Please help. Terrified that my jealousy/insecurity is killing my relationship
September 14, 2011 6:42 PM   Subscribe

I'm afraid my boyfriend's second thoughts about our relationship are just the tip of the iceberg, and he's actively pursuing other options.

We have been together for going on 2 years now. The first six or seven months of our relationship I was unsure of whether I wanted to be with him or not. The courtship process was short and intense, and I was pursued heavily.

At about the year mark, when I moved to his city, something snapped and whatever lingering doubts I had about him dissipated. We did bicker a lot when I came home (we're both sensitive and a wee bit controlling), but we worked on those issues. After a while though I felt like we weren't being physically intimate enough, or that his feelings were waning. I know I have security issues from a past relationship, and they really hit me kind of hard when I first moved to be with him. I felt like he was all I had and the thought of losing him was unbearable.

Anyways, some instances of inappropriate flirting on his part came to light (sexual conversations with old flames) and we had a really rocky couple weeks, almost ending the relationship. He apologized to me sincerely, told me I was the most important thing in his life and he couldn't imagine living without me, and we moved on.

Since then, it's been ups and downs. I'll go through periods of feeling so secure with him, and then times when I question _EVERYTHING_ that he does. Even the simplest things. And in my mind, they're completely rational and add up but when I snap out of my crazy and look back later, I can see that I was over reacting or making a mountain out of a molehill.

This has manifested in things like getting annoyed when he doesn't return my call fast enough, getting jealous when he makes a new guy friend and I don't feel like he is proactive about wanting to introduce me (though I know he shouldn't HAVE to introduce me at all, I should be comfortable with him having his own friends), and wanting a rundown of how his evening went.

We have talked about it a few times, and the last time he said that he doesn't understand where this doubt is coming from, and when I pressed him he said he loved me but sometimes it did make him have second thoughts about the relationship. Also, that nothing has changed even though I said it would.

He takes care of me in so many ways. We have opposite work schedules, and he's very socially active but still tries to plan around mine. He does so many little things for me to make my life easier, tells me he loves me, even does my laundry occasionally. He DOES have a flirtatious nature, and has many admirers (he's an actor and is quite popular in the gay community where we live), but he doesn't truly give me any reason to distrust him. He has a lot of "friends" i've never met who want to do favors for him quite often, like getting him tickets to shows, taking him to dinners and other free things like that, but I try not to let that bother me (even though it does sometimes).

The litmus test I've always used is our sex life. If I sit there and think, gosh we haven't made love in almost a week, or sometimes two weeks, I'll start spiraling into insecurity and suspicion. Even though we have opposite schedules and have maybe three hours a week where sex would even be possible. And even though he's still physically affectionate with me (though not in the hot and bothered way usually).

Anyways, long story short. I know I have issues with jealousy, but I'm getting back to suspecting he has some secret life going on in the evenings while I'm at work (He has a 9 to 5, I work until 2am usually). I know I shouldn't, and even if that IS the case me being suspicious or treating him like he's hiding something isn't going to improve the relationship. I'm terrified that my jealousy and insecurity are slowly strangling this relationship, and he's exploring other options even though he still says he loves me. How do I save this relationship before he decides to leave me to my own devices? This internal struggle is absolute hell.

This weekend he even invited me to a family event with him, and seemed really looking forward to me going with him. And his brother is in town this weekend and wants us all to hang out. What is wrong with me?? Why can't I just trust him? It's getting to the point where I'm borderline depressed, and I spent the first part of the afternoon searching for free counseling in my area. Since I can't afford $150 a pop.

He has suggested we go to couples counseling, but I kind of feel like it's my problem and I should fix it on my own.
posted by yummywaffles to Human Relations (20 answers total) 9 users marked this as a favorite
If he has suggested counseling, it means he wants to work things out. The problem isn't only yours, it's become his, and clearly you are not dealing with your insecurity well. You need help, why not try it?
posted by annsunny at 6:50 PM on September 14, 2011 [3 favorites]

I'm sorry, but I don't think you have jealousy issues.

I think after two years if you don't trust the guy, then you never ever will no matter how many pretzels you contorted yourself into.

