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Dr. Paige
Dr. Paige, Psychologist
Category: Relationship
Satisfied Customers: 1354
Experience:  Ph.D. Licensed Psychologist
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I am really confused about what to do with my current girlfriend.

Customer Question

I am really confused about what to do with my current girlfriend. She has wanted to get married for some time now, and I keep putting it off, and I'm not sure why. Now someone else has come into my life, and I'm worried that I may be missing a great opportunity because I'm still stuck in my current relationship.
Submitted: 1 year ago.
Category: Relationship
Expert:  Dr. Paige replied 1 year ago.
Hello. No matter what, you are going to be the only one who can answer the ultimate question on whether to stay or leave. It should n't matter if there is another person who came into your life or not. Are you happy with your current girlfriend? Do you want to be happy with her? That is really what it comes down to. If you state that you are "stuck" in your current relationship, that speaks to say you are not happy. No one should feel stuck.
There is no easy solution for you. There is not one thing that I can tell you which would tell you to do this, this and this and your life will be wonderful. This will not be easy. It won't be easy for you or for anyone else involved. There will be hurt and pain for someone. There is no right or wrong choice to tell you here. You can only mull over your options as you have been doing. If you love your current girlfriend and want to make it work, then you need to talk with her more about your future and your goals. If you are both on totally different pages, then you need to move on. If you want to work it out with her, then that is what you need to do. It sounds to me that you are done with your relationship. If that is the case, you need to break it off as easy as possible with her. It will be very difficult, regardless of what you choose to do.
Customer: replied 1 year ago.

Thanks Dr. Paige,


That is an answer I've come up with on my own. I'm aware that only I can decide what to do. I'm not actually looking for anyone to make the decision for me. It just seems that my brain literally gets stuck when trying to sort though my feelings.


The new person is not confusing anything. There is no relationship to speak of yet. Just an acquaintance...for now.


How do you judge happiness? I am generally a happy person. I know that I could be content with this girl...I'm struggling with whether or not that is enough. I've been told by the many experts (friends, family) that if I don't know that I want to marry this girl, then that provides the answer.


Maybe the real question I have: am I holding on to this because I don't want to hurt anybody? That has been an issue for me. I put others above myself, and have stayed in relationships longer than I should have because I don't want to hurt anyone. And I know, I ended up hurting them all the same, and it wasn't fair to them or me.


I think I am looking for guidance as to whether or not I have actually made up my mind, and am simply denying it to save myself the pain.


I'm sorry if this all seems disjointed.

Expert:  Dr. Paige replied 1 year ago.
I agree that you cannot force anything and if you aren't certain, then that is probably your answer. I think it is possible that you have made up your mind. Something which may help you is to separate for awhile. I don't know your living situation and what is possible or not, but if you leave and tell her you need some time, spend some time alone and that should help you sort your feelings. You will get an understanding of what it feels like to be alone and you can see how your mind thinks of her in an objective way. You should not be 'content' you should be in undeniable love.
Dr. Paige, Psychologist
Category: Relationship
Satisfied Customers: 1354
Experience: Ph.D. Licensed Psychologist
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Expert:  Dr. Norman Brown replied 1 year ago.

As another perspective, I wonder how old you are now? And do you think you're ready for marriage now?

 

If you're expecting to be head over heels in love so you'll feel it strongly enough to want to go ALL the way, then you can ask yourself if you felt that way at first, and how long ago was that? How long have you been together? Very important, because for many people, if you stay with a person for 2 to 3 years without escalating to marriage, the passionate excitement begins to simmer down, because we're biologically designed to produce a baby by then and then either "move on" (in a polygamous or serially monogamous society like rural Trinidad) or begin the householder years by raising the baby.

 

Furthermore, your wishful interest in the new woman fulfills the medieval love rule: "New love chases away old love" because of the mystery and uncertainty stimulating your excitement.

 

If you've been together around 1- year or a little more, then you've probably found out some ways you don't fit as perfectly as you once thought, and possibly some ways you irritate each other. And she doesn't seem like your ideal woman anymore--because no real woman can ever seem that ideal for too long.

 

And instead of just thinking about whether you love her enough, think about what you'll be doing 5, 10 and 20 years from now, and what you think she'll be doing--do those projected life directions match pretty well?

 

Were there any other ways she has disappointed your hopes for your mate besides not wanting children at first? Do you think she'll be a good enough mother now, or that you might have to be more engaged (in time) with your kid(s) than you want?

 

That's some more questions to consider. And if you do ask for a sabbatical-separation to find out if you miss her and that makes your love grow stronger--then don't test out the other woman unless you want to risk hurting both of them, and messing up your future relations with both also.

 

You're very clear-sighted to realize that maybe you just never want to hurt anybody, so you can't make a choice that would hurt. But not choosing IS already hurting both of you.

