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So a little background on our relationship.

We've been dating for about a year and a half now. We're now getting to the conversation of marriage and I'm super excited to see what the future holds. However, getting her to open up is like pulling teeth with a toothpick. She's told me repeatedly she really wants to be able to open up but just has a hard time doing so. She won't even tell me why she has a hard time opening up, which I guess is opening up in and of itself. I've never done anything to break her trust (e.g. texting exes, being flirty with other women, etc.) nor has she had a previous relationship so I don't believe she's been hurt by someone in the past.

Our current living situation is a bit unusual. I'm living about 4 hours away for an internship while she lives with my family due to her family living halfway across the world. We see each other about every 2 weeks or so.

I call her just about 2-3 times a day just asking simple things like how was her day, how did she sleep, what was her favorite part of the day, etc. She sends me pictures of her crocheting projects, her watercolor paintings, and I take interest in what she loves to do. I also often ask how her family is doing, if she's talked to her mom and her sisters, and how her brother in the marines is holding up.

Today

Well, last night I didn't sleep well so I forgot to call her this morning. So she calls me on my way to work. Meanwhile, she's asking me about my work, the project that I'm doing, asking me to describe it which I really didn't want to do because it would've taken too long to explain with her lack of understanding of the topic. I wanted to just enjoy my morning playlist and the sunrise on my commute. In my groggy self, I just have short responses. She asks me if I'm annoyed with her, and I respond honestly and tell her that I'm not really in the mood to talk and I can call her later. So I tell her I love her and we end the conversation.

Then immediately after, she sends me a text. Here is our conversation.

Her: "Babe, the reason I call you is because I really miss my family and having someone to comfort me. I just wanted you to know and understand..."

Me: "So call your family"

H: "I don't think you understand"

M: "What is there to understand? You miss your family so it would be natural to call your family"

H: "And I do. But sometimes what I want to hear from you as the person I'm closest to is that you care for me and that you're there for me"

M: "We talk every day"

H: "So you think that all I need in life is to talk to you on the phone and hear how each others day was or how the other person slept and that's good enough?"

M: "What do you expect me to do? Drive 4 hours every morning?

H: "That's not what I mean and you know it"

M: "So then why are you getting mad at me?"

H: "No. Of course not. I just sometimes need to hear in words that you care for me and are here for me when I'm hurting. That's all!"

M: "I tell you every day so what's wrong"

H: "I'm sorry I bothered you. Never mind"

M: "Wait, why am I the bad guy now?"

H: "You're not"

M: "You're obviously mad at me"

H: "I'm not mad, I'm just hurt and lonely. I'm sorry. It's my fault that I bottle up my feelings until the breaking point then expect you to know what's going on. That's not your fault. That's mine."

M: "Why didn't you say something sooner?"

H: "Because I don't know how to"

M: "What would you like me to do?"

H: "Nothing I guess. It's my fault. I'm sorry."

The conversation continues a bit. Being the beginning of the workday, I tell her I'll call her during lunch. During that phone call, she tells me for the fortieth time how she has trouble opening up. And again, for the fortieth time, I try to be as kind and as gentle as I can be so she can tell me whatever is going on. And yet, she can't.

What I've already tried

I've tried a billion things to help her to open up to me on her terms. I lavish her in gifts. I put off things at work to call her. I call her too and from work. I call her before bed. Whenever we're together, we watch the movies she wants to watch, I take her to go get a pedicure (fellas, I highly recommend a pedicure. They feel amazing) I try my hand at watercolor which I suck at, I cuddle with her the way she wants to cuddle and never make her feel uncomfortable. I make her her favorite tea. I cook dinner for her. I've tried expressing my love for her in all five love languages. I've opened up to her myself telling her about my dreams, desires, aspirations as well as my hurts, struggles, and previous relationships. If none of those above show my care and love for her, I don't know what will.

It's starting to be a burden on me because I'm trying to be available whenever she needs me but then when I want to do the things that I want to do, that's when she calls me and wants to have a 3 hour long Facetime call. And I'll be as straightforward and honest as I can and tell her that I'm tired and want to relax by blowing up stuff in battlefield. And even still, I'll opt for the 3-hour long facetime call over a Dota match with my guys.

To top it all off, my mother, whom I love very much, is quite religious and hates it when my girlfriend and I have any kind of physical affection (because we're not married) and has let us both know how she doesn't want any cuddling in her house. I've respected that rule to a certain extent when I'm visiting. However, being financially independent of my parents and having lived on my own for 3 years now, I have trouble being dictated by someone who used to excessively discipline me (another story). My girlfriend, on the other hand, cannot stand disappointing anyone (except me, apparently), especially both of our parents.

However, it's put a strain on our relationship because 1) my love language is physical affection and 2) whenever we do get a chance to cuddle, my girlfriend gets up and walks away whenever she hears footsteps. So in my mind, she's putting my mother's opinion of her above our relationship, which is extremely hurtful. I've even told her and opened up to her about this.

And now she's telling me that she's lonely which I figured but has never explicitly told me and only does tell me through text.

My Questions

Is there anything that I'm doing wrong? What can I do to help her to open up?

closed as too broad by OldPadawan, Lord Farquaad, scohe001, sphennings, Dmitry Grigoryev Jul 17 '18 at 20:39

Please edit the question to limit it to a specific problem with enough detail to identify an adequate answer. Avoid asking multiple distinct questions at once. See the How to Ask page for help clarifying this question. If this question can be reworded to fit the rules in the help center, please edit the question.

