Dear Dr. Archer,
My girlfriend and I are both 33 years old. She's from a different country and we've been dating for a year. We have had some big quarrels because she is much more attentive to her needs than mine.
She's aware of the fact that she has a low agreeableness in her personality traits, and girls from her country score very badly in agreeableness, like bottom 15 to 20 percent.
She defines herself as a person who is not willing to listen nor take care of or help others because of her upbringing and experience. For this reason, she had almost given up on having a relationship because she didn't want to deal with the needs of a partner, but then we met.
When I tell her I have something urgent to tell her, she starts talking until I just give up. Often she talks over me and won't let me finish my sentences. Even when she asks me a question, she often lets me say two or three words, and then talks over me.
Often she becomes very nervous with things I say or do, probably because she suspects me of having hidden intentions. For example, if I say, "Darling, I have a problem and need your help. Can you please listen to my problem without interrupting and then give me your opinion?", she becomes very nervous.
I think she doesn't want to help and, in fact, what she says always corresponds to her emotional needs, not mine. I tell how uncomfortable her disrespecting me makes me, but she continues to do it.
It seems that any of her close relationships, like boyfriend, parents and very close friends are power games and it is difficult for her to express her feelings.
With less known people or at work she is quite the introvert. To her closest friends she shows the worst part of her personality, and she'd get fired if she acted like that at work.
If an exceptional, urgent situation arises, I'd better give up because she never does what I tell her to do and we will end up in a new quarrel. If I propose something, she'll always fight against it, and eventually accept it after a few days. Hearing a sincere apology from her is almost impossible.
Maybe she got this from her own family; her mother is a very strong individual, manages all family issues and often talks over her father. The man is considered a bit more than a guest; his responsibility is bringing in the money and disturb others as little as possible.
Important talks are between her and her mom while dad is sleeping or ‘gone fishing’. I'm latino, and this is a very different way of living than what my family is accustomed.
I'm thinking this girl cannot be a trustable partner for a life together and I better break up if I don't want my life to become a nightmare. But I feel responsible for her; I'd like to do something to help her.
Should I advise her to see a psychologist? What should I do? Can I change my behavior so she improves?
Could she volunteer, babysit or be involved in child care to help her raise her agreeableness and become more caring and social? I'm afraid that even breaking up she'd continue having the same problem with other partners.
Thank you for all your advice!
This is an easy one, break up and move on. So many people complain, complain, complain about their partners, and want to know how to change them to make them better partners, better friends, daughters or sons.
Sorry, Conan, but she seems to be happy just the way she is, even willing to forego relationships so she wouldn't have to be concerned about someone else's needs.
You're breaking the #1 rule, Conan. You cannot control other people's actions, and that includes your girlfriend. You can only control yourself. If she wants to take care of her needs before yours, that's her prerogative.
You say she defines herself as a person who is unwilling to listen, take care of or help others. Fine, that’s who she is.
Are you listening? She says she is unwilling to change! It sounds to me like she's perfectly happy with that, which means you are the one with the problem, if you don’t like it.
Which brings up a question -- where in the world is this country where women score 15-20 percent in agreeableness for woman? Never heard of that.
The only difference, Conan, is that after marriage the behavior will be magnified. I'm trying to protect you here, so please heed my words.
If you want to live your life being treated like her mother treats her father, then that's your choice. Yet, you indicate you have very strong issues about it, so again, it's time to say goodbye and move on.
Forget the psychologist, and please don't put her in charge of taking care of little ones; they don't deserve that just because you want to "help" her.
Help yourself, Conan, and find a woman you like and enjoy. Out of your whole letter, you did not once say you love her, and that speaks volumes.
Move on and find someone who is a good match, and let your girlfriend be who she is. Good luck.