Tightly wound ball of neuroses
October 27, 2008 9:58 AM   Subscribe

I'm in a great relationship but afraid of messing things up. Help me stop being silly!

I've been seeing this great guy for several months. Things between us are postive and fun in a way I've never experienced with anyone. Before that, my most recent relationship was a six year long-distance arrangement. That ended last year when I faced up to the extent to which my boyfriend had been lying to and cheating on me, and from my entirely layperson viewpoint, passive aggressively manipulating me. I took some time to cool down, be decidedly single, and like the cliche goes when I was least expecting it met someone amazing.

What I've noticed though is that sometimes I respond to something the new guy's said or done in the way I would have with my ex. He'll say something that reminds me of an argument trigger then I get upset and withdraw. For instance, one night we were at a club with my friends until very late. When we left he said he was hungry and disappointed most places were closed already. Now, with the last one, this would actually have been a veiled accusation that it was somehow my fault, because we were out with my friends, because we didn't leave sooner to feed him, and then it would have turned into an argument that usually ended up with me having to say that everything that went wrong in the relationship was my fault. Silly, right? But the new guy explained he was thinking out loud and not blaming me at all. Luckily so far he's been great about getting me to talk things through, and it always turns out I've misconstrued the situation and read in meanings that would have been there with my ex but aren't there with him. Sometimes a cigar is just a cigar. Cool. I'm starting to get that.

I'm thankful he does that because it's a way of thinking I don't need to carry forward. So far, we're dealing with it. But how do I stop this pattern once and for all? I know everyone has their baggage, and he has a past too, but I want to learn from the experience, not be paranoid and neurotic and risk driving him away.
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (10 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
I think this is the sort of learning that will get easier as fond memories of the new guy displace bad memories of your ex. You recognize the association aspect of the problem, and maybe at some point new associations will overwrite the old ones. So to that end: concentrate on having new, interesting, and fun experiences with your current boyfriend and the rest will work itself out.

As an aside, if your ex's manipulation really sticks with you long term and you feel unable to shake it regardless of what's going on with you now, maybe a few sessions with a shrink will help things along.
posted by Inspector.Gadget at 10:09 AM on October 27, 2008

I have had similar problems after an 8 year relationship that I had. It sounds like you are doing exactly what you should be doing. Continue talking things through with your guy. It sounds like he is supportive and understanding, and with time you can fall into new positive habits with him. It's a matter of trusting him and trusting yourself.
posted by greta simone at 10:12 AM on October 27, 2008

You need to be more independent. You're too worried about the need to cling to one person. You should date other people, see a therapist or both.
posted by Zambrano at 10:22 AM on October 27, 2008 [1 favorite]

I used to think that way when I was younger - I was pretty sensitive, and my logic was that if a friend (or - god help them - a boyfriend) hurt my feelings I had to call them on it right away because they shouldn't be doing that. What I realized, though, is that by holding people responsible for my own self-involvement - I was the one being a crappy friend. So I made a rule that has served me reeeeeeally well. The rule is this: if someone hurts my feelings (without, you know, saying something directly hostile)... I can't say anything about then. Just go on. If I even remember the comment the next day, then I can think about it and if I still feel like there's A Relationship Thing to address, I'll bring it up separately. At this point it's really rare for me to get upset about an offhand comment (because as you get older you stop thinking that everything is about you) and rarer still for me to, after consideration, decide that it's something We Should Talk About.
posted by moxiedoll at 10:23 AM on October 27, 2008 [1 favorite]

Time and trust, my dear.

I did the same thing with my ex (and he's only an ex because HE had baggage he needed to focus on getting past, not because of anything I did); there were a couple things that came up, a particular turn of phrase he used or something, that would unconsciously trigger a flashback for me, and I'd act weird until I figured out "oh, wait, this is because of SID five years ago, not Frank today." And I'd talk things out with him and he'd go, "okay, good to know," and would watch his step in that one spot going forward It goes both ways -- sometimes I said something that triggered something in him, too. But the talking it out with each other is the best thing you can do -- we all have sore spots, and some people just hit them funny, and they need to know that that's all that happened. And they need to be re-reminded, sometimes.

And maybe you WILL eventually and gradually come to let go of the bast scars because your boyfriend will be consistently and patiently proving himself to you, or maybe one of these days when you're talking it out you'll both realize that "hey, maybe if you just did bleepity-bleep instead of blorpity-blorp, that'd help me a lot" and then he does that instead and you don't get triggered that way. But it's not an overnight fix, it's something that you need to keep working at, but that's what a relationship IS -- a constant negotiation of two people adapting to each other's quirks and supporting each other's whole selves, past baggage and all.

Maybe you'll get over it, maybe you won't -- but the fact that you're able to talk things out like this and you personally have the insight to be able to see that these are things from your past are all good things, and good points in both your favors.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 10:36 AM on October 27, 2008 [3 favorites]

Scabrous is a little quick whipping out the therapy-gun. There's a saying that the military is always fighting the last war, and it's kind of like that with relationships. If you've been in a LTR, you've built up a certain set of expectations of and responses to your partner. It just takes time to de-program yourself from those habits of mind. You're aware that this is happening, and you have (it seems) explained to New Guy that it is happening. Being mindful of it is half the battle.

In short, don't sweat it.
posted by adamrice at 10:51 AM on October 27, 2008 [1 favorite]

But how do I stop this pattern once and for all?


No, I'm not advocating suicide. I'm saying that this may be something you just manage, rather than get rid of. I'll always be somewhat stubborn, because in certain situations that works for me. What I've learned to do is manage my stubborn tendencies in other situations, where it's not appropriate.

You're really sensitive, which I'd imagine is GOOD in certain circumstances, like when a friend confides in you. However, you're oversensitive in situations like the one you described, and all you can do is catch yourself and say "Oh, that's me being sensitive again! Ha! I don't have to react to that!" You're not going to stop being sensitive; that's part of what makes you you.
posted by desjardins at 11:23 AM on October 27, 2008

I think you need to work out some of these issues, either by yourself or in therapy. If you keep acting on these triggers, this guy will eventually find someone with less emotional baggage. You might not quite be over your old relationship.

While it is natural to feel some reactions, it is not right to be taking this stuff out on your new guy.
posted by reenum at 12:50 PM on October 27, 2008

Maybe this is stupid, but reading your question I immediately thought of this song. Maybe give it a listen and think about 1) how this sort of worry is not unique to you, and 2) how your SO must feel about your reactions. Just a thought, I suppose.
posted by showbiz_liz at 1:21 PM on October 27, 2008

I've been seeing this great guy for several months.

You're not necessarily in a great relationship, you're in a new relationship - don't confuse the two.

it always turns out I've misconstrued the situation and read in meanings that would have been there with my ex but aren't there with him

Or he's realizing that he can pretty much manipulate you into thinking anything by telling you that your initial impression are crazy and wrong...

how do I stop this pattern once and for all?

What you're proposing is the disposal of valuable interpersonal experiences in exchange for blissful ignorance.

Do you overreact? Sure. Anyone with your recent history would be primed to over think, over analyze, and distrust... but don't short sell your intuition.

There is a happy medium between judging a situation and having a measured response, and trusting your instincts. Don't discount one in your quest for the other.
posted by wfrgms at 5:21 PM on October 27, 2008

« Older Changing from Wordpress.com to own domain; is it a...   |   Should I stay or should I go now? Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.