 

OOOh! Something else just hit me! You know that she wants you to marry her, so now you're guilty if you don't marry her, but you're also NOT choosing to marry her because YOU want to, but because you aren't allowed to HURT her, by your own rules, that is. So you can't be true to your own feelings if you choose to marry her, because your guilt is preventing you from the enthusiasm you might otherwise feel. Your unwillingness to hurt anybody (did you grow up in a family in which "we mustn't hurt (Mother)(Disappoint Father)(etc)"? Is a dark cloud that keeps you from feeling your feelings.

 

I gotta go to bed. Ponder that and write back, if you want to--otherwise go ahead and agree with Dr. Paige and don't worry about all my additions. I think your "Hippocratic oath" is messing up your feelings.

 

If you can figure out WHOSE feelings you MUST NOT hurt (by your own, or by family rules) , write that person's (or those persons') name(s) down. Then write a letter to each one in which you list everything you've ever done that could hurt or disappoint them (or reap their disapproval) if they knew about it. Then go on and add some other things Much Worse that you could imagine doing, if you really Didn't Care about their reaction--go ahead and BE MEAN.

 

(You're not going to do any of those brand new meaner things, and you're not going to send any letter to anybody. But if you really take the time to immerse yourself in reversing your imaginary rules that you can't hurt (X, Y or Z), you just might set yourself free--a little bit at least.)

 

Then some time after that (at least after sleeping alone afterwards for a night or two) see if you can feel a little bit more of your full pallette of feelings for your girlfriend. Let me know if you do that (but not anything you wrote).

 

Customer: replied 1 year ago.


Thank-you Dr. Brown,


I'm 36 years old. We have been together for 3 years. Yes, I realize that the euphoria of new love fades, and that is not my issue.


I think you are far closer to the mark by asking about my childhood. I grew up with great parents, who are still together, and a highly rebellious brother. There was constant stress in the house due his various hijinx, and my job growing up was to moderate that tension by doing as little wrong, and not causing any additional stress to anybody.


So, it was a self inflicted set of rules, that I still struggle with.


This relationship I'm in now, seems simlar to the one I was before. I think I knew they were not right for me, early on.


So, to address some of your questions about this relationship - was there more than just the children issue? Of course there was. I think I was using the children as the deal breaker, because that provided me a clear, no fault way to end it.


We certainly had a torrid love affair for about 3 months. After that, severely negative elements began to emerge. She revealed that she broke off her engagement to someone else 1 month before we met.


She suffers from a high level of anxiety. Our life goals are slightly different. Our lifestyles are quite different. She did participate in activities with my family. Her and my mother do not get along. Her and my sister in law do not get along. She does not know any of my friends.


And of course, she is unclear about whether or not she wants to have kids.


I often feel like getting married is just on her list, and I fit the criteria of what is acceptable for her husband. Pretty morose, I know.


 

Expert:  Dr. Norman Brown replied 1 year ago.

Do you understand what I suggested about "practicing hurting-or-makingwaves 4 mother & father" by writing about what you've done (without telling them, perhaps) and could do that would break your self-imposed rule would exercise your "can't make serious choices without unacceptable guilt" muscles so you CAN break up with the present girlfriend?

 

I also stayed in 3 relationships for around 3 years each in my thirties, even though I knew in 2 cases & was blinded by passion in the 3rd (middle one) within the first 6-12 months that they weren't right for me. The last one went until age 41, and I didn't break it because it was comfortable. I knew I wouldn't marry her unless she became more like the kind of woman I was looking for (looks weren't involved), but it wasn't until I saw my 42nd year half over, when an astrologer had predicted 9 years earlier that I would "meet my soul-mate," that I pressured her increasingly to go to couples therapy with me (I was already a therapist myself), so I could establish a concrete experience of incapacity to fit my needs and justify breaking up. And that worked, and 2 wks later I met a woman who was probably what I wanted (serious-artistic eager-2-become psychotherapist, astrologer, also ready to mate for life via the same astrological progressed moon as I was--tho I didn't understand that prediction until she showed it to me). Now we've been struggling soulmates for 28 years. And SHE WOULDN'T LET ME enjoy the fruits of romance for 3 years before marriage, insisting I'd only get a several month free trial-marriage before I had to plunk my money where my mouth was. She knew about passion what I didn't learn until I studied my own relationship history and then discovered the evidence about passion & divorce when was writing my textbook on relationships around 10 yrs later.

 

It hasn't occurred to me that I also held on to the 1st & 3rd of those ~3yr fizzles because I wouldn't willingly choose to hurt a woman, since our family rule for the 3 males was "we mustn't hurt mother--cuz she does so much for us." [The 2nd one seduced me away from the 1st and dumped me and re-united so many times that I was too busy holding on to realize how BAD for me she was: Our theme song was "Reunited cuz it feels so good." (aka "Brinksmanship" and "Love-Trap.")

