Have you ever caught yourself irrationally fearing that your partner will fall in love with every stranger they see on their street? That they haven’t texted you for an hour because they’re bored of you and all the magic between you has been lost since that morning when you ate pancakes together? That you’ll never be as important as their exes?
If your answer is positive, you also probably find yourself surrounded by an ugly shameful feeling, because you might see yourself as the text-reading, facebook-stalking caricature character from that rom-com you watched the other day.
Now, behaviors such as these are indeed manipulative and possessive, and you should never fall into their pit or, if you already have, you seriously need to work on that. Still, fear of abandonment and the relationship anxiety that it’s causing is a primal fear, valid and torturous, and it most definitely is not something to be guilty or ashamed for.
Most of the times this fear is irrational. You might try to find an excuse for it but fail miserably: your partner might have not given you any ground to believe that they’re going to cheat on you, any sign that they’re not as much in love with you anymore as they used to be, that you’re not enough for them, or that they’re gonna wake up tomorrow morning with the urge to leave you. These fears just exist and come without a warning. And that’s just horrible. You may have a beautiful, healthy relationship, and yet constantly feel like you’re poisoning it because you can’t trust enough, you can’t rationalize enough, you can’t relax enough. Especially when both (or more than both, in the case of a polyamorous relationship) of you work that way, finding some peace of mind might seem impossible.
Generally, try to remember that this is how people generally function: with their insecurities, their missteps and exaggerations. All of these are a hundred percent valid human responses to love and investment and insecurity, and they don’t make you a burden, or hard to love. You can just start building this, step by step, in order to start feeling more comfortable in your own skin and with the people who are important to you.
Discussing everything with your partner is a wonderful start, and good communication might make it so much easier, but sometimes even when you assure each other that you’re okay, it’s not enough for the noise in your head to buzz out.
I might be the last person allowed to give advice on such an issue, since I still freak out about everything and ruin several dinner dates and sleepovers. However, you can let me share my experience – not about something I’m over with, but about something that’s still pretty relevant in my life. It might help just letting you know you’re not alone, since that was the first step I made to feel better myself: ask whether I was the only person on Earth that poisoned my own relationship with my phobias, and feeling oddly reassured when I found out there was nothing unusual about me. It might also help if I share with you my coping techniques: not what solves the problem, but what I have found out makes it more viable.
1 – Take some distance from your thoughts
Sometimes it comes and it’s so harsh that you can’t go on without discussing it and overanalyzing it.
Some others, though, it briefly brushes over the surface of your mind amidst a thousand other thoughts. Something along the lines of of “oh yeah, I acknowledge that fear, it’s something that exists and can possibly affect my evening and remind me that I can never actually lay back and be happy in this relationship”. In these cases it’s better if you try to distract yourself. I’ve found out that this fear, when it remains on this relatively harmless stage, can pass and let me enjoy my trip, my daydreaming or my evening at the playground, without demanding to be set upon the surgical table and be exhaustively peeled and chopped to its ingredients.
2 – If it doesn’t go away, talk
If you see that your thoughts insist, don’t let them prevent you from sleeping at night. It’s vital that you discuss such things with your partner. Don’t ever feel like you’re being ridiculous or clingy for asking questions, but remember: There’s a huge difference between asking your partner, for example, about their feelings towards a friend that causes you jealousy, and demanding that they actually stop seeing that person or talking to them, just because you feel that their relationship is taking up space from yours.
3 – If you ask, believe
Trusting someone and knowing it’s safe to do so is a process. People often deny themselves their feelings or the possibility of a relationship in order to not feel vulnerable for placing their trust on someone else. But sometimes, even when the other person has given you every reason to trust them, you find yourself incapable of believing them. That’s one of my biggest problems, and I still have to fight with it, but then I try to remember that my partner does his best to prove his love to me everyday with his actions, therefore, there lies some effort to me in order to learn to give credibility to what he says, and not assume things on my own.
4 – When you learn how to believe, let the other in
Sometimes the worst thing that can do to your communication is to translate your partner’s point of view in your own language, instead of trying to grow familiar with theirs.
For example: When I’m supposed to fall in love, I do it almost instantly and with the first sparks of attraction. My partner functions in the completely opposite way: he needs to take his time, get to know the other person as friends first, form an intimate bond with them, before he can start experiencing romantic feelings. The fact that I refused to believe that a person can work in a different way than I do, made me freak out for months. I convinced myself that we were doomed and that we’d never feel the same way (spoiler alert: eventually, we did). We had to work hard in order to start understanding how the other thinks and feels, but for the work to start, we first had to realize that it’s a thing that actually happens: people think differently, feel differently, fall and stay in love through different processes, and that’s okay.
So let your partner know what it feels like to be in your mind. It will solve many misunderstandings and help them know you better.
5 – It’s not us, it’s me
Try to check whether it’s your own insecurities acting up when your relationship doesn’t face any other challenges. I don’t mean ‘stop whining, it’s all in your mind’. Sorry to break it to you, but most things are in our mind and yet, that doesn’t make them any less real. No. What I’m saying is, once you realize that there’s nothing wrong with your relationship per se, or at least that less things are wrong than what you think, it’s a first step in the process of rationalizing things a bit easier.
When I took a step back and wondered why I’m always incapable of believing my partner when he says he truly wants me, is happy with me, and won’t turn to other people, I found out that it’s not caused by anything he does wrong. Instead, it’s induced by the fact that I can’t really imagine how I could ever want me, or be satisfied by me, if I was another person, because of my own low self-esteem.
That doesn’t mean that you can magically solve all of your problems because you acknowledge them: I don’t believe that anyone can learn to love themselves overnight just because someone told them to. Self-acceptance and self-love is a long and bumpy road. But figuring that out was at least the start of accepting that the problem wasn’t caused by the lack of my partner’s appreciation, or his potential dishonesty when he comforted me.
Here is another important detail: when your fear is there, making your life harder, but you acknowledge that it’s caused by your own insecurities and that your partner has done nothing wrong to trigger it, let them know: it’s important to assure them that you’re not blaming them when it would be unfair to do so and when, you actually, are not.
Fear escalates to worse fear, even when you discuss things and feel temporarily better: it can seem like a relationship dementor: sucking all the happiness from the room, making you believe that you’ll never relax and enjoy, or even that this relationship is doomed, if not by its ingredients, then by your overthinking itself.
6 – Analyze wisely
Discussing things with your partner is vital, but you can always talk to your friends as well, to people who’ve probably been through that before, who care for you but inspect the dynamics of your relationship more soberly, from a more detached, distanced point of view. Overanalyzing is paralyzing, some say, but when it’s inevitably what you (and I, trust me!) have learnt to do best, sometimes you need to figure out how to use it productively for your own profit.
Talk openly and deeply. Respect what you listen and demand to have your own feelings respected. Let your partner know why you feel the way you do, or try to figure it out together. Long, hard conversations, are sometimes the biggest challenges and can help you know and care for each other in a deeper way.
Everything requires effort but no effort is in vain. You learn and you grow, and you’ll stumble again, but each time, your feet will feel a bit more coordinated.
In the end, always remember: focusing on the present builds the likeliness for a future.