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Her Ideal is Hurting Their Relationship. Could it be OCD or PTSD?

Updated on May 21, 2012

Dear Veronica

I have been enjoying your posts a lot lately, and thought I would write. Not sure your commitment to answering letters (and you must get a lot of them) but of course I'm going to cut and paste this letter to myself in my journal anyway, so it's certainly worth my time, even if I don't receive a response from your loveliness.

I have fallen in love with someone and we have been enjoying a lovely life together. We live far apart, but we visit for extended periods (like, 3 months) and this has given us a great chance to share our lives in a daily way. So about 6 months of the year we hang out and travel and live together.

We are in our 30's.

She is about to start her more professional tract, which will mean less (though still 3 m onths!) vacation, etc. I am a free-lancer, and trying to figure out how it might be possible for me to make the move.

Lots of your posts about ultimatums (she tends to get very excited) have been helpful for us both, because it's great to identify how we might naturally react, see each others sides, and look into challenging ourselves to see each other's fears. Obviously I do not want to take this lightly (moving away from my family, especially, scares me) and we have considered the possibility (she is very open to this) of me returning each winter to spend time in my native, very warm climate. She would ask me to reconsider once children are part of the picture - I guess maybe 2 years?

Anyway, in and among all this discussion, is the fact that I know she does not react to disappointment very kindly: I think it's terribly immature, but I do understand in a base way, that she would prefer to have a solid break-off rather than some magical transformation into amazing life-long friends. It's honest, though I think it's lame, in a 'omg are we still doing this' sort of way. Anyone I would consider marrying I would be damn well sure I respected in my actions and thoughts if we were to decide differently. I don't know why she is this way, some of it is that while she is a modern woman, she is from a small village and has a very traditional view of relationships. I'm not sure it really matters if I know the origen of this, it's enough that I know she has that tendency or world-view. Perhaps she would feel like she couldn't move on, or unable to have another relationship, simply inappropriate, but honestly, Would we never see each other again? I accept but mourn the possibility.

On my side, I crawl into myself and reflect until I am ready - especially if there is emotional vexation around the corner. I appreciate greatly your comments that men often marry in their TIME and women for more EMOTIVE reasons... unless I miss-read that.

Lastly, I have been trying to show her more of what I might need to live in her... climate. Honestly, without any reservations, this is my biggest 'sticking point'. I certainly have had Seasonal Affective Disorder, and I have gravitated to the tropics for the last... 8 years? Veronica, it's the difference between having a serious seasonal disorder and not. Yea, this is paragraph 5 or whatever in my letter, but it's pretty significant. So I've showed her light-boxes, etc, and I know her friends have used them, so she's open to it, however somehow I'm not exactly sure if she is clear on what she is asking of both of us. Perhaps I'm not clear, myself. It's been a long time! She has a stubborn streak (part of her successfull, brilliant life requires this, for sure) yet is pliable with ideas.. and love.

As I re-read my post, I feel a bit like I have painted her and I out a little... roughly. She's brilliant, driven, and appreciates my stabilizing influence on our home-life: I am more the making bread while I work from home kind of guy, and she's a hectic type (maybe not type-a, I don't know) with templates and ideas of an ideal life (and full of potential fertility, apparently! She will make a great mom). She needs me, and maybe she needs me soon.

Alas, Veronica, I feel that I am at a crossroads just a little too soon. I wonder: Will I have time to set up internships and jobs in her country, so we can have more time together living day-to-day? Or is her clock running so fast I can't keep up? Certainly my mood issues makes me want to plan carefully any major changes. Also, marriage requires all sorts of legal issues that are more challenging to me than the idea of moving forward together - I just don't want to screw myself, and by extension, her, by miss-handling things with regards to my residence and taxation, etc etc. Oh what a headache. Of course she wants a marriage more than a wedding , but that ring would be the thing... (There is something there in this equation of legal changes vs. our relationship changing and a symbol of commitment... I own real-estate, etc, and just don't want to suddenly give up big share of my/our potential income so easily...) In know you are not a lawyer so I will save your eyes more of all that stuff...

I'm not sure if you have time for a sans-martini or 3 martini reflection - whatever suits you or the post inspires.... I would appreciate it greatly if you did!

With love and squalor,


Dear John,

You are getting the three martini answer, my friend. You love this lady and you want to do the right thing, so much so your insightful letter almost masks the problems you’re asking about. I had to read it over and over and pick at it to get to the sore spots.

By the way, thank you for your readership. I’m honored. And yes, you got it - Men tend to marry when the time is right. Women don’t care what time it is, they marry for much more emotional reasons.

Obsessive Compulsive Disorder can manifest without compulsions and is referred to as Pure-O. It’s harder to recognize because the perfections are happening inside the mind. For example, someone with OCD may have to have all the pillows on the couch perfectly arranged all the time, can’t rest unless they are sure the pillows are perfect, get up to fix the pillows, check the pillows, and fluff the pillows a certain number of times as part of the ritual. You know that if you mess up the pillows, there will be a big reaction. In Pure-O, there are no tangibles like pillows and threes. The image of perfection they ritualize and maintain is in their heads. When you said your girlfriend reacts to disappointment very badly, this was the first thing that came to my mind.

