I’m in a long distance relationship with my girlfriend, and we’re totally in love. The distance hasn’t really been a problem because we fly down or up to see each other every 2 weeks. However, lately, i haven’t felt happy with everything. She can be very cold and just turn off emotions if she needs to, and she’s been doing it alot lately. But when she realizes how hurtful she’s being, she stops and starts apologizing and sounding sincere. And now she complains that i verbally attack her when i try to bring up certain things in her personality that i suggest she re-evaulates.We were both so sure that we were gonna stay together forever and get married, but now its not so certain anymore. Should i just deal with it, or confront her, because last time i tried to it didn’t work out so well.
You asked a question that many people have. How can you confront a partner who feels easily attacked? First you need to understand that the reason why your girlfriend feels so easily wounded is because she has a very fragile ego. One symptom of this is that she becomes cold and distances to escape feelings that she can’t tolerate. Ideally, our egos should be ‘muscular’enough to be able to handle the emotions that arise in life without needing to run away. Since her ego is a bit weak, she also doesn’t handle your confrontations ( however accurate they may be) well.When a person’s ego is weak, confrontations feel like acid on an open wound. And, what you say, no matter how well intended, damages her. You may be thinking, then I might as well shut up. That’s not the case. There are ways to talk about what bothers you and still protect her ego. And, what it comes down to is ‘technique.’ It’s how you say it that counts.So let me tell you how you can talk to her about her cold distant behavior so that she is able to swallow your observations. First: Ask Permission Before Discussing Her Frailties Before offering an observation (what you call a confrontation) ask her if she would be interested in hearing about something that you have noticed. When you ask for permission, you are insuring that she is ready and available before you barge in. A ready ego is more willing to listen. Whereas, if you just barge in on her psyche, she will feel more inclined to ward you off.Second: Avoid the Word You When you speak to her, reword your sentences so that ‘you’ doesn’t appear. This is a vital technique for protecting a fragile ego. For example. Instead of saying. ‘You are really cold and distant’ use more neutral phrasing such as, ‘It feels really distant and cold around here’ or ‘A cold wind seems to be blowing in my direction’. Another example would be, ‘I feel sad when I am distanced.’ Notice the neutral phrasing that avoids the word ‘you’. Always find a way of wording your sentences so that you are saying, ‘I feel (x, y or z) when such and such is said or done to me.’ Instead of ‘I feel (x, y or z) when you say or do such and such.’Third: Talk about your feelings If you talk about your own feelings, there’s a better chance that she will be willing to listen, so long as she doesn’t feel attacked or blamed. A good way to do this is to say, ‘I feel sad (or whatever you feel) when we aren’t close. ‘Here you place the focus on you, not on her, and you also make sure to avoid the word ‘you’.Fourth: Use the ‘Should I Be Feeling’ technique to help her develop partial identification with your feelings. Partial identification is a fancy term for teaching her how to consider the effect her behavior has on you. If she isn’t damaged beyond hope, you should be able to help her to consider how you feel when she is cold and distant without your ever confronting her directly. This technique is simple. Instead of saying, ‘You are distant and cold and I don’t like it,’ you can simply ask a question that helps her to realize how you feel about what she’s doing. For example, ‘Should I be feeling pushed away when I don’t receive a call back (or whatever applies)?’ or ‘Should I be feeling frozen out?’Be aware that some very fragile types may say, ‘Feel how ever you want to feel. It’s not my problem.’ For these types, you may need to say instead, ‘How do you want me to feel when I receive the cold shoulder?’ or ‘How should I interpret the cold wind that ‘s blowing my way? What’s it telling me?’ Notice that the focus of all these techniques is to help her talk instead of act her feelings out by distancing you.By confronting her behavior, you are missing the opportunity to open up a dialogue about the feelings that underlie the cold behavior. You want to get to the feelings and teach her to talk, not act. And, by confronting her, you shut her down rather than open her up. We both are after the same goal, to stop the distancing behavior. Confronting her won’t stop the behavior, as you have seen; it only makes her more defensive and angry, and more inclined to distance. By contrast, my last question, ‘What is the cold wind telling me?’ is a good way to get at the feelings that she is to afraid to communicate directly.And, last but not least, realize that distant and cold behavior is a defense against a feeling that is too threatening. In this case, she could be distancing because she is too afraid to tell you she’s angry with you. Other possible reasons for the distancing: She could be afraid to become too close to you, or she could be frustrated by the long distance relationship, and her pulling away could be an attempt to cool down her strong feelings for you so that the distance isn’t so frustrating.You need to use your intuition and make a guess about what you think is bothering her. If you think she is escaping her anger, then, the next time she distances, you could simply cut to the chase and try to help her angry feelings, which we suspect underlie her distancing behavior. To do this you would simply ask a question, and plug into the question the feeling you think she has. For example, ‘I sense a cold wind here. Are you angry with me?’ Or, if you think she’s afraid to get too close then you could say, ‘I sense a cold wind here. Am I getting too close for comfort?’You get the idea. I have given you a lot of information here. These techniques are the fruit of years of research. All these techniques have been proven effective. But not all techniques work for all people. You need to find what works best for her. Let me know what technique what works. And thanks for the great question.