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Shrink Wrap: My girlfriend is smothering me!

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Suffocated With Questions writes:

I have been in relationships now for many years with both men and women. My current relationship is with a women who I care for deeply. She is very emotionally needy and continues to ask me if I'm going to leave her for a man, no matter how I explain to her that men do not interest me and she is the only one for me.

Every few days or so, she asks me the same thing. How can I get that question to stop being asked? We are both 40 years old and she continues to call me bisexual, which I am not. I am a lesbian. When I tell her she has no right to determine my sexuality, she just thinks she's right anyway. She has also been with men in the past but I don't disregard her right to say she is a Lesbian. What can I do?

Dear Suffocated With Questions:

Your girlfriend’s neediness and ongoing questions for reassurance may feel redundant and frustrating, but there is a reason for it. People who worry and feel insecure in the relationship often ask questions over and over and over, simply as their way to reach out for reassurance. Other times, it may look as if they are attacking, critical or blaming as their way to express their fears of losing the relationship.

Her knowledge of your past with men probably runs over and over in her mind, and the scarier and scarier it feels to lose you, or that you may not be interested in her as much.

The problem for you is that the questions are endless, and suffocating at times. It can feel that no matter how much you answer her questions, the job just doesn’t seem to get done … and the more irritated you may become.

This pattern between you two of her neediness for reassurance and your frustration that nothing works may keep you two stuck in an endless pattern. It takes two to tango. You can’t change her questions, but you CAN take an active approach on your 50 percent of the relationship.

Beat her to the punch line. Instead of worrying and waiting for the next question to arise, beat her to the punch line by telling her how much you love her, way in advance of her asking. The more you tell her the answer (with your heart exposed) about your feelings for her, the less she will be able to create questions in her head. Fill her mind first, before she fills it with the questions.

Behavior speaks louder than words. If you say that you only have eyes for her, but lack pursuing her for physical affection, aren’t very sexual with her, or don’t expose your heart verbally to her, then many of your behaviors may send a conflicting message. She can’t define your sexuality, but if she doesn’t see your sexual interest in her, then she may jump to conclusions. Make sure your behaviors match your words. Instead of getting defensive and pulling away, choose to get closer to her, show her that no matter what struggles you two face, that you won’t leave her for a man OR a woman. This is YOUR 50 percent of the relationship.

Fill in the blanks. At times you may feel flooded with the redundant questions and react by sinking away quiet, bottling up emotions, leaving the room, or becoming defensive. These reactions can actually make a partner feel as if you left them and create many unexplained blank gaps. The more gaps, the more partners tend to fill in the blanks with “worst case scenarios.” Be an open book about how you love her, why you love her, and that you have no desire for anyone else … not a man or woman.

Educate her. Many couples in the LGBT community face this same dilemma and often report that there is this lingering “threat” because their partner has been with the opposite sex … and they don’t know how to make sense of it. You know your sexuality and how you define yourself; however, your partner may have NO CLUE emotionally and internally how you deeply feel. Not only can she feel worried, she may also have sensitivity to the issue of simply being left … and your sexuality is her only way of addressing it. This unknown land of how to make sense of your sexuality can be frightening for your partner. Don’t just say, “I am a lesbian” and leave her with that. Walk her through it step by step why you define yourself the way you do, and share with her what it is like to be with a woman vs. a man. Better yet, explain why you prefer to be with her rather than anyone else.

Jennine Estes is a marriage and family therapist in San Diego. She has appeared as a relationship expert in Redbook Magazine, Social Work Today Magazine, Glamour, San Diego local news stations, and more. To learn more relationship advice from the author Jennine Estes MFC#47653, visit her relationship column Relationships in the Raw or her San Diego Couples Therapy website.