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My wife and I are happily married and have a great relationship, but my wife is on occasion plagued by feelings of insecurity and concern that I am unhappy and want to leave the relationship. These feelings make her feel extremely uncomfortable and when they are bad she will ask for reassurance from me to prevent a negative downward spiral on her part.

I personally am happy with our relationship and have no desire for it to end, but her requests can sometimes an ultimate characteristics:

  • "I'm afraid you'll leave me some day."
  • "If you're ever thinking of leaving me, tell me immediately."

While I can with certainty tell her that I want to be together with her right now, I don't have any reason to think that will change in the near future, and I haven't ever wanted to leave her before, I am having a hard time addressing the ultimate quality of her concerns - that some day that might change.

I feel dishonest telling her:

  • I promise I won't ever leave you
  • If I ever begin to think of leaving you, I promise I will tell you immediately

Because I can't predict the future. I change, my wife may change, our circumstances may change. I don't currently anticipate any changes on the horizon that would change my relationship with her on this kind of serious level, but I don't have control over what may happen some day.

Unfortunately, if I try to convey this nuance with something like:

  • "I love you and I want to be with you, but I don't know what will happen in the distant future. I don't expect my current feelings to change any time soon."

Then this appears to her to be a signal that I'm hiding a deep-seated desire to actually end the relationship, and feeds into her fears that I actually do want to leave her. Any nuanced response beyond, "No, I promise I won't leave you," is not only not comforting to her, it makes things worse.

How can I reassure my wife that I do not foresee our relationship ending without dishonestly guaranteeing a positive future outcome in all possible scenarios?

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    Might be a bit old-fashioned, but generally being married means that you have already taken vows where you promise you won't ever leave the other person, despite circumstances, or how either of you may change. If you don't believe you could know that for certain, why did you get married? – Nacht - Reinstate Monica Apr 6 '18 at 4:17
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    @Nacht Because I made those vows 7 years ago before I knew that one cannot make a promise that forever binds your future self. I’m not saying I regret my personal marriage vows, just acknowledging that I may decide I have to break them some day, as do many others for legitimate and honest reasons every year. – Cory Klein Apr 6 '18 at 11:20
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    @CoryKlein In what ways ("love language") do you show your wife that you love her on a regular basis? It sounds like she doesn't feel loved by you right now. Also, I'd recommend reading For Men Only. – mbomb007 Apr 6 '18 at 21:29

17 Answers 17

87

I have found that answers which detail an absurd situation that would prompt you leaving her often lighten up the situation, while pointing out that nobody can be 100% sure of the future.

Wife, I love you with all of my heart and I don't anticipate our relationship failing, but I would probably leave you if you started murdering all of our neighbors pets and serving them to me for dinner.

The absurd nature of the failure case also highlights that things would have to change pretty drastically in order for you to consider leaving her. This should set her feelings that you are "hiding a deep-seated desire to actually end the relationship" at ease, because you would clearly only leave her if the situation was so drastic that you couldn't hope to reconcile it.

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    For added impact, remove pets from the quote block. – aslum Apr 6 '18 at 19:59
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    I don't think this would lighten up the situation. Sure it attempts to "make light of it", but something like divorce is not light, and a spouse's insecurities are not insignificant. Attempting to minimize them with humor does not address the actual problem at hand -- the source of her insecurities. All it will do is reinforce the fact that there is some line between that extreme and now, and if something crosses that line the marriage will end. – mbomb007 Apr 6 '18 at 21:16
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    Actually I have had good results with this, in my marriage and before we were married. It's about delivery. If it comes off as mocking, then it's obviously bad. But the concept is there -- I won't say "never" because there are absurd situations where we would have a bad outcome. But those situations are pretty absurd, and that's the point, and if you can communicate that it's a good way to be honest and reassuring. – Richard Rast Apr 7 '18 at 14:59
  • @mbomb007 The existence of such a line is an easy corollary of reality. It'd be untenable and unhealthy to pretend otherwise. Getting to the root of her problem is still a good idea, though. – zibadawa timmy Apr 8 '18 at 5:47
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    @aslum I initially misread it as neighbors and pets which also works. – kasperd Apr 8 '18 at 17:23
48

You appear to be taking your spouse's statements and requests at face value, but in my experience, statements and requests like this from a SO often mean something quite different than their direct content. You cited:

"I'm afraid you'll leave me some day."