I kinda doubt that your gut keeps poking you and he's magically innocent and being totally honest with you. That said, I don't think you will ever find out what he's doing that is setting off your spidey sense, either so please stop blaming yourself or driving yourself nuts over this. I mean, I guess you could have a friend follow him, or take off from work and follow him yourself to find out what's going on. Or you could go snooping through his stuff. But why bother debasing yourself like that? You have a strong and persistent feeling and you should trust that your subconscious wants what is best for you and it's giving your gut an accurate message and that's that!

I suggest you start preparing to break up with him even if you don't have a definitive reason, and then do that.

I'm sorry. Maybe one day you'll find out what was going on. I think for now you have to stop undermining your instincts and take action.

That alarm won't stop ringing until you are out of danger. I know you know this.
posted by jbenben at 7:06 PM on September 14, 2011 [4 favorites]

I have been in your boyfriend's position (or quite similar) before. I am not trying to judge or recommend because I firmly believe that there are three sides to every story: his side, her side, and the truth. Not saying that you are lying, just that you may be biased.

About this:

This has manifested in things like getting annoyed when he doesn't return my call fast enough, getting jealous when he makes a new guy friend and I don't feel like he is proactive about wanting to introduce me (though I know he shouldn't HAVE to introduce me at all, I should be comfortable with him having his own friends), and wanting a rundown of how his evening went.

And this:

We have talked about it a few times, and the last time he said that he doesn't understand where this doubt is coming from, and when I pressed him he said he loved me but sometimes it did make him have second thoughts about the relationship. Also, that nothing has changed even though I said it would.

When I was in his position, the thing that really truly bothered me was the total and complete lack of a "benefit of the doubt". Now, if he has lost his right to reasonable doubt in the past due to unsavory actions, then that would be more understandable though still not the best way for you to handle these issues. Otherwise, it is truly depressing to try to live with someone who always assumes the worst about you when you have given no prior cause for them to do so.

Here is a personal example: My partner had a series of bad relationships that jaded his opinion of the opposite sex. As a result, he had a tendency to assume the worst.

If I was working on some random project and could not get to the phone right away, he would not give me the benefit of the doubt and assume that I missed his call because I was busy, but would assume that I was blowing him off or being with someone that I did not want him to know about. If I said that I hadn't talked to so-and-so in three months when it had actually been two months, then it couldn't be that I had just remembered wrong, but that I was hiding what I did during that month!

I am going to be blunt about this: There can be no love without trust. Whether or not you are acting out because you don't trust yourself to be a good partner, trust him to be a good partner, or trust people in general, absolutely does not matter. If you keep putting him through frequent trust interrogations you will breed resentment in him and he WILL leave you.

Why wont he sleep with you? It could be because it is really difficult to be turned on by someone that you feel looks down on you morally. Even if this is not how you actually feel, it may be how it appears to him.
posted by Shouraku at 7:08 PM on September 14, 2011 [7 favorites]

Having a partner that wants to go to counseling with you is a great thing. This is a great opportunity. I would definitely look into counseling.

Also, using your sex life as a litmus test can have devastating results. Libido is not as tied to love as we think. Someone can love you very, very deeply and not want to have sex. I would definitely talk about this in therapy, or if you decide not to go that route, with your partner. Tell him that you know that this can cause problems, and that you don't know what you can do about it. He might have some good suggestions to help you stop doing this particular thing.

Also, you say "we moved on," but it sounds like maybe you haven't. That is OK, but you should really decide to do one of two things: legitimately move on, or leave him.

Jealousy will strangle out love, every time. It's terrible, but it's true. You've got to work on this, and it sounds like you have a supportive partner who wants to help you work on it.
posted by k8lin at 7:12 PM on September 14, 2011 [1 favorite]

Have you been like this in other relationships? Were you like this before you found out about his inappropriate chatting?

If so, it's your issue. If not, then consider that it's an issue with the relationship or with your boyfriend.

I had one relationship in which I would be seriously jealous/bothered by minor things like slow text responses, un-returned phone calls, and the like. I spent a lot of time and effort trying to make myself trust this guy, and when I finally did...he broke up with me for someone who was "just a friend" whom I'd been suspicious of, about 5 days later.

That's not to say that your guy is or isn't trustworthy, but consider your own history and whether, knowing what you know about yourself, your worry might be justified.
posted by the young rope-rider at 7:12 PM on September 14, 2011 [3 favorites]

When people say things like "relationships take work," it doesn't mean this kind of work. It's more about the work of being the best self you reasonably can, not about swallowing your sense of I've Got A Bad Feeling About This.

