Out of Control
Q: I'm a 20-year-old engineering student. I frequently have bouts of jealousy and possessiveness when it comes to my girlfriend of a year and a half, whom I love very much. I am a very open person, and she is generally very concealed as to her thoughts and feelings. Sometimes I can't shake feelings of doubt about how she really thinks and acts when I'm not around. She wants to spend more time with her friends than me, flirts with other men or enjoys them flirting with her. I fear she talks about me behind my back, or even sometimes avoids me. I sometimes feel that I'm a much smaller priority in her life than she is in mine, and that secretly she thinks I'm sometimes annoying, needy, insecure, uninteresting, or controlling. I wish I could spy on her, to see if she always tells the truth. Still, I realize that perhaps my feelings of doubt could be stemming from my own insecurities, longing to be the center of attention, or fear of rejection, since I've been hurt a couple times in the past. How can I tell if my feelings are justified, and if they are (or are not), what should I do about them? How can I tell if I'm asking for too much attention or time? How may I come to completely EMOTIONALLY trust her, so that I won't flinch when she says she is busy or doing something with somebody else? -- Alan
Dr. Susan: You have quite a bit of insight, Alan, for one so young, but you're being buffeted wildly by your emotions. In almost every relationship, one partner is needier than the other. Whether the needier one is the one who loves the most is a moot point, but he or she is the one who suffers most when the other tries to separate the least bit. Her less open communication style feeds into your over-the-top insecurity and mistrust. You may have been hurt before (hasn't everyone?), but that's not enough reason to suspect her of so much deceit. I can only imagine your torment if you think she finds you annoying and is trying to avoid you. That just doesn't jibe with a loving relationship.
Talk with your girlfriend in some detail about your needs, and see if she's able to satisfy more of them without feeling suffocated herself. Maybe she's an extrovert who needs a larger circle of friends and stimulation, whereas you're a one-woman man who wants to share everything with only her. Both of you need to learn to understand the other style and make some compromises. It's certainly possible that you two aren't a good match. It doesn't mean she's deceiving you, just that you want more time and attention than she'll ever be happy giving. As for FULLY trusting her, deep down, that takes a long time, in my experience. It's not a state of mind you can rush, but you have to allow it to develop by sharing so many positive experiences that not trusting her would seem silly. A word of warning: if your urge to spy on her is such that you're actually following her around to check up on her, beware. That's too much. If this is a pattern with you in relationships, you might seek out a counselor you can talk this over with.
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Advice for Her
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Susan K. Perry, Ph.D.
Susan K. Perry, Ph.D., is a social psychologist, relationship expert, and bestselling and award-winning author. Her books include Loving in Flow: How the Happiest Couples Get and Stay That Way, and Kylie's Heel, a novel for adults.
Pamela G. Chollet, Ph.D.
Dr. Pamela Chollet has a Ph.D. in clinical psychology and Master degrees in educational psychology and fine arts. Her passion has been helping people face and get through those times when they feel trapped and unable to move forward.
Anna Charbonneau, Ph.D.
Anna Charbonneau, Ph.D., is a clinical psychologist, stress management expert, and author. If you're feeling overwhelmed, stressed out, or struggling to make changes in your life, Anna can help.