I love my boyfriend, but feel tense near him. Why?
May 9, 2007 7:30 AM   Subscribe

I love my boyfriend and enjoy his company. He loves me a lot. Why then do I feel on edge when I'm near him?

[this will get long long looooooooooooooong...]

My boyfriend and I have been together nearly nine months. He is my first relationship; I'm his third. We've had typical ups and downs, but we've always enjoyed being with each other and we care for each other. We both live on campus and see each other nearly every day (barring holidays). We do enjoyable things together, we're very comfortable with each other (physically, mentally, emotionally, etc), and we respect and support each other.

I have had a history of panic attacks and depression, and lately they have been getting worse. I took BC pills for four days in February (Mercilon) and stopped because they were making a mess of my mind and body. As soon as I stopped, things got better, but the anxiety and depression remain. My boyfriend is SUPER supportive of me: he relaxes me, gets me what I need (usually water), calms me down. He'd wake up in the middle of the night and relax me if things got bad. I have not received this level of support from anyone else and I really appreciate that.

Right about that time I have been having nagging thoughts of breaking up with my boyfriend. They don't seem to have any rational explanation. The closest thing to that is one incident in early February (before the BC) where my boyfriend did something that made me feel very uncomfortable. I don't want to get into details, but suffice to say things nearly ended but we have worked through that and he has been very apologetic, working hard to ensure that it doesn't happen again. We did speak to people about it and they've all agreed that it was a misunderstanding and that he didn't wish me harm.

We have a policy of not keeping things in lest they blow up in our faces, so whenever we have issues with each other, we bring them up and discuss them maturely. We both have things to work on, but we ARE working on them and the effort shows. My boyfriend is aware of these nagging thoughts and supports my decision no matter what.

Things got worse a few days ago. We had a pretty good weekend, getting out of college and going around the city. on Monday night he came up to my room and chatted for a while. For some reason, though, the whole time he was talking I had this really strong bad feeling in my heart going "GO AWAY SHUT UP SHOO". I tried to fight it but after a while I relented and told him I was feeling that way. I started to doubt whether I really loved him, and that scared me. It was like I wanted to love him but my heart isn't letting me express that. He still said he supported me, he'll do what he can to help, he doesn't hold this against me.

The next day the feeling wouldn't go away. I went up to his room to snuggle for a bit (like we usually do) and I felt the strong urge to get away. We went to get breakfast and I could barely stand being in the same table. It felt terrible and awful. Here's someone I really love and now I can't stand next to them!

Indeed, that feeling made me so upset I spent the whole day crying and talking to three different counselors about it. (I also talked to my sister the night before.) I had classes that day but could barely concentrate. I wanted to know if it was still possible to love someone if you can't really feel it inside (it felt like something had possessed me), how do you tell you love someone? The common threads that came up are:

a) It could be biochemical - the BC hormones, my general anxiety/depression (I used to be medicated years ago), sleep deprivation, stress (we both go to uni and I'm very very active elsewhere, which is getting me down a little)

b) It could be emotional exhaustion; nothing necessarily wrong with my relationship

c) Around the 6-9months stage, the relationship evolves from twitterpatted bliss to companionship and friendship; not being used to this transition, I may have interpreted this as "relationship gone bad" when really it's "relationship adjusting"

d) Seeing my boyfriend everyday could get tiring on me

e) I'm overthinking things (which I am prone to doing)

Talking to three counselors and crying the whole day didn't make me totally better though. I was dying to get home. By the time I got home, I went to my boyfriend's room and begged for help. I felt very weak, tired, and on the brink of collapsing. He brought me up to my room, got me food and water, and tried his hardest to relax me and calm me down. He let me cry; I haven't cried so hard in a long time. I let out everything I'm feeling. I ask if he's tired of me being like this. He says he's fine, that he supports me. After a while I do relax, and sleep.