You have bad feelings about this. And either there's fire where there's smoke, or he just sets you off in a way that comes down to a basic personality conflict. There is no cure for personality conflicts (well, distance and time can resolve some of them, but this is not an effective proposition for a relationship).

In short, consider Lyn's Law: if a partner makes you crazy, that's a red flag. There are people you can be with who won't make you feel like this.
posted by Lyn Never at 7:30 PM on September 14, 2011 [13 favorites]

Or you could go snooping through his stuff. But why bother debasing yourself like that?

Not to mention creepy and weird.

Get some countervailing or break up with him and cut him loose. I mean you have no evidence apart from the fact that he's friendly and socializes easily, and some 'sense' you have. Seems like he's trying to accommodate you.

He doesn't return my call fast enough - poor sod.
posted by the noob at 7:50 PM on September 14, 2011

ahem ... Get some counseling
posted by the noob at 7:50 PM on September 14, 2011

Oh, hey, no, this all makes total sense. You were hurt and betrayed by something. You're still recovering. It's not like you can flip a switch and be like "okay great!" You can try, and you'll get halfway there, but not all the way.

That doesn't mean you should be rubbing his face in it, which you're probably not anyway, but this thing is a process. And some of that process is private to you.

He did things you both consider not okay, if not devastating, and you almost broke up. You feel shaken. You haven't finished dealing with it. Why exactly are you the problem patient here?

There's no reason your relationship has to end, but you're just not done with those feelings. He showed you something that wasn't fair to you and you're thinking: so if he did that, what else could he have done?

And he's either thinking "Wow I was honest and I'm still getting blamed and this sucks!" or he's thinking "Whew, I got away with that and she doesn't know about my secret other family!" (That's unlikely, by the way, but hey, crazy world.)

Give yourself a break.

(Also? I have a real issue with dudes who do this thing where someone gets betrayed and then their hurt by your sense of betrayal. It's not right, and I see it happen to my ladies allllll the time.)
posted by RJ Reynolds at 7:53 PM on September 14, 2011 [4 favorites]

it seems unfair for you to have doubts about the relationship but then get hurt when he tells you he sometimes has second thoughts. it seems like you don't hold yourself to the standard you're trying to hold him to.

i've been on both sides of this coin - i was crazy jealous in one relationship and i was with a jealous person in the other (in both of those the jealous person could absolutely have pointed to things and said "see! there! that's why!" but it's not really here nor there, the jealousy happened no matter what the situation). both sides suck.

if you want this relationship to work, go to counseling. you don't have to though, you can just admit you don't want this relationship to work. i was in a similar position once and when he said couples counseling, it's like a light went off and i realized that even though he had changed a bunch of behaviors and was really trying, i was checked out and it was too late for me. was it unfair to him? yeah, probably. was it the right decision for me? yeah, it was.
posted by nadawi at 8:24 PM on September 14, 2011 [1 favorite]

Okay, so my instinct is that his personality type (flirty extraverted actor!) means you'll never be 'secure' the way you want, if indeed that is what you want. Step one: know your partner. Once you know them, you know what to expect. Then if and when they act the way you expect them to, you can be satisfied (or not, which means irreconcilable differences).

Separate these three things: your fears of his possible actions, his present fixable actions, and his personality preferences that lend to tendencies in past and future actions.

How much attention do you need vs how much attention can he give? Also think about how much need for attention is driven by paranoia and how much is your romantic preference.

Realize that if you're going to use sex as a litmus test (whether or not that's a good idea; some people will have sex even if they're not in love, some only if they're in love, and some won't even when they're in love), you have to make spending sexytime together a priority. Not allowing it to be dependent on circumstance, you have to make sure you have sexual contact. If your litmus test is sex, well, make very sure you have it consistently, so at least that is taken care of. No matter what it takes: that's what priorities are.

Anyway, the need for control is separate from the need for attention: the latter is ok and healthy in some quantities, the former is not ok and needs to be worked on. Do you want to be joined at the hip? If you do, this relationship is not for you. If you don't, consider taking some serious measures, like for instance a combination of moving out and having standing 'date days/nights' where you get all his attention for some block of time. He'd have to commit to that also. Let him know he can't take you for granted. If he has time to spend hanging out with his friends, he can prioritize you, if that's what you need to get over this hump. You need to create a private time & space for just the two of you where you can cultivate emotional/physical intimacy. However, the trade-off would be letting go of your need to monitor his social life. One major option is focusing on your own.

