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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Carolyn Hax: Volatility raises strife, not passion

Washington Post

Dear Carolyn: What do you suggest one does when a couple is fighting and one partner tries to leave the room to go cool off, and the other refuses to let them leave? I mean physically blocks the door and tries to continue talking about the issue at hand?

I ended a long-term relationship with a girl I absolutely loved, because I repeatedly felt claustrophobic in this exact situation.

After several times of this, we agreed that she’d let me go cool off when things got heated, but to no avail. She still blocked the door the next time it happened and I abruptly ended things.

I’m wondering if it’s acceptable to leave when you feel you’ve reached your limit, or if I’m in the wrong and need to recalibrate my perceived need for space. – Trapped

When you reach your limit in an intimate relationship, there’s no one right way to handle it. There is merely a range between inappropriate extremes. The extreme on one end is withholding – shutting the other person out completely. At the other extreme is violating the other person’s body, boundaries or autonomy, which includes blaming as well as verbal and physical abuse.

Your ex-girlfriend went to the latter, abusive extreme in blocking the door. You were absolutely right to flag it as something you wouldn’t accept, and to break up with her when she ignored that limit – especially after you had just discussed it.

So instead of recalibrating your need for space, please consider recalibrating your idea of a loving relationship. Volatility isn’t a sign of passion, it’s a sign of problems. While some people have a high tolerance for volatility – again, love is highly individual – your whole letter suggests you don’t. Please consider that the woman you ultimately, absolutely love will involve far less to argue about.