Dear Straight Dude,
I have this problem with my girlfriend. She seems to get mad about the stupidest things. They don’t even make sense to me. Like, they don’t seem to make any logical sense. Seriously. So I don’t know how to address her problems – instead I just get frustrated and angry and her try to make her see that she’s not being logical at all. But she doesn’t understand, she just gets more pissed. What can I do?
Sleeping on the Couch
Dear Sleeping on the Couch,
I understand your need for logical, reasonable discussion of emotions but the first thing you need to know about emotions is that they follow a very sort of convoluted, not-immediately-apparent logic. Second, respecting your girlfriend’s “sovereignty” is one of the most important displays in which you can engage. In other words, respecting her sovereignty means that you take her concerns or accusations seriously, don’t attempt to prove them illogical, don’t point out that they’re contradictory to the concerns she brought up yesterday – anything like that.
So your first problem is that you’re telling your girlfriend that her feelings are illogical or don’t make sense. Doing this only makes her feel alone in her problems and ultimately increases the time in which you two are in disagreement. Instead, you must remain alone in your problems – you must be the one to feel isolated by the fact that someone wants you to fix a set of problems that might as well be explained in a different language because they’re so tremendously illogical. If you go the opposite way – if you try to force your logic and “facts” on your girlfriend – the two of you are likely to quickly become estranged.
It is much more expedient to simply approach her problem as if it exists and is real and needs to be dealt with, and to know that dealing with an issue can not be positively accomplished by proving that its existence is illogical or against some unspoken set of relationship rules. Further, the successful navigation of such issues (in which you “understand” and she is able to “open up”) is likely to bring the two of you closer and increase your ability to communicate with more efficiency and understanding in the future. Further, it will reinforce in her the belief that she can come to you with less anger about whatever she’s pissed about because she will have learned that you will not reject her.
Sleeping On The Couch, I am not saying that having respect for your girlfriend’s sovereignty is an easy task. Emotional problems can be complex things rooted even in experiences that preceded your relationship about which you haven’t a clue. And someone coming at you in an angry, nagging way about the same convoluted, impossible-to-make-sense-out-of-no-matter-how-much-you-talk-it-out problem over and over again can get pretty tiring. I fucking know it. But you can’t count on emotions to be logical. You can’t count on an easy way out. The benefits of being in a long-term monogamous relationship have their costs.
Anyways, the key to dealing with your girlfriend’s problems is to a) to convince yourself that your girlfriend has no malicious intentions in bringing up whatever worry or issue she may have and b) to remind yourself that it is your goal to stay in this relationship because (hopefully) you experience more concrete, sustained benefits from the relationship than you would if you were single or in a relationship with another human being. Even if she comes at you with anger and what seems like an offensive sense of self-entitlement about the appropriateness of her needs. Even if you feel as if her problem is an imposition on your quiet day, as if it were an intrusion on your innocent, quiet moment in front of the computer clicking through YouTube. You must understand that she feels bad and that she wants you to help her fix it (and not that she is bad and wants you to suffer for it).