Focus on the present
January 12, 2014 9:35 PM   Subscribe

I don't like the amount of time that I spend thinking about my significant other when we're not together. How can I curb my enthusiasm?

A bit of background: my 31-year-old boyfriend and I (also 31) broke up abruptly in mid-October, and got back together recently. Things have changed: we're a lot more communicative with one another, and I feel secure in my knowledge that he likes me, respects me, trusts me, and wants to be with me right now. I love him, respect him, and really like having him in my life as my significant other. I forgive him for the breakup and we've moved on. I think that we broke up because he was concerned that I wanted to push the relationship further along than he did, but we've talked about the breakup extensively and he hasn't really been able to pinpoint why he did it, exactly - he essentially got his back up after an argument and dumped me instead of taking a few deep breaths or a walk. It was a rash decision, which he has said every time we've discussed it, and he says it was a very big mistake. I don't think that it or anything like it is going to happen again - our communication has improved by leaps and bounds since that time.

When he broke up with me, I was pretty shocked - it was really sudden - and I spent a few weeks afterwards going over everything in our relationship over and over in my head, trying to figure out what had happened. Now, I seem to be having trouble breaking that pattern: I think about him a lot, and I don't care for it. I see something funny online and want to send it to him. I remember something pertinent to a conversation we were having and want to text it to him. I look forward to hearing from him and seeing him quite a bit and when our plans change it makes me feel a lot worse than I think is healthy. I worry when I don't hear back from him that he is purposefully ignoring me or that I've somehow upset him or have asked for too much without knowing it. Etc.

I'm a serial monogamist and the last time I dated a guy that I didn't live with I was in high school. I have no idea how to navigate this relationship, where we live in separate places and where we aren't interested in spending every minute that we aren't at work with one another. We both really value our independence and need a lot of space, but I'm finding myself thinking of him at work, in the shower, first thing when I get up, last thing at night, and I am spending a lot more brain space on him than I care to do. My thoughts aren't all negative - it's just that there are too many of them for me to actually feel like I'm living my life and that the relationship is just a part of a much bigger whole.

So, how do I break this pattern of thinking of him a lot when we aren't together? Is the only answer just to break up again? I'm considering it, but I'm not even sure that will help - it actually got a lot worse the last time we broke up (before our breakup I felt really normal, and while I thought about him a lot, it didn't feel so... obsessive). My therapist tells me to just breathe and to focus on the present, but I seem to only be able to do that for short bursts of time. I worry, though, that all of this worry over the relationship is actually going to ruin the relationship that I so like and value. How can I just chill out and go with the flow and enjoy this awesome relationship, without sacrificing the time I spend without him thinking about him?

It also seems important to note that my last boyfriend was abusive and I spent every waking moment thinking about him, too, but for very different reasons - I was constantly scared and learned to monitor him very highly and to always take his potential feelings or thoughts into account so that I wouldn't set him off. So a big part of me feels like this is learned behavior, and that it can be unlearned.
posted by sockermom to Human Relations (10 answers total) 16 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: My therapist tells me to just breathe and to focus on the present, but I seem to only be able to do that for short bursts of time.

So breathe and focus on the present again. And again. And again. Just keep doing that. That's exactly the process of unlearning your previous behavior. It takes time, and patience, and practice. Just keep doing it.
posted by jaguar at 9:44 PM on January 12, 2014 [12 favorites]

When I find myself doing this in my life, it means I've let my world get too small. Get involved with other things - things that are meaningful, and practice engaging more with those things in the moment where you might otherwise obsess about him.

You literally have too much free time and free bandwidth in your head.
posted by Lyn Never at 10:50 PM on January 12, 2014 [8 favorites]

Best answer: I'm sorry you're having a hard time.
What you're experiencing is called limerence, and it can be a huge bummer. Your obsessive thoughts are an anxious reaction to the notion of potential rejection. You've already talked about this with your therapist, so I apologize if any of this is redundant.

What has helped me in the past to deal with my own limerence/ anxious attachment style is to focus on cultivating a really good relationship with myself. The thought here is that if you do not derive your feelings of self worth from external sources (your perception of what others think of you), but rather from yourself, then you can begin to train yourself to cling less as a reaction to potential rejection. Some ways to do this could be:

-Take time to give yourself compliments. Really think it through and do this with deliberate intention. Of course they can be little compliments like, you look nice today, and those are great too, but dig deep and think about the values and qualities you possess that you really admire, or that would be easy to admire in a friend.

