Every time I have a fight with my girlfriend of six months, she changes her Facebook status to single. It pisses me off. Then I panic at the thought of losing her, so I suck it up and apologize. The whole thing makes me so distracted that I can’t even do my job. I don’t want to get fired, but I’m getting so depressed about always fighting that I just don’t really care about much anymore. I read your column all the time, so I know you’re going to tell me to break up with her, but I don’t think I can.
Oh, honey! Of course you have the skills to end a relationship that is shattering your self-esteem. If you can’t have a healthy disagreement without the threat of being kicked to the curb, it’s not much of a relationship anyway. When your girlfriend expresses her post-argument anger by switching her Facebook status to single, she’s not only being passive-aggressive, she’s opting to publicly punish you. Whatever it triggers inside (yes, from your family history) inspires enough shame to send you groveling back to her.
If you’re not ready for a breakup, take an extended break from this relationship rut. The next time you and this woman argue, walk away, but offer to return when both of you are capable of real conversation. Then resist checking her Facebook status. Engage your superhero will (we all have it) to resist responding to her. Every time you start to call, text or IM her, stop. Put your phone or computer aside and handle some task you have been procrastinating about. That’s right, move the rest of your life forward while your love connection is stuck. If you’re totally on top of your “to do” list, take a walk around your ’hood or along the river. Leave your phone at home to avoid temptation. Eventually, you will realize that when you’re ready to lay down good boundaries, you won’t need to be her doormat.
I recently discovered my wife is carrying on an affair electronically with a man she met in an online-gaming chat room. When I confronted her, she denied it. Then she broke down crying and admitted to the relationship. She insisted it was not an affair because they had never actually met. Then she said that the relationship meant more to her than our marriage. I was devastated. I work long days and make a good income so my wife and daughters have everything they need. I can’t believe my wife would do this or blame me for neglecting her. I don’t want to leave, because I have three kids I love and don’t want to abandon. Please offer some suggestions.
In her mind, love means spending time together. In yours, it translates as minding the inflow of money. Commit to repairing your marriage by reorganizing your priorities: spend time with your wife. Oh, you’re right; she shouldn’t blame you for her transgression. While you were hard at work, she could have occupied herself by volunteering, biking or taking up another hobby. Instead, while you gambled with your marriage through absence, she gambled with it, too.
Being shaken awake from your fantasy of the marriage you believed you had is an invitation. Now you can talk honestly about what kind of marriage you both desire and plot the Venn diagram to create it. Book a long weekend away from home and kids to chart the course back into each other’s hearts. Begin over a yummy dinner, talking about what you first loved and appreciated about each other. Let those sweet memories influence the present moment and guide you back into a joyful union.