I’ve heard some rumors about my girlfriend and what she was doing during the summer, but when I asked where she was when I was away, she wouldn’t tell me. I’ve gotten so desperate as to having her look me directly in the eyes and tell me, but she just gives me some off-hand answer that I know means she’s lying to me. What should I do?
— Conflicted and Confused
DEAR CONFLICTED AND CONFUSED,
I’m truly glad that you’re reaching out about this and that you care about your relationship so much. It is really painful to be in a situation in which people are spreading rumors and you just want to find the truth. After all, she’s your girlfriend. To me, in this situation it sounds like she’s avoiding confrontation. You know you need answers, and maybe she knows that as well. You may feel as if you need closure because rumors are dangerous — gossip can be really hurtful and sometimes untrue. She’s your girlfriend, so your relationship is important.
However, confrontation can be difficult for some people, and that stems from many things. She might be shy, scared, feel guilty or simply dislike the style of confronting problems head-on. Whatever it is, you cannot know for certain at this point in time, so please be careful not to jump to any conclusions about how she feels or what she has done. It’s a tendency of the human brain to fill gaps in knowledge with worry, suspicion and imagined scenarios. Take a step back for now and be objective about this. Right now, you both need to communicate.
I know, it’s really hard. You need to find a style of communication that fits your relationship, and that takes practice. Throughout your whole life, you’ll learn to communicate within your relationships and with the people around you, and you’ll always be getting better. You may be someone who deals with problems head-on or you may be someone who strategizes and plans before making a move. For right now, though, you have already recognized that there’s a problem, and since it is clearly affecting you, you should talk to her about it.
It’s difficult to go up to someone and talk about problems directly without seeming like you’re giving an ultimatum or being overly sensitive. Keep in mind it’s best to be open and honest with your partner. I know you’re feeling desperate and you’re searching for the truth — naturally, you want your relationship back — but for right now, take a deep breath. Take care of yourself. Don’t beat yourself up worrying about the other person. Take some time to sort through your thoughts. Ask yourself: what do you want to get out of talking out your problems with her? What will you do if she tells you something you don’t want to hear?
I can’t answer those questions for you, but you can answer them for yourself. When you’re ready to talk about your problems, find a time when everything’s calm and comfortable for you to mention to her that you feel like the two of you have been avoiding an important conversation. Make sure you have a support network — maybe a friend or family member — that is there for you after the conversation. It doesn’t have to be some dramatic and painful confrontation; it’s important to take a non-judgemental stance, as after all you do not yet know her side of the story. Simply make sure she knows that you’re hurting — tell her how you feel, because you can’t sweep your feelings under the rug forever — and that there are problems in the relationship that are negatively affecting you. Talking about these things may be difficult since you don’t want to lose your partner and you want closure, but you have to be truthful about these things if you want a healthy relationship. You cannot force her to say anything, but it is crucial to sort out your own feelings.
She might tell you something you don’t want to hear, or confirm the rumors you heard earlier. She might tell you that nothing happened. She might dismiss it again. She might lie, or she might tell the truth. Don’t count on anything happening, and make sure you’ll be able to take care of yourself regardless of her response.
You yourself need to be honest with your partner and yourself, and take care of your feelings. There is always a chance that what she says might devastate you — relationships sometimes just don’t work out that way, be prepared for that to happen. Be strong enough for whatever turn this may take. There are many resources so peers, family, counselors, and you can turn to them to make sure you can do this. If you need them, all you have to do is ask. Seek people to talk to because it’s difficult, if not impossible, to go through any stressful situation alone. It’s so important to talk to people that you trust and that care about you, so please prioritize your mental health above everything else.
It’s up to you to decide what to do, regardless of what she says or doesn’t say. Make sure that your feelings are taken care of. You care about the other person. But you have to have a foundation of taking care of yourself before you can be in a relationship and take care of another person.
Dr. Moira Kessler, a child psychiatrist at the Stanford University Department of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, offers feedback to the column writer. She is not providing any clinical services.
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