I'm currently in a relationship with a great girl who I really like. In most respects it's brilliant. The problem is with the way we always share and discuss our problems. It might sound somewhat odd, but I wish we did it a lot less. Most of the time I really enjoy talking and spending time with her, but I'm just not good with "heart-to-hearts".
We seem to share most of the things that go wrong in our lives. We talk them over and reassure each other that everything will be okay. Unfortunately, it does nothing for my general mood. It seems to me that when discussions (a) bring up my problems that I can't really solve and (b) leave me with someone else's problems that neither of us can solve, they are actually the opposite of helpful. I usually leave these conversations stressed, worried and somewhat upset.
The problem is, she seems to find talking things over genuinely helps, and lets me know that she appreciates it. I need to try and tell her that I would prefer she, well, talked about her feelings with someone else, but I'm not sure how to do it. I'd sound like a bit of a jerk if I were to say "Look, I really don't want to hear about your problems", but I'm not sure how else to tell her.
Heh. Well, "I don't want to hear about your problems" is certainly one way to git 'er done! Provided, of course, that you don't turn around and act all surprised when the "someone else" your girlfriend goes to for emotional support is, y'know, the guy she dumps you for.
Which is to say, there's a reason why you're reluctant to say what you're thinking, here: somewhere, deep down in that emotion-fearing manbrain of yours, you suspect that this is relationship suicide. Which it is.
Don't get me wrong. It's not that love is supposed to be a non-stop emo feelings-fest, wherein all you do is mope and dwell and share until you're both so bogged down in gnarly emotional muck that you can't even muster the energy to put on a pair of clean underwear without bursting into tears. Being supportive and caring doesn't mean you have to be someone's sole source of constant emotional support. And of course, if you feel like your conversations have grown wearyingly focused on All Things Negative, that's a pattern that you can and should work against for the sake of your own sanity.
But dude. Asking your girlfriend to keep all convo strictly limited to topics of the butterflies-and-sunshine variety—especially when your reason for asking is not concern for her well-being, but annoyance that all these feelings are, like, a total bonerkiller—is plain-old jerky. With bonus points for self-centeredness and total lack of tact!
So, before you go earning yourself a place in the Bad Boyfriend Hall of Fame with your "nut up or shut up" approach, try this instead:
Fight the urge to fix. You say that these conversations leave you with another set of problems that you can't solve... which would be a drag for sure, if you were expected to solve them. But you're not. Right? For your girlfriend, the talking itself is what helps; she doesn't need solutions, just support. So the next time she wants to talk things over, forget about fixing things, and just listen. Not only will it eliminate the stress of feeling like you need to do something, but it'll make the conversation a whole lot shorter.
Decline to wallow in your own emo goo. Being a listening ear is a necessary, non-negotiable part of being in a relationship (within reason, which we'll get to in a sec)—but that doesn't mean you have to join the pity party every time she brings it up. If you find that it's not helpful to you to talk about your problems, then hey, don't talk about your problems! It's okay! Instead, just say something like, "I appreciate your concern, but I've found that talking circles around this stuff just makes me feel more worried and upset. Let's change the subject, okay?"
The good news: these two tactics will go a long way in dragging your conversations out of the pit of despair, leaving you better able to handle the occasional (and, yes, obligatory) bout of heavy-duty soul-searching. But if you make that effort only to find that it's still all feelings, all the time, then—and only then—is it okay to suggest that your girlfriend find an alternative means of coping. That is, if you do it in a supportive, caring way, either by encouraging her toward action (i.e. "We spend a lot of time talking about this problem and never getting anywhere; maybe it would help to focus on something else?") or steering her toward the kind of support she needs (i.e. "I feel like you need more help and feedback than I can give you. Have you thought about talking to your parents/friends/guidance counselor?")—which you'd do not because it's a drag on you, but because you want her to be happy.
Of course, that's only if you want a relationship—you know, where sharing your feelings and fears is just one small part of a larger pattern of Good Communication and Emotional Closeness. If, on the other hand, you want all the fun of companionship without ever having to treat near the edge of your emotional comfort zone, then by all means, tell your girlfriend that you don't want to hear about her feelings.
And then get yourself a goldfish. They're reeeeeal low-maintenance.
How would you handle this situation? Tell us in the comments! And to get advice from Auntie, email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Related post: How to Bounce Back When Someone Hurts Your Feelings