I’ve been with my girlfriend for 6 Years now, through a lot. But something changed recently and I can’t tell whether I should be worried or not.
A few weeks ago, she seemed to completely shut down on me. We went from daily cuddling and laughter and intimacy to…nothing. She wouldn’t talk to me, she just sat on the couch with her phone and her tablet. When I would ask if everything was ok, she would say she was just in a weird mood and needed some space. So I obliged.
Since then, things have moved slightly back toward normal. We started talking again, and while we still hadn’t had sex in over two weeks (not normal for us), I at least felt like things were moving forward. Something still felt off, but I was trying to just make sure she had everything she needed.
Last night we tried to fool around a little. I had asked her for help after a tremendously frustrating week, but what happened just re-opened a bunch of insecurities I was having during the time she shut me out. And I’m having a hard time processing them.
I had realized that the way she handled her phone had changed. She had turned off all notifications, which I noticed slowly. Her phone used to ding and vibrate all the time, but it has been silent for weeks. She leaves it face down everywhere now, which she normally doesn’t do because she was worried she’d scratch the screen. She was spending all her time on Snapchat, I would notice the interface if I glanced over. She started almost guarding it, where she used to leave it all over the house (I was constantly finding it for her), she never let it leave her side. Last night before we tried to fool around she was on it. She was constantly closing the app though, I could hear the double tapping of the home button. The sex did not go well, she looked upset and was not her usual responsive self. It felt almost like rape to me, so I stopped. We went to bed without a word. Or I tried to, because she immediately rolled over and grabbed her phone before covering both herself and the phone with the blanket. I could still hear the constant double tapping as she used and closed the app. Apparently, this deletes any messages.
We’ve been together for 6 years, I love her more than anyone I’ve ever loved in my life. She’s my best friend in the world and I don’t know what to do about this. There’s been only one time before in our relationship where I ever questioned her fidelity, and that was less than 6 months in. We hit a rough patch and she went home to New York to see her family. She ended up taking one of her exes with her. I knew she took him but didn’t say anything, I thought we were done. But she came back and told me about it and apologized, said nothing happened, and we’ve been going strong ever since. But this feels different, This doesn’t feel spiteful or cold, this feels like there’s just no love, it’s almost apathy, and it scares me.
She has a trip home planned in a few weeks. I was not invited. For only the second time in 6 years.
Alright PA, there’s no way to sugar coat this, so I’m going to give it to you straight: it doesn’t look good. I can’t say whether or not she’s cheating on you, but her behavior suggests that something is up. It may not be infidelity, but the other possibilities aren’t much better.
But before I get into the nitty gritty, I wanna point something out. The way you put things makes it sound like you’re kinda in the habit of checking out what’s going on with her phone. I don’t know – and I’m not accusing you – if it’s that you snoop, if you just see a lot of notifications on the lockscreen and leave it alone, if you and your girlfriend have a no-problem-go-through-my-phone policy or what. But if you’re at the point of snooping to check out what’s going on… that ain’t good. Much of her behavior with her phone could well be that she’s gotten tired of you checking up on things and being all up in her business for no good reason. Just because people don’t have anything to hide doesn’t mean that they’re going to be cool with someone poking through their messages and photos.
And beyond that: there are risks inherent to snooping to the snooper besides “getting caught”. Snooping tends to mean finding out things you might otherwise wish you didn’t know, Sometimes they’re things that would only justify the snooping in retrospect. Other times they aren’t, but they’ll also be things that you can’t unknow. Sometimes some of what helps keep a relationship working – especially through the rough patches – is a certain amount of willful ignorance. After all, if you go through her phone and find out that no, she’s not cheating but she does think you’re seven shades of asshole right now and she’s getting so fed up with having to put up with you… are you going to be happy knowing that?
Sometimes snooping can retroactively justify itself. Sometimes it can’t. Keep all that in mind, the next time you’re curious about what’s up with her phone.
