The question I’ve been in a six-month relationship with my girlfriend who I fell in love with the first time I met her. I feel connected to her and know she feels the same when we’ve talked about our feelings. I’ve never met anyone like her before. Unfortunately, she had a very traumatic life before she met me. I have done everything in my power to show her there are good people in the world. She has been abused by exes, cheated on and much worse, which she has told me in confidence. I am always there to support her financially, physically and mentally for whatever she needs.
She regularly goes through depressive episodes that can be triggered by even small things. Unfortunately, these have built up over time to where she is now cold with me. She will speak to me as if I’m an idiot in front of other people. I don’t call her out because I respect her. She is not physically intimate with me any more. I ask her how I can make things easier for her, but she always says “nothing”. She has encouraged me to leave our relationship. But I know from other moments and conversations that she loves me, and she hates that she’s pushing me away. I am being brought down with her. How can I get this right and help her better?
Philippa’s answer Quite a few red flags popped up for me when I read your letter. For example, you say you fell in love the first time you met her. Rarely does love-at-first-sight go on to be everlasting. Usually, both parties realise they fell for a fantasy of what they believed the other person to be, and time shows the reality is very different.
The fact that somehow her depression is an excuse to be cold towards you does not sit with me very well either. And then there’s that she humiliates you in front of others. I’m not sure what her excuse is for that one. But a really big red flag for me is that you have been supporting her financially. That one has me concerned for you. You say she is pushing you away and has encouraged you to leave, but I can’t help but be suspicious that she hasn’t done the actual leaving because of your financial support.
Another red flag is that you are being brought down by the whole situation. I can see you entered this relationship with a lot of optimism and the intimate nature of what she shared with you captured your heart (although another warning might be oversharing too much too soon). You wanted to be her saviour and show her there is good in the world and you want to support her through difficult times. You say you know she feels a connection as you do, but I’m not convinced about that. You need to reflect on what you are currently getting from the relationship, beyond the hope that it will somehow turn into something better.
I want you to answer these questions – as they apply now, in the present, not in the past and not what you just hope for in the future – and the answers will help that reflection…
Is there a healthy level of physical and emotional intimacy in your relationship, or do you feel rejected as a romantic partner?
Are you feeling emotionally fulfilled, or do you often find yourself feeling down, hurt or frustrated due to the way she treats you?
Are you able to communicate openly with your girlfriend, or do you too often find yourself walking on eggshells?
Is she actively working on addressing her own issues and seeking professional help, or does she seem resistant to change and improvement and pushes back offers of help with “Yes but…”? In other words, is she habituated towards the victim role, pushing you into the rescuer role, then she gets fed up with being rescued and turns to persecuting you? And then you feel like a victim? If so, that is a merry-go-round you need to get off.
You support your girlfriend, but in what ways does she support you? Support in a romantic partnership should be a two-way thing. We know who is good for us because we feel great when we are with them. How do you generally feel these days when you are with her?
You don’t need to improve how you help her. You need to help yourself. You sound like a kind man who wants to be useful, but I can’t help thinking perhaps you’re being more used than useful. I’m wondering if the reason you want to stay in this relationship is rooted in your past. Did you have a parent you felt you needed to rescue, but for whom you couldn’t get it right? Sometimes we are attracted to something familiar because it feels right, but familiar is just familiar, not necessarily right. Perhaps a few sessions with a psychotherapist may be helpful? (try psychotherapy.org.uk). Then perhaps, your next girlfriend won’t be one who needs rescuing and accepts, loves and appreciates you as you are. Minor adaptations to each other are one thing, but you shouldn’t have to try to bend yourself out of shape to get it right for someone who isn’t trying to get anything right for you.
Every week Philippa Perry addresses a personal problem sent in by a reader. If you would like advice from Philippa, please send your problem to firstname.lastname@example.org. Submissions are subject to our terms and conditions
The Book You Want Everyone You Love* To Read *(and maybe a few you don’t) by Philippa Perry is published by Cornerstone at £18.99. Buy it for £16.14 at guardianbookshop.com