, with Laura. Given that she has been steadily downgrading the level of closeness she wants to tolerate (first no marriage, then no living together, then fewer sleepovers), how little of a relationship might you eventually wind up with for Laura to feel “safe”?
From your description, Laura doesn’t sound like relationship material at present. Granted, her fear of closeness makes sense: relationships aren’t safe. People who get close to each other do get hurt by each other and sometimes we get our hearts broken.
But there’s no way around this. No matter how careful you are and how careful the other person is, pain is inevitable at times in all relationships.
So the solution isn’t for you to keep as far away from Laura as she requests, in order that she not feel at risk. For the two of you to actually be in a relationship, Laura, like you, would have to tolerate being vulnerable. And from everything you’ve written, she doesn’t seem interested in working on this. Maybe at some point she will be, maybe not.
But you have some important work to do yourself. If part of you thinks that putting aside your cherished dreams is a pretty miserable way to live, if you’re wondering why you are drawn to ongoing rejection, and if you are realizing that you may be ambivalent about closeness, find a therapist to help you get unstuck.
Michael Radkowsky, Psy.D. is a licensed psychologist who works with LGBT couples and individuals in D.C. He can be found online at michaelradkowsky.com. All identifying information has been changed for reasons of confidentiality. Have a question? Send it to Michael@michaelradkowsky.com.