Now, with that out of the way, here’s my take on things:
There’re a lot of warning signs here that your relationship is in bad shape. The two biggest are the lack of sex and the lack of communication – when both talking and fucking go away, then things are dire.
She may not be cheating. Yes, her behavior is secretive and suspect – she clearly has shit that’s going on that she doesn’t want you to know about – but infidelity isn’t the only possibility on the list. It could well be that she’s needing to talk with someone about, well, you, and she doesn’t want you to read it. She may be needing to vent because of the state of your relationship. She may be being flirty online because she’s feeling neglected and wants some validation from someone she’s not dating. Or she may be slowly coming to the realization that things are coming to an end and she’s making arrangements to make the transition as smooth as possible. That may or may not include someone who’s become her motivation to leave. It’s impossible for me to say.
There’s really only one person who knows what’s going on, and that’s your girlfriend. And there’s only one way for you to find out and that’s to talk to her.
You and she need to have a seat and have a serious conversation before she leaves for her trip, because experience tells me that this trip is going to be the turning point. This is the sort of thing one tends to do when they need family support before making a hard decision… or support after having made it.
There may be a lot of talking going on right now, but it’s pretty clear that nobody’s understanding each other, so it’s time to make things incredibly clear. You need to tell her how you’re feeling, how her behavior has been making you feel, that you want to know what’s happening and what you can do to help and make things better. And then… you need to listen. As hard as it may be, you’re going to need to listen without interjecting, without getting defensive and without falling to pieces if it’s bad news. And you do need to brace yourself because, to be perfectly blunt, this is the sort of behavior that you see at the end of a relationship.
And it may well be that your girlfriend won’t want to talk about things. Not “I need some time to sort out how I’m feeling in my head so I can put it into words,” not wanting to talk but “I don’t want to engage with you about this”. And if that’s the case… well, then the best thing you can do is accept that she’s already out the door; she just hasn’t made it official yet. And in that case: the best thing you can do is make your break as clean and as quick as possible so that you can start the healing process.
I hope I’m wrong, PA. I hope that this is a rough patch and with some heart-felt, if difficult, conversations, the two of you will be able to pull through and have many more years together. But either way: you need to talk with her before it’s too late.
My Dear Good Dr,
Roughly 1 year ago, just before I turned 31, the most serious relationship of my life ended rather abruptly after 4 years. I will admit, there were some warning signs I didn’t see leading up to it – casual things I just dismissed while I was oblivious being “too comfy” – you know, just coasting through the relationship because it seems that is what you need to do, right? (Wrong).
The problem is, she was like my best friend and I treated her as such until she finally lost faith in us in a relationship and realised she just couldn’t commit to that anymore. I had also made that relationship my one interest, and lost every hobby or interest I once had just trying to make her happy.
During the break-up I came across your website (life-saver) and your Nuclear Option (bigger life saver). I followed it by the book – removed her number, facebook contacts, pictures, relatives, everything I could. I told her I didn’t want to see her ever again. She seemed so hurt by this at the time, angry at me because she figured we were still going to best friends after this. That I was cutting off my nose to spite my face.
I went away. Licked my wounds, was twisted and bitter, angry, felt I had done everything perfectly and deserved more. Gave myself some grieving time. Set a few goals to make my life better, reviewed all my options. Then eventually things changed, I worked on my hobbies, got back some interests and found my old self again (time heals all wounds right?). Started getting back into the dating scene (boy we won’t get into how that’s going right now, but needless to say it needs some work….. one step at a time).
Around a month ago, I read an article you posted on surviving a breakup. How the final stage is to forgive your ex. I read it and it hit me – I had forgiven my ex. I was no longer bitter, angry. Then it hit me again, I really missed her as a friend. She was after all, my best friend, someone I had such a good connection with.
Once I had realised this, I started missing her and it has stuck since. It made me want to meet up with her. Just for a beer, a chat. See what she’s been doing. Tell her what I’ve been doing. Tell her she probably did the right thing.