  • The question is still on hold because there's still a lot of information that seems to be geared towards asking different things- can you whittle it further down to make it just about asking how to help her open up? The way I see it is that all these issues are related, but IPS encourages only one question at a time, for the sake of clarity. – ElizB Jul 19 '18 at 13:31
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TL;DR: I understand where you're coming from, and I've been where your girlfriend is, and my husband has been where you are. Try not to make assumptions, and ask "how can I help?" rather than "what do you want me to do?". Keep doing stuff for her, and give opportunity for her to talk in between and during your activities.

What helped me when I was struggling to open up after a bad breakup/ having traumatic memories was that my husband listened to me, asked me questions and validated these feelings. From my understanding, you do a lot with her, and maybe you can help her open up by asking her more questions about herself while you both are out and about. This allows for your activities to have depth beyond just doing it for her, you both have a good discussion on what your foundational beliefs in a variety of things are, and you grow in your relationship.

I love that you know the love languages, and my husband's happens to also be physical touch. I didn't understand that for a time, until we had a good in-depth, gentle discussion on how to best express our love for each other.

Do you both understand each other's love language? If not, this would be a fantastic opportunity to read the book together and discuss it. This activity helped my relationship with my husband grow immensely.

The environment she's in also is contributing to her insecurity in expressing love to you. Maybe you can ask her what she talks about with your mom, and if your mom is pushing any unnecessary religious opinions on her. That's happened more than once with my dad, who is a controlling guy.

A solution to that might be having her come for a weekend, away from your mother and any issues that might be coming up there. Sleeping arrangements can be made, and your mother won't have any say about whatever it is.

Another facet of her not wanting to reveal feelings to you right away is that she might want to avoid confrontation, and to smooth things over. One thing that helps with my security is that my husband tells me that no matter what I say, he will love me and listen to me, and be open, and not reject me.

I want to take a look at your chat messages:

Her: "Babe, the reason I call you is because I really miss my family and having someone to comfort me. I just wanted you to know and understand..."

Me: "So call your family"

H: "I don't think you understand"

M: "What is there to understand? You miss your family so it would be natural to call your family"

H: "And I do. But sometimes what I want to hear from you as the person I'm closest to is that you care for me and that you're there for me"

This tells me that she may not be talking with her family as much as you think, maybe you can ask her what she talks about with her family, and when, how much, etc. She can decide however much she wants to talk with her family, and if you feel she's putting the assumption on you that you'll be there when her family is not, that needs to be explored and discussed. This is only exploring each other's comfort level of communication, not a confrontation. Start with something like

"Hey, there. I was just wondering how your family is, have you talked with them recently? Also, how much do you guys communicate?"

Maybe if she's opened up more, you can ask her

"How close are you with your family (mom, dad, siblings, etc), do you wish to be closer to them? How can I help you with that?"

Listen to her and see if she just needs to vent about issues with her family you may not have known about. Discuss assumptions put on each other, so to make sure you both are on the same page.

M: "We talk every day"

H: "So you think that all I need in life is to talk to you on the phone and hear how each others day was or how the other person slept and that's good enough?"

M: "What do you expect me to do? Drive 4 hours every morning?

H: "That's not what I mean and you know it"

M: "So then why are you getting mad at me?"

H: "No. Of course not. I just sometimes need to hear in words that you care for me and are here for me when I'm hurting. That's all!"

M: "I tell you every day so what's wrong"

She is not getting mad at you, it's that you assume she's getting mad at you. In addition to this, this is when you felt you were being "bothered" too much, (not in a good mood) and I think this is another opportunity to open up and say something like

"hey there, the other day was rough for me, so sometimes in the morning if I don't sleep well, I'm simply not in the mood to have a phone conversation while I commute to work. This doesn't mean I love you any less, I would rather have a great conversation with you when I've fully woken up and can give you full attention. On those mornings or other times when I'm not in the mood, can we find something else for you so that you're not lonely? I want to help you feel more confident in yourself."

Something that opens up opportunity for exploration and discussion and doesn't put assumptions on anyone helps immensely.

H: "I'm sorry I bothered you. Never mind"

M: "Wait, why am I the bad guy now?"

H: "You're not"

M: "You're obviously mad at me"

H: "I'm not mad, I'm just hurt and lonely. I'm sorry. It's my fault that I bottle up my feelings until the breaking point then expect you to know what's going on. That's not your fault. That's mine."

> M: "Why didn't you say something sooner?"

H: "Because I don't know how to"

M: "What would you like me to do?

H: "Nothing I guess. It's my fault. I'm sorry."

The statement is an assumption. You are assuming that she is mad at you and that leads to her being put down, to put it simply. She doesn't have the space to really express whether she's mad at you or not.

Creating a safe space

Instead, make a space that she can tell you exactly how she feels, and why. Instead of saying "Say something sooner, please", when you have a private moment with her, just open by saying

"I want to let you know that this is a safe space for you to express your feelings, whatever they may be. I won't judge, because I love you that much and want to be there for you. What can I do to help? (instead of "what would you like me to do?")

I think the crux of the issue here is that you both need to discuss what assumptions and expectations you have of each other, and explore whether they are acceptable or not to each other. Something along the lines of this could begin the conversation:

"I would love to discuss and explore our relationship with you, I was wondering what general assumptions I am putting on you- is there something that you feel I'm overlooking or taking for granted from you?"

This puts you in the "firing lane" so to speak, so that she doesn't feel like she has to defend herself, and therefore help her to open up some more.

Disclaimer: I am not a counselor (have not even taken any psychology classes), and none of my words should be taken as solid fact, this is only through experience with my relationship and marriage so far. Have been with husband for 5 years total, married for 4 months. Husband is a high-functioning autistic, so my increased analysis in relational interactions has helped in my personal relational conflict solving.

If there's anything I can clear up some more, do let me know. Wishing you all the best.

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