-You already said you value independence and alone time. This is so great! Do something to make your alone time special for yourself. Shit, take yourself on a date! Taking time to treat yoself to a movie, a nice dinner, or even a bubble bath and a glass of wine/ a good book can feel totally luxurious and special, almost like a little secret just for you.

-What jaguar said. Literally. It might seem hilariously basic at first, but it really works. This is what i'm smelling, this is what i'm hearing, this is how my toes feel, etc. etc. If you're thinking about those things, it will be impossible for you to think about your
SO at the same time.


Finally, the most important facet of being kind to yourself in this situation, in my opinion, is: do NOT beat yourself up for having these thoughts. Pre-disposition for anxious attachment starts at a very, very young age (infancy!). It will not necessarily always manifest in every relationship in your life but can be hard to control when it does. When you find yourself having obsessive thoughts, just recognize that you're having them and move on. You can't control your thoughts. You CAN control how you react to your thoughts. Be nice to yourself!
posted by lettuce dance at 11:06 PM on January 12, 2014 [8 favorites]

Rather than 'stop thinking of an elephant,' I would go ahead and indulge in the good parts, like sharing funny things online, continuing conversations via text, etc., because those things are awesome. I understand being leery of it, but in my experience, it's fine to think about your SO when they're not around: a leeeetle bit of emotional dependence beyond friendship is the stuff 23-year relationships are made of, at least as far as I can tell. And in time the frequency of it will wane, but hopefully not disappear.

It's the "Is he ignoring me? Have I upset him?" worrying that seems clearly problematic. I have no idea whether you're struggling there with self-esteem, walking on eggshells to keep him from making more 'rash' decisions, recovery from the past emotional abuse, intrusive thoughts caused by depression, trust issues, abandonment fears, a more traumatic experience of the breakup than you've mentioned, or what. If I randomly guess that greater self-esteem/self-acceptance would allow you to be more cool about not hearing from him, I suppose that's unlikely to be a bad thing to work on, though my actual guess is you'll need your therapist to help figure out the true causes.

Anyway, if you find yourself worrying about what he thinks, that's where I'd start trying to pull back and say, "Well, I'm worth it anyway, regardless of what's going on here, and this will be fine, even if it requires some reasonable/loving discussion later."
posted by Monsieur Caution at 11:15 PM on January 12, 2014 [4 favorites]

I dunno, sockermom. This sounds perfectly normal to me. It seems there are two very good reasons you think about him all the time:

- You prefer a closer relationship than the one you have. You think about him all the time and you want him to think about you all the time too.
- He broke up with you with no warning, and hasn't given you a good reason it won't happen again, so you are vigilant against him doing it again.

Your thinking about him makes a lot of sense. You can do some mind tricks to prevent it from happening so much (meditation, flow state activities, spending deep emotional time with other people, etc.), but I think it's happening for a good reason and there's really no way around that.

I think you and he need to have some serious discussions about the two points above. Why doesn't he want to spend more time with you? Is it his nature, or something between you? Does he think that will change? And about the break up... how will he make sure it doesn't happen again so you can trust him?

I think you'll calm down a lot when you get some good answers to those questions.
posted by 3491again at 1:15 AM on January 13, 2014 [10 favorites]

Number one, your previous relationship was abusive, which means you were thinking about it all the time - that's the idea, to get you thinking about the abuser all the time.

Once that's gone, for a long time afterwards you're used to having an antagonist in your mind, so when that's taken away, you get this constant feeling like when you step on a stair-step that isn't there. This will wear off eventually.

As for your current relationship, well, he dumped you without warning before, so of course you're hypervigilant for signs that he might do it again. Maybe you missed something before? Maybe if you paid more attention you'd spot it again and head it off at the pass?

Obsessive thoughts are just thoughts in your head, you know. Even if you keep thinking about them, that's not a crime. It's your head, you can think about whatever you want to.

Obsessions get boring though, don't they? But at least you can get on with your life and keep pursuing your interests, even while you are obsessing about something.

I've read all the tips about How To Stop Obsessing and, you know, whatever. My brain always gets bored eventually... Usually a long time after I do.