 

So study your history of love relationships and you might get quite useful insights. And ponder this too: Which was your "first great love?" And to what extent is that still the one whose original positive romantic phase sticks in the back of your mind as the way it's sorta supposed to be--even if it ended badly and you're now sure you wouldn't want it back anyway. It was studying my patterned history both before and after my 3rd fizzler (all of which were AFTER my 8-9yr "first great love") that led me to insights that I acted on to get the woman I married. [And go-figure, astrological progression predicted when that would be! So who's incharge here, my striving self-development or fate?]

Customer: replied 1 year ago.

I have studied my past relationships. I wrote them down, the reasons why I can remember them ending, how I felt during etc.


I have also looked closely at my last 3 relationships, all of which should have ended much sooner than they did.


I have used the "write it down" method previously, and I do find it effective.


This relationship I have tried to end 3 times previously, but I keep getting talked back into it. It is frustrating beyond reason.


It is very upsetting now, because the new girl, who has been an acquaintance of mine for some time, has now expressed interest, and I am not in a position to act on it. She has never asked about my relationship status, and I have never volunteered it, largely because there was no need to. Now I'm faced with the quandry on whether or not to tell her, or just keep the relationship casual until I have had enough time to get over this break up.

Expert:  Dr. Norman Brown replied 1 year ago.

That's a very interesting question: can you get over this break up fast enough without unconsciously using the new girl as a rebound & healing relationship? I'll offer just a preliminary opinion now, because I have more errands to run. "New love" does chase away old, so it will pretty much cover up your grief reaction, tho there may be specific aspects of her that you won't realize you're attached to until they get in the way of your new romance. If you've already been pulling away and shutting down your heart for several months, then you may not notice much grief at all.

 

How long did you have between #1 & #2 and #2 & #3. I'd also suggest on your history homework you write down what you loved about each of the others and how you changed thru each relationship.

 

And before you get into another potentially wasted 2 or 3 year relationship, figure out what kinds of intimacy are most important to you--check out which types you had with each of the others and correlate that with how you loved them. Then you'll have a better idea of what matters to you. Here are the types:

Types of Intimacy [From Love & Intimate Relationships: Journeys of the Heart, Brown & Amatea, 2000.]

1. Physical. Familiarity & closeness with another's body in work & play, medical care, touch, massage.

 

2. Sexual. Erotic pleasure sharing.(The typical default meaning of intimacy for men, whether verbal or emotional sharing are involved or not.)

 

3. Emotional. Empathic attunement & expressing emotions. (The typical meaning for women, though the reality may be that one is giving & receiving only the emotions one wants, and not Crisis (9) or Conflict (10).)

 

4. Intellectual. Sharing spheres of ideas.

 

5. Aesthetic. Sharing experiences of beauty and excellence.

 

6. Creative. Sharing acts of creation together, including brainstorming.

 

7. Recreation. Fun, sports, play.

 

8. Work. Cooperating in tasks or occupation, wage-earning.

 

9. Crisis. Facing crises, problems & pain together.

 

10. Conflict. Struggling with differences & frustrating interaction cycles.

 

11. Commitment. Trust & mutuality from common investment of self.

 

12. Spiritual. Sharing religious, spiritual & transpersonal experiences & concerns.

 

13. Communication. Verbal sharing and understanding. (Typically combined with Emotional, Intellectual, crisis, conflict, etc.)



Customer: replied 1 year ago.

Between 1 and 2 was almost a year. Between 2 and 3 was shorter - about 3 months, but I felt fully checked out many months before it ended.
I certainly never knew there were 13 types of intimacy. I will explore that list, and see where it gets me.


 

Expert:  Dr. Norman Brown replied 1 year ago.

13 is a bit of overkill, since crisis and conflict are pretty similar and generate most of the same emotions. Seems like we're done, and you'll just need to face your fear of guilt. Here's a little sermon on guilt: There's neurotic guilt and existential guilt.

 

Neurotic guilt is crippling guilt that we've been taught to feel, yet we might not be hurting anyone at all, or that you taught yourself to feel as a warning signal against doing or saying anything that could cause your parents any more problems than your brother was already causing. That's the same attitude as some children with an alcoholic parent develop: I gotta do everything I can to make the family run as smoothly as possible despite the tempest in our midst that is (dad/mom), and certainly not make any waves of my own.