"If you're ever thinking of leaving me, tell me immediately."

This kind of statement usually is a semaphore signalling that in the recent past you have not been meeting her needs. She is not worried about the future as much as she is telling you that you have not made her feel safe and secure now or in the immediate past.

Typically when people ask for this kind of reassurance they are responding to a specific interaction or pattern of interactions that bothered them.

You say you don't believe you have control over your future behavior and you don't want to just make the conventional promises that reiterate spousal vows. That's actually great because now you can be extra-motivated to have the conversation your spouse likely really wants and needs.

I mean the non-defensive conversation where you learn what you've said or done (or failed to say or do) that prompted her feelings of insecurity, and what you can do to avoid hurting her in that way in the future (assuming you want to do so).

Then when you follow through by changing your own behavior to provide whatever nurturing interaction she is craving, you'll almost certainly see a different behavior from her as well.

If after trying you still find that you and your spouse cannot achieve a balance in which she feels safe and secure with you all the time, that would be a good time to get a teensy bit of outside help. A good family therapist specializing in brief, outcomes-focused therapy can sort this kind of thing out in two or three sessions, with a happier and more confident couple as the result.

Edit: Additional Technical Discussion:

When I say that your spouse's anxieties arise from some situation in which you have not met her needs, I don't mean to imply that you have been neglectful or done anything wrong. I mean only the literal fact of the matter. You may not have been able to guess what her needs are, and she may not even be aware of what they are. They may be triggers or situations that come from the past.

I say this because what your spouse is experiencing sounds like what is sometimes called Anticipatory Anxiety, or anxiety about things that might happen in the future. This type of anxiety is typically associated with prior experiences that may have occurred at any time earlier in life.

Important life experiences lead to the formation of neuronal connections in such a way that subtle and specific sensory inputs may trigger a cascade of autonomic nervous system activation along with "memorized" feelings and thoughts. This is why a particular song or scent can trigger intense feelings and memories.

When we look closely at unwanted responses triggered by a stimulus, we often find that they were adaptive (helpful) at the time they were formed, but have become maladaptive at a later place and time. For example, fear of abandonment may be adaptive if it keeps a child from straying too far from her parents, but maladaptive if it prevents her from being confident in an adult relationship.

This kind of stimulus-response pattern is described differently in different models of therapy, but at its roots it always comes down to the same thing: some kinds of triggers lead to thoughts, feelings, behaviors, and internal physiological changes that may be out of proportion to the triggers themselves and the context in which they appear.

When this becomes a problem, there are a number of therapeutic approaches that can help. The literature seems to indicate that pure cognitive therapy (talking about it) is the least successful in resolving this kind of trigger-outcome mismatch, because the unwanted thoughts are not the cause of the problem, but the result of it. The most rapidly successful therapeutic approaches seem to be those that identify the triggers and either desensitize or depotentiate them, so they no longer cause the unwanted response.

Anybody who wants to learn more about this model for understanding unwanted responses like anticipatory anxiety can read about the family therapy work of Virginia Satir (link to Wikipedia page about Virginia Satir) and the work of Richard Bandler and John Grinder who studied her techniques and developed a descriptive formalism. Although their approach to understanding and modifying human contextual response has been vigorously disputed by practitioners who have embraced other models, single-neuron brain studies have recently validated the fundamental concept that sensory triggers can evoke maladaptive learned responses, and that those triggers can be depotentiated and even remapped (very quickly) with specific sensory exercises, both in rats and in humans. You can read about this in a scientific paper called Extinction of Learned Fear Induces Hippocampal Place Cell Remapping.

