Carolyn Hax: Girlfriend's distrust must be confronted, not mollified

Nick Galifianakis for The Washington Post
(Nick Galifianakis for The Washington Post)
  Enlarge Photo    
By Carolyn Hax
Sunday, October 24, 2010

Dear Carolyn:

In the car, my girlfriend and I were listening to an advice show. She paused it to discuss the topic, and I talked about my friend "Jen," who had had a struggle with her husband similar to the one on the show (her zero-tolerance policy on porn and his continued use). I was very disoriented by my girlfriend's visceral reaction.

It bothered her that I allowed a married woman to speak to me about something she considers a private matter between the couple. Unless I am a professional counselor, I am an interloper, usurping trust and intimacy that belongs inside the couple.

Stupidly, I got very defensive and tried to reassure her. It was one conversation. It took place years before I met my girlfriend. I had met her husband only once, briefly, and the chances of my interacting with him or anyone he knew were virtually zero. Jen and I communicate once every year or two and several factors -- geography, family obligations, value systems -- make it hard to imagine Jen or me trying to be something other than distant friends.

Now my girlfriend says she cannot trust me until I find myself in a similar situation -- receiving a tearful phone call from a desperate, distant friend who is actively contemplating divorce -- and acquit myself accordingly. I have no idea how to restore the trust. No amount of time, transparency, or otherwise trustworthy conduct will begin to repair this rift. Where do I start?


If you think that conversation was a box o' giggles, wait till she sees this in print.

I agree, getting defensive was a mistake. But that's often what happens when people catch us off-balance -- and when we're afraid to say the wrong thing, which is your real problem here.

You've presumably collected yourself by now, so it's time to tell your girlfriend exactly where you stand on this issue.

If you believe it was fine to help Jen, then say so. Assure her -- since integrity demands it -- that she can talk to her friends about you, if she needs fresh eyes on something. Explain your reasoning, too.

CONTINUED     1        >

© 2010 The Washington Post Company