Ask the Therapist: I’m now sober but my girlfriend has unresolved issues

I am currently in a long distant relationship for a little over a year. We have been through numerous ups and downs. Our biggest issue being I used to drink too much and at the beginning when she asked me to get help, I didn’t take it seriously. However, we had a huge argument after a drunken New Years that made me feel like I hit rock bottom and needed the help. I am now 141 days sober, currently attending outpatient rehab, seeing an addiction therapist, occasional AA meetings, etc.

I feel I have been making the necessary changes not only for myself but for my relationship. I have been asking her for the past 7 months to see a therapist. Not only does she have a past history of physical and emotional abuse with not only family but other past relationships, but when we fight she constantly wants to bring up the days of when I was drinking and how she “stuck it out” which is considered her efforts and investments in this relationship.

I feel she never dealt with any of her internal issues which causes us to have horrible communication as well no solid foundation which leads me to not have security or emotional stability with her. It causes me to walk on egg shells a lot and at times even when I’m not trying to lie, it makes me omit information when I’m telling her things which has caused me to look distrustful and deceitful, neither of which I am. Then when we have an argument she can go days without speaking to me. Something I’m not used to dealing with and her excuse is she needs time to process and emotionally deal with whatever issue is at hand.

I feel like she’s just pushing me farther and farther away and reeling me back in when it benefits her. I don’t know what I else to do. I feel like I’m at the end of my rope but I truly love and care for this woman and don’t know how else to get my point across.

Lisa’s Thoughts:

First of all, congratulations on your sobriety.  I can see you’ve taken this very seriously and worked hard to maintain it.  It also sounds as though your girlfriend might benefit from some growth of her own.  It can be painful to take steps to improve oneself and observe your partner struggling and being unwilling to take steps to change.

Yes, she can be commended for hanging in with you through your rough times but it’s her turn.  If you feel like you’re “walking on eggshells” and omitting information to avoid her reaction, this tells me she is reactive and likely carries wounds that haven’t been dealt with (as you stated).  But as you’ve learned, your avoidance of her emotional response by lying creates an opportunity for her to point out that she can’t trust you.  It’s not a sustainable dynamic.

It would be ideal if she turned towards you in her time of distress.  In a strong, connected, emotionally safe relationship, couples tend to do this more effectively.  My suggestion is to seek couples therapy.  This can be a route to not only help the relationship dynamic but also uncovers the patterns which in turn can reveal one or both person’s individual vulnerabilities.  A skilled therapist will ideally identify all of the issues at hand and then make gentle recommendations for further individual work.

I’m not sure how far apart you live from each other so perhaps couples work is not practical.  If not, all you can do is continue to try to encourage her to grow alongside you by doing her own work.  Something clearly needs to change or it will be very difficult to avoid the implosion of your relationship.

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Lisa’s responses are not to be considered “therapy” but rather educational; her thoughts are based on the limited information available. Please seek a local individual, couples or family therapist if it is therapy that you seek.

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Lisa is offering Online Therapy and Counseling services to individuals seeking help with their marriage or relationships. California residents only to adhere to state licensing laws.