How can I moderate my behavior so I don't ruin my relationship?
February 24, 2008 5:40 AM   Subscribe

I need help with my behavior regarding my boyfriend. He's absolutely great, but when he's not around I worry myself sick, to the point of incapacitation. What can I do to stop this?

He travels a lot, and when I don't hear from him I start feeling sick. For example, not long ago he went off to a meet. An ex of his would be present and I didn't even want him going in the first place, but I realized this was crazy. We discussed how anxious I was feeling about this trip, and he offered not to go if it bothered me so much, but I told him it was okay. After he left, I didn't hear from him for over two days. I was okay the first day, and okay for most of the second, but by the third day I couldn't get out of bed. I just lied there, feeling sick and unable to make myself get up and do anything (no eating, nothing). The entire time I wondered about him, if something bad happened to him, what he was doing and why he hadn't contacted me, while the same song played over and over in my head. In the late afternoon I was able to get up and forced myself to send him a text, to which he responded immediately. Instantly I felt better, and after a couple more texts was able to get up and move on with the day. I had resisted contacting him because I felt that I was being very needy or insecure, so I didn't want to act on that impulse.

I've had episodes like this before. Sometimes when I think about his exes or other women being with him, I feel so sick that I vomit. He does nothing to make me feel like this. I know he's crazy about me and doesn't want to be with anyone else. I've never been sure about wanting to be with someone before this, yet sometimes when I am upset I will make little snide remarks or quips that I know really bother him. I'm getting better at controlling these, but sometimes one will slip out and I feel absolutely horribly because I do not want to hurt him.

I have talked with my boyfriend about this, and he's very understanding. I'm only sometimes in the crazy-depressed-obsessive state described above, but when it comes on I feel like I have very little control over it. I understand I'm being irrational, so how do I overcome this? Not only am I giving myself an ulcer and being generally unproductive, but if I keep this behavior up, it is going to ruin the relationship. I do think that when this isn't long-distance I won't act so crazy, but what to do in the interim?

Some details: We're both in our late twenties. Our relationship is long-distance (one of us on each side of the Atlantic). We've spent over two of our eight months together in one another's constant company. When we aren't together, he's usually "around" me by both of us keeping a chat program on, usually with webcam. We aren't always directly interacting during that time, but it's like we're in proximity and the option for communication is there. We probably talk for at least a couple hours every night, usually more. The only time this varies is when he leaves on short trips for various reasons (which he often does, and even then he brings his laptop along and usually talks to me before he goes to bed).

I've been in several relationships, a few of them long-term (the last ended in divorce) but I have never behaved like this, aside from the quips. In the past this was usually done out of resentment. I know it's a problem, and it's gotten better. My ex-husband was secretive, cheated on me, and was physically and emotionally abusive. I'm sure this contributes to my actions, but I was never like this with him. I have far more relationship and sexual experience than my current bf, so that shouldn't be a source of insecurity for me, but I think it might be anyway. Any suggestions are so appreciated. I'm getting a little desperate.
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (17 answers total) 10 users marked this as a favorite
I believe this is not a situation where advice from people on the Internet will be helpful. There is something either in your past, or in the current relationship, that is causing this. I suspect that, until you identify and mitigate the source of the fear/insecurity/jealousy (the behavior of your ex, perhaps?), you'll not get past it. Get thee (or both of thee) to a therapist/counselor recommended by someone you trust.

Sounds like you're both good people, I hope it works out.
posted by HuronBob at 6:09 AM on February 24, 2008 [4 favorites]

Do you know what it is that really worries you about him being away from you? If you can deconstruct things a little bit and find out what makes you so anxious, maybe you can try to work on that.

For example: Do you feel deep down that you're less attractive, less intelligent, less who-knows-what than the other people he might meet - even though maybe you know in your mind it's not true? If that's the case, then you could try doing things to boost your own self-esteem. Go to the gym, take a class, learn something new, whatever it takes to help you feel that YOU are someone it's worth being around.
posted by emilyw at 6:12 AM on February 24, 2008

I think you might have a touch of Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. I say that because I do and I know the paranoia about not getting phone calls and totally freaking out and incapacitating yourself.

It sounds like you need some counseling. Maybe both couple and individual. I would kind of hope your boyfriend might be able to check in with you daily, sounds like you need that, particularly when he is away. But if you don't call him maybe he thinks everything is cool? Sounds like a tough situation, too, and maybe cut yourself some slack.

