Valentine’s Day usually brings one of two questions to mind: “Why am I not in a relationship?” or, “Why am I in THIS relationship?” If this year finds you asking yourself the latter, there’s probably a follow-up question that you want the answer to as well. “Is my girlfriend (or boyfriend) bat-shit crazy?”
Trouble with communication, lack of common interests, and the desire to cut your significant other’s head off and use it as a paint bucket are all reasons we cite for why our partners are certifiably insane (and taking us down with them)—but are these people really out of their minds, or just misunderstood?
We interviewed John Howard, L.P.C, L.M.F.T., a relationship counselor and creator of readysetlove.com, to find out what that bitch’s problem… er, we mean, how we can understand our partners better and build healthier relationships.
Is Your Girlfriend (or Boyfriend) Bat-Sh!t Crazy?
Statistically, many people suffer from some form of mental illness. Howard says that more than 50% of the population will have a depressive episode at some point in life, and the same number of people will struggle with some form of anxiety, ranging from fear of social interactions to fear of flying in airplanes. So, while it’s certainly possible that your partner falls into one of these groups, that doesn’t necessarily make him/her “crazy.” It can, however, help to explain their messed up behavior.
If your partner is depressed, he/she may act selfishly, because one symptom of depression is not being able to keep track of others. If your partner has anxiety, he/she can be controlling and bossy, because anxious people want things their way—it helps them feel more comfortable. “Then there are personality issues that cause people not to be able to put themselves in anybody else’s shoes,” says Howard. “They can only see the world from their own perspective.”
None of the above behaviors mean a person is “crazy,” per se, so you (unfortunately) can’t play that card when you confront him or her. But if they lead to serious health problems, such as drug and alcohol abuse, multiple panic attacks, or severe mood swings, “those are signs that there’s a deeper issue there and the person might need some help,” says Howard. So you could break up with the person on those grounds. But if you love him/her, you should suggest that they look into treatment.
“I caution people not to try and diagnose their partner at home,” says Howard. “Sometimes they’ll go to Barnes & Noble and pick up a book on mental disorders to try and figure out what their partner has, but it’s a lot more complicated than that.” Fortunately, you don’t have to get a degree in psychology to get to the bottom of what bothers you about your boyfriend, girlfriend, or spouse. If you’re having problems in your relationship, Howard says, they’re going to come from a sense that your union is not mutually beneficial.
“Relationships thrive on a sense of mutuality,” says Howard. “The relationship is good for me and it’s good for you. The minute you start to feel like that’s not happening in your interactions, you’ve got an issue.”
How To Deal With A Crazy Person
“Partners that perceive each other as being sick or emotionally handicapped,” says Howard, are succumbing to the strength of their own opinions. “It becomes, ‘I think this about you, and you think this about me,’ and it sounds like two people in a courtroom. I always tell people that, unless you’re going to walk away from each other today, the problem belongs to you both. Blaming each other won’t work; you have to face it as a team.”
Usually, neither one of you is innocent anyway. While Howard acknowledges that it’s a bit stereotypical to say, men are typically a bit disconnected from their emotions and women can be overly critical. “Men aren’t socialized growing up to talk about emotion,” says Howard. “But it’s a very important part of connecting with other people. Ask a man how he’s feeling and a lot of times he’ll say he doesn’t know and will have to sit there and think about it, and that can be frustrating for women.” Women, on the other hand, can be dramatic and more emotionally erratic, which has to do, in part, with their hormones (big surprise!). “They want a positive connection with their man but they may be asking for it in a way that sounds judgmental and blaming.”
The solution won’t come down to talking it out alone. Howard says that being good at relationships is something you have to train for, just like you train your body for fitness or your ear for music, and that practicing the way the two of you connect physically can be even more powerful than discussion. “Most of what I do with partners is cut out most of the talking,” says Howard. Instead he has them experiment with hugs.
“Do they like long hugs or short hugs, or do they prefer holding hands? A lot of partners haven’t even looked into each other’s eyes that much.” Howard says getting more comfortable with these physical interactions can mend fences in a way that words can’t.
8 Crazy Things Your Partner Does And How To Stop Them
So-called crazy behavior tends to come in a few universal forms for both men and women. We asked Howard to analyze the following behaviors (which you’ll no doubt recognize) and suggest ways to end them.
