Vail Daily column: Asking for reassurance in all the wrong ways
Dear Neil: My boyfriend of seven months moved to another country for work, and I agreed to follow him as soon as possible. But for most of our relationship, I have been pushing him away, criticizing him and not giving him enough space — and I get needy as well. In the meantime, he has grown withdrawn and disconnected, and has been talking about us breaking up. What can I do to reconnect with him?
— Afraid in France
Dear France: It sounds as if you are very insecure in the relationship, and that might very well be why you are alternating between pushing him away and then acting needy and clingy around him. In fact, you may be testing him — hoping that when you push him away, he will proclaim that he can’t be without you — and that would assist you in feeling reassured and more secure in the relationship.
But for most, this is crazy-making behavior, and they will run screaming into the night. I am saying that you are asking for reassurance from him in all the wrong ways.
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Here’s how you could do it more effectively: In the big picture, what do you think you are asking for when you are pushing away from your boyfriend? More affection? More time? For him to declare his love for you? More romance? To be taken care of more? What are you unhappy about in the relationship that you would like fixed?
Now look at what you think your boyfriend is unhappy about or what he has been trying to tell you. What does he want you to do differently, stop doing or do more? (If you’re unclear about what he would answer, ask him.)
The goal of these questions is to assist you in talking about what you are wanting in order to feel more comfortable, stable and secure in the relationship, and also to look at this from his point of view. So stand back and look at the large issues about which the two of you are in conflict. If you can talk about those issues directly, you’ll give yourself a much better chance of succeeding in your relationship with your boyfriend.
Dear Neil: I am a man in my early 50s and was married for 22 years before getting divorced.
After I divorced, I found myself sliding into the same mentality that my two brothers and two of my friends have adopted, which is that I don’t plan on being in a relationship again. Comments like: “It’s awesome to have your freedom” and “I do what I want, when I want” fit how I feel now.
I have joined a variety of clubs, activities and a church, but I’m done looking for a woman and I’ve taken myself off the market.
— Living Alone and Happy
Dear Alone: Some people do not have positive histories with love and warm feelings about marriage, and who else other than you can say what is the best choice for you?
However, make sure you are doing this because you would prefer to live alone and no longer be tied to anyone and not because you feel burned in love and have therefore turned cynical and jaded. Jaded people tend to turn bitter and have a lot of regrets as they grow older.
Neil Rosenthal is a licensed marriage and family therapist in Westminster and Boulder. His column is in its 23rd year of publication, and is syndicated around the world. You can reach him at 303-758-8777 or email him through his website, http://www.heartrelationships.com. He is not able to respond individually to queries.