  • I'm curious as to what your experience is though. Can you elaborate on it a little, give a case-study or cite some sources? It would increase the value of your answer... – Tinkeringbell Apr 6 '18 at 19:53
  • @Tinkeringbell, I've added additional material, as you suggest. Apparently I'm not allowed to say what my experience is, since just a hint of it was edited out by somebody who admonished me :) – Craig.Feied Apr 8 '18 at 0:52
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    Good point about potentially not fulfilling some of the wife's needs. I think I heard Tony Robbins mentioning that no-one has ever said "My partner fulfils all my needs, but ..." when talking about the different needs people have, e.g. when a couple is having issues there is some needs for at least one of them that are not fulfilled. Exploring each other's needs is a very useful exercise in general, and in this case can help uncover what is the underlying issue for the insecurity. – hlovdal Apr 8 '18 at 17:34
  • in my experience, statements and requests like this from a SO often mean something quite different than their direct content. that may be so, but it does not answer the OPs question. What exactly is he supposed to do? How would he ever find out what went wrong in the recent past? I've been in similar situations, and while on a logical level it is easy to understand this approach, it does not necessarily lead to a solution... his wife asks me "promise you never will leave me" and he sends her to therapy? That can't be the solution, especially if she is the heavily clinging type... – AnoE Apr 9 '18 at 6:41
  • I like this answer and I think the concept of showing action (instead of making promises) is great. It may be helpful to combine with @Bilkokuya's answer - you can reassure her by remembering the many challenges you two have already grown through together and how you plan on continuing that. I would just add one (maybe obvious) thing to this sentence: "the conversation where you ask her what you've said or done" - tone here will be important, you don't want this to come off as defensive or accusatory - make it clear you're trying to solve a problem versus pinning the issue back on her. – dwizum Apr 9 '18 at 14:00
20

Don't make promises - reassure by reminding her of how the two of you work together

As somebody with similar traits to your wife, I can only speak for what has worked in my relationship to help me feel more secure and reduce my need for constant reassurance.

The main thing that can make a difference is not just hearing an empty promise (which you are also against giving), but hearing solid reasoning to explain that nothing unexpected will happen and that as a couple you are able to work through things to avoid a breakup. Importantly, you should reflect on how you work as a couple currently - and help her realise that you have systems in place for dealing with potential problems as a couple.

You have nothing to worry about, anytime we have had disagreements or problems in the past we have always spoken about them openly and worked together to solve them. We are a strong team together and if either of us found this relationship wasn't working for us - I am certain we would work hard to try whatever possible to solve it. I love you.

This is not being dishonest, or stating absolutes that you would never leave. It does however reflect your current situation - that if you had problems you would speak about them, and the two of you would work together as I'm sure you have done in the past.

Breakups do happen, and that's a healthy thing for her to acknowledge - she is not trapped in this relationship and neither are you. However, you have a history of working together and being open about your problems - so she has nothing to realistically fear about you suddenly leaving without the two of you having tried to work through it first.


It's worth noting, that as you say "you can't predict that you won't change". Part of asking for reassurance is her checking that you haven't changed yet - and that you still believe in the relationship. Giving an answer that gives explains your stance on the relationship (that you will work together to solve whatever issues you have), shows her you still feel this way - much more clearly than just saying that you love her.

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    I love this thank you so much. This is exactly the kind of thing that my wife responds to. – Cory Klein Apr 6 '18 at 21:27
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    "You can't predict that you won't change." Part of life is change. The goal is to continually change for the better. As you do what this answer says, reflect on how far you've come, how you've improved, and how you hope to continue to improve together. Great answer, by the way. – user4245 Apr 7 '18 at 22:07
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    I think this is an excellent answer, and definitely the approach that works best for me – Tim Apr 9 '18 at 11:49
15

Warning: old-fashioned ideas about marriage

I think you have misunderstood the point of a marriage. Your wife wants to know that you will stick by her even if circumstances change, or if one of you change as a person.

Consider the difference between a landlord/tenant who have a signed lease, and a landlord/tenant who have a casual arrangement. What is the main difference between the two? Have the ones with the lease made promises they can't be certain they will keep? Is the lease merely a logical truth statement? Or does the lease serve a purpose to lock in the two people; to ensure that the landlord will not eject the tenant at any time, and that the tenant will continue to pay his rent.

Wedding vows are designed to restrict the two people involved to stay with each other, despite circumstances or conflicts. When you make a promise that you will stay with a person forever, you are not simply communicating something you believe is true. You are locking yourself in morally - you must make every effort to fulfill your vows and stay with the person. You are giving up a bit of your freedom for the other person's sake. If you can't make this promise, that communicates to your wife that your personal freedom is more valuable to you than she is. I don't think this is what you meant; I think you're just being pedantic. But this is probably what she hears.

This all becomes 10 times more important if you have kids in the future. You can basically guarantee that both you and your wife will change throughout your life, in non-trivial ways. Children are just one of the catalysts to this, and yet children need you to stay together even though you will change.

Of course there do exist legitimate reasons for a marriage to end. But these are supposed to be exceptional. You can make promises without taking them into account.

