Carolyn Hax: Girlfriend thinks hugging other women is ‘inappropriate’

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Dear Carolyn: I have been in a committed, monogamous relationship with a woman for about a year now. She has had three significant relationships (one marriage and two long-term boyfriends), and each ended because of the man’s sexual infidelity.

She gets very upset when I hug other women. She believes hugs are inappropriate because I’m in a relationship with her, and that I should stop hugging if I care about her feelings. Of course I care about her feelings, but that feels like control to me, so I’m resistant. I am totally confident in my ability to be monogamous and sexually faithful. Please help unravel this issue for us.

But the work that needs to be done is within her.

I say this with great sympathy; she’s been through enough pain to make anyone flinch.

But that doesn’t give her license to control you or make her someone else’s problem. She might ask you to do X or Y because she feels Z – we all have the right to ask – and of course you can gladly agree to it if it feels right to you and you want to. But you also have the right to say no to her request. It’s your body, your behavior, your calling.

And if you say no, she has no right to manipulate you or blame you or otherwise take away your peace of mind until you change your answer.

When you decided that you would not change your behavior for her, your only valid, appropriate, and healthy choices were to accept him on those terms or end the relationship. Just like you can do now with her.

The choices she made are not valid: being “really upset” and emotionally blackmailing him (“You don’t care about my feelings!”), as well as threatening him but not making changes. You are exactly right to identify this as control.

This has nothing to do with the fact that hugging other women is “inappropriate”. This is a beholder’s eye pattern for each of you to have and, as needed, reconcile. It is strictly a matter of who has a say in whose behavior.

Every relationship is a matter of trust. We tend to think of it as trusting someone else, but it’s really about trusting ourselves. Trust in our ability to judge someone’s character. Trusting that what we think is good for us really is and will last. Trusting it, we’ll be able to tell you how it’s going and read things accurately. Trusting that we will be able to handle it and eventually be okay if something goes (even terribly) wrong.

From your description, your girlfriend is O-fer. And that’s the fundamental problem. Someone unable to trust himself is unable to sustain his part of an equal partnership, because the very foundation of intimacy is for the two of you to let yourself be yourself.

Instead, she’s doing the opposite, going into your business to try and change who you are and what you do in a joyless – and always self-destructive – act of protection.

It is up to her to establish for herself some sense of control over her feelings, judgment, and circumstances through her own choices, not yours.

For all this column of reasons, you can’t make her do it. But you can warmly ask and suggest, for your own peace of mind, that she talk to a therapist about it. And if she stands firm in her belief that she’s right to shame, fawn, and cry for you to do what she wants, then you can say a gentle goodbye and walk away.

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