Advice: Should we make up or break up?

Last updated 05:00 04/10/2012

His girlfriend seems hellbent on causing conflict and winding him up. Should they make up or break up?

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My girlfriend and I have been together for three years, engaged twice, but broke it off each time. We're back together (not engaged) but every time we're with her family, she hangs on me. She wants to sit in my lap, kiss me, and make other inappropriate displays of affection in front of her parents. Her parents are conservative Christians and I know her dad hates me. He glares at me and doesn't treat me like he treats his other daughters' significant others. I really want his respect.

When I bring this up to my girlfriend, she flips out! She always gets mad at me and accuses me of not finding her attractive and even sometimes not loving her enough.

We always get into arguments when we leave her parents' house and it's always over the same thing.  I've even started feigning illness, just so I don't have to attend the family gatherings (which has sparked a whole new set of things to argue about). I don't know what to do any more, can you help?

Good on you for seeking help.

One of the key things for a successful relationship is learning how to talk and listen about things that are important to you both. This usually involves understanding what the other person is feeling as well as understanding what they are saying. It is really hard to have these kind of conversations when either one of you is upset.

A good start up to a conversation is to ask if it would be ok to have a conversation some time about making the family visits better.  When you are ready for the conversation think of needing to be as calm and gentle as possible while really trying to listen and figure out what is happening for your girlfriend.  Lots of guys go straight to trying to fix the issue and in fact the 'fixing' is mostly in the other person feeling like they have been understood.

Given the history of breakups, I  wonder if your girlfriend is more sensitive to how your relationship appears to her family.  Is it possible she is worried they may think you are breaking up again if you don't show lots of affection? 

Rather than starting a conversation about the displays of affection, you could start a conversation about what you both want from visits to her family.  Let her know she and her family are really important to you and you want the visits to be a success.  Can you ask how she feels when she is visiting with them and what does she want them to see?  What is she most worried about? If you ask these kinds of questions, you need to be able to listen really carefully to her reply and let her know you understand her, even if it isn't how you would feel in her place. Does she know how much you care about her and can you both agree on the best way to show that in front of them?

I also wonder if  the arguments about how you are together in front of her parents are part of some bigger issues that may relate to why you have broken up in the past.  Have you both made sense of why you broke up in the past and what you each want from the relationship now?   You may both find it very useful to attend a couples course or visit a couple counsellor to help you develop some different skills so you can be more confident together now about sorting out problems and building a stronger foundation for your future.

For more advice and information on counselling, visit Relationships Aotearoa online or join them on Facebook

We'd love to hear your take on this week's issue. Before you comment below, though, remember that this is a real-life situation. This reader has bravely shared their personal life with you; please show them respect by refraining from hurtful or abusive comments.

- Stuff

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