Dear Dr. Chani,
I desperately need your advice about how to handle my situation with the girl that I am dating. I have been dating her for three months, and I am worried about our relationship. Usually, we have a great time together and we get along really well. The problems start whenever we need to discuss something serious.
Whenever we talk about important decisions, such as my career plans, where we would want to live, or what we would want our house to look like, she tends to get really opinionated and cannot see my point of view. If we happen to agree about it, then all goes well. But if I express a different view than her, or if I second guess her thinking, she gets really difficult to speak to. She starts to raise her voice or speak in a sarcastic and obnoxious way. If I call her out on it, she sulks and gives me the silent treatment.
I understand how she is acting because she had a difficult childhood. She told me that her parents have a stormy relationship. There is a lot of tension in the house. She does not trust either of her parents. She cannot wait to get out of their house and get married.
I feel like I love her and I want to make her happy. I think that if we go for therapy together, I can make her life better. She will work through her issues and we will have a better relationship. Then we can support each other through life.
The problem is that she refuses to go for therapy. She says she has gone to two therapists in the past for different problems, and they were “useless.” She does not trust therapists. I am wondering how to convince her to go for therapy. Also, do you think it is important that we go for therapy now or can it wait until after we get married?
Your care and concern for the girl you are dating are very admirable. You hope that you can resolve the communication issues you are experiencing with her so that you can enjoy a happy married life together. Yet there are several aspects about your relationship that you should think about before you run headlong into marriage.
The first question you should ask yourself is, “Is there enough to work with here to develop a relationship?” You might tell yourself that no person is perfect. Therefore, no relationship is perfect. When you are dating, how can you sense if a relationship has potential to result in a healthy marriage? Focus on the way your partner treats you, and the way she makes you feel about yourself. These can help you determine if there is a sufficient foundation in your relationship to create a stable marriage. Even though you enjoy each other’s company and you have loving feelings towards the girl you are dating, those are not necessarily sufficient for you to create a warm and supportive marriage.
There are red flags in your relationship. First of all, whenever you disagree, she demonstrates a confrontational or disrespectful attitude towards you. This kind of reactive behavior can be very toxic in a relationship. It can leave you feeling misunderstood, sad, and lonely. Over time, a partner who repeatedly invalidates your opinions, especially in a harsh way, can undermine your sense of self and bring you down. You recognize this significant concern to some extent, which is why you are seeking to bring her to therapy. It is possible that individual or couples therapy can improve her reactive behavior, although it is not certain.
This brings up the second major issue: her attitude towards therapy. One of the key factors that can affect the success of a therapeutic outcome is the attitude of the client towards therapy in the first place. Even if you eventually succeed in finding her the “perfect therapist” and convincing her to go with you for therapy, her negative attitude towards therapy suggests a decreased likelihood of a successful outcome. You need to be prepared for the strong chance that she will be resistant to change, especially since the main issue you are facing is that she feels her point of view is right.
You might explain her resistance to therapy because she has conveyed to you that she had a “difficult childhood.” This is one of the reasons that you tolerate her volatile and reactive behavior when you question her or you disagree with her opinion. You empathize with her and imagine that her outbursts are a result of growing up in a tense home. You answer to yourself that she is the product of her negative environment and you hope that she will soften her tone if you provide her with a warm and supportive relationship.
While it is possible that you can have the positive effect on her that you desire, she cannot change if she is unable to recognize that she must take responsibility for her own behavior. The dynamic she witnessed between her parents in her tumultuous upbringing might explain her adult behavior, but it does not excuse it. She can only mature into an emotionally healthy person if she is willing to improve and grow. Her negative attitude towards therapy suggests that she has a “take me as I am” approach to relationships. You would be wise to be wary of believing that she will eventually want to work on herself and on your relationship together.
A third aspect for you to consider is her family dynamic and her relationship with her parents. When it comes to difficult marriages, there is research to support that history may repeat itself. The parents’ dynamic may serve as a negative model that can cause a child to act in ways she witnessed while growing up. Your experience with the girl you are dating suggests that she has been negatively affected. If she is willing to acknowledge your concerns about your communication issues and seek help to improve them, she may be able to break out of the pattern that she seems to be repeating. Yet, based on your description, it sounds like she is not likely to do either.
Unfortunately, your hope that if you marry her she will one day be ready to work with you on improving your relationship does not seem realistic. Your love is not enough to change her. She needs to want to change. Even though you feel love towards her, it does not mean that she is the one you should marry. Marriage is not a “chessed project.” Consider these issues strongly. Your greatest gift to her might be to let her know that you are breaking up with her because of the issues you notice and her refusal to work on them with you. If you are unable to break up with her, seek a therapist to explore why you are drawn to her and to help you move on.
Wishing you much success,