1. She expects you to post pictures together on your social media accounts
“Women tend to be a little more sentimental,” says Howard. “They want to have their emotions addressed, and men often aren’t thinking about that. They tend to be more analytic. For a woman, a couple being presented together to the public is a sign of affection and closeness. It means that he values her and wants to show her off to the world and that gives her a sense of security. It’s extra evidence that he cares. But, if she demands it all the time and he doesn’t like to post, he could say that he prefers to use social media for business reasons, or that he simply wants to protect their privacy. Start with something like, ‘You mean so much to me, but let me tell you how I use social media…’”
2. She gets mad if you don’t text her back in 5 minutes
“That could be a sign of co-dependency,” says Howard. “That’s an unhealthy relationship where your partner is constantly pressuring you to limit your life and do what they want you to do. The solution is probably counseling because there are some childhood issues there typically, and arguing about it at home isn’t going to be as helpful as getting support. A chronic pattern of unrealistic expectations is going to require more than people can do at home.”
In other words, pull out the butterfly net and take her to the looney bin. (Just kidding.)
3. She plans trips for you both, months in advance
“If she’s imposing her agenda on him, she’s not keeping his needs in mind,” says Howard. But take caution in how you broach the subject. “Don’t say, ‘I don’t want you planning my vacations.’ Say, ‘How come you always want to do things the way you like to do them and not the way I like?’ This goes back to a lack of mutuality. She’s in touch with her own wants but not her partner’s. In a healthy relationship, you have to be able to do both.”
4. She’s jealous that you have friends who are girls, or are still friendly with your ex
“There’s such a thing as a healthy jealousy,” says Howard. “Our partners are not take-it-or-leave-it type people. We care if they’re developing relationships with other people. We might feel threatened. If you’re both out with friends and she sees girls flirting with you, a sign of healthy jealousy would be noticing that and feeling a little concern. Maybe she goes over to sit next to you or joins the conversation. But if she’s telling you who you can hang out with or which friends are OK, that could be co-dependency again.”
5. He starts out with flattery to win you over… and then stops a few weeks into the relationship
“Sometimes the guy is just really looking for sex,” says Howard, “and there’s nothing wrong with that. But sometimes they don’t know that and they give the lady the wrong impression. So guys should be a little more honest. If that’s all they’re looking for they should admit that and not use emotional manipulation to trick women into bed. Guys don’t keep track of how hurtful that can be.
“They should just say something like, ‘I don’t know if I’m ready to settle down quite yet. I’m really focused on my career and just dating.’ Those are tip-offs to the partner that she needs to be a little careful.
“It can also be that people get complacent. A lot of women tend to lose interest once they land a guy. They like the pursuit because an unattainable guy is more attractive and the minute they know they can have him they start to see him as more normal and familiar and not as exotic. For both men and women who do this, ask yourself if you really want to live that way or if you can stimulate yourself more through emotional and personal intimacy. You can get a lot of stimulation from deepening the relationship you’re in. You don’t have to put it on the shelf and go looking for the next one.”
6. He looks for pity
Have you ever dated a man who seemed to come down with a cold or a back injury hours before he was supposed to meet your friends or parents or take you out for your birthday? Men will do anything to get out of things they don’t want to do. “A lot of guys don’t show vulnerability,” says Howard. “So if he’s legitimately sick or hurt and he wants you to know, that can be a sign that your relationship is deepening. But, if the guy has a chronic pattern and he’s using pity to draw attention, then he needs to figure that out.
“You can say, ‘Sorry you’re not feeling well. I know you want me to be there with you, but it’s kind of becoming a pattern and I’m starting to feel a little put out by it.’” Make it clear that you’re his girlfriend, not his nursemaid, and he needs to start manning up.
7. He disappears for hours, or even days, at a time
“It could be a commitment issue, or he could be dating 10 other people at once,” says Howard. And those are probably the first conclusions your mind will jump to. But Howard says there’s another possibility.
“He may be unhappy with something you said or did and doesn’t know how to bring it up.” It may be up to you to see why he retreated.
8. He tries to make you jealous by mentioning exes and female friends
“He’s thinking that if he’s perceived as valuable by the culture around him, he’s more valuable in your eyes,” says Howard. And that can work well if you’re just dating casually. Howard doesn’t necessarily discourage it. “If people want to use those kinds of psychological hacks, they’re available to you. But if you want to start a long-term relationship, you really want to stay away from manipulations. You want to show up as yourself and have the other person show up as him or herself.”
In short, if he’s so popular with the ladies, let them have him.
Check out Howard’s relationship course for couples, and listen to his podcast, at readysetlove.com.