Group Therapy is a relationship advice column to which readers contribute their wisdom.
A reader writes:
I had a fleeting relationship with another woman during a separation from my girlfriend. Now, months after getting back together, my girlfriend harbours serious resentment and mistrust that bubble up frequently. When I try to comfort her at these times, she gets more and more distraught until we are on the verge of separation anew. Yet if I try to keep us focused on relationship building ("I'm here now and I love you, let's make this weekend amazing!"), she says I'm suppressing her feelings. Will she never be okay with me?
Yikes! What part of the "don't kiss and tell" lesson did you miss? I suggest counselling, not to "fix" the problem, but in order to get it out into the open. It's obvious that your girlfriend cannot get over the knowledge of your other relationship and needs to gain some understanding of the issue and decide what she wants to do – for both of your sakes.
John Stockton, Hamilton
Tell her to get over herself
Your girlfriend is a drama queen not interested in ever "getting over" it. She's using it to control you, and as long as you allow it, you'll be her doormat. The next time she brings it up, instead of comforting her, do the opposite. Tell her she needs to get over it or there's no point in continuing the relationship.
Peter Stern, Toronto
Show her she's heard
You aren't going to get relationship-building until you show that you're hearing her. When she brings up her resentment, reflect back to what you think she's saying. If she says, "You're a jerk if you think that I can forgive you easily," you continue the reflection: "You wish that I were less of a jerk." Hear her out completely before explaining or apologizing. Sounds like you want this relationship. Reassurance doesn't cut it – just makes her feel unheard.
Dale Dewar, MD, Wynyard, Sask.
The Final Word
What's happening here is that you two kids are carrying on as if your girlfriend has forgiven your indiscretion (which wasn't really an indiscretion considering you were broken up), when in fact she hasn't. You need to stop what you're doing, drop the pretense and fix this before you can enjoy any more "amazing" weekends together.
When her unforgiveness bubbles up in the form of resentment and mistrust, your response is to insist on focusing on the present and the future, as opposed to a single act in the past. You might think you're being positive and proactive, but, as Dale says, she's feeling unheard. To her you're behaving like a parent trying to distract a squalling baby with a jangling set of keys. You're saying, "Look over here, baby! Look at the pretty keys!" Meanwhile, her, um, emotional diaper needs changing.
I want to say that I'm on your side and I admire your efforts to be a good boyfriend and your genuine desire to move the relationship forward. That in itself bodes well. But at some point your girlfriend has to be willing, to quote songwriter Daniel Johnson, to let the sun go down on her grievances, and meet you half way.
If she won't (and it sounds like she won't), you can't be the eternal penitent boyfriend, whisking her away for romantic weekends in the hope she'll come around. At some point (probably now), the nice-guy cajoling has to stop and you have to do like Peter says: Put down the jangling keys, cross your arms, and ask her point-blank what needs to happen for her to get over this. Because – and make this clear – if she wants to stay together, she really needs to get over this.
Lynn Coady's latest novel is The Antagonist.