Tell Me About It: ‘She even seems to get anxious when I go home to visit my parents’
PROBLEM: I have been dating my girlfriend for six months now but I am unhappy with how untrusting of me she is. She constantly checks where I am going, who I am with and I have noticed of late that she picks up my phone to check in on my messages and calls. She even seems to get anxious when I go home to visit my parents, again checking on who I am meeting in my home town and small trivial things.
I don’t know how to deal with it or if I am doing the right thing to laugh it all off, but inside I am getting more and more unnerved by it. I really like her and have some idea of her past, though I feel she is keeping a lot from me. She says that she had a boyfriend previously who hid his (huge) porn use and when she eventually found out, she felt violated and betrayed. She did not tell anyone of this as she thought she would sound prudish and insane.
While I know this is an issue for her and I am sympathetic, I now think that there is more to this and that she has something more fundamental, like an anxiety thing going on, and I think I see this pattern in her family too – they are always very worried and have catastrophic thinking about everything.
ADVICE: What you are describing is someone who is full of fear and who is trying to control what is not possible – ie, another human being. Your girlfriend is afraid of being lied to, or of you being more interested in other people or places than you are in her, and the difficulty is that the more fearful she is the more likely she is to continue the behaviours that are irritating and annoying to you.
As you become more cautious and questioning of the relationship, she is likely to respond with more checking and suspicious behaviour as she tries to cope with your withdrawal from her. This would seem to be unfair to someone who is suffering from such anxiety and lack of trust in the world.
As you have been dating for six months, it is fair to assume that there are a lot of things that are good about the relationship and as any relationship progresses there are responsibilities that come with the commitment. If you chose to leave the relationship, do it quickly and honestly as this will offer your girlfriend the dignity of feeling respected but should you chose to stay you might take a more active stance.
Your girlfriend needs help to address her trust issues and it would be very helpful for her to seek some professional help. Anxiety, worry and intrusive thoughts are dealt with in most approaches to counselling or psychotherapy so sourcing help should not be difficult.
However, you cannot just hand over the responsibility for your girlfriend’s wellbeing to a professional and right now, you are in a position of great influence in her life. The question is what influence are you actually having and is this helping or hindering both the relationship and your girlfriend’s mental state?
Compassion, optimism and engaging with the issue is what is required if the relationship is to survive
Becoming irritated and annoyed is entirely your own construction and it means that you are internally wishing your girlfriend would behave in a different way. It seems that you have minimised or brushed over her previous experience of being in a relationship where there was a hidden porn use.
The effects of being a partner with a serious porn use are well documented and the response is often the same as for those who have discovered affairs: betrayal and anger; trust and respect for the partner often disappears; suspicion & fear become the norm; feeling of attractiveness is questioned; also feeling they are too prim – ie that they should be cool about it and so cannot express their frustration and fear; feeling degraded and abused by the things that females do in porn.
If you consider this as a true reflection of what your girlfriend is dealing with, it should alert you to the considerable difficulties she is dealing with and instead of criticising her, you might engage with her to discover what she is going through and help her to regain her equilibrium with both the world and her relationship with men. You are very honoured to be in a position of trust with her and she is taking a huge risk in investing in a relationship when she has been so devastated previously.
So compassion, optimism and engaging with the issue is what is required if the relationship is to survive. Even if the relationship does not end up as the long-term one in either of your lives, you still have an opportunity to be a positive and healing influence in your girlfriend’s life and this to be taken very seriously.
Listen to her and find out what her experience has been. Support her in her search for self-confidence and self-agency and do not become another person who dismisses her by sidelining her.That her family have a pattern of anxiety is something that you can support your girlfriend in addressing should the relationship become long term, but right now the decision needs to be if you can be fully present and engaged in the relationship you are actually in.