He sounds like the kind of guy who is motivated by the chase. So make yourself both less available and more appealing, that is, more open to him yet involved in your own life. The chase doesn't end when you're in a relationship with the Flirt: it just gears up for the long haul.
posted by reenka at 8:27 PM on September 14, 2011 [4 favorites]

Have you thought about, in addition to counseling to address these issues of trust, you could wear a certain trust filter for X period of time? I.e., rather than saying to yourself, 'if he doesn't get back to me by X time that proves that he's cheating,' say to yourself, "okay, he didn't call me back for X hours and he had an excuse that felt fishy to me.' Put that on a shelf, for a couple days, a week. Then look back at that incident. Is your gut still telling you the same thing about the fishy excuse?

I say this as a way of sparing yourself the anxiety -- anxiety that seems pretty normal, btw, given that he had, what, phone sex with some exes?

And yes, esp. if the above is a fair way to characterize the sitch, his blaming you for a lack of trust is kind of fucked up.
posted by angrycat at 8:29 PM on September 14, 2011 [2 favorites]

I don't have a strong sense of whether this is really about you having jealousy issues -- maybe it is, maybe it isn't. But let's talk for a second about what to do if "I'm terrified that my jealousy and insecurity are slowly strangling this relationship" actually is accurate. I had a boyfriend whose jealousy and insecurity killed our relationship. If he had agreed to go to couple counseling with me (he refused many times), it would have meant so much to me and made a huge difference in how patient I could be with his over-the-top insecurity. Refusing to give your boyfriend something he's explicitly asked for based on a misguided notion that it would be burdensome to him is not going to help things in this relationship. In fact, the statement that you feel like it's your own problem and you should fix it on your own is something that would really hurt me if a partner said it to me. Aren't you supposed to be, y'know, partners?
posted by ootandaboot at 9:39 PM on September 14, 2011 [3 favorites]

You're gonna hafta decide if his past misdeeds cancel out his credibility from now on or choose to believe the words he says and in his feelings and believe that he knows you've put your trust in him and he would not harm you thus. Could be that the episode with the secret flirting broke your ability to trust him - maybe his flirtiness is always gonna clash with your boundary preferences. Is this dude creeping on you? No way to say - on one hand, the advice you'll get is to breathe out and trust and quite letting your anxieties get the better of you. On the other hand, intuition is a useful thing and maybe it's telling you something for a reason. I've come to trust my spider-sense more often than not - maybe he is indeed being faithful to you but you're still feeling off because maybe you've got a notion that you're incompatible.

I was the jealous boyfriend once. I moved to be with a girl who had severely violated my trust in the past. I loved her and staked everything on our relationship, so it was this big huge deal and when things that would happen in the present reminded me of what had happened in the past and how bad that had hurt, everything would go all sideways. I was a shitty partner on a lot of levels, but this was the worst one. I struggled to let go of the past, I struggled to trust her in spite of my severe insecurity, I spent so much time trying to convince myself that this unease was all in my head and goddamn but it's crazy-making when you don't know what's real and you want so badly to believe what someone says in spite of knowing they had lied right to your face in the past and now they're acting shady yet again. You don't know which end is up!

In my case, shit got rocky and stayed there until she ran off with a (former) good buddy of mine. In my case, I should have listened to my spider-sense because it was telling me bad hurt was on the way. In subsequent relationships, however, jealousy hasn't been an issue nor have severe first act violations of trust been a norm. Turns out I never was an intrinsically jealous fellow who could not trust women - I just couldn't trust her. And given how things shook out, I never should have.

There's no way of saying whether or not this is all in your head but it could be that your anxieties are there for a reason, that you and this flirty extrovert are not compatible and - whether or not he's lying to you now - staying in this situation could lead to you getting hurt on account of this basic schism. Maybe it's okay if this ends and your next relationship will be with someone that doesn't need to be told that flirting with old flames is not okay, someone with a boundary setting more compatible to your own. It's okay to get out of a situation that you're never gonna be comfortable in, no matter the source of that discomfort. Maybe your ability to trust him is just plain broken by the selfish, unfair way he once acted and it's time to admit this partnership has run its course.

Good luck to you. This sounds very difficult.
posted by EatTheWeek at 9:57 PM on September 14, 2011 [1 favorite]

Using sex as a barometer for the health of your relationship is a huge, huge red flag.

