My Boyfriend Thinks We Need a Gun, but I Worry He’s Paranoid

My boyfriend is considering getting a gun for the house we share. There was a burglary in our neighborhood recently, and he wants it to keep us safe so something like that never happens to us. We never had firearms in my house growing up, and theoretically I'm not opposed to it, but I'm worried that my boyfriend is being too paranoid. He's all about safety—wants us to take a gun safety class and learn how to use a gun properly—so I don't think he'd misuse a weapon. But knowing him, I think if we owned a gun, pretty soon his fears would snowball. Soon he'd be getting a license to carry it around everywhere, which just isn't necessary or practical in our lives or for where we live. Is it too much to ask him to consider a therapy session before we purchase a gun, just to make sure he's thinking through this rationally and not getting overly paranoid? —Jumping the Gun
Dear Jumping the Gun,

Now that’s what I call a loaded question. (Sorry, that was bad!)

Let me start over. Thank you for your interesting question. My very biased response is that, on the face of it, a relationship is at least as important as gun training, so one counseling session doesn’t seem unreasonable. But perhaps there’s more here than meets the eye.

Often people will ask me, “Is it reasonable for me to ask my partner to …” or, “Do couples ever …” As if, in other words, there is some standard for “normal” relating out there. It’s surprising and even a little disconcerting for some to discover that there is no “normal” standard—there is only what is right for the two of you in your specific relationship. Some couples vacation together, some don’t, some sleep in the same bed, some don’t, some have a lot of sex, some less, some like it a certain way, some don’t, some have kids or pets, some don’t, and so on. The trick of it is, when there is a difference of opinion or perspective, building a bridge between those differences so that both feel comfortable about it. Yes, sometimes you have to pick your battles, though this sounds pretty important.

I also sense you are genuinely concerned about your boyfriend’s state of mind, where one burglary is enough to send him to “Guns-R-Us.” I was struck by your description that his packing a weapon “isn’t necessary or practical … where we live.” I’m not sure what this means, exactly, but I take it to mean, possibly, that it represents some kind of overkill, makes you uncomfortable, which is the general takeaway I get from your question.

The fact you want to do a therapy session also implies to me that either your concerns are not being heard by him, or that you sense a somewhat obsessive focus on his part on “safety,” which involves acquiring and training in firearms, and which is creating distance; perhaps it has become a preoccupation drawing his attention inward and compromising his ability to stay present? If so, you may end up feeling a little isolated or even lonely. I also, being psychologically minded, wonder if his focus on “safety” is connected other aspects of “safety”—emotional, sexual, etc.—that are being played out in his preoccupation with concrete self-protection. (Though I’m glad he’s willing to get gun training.)

Some people might find his state of mind and focus on arming himself for self-protection perfectly reasonable, within his constitutional right, and all of that. Others might think it overkill and urge him to try Buddhist meditation instead. My point is, it has a specific meaning for you, which needs addressed given that you are, after all, 50% of this relationship.

Perhaps your inclination to try therapy indicates a desire on your part beyond just making sure he’s OK. Perhaps you want the relationship, the two of you together, to also be OK; I detected an undercurrent of anxiety (and caring) in your question, and can understand feeling uncomfortable with a partner’s behavior that may be starting to “snowball” and cause unease (and emotional distance). If he is having trouble hearing you, to the point where it is creating some hurt or distressed feelings in you, then a counseling session sounds appropriate indeed. If he refuses to go, which I hope he doesn’t, then perhaps you could go on your own to discuss what this provokes in you and ways to deal with it individually and with your partner.

The great challenge of relationships, and why I think so many struggle, is that—with the exception of seriously harmful behaviors, of course—there really is no right and wrong when it comes to relating to a partner in the here and now. People say they are “right” about this when what they really mean is that they’re fearful of considering an alternative, because it compromises their certainty or security. Unfortunately, there is no ironclad certainty or guarantee. Life itself always includes at least a little risk. I’m biased in being a psychotherapist, but I believe examining one’s demons up close and understanding them is as important as concrete means of self-defense. Otherwise, we are enslaved to external means of controlling our fears. In other words, there is never enough “out there” to give me water-tight security and certainty “in here” (emotionally).

It sounds like the relationship is important to you, and the private space between the two of you feels unsafe or off. Your boyfriend is lucky to have such a caring girlfriend. Relationships, like anything organic, need tending to from time to time. If he is gun shy about going to counseling (again, pardon the pun), you can reassure him it can just be a “tryout.” I would also own your feelings about all this and the importance of going for your own sense of security (i.e., don’t make it all about him needing to go). You have little to lose and much to gain from discussing this with a counselor or therapist you both like and feel safe with. Thanks for writing!

Best wishes,
Darren

Darren Haber
Darren Haber, PsyD, MFT is a psychotherapist specializing in treating alcoholism and drug addiction as well as co-occurring issues such as anxiety, depression, relationship concerns, secondary addictions (especially sex addiction), and trauma (both single-incident and repetitive). He works in a variety of modalities, primarily cognitive behavioral, spiritual/recovery-based, and psychodynamic. He is certified in eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR) therapy, and continues to receive psychodynamic training in treating relational trauma, including emotional abuse/neglect and physical and sexual abuse.
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  • Olivia

    Olivia

    January 3rd, 2015 at 7:22 AM

    While I don’t find it unreasonable for you to want to talk to a counselor for the reasons behind why he wants to do this, I think that you should also be open to the fact that there are also some corresponding reasons for why you don’t necessarily think that this is a good idea for the home.
    I think that whatever your decisions may be, I think that this is something that the two of you are going to have to work through together. For every reason that you give as to why there is no need for a gun he will have two more reasons why he thinks that you do.

  • danni

    danni

    January 3rd, 2015 at 9:43 AM

    what on earth is paranoid about just wanting to protect your home and family?

  • GARY

    GARY

    January 4th, 2015 at 8:49 PM

    What is not right about a guy wanting a fun when there has been a burglary in the neighborhood! perfectly normal behavior if you ask me. therapy for wanting to protect one’s home?? sorry but I think you need to reevaluate who is the paranoid one in your relationship!

  • Harry

    Harry

    January 5th, 2015 at 3:59 AM

    THere are those people who take things beyond what is reasonable and this is what I sense that you think that he would do. I encourage both of you to sit down and have a serious conversation with one another before making any kind of huge decision like this.

  • Jimmy

    Jimmy

    January 5th, 2015 at 3:59 PM

    has he ever shown you behavior that leads you to believe that he would become like this? or is this just an instinct or feeling that you have about him?

  • Darren Haber

    Darren Haber

    January 8th, 2015 at 11:28 AM

    Thanks for the comments! I like Olivia’s point about this being an issue to be worked out within the relationship, and not a political or moral argument to be won. In coupledom, both sides have to win!

  • Olivia

    Olivia

    January 8th, 2015 at 3:49 PM

    Thanks Darren! That really encouraged me that maybe I am actually growing up and developing some adult like reactions to some very adult like issues. I think that there was probably a time in my life when I would have been like it’s my way or the highway but I think that as you get a little older you see a lot more clearly that there is always going to be a little more room for compromise than what you may have once been willing to give.

  • Darren Haber

    Darren Haber

    January 8th, 2015 at 8:53 PM

    Well said!

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