She spends too much time with her ex

-- Question for John --

I had to move to a new state about an hour away from my hometown where my girlfriend lives. A month before moving, I learned that my girlfriend had cheated on me twice. They were just kisses, and I believe I may have “pushed” her into the situations. We broke up and hadn’t spoken for about two months after I moved. But we still loved each other.

Through old friends I had learned that she right away picked up with a guy that she had been hanging out with even while we were together. One day, out of the blue she called me, and we began talking again. I went to see her, and we both talked about our relationship and how much we cared for and loved one another. A few days later we were back together, but she was still with the other guy too (I will call him Charles)

Well, after about two months of us being together, and me asking her again and again to break it off with Charles. He finally broke up with her because he had found out about us (she didn’t tell him)

We remained together and we see each other about 2 days a week, sometimes only 2 days every 2 weeks, on the weekends.

Now here’s my problem. Whenever my girlfriend is not working, she is out with Charles (they say they are just friends “we complement each other well” she says.) And they are always either going to his friends house, or to his house. They usually always drink and whatnot together. Not only do they spend almost every second (besides her working) together, but when I do see her, or if she’s out with friends, all she ever does is talk about Charles and his friends. My girlfriend knows I hate this, and it kills me inside. Anytime I try to talk about it she snaps at me saying “well sorry if I want to have a social life” yada yada.

I love her so much, and I don’t completely trust her yet after the cheating. I wish she wouldn’t spend so much time with her ex, and she never opens up to me anymore. Sometimes when we are hanging out with my friends she seems like she feels out of place and wants to be somewhere else (with Charles and his friends)

Well, I can’t/don’t want to demand that she stops being with Charles all the time because they are the only people she hangs out with, but them spending so much time together really hurts me and always leaves me doubting “us.” Is there a subtle approach I can take to get her to stop spending so much time with him, and to stop talking about him so much? Or do you think it’d be best for me to just give up and leave?

-- Answer from John --

Your choices are either a subtle approach — or giving up? I don’t think so. You are limiting your choices. Your idea that there is a subtle approach seems to indicate you are afraid of directly confronting this thing. And the idea that your only alternative is to walk without talking is similarly confrontation-avoidant. Being confrontation-avoidant is fine with me, but you should know that research shows that this relationship style offers the least number of options to a person, and severely limits the range of who they relate with and how passionate a relationship can be.

I would probably take this approach. I’d say:

“I really dig you. I totally love you. As you know. I fantasize building a really passionate relationship with you. I’d like to find out how far we can take it. But to do so, I need to clear the decks with you on where we are placing our sexual energies. I am surrounded by babes at my school. There’s a lot of flirting action. I’m so so tempted. And on your side of things is Charles and his crew. I know that in my environment, all the potential flirting and other choices could drain my energy away from our relationship if I let them. And what I really fantasize doing is going further into our relationship. I want to focus all my sexual energy with you. And I want you to do the same with me. I am willing to do this if you are. To go forward in this relationship — and not just let the distance and time thing wear us down — I would like to discuss with you some more the idea of really committing ourselves to focus our sexual energy just within the container of our relationship. This includes flirting and fantasizing too. Not that we all don’t have fantasies. Not that we aren’t all attracted to other people. That’s all natural and normal. It’s what we do with that stuff that I’m talking about. Being clear about our intentions with each other — and with other people. That’s what I’m talking about. So I’d like you to think about my invitation here. And my fantasy that we could take this relationship alot further — that we might have some real future together. Think it over. I’m not making a demand here. I do want to know what you truly think and feel. What your authentic heart has to say. Let’s talk about this again next week, okay?”

Then I’d let her think it over. And continue the discussion in a week. At that time, let her do most of the talking. Just ask neutral questions, like, “Tell me more about that.” Do not get into your feelings about it at that time. Then let the discussion sit for another week. Maybe let me know what’s going on and we can talk about this again….