How to get over the petty stuff to maintain a healthy relationship
April 24, 2014 10:35 AM   Subscribe

The relationship is great and we both see a future together, but at times I tend to focus on insignificant things or feel insecure for no rational reason. I want to prevent unnecessary conflicts arising from these feelings.

We've been together for nearly a year now (me: f.26 him: m.29). We'd known each other through mutual friends for a few months prior, but once we got together, it all happened pretty fast. He'd shown nothing but commitment to me from the start and had taken all the first moves (brought up topics like moving in together) as far as moving the relationship to the next step. I've been surprised but also pleased by this as most the guys I've dated have not been as communicative or into the "let's talk about our future" stuff. I really want to move toward positive thinking and not get paranoid about the small stuff, which I think is really important in maintaining any relationship.

Some background - Three weeks after we had first started hooking up/dating, I had to go on a five-week vacation that had been previously planned. We hadn't established the relationship at this point, but saw each other about twice a week and texted (him to me mostly) nearly everyday. Night before I left, he asked me what I wanted to do when I was gone (regarding us). I told him honestly that I thought we had a good thing going and I want to continue it when I come back, and that while I don't want him to sleep with anyone else, I understand at three weeks in, it's really not my place to request this. He didn't say anything either way, and just said that he had thought he wouldn't mind if I did since I was taking my big vacation.

We texted a lot while I was gone, exchanged a lot of emails about how we missed each other. It drove me crazy to be gone from him, I think especially knowing that he had been fairly promiscuous before me. Anyhow, I came back and he got me at the airport, i later asked if he had been with anyone else and he said no. He told me his ex (high school, never had sex with) was in town and very single and asked him to meet up and he declined so as not to be in that situation. And turned down another previous FWB as well.

A few months later, he went to a weekend-long camping art fest, invited me but i declined (later regretted). I felt extremely insecure and paranoid over this whole weekend, thinking about him camping out there by himself around lots of hippies on drugs. His phone reception was really bad too, hence more insecurities from no responses. Much later during a relevant conversation, he told me that his previous FWB was there and implied wanting to share the tent with him, and it was a hard no from him. He said he had not told me because he didn't want to upset me, which actually bothered me in the way that he thought I would get upset over something which he didn't do wrong, making me think that he thinks I'm irrational. Anyway, wasn't a big deal but whenever I remember that weekend it just makes me feel uneasy for some reason.

There is no rational reason for me to think he'd ever cheated or would cheat on me, but every odd while I get really paranoid and imagine scenarios where he's living a double life (totally crazy). Like if he gets a text, and doesn't say who it's from. I don't want to keep tabs on him and I don't want that kind of dynamic. I know he'd already cut off people from his life like his previous FWBs, on his own accord. I feel perhaps because he volunteers so much info all the time, whenever I don't know something trivial, I get paranoid.

I know his ex (how we met actually) and I know he's never done anything of the sort. He's very much against misogyny/male dominance of any kind (in daily life, sex, etc). He's voluntarily told me a lot of things I never asked for (his plans for the night if it's not with me, encounters with girls like the ones mentioned above). It's just been a really great relationship. We've had issues with our fights (I shut down, he snaps) but we've talked a lot about it and are both working on it. I know I get petty sometimes, and I'm trying to work on it. That and being paranoid kind of go hand in hand I guess. So, how do I calm myself when I get that paranoid feeling and just get passed it? I can't even figure out if it's entirely jealousy or just not knowing something, perhaps the latter. I don't want to harp on insignificant details and cause any conflict that could damage the relationship, and I definitely don't want him to think I don't trust him because he has done nothing to warrant suspicion. Help me toward a more positive trusting relationship and self in general.
posted by monologish to Human Relations (17 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: He said he had not told me because he didn't want to upset me, which actually bothered me in the way that he thought I would get upset over something which he didn't do wrong, making me think that he thinks I'm irrational.

You wrote a wall here about how you were/are feeling extremely insecure and paranoid. I don't think he was hugely off base with that one...

