Failure to Connect

Q: Dr. Hurd, I failed to be connected with my girlfriend in my last relationship. What do you think could cause this problem? I don’t suffer from depression, anxiety or low self-esteem. Why didn’t it work?

A: By ‘connected’ I assume you mean engaged in the relationship. There can be many reasons for this. Maybe you weren’t as interested in her as she was in you? Or, maybe you value a relationship, but not in the same way or to the same degree that she does? Some people are not compatible. For example, one partner wants to stay home most of the time and go out only occasionally, while the other wants to go out more often and stay home only occasionally. Or, one partner likes expression of emotions while the other is more reserved in this respect. One absolute key to a relationship that can sustain itself is one where two people see the differences between them as actual strengths. If your girlfriend looks at you and observes, ‘He’s less emotionally expressive than I am’ then she can go in one of two directions, basically. One direction is: ‘He must become more emotionally expressive. I can’t stay in this relationship unless he does become this way.’ The second direction is: ‘He’s not as emotionally expressive as I am, or as I would always like; but it’s exciting to get to know him and to enjoy all the intellectual and technical attributes he has. I actually like the difference, and can even learn from him in some ways.’ In one context, she sees the difference as not only tolerable, but an asset. In another context, you have to change in order for her to be happy. It is, of course, perfectly legitimate for her to want something different. But you have to love your partner as he/she is; otherwise, it’s better to accept this reality and move on. People waste a lot of time either trying to change their partners or expecting them to change. It just doesn’t work.