Sunday 22 October 2017

Dear Patricia: I feel smothered by anxious boyfriend

Q I'm 40 years old and would describe my-self as friendly, sensitive, not hugely confident, but outgoing and someone who enjoys socialising.

After six years on my own, following the breakdown of a relationship that broke my heart, I am seeing a guy now. He is the loveliest, kindest, most generous, sensitive and hilarious man. And he idolises me -- his words. He is almost perfect in every way. I should be really happy.

We argue constantly. A week hasn't gone by in the last year without us having serious discussions, or arguments. He was married before and apparently he and his wife never argued. They also divorced very amicably. He is very sensitive, which I love, but also hate. The arguments centre on how I treat him. Basically, he says I don't respect him or love him enough. In fact, I love him dearly, but it never seems to be enough for him.

I come from a very close but non-tactile family, whilst he is very tactile, and over time I had to learn to say how I felt, because otherwise it caused arguments. He fell for me much quicker than I did him. I felt very guilty about that. He reckoned that I hadn't got over my last relationship. I tried to assure him that I had, and that maybe I was just being cautious.

In the early days, we argued because I felt he was smothering me. He would text and phone every few hours, and if I didn't sound happy to hear from him, he'd constantly want to know what was wrong, or ask why I didn't want to talk to him. We'd discuss it at length, with me explaining that I wasn't always chirpy in the mornings, or couldn't talk at work, or whatever.

I also explained that I didn't want to feel I had to contact him every few hours, but preferred to do so when I felt I wanted to. And I asked him to back off, which he did and all that is now fine.

Three months into our relationship we were discussing a male friend of mine, someone I had known platonically for over 12 years, a man whom all our friends thought I should be with, but whom I never saw as attractive. On one weekend, though, it did go further. We never mentioned it again, and have remained friends. Anyway, we had met this man earlier in the evening, I introduced him to my boyfriend, and they didn't click. During the discussion about him that night I omitted to tell my boyfriend that there had been any intimacy between me and this guy. My boyfriend, however, asked me straight out -- and I denied it. I didn't want to hurt his feelings. Yes, I know it was a lie, but I knew how sensitive he was and wanted to spare him -- which I'm sure was wrong. He persisted, however, telling me to look him straight in the eye, and I then told him the truth.

I will never forget the look on his face. He went pale and I thought he would die with anger. I felt so bad causing him such pain, and apologised, but he wouldn't listen. To this day, he says he can't trust me because I lied and he can't accept my reason for doing so. He says the whole relationship changed that night. A relationship without trust isn't worth anything -- we both know that. We had endless discussions and arguments in which I pointed out that I'm just not the unfaithful type and he sort of acknowledged that he should be able to trust me.

Last weekend, however, we were walking home together in our small town, very happy, and I saw two good-looking men who were strangers and just remarked that I wondered who they were. My boyfriend was really offended, said it was a strange thing to ask, and I then frantically tried to find some other reason for my comment because I knew he felt I was only interested because of their looks. In fact, the comment just slipped out, because I should have known better, being only too aware of how he would take it.

He hardly spoke for the next hour until I finally prized it out of him that he felt I didn't respect him. He said I also embarrassed him as I was staring at the blokes, that I just couldn't stop myself and that I would never change. He says I'm still single in my head and irresponsible.

I love my boyfriend and want a future with him. But I feel deep down that he will never trust me, that I will always have to watch what I say and do, that I will never be allowed to be me. He's constantly telling me that my actions are rude and thoughtless and careless of his feelings.

I know I can be all over the place and say what comes into my head, but I am loyal. At the beginning, he used to say that one of the things he loved about me was my enthusiasm. Now it seems that it will end up killing our relationship.

I would be devastated all over again if this relationship ended. But to me something as fundamental as trust is missing and I just don't know what to do. Is there any hope for us?

AYour boyfriend has you in the dock. You're constantly having to defend yourself. You are constantly having to prove you love him. You're constantly worried about how he will react -- to anything, however small. You're in prison. And your boyfriend has you there.

This isn't about fundamental trust being missing between you. It's about the fact that your boyfriend is in serious emotional trouble -- and it's not your fault. He's had this trouble since forever. And by the way, I don't believe for one moment that he never had arguments until he met you. Maybe his ex-wife -- and any other ex-girlfriends -- didn't fight back. But there was certainly trouble. That's why they're gone.

This isn't about simple jealousy either. Your boyfriend wants total control over you because he wants total attention focussed on him. He's stuck in that infantile stage of human development, where the child still believes that mother must attend to his every mood. The mother isn't seen as a separate person. She's seen as an instrument for the child's need-fulfilment. And when she can't, or won't, fulfil those needs, the child is angry, has temper tantrums, and is, of course, also in pain because he's learning a fundamental lesson about frustration tolerance.

That's fine when you're five months old, or 15 months old or 25 months old. It's lethal when you're 25 or 35 or 45 or whatever age your boyfriend is. I don't mean to sound the knell of no hope. I do mean that you have to face the fact that you will never be able to appease your boyfriend, never be able to keep him happy, never be able to fix this. Your boyfriend has to fix it himself. He has to accept that he is not the centre of the universe. He's just one of many. And within your relationship, there's not just him. There is you, too, with your own life, job, friends, family, interests.

See what happened in your battle about him ringing you all the time. You stood your ground. The problem eased. In other words, when you didn't play the game, he learned to back off. Hard -- not to mention exhausting -- as it may sound, you have to do that on every front. This doesn't mean being unloving, or punitive, or cheesed off all the time. It involves determined and patient and unrelenting repetition of the simple truth: everything isn't about him. You have a life, too.

Please understand, this isn't about trust. This isn't about you proving that you love him. This is about your boyfriend learning to love himself, to grow up, to understand that you're not there to be an all-singing, all-dancing, all-loving mother, but a human being who needs him to love her, to be there for her, to be grown-up enough to share life's burdens with her, and life's joys.

Stop allowing yourself to be emotionally blackmailed. Firm up your sense of yourself. Face down the fear of losing him. Be kind and loving, but refuse to play along. And then see if he loves you enough to change. Because you can't fix your boyfriend's deep insecurity and fear. He has to do that for himself.

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