In the rare event that I hang out with my friends, even for just a few hours, my long distance girlfriend really struggles with it because she has no friends of her own and she is very lonely. Even though I text her the whole time I’m gone she just seems to shut down emotionally and all I can get is one word responses. I’ve shut my friends out of my life more and more over the years because it’s not worth it to me to have her shut down on me. She has suffered from severe depression for many years and I feel like this may be a factor. She describes it as her brain just shutting her down and she doesn’t feel she has control of these feelings. My hope is to get an opinion on what may be causing her to feel this way and what I can do to help her. She has bad anxiety, separation anxiety, and depression and I think that could very well be a factor. I just want to figure out how to try and help her work through this. I would like to be able to see my friends without feeling guilt and sad that she shuts down. It really frustrates me sometimes and I don’t know how to help her.
You having to tiptoe around your long-distance girlfriend’s emotions isn’t healthy for you or for her. Limiting your social network and cutting back on seeing your friends because she shuts down will eventually create resentment in you. While it may not be done maliciously it is manipulative. The problems is you can’t be you in the relationship without it throwing her off. Over time this will put you in a terrible position because unless you make her emotional well-being your top priority in life she will have a reaction. This never works because you have to keep restricting yourself in the service of her depression, anxiety, and loneliness.
The work here is for you to help her understand she has to figure out how to cope with her reaction. You need to be very supportive of her struggle, but only by explaining that you are not going to not see your friends because it makes her upset. Move toward the conflict by encouraging her to think about what she can do to help herself. The key to this is to set a boundary about what it is you are willing to do for her, and with your help — help her find ways to take responsibility for her emotional well-being.
Dan Tomasulo Ph.D., TEP, MFA, MAPP teaches Positive Psychology in the graduate program of Counseling and Clinical Psychology at Columbia University, Teachers College and works with Martin Seligman, the Father of Positive Psychology in the Masters of Applied Positive Psychology (MAPP) program at the University of Pennsylvania. He is Director of the New York Certification in Positive Psychology for the Open Center in New York City and on faculty at New Jersey City University. Sharecare has honored him as one of the top 10 online influencers on the topic of depression. For more information go to: http://www.dare2behappy.com/. He also writes for Psych Central's Ask the Therapist column and the Proof Positive blog.
Tomasulo, D. (2018). Separation Anxiety?. Psych Central.
Retrieved on November 26, 2020, from https://psychcentral.com/ask-the-therapist/2018/05/16/separation-anxiety/
Last updated: 15 May 2018 (Originally: 16 May 2018)
Last reviewed: By a member of our scientific advisory board on 15 May 2018 Published on Psych Central.com. All rights reserved.