‘My girl­friend of six months picks up my phone to check on my mes­sages and calls’

The Irish Times - Tuesday - Health - - The Back Page - Tr­ish Mur­phy email: tellme­aboutit@irish­times.com

QI 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.

AWhat 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 wise 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?

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 and 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 fac­ing 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.

She says that she had a boyfriend pre­vi­ously who hid his (huge) porn use and when she even­tu­ally found out, she felt vi­o­lated

PHO­TO­GRAPH: ISTOCK

Your girl­friend needs help to ad­dress her trust is­sues and it would be very wise for her to seek some pro­fes­sional help.

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