Not being able to make this promise is like continuing to live in an apartment after the lease has run out. Please, promise your wife you will stay with her forever. Say, "Future be damned! I promise I'll stick with you no matter what darling." You can even tell her about your doubts about saying that and how you decided you'd rather lock yourself in by saying it.

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    So if the OP's wife starts beating them (spousal abuse happens to men too), the OP ought to stay "because of their wedding vows"? I disagree. – Martin Bonner supports Monica Apr 9 '18 at 13:24
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    @MartinBonner The second to last paragraph seems to account for such a situation. – Em C Apr 9 '18 at 13:35
  • @EmC I missed that. The point is that the OP clearly does want to take them into account. – Martin Bonner supports Monica Apr 9 '18 at 13:36
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    @MartinBonner The thing is those circumstances ARE exceptional. The divorce rates we have right now aren't because people are leaving when their spouses start beating them all of a sudden but rather because they are leaving for myriads other reasons one of the worst of which is "I don't love you anymore". People expect crazy stuff from marriage and there is noone to hit them over the head for bailing on it. And the children suffer for it. – DRF Apr 9 '18 at 14:02
12

Many of the answers here do not capitalise on your honesty in this situation. They mostly deflect or avoid the topic and don't dig into it. Your wife feels insecure - and this periodically resurfaces every now and again - and you may have to deflect that away time and time again.

I've had relationships where I've had this same problem. I am often too honest, and have upset my partner because of it. But more so than that, if I were to say it, it would sound out of character and hollow and that promise would be almost pointless, despite the difficulty I'd have saying it.

So, focus on your honesty. Take the conversation further.

"I don't want to leave you. What gave you that impression?"

"I want to be with you. What can I do to reinforce that?"

"If I ever have the thought of leaving you, I will let you know. But I can't imagine why I would think that?"

"You're not escaping from me that easy. Good luck trying to drive me away!" (if your partner has a particular sense of humour)

You can also focus on yourself, focus on what you want and how you see the relationship. She wants to know she has you. "I want to be with you forever." is different to "I promise to be with you forever."

You need to find a balance, because you don't want the horror of, during a debate, she says something so that you, hotheaded and not thinking clearly, say something like "I never meant that promise!"

Stick to your character. Be honest. Be tactful and inquisitive about where this insecurity stems from.

Is she feeling less attractive, or are you distracted by something? Are you going to bed without her? Stopped your good morning kisses? She may not realise where the insecurity has come from, but it's from somewhere. Help to find it and help to defeat it.

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    ""I want to be with you forever." is different to "I promise to be with you forever."" This is a great part. You can't make promises, but you can express your hopes and intentions. I can't imagine hearing something more reassuring than this. – Pandora Apr 9 '18 at 11:32
  • I like this method, as it turns the conversation around to a positive statement, rather than refuting a negative one. A similar one would be, "I already promised you that we'd be together in our marriage vows, and I don't plan on breaking that promise." You have no plans to leave, thus you have no plans to break the promise, and you're giving her essentially what she wants - reassurance that you're not leaving, without splitting hairs. – Adam Davis Apr 9 '18 at 15:38
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I feel dishonest telling her

  • I promise I won't ever leave you

Fair enough - after all that is a rather meaningless thing to say to someone you love!

Tell her something that's true, but comforting. "Are you planning to stop being wonderful? No? Ok, well, I guess you'll be stuck with me forever then.".

  • If I ever begin to think of leaving you, I promise I will tell you immediately

To be honest, if you married someone with any hint of the usual vows or assumptions that come with marriage, you implicitly already promised to try at least work though problems (even if you don't think you'd start those conversations by saying 'I'm considering leaving') - at least to the extent that the concept of a 'promise' means anything at all.

The particular phrasing above is kind of funny enough that you could just make the promise as requested, while maintaining good humour. "Yes, I promise - I'll tell you the very instant it crosses my mind." (Followed by a quick kiss and a change of subject to something you both want to talk about, like your next holiday*).