I don't think this is jealousy as much as your being extremely insecure in your relationship, and it doesn't sound like your feeling so insecure is due to something he is doing. For whatever reason you don't seem to trust him. Maybe this is your first "serious" relationship that you actually see going somewhere, and you're just really scared of losing it? Or maybe there is an imbalance in your relationship somehow. Maybe you feel like he is "out of your league"? I have no clue on the reason behind it.

If I were you I would level with him. Tell him how you've been feeling. Make sure he is crystal clear that he has done NOTHING to warrant suspicion and he that he hasn't done anything wrong, but none the less you've been feeling insecure and paranoid. Tell him that you don't like feeling this way and you're worried that your insecurity and paranoia will damage the relationship. When I was feeling paranoid and insecure in the beginning of my relationship with my husband I did exactly this.

For me just outing the paranoia and insecurity does a great deal helping me to overcome it. It isn't this secret shame anymore, and it doesn't grow in my head the same way. It also opens the option of saying to him from time to time "[thing that just happened] is making me feel paranoid again. Not your fault, but wanted you to know in case I'm acting weirdly." Again, by telling him it outs the paranoia and often diffuses it for me.

Also maybe ask him to stop telling you about past sexual partners because clearly that isn't helping you.

But really, this is YOUR issue to solve. He can help a bit in the interim while you learn some coping skills for these types of insecure feelings, but the answer isn't for him to show you every single text he gets and to check in every 30 minutes while he is out. (I know you weren't suggesting that.)

When you have a bout of paranoia and insecurity and can stop yourself and ask "Okay, what exactly is making me paranoid? What am I scared is going to happen? How likely is it that it will happen?". Deconstruct the paranoia as best you can and try to find a root. You may in time see a reoccurring theme to your paranoia, and you may be able to better see a way of managing it. Also, when you start thinking those paranoid insecure thoughts just find something to distract yourself. Go work out at the gym. Knit. Go online and look at cat pictures. Whatever. Don't give in to the desire to dwell on them.
posted by PuppetMcSockerson at 11:11 AM on April 24, 2014 [1 favorite]

Best answer: So I'm assuming you guys have had 'the talk' and are now 'a monogamous couple,' correct?

I guess I'm different from you a little, since I find his consistent "oh hey I coulda had some sweet sweet lovin over there with my old FWB but I said No" a bit much. I had no less than five guys ask me out when I first started seeing my sweetie (it was raining men that autmn) and I said no and never mentioned it to him because what for? He's trusting, I'm trustworthy. Why tell him about it? It's like saying I could have farted over there but I held it in. What do you want, a medal?

So this would seem weird to me, unless he knows he's kinda got commitment-flakiness in which case yay! He really likes you and wants to keep things above board where you can see it. You might be picking up on that a little but again he sounds like he's got both feet in here.

Maybe all that paranoia is that you're used to having something to worry about, and now you have nothing to worry about, and old habits die hard. Plus you really like him.

So when he gets that text, feel free to ask: hey who wuz that? but in a bored tone of voice cus whatever it could be his sister or his mom and he tells you everything anyway so no big deal.

And when the train starts up imagining things, you can think: hey how creative of me! I wonder what other story lines I can concoct. Maybe he's an alien sent to study me! And then think of something else. Or think of all the honest ways he DOES have. Like how you know the passcode to his phone and he lets you answer it if he's driving. How you've met his family. And all those other little cues of casual trust.

And then after a while I think this stuff goes away. Just remind yourself he'll tell you whenever you ask, and let yourself relax here.
posted by St. Peepsburg at 11:30 AM on April 24, 2014 [8 favorites]

You might want to look at ways of coping with anxiety; they will likely be applicable to this situation.

The Anxiety and Phobia Workbook is a good place to start.
posted by jaguar at 11:47 AM on April 24, 2014 [3 favorites]

Have you struggled with paranoia or insecurity in previous relationships? Because, if not, if you've found it easy to trust your partner in the past... then maybe this isn't just you. Not that I see a reason to assume he's cheating based on anything you've written here, but I don't know, I also wouldn't be thrilled if my boyfriend made a point to tell me about women who wanted to hook up with him.
posted by Asparagus at 11:52 AM on April 24, 2014

This is your insecurity and your jealousy. These emotional problems are yours to solve. I'd imagine that you'd probably have them with other partners as well. You have to break these habits yourself.