This morning I feel a bit better; however that "on edge" feeling I got near him is still there. It's not as strong but it's still there, a little. I'm fine with talking to him on the phone, or being at arm's distance. Even hanging out in his room is great. I feel like I'm in good company, that I'm safe and fine. But when he holds me or is generally very close I felt cagey. I go back to my room all alone and I feel better, but then I worry about whether this can survive, do I really love him if I'm feeling that way around him, blah blah. I can't win either way!! Even with this breakup thing, it's like:

Side A: Break up with him! Relationships shouldn't have pain!
Side B: The only reason it is in pain is because you're so obsessed with breaking up, dumbass. And there's no guarantee breaking up would make the pain go away.
Side A: BREAK UP! Just...because.
Side B: -_-

When I am around him, I am still happy, but I feel split in two. One side is happy and content, and the other side goes "but are you REALLY happy or just tricking yourself, hmm?" I haven't managed to be totally happy in a long time; I'd get pleased over small things but the anxiety sets in again. He's been absolutely wonderful to me, I feel his love for me so strongly, and yet I can't seem to muster the energy to show that love back. It's like the tables are turned; I used to be more effusive with my emotions while he'd hold back, but now he's more open with them and I'm the one unintentionally holding back. I WANT to show them, I just can't seem to bring myself to do so.

One time, in the midst of my anxiety and depression and obsessive thoughts, I asked for a break. AS SOON as I said that, I KNEW it was the wrong choice. I felt terrible the next day and went "ah, fuck it". I'm glad we didn't take that break, but I'm wondering if I need one now. The idea of breaking up with him is heartbreaking though. I can't stand it.

My Questions (FINALLY):

a) Why do I feel on edge when I'm near him? And why the sudden switch from "he relaxes me" to "he tenses me"? It really is like a switch.

b) Do I love my boyfriend less if I want to spend some time alone? How do I show him that I still love him? He says he knows I do, but *I*'m not even sure. Does seeing him nearly every day for nearly a year have a role in this?

c) How do I get these obsessive thoughts away? They've lost all basis and are just bothering me.

d) I've been told that BC hormones take about 6 months to get purged out of the system. The timing fits (The obsessive thoughts came after the BC) but since I only took 4 days' worth, does that matter? I did react very badly to it.

e) I've been told that I may not have totally forgiven for what happened in February. I thought I did, but could that be a concern? I don't think about that incident much, just as something that happened; right now I'm just more worried about these obsessive thoughts.

I may see a counselor again but right now I'm all counselled out. I did sign up for a program that involves regular psychology sessions but I haven't heard anything from them since.

The idea of not wanting to spend time with my boyfriend because my heart's being tense and anxious is just breaking my heart more. I want to spend time with him; I just don't want to feel tense just by being in the same square centimetre with him. If it wasn't for this anxiety, things are going very very well. It's all my self-doing. What can I do?
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (16 answers total) 11 users marked this as a favorite
If you're not enjoying your time with him, take a break. It's your first relationship, don't force yourself to stay in it if you're constantly doubting yourself, him and the union itself. It's definitely not fair to either of you. If he's as understanding as you say he is, he'll support you in this for your own sake.

Take the summer to relax, take some time for yourself doing what interests you and just enjoy the summer. But seriously, do something that relaxes you and takes you away from spending so much time thinking. You seem ridiculously stressed.
posted by jerseygirl at 7:52 AM on May 9, 2007

Wowzer, this sounds like a really tough situation! I can't answer all of your questions, but I'll try to answer a few of them.

"Do I love my boyfriend less if I want to spend some time alone?"

No! I am having a similar problem - I just moved in with my fiance and sometimes I really really just want him to leave for a few hours so I can have the place to myself! It's really frustrating for me that I have practically no Alone Time any more to recharge myself (I consider myself to be an introverted person). I love him to death, but sometimes I want him to stop touching me and tickling me and talking to me for 15 minutes!

This just means that when I start to get irritated and anxious, I tell him so, and go to another room to take a nap, or I go for a walk or go shopping, or I send him to the grocerty store. That half hour when I can be by myself is really nice.

It sounds like you have a really supportive dude, and it's great that you want to work things out. I think if you just cut yourself a little bit of slack, you'll feel a lot better. It's normal to start questioning a relationship. It's normal to feel like you need a little space. It's normal to feel guilty for questioning and not wanting to be attached at the hip. If you beat yourself up over every little thought and feeling you have, it just makes the anxiety a lot worse!

