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dear dr. robert,

I'm 21 years old and i'm from indiana. i was abused as a child. as a result of that, i have secluded myself from society as a whole. recently, i met a girl who seems to understand me and who listens to what i have to say without being judgmental. I'll skip all the details of our relationship and everything save one: we love each other with everything we have. we've been shutting everyone out of our lives so we can focus on each other and lately, she's wanted to do some stuff that i dont want her to do. i dont flat out tell her she cant do something, but i make my feelings known. i have no confidence in myself and i have trust issues. the things she wants to do are things any normal person would be ok with. for instance, she wants to go out drinking with her friends. she's very flirtatious when she drinks and i'm not only afraid that she's going to cheat on me, but also that someone will take advantage of her if i'm not there. i'm afraid that i'm going to lose her. i can see myself going down the path to controlling her, and thats not what i want to do at all. i'm very protective of her and i only want what makes her happy, unless it will get her raped or killed. she tells me i dont let her do anything, and before, i didnt believe it, but i can see now, and i admit it, that i'm beginning to be a little controlling. how do i fix this?


I am glad that you wrote to me because you are making a big mistake with this new relationship, and perhaps my advice, if you are willing to follow it, will help you to do better, both for yourself and for your girlfriend.

Now you say that due to early abuse you have cut yourself off from society. While your reluctance to open yourself to others is understandable as an outcome of the abuse you have suffered, that way of handling your pain and fear won't work, and, ultimately, will prove to be completely self-destructive. You need psychotherapy aimed at healing your wounds. Certainly trying to protect your wounds from further trauma by keeping yourself away from anyone who might aggravate them will never lead anywhere worthwhile.

This was a serious problem even before you met this girl, but now the problem has become extremely urgent because you are misusing this new relationship in a manner which can only result in terrible pain and disappointment, both for you and for her. Let me explain.

When I say that you are misusing the relationship I mean that you are not shutting everyone out so that you can "focus" on this relationship, as you seem to believe. Shutting everyone out is what you always do. Shutting others out is what you were doing before you met this girl. Now you are using this new girlfriend as an excuse to keep shutting others out--as a pretext, an explanation, for your seclusion--and I suppose you imagine that you don't need anyone else because now you have her.

Unfortunately that is not true. You do need contact and friendship with other human beings, not just your girlfriend. And now, because you have made yourself so emotionally dependent on just this one person, you are trying to keep her away from her own normal social contacts, just as you keep yourself from them. If you continue to do that, she eventually will have to rebel, and when she does you will lose her and be totally alone again.

She already has begun to warn you about this, and it is time to listen. Please get the help you need by finding a good therapist to work with you on healing the pain of your unfortunate childhood. In the meantime, support your girlfriend in doing whatever she likes. That's what love is all about.

Be well.

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