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David Eddie's Damage Control

I've neglected my girlfriend - now she wants space Add to ...

The question

My girlfriend and I are in our mid 20s. We've been together for close to six years and I truly believe that she is the one for me. She has all the qualities that a guy would die for, at least qualities that matter to me. The problem, however, is with me. I am a young professional with a somewhat stressful career and I work my ass off as I want to make something out of myself in order to provide for my family. We've had arguments in the past because I tend to spend more of my free time with my friends than with her, and even when we see each other I am distracted. Last night she put everything into perspective and said that's not how it will be. She wants some space. I want to make some lifestyle changes, but I don't know how to go about doing it. I know if I don't change I will lose her, and even if I was to find another person I'd probably lose them over the same reason (neglect). I don't do it on purpose and I want to put an end to it.

The answer

I found this question very refreshing on the one hand, and a little confusing on the other.

Refreshing in its humility and self-awareness. The subject line of this fellow's e-mail was: "I am the problem in our relationship."

I love that! So many people go through life repeating the same patterns over and over, e.g. get divorced, marry a woman very similar to the first wife, get divorced again for very similar reasons and so on.

Amazingly, though, they never see themselves as the common denominator, a.k.a. the problem. Everyone else is to blame for whatever happens.

But it is no less than the cornerstone of the Damage Control philosophy that the day you realize you may in fact be the author of some of your own misfortunes is the day you get one step closer to becoming more problem-free.

So my hat's (metaphorically) off to this young fellow for having the self-awareness at such a tender age to step forward and boldly declare: "I am the problem."

At the same time, it's odd to recognize the problem, to see that the problem is tilting over into becoming a crisis, but still seem unable or unwilling to do anything about it.

But first things first. Okay, son, you've taken the first step and identified the source of the problem: you. Next step is probably to identify the cause. Why is it you prefer hanging with your homeboys over chilling with the missus?

You said in your e-mail that you find the company of your bros more relaxing and better "stress relief," because you find it easier to tell them your problems.

I'm not sure why that should be. In a healthy relationship, there's no one better to tell your problems to than your life/love partner.

Maybe you're putting too much pressure on your relationship, to sit around and always talk and "relate" maybe too intensely.

Me, I've been married 14 years, preceded by four years of marriage-like co-habitation. My wife and I talk: We talk about everything under the sun. But with three kids, two careers and a busy household, it's a catch-as-catch-can affair. We talk 10 minutes here, 15 minutes there, while I'm making dinner or she's blow-drying her hair, getting ready to go to work.

It's pretty rare that we sit across a table, gaze into each other's eyeballs and just talk for two hours. To be perfectly candid, I don't think I'd know what to do with my wife and a chunk of time like that, at this point. I'm not sure I've got the material.

Paradoxically, part of a good long-term relationship, in my view, is the time you spend not relating - just relaxing in one another's company. So why not do something fun that takes the pressure off, e.g. go to a basketball game or a movie or just watch TV?

Or maybe consider letting your worlds collide a little and invite her out with your bros? She may have fun; you may have fun. She may see you in a different light; you may see her in a different light.

Now, maybe you have some reason for not wanting to do this. I don't know you, so I'm groping around in the dark a bit here.

I will tell you this, though: sounds like you're in imminent danger of losing this girl you claim to care so much for.

Ask yourself if the reason you're not spending time with her is you really aren't all that into her. If so, then cut her loose so she can find someone who is and you can find someone you actually want to spend time with.

If, on the other hand, you mean it when you say "I truly believe she is the one for me," then you'd better start making adjustments. Straighten up and fly right, buddy boy, or next thing you know some flashy young ad exec or up-and-coming film director's going to be squiring her around town, and you're going to have nothing to come home to but your regrets, a sink full of dirty dishes and a wilting ficus.

In short, I applaud you for saying: "I am the problem." But it's not enough just to say it and then continue to keep up the problematic behaviour.

You've learned to talk the talk. Now start to walk the walk.

David Eddie is the author of Chump Change and Housebroken: Confessions of a Stay-at-Home Dad. Damage Control, the book, was released last month.

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