*because the momentum of conversations matters as much as the logic - https://youtu.be/r3BO6GP9NMY?t=4

Taking a step back, you might want to consider if you could do anything to make your wife feel more secure. It may be that you can't, but when's the last time you randomly went to the room she's in, just to give her a kiss, then went back to what you were doing? took a minute to just cuddle when you meet on the landing? Bought her something random that you know she loves? Maybe you do all these things regularly... I'm just asking :)

  • To expound a bit on the "tell you immediately" quote, her desire is to address any issues we might be having before they explode. While we certainly have a great track record of keeping that standard, I can't promise that future me will always keep to it all the time in all possible scenarios. I may just be interpreting her statements too literally here though. – Cory Klein Apr 5 '18 at 21:10
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    @CoryKlein you could consider that all promises only apply to 'current you' - but if you think that makes them meaningless, then as I said I can understand that you don't feel they're nice things to say. But you can probably find ways to 'say it' that are better than literally saying it - unless your wife is an extremely literal person. – user16064 Apr 5 '18 at 21:23
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    "Are you planning to stop being wonderful?". Depending on her insecurities, it might be a baaad idea. She might answer "What if I have an accident or get Alzheimer or I stop liking dogs or (long etc)". – Enric Naval Apr 6 '18 at 15:22
  • @EnricNaval That was only an example, but I think that's the point at which it comes back to the suggestions that Craig.Feied made in his answer (and perhaps that I made in the small text too) - that a person's promises are ultimately impossible to guarantee, but they can feel meaningful if they're reinforced by other things. – user16064 Apr 6 '18 at 15:30
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Firstly let me say that I think you're getting too hung up on semantics here. The important bit is not the words, but the intent. If you at this point in time have no intention of leaving your wife, then that's what matters, not some "what if" scenario.

Realisitically, yes, you might someday leave your wife, or she might leave you for another man. But we can't all cling to ifs and maybes when choosing our wording. There are times for being specific and factual, and there are times for expressing intent. This is the latter.

If I said "I won't die tomorrow" and then the next day I get hit by a bus, I didn't lie to anyone - I certainly believed I wouldn't die tommorrow and I had no intention of dying.

Nobody can predict the future, but nobody should let that inability to predict the future prevent them from saying things that express their intent despite potentially being false someday.


That said, you could say "I assure you that I have no intention of ever leaving you".

This is true, you don't intend to ever leave her at this point in time. That doesn't mean you won't change your mind, but correctly expresses your current intent.


You could also try to turn her question back on her. Ask "Why do you think that I would leave you?".

Perhaps she has some deep-rooted problem that she needs to discuss. Perhaps there are underlying reasons for these thoughts. Getting rid of the reasons would do more good than 1000 repetitions of "I'm not going to leave you".

6

Rather than try to answer her question directly (and as you said, feel dishonest in the process), I would suggest turning the question around back to her:

I certainly have no intention of ever leaving you, but I would hope that if you were unhappy in our relationship, or for any other reason, that you would feel you could tell me immediately too. It's so important that we always communicate so there are no surprises on either side.

I'd also strongly suggest that you DO always make sure you talk to your wife. Communication is the key to any relationship, so always make a point of telling her how you feel and encourage her to do the same.

6

You say you

don't have control over what may happen some day.

but you do. You can commit to doing your best, no matter what, to continue making the relationship work.

If you won't do that, out loud, you're giving the unspoken message that you aren't actually that committed; instead you're saying, Well, things might change … and it seems likely they've picked up on that.

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    What if he commits now but because he will change 10 years from now his future self will decide he's not going to commit anymore, how can any person know that won't happen and have control over that? – Oleg Apr 6 '18 at 3:29
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    If he sounds now like he thinks that's likely, any attempt to be "comforting" will ring somewhat hollow, hmm? – Will Crawford Apr 6 '18 at 3:33
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    Nope, just yours. I spend my points here with great care and only downvote really bad answers. – Oleg Apr 6 '18 at 3:42
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    I understand how he sees things, I'm trying to suggest that understanding how his partner sees things might help! – Will Crawford Apr 6 '18 at 3:51
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    @mbomb007 That's a very romantic view of the world. I don't think it's realistic, good for you that you do. – Oleg Apr 6 '18 at 21:34
3

You don't have to be perfectly honest. Her question isn't perfectly honest. It's the best way she can verbalize her insecurity. In any marriage, when one person asks, "Would you ever leave me?" the answer is always "no".

It causes basic insecurity in a marriage if one or both spouses thinks it might end, for whatever practical reason that might theoretically come along. If your wife woke up with her cosmetics smeared, horrible breath, hair all messed up, and asked, "How do I look?" would you say, "Terrible!"?

No, you would say the right thing, because beautiful is part of the definition of 'woman'. Forever is part of the definition of marriage.

