How to Quit Taking the Bait

My girlfriend is constantly making negative comments about herself that she wants me to disagree with. It’s so frequent that I’ve started to ignore it. She criticizes her weight, her intelligence, her hair, etc. I’m tired of it, honestly, and if I keep telling her “Babe, you look great,” then it doesn’t seem to help. So I just don’t say anything, which angers her. -Annoyed

I’d help you, but I’m just so horrible at giving advice!

It sounds like you get that your girlfriend seems to have some self-esteem issues. She’s probably either not used to hearing praise from others or is not easily able to believe she’s worthy of it. You’re right not to buy into this cycle, making it even worse.

Do a preemptive strike: “It bothers me when you make negative comments about yourself — you know I don’t agree with them. But I feel like the more I speak up, the worse it gets.” Then listen. If you help her become aware, in the moment, of what she’s saying, she can finally start to turn it off — doing both of you a huge favor.

Don’t Go West — At Least, Not Yet

My relationship with my husband is on the rocks, and we’re considering separation. I’ve had an extremely conflicted relationship with his daughter from a previous marriage, who’s 16 with many behavioral problems. If we do separate, I want to move to California. My husband feels betrayed by this and thinks I’m abandoning this girl. I admit that if we had a closer relationship, I would feel more of a pull to stay. But, honestly, not having the stress is very appealing. Does this make me a bad person? -Always a Stepmom?

You don’t need a psychologist to assess whether you’re a bad person. I think you realize how this looks to others, and you’re seeking justification to do it. I find it interesting you never referred to her as your stepdaughter, and I wonder whether you truly made a commitment to her when you married her dad.

Like it or not, she’s part of your family. And she’s 16 and troubled. Stay in the area, at least for now. It’s a sacrifice, but part of her problems may stem from the fact that she never thought she mattered much. A last-ditch effort to prove to her that isn’t true could go a long way — and help your conscience.

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