In all honesty, you sound like Crazy Girlfriend. Maybe you're massively insecure and lacking in self-esteem. Maybe he's genuinely driven you to this point. Either way, if he's offering to see someone with you, and you want to give this relationship a chance to pull out of this spiral, I'd go.
posted by DarlingBri at 2:50 AM on September 15, 2011 [2 favorites]

For a minuscule percentage of relationship participants, things work perfectly and without any hitches, unresolved miscommunication, collateral/reciprocal damage, etc. and they make it through life together until they both die, ecstatic about their good fortune.

For you, and perhaps the rest of the entire metafilter population, your relationship is in the vast region of typical. You describe what most people encounter, and like any bystander Martian trying to piece out how Monopoly works by watching the actions and guessing at the players' strategies, you are puzzled and ask all the right questions.

Here's the outline:

1) You are attracted.
2) You couple.
3) Life presents challenges.
4) You react.
5) Your relationship changes.
6) Go to 3

Number 5 is part of an endless loop where the relationship changes are part of life's challenges.

There is an asynchronous process running alongside this basic algorithm. It's called aging. It leads eventually to death. Other than ^c to break the endless loop (i.e., exiting the relationship), that's the way the program terminates.

No one posting here apparently pays attention to the "review previous posts" advice when composing questions in this arena. My suspicions grow every time I read a different version of this.

The saddest thing about this is how normal you are. Who wants to be normal? It's so..... well, "normal". Good relationships are mutually satisfying and growth producing. It's the same between mother/daughter as it is between boy/girl.

Like my marble sculpture, the concept is simple, not easy. There's a difference. You get good at both the same way, vision and practice.

Advice on your particular issue? The only thing of any value is to determine how you want to navigate between now and when you die. Do you want to be independent, confident, bold, kind, loving, effective, and in successful relationships? Or would you rather be insecure, suspicious, needy, grasping, controlling (i.e., normal).

You get to choose. No one chooses for you, you know? You don't think the kind folks here at askmefi choose for you, do you? It's all up to you. You alone. Not even the boy gets to choose how you are and how you confront life's challenges.
posted by FauxScot at 4:09 AM on September 15, 2011 [2 favorites]

It sounds like your insecurity is turning into self-fulfilling prophesy and you are slowly driving him away.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 5:59 AM on September 15, 2011 [1 favorite]

Anyways, some instances of inappropriate flirting on his part came to light (sexual conversations with old flames

I have never once heard this kind of report from a woman -- not one time -- and had it end up that any subsequent "paranoia" was unfounded. NEVER ONCE, and I've heard it pretty often.

By the way, a classic cheater's dodge is "I have no idea where this doubt is coming from!" Making you think you're cccraazy, (also known as "gaslighting you"). He has no idea where this doubt is coming from? Uh, the sex talk with the old girlfriends, that's where! You've already been down this road together! Your doubt is coming from experience.

Feel free to ignore me, I'm getting cynical in my old age.
posted by thinkpiece at 11:38 AM on September 15, 2011 [2 favorites]

Good advice everyone, but you should note that the OP is male.
posted by the young rope-rider at 11:50 AM on September 15, 2011

The OP's gender does not change my original answer one bit!

Hey. I re-read t ge question, and you know what I noticed? The boyfriend does, by default, have "another life" due to their different work schedules. I'm guessing the OP works in a bar/restaurant/club, so by default, they are living in two different worlds.

I too worked in hospitality for many years. The hours and intensity really can wreck a relationship. And it is totally natural that the partner who doesn't work nights has a completely different social life from the partner who does work nights. I know the OP knows this. But knowing and being happy about it are two different things!

So OP, maybe you are jealous of the social time that your boyfriend has that you don't??

Otherwise, or even if this is the root cause, I still stand by my original answer. Take one last swing at resolving this, but if after two years you just can't seem to make it work - move on.

If your job is lucrative or integral to your career path, don't quit it just to save the relationship unless you are super duper unbelievably sure your man is not a dirty dirty cheater. I'm still not convinced on this score. I have a thing about trusting people's instincts!

It might be interesting to discuss the possibility of changing your schedule or lifestyle with your partner in counseling... But if you go there, have that discussion seriously, not as a "test" just to gage his reaction.

Good luck!
posted by jbenben at 12:46 PM on September 15, 2011

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