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    So basically when one person asks, "Would humankind ever evolve?" the answer is always "no". – Mario Trucco Apr 6 '18 at 6:33
  • No matter how far evolution goes, people will still want security. Honesty from the heart is different from honesty from the mind. If people are perfectly honest, even with themselves, they would live in constant fear. – Awesome Apr 8 '18 at 6:35
2

Every relationship I ever had included mutual and frequent promises of eternal love and... I'm single. Marriage vows usually include "until death do us part" or something similar and yet more than 40% of marriages end in divorce.

Promising to love and stay with each other forever is something that couples do to make each other feel good and secure, it's a helpful white lie and most people don't overthink it and lie to themselves as well believing that they're actually capable of making that impossible promise.

You overthought it ;-) and now you have a problem not wanting to lie to you wife. You can try overthinking it even more; The philosopher Derek Parfit argues in his Reasons and Persons book that you and future you are not the same people:

At time 1, there is a person. At a later time 2, there is a person. These people seem to be the same person. Indeed, these people share memories and personality traits. But there are no further facts in the world that make them the same person.

Based on that the you who makes that promise and the you who might break it in the future are different people and you are not lying when you make it!

Your wife wants and needs to hear that promise from you and you need to find a way to say it to her.

Her desire to address any issues you might be having before they explode is practical and reasonable. Promising her you will bring them up is something you can do. If you will tell her every week:

If I ever begin to think of leaving you, I promise I will tell you immediately

What you're actually promising is to tell her during the next week. You're not going to change that much in a week so that's a promise you know you can keep and not a lie.

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    Based on that the you who makes that promise and the you who might break it in the future are different people and you are not lying when you make it! I like the thought, but it is extremely remote from our everyday practice and interactions as humans. I don't think this will convince either a judge or a wife. – user510 Apr 6 '18 at 11:47
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    @henning The goal is only to convince himself. – Oleg Apr 6 '18 at 11:52
2

When I started reading your question I was thinking of explaining something about how intrusive thoughts in OCD are treated, so you could help her desensitize about this; but then I kept reading, and found out that you are pathologically honest. You even appear to have used your real name and photograph here. So let's turn it around. If you want to be less of a slave to your conscience, set yourself increasing levels of challenge to desensitize yourself to telling white lies. Make yourself a list of situations in which a white lie might be an option. Then rank them according to how uncomfortable they would make you, to actually tell the white lie. Then start with the easiest one, and tell the white lie. You may feel rather miserable. You may feel an itch to undo it by doing your pathologically honest explanations. Note down, as time goes by, how strongly you feel that itch. Well, the human body can't sustain the physical manifestations of that discomfort for hours on end, so at some point, the discomfort will subside. (Note, however, it's possible to get a two-humped curve.) Do the exercise again the next day. It will get easier at some point, and within two or three weeks of doing the exercise daily or almost daily, it will become old hat and you won't feel the intrusive thought about it any more.

If a particular level is too much of a jump from the previous, you should expand your list of graded challenges, and make a finer grid in that region.

I'm not saying you have to become a liar. But to get through life comfortably it's helpful to be able to compliment Aunt Gladys on her beef stew even though if you never had to eat it again that would be too son. (Because you are fond of your Aunt Gladys and you don't want to hurt her feelings.)

In the short term, I suggest you explain to your wife that your need to feel scrupulously honest has caused you to create unnecessary anxiety in her, and she should not pay you any mind in that regard, because this is your problem, and has nothing to do with her or her relationship with you.

Now that is being productively honest.

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    I would not lie to Aunt Gladys and say her beef stew was good, because she should be adult enough to recognise not everyone likes everything. Nor is "I promise I will never leave you under any circumstances" a 'white lie', those are some very serious words and to be honest, unbelievable for someone with trust issues, too. Nor would I consider being 'pathologically honest' in this way a "bad thing she should not pay mind to". If anything, their partner should find it comforting. – Erdrik Ironrose Apr 6 '18 at 8:03
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    @ErdrikIronrose - How often do we have to eat Aunt Gladys's beef stew? If it's once a year, I think we can gloss over our pickiness. Now, if it were something more substantial, such as Uncle Jackson's fiery hot chili and my aversion to hot pepper, that would not be a place for a small white lie. // In non-pathological circumstances, "I promise I will never leave you under any circumstances" is not needed; if the anxious partner requests this, it's still not a good idea, because adding all those adverbs are not going to reduce their anxiety one iota. – aparente001 Apr 6 '18 at 14:06
2

I see two options here.

