You are viewing this article in the archives. For the latest breaking news and updates in Ann Arbor and the surrounding area, see
Posted on Thu, Dec 15, 2011 : 5 a.m.

Girlfriend struggling with self-esteem issues may need space

By Carolyn Hax

Adapted from a recent online discussion.

Dear Carolyn:

My girlfriend broke up with me last Thursday. Essentially she got drunk, and some guy she admits to having a crush on kissed her.

I think the original breakup was an overreaction on her part. She struggles with some self-esteem issues even though she is an amazing person; she constantly tells me she doesn't deserve to be with me, I treat her too well, etc. She is in therapy and addressing these issues and others.

We've been talking a lot the past week -- some very painful, tearful conversations -- and I think we're getting back together.

I really, really want to make things work with her, but I'm concerned there are hazards ahead. Is there anything particular we need to watch for?

-- Hurting but hopeful

I realize this is ridiculously easy for me to say, from out in the ether with no feelings for either of you beyond a we-are-the-world love of humanity, but: It sounds as if she'd be better off navigating through her issues without the added complication of maintaining a relationship.


I've heard this from two or three people and I'm a bit confused by what it means. Isn't having a supportive partner helpful when dealing with these types of issues?

-- Hurting but hopeful again

For medical issues or, say, an accident or similar trauma, a supportive partner can be a huge help, though it would still depend on whether the companionship energized her or drained her.

But if her issues are relationship-based -- say, stemming from unhealthy family patterns -- then having to bring her energy to two emotional fronts at once could overwhelm her, and delay her progress on both.

--0-- --0-- --0--

Re: Hopeful:

You are not a wildlife rehabilitator. Your job is not to fix this person. She probably does love you, but that doesn't mean she's ready to be your girlfriend. Let her work through this stuff and then come back when she's done. And if she doesn't realize she owes it to her partners to not be a hot mess, she's definitely not ready to be in a relationship.

-- Anonymous

Yes. And if she doesn't realize she owes it to herself not to be a hot mess -- and needs to get herself together more than she needs a boyfriend -- then she's not ready for a relationship. Thanks.

--0-- --0-- --0--

Re: Hopeful:

I was that girl. Strong father, strong college boyfriend; I felt no sense of myself. Nobody can help with that! She will eventually sabotage this relationship one way or another. I had to "force" my boyfriend to finally break my heart, and HAD to be on my own five years to hear my voice. We're long since happily married to each other.

-- That girl

It's so easy not to realize you're under someone else's influence. When we tell ourselves something, it's always in our own voice, so it naturally seems like our idea. (Though we can often hear the influence when we say things aloud to others.)

Recently de-nested adults are particularly susceptible, given the huge influence of even the most passive parents. Since people seek the comfort of the familiar, especially when feeling unsure, it's easy to form relationships in the family mold and delay really testing that voice.

Email Carolyn at tellme(at), follow her on Facebook at or chat with her online at noon Eastern time each Friday at

(c) 2011, Washington Post Writers Group