Q&A with Jane Dodding: FIFO worker struggling with relationship woes and low self-esteem
By psychologist Jane Dodding
Q: I need help in dealing with a relationship issue. My long-term girlfriend recently kissed another guy while she was drunk. She told me about it and since then I can't stop thinking about it. Not so much the incident itself but the fact that there may be something wrong with our relationship or she no longer is attracted to me. She has told me that neither is the case and it was just a drunken mistake. I already had very low self esteem due to a work issue. I know it is irrational but I couldn't understand how such an amazing woman would stay with someone through all that. My thoughts are worse when I'm away and tired.
A: I am sorry to hear you are having such a hard time at the moment, both personally and professionally. You show great insight into the core issues you are currently struggling with: relationship issues and low self-esteem.
It must be reassuring to hear your girlfriend tell you that kissing someone else was a "drunken mistake" and that your fear that there is "something wrong with [y]our relationship or she no longer is attracted to [you]" is not true. Although it can be helpful to hear these things, often the partner who did the betraying has some work to do to help repair some of the damage done.
Your girlfriend might need to consider how she is going to help regain your faith in your relationship, her commitment to you, and show you how much she values you. Talking can be helpful, however often the smallest things say the most: a gentle touch when passing; unexpected text messages or notes; essentially being attentive, kind, and connecting regularly.
This can be more difficult when you are working away from home but with some creativity it is possible. One article worth reading on this is here.
There is a concept known as the "Love Bank", where partners regularly make deposits of love and kindness and at times make a withdrawal. Like any bank, we aim to make more deposits than withdrawals to prevent going bust. Your girlfriend has taken a large withdrawal and now needs to make regular deposits to regain a healthy love balance. I can recommend the book The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work by John Gottman and Nan Silver.
Regarding your current low self-esteem, it is understandable that your self-evaluation is being challenged because of your work and relationship issues. In my work, I often see people in stressful situations begin to focus on the negatives, give themselves a hard time, and not able to see the full balanced picture.
What is encouraging though is that you are also aware that some of your thoughts are irrational. In these times some guidance and support to widen our perspective, challenge our thoughts, and seek a balanced unbiased perception is helpful, so you may want to see your GP or seek psychological support. There is also an excellent website with self-help modules on various issues: http://www.cci.health.wa.gov.au/resources/infopax.cfm?Info_ID=47
I hope this information is helpful and if I can be of further assistance please let me know.
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All advice on Mining Family Matters is for general information only and should never be regarded as a substitute for professional health services or crisis services. To talk with a trained volunteer telephone counsellor at any time of the day or night, call Lifeline on 13 11 14. To contact the info line at beyondblue: national depression initiative, phone 1300 22 4636.
Jane Dodding is a psychologist and director with MindsPlus, a group of psychologists and other mental health workers who came together in 2007 to provide support to people living and working in rural and remote regions of Australia. For further information about MindsPlus, contact 1300 312 202 or visit www.mindsplus.com.au.