First, as you say, no one can predict the future, so focus on - and bring her focus to the now:

her: I'm afraid you'll leave me some day

you: I love you and I want to be with you.

Stop there. By including caveats about the unpredictability of the future, you seem to give yourself lawyer-like wiggle room which is likely to only increase her doubt.

The other option, which may be more effective in the long run, is to hand it back to her:

her: I'm afraid you'll leave me some day

you: Why would I ever do that?

At this point, you've opened the door to her expressing her underlying doubts fears:

her: You won't want me anymore if I get fat / ugly / old / grow a wart on my nose / ...

And then perhaps you can put the underlying fears to rest for the time being (Note that insecurities can take patient repetition to lay to rest)

you: You're beautiful to me and always will be / I love you for the person you are not for how you look / ...

0

How can I reassure my wife that I do not foresee our relationship ending without dishonestly guaranteeing a positive future outcome in all possible scenarios?

This may sound upsetting, weird or cruel, but:

You shouldn’t reassure her at all.

Unless you didn’t do or say something which indicates you want to leave her (like looking for another apartment, talking to an attorney specializing in divorce, looking for or having relationships with other women etc.), I’d claim that, nothing you say will reassure her, but rather feed her insecurity.

Another answer pointed to OCD and so called “intrusive thoughts”. A specific form of this is doubting the partners loyalty without factual proof (see above).

This often results in specific behaviors to try to resolve these doubts, among them seeking for reassurance (others are checking, controlling the partner’s actions, avoiding and rituals).

This is a double edged sword, because reassurance communicates...

  • on the one hand: “I care for you, I love you, I am here for you” - which is good,

  • on the other hand though, paradoxically: “these doubts are true” and “I need him to handle my insecurities, I am not capable to handle this myself”

...the latter undermining trust in the relationship and the own abilities to manage thoughts and feelings, increasing dependency on the partner, thus increasing the fear of being dumped.

It is the (well-intentioned) attempt to resolve intrusive doubts and the resulting feelings by changing another persons behavior. This cannot work, but only make the problem worse, and sadly may work as a self-fulfilling prophecy by putting so much strain on the relationship that it deteriorates.

You can see this process in action in your question: the reassuring doesn’t really stick,

  • it has to be repeated and
  • it has to be presented “in the right way”,

which is typical for OCD.

The interpersonal solution here IMHO is to calmly explain that pattern and encourage her to seek professional help, and refrain from giving reassurance.

Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy and Strategic Therapy are known to be effective in resolving these patterns.

Good luck!

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    It could be that. Or could be that her idea of a loving relationship is frequently expressing that love in some way (small gestures, flowers, letters, sex, ...) and he's not doing that any more. Before declaring the problem to be unilaterally hers, it'd be worthwhile to take a look at the husbands behaviour as well... Sure, it's nice to know you can be a perfectly happy person on your own but once you've achieved that why have a relationship at all? – AllTheKingsHorses Apr 6 '18 at 10:48
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    @AllTheKingsHorses I doubt that. From OP’s description, his wife needs an exact wording and otherwise is experiencing a downward spiral. Maybe OP could clarify this. My suggestion is not “being happy alone”, in case you processed it this way. – michi Apr 6 '18 at 10:54
  • Hm, from the Q it just sounds to me like OP's rather technical and reluctant answers ("I don't know what will happen in the distant future") don't satisfy the need for affection she feels at that moment. It may be that she has an unhealthy need for affection or it may be that he doesn't give a lot of it. Also, suggesting therapy when she's already down is quite likely to escalate the problem; I'd expect it to go better if he suggests that when she's in a relaxed state of mind. – AllTheKingsHorses Apr 6 '18 at 11:12
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Welcome to my world.

I see two questions there:

[How to maintain] honesty while being comforting in response to insecurity about relationship?

The "honesty" part is for you; the "comforting" for your wife. For your wife, it does not matter at all whether you are honest or not, because she simply cannot know which is which.

Obviously, if you are bad at lying and she knows the signs, then she will find out if you lie. But this is not your problem. Your problem is that she has no way to detect when you are telling the truth; and by the way you describe her, she seems to be disposed such that she either has a negative pre-disposition about you telling the truth (i.e., she doesn't really believe you although you are true), or she has internal issues (anxiety, fear etc.) which makes it so that it just does not matter whether what you say is true ("Yes, I wholeheartedly believe you, but what if ...").

