I have THE GUY....now how do I overcome past issues and enjoy life with him?
April 21, 2009 4:00 AM   Subscribe

Finally found The Guy, but after years of abandonment issues from a dead-beat dad and a horrible previous serious relationship, I am starting to do some in-grained sabotaging relationship moves again. How does one, outside of professional help, stop the cynical voice inside that tells me to quit before he quits on me?

I hate to play the "daddy-issues" card, but the older I get, the more I am starting to realize that I have them. I guess I've been pretty pessimistic my whole life about people staying and I've been pretty guarded about letting people in. The one time I did it, I was in the relationship for almost 5 years. I was engaged, but the guy cheated on me and, towards the end, got pretty sociopathic. I ended things and realized what I wanted from life and what type of person.

I've been with my new bf for almost 2 years now and I am noticing some behaviors that I do when I am scared. I don't do it voluntarily, but I realize that when I start to feel secure and emotionally comfortable, I start to do things to sabotage the relationship. Examples are nitpicking over stupid household chores, snapping with great impatience, and pretty much anything that could be considered "bratty." I realize how immature this sounds, but I think I could be inherently doing this to push my bf away because I've been so used to disappointment.

I really love him and would love nothing more than to be with him for the rest of my life...we have discussed plans and I find myself looking forward to them. I am just so very worried that I could be ruining things with such a wonderful man who actually seems to love both the Jekyll and Hyde side of me. How do I stop being a jerk? (I'm thinking this question applies mostly to women out there who have gone through the same experience).
posted by penguingrl to Human Relations (15 answers total) 12 users marked this as a favorite
Counseling. First for just you and down the road for both of you.

Other than that take the one moment at a time approach. You don't have to make the decision to be an angel for the rest of your life starting....NOW 123 GO!

Instead...just decide to not engage in those behaviors for the next 5 minutes. Then another 5 minutes. Oops, slipped up and nagged about towels on the floor? No biggie, get back on the right path.
posted by ian1977 at 5:40 AM on April 21, 2009 [1 favorite]

Sorry for the long comment, but it's like I'm reading something I wrote to a friend two years ago.

It took a lot of work for me to stop the sabotage. I had to do a mixture of things to stop the habit.

First, I told on myself, constantly. I made it clear to my unbelievable cool and understanding boyfriend that I was going nuts with jealousy and insecurity, that this would manifest itself in different ways and that he was in no circumstance to tolerate it or think it had anything to do with him. I told him why I was prone to sabotaging behaviour, but only to explain, not excuse myself.

Once that was said, any time I would feel the anger or jealous poison rise up, I would try to think it through first. I would ask myself "Is this a legitimate problem or a warning signal? Is this irritation called for? Can it wait to deal with later?" but at first it was hard to not act out on what I convinced myself was unjustifiable anger.

If I was still angry, I had a few very good friends to whom I would "take the crazy to first." If I were convinced he left his towel on the floor as a personal affront to me or talked warmly of his female friend to make me angry, I would take it to my trusted friends first. Pretty much as a rule, they told me it really was nothing personal. Taking the crazy to someone else first gave me an automatic buffer - it forced me into consideration and breathing space.

Over time, this practice has got easier with me. I still feel get rushes of the old feelings, but I'm actually able to talk about them reasonably instead of hysterical, drama-queen screaming.

Good luck!
posted by katiecat at 5:41 AM on April 21, 2009 [9 favorites]

I don't know why professional help is off the table as it could make this process a lot easier, but the open line of communication with your partner is vital. You need to be able to catch and stop the behavior as soon as you can, which is a lot easier to do when you can give your pre-arranged code word or just say "hang on, give me a minute" or whatever and he'll understand what's going on. A major part of any good relationship is teamwork, so use that to your advantage in this situation.
posted by Lyn Never at 5:59 AM on April 21, 2009

Your behavior isn't out of your control if you recognize it as a problem. Sure, counseling might help you come up with strategies, but the bottom line is that you already know what you must do. You can choose to do it or not. That choice is the one you have to make. Once you make it the rest is just strategy for how to curtail your "bratty" behavior.
posted by OmieWise at 5:59 AM on April 21, 2009

Like Lyn Never says. You could explain to your bf what you've been thinking about. Its really great that you have come to this level of insight, and sharing this might help him with being tolerant, if this is occasionally necessary.

