Too Much Stress, or Too Much Me?

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Reader’s Question

My girlfriend has been experiencing so much school related stress for the past months that she might drop out. Her mother is constantly whining, criticizing and berating her. Now suddenly she says she wants to break up with me. I have been too clingy for the past few months but only because I sensed something was wrong with her. When I addressed this problem she seemed relieved, and I thought everything was going to be OK. I promised I would back off. Then a day later she said she had had enough and wanted to break up. Is this only because of the amount of stress she is under from school and mother, since I promised to back off and give her the space she needs? Everything inside me says to give her the space and talk on neutral topics, but she seems so sad and depressed. It hurts me to see her like this.

Psychologist’s Reply

The trite but true saying is, let love fly. If it comes back, it is yours; if it doesn’t, it never was.

You cannot force her to stay with you, and the more you try to keep her with you, the more you push her away. You can give her time and space, especially since you have no choice. You can ask for a ‘trial separation’; you could ask her to get together with you in a week or so so you can talk and stay in touch. You can be her friend and let her know that you’re not going anywhere, that you remain her friend even if she can’t be with you intimately right now. You can let her know that she has the freedom to go through her changes without the risk of losing the things that are most supportive of her. You can be a constant object of good intent, putting her well-being ahead of your own, as much as you are able.

What I’m saying is that true love often requires a sacrifice. It is not your preference to separate from her, especially when you see her succumbing to destructive pressures. This can be an opportunity for you and your relationship, however. By giving her the freedom (that she already has) to come and go as she pleases, she can see that you are not the one from whom she needs to separate. As a result, she has the opportunity to come back to you when she is less overwhelmed, and you’ll be there.

In this difficult time, try to put her feelings first. Imagine how you would feel in her position. When you talk to her, try to stay focused on her and her feelings, not yours. She needs caring right now. She doesn’t seem available to care for your feelings, so give her that. Rather than burden her with your needs, take care of hers, even if that means giving her the space she asks for.

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Your intuition is guiding you well. The best you can do is to reassure her that you are here for her, whether she is sad or glad. When she realizes that, she may come closer to you than ever before. She may realize that the things that overwhelm her do not include you, and you can help her sort things out. She is not alone with her worries. That sounds like a good basis for trust in your relationship. Try to nurture that. It may be what she values most.

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