However, all my friends & relatives think this is a terrible idea. That I am setting myself up for hurt and pain. That it will flood back old feelings and make me miserable.
The idea is still with me. I don’t think it will be a “meet-up once a month” kind of situation, more a one off (on a side note, I am planning to emigrate to Australia before the end of the year).
I need your advice Doc – what do I do here? Can you forgive someone without telling them? Should I ask my ex to meet up? Does this defy the Nuclear Option? Am I setting myself up for failure, hurt and misery?
One More Shot
The whole point of the Nuclear Option isn’t to throw things around and say “I never want to see you again, you’re dead to me forever,” it’s to take away the temptations to pick at the wound so that you can heal. You get rid of their number so that you can’t get drunk and call or text at 4 in the morning when men’s souls are at their lowest ebb. You unfriend them on Facebook and unfollow them on Instagram and Twitter so that you don’t have the temptation to continually check up on them to see if they’re suffering as much as you are or if they’ve gotten over you already. You’re putting barrier after barrier up so that you can focus on your healing, instead of letting them and the ghost of your relationship continue to occupy space in your head rent free.
It sounds to me like you’ve done that work. You’ve gotten over things, you’ve started to process just why the two of you broke up and you’ve taken ownership of your part of the failure and end of your relationship… and you’ve forgiven your ex. If you’ve grown and matured and you’re a different person now and you’re in a different place, then it’s not unreasonable to see if it’s possible for the two of you to have a friendship – one that’s going to be very different from your romantic relationship. So as long as you’re looking for genuine friendship – not “closure” or validation – then there’s nothing wrong with putting out a tentative offer to see if it’s possible. Just keep in mind that she may no longer be interested in being friends after the way you handled your end of things.
And just FYI: telling her that you’ve forgiven her, unprompted, isn’t going to be the best move – especially if she hadn’t done anything beyond ending the relationship. Under the best of circumstances, that’s going to read like arrogance or some weird status-game; you’re “forgiving” her in your wise beneficence and she should be grateful, bla bla bla. Don’t do that. Just put out the offer for friendship and see what happens.
I’ve been a visitor to the site for a few months now and I’m hoping you could help me out. I contacted this girl on a self-help website looking to get help with a prior situation of mine and we really got to talking and found out that we have very similar interests and things. Since then we’ve now gotten to texting each other, sometimes long into the night, and the conversations are great. Now she knows that I’m really into her and,while she hasn’t said it explicitly, she is kind of into me as well. There is the distance thing between us at the moment (she’s halfway around the country from me) but the real thing I need help with is that she has had bad experiences being alone with guys before and she has told me that she doesn’t know if she’ll ever be comfortable being alone with a guy in the future, which I get. What I want to know is how can I show her that she has nothing to worry about? Is there anything I can do to make her feel more comfortable with me? I should add that neither of us have had any kind of relationship experience in the past and I really want to make this work out.
First of all: I get that you want this to work, but don’t start making plans on what you think she’s feeling. Right now it sounds like there’s more wishful thinking than confirmed romantic interest so slow your roll a little.
Now that being said:
The way that you show her she has nothing to worry about is to respect her boundaries. Don’t try to convince her you’re good and safe, don’t tell her you’re good and safe, show her you’re good and safe by making sure she’s comfortable and that she’s not alone with you. If you’re going to meet up for the first time, do so on her territory, where she’ll feel the most comfortable. Meet up in public places, make sure there’re plenty of people around, invite her to have a friend or two if she like it, keep a respectful – but not excessive – distance from her and keep your hands to yourself. Don’t demand, insist or ask her to let you be the exception. Don’t pressure her into just trying to be alone with you. Don’t get upset or have a sad because she may not be comfortable enough with you and don’t put a deadline on when she might be.
Let her make the moves at her own pace, when she’s comfortable and feeling secure. Be someone who she can rely on, who can be respectful and patient without nagging or pushing her on.
And if you can’t do that? Then the two of you aren’t right for each other and you need to move on to someone else.