Right off the bat, you need to stop being curious about his past and you have to tell him that you'd rather not hear about past girlfriends/hookups/relationships anymore. Tell him that you know you have a tendency to be jealous and you're trying to put a stop to it. He's telling you all of these things because you're asking. Stop being nosy about his communications with others - you are feeding a beast that will never stop being hungry. It's far better to starve it out. If you're suspicious and jealous, no amount of information from him will stop you from feeling that way - it's a temporary fix at best. Get in the habit of resisting fantasies about all of his possible transgressions. If you feel those feelings coming on, distract yourself with a new activity or calming ritual. Don't allow yourself to dwell in the negative fantasy space.

When you display jealous and insecure behavior when your partner is behaving in a trustworthy manner, you are behaving irrationally. He is right to recognize that. Stop acting irrationally and he'll stop treating you like you can't handle information rationally. If you don't get this under control, it will become a serious issue. No one wants to feel like their every move is scrutinized and that regardless of their actual actions, that their partner will never stop being suspicious.
posted by quince at 12:09 PM on April 24, 2014 [8 favorites]

Response by poster: I just want to add that I understand this are my issues and not the relationship. I don't think a different person is the solution because I realize that this is all me and in my head. This does not happen often. We get along great, but there are just these random moments and I want to work on getting past them.

I've had two serious relationships prior to this and they were both back in college time so dynamics are different, I know I've had anxiety and insecurity issues in the past. Mostly, I'm just looking for tips and advice on how not to focus on petty things/past in a relationship and how to be less anxious when you know in your head that it's irrational.

fwiw, "promiscuous" is a word he used as well when we did talk about that so it wasn't meant to be malicious or anything.
posted by monologish at 12:22 PM on April 24, 2014

This is probably not what you want to hear, but based on what you've written here I think it might behoove you to break up with this man and spend some time being single.

It's not about this guy - you say you know it's you. Some issues cannot be worked through in the context of a relationship. It is not fair to you or to him for you to be dating right now. You need time alone. To know yourself. Get good with yourself. Figure out what is going on under the surface, what is making you jealous and anxious.

I'm sorry. This is not going to go away unless you work on it and turn inward and figure yourself out, perhaps with the aid of a therapist.
posted by sockermom at 12:53 PM on April 24, 2014

I just want to point out a way to reframe that might be helpful. You know that this is an irrational thing that is in your head (good on you for figuring that out), but all the context you give around it is in terms of him, his behavior, and the relationship (that would only be relevant if there were some rational reason to be dissatisfied with him, his behavior, or the relationship). You don't say what is going on with you in those moments.

My guess is it might stem from being Hungry, Angry, Lonely, or Tired. Or it could be some other little subconscious thing, something that has nothing whatsoever to do with this in any logical way, that pops up from time to time to nag at you.

I suggest that when you get this feeling, you observe what's going for you in that moment. Where are you? How does your body feel? What happened immediately before you got the feeling? You're feeling jealous at the moment; ok, how does feeling jealous make you feel?

Meditation techniques where you observe your thoughts and release them might be helpful. For example, anything by Jon Kabat-Zinn.
posted by Bentobox Humperdinck at 1:23 PM on April 24, 2014 [2 favorites]

This is just you, and it has nothing to do with your relationship. So you need to address this in a mature manner, and that means....therapy.

There's no magic spell that's going to make you stop having these thoughts and worse, acting on them. The constant need for reassurance is off-putting and at some point, you'll be tired of being a knot of anxiety and your BF will be seriously over having to talk you off a ledge because he smiled at the barista while getting his latte.

Since it's not just this guy, and it's irrational, you know what the next step is.

As for all this fast moving...slow down. You don't need to move in together, I don't recommend doing that until you're engaged to be married. (For lots of reasons.)

I think you jumped into this very quickly, and now you both need some space to process what's happening, and to just be in the moment.