There's a book called Brain Lock that's been recomended to me and if you feel like it might be OCD then it might be worth a look. You can find it used on amazon really cheap.

Good luck!
posted by sully75 at 6:14 AM on February 24, 2008 [1 favorite]

BTW if it's OCD one thing that book says is that analyzing why you're freaking out will only make you more crazy. I know how this works, you worry about something, then you wonder why you are worrying about it, then you worry about why you are wondering why you are worrying about it, etc. Better idea is to understand that you are worrying about it irrationally and not let it overtake your thought process.

This may be totally not what you are dealing with. It might be though.
posted by sully75 at 6:15 AM on February 24, 2008 [1 favorite]

Backing up what sully75 said: when you are in the thick of your episodes, the more you think about it the worse it gets. I tend to get this way. I found it very freeing when, in my early twenties, I happened upon this text in G.K. Chesterton's Orthodoxy:

"It is not enough that the unhappy man should desire truth; he must desire health. Nothing can save him but a blind hunger for normality, like that of a beast. A man cannot think himself out of mental evil; for it is actually the organ of thought that has become diseased, ungovernable, and, as it were, independent. He can only be saved by will or faith. The moment his mere reason moves, it moves in the old circular rut; he will go round and round his logical circle, just as a man in a third-class carriage on the Inner Circle will go round and round the Inner Circle unless he performs the voluntary, vigorous, and mystical act of getting out at Gower Street. Decision is the whole business here; a door must be shut for ever. Every remedy is a desperate remedy. Every cure is a miraculous cure. Curing a madman is not arguing with a philosopher; it is casting out a devil. And however quietly doctors and psychologists may go to work in the matter, their attitude is profoundly intolerant -- as intolerant as Bloody Mary. Their attitude is really this: that the man must stop thinking, if he is to go on living. Their counsel is one of intellectual amputation. If thy head offend thee, cut it off; for it is better, not merely to enter the Kingdom of Heaven as a child, but to enter it as an imbecile, rather than with your whole intellect to be cast into hell -- or into Hanwell."
posted by keith0718 at 6:28 AM on February 24, 2008 [20 favorites]

I wish I could give you the right answers, but I don't think that anybody can help you except you, or people that know you / counselors / trained professionals.

I think that you seem to be making some steps in the right direction though - realising your behaviour isn't rational or healthy is a good start, talking about your problem with your boyfriend is also a good thing. I find it's important to give yourself credit for the things you have done, in times like these, otherwise the shame / guilt of irrational behaviour drags me even further down. As if dealing with depression wasn't hard enough.

Ideas on how to handle this: maybe write the text message to him, but not send it. Give yourself a chance to calm down / cool off, and if it is still important, then send it.

Maybe work out with your boyfriend a reasonable idea of communication - ie: 5 calls a day is far too much, but he wants / expects / would like to hear from you at least once a day. That way you can have more idea of when you're approaching "crazy", especially if you're panicking over texting him for the first time in three days. That really doesn't sound "needy" or insecure - although the other behaviour clearly is.

When I've approached / been in similar positions in the past it's usually because I have felt so out of control in my life in general, and I've clutched onto the relationship as something that will "save" me. Most unhealthy. By taking a step back and focusing on me, things have improved.

I find that when I feel like this, it's usually accompanied by huge amounts of shame - I know I'm not being rational. I know I'm not behaving in a healthy manner, and it really upsets me. I know how I should be behaving, but I can't seem to do it, and the guilt is crippling.

Try breaking down your feelings/behaviour into smaller pieces, and letting yourself feel the way you do. You are ALLOWED to feel insecure. You are ALLOWED to feel anxious. Try to address the feelings in a healthy manner, but you are definitely allowed to feel the way you do.

All the best.
posted by jonathanstrange at 6:35 AM on February 24, 2008 [3 favorites]

Please don't take offense -- I intend this as kindly as possible -- but I think you need a therapist and/or psychiatrist. The feelings and behaviors that you're describing are not normal or mentally healthy and if they are as crippling as you describe them then you really need to get professional help. You obviously have some serious issues to work through over trust and relationships (probably stemming from your relationship with your ex-husband) and the level to which this is affecting you sounds like you might have developed an anxiety or obsessive compulsive disorder (which may require medication).

Good luck, I hope you are able to find healthier ways to handle these situations.
posted by Jacqueline at 6:36 AM on February 24, 2008

I like Jonathanstrange's idea.

