Dear Carolyn: My new girlfriend was emotionally abused by her husband. Her husband took his own life over a year ago. One thing he did was pick fights: Hed do something she hated, over and over, until she got mad, then a terrible row would ensue. She learned to deal with this by not reacting, which made HIM mad, but seemed to work better for her.
Now, it seems shes turned off the reaction mechanism. If I do something that would bother most people, either inadvertently or in fun, theres no reaction. I wonder if this is a red flag, whether its a sign of other problems or whether this is GF 2.0 and her way of growing.
Why would you do something that would bother most people in fun? I get the inadvertent part, but the other part sounds as if youre baiting her to see whether and how shell react. Wanting to know is understandable, but actively trying to provoke is not cool.
If youre doing it just to be goofy, then you explain that and see if she can distinguish past from present and just roll with it. If she cant, then you see if youre comfortable toning it down. Standard new-relationship tweaking.
To the larger question, the only thing that feels right is to say that if your girlfriend hasnt gotten therapy in the aftermath of her husbands emotional abuse and suicide, then I fervently hope she does. That is a lot of messed up stuff for one person to process.
Its not, however, a gimme that her non-reactions are a bad thing. I devote a lot of electrons to the cause of acting vs. reacting. I believe a whole lot of relationships would be more rewarding, and trusting, if the people in them resisted the impulse to react with their first emotional response to every little thing, and instead made thoughtful choices to act.
What youre really looking for here is whether she has learned to be calm or has defensively gone numb. The difference is often apparent in how giving a person is; its difficult to shut off just one type of emotion, and so if shes merely calm, then Id expect her to be loving, open and calm. If shes numb, then Id expect her affection, joy and enthusiasm valves to be turned off as well.
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