So, forget about the "Honesty" aspect her. You want to concentrate on comforting her. This does not necessarily have anything to do with the future, with her question, or with your own inner workings. Possible routes:

  • Do more stuff with her. Spend as much time as possible, doing whatever it is you do (and if it's only binging TV series). Don't even give her time to start worrying.
  • Work on being able to defuse any fraught situations before they start. This can be simple things like "oh, look, it is so warm out there" - "no, it is cold" - "I find it's warm" - "you always say it is different, do you think I'm stupid" - blabla. You give no indication whether this kind of problem sometimes occurs in your partnership, but if it does, fix it (you can do it on your side).
  • Make sure that there are no things that you habitually keep secret from your wife. I am not talking about other relationships here, but simple things. Maybe you have a fetish for the sign language of small furry animals, which you are telling nobody about. Make sure you are able to talk freely with your wife about it. And so on... give her the feeling that she is inside the "inner circle" as far as you are concerned.
  • Make sure to have lots of humour in your relationship... easy things, eating well, enjoying sunsets etc.
  • Occasionally, make plans for the future together (for example, extending the house with a shed, getting a pet, etc. - maybe even the obvious topics like children etc.) and then be sure to follow through. I.e., long-term projects in addition to short-time merrymaking.

If all this is as it should be, then when she gets her anxiety attacks or whatever it is that prompts "I'm afraid you'll leave me some day.", just cuddle with her and show her how great your love is. No "objective" talking is necessary or helpful.

How can I reassure my wife that I do not foresee our relationship ending without dishonestly guaranteeing a positive future outcome in all possible scenarios?

You cannot. There is simply no way. Source: The situation you are describing sounds like I could have described my wife (and my own character). That particular combination of characteristics is not something special, I've seen it plenty in colleagues or friends - it just works out that way. The one person rather logical/unemotional; the other one very emotional. Talking does not help, there is simply nothing you can say (as you, yourself, have deduced already).

Also, for your own sake, I would suggest trying not to overthink all of this. It's not your fault, it's not her fault, and you cannot fix it really. Yes, I am running under the assumption that it is not so bad that you are going to therapy because of this. If it does get bad (i.e., severe, long-term bouts of depression or something like that) then the advice would change.

N.B.: Your own thought process shows that you are already thinking quite "buddhist" thoughts (things come and go, not everything can be seen up front, not everything is under control). Reading western buddhist texts can help (you, not your wife) a lot. There are also some current-day western monks out there who have presence on Youtube - check them out (e.g. Ajahn Brahm, and others). You will recognize them by the fact that there is no religious subtext at all there, it's all about thinking clearly. This stuff actually does work as a kind of maintenance for the brain, and it can make many choices, especially for people who think like you, really simple and painless.

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Written as an answer, per @clark's suggestion.

As a person who had on occasion felt like your wife does, I'd suggest dropping the "but" ending of the sentence. It can sound as if you're putting an emphasis on the uncertainty, as opposed to your current feeling about the future. I'd say something like "It is impossible to predict the future, but it's hard for me to imagine it happening". Not as in "I can't make up a hypothetical scenario in which it could happen", but as in "I feel like our relationship would stay the same as far as I can see". (Assuming this is somehow similar to how you feel).

I see myself as quite a rational person, and I completely agree that one cannot make promises about the future, but one can express his intentions or feelings. For example, I can't be sure I'd love my partner my whole life, but I feel like there's no real reason for it to change, and I intend to be open with him if something does happen.

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Speaking from recurring experience, your problem seems like two problems.

1) You tend to abstract. Your wife does not. Both is ok. The latter however is more common. That is why most people do marry. And a lot of them fail eventually. For most people a problem either is concrete or does not exist. My suggestion is to not to try to convince your wife of the theoretical nature of your statement. Instead, take her serious on the level that she is comfortable and just do not go further than that. Take your abstraction needs to places where they work.

2) Your wife is insecure either by nature or just right now being triggered by whatever you did or missed to do. This aspect of your situation has been addressed quite well in other answers, the one from Craig.Feied being my favourite. Actually the answer of Link0352 is my favourite, but I must advise against that approach for reasons stated in 1).

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