Carolyn Hax: Dealing with a secretive girlfriend


Carolyn Hax
Columnist July 20, 2012

Hi, Carolyn:

My girlfriend has secrecy issues. She rarely tells me what she is doing or has done. If I ask her a question, she will analyze my words and tell me I did not ask in the correct way so she won’t answer. I then change the question but she tells me only the first question counts. Then she gets angry and I apologize because I don’t want to have an argument over something not worth it. All this happens over the phone because I am in the United States and she is in Asia. (I plan to move to her city soon.)

Carolyn Hax started her advice column in 1997, after five years as a copy editor and news editor in Style and none as a therapist. The column includes cartoons by "relationship cartoonist" Nick Galifianakis -- Carolyn's ex-husband -- and appears in over 200 newspapers. View Archive

She says she has obsessive-compulsive disorder so I have to be careful what I say. Once her OCD kicks in, it takes her a long time to be happy again so I always end up acquiescing.

She also won’t tell her family anything. I decided to talk to her about it, so I mentioned wanting to talk about our last phone conversation. She immediately got upset and told me she thought we had a good conversation but now I am making it unpleasant and maybe we should have not talked. I had to change the subject. If I had told her my true feelings, she would have gotten angry and not spoken to me for a week.

I love my girlfriend so I always end up apologizing but I really think I am not doing the right thing by letting this issue pass by. Even when I am with her, she gives me the silent treatment when she does not want to answer questions. Am I letting her bully me? I feel like a puppy that wants 100 percent affirmation.

H.

When is feeling bad not a sign of something important?

With columns on a similar topic June 1 and 10, this is Chapter 3 of “The Blind Men and the Elephant” — and the elephant is abuse.

The prior columns involved jealousy and criticism as forms of control. Granted, your story has Asia and purported OCD to help people say, “Whew, that’s not me”; nevertheless, you’ve spelled out exactly how a person uses emotional volatility as a weapon in a relationship.

Every eggshell-walk sounds the same: You . . . “apologize because I don’t want to have an argument”; “have to be careful what I say”; “always end up acquiescing”; “had to change the subject”; “always end up apologizing.” And builds up to this:

“If I had told her my true feelings, she would have gotten angry and not spoken to me for a week.”

Surely you’re more than a biped engine of appeasement? Yet you apparently can’t even express your true feelings, much less offer ideas, crack jokes, make thoughtful observations, show vulnerability, express doubts, have a bad day, need her support, or, heavens to Spongebob, misspeak occasionally. Where is your license to be you?

You say you love your girlfriend, and I can only take you at your word. What is clear, though — crystal — is that with her, you don’t love yourself.

That’s a problem you don’t relocate overseas to amplify. It’s one you take to the best local counseling you can manage. You’re living the peril of seeking affirmation from others, instead of from within; it’s like binding your wrists and then handing over the string.

Write to Carolyn Hax, Style, 1150 15th St. NW, Washington, D.C. 20071, or tellme@washpost.com. Subscribe at www.facebook.com/carolynhax.

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