How can I learn to not feel anxious when I've only gone one day without seeing my new partner?
June 13, 2012 9:39 AM   Subscribe

What can I do to cope with relationship (adult) separation anxiety/missing someone strongly? It happens after just one day without seeing my partner. I don't want to get clingy or go through so much ickiness so I need some coping ideas!

I'm [falling] in love with this person, obviously. I see them a lot already, and maybe that is part of the problem. If I go one day without seeing them and they don't initiate contact I get really anxious until I see them again. I get tense, anxious, forget to eat, have more trouble sleeping, all of that. If it took more time apart for me to feel this way I'd be more understanding to myself - but it happens when I haven't seen him for one friggin' day!

I have zero concerns about cheating/betrayal. All signs point to mutual devotion so I don't think this is fear of being dumped either. He is really good about reminding me that we will see each other again when we will be apart. I have hobbies, interests and friendships outside the relationship - and I make an effort to continue these whether or not I see my partner - but even so it has been almost impossible to make the anxiety go away.

I do not blow up their phone when we are apart. I believe in giving a partner space, so I rarely initiate contact at all during these times. It just becomes pretty torturous for me in that time between opportunities to see them.

I've been reading on the neurochemistry of romance/relationships so I think this is basically oxytocin/dopamine/PEA withdrawal. I think he may feel it too as he has gotten much more touchy with me when we initially come together again (touch triggers those chemicals). But knowing that he's probably feeling some version of this doesn't make these separations any easier!

I do not like feeling so out of control... even if this is basically normal, I have never felt this in a relationship before. I would appreciate ideas to make it stop, or at least make this tension and anxiety less intense - I feel like I should be able to go one day without having this reaction!
posted by hungry hippo to Human Relations (11 answers total) 14 users marked this as a favorite
First, take a deep breath.

then: I flog this book like mad in relationship threads, but it helped me a FUCK of a lot with similar neediness and clinginess; If The Buddha Dated. It is the only, and I mean only, relationship advice book that I ever found was worth a damn.

It doesn't help you to not feel anxious at times like this, but it does help you to cope with those feelings - and others -- a lot better. And don't be put off by the "Buddha" mention in the title - the author does draw on some very basic "Buddhism 101" concepts, but you won't be encouraged to spend days in meditation or attain Nirvana or make pilgrimages to the Ganges or anything. But some Buddhist concepts are very helpful in helping people cope with the weird freaky emotions that come up in the context of relationships.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 9:45 AM on June 13, 2012 [6 favorites]

Even if you have zero concerns about cheating/betrayal with this person, have you ever been cheated on by someone else?
posted by rhizome at 10:21 AM on June 13, 2012 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: @rhizome - Well, yes. But I don't get the sense that it is related here, even subconsciously. This feels more chemical than due to triggering. Could be wrong, of course.
posted by hungry hippo at 10:39 AM on June 13, 2012

Love is the drug. Don't blame yourself for jonesing. Just look for some methadone. The missus & I still have this damn problem, and she's out of town right now, so ... you're not alone. Things that help:

*artificial brain crutches. Make detailed to-do lists, and don't be ashamed to put basic stuff like EAT LUNCH on them. If sufficiently ├╝bergeeky in format, these can provide an alternate source of dopamine: download the excellent Epic Win ap, or adorn blank index cards with little black ink circles to color in as you accomplish each micro-task, where number of circles = dollar value of self-indulgent reward.

*physical affection. We recently acquired a giant soft lovebug of a cat who's my best buddy right now. If you're petless, head to your nearest animal shelter and snuggle something. Consider volunteering, or ask if you can 'foster', i.e. bring home a snuggly critter who needs a break from the shelter. Or slip into safe sources of human contact -- a friend with a husband overseas used to hit up nail salons in order to have her hand held, literally.

*create your individually-sized escape pod. Having trouble sleeping? Hot milk & honey, and a fantasy novel (insert your preferred beverage & literary vice here). Go to sleep wearing the shirt you stole from him, or otherwise indulge in something that would be thwarted by his presence -- when I'm out of town, the missus falls asleep listening to podcasts, and covers my side of the bed with dirty dishes and math papers.

Basically, I think you're right to treat it as a neurotransmitter problem. And thanks for specifying some of the neurotransmitters involved -- PEA is a new one to me.
posted by feral_goldfish at 11:00 AM on June 13, 2012 [6 favorites]

It could indeed be possible that the past cheating experience has a tiny bit to do with your anxiety after all. But that's yet another reason why I love the book I recommended so much - it focuses more on helping you try to process the flaily anxiety rather than trying to squelch it. And processing it, actually confronting it and having a good look at what it is all about, is the only way you'll be able to ascertain "okay, yeah, I'm being REALLY silly about this," or "wow, this subconsciously was reminding me of this totally different situation that I'd forgotten about". If you try to squelch the anxiety, you can't see it for what it is and can't fix what it is making you anxious; and if it really is over nothing, it teaches you how to just ride out the "sometimes we're just silly about this kind of thing" flaily stuff.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 11:00 AM on June 13, 2012 [2 favorites]

Note: I think the flail-processing recommended by EmpressCallipygos is totally helpful, in a complementary way: use the neurotransmitter tips to keep yourself sane enough to process (even the Buddha needed to remember to eat), and to mop up any residual anxiety that remains even after you've totally accepted you're being silly.
posted by feral_goldfish at 11:08 AM on June 13, 2012 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: @EmpressCallipygos Thank you - I looked at the table of contents and it has some good ideas for sure. Wish listed :)

@feral_goldfish - Fantastic ideas! I am glad someone else can relate. I would expect this sort of reaction if I had to go a while without seeing him - but one day? Surprising and a bit embarrassing.
posted by hungry hippo at 11:15 AM on June 13, 2012

I don't believe it has to do with cheating, really cause I know I've always been this way since I was a young girl and had ZERO to do with cheating. If I'm into someone, I want to see them A LOT.
posted by InterestedInKnowing at 11:18 AM on June 13, 2012 [3 favorites]

I sometimes feel this with my SO after a day of separation too. And I have never been cheated on, so, it may have nothing to do with it for you. I honestly feel that the best way to get over it is to do something physically demanding, like running or biking. I also do these in the evening so that I have an easier time going to sleep. I also second staying on top of a to-do list; being productive triggers something in my brain that helps override the wont of companionship.
posted by erstwhile at 12:20 PM on June 13, 2012 [1 favorite]

I felt like this a lot at the beginning of my relationship, but what I figured out eventually is that in order to feel really happy and secure, I want and need daily contact - if we can't see each other, even just a few minutes of exchanging text messages or what have you really quells the unhappiness of being separated. This only works, though, because that's the same level of contact that my boyfriend prefers too. Have you talked to your partner about it? Does he like checking in when you're not together? Maybe he would like the same amount of contact but is trying to give you space just the way you're trying to give him space.
posted by Neely O'Hara at 12:21 PM on June 13, 2012 [5 favorites]

Response by poster: I like the physically demanding solutions, @erstwhile. That makes a lot of sense. Becoming productive also triggers dopamine so I can see how that would work also.

@Neely O'Hara yeah, I don't think we have the same need for amount of contact. He's more solitary than I am by far. But I recently did explain to him why I don't initiate contact as much as I used to. He seemed to really pay attention like it hadn't occurred to him that sometimes I want confirmation that he isn't talking to me because I reach out and he is 'supposed to' talk to me when I do that. We will see if it changes anything.

As usual, direct communication with a partner is a good approach for finding solutions. :)
posted by hungry hippo at 7:10 AM on June 14, 2012

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