Suddenly long distance, suddenly panicked
May 16, 2016 7:10 AM   Subscribe

Our relationship is really great by any measure and makes me very happy... but now we're apart for the summer, and I'm stuck in obsessive anxiety about my feelings. Help!

My SO (f) and I (m) have been together for six months, and we are realistic but consider our relationship to be pretty serious. We have great conversations, or silences if we feel like it, we have had very similar emotional/life experiences, we value each other and tell each other often how much we appreciate each other and the relationship. We communicate very well together and feel very comfortable opening up to and supporting each other. We have great in-jokes and talk about all the little things we love about each other. We're also very attracted to each other and have great sex. At the same time, we are not co-dependent, and I value and am attracted to her independence and separate personality.

However, I am also an extremely anxious and self-doubting person. Add difficulty points: we live in an environment where we see each other (and have opportunities to be very affectionate) on a daily basis, but now we're apart for the summer and will only be able to physically see each other every couple weeks.

We've been apart for a few days and already my brain is starting at it - the waning of romantic *feelings* has led me to panic that something is wrong, I am just "pretending" to enjoy the relationship, I'm just "pretending" to like her. I panic about interacting with her - texting, calling, seeing her, engaging in acts of affection/sex - because I'm afraid the feeling behind it isn't right or sufficient. The same thing happened to me the last time we were separated for an extended period of time like this, but I got through it.

It periodically arises during the year as well, and during that time I've been reading a lot of Sheryl Paul, and I've found Erich Fromm's concept of love to be very convincing and to sync up exactly with my worldview. Whenever these worries come up, I just think about that, and they subside. When they do persist before a date or before we have sex, I hold on to these ideas enough to be open and loving, and the experience always turns out to be great, because it's not about the feelings but about sharing the experience of it. I really believe this. And I really like the idea of settling into a warm, comforting, non-passionate love, but the decline in crushy feelings makes me very anxious.

Now I'm away for the summer and seem to be able to do nothing (to have nothing *to* do) but get stuck in this rut of panic over and over. How can I really get out of this? And how can I interact with my SO in the meantime?
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (6 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
I think that you need to find things to do other than think about your SO during the summer. Get involved with activities, go visit friends you haven't seen in a while (if you're home from school, which it sounds like), get involved with a summer job or travel and see some sights. A lot of the panic, it sounds like, is a lot of time spent thinking about the relationship, which is something people do when they're in new relationships (and I'd call 6 months still fairly "new"), but the obsessing should be able to diminish a bit.

Certainly interact with your SO, but maybe make it at regular times, and be sure to talk about things other than the two of you as a couple. Stop worrying about your feelings, her feelings, etc., and start interacting on the level of people who have interests outside of just one another.
posted by xingcat at 7:26 AM on May 16, 2016

The same thing happened ...but I got through it....I've been reading a lot...I just think about that...I hold on to these ideas...I really believe this...And I really like the idea...

All of these things are inside your head. To enjoy your summer while missing your girlfriend and dealing with the (totally normal, especially for a 6-mo. relationship) fear that you might not pick up where you left off, you need to get outside of your head. Stop reading books and thinking. Switch to making plans and doing. Do other things, spend time with other people, talk to friends/family/a therapist, build furniture out of pallets, etc.

Now I'm away for the summer and seem to be able to do nothing (to have nothing *to* do) but get stuck in this rut of panic over and over. How can I really get out of this?

By doing [lots of] things with [lots of] people.

And how can I interact with my SO in the meantime?

By telling her about [thing] you did with [people], asking about her [thing] she did with [people], telling her you will miss her on the weekend when you're doing [thing] with [people], lather, rinse, repeat.
posted by headnsouth at 7:28 AM on May 16, 2016 [2 favorites]

The problem isn't the relationship, or love, or anything - it's the anxiety and self-doubt, which by the way isn't YOU, it's just something you're having to deal with.

