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How to support my girlfriend

JawfaceJawface Posts: 19 Confirmed not a robot
I don't really know how to introduce this so I'll just jump in.

My girlfriend (M) and I are at university together. Her tutors make her do much more work than is necessary for her to do well in her exams, so she ends up working from about 9am to 1am most days. As one would expect this is having an impact on her well being. She doesn't want her tutors to think badly of her, so she works her socks off to the point where it's affecting her badly.

I have offered to help her in any way I can, but I'm struggling with how to do this. The trouble is that if I was in her position I just wouldn't care as much about what my tutors thought, so I find it difficult to understand her perspective. I intend to ask her more about why she feels this way when the time comes, but I don't really know what to say to her when she's extremely anxious and upset about her progress in work, if there is anything that I can say. She works ridiculously hard and it's really unfair how much work her tutors set her.

There are another two things which complicate this. The first is that I have autism spectrum disorder, which means that I find it hard to understand her perspective and her emotions. She's aware of this and has thanked me for at least trying to support her; this issue is not at the moment having a direct impact on our relationship but I feel bad because I want to support her more.

The second is that in order to support properly I can't let this situation have an impact on me, which it might do. I have had one girlfriend before her; she was depressed; I tried my hardest to support her. This resulted in me taking her feelings on myself, and over a period of two years I gradually lost all my love for her because of how much I was having to support her. I learned that I can't take on other people's feelings without looking after myself at the same time, but it was a really hard experience for me.

I had a phonecall with M when she was really upset about how much work she had to do (which was more than is physically possible), and I felt a feeling that I've had before. It was the same feeling of hopelessness, sadness and uselessness that I used to feel whenever I tried (and always failed) to comfort my previous girlfriend. Empathising with other people doesn't come naturally to me, and that's why I'm trying to get better at it. But before I'd even tried I got the feeling that I couldn't help her, and that just made me worse at helping her. That might be a hangover from repeatedly attempting to help someone who couldn't be helped (my previous girlfriend). In all fairness, M told me that I'd "been great about everything" so she appreciated my help, and objectively I do think that I made a difference, but I didn't feel like I could do enough for her.

Does anyone know how I can help her? Or how I can help myself?

Thank you


  • Candlestick56Candlestick56 Posts: 90 The answer to life, the universe, and everything
    Hey @Jawface,

    It is really nice to hear that you're reaching out for advice on how to support your girlfriend. A lot of people in the same position might post instead about how difficult they're finding it not being able to spend time with their girlfriend. 

    First of all, it's really good that your recognise that you have a different perspective when it comes to wanting to please your tutors. Even if you wouldn't do things the same way as her, and don't really understand why she cares so much about completing everything they set, you can at least acknowledge that she does care. It is important to her, for whatever reason, so the best thing you can do is show her that you realise this. It's ok to say that you think the amount of work her tutors are setting her is unfair, and it's ok to try and encourage her not to do everything and allow herself to have some time off, but at the same time it's good to acknowledge that she feels this pressure to do it all, for whatever reason. Try not to make her feel as though this is a weakness. It's a good quality that she feels compelled to be thorough - you could try saying that to her - but it's not good if it's to the detriment of her well being.

    You don't have to understand her emotions and feelings towards work, you only have to understand and recognise that they are different to yours, which it sounds like you already do. 

    In terms of not letting this situation have a negative impact on you, I would say that the best way to be there for someone without it weighing you down too, is to help them find their own ways of coping and to be more resilient. This is the approach therapists and counsellors use when they try to help people in stressful situations.

    You could try talking to your girlfriend about the things that help her cope with the pressure of all the work, like taking regular breaks (there are some good computer apps and stuff out there to force you to take breaks- you could maybe offer to look into/install these for her?), getting outdoors/going for a walk, doing sport and socialising. While it's not at all necessary for you to do these things with her, it might help you too if you want to. But just a little note of advice, not all women respond well to practical advice, so if she shoots down these suggestions, that probably means she just wants a hug, or someone to listen. It's not usually important what you say back to someone seeking support, just showing you're there to listen, and validating their emotions is what counts. All we really need when things are really tough is for someone else to say "oh man, that sounds really tough"! :)
  • JawfaceJawface Posts: 19 Confirmed not a robot
    Ah well it's also true that I would like to spend more time with her, but hearing how upset her work has been making her has given me a new perspective.

    Yeah it makes sense that I should openly appreciate her rigorousness while also acknowledging that she's getting too much work, thanks for pointing that out.

    I take your point that it's better if she finds her own ways to cope, and I'm not sure that this is something she's given much thought to, so I will try to find out what might help her.