Give the situation a little bit of time, try to spend half an hour each day engaged in a pleasant activity by yourself, and see if the situation gets better.
posted by muddgirl at 7:55 AM on May 9, 2007 [1 favorite]

If you are irrational, you aren't going to be able to reason your way out. Yoga is my suggestion, and lots of it.
posted by ewkpates at 7:56 AM on May 9, 2007

By any chance is theire any history of sexual abuse in your past?

I know you can't answer in the thread but SOMETHING out of the ordinary is going on here. If it were just being tired of the relationship you wouldn't be having this level of angst.
posted by konolia at 7:58 AM on May 9, 2007

There's nothing wrong with your heart. The BC pills have just affected your sense of smell. The edginess is purely physical and instinctive, and will go away when you

(a) relax and let yourself feel what you feel, instead of whipping on yourself for feeling it

(b) wait until you get used to your partner's new smell

(c) get some good sleep.
posted by flabdablet at 7:58 AM on May 9, 2007

My friend, I think this has very little to do with your relationship/boyfriend and is probably a hormonal imbalance, maybe worsened by the brief introduction of BC. You're clearly depressed and anxious, as you're well aware, and your relationship might be serving as an outlet for expressing this. It's hard when you're feeling the way you do to see that internal forces are bringing about your angst, and instead you look frantically about outside yourself for a cause. You won't find it-- you have to try to address whatever is causing your mood swings and anxiety on a chemical level.

In terms of how to continue to have a relationship while you work on this, please know that there's absolutely nothing wrong with needing time to yourself. You need that to maintain your well-being and it has nothing to do with your feelings for your boyfriend. You're doing the both of you a favor by making sure both of you get some regular time alone.

Can you see a doctor about some antidepressants? Addressing this as anxiety/depression and NOT relationship issues will be very helpful, I think. It's great your boyfriend is supportive, but he can't make you well. You do need to get some help from a medical professional.

Take care of yourself.
posted by hollisimo at 8:05 AM on May 9, 2007

BC hormones can take a few months to fully clear your system, but if I am reading correctly, you only took the pills for four days. It seems extremely unlikely (if not impossible) that you are experiencing residual side effects from the four pills you took in February.

To be honest, your reaction to your boyfriend sounds a lot like a phase I went through a few times with various boyfriends -- except it didn't cause the extreme panic it seems to be generating here. I loved the person, I liked them, I thought I wanted to be with them, but at a certain point in the relationship I would suddenly feel strong...almost revulsion in their presence. In my experience, it is your subconscious telling you that you are not as comfortable in this relationship as you desperately want to believe. You care about the person, you want to hold on, you find it hard to believe that you should just chuck it in the absence of any "rational" reasons for breaking up the relationship -- but my advice is to chuck it.

Severe regret after asking for a break is common. Your hindbrain panics, and the idea of suddenly giving up all this comfort is overwhelming and seems ridiculous. That's normal in any breakup, but even more so here given your anxiety issues and the very co-dependent relationship you and your boyfriend seem to have. Does your boyfriend have a role in your life other than support system?

I'd say take a break, and *really* take a break. Don't hang out, don't casually cuddle -- it will just click that comforting familiarity switch in your brain again, and muddle your ability to see whether you should be in this relationship. With some real distance, hopefully you can get a clear sight of what you really want. Maybe it's this guy, maybe it isn't. But your gut is trying very hard to get you to do something, and I think you should consider taking its advice.
posted by tigerbelly at 8:11 AM on May 9, 2007 [3 favorites]

I find it interesting that, even anonymously, you won't say what happened in February.

I'm fairly certain, whatever that is, is the cause of your current situation.

Also, 4 days worth of BC wouldn't cause you to loose your mind, and certainly wouldn't take 6 months to get out of your system.

Stab in the dark below:

I assume this is your first sexual relationship too. I assume the BC was needed because you became sexually active with him.

