Q: I'm troubled about my girlfriend. We are planning to move in together in August, and I have already bought her an engagement ring. I'm 20 and I'm her first boyfriend, though I've had past girlfriends. What troubles me is that she gets mad at me when I don't want to spend the night with her. Whenever she doesn't get her way she gets upset with me and cries. Sometimes I just want to be by myself at night, but she doesn't understand and thinks I don't care about her. Inevitably we argue about it. We are both just so stubborn. I love her to death, but she wants to spend TOO much time with me. Independence from each other is very important, I feel, but she doesn't. What should I do? -- Dan
Dr. Susan: All relationships have to work out a compromise between varying needs for closeness and separation. I remember when my husband-to-be told me he was figuring out where he could "hide" if he needed to get away, once he moved into my home. Turns out he never needed to go that far. Instead, I learned to respect any door he felt he needed to close, and especially learned not to take it personally that he needed some space alone. It wasn't easy at first, I have to admit. I've also seen otherwise loving couples struggle intensely over this issue until they fly apart once and for all. Then those same individuals may find someone who allows them the space -- or togetherness -- they need.
What worries me more than the obvious difference between you, though, is the ineffective way you're dealing with it. You argue stubbornly, and she gets angry and cries. You're clearly at an impasse. Why not sit down together and talk about this -- preferably at a time when you're not feeling like being alone. What happens for you when you're together with another person too long? Do you start feeling smothered? Would it help if you spent time together not talking but just reading side by side? Or could you allocate one room that you could go into and not be disturbed until you feel like being social again? Could she be okay with that? Also important is for her to understand what happens for her when she's alone. Does she feel abandoned? Does she get bored if she's not constantly entertained? Does she have any of her own interests? Is she used to getting her own way with tears? It can also be enlightening to look at how you're each replicating something in your families of origin. Is total togetherness the only model she knows? To have a happy marriage, the two of you will develop your own style of relating, and it probably won't be exactly like that of the families you grew up in.
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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.