Your guy seems loving and accomodating - why not communicate every day? All day? I do that with my girlfriend and we never get sick of each other or anything.. we just talk every day even if we're not going to see each other until the weekend.

My next idea... pick up a hobby.

Do you work out? Play pick up tennis games? Jog? Paint? Read? Play video games? MMORPGs (careful, addictive.)?

Doing something in your spare time is always a good way to keep your mind off the negative. Working out, especially, is one of the best ways to combat depression. Natural morphine hits, you know.
posted by crunch buttsteak at 8:24 AM on February 24, 2008

Well the guy should realize that you need daily communication. In this day and age of cell phones, laptops, internet, wi-fi, he really has no excuse not to say hello unless he's in the middle of nowhere. On the other hand, it does seem like you'd be a candidate for some kind of therapy.

I did a similar thing to my then-girlfriend (now-wife) for a couple days and she was a wreck until I got in contact with her. I messed up because I didn't take the time to give her even just a quick hello-i'm-fine-how-are-you-gotta-go-love-ya-bye conversation to let her know all was well. Some men (not all, of course, just some) are most comfortable when, for lack of a better phrase, when they "walk alone".. heh cue the Johnny Cash music. Maybe that's bizarre to women but it's true. That doesn't mean he doesn't love you or care about you more than he cares about himself, but some men are just like that at times. Though he should realize (and he should be downright thankful!) that even a quick phone call or text message means so much to you. As long as you can accept that when he's busy on a trip or something, you might not be able to claim an hour or two EVERY day to have a long phone conversation, there shouldn't be any trouble.

Yeah it seems like your biggest problem with this guy is that since he hasn't cheated on you yet, you are nervous/scared, waiting for the other shoe to drop. With your ex, it sounds like that shoe wouldn't stop hitting the ground. Your current guy sounds like a good man, so make a deal/request with him and at the same time seek out some kind of therapy. I think there's a lot more people with your issue than you might think.

And yeah, a healthy social life with hobbies and such would definitely help, if you don't already have that. Hope it works out for you.
posted by high0nfire at 9:58 AM on February 24, 2008

Our dog had a bad past owner- and we were so nice to it, it wants to sleep in the same room as us now, and cries cries cries when we put it outside. The solution is to either bring the dog inside, or let it cry all night long. We bring it inside. But we really wish the dog would be more reasonable about this. You sound a lot like our dog.

Conclusion: you should get a dog. :)
posted by proj08 at 10:22 AM on February 24, 2008 [1 favorite]

I've been in a similar situation. Honestly, this was one of numerous reasons we broke up. I was too dependent on him and when he wasn't around I had a difficult time coping. It's time to focus on you. What your goals are. What hobbies you have or would like to develop. And yeah, a therapist was helpful for me in those issues. You can't be in a healthy relationship when you get totally wrapped up in the other person and ignore yourself. I know I learned that the hard way. I would suggest, ask yourself, "What do I want?" and if the automatic answer is "Who cares? What does HE want?" then you might consider you're selling yourself short. You deserve a life outside of him and vice versa.
posted by CwgrlUp at 11:39 AM on February 24, 2008

For starters, yeah, therapy would probably help a lot. But (unless there's a real biological component or a lot of other stuff going on) therapy will not make this go away -- it will just give you better ways to deal with it.

I'd start by just accepting it as a fact of life that you're liable to freak out after, oh, 24 hours without contact from him. And/or that you'll occasionally freak out in shorter time periods if there is a lot of ex potential. You know, the same way that some people get really faint when they're hungry, and some people have bad backs and can't lift anything heavy, you occasionally get this intense insecurity. Once you accept it as just one aspect of being you, you can start thinking about productive ways of dealing with it.

What you did last time -- try to pretend there was no problem and try to power through without asking for help -- didn't turn out to work so well, so that wasn't too productive. Ask yourself, what might work better? There are a lot of possible tricks and new habits you can learn.

One is that you could learn to recognize and counteract the thoughts that are making you so afraid. People recommend listing out all your thoughts, however irrational, so you know what is making you freak out, and then you can take a look at them objectively, and then even go through the list and write down a thought that counteracts them. These counter-thoughts can be your arsenal, and you can pull them out any time you start to get nervous.

The people with the low blood sugar always carry some crackers or fruit. Maybe you can also carry a note from him with you that reminds you of his love and faithfulness.

