How do you get your girlfriend to be there for you when you need her?
Sheila and I started dating after we met in college here in D.C. I was a freshman and she was a senior. She stayed in town for a job after graduating a few years back and I am a recent grad, having just gotten my degree in December.
I have been having a really hard time with the transition from being a student to working. The employment search was stressful and now I have a difficult, demanding job that I don’t think is for me. I’m nervous and scared, needing Sheila to help me figure out how to cope and what direction to take.
But she’s been getting less and less supportive. She seems irritated when I ask for a hug or to reassure me that everything will be OK. That makes me feel worse.
Last week she snapped at me, telling me she’s feeling overwhelmed in her own job and can’t help me right now. She said that our relationship feels very one-sided to her. I know I’m asking for a lot, but I really am having a hard time and her response made me feel even more alone. I told her that and she wouldn’t answer.
This is especially hard because I don’t have any other support.
Whether you’re ready or not, you are being handed a chance to start taking responsibility for yourself.
Stop trying to push Sheila, or you’ll just push her further away. If she wanted to behave differently, she would. You’re going to have to accept a hard truth that none of us like: other people, our partners included, aren’t obligated to do what we want them to do.
It’s definitely not Sheila’s job to soothe you, even though you can feel really great when she does.
Like indulging in a great dessert, getting soothing from our partners is best done sparingly. Otherwise, we risk wearing them out with our neediness. And it does sound to me like Sheila is finally feeling overwhelmed after years of comforting you.
Instead of being bitter, or trying to pressure or guilt her into helping you, I urge you to put your energy into becoming more self-reliant.
First, by looking for support elsewhere. You’re going to have to find some new friends in town, because Sheila is no longer willing to be the pillar you lean on. Broadening your support network may take time, so consider getting a therapist, pronto, to have someone else to talk to and strategize with.
Second, and most importantly, you have to figure out ways to soothe yourself. While this isn’t an easy task, you have no alternative. Other people’s reassurances can feel nice in the moment, but they don’t really stick. Only your own belief in your resilience will keep you feeling good about yourself and your life, long term.
I can’t tell you exactly how to develop this belief. You’re going to have to figure it out for yourself. But I can tell you that it will involve challenging yourself to deal with whatever life throws at you without looking for someone else to steady you. You will get strong by learning that you can survive. Think of it as on-the-job training.
Intrigued? Good. Because you’re facing an opportunity, right now, to survive Sheila’s unwillingness to baby you and to accept the impossibility of altering someone else’s behavior. You can only change yourself.
Want some motivation? Keep in mind that strength is an alluring character trait, just as neediness is unappealing. Also, you cannot have a relationship of equals if one person frequently uses the other as a crutch.
Michael Radkowsky, Psy.D, licensed psychologist, specializes in LGBT couples counseling and individual therapy in Washington. He can be found online at personalgrowthzone.com. All identifying information has been changed for reasons of confidentiality. Have a question? Send it to Michael@personalgrowthzone.com.