Dear Carolyn: My girlfriend of four years is behaving in a way I can’t understand. Recently, after dinner and live music, we ended up at my house. The next morning – Mother’s Day – my teenage daughter called asking if I could bring flowers from my garden for the vase she’d bought her mom.
When I told my girlfriend where I was going, she said, “Well, then I’m leaving.”
When I returned less than 10 minutes later, I was surprised to see she’d scooped up her stuff and left. I’ve not heard from her in eight days, other than a two-sentence email thanking me for a favor she asked of me before this happened.
I haven’t called her because I had a big deadline anyway, and I cannot see how anything I unknowingly did to annoy her would justify ceasing communication for eight days, so I don’t know what I would say if I did call.
We get along great otherwise. Is there any reason to think couples therapy might get us past this? She’s in her 50s and has been married twice, so it’s not like she’s just learning how to participate in a relationship. – Baffled and Blue
Divorced or widowed?
Her two marriages ended in divorce, each after five or six years. – B&B
Ah. When things got routine, and she/they lacked the skills to stay close.
So maybe she hasn’t yet learned how to participate in a relationship. Experience alone doesn’t teach doodlesquat; to learn, people have to critique and correct their own actions throughout, particularly when something goes wrong. Only then will their skills improve.
I think it’s safe to make a general connection between silent treatments and a refusal to accept blame for conflict. Her going silent without explanation doesn’t just punish you. It also serves – very effectively – to deny you a chance to defend yourself or (this is huge) point out anything she might have done to cause or exacerbate the problem.