I suspect you were not ready for it, even though you thought you were. I suspect your violent reaction to the BC had more to do with your internalization of the situation than actual physical reaction to the hormone.

My guess is you weren't ready for sex, you started having it, felt like you had to get on BC, then suddenly everything started imploding on you.

My guess also is that your feelings of revulsion around him physically has to do with this internalization of the conflict over sex and intimacy.
posted by Ynoxas at 8:20 AM on May 9, 2007 [5 favorites]

b) Of course it's ok to spend time alone! Some people can manage spending damn near every moment of every day with one other person [or with people in general], but for many of us, that's tiring. Spending a little time alone has absolutely nothing to do with how much you love your boyfriend and absolutely everything to do with keeping yourself sane and healthy. Could be that you really do need more alone time to get by, and that you're adding to your stress by avoiding it.

d) I'm not sure where you heard that birth control lasts for six months in the body. Birth control chemicals have synthetic forms of progersterone & estrogen. When you've been on the pill for months or years, it can take a while for the body to readjust to their absence, yeah, which matters primarily when you're trying to conceive. But four days? Four days isn't long enough for them to begin to work, even. It is highly, highly unlikely that those four pills are causing problems half a year later.

a,c,e) It sounds like you've had problems with anxiety and depression in the past. The symptoms of that kind of stuff can change with your situation. For example, now that your relationship is a big part of your life, it might be manifesting as irrational anxiety that's got a lot to do with your relationship, rather than your grades, or your future, or what have you. Though you say you're tired of counseling, counseling and possibly [or possibly not] medication are precisely the sort of things that can help untangle what's wrong and what can be done to address it. Follow up on that long-term therapy, for example, and get it scheduled! When a therapist sees you for an hour, sure, they can throw out the kind of hypotheses you list, but they need to get to know you a little better to really help. And yes, even though you're not consciously thinking about whatever the Bad Thing that happened in February was, it could still be coloring your reactions to him.

Point is, there's a lot that could be going on, and a handful of counseling sessions with several different people when you're in the middle of a breakdown won't fix it. Therapy can be a drag [as can depression/anxiety medication, if that ends up seeming appropriate], but it really can help to get to know a therapist and let them take a look at your life from an outside perspective and help you work through what's going on. That takes time, but so do many worthwhile things. Good luck.
posted by ubersturm at 8:28 AM on May 9, 2007

I'm guessing that it's near the end of the term at your college. All of this could just be due to the overall stress at this time of year. Even if you don't personally feel stressed, it always seems to be in the air. Wait a bit and see if it gets better after the end of the semester.
posted by yohko at 8:45 AM on May 9, 2007

Also, 4 days worth of BC wouldn't cause you to loose your mind, and certainly wouldn't take 6 months to get out of your system.

Agreed. I was on my birth control for two-and-a-half years before stopping it suddenly made me freak out. Mostly just mood swings. It took about two weeks before I was back to normal. When I went back on birth control, I was fine, and have been fine ever since.

I really think a lot of your problem has to do with what happened in February, and you're just making excuses to get away from talking about it (blaming the birth control, etc). Plus, your many instances of "I've been told..." look to me like you're relying on unreliable sources for important information. Do your own research.

I also wonder if there's something else going on with you here. You mention a few times in your post about different people getting you food or water. This makes me think you're not taking care of yourself, which would certainly fit your mood swings. Get some sleep. Make sure you feed and water yourself as necessary.

Good luck.
posted by Verdandi at 9:13 AM on May 9, 2007

Set up appointments so you can see a counselor regularly. Your bf shouldn't be your whole support system.

Take a few days off. Not breaking up, but just break out of your routine. Have some time to yourself. If you're in this routine of cuddling every day, it's hard to take time to just have no physical contact when that's what you want. But normal people go through periods of wanting no contact - it doesn't need to be a big crisis. You just want to take a couple of days to yourself. Maybe go away with some girlfriends?