When it's time to break up, you'll know.
posted by tel3path at 1:30 AM on January 13, 2014 [3 favorites]

Best answer: I noticed that you said that you feel secure in the knowledge that he likes you, but that you love him. I don't know if it was just the way that you phrased it, but if there really is a mismatch in the way you feel about each other, then your anxiety is understanable, especially given the breakup.

Unfortunately there's not really anything either of you could do about such a mismatch; if he's not in love then neither you nor he could make that happen. You'd just kind of have to wait and see if his feelings catch up to yours, which is tough.

One thing you might be able to address though... you mentioned that you get anxious when you don't hear back from him, or when plans change. Are those things that happen frequently? Because if so, you'd be perfectly within your rights to let him know it bugs you when he does that and ask him to change.
posted by Asparagus at 8:35 AM on January 13, 2014 [2 favorites]

when our plans change it makes me feel a lot worse than I think is healthy. I worry when I don't hear back from him

I don't blame you for worrying. He dumped you out of the blue, and he's been unable to explain why he did so.

Further, it sounds like even in the short time you've been back together, he's already treating you a bit carelessly, when he should be treating you with extra care.

Is he not realizing that he needs to re-earn your trust through consistency of word and action?

"Dude, my bad, won't happen again, I really like you" isn't sufficient to show he is trust-worthy in my book. I'd be twitchy too.

Solution as always I suppose is to talk about it with him, and let him know you need a bit more TLC and consideration to feel supported and safe. It's not asking too much.
posted by nacho fries at 8:47 AM on January 13, 2014 [3 favorites]

I'm late on this, but I am not sure how much your anxiety plays into this, but as a personal reference point:

I want to share every funny thing with my fiance, every frustration, every tidbit of my life. and I just.. do?

like, even before we lived together or anything, we sent on average 200 texts a day on days we didn't see each other. that's a lot!

now we text or chit-chat on gtalk throughout the work day, go home to the same house where we follow each other from room to room talking or watching tv together or reading or cooking.

we spend time apart doing things separately of course, we're not crazy attached at the hip, but it's okay to do what you want to do. I know tons of couples who do this, and it's not weird. it's possible you're just too early in the relationship to feel comfortable, and feeling too unsure of yourself and being afraid to "smother" him or be "clingy".

I actually find that I spend much less time obsessing about my fiance then I did before I just talked to him whenever I wanted to, because there's no need to think "oooh I texted him an hour ago, I shouldn't text him about gandalf's staff in the hobbit being different, I'll just wait and tell him later" which overall takes much more obsessing than just saying it.

see how the relationship shakes out, but you may need someone who is more available to you, loves hearing from you about little things throughout the day, enjoys that connection being open all the time. your current beau may even BE that guy. does he dislike if you communicate too much? if he is happy to hear from you and responds when he can, then see how he feels about it, and go crazy if you want.
posted by euphoria066 at 3:39 PM on January 13, 2014 [3 favorites]

Response by poster: Thanks for the advice from everyone.

I am working more diligently on the whole "focus on the present" thing. The thing that I was doing incorrectly was that I would yell at myself if I caught myself thinking about my boyfriend. My therapist reminded me to gently say to myself "You're doing it again, no need to think about this now" instead of beating myself up for it in my head. I do have plenty of things going on in my life, but I'm finding that I am still obsessing - I'm plenty busy, and one of the reasons I asked this question is that this obsessive thinking is getting in the way of my busy life that I enjoy very much.

I appreciate the advice to text him a lot more but I would go crazy if I had that kind of relationship. The problem here is that I don't want that kind of relationship: my brain might be built for it, either because of patterns of previous relationships or my personality or both, but it's not what I want.

I think the young rope-rider has it. I think that what might really be going on under the surface here is that I love him and want a more committed relationship than he wants right now (although that has been very confusing because he acts like he wants it to be very serious, but the only thing that I can pinpoint that is not "serious" about this relationship is that he hasn't said he loves me [good catch, Asparagus] although he certainly behaves like he does consistently). He says he's not sure of what he wants with me. I want to give him some space to figure it out, because I love him and really enjoy and appreciate him. But I also love myself and don't want to string myself along. If this obsessive thoughts thing continues, I will leave him - it's just not the way I want to be. I'll work on it for a few more months and then I will leave.

Thanks for everyone's thoughts. I really appreciate it.
posted by sockermom at 11:03 AM on January 14, 2014 [3 favorites]

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