My girlfriend has a bachelor’s degree in psychology which she uses against me whenever we argue. She’s never practiced as a therapist but she is endlessly analyzing me, tracing my behavior back to my childhood and accusing me of various psychological dysfunctions. I’m tired of it. Frankly, I really love her. When things are good, they’re great but if anything goes wrong, I’m under her microscope and it’s hell. I don’t have any psychological training so I can’t keep up. When she starts in, I shut up. It seems to make things worse, but I really don’t know what to say except, “F-off.” How can I turn the tables on her?
Try quoting Sigmund Freud: “Everywhere I’ve ever been, a poet’s been there first.” It will help you remember that psychology is only one belief system by which we can measure ourselves. Of course, don’t insert Freud’s lesser-known wisdom in the midst of an argument. It may only feed her fire. Quote it to yourself. Then read some really good poetry: Mary Oliver, Jane Hirshfield, Stanley Kunitz, or Coleman Barks’ translations of Rumi and Lalla. It will guide you in understanding that your girlfriend is probably using psychology to hide her fear of intimacy. Relationships are alchemical vessels of transformation. When the heat is turned up, through passion or disagreement, all of our deepest fears bubble up and out into the open. If someone takes an “I’m-better-than-you” position in an argument, it can mean that they really fear they are not worthy and if you find out, you’ll leave. Your girlfriend probably experiences your silence as an exit rather than as the self-care mechanism that it is for you. Try being explicit, but non-accusatory, about how you feel: “I need to be quiet because I love you and I don’t want to respond in anger.” If she continues, tell her that you need a timeout. Then leave the room for a short time. It allows you to unplug from the charged environment. My suggestions will work infinitely better if you talk to her about them before you have a disagreement. Creating ground rules for arguing allows disagreements to be short, simple and, eventually, less common.
I met a wonderful man who lives out of state. He is everything I have dreamed of and we have more in common than I ever thought possible. But I am worried because he recently told me that his ex-wife, who left him for another man two years ago, wants to see him and perhaps reconcile. I can’t imagine losing him. We talk two or three times a day by phone and have spent several long weekends together. I have few ties in Sacramento and am considering moving to Minnesota where he lives because I don’t want to lose him. My friends say I’m crazy. What do you think?
I love that you are willing to follow your bliss, but doing so because of a fear of losing it, concerns me. The potential reconciliation with his ex-wife raises the ante. I suggest that you slow down. Continue your long-distance relationship with him until it is clear that he is completely available to you. That means he is not interested in or involved with his ex romantically, nor she with him. Then spend two or three weeks in Minnesota (in winter!) to be certain that you could call it home—with or without him. After that, talk with him about moving. If you have his full support, bid Sacramento goodbye.