This isn't very easy to deal with, don't get me wrong, but I'm very much like you and what's worked for me is the 4 Step Method by Jeffrey Schwartz, as described in the book 'YOU ARE NOT YOUR BRAIN'. It helps to separate You vs your Anxious Thoughts.

If I ever get a thought that makes me feel uncomfortable and anxious like "Maybe he isn't attracted to me anymore." I will-

1. Relabel it. "This is a false brain message. Moreover, it's an unhelpful thought which only serves to make me uncomfortable and confuse me. It's not me, it's not coming from the True Me, it's just my brain."

2. Reframe it. "The reason I am having this thought is because yes, I do have tendencies of self doubt and I have let these tendencies take over my self-identity for so long. It feels natural to have these kinds of thoughts. However, as I am now making changes to improve my anxiety, I will not let this thought take over much longer. It will be uncomfortable, it will be painful, and I will have urges to go down the spiral, but this will not happen again."

3. Refocus. "Instead of going down bad spiral, reading through our texts again and again or other harmful behaviors, I will go to the gym, read a good book, do some creative writing, etc. I will take this energy and put it to good use, even when these negative feelings and urges are strong."

4. Revalue. "These false brain messages serve no purpose to me whatsoever. In fact, they are completely detrimental to me, encouraging me to feel even more self doubt and anxiety. I value myself much more than falling to these negative and destructive thoughts."

Trust me, it's really helped! The key is to withstand those negative urges and feelings and move forward with the relabel, reframe, refocus and revalue. The book talks about rewiring the brain with these thoughts, and I can really feel the effects of it. It's like, if you've always 1. had a negative thought 2. go down anxiety thought spiral 3. freak out, that's become a familiar pattern for your brain. Introducing these 4 steps will definitely help break that pattern.
posted by rhythm_queen at 7:31 AM on May 16, 2016 [16 favorites]

3 months isn't really a long enough amount of time to start another relationship. I mean, it's long enough to have a one night stand or a fling, or to meet someone else and get past the very preliminary stages of establishing rapport, but that's about it.

Why don't you focus on self-improvement for a while? Relationships can involve a lot of compromise and take a lot of our time, so that self-improvement projects and hobbies get pushed aside. Why not take these three months to start eating healthy, working out, cleaning out your house, buying new clothes, or whatever?

It will fit in well with doing some soul-searching and re-evaluating. I didn't start feeling like I was relieved to be apart from my partner until well after 6 months. We were headily in love at 6 months. This could be a sign that you're not right for each other, or it could be a sign that you've approached this relationship off the bat with too much togetherness and are (unknowingly) sort of smothering yourself. I know you claim you are not co-dependent, but you do sound pretty enmeshed and smoopy. It could be either or both. Or it could be that you haven't given yourself enough time to miss her.

It's too hard to make the call right now, and only you can do it. You will need to have some serious conversations with yourself, do a lot of thinking, and ask hard questions. You will need to not be afraid of the answer even if it turns out to be "I'm actually not as into her as I thought." Do it now- it's much easier at 6 months than at a year and a half. Just sit with your feelings or lack thereof and accept yourself. Maybe these feelings are a lie and they're tripping you up, maybe they're the truth and you just didn't have time to examine them before. Accept yourself either way.
posted by quincunx at 7:31 AM on May 16, 2016

Try writing letters to slow down parts of the communication. So rather than bombard with constant things all day, you think, I better save that for the letter. You'll still want to call and text periodically, but there's something pretty amazing about paper love letters.
posted by advicepig at 7:54 AM on May 16, 2016 [3 favorites]

Seconding writing with letters. I find that Skype and text messaging (especially text messaging) create a kind of false sense of intimacy that is really degrading over time. Like something is wrong and you can't put your finger on it - you're literally out of sync.

Will this difference be across time zones in a significant way? If so then especially watch out for Skype effect: there is something about having your evening be someone else's morning that really messes with your brain.

Good luck! Three months isn't too long, but it's long enough to be miserable.
posted by Stilling Still Dreaming at 8:07 AM on May 16, 2016

« Older Bipolar Triggers - Person to Person   |   How to protect a desk Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.