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Published Aug. 4, 2007
Updated Aug. 5, 2007

Q: When my girlfriend gets under my skin, usually by being selfish or inconsiderate, I tend to get angry. When I get angry, I like to be alone. However, my girlfriend gets angry at me for getting angry at her and not wanting to talk about it, and she usually ends up in tears. My issue is that being angry at her in the first place makes me very unwilling to comfort her during these times. She thinks I'm being inconsiderate or don't care about her. But I am so angry at her that the last thing I feel like doing is comforting her. Where do you see the problem? I am at wit's end to figure out what is wrong.

A: What's wrong here is the oldest dance in the Failure to Communicate Revue.

She: in the course of being herself, upsets you.

You: get angry, and then withdraw from her.

She: gets understandably insecure about the strength of her relationship, since you deny her a chance to understand, much less fix, the problem.

You: can't reassure her, understandably, since you're still angry about the incident that started it all.

Both: get even more upset, and therefore less able to hold an objective discussion.

Eventually: the cycle repeats because the initial problem was never fixed.

You want to start fixing, so you have to start talking. When you get angry - or, even better, before - you need to let your girlfriend know what bothers you ("When you say/do X") and why ("I feel Y"), and invite her to do same.

If you would rather go off and sulk, tough; wanting a full partner in happy times means you need to be a full partner at all times - not just when you feel like it. And that means hearing her out when you're upset with her.

If you can't say what makes you angry and why - whether you're not sure yet and need time to sort it out, or you're too angry and need to cool off - then you at least need to say, "I need time to figure out what I'm thinking," or, "I need time to cool off first." Either one is a vast improvement on a turned back and a silent treatment, especially if you can also muster a goodbye hug or some other show of affection.

This won't solve everything; you can't make her reciprocate, act less needy, or stop doing things that upset you.

But you can stop doing your part to aggravate the situation. The wording itself isn't as important as recognizing when you're perpetuating a cycle - and then doing something different.

See that she needs assurances, for example, and either give them or explain why you can't. See that you need breathing room, and articulate that, instead of just walking away.

Possibly most productive of all: Think before you react. Before you label her behavior "selfish," ask yourself: Do I even need to take this personally? If I stop seeing her as the girlfriend I want her to be, and start seeing the girlfriend she is, will I get as angry?

If "yes," maybe it's time to rethink the relationship - some people are just not right for each other; if "no," the changes you see might surprise you.

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