There's no prize for moving from milestone to milestone, and until you can say that you feel 100% comfortable with this guy, with every aspect of your life, there's no need to rush into moving in, getting engaged, getting married or starting a family. Not even getting a dog.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 1:42 PM on April 24, 2014 [2 favorites]

I think making a big deal out of turning down advances is kind of a lame move. It can be innocent cluelessness but it can also be a subtle "hey, other chicks want me too you know" mind-fuckery thing. My current SO is a good looking dude, I know women come on to him when I'm not around. I would be unimpressed if he made a big deal out of how he turned them down every time. I briefly dated a guy a while ago who was always bringing it up and all I could think was: That's what you're supposed to do when you're in a relationship, that's what I do and every other person who is faithful to their partner. Am I supposed to be grateful?

In summary: he could be over-sharing out of innocent awkwardness or he could be trying to puff himself up as a good guy in your eyes. Either way it's super awkward and it's ok to tell him that.
posted by fshgrl at 2:24 PM on April 24, 2014 [7 favorites]

Best answer: I really don't see anything about this that suggests you should break up? It sounds like he's a great guy, committed to you, and that you have some minor insecurities that you want to learn to work through to be a better partner and feel better yourself.

I don't have much to offer about how to go about that, besides the obvious therapy (or a CBT workbook if therapy is not affordable - the Feeling Good Handbook is great) - but just wanted to say that your relationship sounds mostly functional and healthy, I think you could work through these issues while still in a relationship with him, and that you guys are lucky to have each other and you shouldn't feel broken or unworthy or anything because you've got some irrational insecurity going on. Working through conflict and challenges deepens intimacy - good luck to you both!
posted by whalebreath at 3:05 PM on April 24, 2014 [3 favorites]

I really don't blame you for feeling insecure and even a bit jealous. His constant need to tell you all about the many girls vying for his jock, and his constant need to tell you about his turning down various opportunities to have sex, are serious red flags to me. My ex also engaged in this kind of behavior - without my asking he'd tell me all about who was crushing on him and/or the opportunities to 'hook up'. It caused some serious insecurity and I lived through the 5 year relationship constantly feeling that he was NOT passing up those opportunities and was probably cheating on me. It came out shortly after he broke up with me that he had been sleeping around the last 2 years of our relationship (and had spent the entire relationship cheating online).

So just because he says he's passing on these opportunities doesn't necessarily mean he is. And I could see how knowing that possibility might make the insecurity worse. But you either trust him or you don't. If you don't, I suggest some serious introspection to determine why that is and if there's anything he could do to put your mind at ease (PuppetMcSockerson had some wonderful suggestions for that). And if you do trust him, you just need to remind yourself of that anytime you start to feel insecure/jealous. I've broken myself out of downward spirals of insecurity (in my current relationship) by simply going "Pffft! What am I worrying about? I trust my partner. He's a good guy." and then finding something else to occupy my brain. The less my brain is occupied, the harder it is to break that downward spiral of insecurity. So, just remind yourself that you trust your guy and he's committed to you. Then find something else to occupy your thoughts (writing? drawing? dancing? running? outing with friends?). Good luck!
posted by stubbehtail at 4:07 PM on April 24, 2014 [2 favorites]

My ex husband really was "not the cheating kind." When he called me from Saudi Arabia to frantically say "Don't believe the rumors! Yes, a lot of guys are sleeping around but I am not!" I laughed at him and told him they would need to provide photographic evidence to get me to take it seriously (but also that I had not head any such thing because I wasn't hanging with the people who were spreading the rumors). It was years later that he mentioned that women had actually been hitting on him while he was in Saudi. In his mind, it was not worth commenting on. Yes, it upset me to learn it, even years later. It would have upset me more had he essentially rubbed my nose in it at the time.

So perhaps your "paranoia and insecurity" are not mere anxiety. Even if he is not unfaithful, he seems to be jerking your chain with constantly letting you know he could have other women. That's not very nice behavior. It tends to be rooted in either insecurity or some kind of hostility. In other words, it tends to be some attempt to say "I am hot. Really!" or "You can be replaced. So don't get too comfy/uppity/something." That is not really the stuff of which loving commitment is made.
posted by Michele in California at 4:17 PM on April 24, 2014 [8 favorites]

I just want to add that I understand this are my issues and not the relationship.

