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When I try to help my girlfriend with her problems, it only pisses her off.
By Cait Robinson
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Dear Miss Information,
My girlfriend and I have been dating for almost one year now. She's an amazing person, but dealing with problems is hard for her. She has some issues with the people at her work, and I've tried to help her with it. I've talked with her, analyzed the situation, and given her my opinions, yet she simply tells me that whatever I say is not making her feel better. Very often, my opinions upset her.
I feel shocked and helpless, because I've stayed up late nights to listen to her stories about how rude her coworkers are. I'm always being the positive one. I tell her everything is going to be okay and we can go through this together, but that's not enough to her. She dismisses my opinions because I "have an easy life" and "couldn't understand her."
We do have a strong connection and are serious about this relationship--in peace time, anyway. The relationship appears to be a different thing when she is stressed. She can turn from very sweet to very bitter. She even proclaimed that she's dissatisfied with her life, which means our relationship is just as bad as her other problems.
I know she has her moments of instability and I want to help, but her all-or-nothing attitude is really getting to me. She's expecting me to give her exact directions on how to solve our problems (in addition to her personal issues) and, according to her, I can't come up with anything that's not vague or shallow. What can I do?
-- Tongue Tied
Dear Tongue Tied,
"Always be specific" is a Freshman Writing Seminar mainstay, for good reason. "My dog died" is less vivid than "my dog got hit by the Tostitos Party Bus," and thus the latter holds more sway over the reader.
I bring this up because all of the positive attributes you give to your girlfriend and/or relationship are very vague: "we have a strong connection," "she is amazing." The negatives, on the other hand, seem razor-sharp: "[she tells me] I can't understand her", "she expects me to give her exact instructions." The Tostitos Party Bus is here, and it has bad news about Muffin.
(Darkest. Intro. Ever.)
My M.D. diploma got lost in the mail, but I'm willing to bet there is something real going on with your girlfriend, not just fickleness or difficulty to please. Her "proclaiming she is dissatisfied with her life" should be a tip-off. Getting in little tiffs with your partner is one thing; making sweeping statements about your vast unhappiness is quite another. Even if I'm wrong about the deeper issues and she's "just being dramatic," my advice doesn't change much. You can't fix her problems and shouldn't be asked to.
Though it may feel like staying up until three a.m. hashing out her work drama is the supportive thing to do, it's actually the opposite: it turns you into her crutch. Does some part of you enjoy the sleep deprivation? There's often something sickly intoxicating about lopsided relationships, but sacrificing your happiness won't help her. She doesn't need someone to swoop in and fix things; she's demonstrated this by rejecting your efforts to do so. What she needs is a game plan for how to help herself (with, ideally, some support from the sidelines).
Stop trying to give her the magic answer. What you can do is help her find the resources she needs. Maybe that resource is a solid psychotherapist; maybe that resource is a survivalist weekend in the Rockies. Either way, she can't continue to lean against you. Until she stabilizes herself, those relationship negatives will likely stay in sharper focus than the positives.