Stress Messes Up Family

Q: I have been going with this girl for about 3 years off and on, most recently living with her for a year and a half. She has a little girl, 4 years old, who I'm very close to and who I spent more time with than anybody else did. We both lost our jobs about the same time, mine due to a work injury. We were stressed out and I was getting depressed. I finally got help for that but it was too late. Because of all the stress and fights, she told me to get out, and when I was in the hospital she got rid of my stuff. We still talk, just not about "us." She said not to bug her, so I haven't called in about 3 days. I wrote her a 20-page letter letting her know how I feel, how I miss her and her little girl and how I want to put our family back together. I want to call her, but I also worry about giving her the space she needs right now. What else can I do to get my family back? -- Jake, 31

Dr. Susan: A 20-page letter could be a matter of protesting too much. It doesn't take that many words to beg for forgiveness and to ask for one more chance. And it doesn't seem to have gotten through to her anyway. My feeling about separations and the whole idea of needing space: That's not what brings a couple closer together. If there are issues to work out, they need to be worked out. If not while living together, then certainly by serious talks over a period of time. So where does that leave you if your girlfriend won't cooperate? The fact that she got rid of your stuff while you were in the hospital doesn't bode well for a reconciliation. In fact, that's really cold. And that coldness makes me think she made a decision that she isn't going to go back on. Before you give up, though, call her and nicely ask for an appointment, a date, during which you'll go over what each of you regrets in the past and wants for the future. She already knows what you want, since you wrote it out in such depth. Now it's up to her to say, at least, "Okay, let's talk." If she won't, then this isn't a relationship you can count on. When things get tough, as they did for the two of you, that's when you're supposed to be there for one another, not tossing each other's clothes out the window.

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