You can also learn ways to calm yourself down when you start to freak out. You could develop a calming, soothing part of your brain that recognizes how scared you are and tries to help. You could set up some inner guardrails to protect you when you're getting into the danger zone. Like if once you got in bed, there were no distractions but thinking about your panic, maybe you could see the desire to climb into bed as a danger sign, and have that set off the emergency cheering-yourself-up protocol where you go down to the pet store and play with the kittens (or go to the gym or....). Tell your friends about your "condition," and that you might occasionally call them to see if they're available to distract you from your worry or even help drag you out of bed.

Another big one will be to ask him for help. Just present it as a trait of yours, not his fault or responsibility, just a personal challenge you face and that you'd appreciate any help he can offer. (It sounds like you're already doing this really well). So then, let him know when you could use a little help. "Hey - those nervous butterflies I get are starting to fly around - could you please send me a text message reminding me how perfect everything is with us? ;) ;)" And definitely send that text message after 36 hours when you're starting to get nervous rather than waiting until you've become totally incapacitated. Good luck!
posted by salvia at 3:27 PM on February 24, 2008 [4 favorites]

Therapy would probably help you. It would probably also help you to acknowledge it at the time you're feeing bad and to take steps to resolve it. It sounds like you're worried about seeming needy if you contact him too often while he's away. Contacting him daily doesn't seem unreasonable though, particually if you only need to receive a text message to feel reassured.

If you're worried that he might feel under constant pressure to reply to your texts straight away when he's really too busy to you could arrange a time of day for him to text you (maybe with a half hour time frame so that you don't panic if he's 5 mins late.)
posted by Laura_J at 3:51 PM on February 24, 2008

This is about acknowledging your anger about the last relationship, not about this one.
posted by Ironmouth at 6:09 PM on February 24, 2008

This sounds a lot like me; the only significant difference is that we were two hours away, not an ocean away.

I would never have gotten past this without therapy. It is absolutely required, especially given your abusive past. It makes total sense that you weren't this way with your ex, because he was an asshole to you, and why would you be clingy with an asshole? It makes a lot more sense to be clingy with someone who's nice to you. You finally landed a good guy, and you're terrified he'll leave or cheat on you.

It's a great way to sabotage something you subconsciously don't feel you deserve. That way it can be his fault if he chooses to leave you for someone less obsessive. It would benefit you greatly to learn to be emotionally independent from him (and men in general - it sounds as if you've jumped from relationship to relationship if you've already had several LTRs by your 20s). Therapy can teach you how. Also, reading up on various addictions - whether chemical or psychological - helped me a lot, because the mechanisms are very, very similar. His presence - physical or online - makes you feel at ease, "normal." His absence makes you feel like a junkie without a fix. The steps that junkies take to recover from drug addiction can also be applied here, with good result.

I do think that when this isn't long-distance I won't act so crazy

Unfortunately, it can get worse, because your expectations are heightened. Half a world away, you don't know what he's doing when, but when you live in the same house, you know exactly when he should be home from work, or how long it takes to go to the store and come back. Using the drug analogy again, adding more of the same addictive substance is not going to decrease your suffering. It only makes the pain of his absence even less tolerable, and makes you more likely to become controlling and demanding. This is not to say you shouldn't be near each other. What I am saying is that in order to reduce your suffering (and thus, your "craziness"), you need to reduce your emotional dependence on him, and therapy is the only thing that allowed me to do that.

Feel free to email me if you like. I know exactly where you are at.
posted by desjardins at 4:17 PM on February 25, 2008 [1 favorite]

On non-preview, salvia's advice is dead on. This is something that may be a permanent part of you, to some extent, and you must find ways to cope. (And your boyfriend must find ways to cope with you. My fiancé deserves a medal.)

FYI, I've been diagnosed with panic disorder, and that's helped my fiancé to understand that it's a chemical thing; I'm not being distrustful or demanding of him in any rational sense.
posted by desjardins at 4:24 PM on February 25, 2008

I think all of the advice above is sound.. you probably just have some anxiety and need to deal with it either by talking it out with a therapist, taking some mood enhancers - and don't forget to exercise and eat more healthy. (get rid of coffee, sugar)... Try to do some alternative activities to get your mind off of him or when your brain is starting to go on anxiety trigger mode.

Believe me, I know b/c I'm going through it right now. Good luck.
posted by freshsprout at 8:58 PM on October 4, 2008

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