I don't think these are your issues. I think you're with someone who makes you feel anxious. It would be your issue if every relationship made you feel this way, but I think no matter what phase of schmoopy you're in, long term, this won't work for you. There's something about this guy and the dynamic that just isn't healthy for you.
posted by discopolo at 6:05 PM on April 24, 2014

A lot of people are bashing you for being insecure, even going so far to say you should break up with him to spare him from your jealousy. Geez!

Were you insecure in previous relationships? If not, then he's probably doing something to make you feel jealous. It doesn't have to be because he's prone to cheating. It could be because he's bad at setting boundaries, or because he's flirting with exes to make himself feel desired.

Why did his FWB ask to share a tent during Burning Man? When most people meet up with a previous FWB and find out they're in a yearlong relationship, they would never ask to share a tent. She must've gotten some signals from him that it's okay to ask.

Is this the same FWB who asked to get together during your 5-week trip? So after being turned down because the guy is in a committed relationship, she then asked to share a tent? Either she's hyper-aggressive, or he's giving her subtle signals that he is attracted.

It's quite possible for a guy to say on the surface "NO" but yet do other things that give the indication that he's still very attracted. For example, he might spend 20 minutes talking about all the reasons why not. He can pretend he's saying no, but she can see the mixed message that he sat right next to her for 20 minutes talking with emotional intensity about the two of them.
posted by cheesecake at 6:25 PM on April 24, 2014 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: hal_c_on -

I don't know what made you want to post three times to tell me to break it off. I think you are assuming a lot here. The only time I've asked him about other girls is when I came back from vacation and that was because we had left it open. The other times he volunteered, perhaps to just be honest with me. I agree that it does not feel like he's playing mind games. I clearly value him and his feelings and that is why I am asking for advice here to solve my own issues. We have nights apart and those are not the times I feel this way, so this clingy suspicious girlfriend image you are describing doesn't seem fit. I haven't shared most of these thoughts with him.

Perhaps I should've re-framed my question because I feel like I misrepresented the situation. Issues I've always struggled with, like insecurities, are manifesting itself in this relationship. I'm realizing this is a deeper issue, and I'm also realizing I'm finally with someone that I want to better myself for.
posted by monologish at 9:07 PM on April 24, 2014 [4 favorites]

Best answer: So I tend to be insecure, anxious, and have issues trusting people. I've found that doing CBT work has really helped me with this. The Feeling Good book mentioned above is really good for this, if you can't afford a therapist. I will say that working with a therapist helped me a LOT, so if you can afford it, definitely go! We do recommend therapy here on the Green a lot, but for me, it's kind of a shortcut - yeah, I'll probably get to the same point either way, but I usually resolve things like this a lot quicker through therapy. It doesn't mean there's something wrong with you, it just means that there's something a neutral party could help you figure out faster than you would on your own.

That said, in the meantime, I've found it really helpful to "voice" (even if it's just in my head) to myself what's going on. It's almost like a running commentary: "Huh. I'm feeling really jealous and insecure right now. My stomach is in knots and my anxiety levels are rising. I'm also feeling really unhappy because I'm starting to become anxious. Let's see, right before this we were talking about the acquaintance in our group who hits on my husband, and who will be at a large gathering that we're attending this weekend. I really don't like her. I'd be ok if she moved to Antarctica. That probably wasn't nice, but that's how I feel. Ok. Is there anything he or I could do to make this easier on me? Let's see, I'll wear the dress that makes me feel amazing to the party. That'll help." And so on and so forth. And, as PuppetMcSockerson said above, I'll usually share an edited version with my husband - something like, "Hey, I know So and So is going to be at the party, and I'm working my way through being ok with that so I don't act like an ass. I might be a little quiet tonight."
posted by RogueTech at 9:46 PM on April 24, 2014 [4 favorites]

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