(Note: I'm not in the camp of people who view explanations of this kind as "excuses" and sneer triggers. I find them absolutely necessary for learning to know each other on a deeper level.)
posted by Namlit at 6:21 AM on April 21, 2009 [1 favorite]

First I would talk this over with your BF. You cannot build trust unless you communicate. I like how someone above said Explain it not Excuse it. Second go see a counselor about your issues. You would be surprised how effective talking about it can help you. It opens the bottle up and lets things out. Third, don't consider your behavior as bratty, it is a self-defense. You have had two rather crappy men in your life disappoint you. I am sorry for that. You just need to find a way to turn this off. Trust me not all guys are dirt bags, you obviously found a good one. I hope you can work things out. Let us know if you need anything let.
posted by Mastercheddaar at 7:24 AM on April 21, 2009

I think that, first of all, you need to quit wasting time examining the reasons WHY you're doing this. Knowing the WHY of it doesn't really contribute anything to your search for change. All it does is give you a potential excuse for not changing -- and give you something to spend your energy thinking about instead of spending that energy actually doing something about the problem.

My recommendation is that you try some cognitive therapy techniques to end your nitpicking.

1. Spend some serious time mentally rehearsing the kind of behavior you WANT to engage in. See yourself with your boyfriend, see him doing something that would normally cause you to snipe at him, see yourself NOT becoming irritated and NOT saying anything. See the moment passing and the two of you happily going on with your activity.

2. Practice "thought stopping" to eliminate your reflexive impulse to nitpick. The best way of working "thought stopping" is to first decide what you're going to have as your mental "happy place". Maybe it will be the thought of you and your boyfriend getting married, maybe it will be of a particularly peaceful place you like to go. Maybe it will be a memory of an especially nice time you and your boyfriend shared. Decide ahead of time what it's going to be. Then, when you catch yourself about to snipe at your boyfriend, immediately shout STOP to yourself (inside your own mind, of course... if you do it out loud, people are going to think you're bonkers). Immediately after shouting STOP, go to your "happy place". Do not spend time examining the offending thought. You want to cut it off before it even gets to be fully formed. If you do this consistently, the offending thoughts will eventually cease.

I realize this all sounds very contrived but it does work.

** Disclaimer: This is all based on the premise that you ARE nitpicking and that your boyfriend's behavior isn't abusive in any way. If you are in doubt, you'll need to provide more information in order to get some opinions on that.
posted by rhartong at 8:37 AM on April 21, 2009 [2 favorites]

Seconding everyone who says "Professional help will help." If you feel that you can't afford it, there are sliding-scale clinics.

Also, please read Facing Codependence by Pia Mellody, and maybe work through the Breaking Free workbook that accompanies it. It's one of the best resources for people dealing with abandonment issues.
posted by Sidhedevil at 9:43 AM on April 21, 2009 [2 favorites]

I want to throw something else out there for consideration since I have had similar issues and can relate to the abandonment fears, bad relationships and a sociopath. In the past, I have often thought that I have done some things to push someone away because of my massively disfunctional family issues. But in hindsight (and lots of counseling), I subconscoiusly knew at the time there was something wrong with the relationship.

I know you didn't ask, but are you absolutely sure this is all you? I have had a very strong tendency in the past to blame myself and my issues for anything that comes up in relationships. Are you possibly reacting to subtle changes from your boyfriend? You are in that stage when things start to come out (from both parties--including the ones you mentioned doing) and you could just be unknowingly reacting to something he is doing differently. Different does not necessarily mean bad (i.e not necessarily hints of sociopathy) -- but just different.

