Upset by girlfriend's past
My girlfriend and I are together for almost a year now. We have been living together for most of that time, and we have a good relationship -- we share everything, spend as much time as possible together, visit our parents together, etc. She is my first real girlfriend, but she had a couple of previous relationships. One was about 4-5 years ago, and lasted for a little over 6 months. The other was about 18 months ago, and lasted for a little less than one month. She is completely over these two relationships, but is still in touch with the second guy from time to time as they take a number of courses at the university together.
I am having a hard time whenever I picture my girlfriend with one of her former friends (I don't picture them together NOW, but I picture them as they WERE, when they were together). It's not that I think she's being unfaithful, but I dislike the thought of things that happened (I hope I make myself clear). I don't like these thoughts, and I try to rationalize myself by telling myself that I am the one she's picked to be with, and that I should be happy about that, and let the past become past. She knows this troubles me, and tells me from time to time that I'm fighting ghosts of the past, but they still "haunt" me. What can I do to make these thoughts go away?
I understand that these thought are troubling. The fact that you realize they are irrational is a good sign. Are these thoughts constant? Are they intrusive (interfering with your other "normal" thoughts?) It's important to determine whether or not they are obsessions. [Obsessions are often teamed with behaviors called compulsions. Compulsions are responses which somehow, psychologically resolve the conflict presented by the obsession. (As an example, hand washing - the compulsive behavior, usually follows obsessive thoughts about germs.) The reason I'm discussing all of this is that Obsessive Compulsive Disorder - a structure of self-imposed behaviors triggered by thoughts - is rigidly imposed, and therefore, difficult to treat. Sometimes medication is necessary to break the tension-release cycle of the thoughts and behaviors.]
It sounds like you don't have OCD. You have recurring thoughts which make you feel insecure in your relationship with your girlfriend. You know that these thoughts don't make sense and you want to be rid of them. So, what (psychological) purpose might be served by you re-experiencing thoughts (and feelings) that make you feel bad about you? Why might it be (unconsciously) necessary for you to have doubts about you in this relationship?
It sounds like the relationship gives a lot to you, and that you really enjoy your involvement with your girlfriend. Based on your age and the fact that this is your first relationship, I wonder if it might be going too well? Maybe you have something now (love and acceptance) that, in some ways, you don't feel you deserve. If that's so, then it's likely that you'd (unconsciously) invent reasons to not feel comfortable with it. Your thoughts are causing you to have the same feelings you'd have if your girlfriend were actually unfaithful, right? My guess is that rejection (and possible abandonment) are so familiar and comfortable to you that you have created a way to experience the feelings of rejection without it actually happening!
Our minds and hearts are complicated, messy places. The best advice I can give you is to consider how this situation might indicate general low self-esteem and self-worth, overall. Your girlfriend's past doesn't present the problem for you that your own past does, maybe.
If any of this hits home, consider seeing a therapist to work on these esteem issues. We all need to love and accept ourselves before we'll allow others to love us.
Margaret "Peg" Burr
This question was answered by Margaret "Peg" Burr. She is a California Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist (MFC34374) with a private practice in Santa Clarita (near Los Angeles). She performs psychodynamic psychotherapy with individual adult clients as well as couples, teens, and families. She also runs groups for adults and adolescents. Her specialty area is Object Relations Systems Theory. This branch of psychodynamic psychotherapy uses a client's interpersonal relationships as windows into his or her intrapsychic structure.For more information visit: http://www.pegburr.com/