You described her behavior as terribly immature when she reacts to disappointment. You described that she has that all-or-nothing tantrum attitude of “If I can’t have what I want, then I don’t want anything!” You said, if her ideal is disappointed, she would rather totally break it off than to be friends with you.

Some form of Pure-O OCD is certainly a possibility here. Lack of B12 is another. It can cause people to have extreme reactions, possibly like the way she reacts to disappointment. It can also cause people to become irritated easily. Some people feel fear in a debilitating way, and some people transfer that kind of fear into a failure frame, like hers. PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder) can be caused by nearly any stressful event. We always think of soldiers that have seen combat, or people that lived in a war torn country, or endured a huge tragedy like 9/11. But there are other things that can cause it, like something from her childhood. Suffering abuse, witnessing abuse, dealing with a death or a loss, an illness or an injury - could all leave someone with PTSD. Sometimes sufferers react in a big way to things that remind them of the event, or the way the event made them feel. It could even be subconscious. She may not  remember the event at all. Her over-reaction to disappointment could be her reacting over and over to a divorce or a death or an abuse from her childhood. And she may not even be aware of it.

You said she is brilliant, hectic, driven, and that she has lots of ideas for an “Ideal” life. I must tell you in my three martini way, that I am very concerned over the Ideal life image she has.

It is over-the-top obvious that you are in love with her and committed to her, and working extremely hard at joining your lives. You are sacrificing so very much. Moving away from family, away from business and money opportunities, moving to a place where you will be physically and mentally taxed by Seasonal Affective Disorder… and through all this, you maintain this unbelievable sensitivity to what she must be thinking and going through. God-damn, John, you are a catch. Giving up so much, to gain so much.

Meanwhile, I’m not seeing where she is giving up anything. You threw out the line, “Is her clock running so fast I can’t keep up?” You didn’t really develop that, but I’m assuming that means she’s pushing for marriage and kids.

In her “ideal” she is seeing what she wants, but I’m really not feeling that she’s giving you a ton of encouragement, time, patience, understanding, or help while you make all these sacrifices so that her “ideal” can happen.

I wish you were here to elaborate on this: “( [She is] full of potential fertility, apparently! She will make a great mom). She needs me, and maybe she needs me soon.” What does that mean? Is she pregnant? Or does she want to be pregnant extremely soon?

It’s not OK at all that you are willing to give up so much and make so many sacrifices, and that you have to actually wonder if you will have enough time to set up internships and jobs and things to make life work, because she is in a rush. Not OK At All. Normally I would say, man are you high? What are you doing? Don’t put up with this. You deserve to be with someone who will be patient while you sacrifice the very sun to be with her.

However, I’m not going that route with you. I really am wondering if this is something she can help on her own. Please consider all I have to go by is your one email here, but it sounds like she has this one major problem – this inability to relax her image of the perfect life she must have. That for me suggests there’s something wrong with her.

It may be something as simple as Vitamin B12 or a change to her birth control pills. It may be something as complicated as PTSD. It could be fear, it could be low blood sugar. I really don’t know. But it sounds like you both work really well on the relationship. You communicate, listen, and try. You love each other, you want this to work. Yet she has this Ideal. It dissolves her patience and removes her ability to sympathize with you and your needs. She has strong unpleasant reactions to any kind of disappointment to the Ideal.

My advice is to talk to her about this honestly. Long encouraging depth-seeking talks about what causes her to be like this with the Ideal thing. Suggest she go to her doctor for full bloodwork. She should explain in detail to her doctor and to her gyno how she reacts and feels. She should ask for advice and help, ask for a referral to a therapist. There is no shame in needing some help to see things clearly.

I will however tell you this: if she refuses to even seek help and work on this, it is going to forever be hanging over you. No matter what you do, say, accomplish or give, she will always compare it to her Ideal of perfection without patience or much consideration. It's not like getting through this one major hurdle of life will "fix" it. There will always be a next one. And a next one.

I truly hope this helped, John. Please keep in touch.



Submit a Comment
  • profile image

    John Teacher 

    8 years ago

    Hey Veronica - it's been many moons since I wrote you, and many things have happened, and I wanted to fill you in sometime soon... here is a taste:

    Basically, I was sort of stunned, initially, when I read the title, but now I recognize these types of people so much more easily. I have sense had a professor I am convinced is pure-o (coding/computing) and now my lady... I realized she really has certain areas she can not communicate about, no matter what! It is truly pathology, in my mind, because she is clear-headed in other areas!

    Also, there is a divorce between my brother and sister-in-law. Their failings are making me very clear! But I can see how we all celebrated this amazing communicator, she got excited, and when she realized it was all 'koo-koo', she bailed!

    Of course when one person leaves sometimes thing repeat itself in a new person. Or there are echos or rhymes. But your response really woke me up and made me look around me a little more keenly, and thank you so much!


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