Q. My girlfriend doesn’t think she “disses” me, but I can’t get her to understand what respect is. She thinks of it as courtesy. When we are together, we do the things she wants to do, even though I have told her plenty of times about this. I often wonder why she will not talk about her feelings to me, unless she is angry at someone. I feel very close to her when she does cry about something in my presence. I get so frustrated when we just have sex and there is no “pillow talk”–and then she will want to play Scrabble, or watch a movie. Have you any ideas how I can get her to recognise what respect is?
A. I don’t promise to have all the answers, because it is difficult forming opinions when one is judging from only one side of a situation, mainly your perspective. However, I’ll simply raise some scenarios, purely from a woman’s perspective, and see if they help in any way. A few things leapt out of your query and I’ll use these as examples.
1. “We do the things she wants to do even though I have told her plenty of times about this.”
You shouldn’t be just TELLING partners what to do, but negotiating a compromise. Only controllers dictate and expect people to follow. If you merely tell her what to do and leave her to act, or constantly complain about her efforts, she will keep doing what she has always done just to defy or punish you, especially if she puts her needs first. What you also don’t realise, is that when you do what she wants, and then tell her you don’t like it, you are reinforcing the very thing you dislike. Of course, it is harder to change it then. The time to express your feelings is BEFORE you both do it, then either join in on mutually agreeable terms, or not at all.
You have two choices here. Either to sit down together and have some genuine, calm dialogues about what makes you both happy, and mentioning how you feel excluded and undervalued at such moments when she merely pleases herself. Then negotiate some sort of compromise so that you BOTH get what you want as often as possible. OR you simply stop agreeing with her actions for a while, don’t try to please her or join in, and see what she does.
2. “I often wonder why she will not talk about her feelings to me, unless she is angry at someone.”
Often when people stop talking, or appear angry, it is because they feel they are not being heard and are festering with resentment, but lack the courage to say how they really feel. Your girlfriend seems to be keeping talking to a minimum because she probably does not find the process satisfactory, enjoyable or endearing. Instead she deliberately engages in activities which give few opportunities for talking and is also silent in bed (perhaps as a form of punishment for the way she feels). I am not sure how long you have been together, but something seems to have gone in the communication aspect and would need some genuine LISTENING on both sides to get it back.
They say we cannot truly love another until we love ourself. The same with respect. We cannot expect it if we don’t give it, neither can respect be demanded. It has to be earned, too. So the first path towards getting your girlfriend to recognise respect and to treat you accordingly is to do some self-examination of your way of giving respect because the ability to say NO is as important as saying YES.
3. How much do you really treat her with respect? How much does she feel valued and respected for her contributions and opinions? How equal is the partnership? Do you just notice her weaknesses and flaws with little praise for other things?
4. You say that when she cries you feel very close to her. Is it because she is more vulnerable then and more easy to control? You then feel more in charge and less threatened, more protective as the ‘man’? What about closeness at other times? Do you feel as close when she is not crying? If not, why not? Do you feel ‘useless’ at those times?
Those questions need answering because, if you perceive your girlfriend to have a strong personality or independence, some men can find that difficult to deal with as it threatens their feeling of value, status and even their identity, especially if they have specific cultural references relating to how men and women should act. However, apart from getting her to read my reply, you cannot teach someone about respect. They have to FEEL they want to give it because it usually comes naturally when we truly care about someone and feel at one with them.
As I said, it is difficult for me to advise when I do not know your situation from both sides. Nevertheless, it is surprising what a little bit of listening rather than just telling can achieve. You might not hear what you want to hear, but at least it will provide some clues as to the root causes and also how you can both begin to remedy the situation. Or, more ominously, it could be that either one, or both, of you has lost your appeal and, when that goes, sadly, it seldom comes back which then keeps respect at rock bottom. It sounds as though there is physical appeal between you, but no emotional bond, hence the lack of ‘pillow talk’. If that is the case, or if all else fails, you might have to let that one go and seek someone more affirming, respectful and reciprocal.
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