Do you and he do things other than crisis-helping-cuddling? If your relationship has turned into JUST being about these periodic crises, that's unhealthy. Paradoxically, it can make it HARDER for you to get better -- because you get in this rut where the only way you interact with him is if he's "rescuing" you, so you always have to be a damsel in distress.
posted by LobsterMitten at 9:36 AM on May 9, 2007

I love my boyfriend, but feel tense near him. Why?

Because you are spending entirely too much time with him, and thinking about him, and not enough time listening to what you need. You spent a weekend together, then felt like you needed a bit of space, so rather than taking some space and recharging yourself (or strengthening other relationships), you forced yourself to spend more time with him, which, of course, made you feel even more resentful or trapped. Then you spent the whole day talking to other people about your boyfriend. Then you went back and spent more time with your boyfriend.

Of course you're tense around your boyfriend; it sounds like he, or the relationship, is taking up every single moment of your day. I'd be annoyed with someone taking over my life in that way, too (though it sounds here like he's not necessarily trying to do that).

It's totally healthy for couples to spend time apart. In fact, it's almost vital for couples to spend time apart. I know college relationships can be intense, that spending all your waking moments with someone can seem like the norm, but it certainly doesn't have to be. If you need some time for yourself, take some time for yourself. A relationship shouldn't be a chain that keeps you from doing what you want to do.
posted by occhiblu at 9:52 AM on May 9, 2007 [3 favorites]

My guess is you're just very tense in general.

Do you have a tendency to consider every option you can think of before making a decision as to how to act? I do, and it leads me to consider uncomfortable options a lot. In those cases, I remind myself that I'm considering something just because it is an option, and not because I have any latent desire to actually do that thing. Relax, and don't jump on yourself when you start thinking about doing something you don't really want to do - it's how your brain happens to work, let it run its course and don't think it's the sign of the apocalypse or some underlying dislike of someone or something. You're complicated, your brain is complicated, you're going to be contradictory sometimes and have thoughts that are troublesome - it's all OKAY.

Also, you are clearly stressed out. Then you've got a guy who you need to expend yet more mental energy on - energy you don't have. So the animal part of your brain is getting pissed - not necessarily at him, just pissed. Then he's in front of you, and you demand that you give attention to him some more. So you get pissed some more, and he's still there and then it turns into being pissed at him, because he's in front of you and because you're asking yourself to give him lots of attention.

Take a break - it's around finals time for both of you, right? Take walks alone from time to time. I know part of you really really wants to be around him all the time, right? OK well that's wonderful and you should spend a lot of time together, but there is a small part of you that wants to be away too, and you have to give that part of yourself some say, and go do stuff with yourself only, or with other people, and most of all chill out for a while.

Finally, relax, it's all natural and part of the complex tapestry of your brain and of relationships. You and your boyfriend sound wonderful, and I wish you the best of luck.
posted by lorrer at 11:53 AM on May 9, 2007 [2 favorites]

[PS please don't over think the sexual issues people mentioned above. You sound like me, someone who just pursues every single thought, and you're overworking yourself.]
posted by lorrer at 11:55 AM on May 9, 2007

Something happens to me every so often.

I get stressed.

When I get to a certain level of stressed, my ability to tolerate other people drastically decreases. I simply cannot deal with people in my space - up to and including my husband who I love very, very much. I need to be alone, otherwise I freak out and have a meltdown. Over the years I've learned to recognised the symptoms before it gets to that level, and just take some time out to relax by myself and unwind. I usually spend around half an hour to an hour a day doing some form of non-social relaxation/entertainment/pleasurable activity, such as yoga, knitting, drinking tea, reading, getting a facial/massage or similar.

My husband is similar, although not as extreme. Neither of us are social butterflies; we both have a minimum need of alone time on a daily basis, although it took a couple of years into our relationship to realise exactly why we were so grouchy with each other occasionally. The need for 'alone time' - even in a happy, loving, perfect relationship - needs to be learnt, as part of a healthy balance.

You may want to try just giving yourself some daily uninterrupted time out doing a pleasurable, conciously relaxing activity (eg, not watching tv or browsing the internet; something more involving).
posted by ysabet at 6:18 PM on May 9, 2007 [3 favorites]

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