Vail Relationships column: Don’t let fear keep you from a meaningful relationship
Dear Neil: I was once in a relationship with a guy and it ended badly. Now, the moment a guy starts getting serious with me, I pull away and cut off my feelings for him. I’m in a romance right now where this guy and I recently decided to give a relationship between us a shot. I enjoyed spending time with him — until he started telling me that he loved me and how he wanted to be with me and make me happy. Now, I don’t want to have anything to do with him. I think I have a problem. Please help me.
Withdrawing in Nigeria
Dear Withdrawing: You do have a problem. It is called being afraid of taking a risk because you fear you’ll get hurt again. It appears you want to keep a relationship rather superficial, casual and non-committal, so nobody develops strong feelings for each other. A relationship is emotionally safe that way, and that’s all some people seek.
But not most people. Most people want to give their heart to someone they can trust and feel safe with and that they can develop a strong, loving, deep connection with that hopefully leads to a commitment. It sounds like that’s what your boyfriend is seeking to have with you, and that’s what you’re pushing away from.
So what would you need in order to take a risk with this fellow and allow a connection with him to flourish? How could safety be built into a relationship so that you wouldn’t feel the need to distance from him or push him away? Explore those questions as thoroughly as you can, and you may give yourself the opportunity to examine whether all of your self-protections are actually necessary and also whether your fears of getting hurt again are credible with this new man. Perhaps you can make this relationship safe and close — both. That would require a risk, but wouldn’t that appeal to you?
Dear Neil: I’m scared that my boyfriend can’t commit to me and that he can’t handle the fact that I am very up and down emotionally. So I keep pushing him away. He promises he won’t leave me, but I feel so insecure I don’t trust him. I’m constantly needy so I just start arguments with him. Any advice?
Scared in the U.K.
Dear Scared: Tell your boyfriend that you need 10 times the amount of reassurance that you’re currently getting from him. Tell him if you get that reassurance, then you promise you’ll gain better control over your fears and your poorly controlled emotions. Then, do so. You are the only one who is in charge of you.
Neil Rosenthal is a licensed marriage and family therapist in Westminster and Boulder. He is the author of the best-selling book “Love, Sex and Staying Warm: Creating a Vital Relationship.” Contact him at 303-758-8777, or visit neilrosenthal.com.