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VERY TROUBLED

Dear Doctor Love:

My live-in girlfriend and I fight very often of late and it seems to me to be over the least little thing! I admit that I can get very irritated at times but it seems that both of our tolerance levels have hit rock bottom. I love her with all my heart but it seems that we are falling apart.

I think it is related to the fact that she just will not let go of past problems. Whenever we fight I swear that she has a satellite link up to a computer with all the things I did wrong catalogued. When we begin to argue she slaps up the past to me and says very mean things. What I would like to know is’ What can I do to make things better so that we can have a life together?’

Signed:

Very troubled

Answer:

Your girlfriend is caught in what I call Fight Traps which are dysfunctional fighting tactics that ruin relationships. Her Fight Traps are: Bringing Up Ancient History and Character Assassination.

When your girlfriend hurls Ancient History in your face, you naturally feel attacked and defensive. In this defensive state of mind, you are unable to listen to what is bothering her. This creates yet another unresolved issue, more anger and frustration on her part, and more crap to be thrown up to you in the future. You are trapped in a major vicious cycle.

There is only one way to break your fighting cycle, and to do this we must derail your girlfriend’s Fight Traps.

  1. You need to tell your girlfriend: I know I’ve said and done things to upset you in the past. Unfortunately, I can’t change that. But I can start from now and try to understand what I did and how it made you feel.
  2. Next you must guide your girlfriend to focus on one issue–the current one: She must describe the behavior that upset her and state how that behavior of yours made her feel.
  3. If she sidetracks onto Ancient History, steer her back to the current issue. As for the Character Assassinations we’ll deal with that later in my answer.
  4. Next, listen carefully to what she says is currently bothering her.
  5. Repeat back what you heard and ask her if you have understood. Keep playing back what she says until she confirms that you have understood her.
  6. Take responsibility for upsetting her. (Remember, her feelings of upset aren’t wrong or right. They are just her feelings and they need to be understood if you want to resolve your conflicts and form a lasting relationship with her.) If you succeed in listening and understanding, she will feel much less angry with you.

Little by little, if you take care of business in the moment, soon there will be no Ancient History to throw in your face.

Dr. Jamie Turndorf (aka Dr. Love)