I apologize if I am way off base, but I had to throw it out there. I am now (recently) married to a man who was my best friend for 7 years before we started dating and I don't do any of the push-away stuff that I used to do.
posted by murrey at 11:31 AM on April 21, 2009 [2 favorites]

How to Be an Adult in Relationships.
posted by scody at 11:36 AM on April 21, 2009

Here's what has helped me modify my behavior:

1. Becoming very, very mindful about what happens just before I engage in sabotage. Usually I feel a tightness in my chest or my stomach turns. I think of saying whatever it is that I want to say, but at the same time, I know I shouldn't say it. Over time, I have come to know "that feeling" as soon as it comes on, and it triggers off a "YOU'RE ABOUT TO SAY SOMETHING STUPID" alarm.

2. For awhile, I stopped and thought about what I was going to say every single time, even when he's asking me what I want for dinner. I ask myself one really simple question: Is what I'm about to say going to make this situation better or worse?

3. I found other things that make me feel "emotionally comfortable" so I wasn't depending solely on him for that, and so I could experience feeling deserving of it. Taking care of myself helps me take care of the relationship.

4. I leaned a lot on my spiritual faith, which happens to be Buddhism, which happens to place a huge emphasis on not getting so attached to people/things that you suffer over them. Meditating on impermanence (everything comes and goes, nothing remains the same) has helped me a LOT to accept things as they are. I'm sure other faiths have just-as-helpful approaches.

5. I learned to talk to my husband about my needs and feelings in a non-accusatory manner. For example, "Would you help me wash the dishes? I feel better when the kitchen is clean" goes over a lot better than "Why haven't you washed the dishes? The kitchen is a mess!"
posted by desjardins at 1:53 PM on April 21, 2009 [5 favorites]

For me, it helped to set aside the idea of my 'daddy issues' and other possible causes of my feelings and behavior -- and just make changes in what I was thinking and doing in the present. I'm better with principles than with rules, and better with positive statements than negative, so I ended up with "I will treat him the way I would like to be treated." Actually doing the right thing wasn't easy in the beginning. "Stop nitpicking" didn't get me far; it was better to talk constructively with my husband. Of course, both of us had to learn how to do that and get some practice.
posted by wryly at 3:31 PM on April 21, 2009

I can't recommend Harriet Lerner's work enough. "The Dance of Intimacy" sounds like it would be right on for what you're struggling with. Good luck!
posted by Salamandrous at 7:00 PM on April 21, 2009

I've been trying a bit of journalling to defuse the self-sabotage tension.

It went kind of like this:

Even though I...
... feel like I'm too insecure to be in a relationship...
... feel like I'm not ready...
... feel like he's too boring...
... feel like I'm too boring...
... feel like I'm not good enough...
.. blah blah blah...
... I still deeply and completely, love and accept myself.

Just write all the lines you can think off, between that 'Even though' and the 'I still deeply and completely, love & accept myself'.
Try repeating the set-up and end phrase around each statement as you write them.

I stole the statement from EFT (which doesn't work via acupressure, meridians or whatever), but found it more effective writing it. It actually all looks a little ridiculous once I've finished writing it down, which is good, because then I can laugh at it, and it's like the tension/belief in it is GONE. Especially when I see how contradictory some of the statements are (and go with that! Write them down ESPECIALLY when they're illogical!)

Every little tip helps, right?
Good luck!
posted by Elysum at 9:58 PM on April 22, 2009

I'd like to amend my previous comment, because I ignored all of my own advice yesterday and created a huge argument. Sometimes I will screw up. Sometimes this will have major consequences. The only thing I can do right now is to be mindful: to be absolutely clear and honest about my intentions, my feelings and my thoughts, and more importantly, how those have hurt him. The more present I am to how my words and actions have negatively impacted our relationship, the less likely I am to repeat the same behavior.

I am blessed to be with someone who is infinitely patient and loves me unconditionally. Some days, I'm not sure I could be married to me. However, it's essential that I forgive myself, because feeling constantly guilty and shameful does not make for a happy relationship either. I acted like a dick yesterday, and I deserve whatever consequences come of that, but that doesn't mean I won't be happy again, or that I don't deserve to be happy. A friend says, "Fall down seven times, get up eight." That's really all you can do.
posted by desjardins at 7:20 AM on April 23, 2009 [2 favorites]

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