 

Existential guilt is an unavoidable guilt that occurs when you make a choice, and no matter what choice you make, there will be SOME negative results for somebody. Like in your situation breaking up would hurt your GF and you also, but her more @ first; not breaking up is hurting you because you're stuck in a quagmire of guilt and fear of making the wrong decision, and it's probably hurting your GF too, because she's at least unconsciously aware that you're not as responsive to her as you used to be, so she's MORE of both clingy/anxious and angry (or she's withdrawing herself but probably feeling lonely). There's a kernel of truth in every feeling, even if we don't understand where it's coming from and can't justify it.

 

So existential guilt is unavoidable; it's the price of freedom of choice. Every significant choice you make with interpersonal consequences will hurt somebody, and not making a choice could hurt somebody too. The only way to avoid existential guilt is to make sure you're unaware of the fact that you even Have a choice--that's the ignorance of possibilities and consequences that we attribute to animals.

 

One thing that I learned from studying my relationships was that in every one of my relationships, major & minor, with very few exceptions, I didn't choose to pursue a girl until she had flashed me the green light, so I knew I wasn't risking rejection at all. But that meant that I wasn't CHOOSING the woman until she had already chosen to make herself available to me. So I was picking the low-hanging fruits without carefully considering whether I was getting the most important aspects of relationship that I wanted or not. Then I would end up realizing that the woman wasn't right for me, and therefore hurting her and using up quite a bit of our time on something bound to fizzle. So I decided I would figure out what was most important to me to find in a mate, and I WOULD CHOOSE FIRST, without worrying if I was going to be rejected or not.

 

I also cheated. I put a personals ad in the San Francisco Bay Guardian (1984) listing my personal interests and qualifications (omitting that I wasn't making any decent money) and concluding with "looking to settle down." In one week I got 45 letters flashing me the green light. I only met two I think, because before the weekly paper came out I met Pamela at a "common values potluck" for people in the helping professions (counseling, teaching, medical, alternative health). I heard what I wanted and pursued her at the Marin County Fair 3 days later. So I did make sure the women were all in the mood to be chosen, but I made sure I chose first.

 

I don't assume that rating the intimacy types you've experienced and valued most with past lovers will lead you to formulate what you're looking for directly. But it could lead you to make your own "shopping list" and "screening system" (I always wanted the woman to have as much of pretty compatible higher education as possible, but I often settled for a GF who didn't use the education she had--because intellectual intimacy was really high for me.) Of course you'd be flexible once you're looking at somebody who's not just flirty and giving you the green light, but has some key attributes you're interested in.

 

Customer: replied 1 year ago.

All I can say is holy crap! Low hanging fruit? Only going for women that have already given ample signals, or to use your vernacular the green light? That's me to a tee. Very enlightening!!


I see now that it is no coincidence all three of my last girlfriends asked me out, and pushed the relationship forward. I sort of just went along for the ride.


Thank-you.

Expert:  Dr. Norman Brown replied 1 year ago.

I didn't notice it myself until I was studying my relationship history--which I then turned into the biggest (optional) assignment for my psych of relationships class. The key to benefitting from writing about your relationships is to come up with a bunch of different things to look for--for example you wrote that you paid attention to why you broke up. But I asked students to write about what happened to turn the relationship from a growing-closer one to a declining one, because that's where you need to become aware that changes in the way you deal with your relationships need to be tried. Memory for beginnings and endings is always pretty clear, because that's heavily engraved by positive & negative emotions. But it's the middles where things are beginning to unravel. One of the theories I developed about the relationships of divorce children (based in part on my second great love & even more on my empirical studies of student relationship histories for my 2nd doctoral dissertation) was that they'd plunge in hotter and heavier than nondivorce children, but the middles (6months to 2or3 years) lack the passionate, unrealistic hopes of beginnings, so the small differences or conflicts get magnified into "o no here it comes (again)" reminders of when their parents' or their own prior unions came undone--and with parents there was nothing they could do to stop it. So they start expecting the worst and protecting themselves from getting dumped by backing off and building escape options.

 

I don't know of any researcher who has been able to study the commonalities of 1500+ relationship histories like I have. So I want to disseminate my knowledge that isn't anywhere near fully articulated in my textbook. And that's why I'm doing this work on JustAnswer. (And I do dream interpretation for the same reason.) And very soon via my own website also. See I often learn more about my own experience through visiting another person's intimate history. I can piggyback on your awareness that it hasn't been OK for you to hurt a woman's feelings: But I found that I had a bunch of 1date to 2month relationships (always exclusive) where I'd dump the girl as soon as I got my first big disappointment, because I never talked it through with her--or she might dump me--no problem hurting her feelings at that point. But if the relationship was already emotionally very colorful (I wanted to say Chiaroscuro--clear and dark in great contrast, like the paintings of Caravaggio, Rembrandt, El Greco and Gericault) from the beginning, a disappointment here and there was like a leaky window in a tempest.

 

As the (Curtis Mayfield?) song says, "My mama told me: 'You better shop around.'"

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