    I'm hoping that now we're living near each other at uni that we might be able to have breaks from work together, and this is something she's keen on too. Thanks for your advice about computer apps, that might be really helpful.

    I completely understand that in some cases she might just want me to listen to her, instead of offering her practical solutions, and that's kind of what I might need help with. If I'm just talking to her on the phone then it's hard to listen to her without saying anything at all because I don't feel like it's very helpful, so I'd appreciate some more advice on what to say to her when she's panicking or upset about work. I get that it helps to acknowledge how tough someone's situation is, I just find it hard to do that.

    Thank you so so much for all your help, it really means a lot to me :) 
  • ShaunieShaunie I’m alive but I’m ✨dead✨ England 🏠Posts: 11,005 An Original Mixlorian

    even though these situations can make you feel so helpless — i think youre probably helping her massively just by her knowing that you are there for her & that she has someone. Aswell as trying to support her & encoraging her to take time to relax.
    Has she told you ways in which you can help her ? & Maybe could encorage her to seek help from her gp if havent already?

    But think is great that you recongise you need to look after yourself aswell — really important

    hope youre doing okay today
     all the best
    𝐘𝐨𝐮 𝐡𝐚𝐯𝐞 𝐭𝐨 𝐬𝐭𝐨𝐩 𝐝𝐨𝐢𝐧𝐠 𝐭𝐡𝐢𝐧𝐠𝐬 𝐭𝐨 𝐦𝐚𝐤𝐞 𝐨𝐭𝐡𝐞𝐫 𝐩𝐞𝐨𝐩𝐥𝐞 𝐥𝐢𝐤𝐞 𝐲𝐨𝐮, 𝐚𝐬 𝐲𝐨𝐮 𝐠𝐨 𝐭𝐡𝐫𝐨𝐮𝐠𝐡 𝐥𝐢𝐟𝐞 𝐲𝐨𝐮 𝐰𝐢𝐥𝐥 𝐞𝐧𝐜𝐨𝐮𝐧𝐭𝐞𝐫 𝐩𝐞𝐨𝐩𝐥𝐞 𝐰𝐡𝐨 𝐝𝐨𝐧’𝐭 𝐥𝐢𝐤𝐞 𝐲𝐨𝐮. 𝐁𝐮𝐭 𝐲𝐨𝐮 𝐚𝐫𝐞 𝐬𝐭𝐢𝐥𝐥 𝐥𝐢𝐤𝐞𝐚𝐛𝐥𝐞 𝐭𝐨 𝐭𝐡𝐞 𝐩𝐞𝐨𝐩𝐥𝐞 𝐰𝐡𝐨 𝐚𝐫𝐞 𝐫𝐢𝐠𝐡𝐭 𝐟𝐨𝐫 𝐲𝐨𝐮. 𝐒𝐨 𝐛𝐞 𝐮𝐧𝐚𝐩𝐨𝐥𝐨𝐠𝐞𝐭𝐢𝐜𝐚𝐥𝐥𝐲 𝐲𝐨𝐮𝐫𝐬𝐞𝐥𝐟 𝐚𝐧𝐝 𝐭𝐡𝐞 𝐫𝐢𝐠𝐡𝐭 𝐩𝐞𝐨𝐩𝐥𝐞 𝐰𝐢𝐥𝐥 𝐬𝐭𝐢𝐜𝐤 𝐚𝐫𝐨𝐮𝐧𝐝. 💕💕
  • JawfaceJawface Posts: 19 Confirmed not a robot
    @Shaunie Thanks so much for your encouragement, it's really helpful.

    I just had another call with her. I'm not sure if I articulated my thoughts well in my original post, but I really do feel helpless when I'm trying to help her. Somehow I get the feeling that there's just nothing I can do for her - I wish I could tell her that she shouldn't be upset if she's trying her best, because there's nothing more that she can actually do, but I can't, so I often just end up saying nothing, or taking ages to say something and coming up with something crap.

    The other unfortunate thing is that the times when she becomes very stressed is during the late evening, when she wouldn't want me to come over to hers to calm her down a bit and just give her a hug. (I know that a hug doesn't solve all problems but I think it would be much better if I was able to talk to her in person.)

    I'm not sure if there's something I could say to her which would be what she would want me to say - I tell her that it's amazing that she puts in so much effort and that I sympathise with her for how bad her situation is, but I feel like that's I'm capable of. 

    I don't really understand how her tutors can give her as much work as this in this day and age, and I don't really know what I would do in her situation (other than cry).
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