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Here's a brief rundown of the situation:

I have issues with fears of abandonment that manifest in very strong anxiety triggered by certain things, such as my girlfriend going out partying for the night. I am currently in a long-distance relationship, which does not exactly make things easier.

Now, first of all: I am well aware that this is my issue, and she is in no way obliged to "not upset me". That I shouldn't feel this way, and that she's in no way responsible for how I feel. That she should never feel obliged to do or not do something based solely off how I feel about it. And that anything else is very unhealthy and will lead to pain and resentment further down the road, that she never has to ask me "permission" to do something, etc. And I tell her that explicitly.

But due to her character, previous experiences, and potentially certain mental health issues of her own, she is very afraid of upsetting me. And I cannot hide the fact that I am upset. I do (truthfully) tell her that I would never get angry at her about anything of this kind, and that it's not her fault or her burden to bear, but the crux of the matter is that such things do cause me crippling anxiety (e.g. quite vigorous physical shaking, racing heartbeat, and inability to sleep). So to her, that is a sort of "punishment", even though I do not want it to be - effective enough that she on her own actively avoids anything that she thinks might upset me, which in turn leads to her feeling controlled.

I have been having difficulties with this for a while, and while it has gotten better over the years, it recently worsened drastically when my last girlfriend, weeks before we were to move in together, cheated on me and ended the relationship without any prior indication issues (she claims she herself was not aware anything was wrong). We parted ways amicably, since there's no point in blaming her and the whole episode caused her a lot of grief as well, but it reinforced a lot of fears.

The resulting questions are the following:

  • How can I communicate to her (besides just saying it obviously) that while this is obviously some kind of trust issue, that doesn't reflect on how I feel about her and is in no way her fault?

And, if this is still applicable to this stack,

  • What are strategies to feel less anxious about those things? I receive plenty of affection which I appreciate a lot. And in the moment, it makes me feel alright with those sorts of situations. But having very emotionally heavy conversations every time she wants to go out is not feasible.

This whole thing was more or less triggered by her intention to "dress up like a slut and go to a party" for Halloween (her wording), and I would greatly appreciate any advice on how not to actively dread that or any similar occasion arising on the horizon, or at least speak to my girlfriend about it in a fashion that doesn't implicitly blackmail her into restricting herself.

This is my first time posting here, so I'm sorry if it is out of place or badly worded. Thank you in advance for any advice

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    I'm sorry but something doesn't make sense to me. You have told your girlfriend that because you have been cheated on in the past you get anxious and worried about this happening again, and she tells you straight up she's going to dress like a slut at the Halloween party? How old are you? – Tycho's Nose Oct 15 '17 at 17:36
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    She has every right to dress how she wants whether it's for herself or others, but I wouldn't be making a declaration about it to my boyfriend who suffers from anxiety over cheating and lives far away (?) but that's just me. – Tycho's Nose Oct 15 '17 at 18:49
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    @Tycho'sNose - Right? An inappropriate and insensitive comment to make to her BF. You should consider this, M. V. – anongoodnurse Oct 15 '17 at 20:45
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    Does it make you equally anxious to know about your girlfriend's innocent excursions after the fact, or is it more an issue of worrying about what might happen ahead of time? – 1006a Oct 15 '17 at 22:09
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    @Tycho'sNose That comment was made before we had a chance to discuss that I had those insecurities. So that's not something she could've known, it was simply a trigger for certain things that have sadly been a problem for me to some extent for quite a while. – M.V. Oct 15 '17 at 23:26
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...she is very afraid of upsetting me. And I cannot hide the fact that I am upset. ...such things do cause me crippling anxiety (e.g. quite vigorous physical shaking, racing heartbeat, and inability to sleep)

First, you need to get into therapy. Be it talk, CBT, desensitization, repetitive motion, whatever, do that ASAP, because you owe it to yourself and anyone you end up partnering with to be a healthier version of you.

Second, do not talk often about your abandonment issues, and never when she wants to do something that scares you. Don't tell her of your crippling anxiety when you have it or speak with her when you're upset. Write it in a journal, text your best friends, do some guided journaling (journaling with a specific goal), learn how to meditate, and learn everything you can about anxiety disorders. This is absolutely your problem, not hers, and whether you think so or not, telling her - knowing that it changes her behavior - is making her responsible for your anxiety. Now that's not necessarily a terrible thing if it works for both of you, but you're claiming you don't want that.

...having very emotionally heavy conversations every time she wants to go out is not feasible.

You're absolutely correct. See above. Say, "Have a good time!" Then spend the next hour journaling/meditating/whatever helps.

I'm not taking your anxiety lightly. Anxiety attacks are horrible. But they are yours, not hers.

Talking about deeply personal things is key to a trusting relationship, but making someone else take care of your feelings by changing their behavior is wrong. Take care of yourself. It's critical to your partners and future children, if you have any.

Depending on how bad it is, I might schedule an appointment with a psychiatrist and a therapist. An anxiolytic - not alprazolam, please - may be beneficial, enough to take the edge off the panic and make it tolerable while you do the other things you learn to help yourself.

  • +1 Yes. When she goes out, use your spare time to do whatever you usually don't have time to: read, watch a movie, play a game, go out too, rest... When my GF is out (girls' night/work meeting/whatever) 1. (both) have fun and enjoy SH 2. Have fun on my side 3. She texts me before coming home 4. We talk about our "party". – OldPadawan Oct 15 '17 at 18:00
  • +1 for therapy. I had similar issues subsequent to ex cheating, and found "Codependent No More" by Melody Beattie helpful. The book is not a substitute for a counselor you have a good rapport with. – wwarriner Oct 15 '17 at 22:37
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    That said, a relationship is built on trust; and it's a complete must have for a long distance relationship. Saying you're going to dress up like a slut is pulling at those trust strings and, depending on context, ANY guy could get anxious quite reasonably. Saying 'have a good time' or 'in that case make sure you send me a picture' however will most likely calm things down for both parties since she's clearly feeling annoyed about something to have said that – UKMonkey Oct 16 '17 at 9:16
  • I'm not a physician, but I've been struggling with both anxiety and benzodiazepine (like alplazolam ) dependence. The last thing I'd suggest is using such medicine. Please try therapy first. – Tico Oct 16 '17 at 10:55
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    @Tico - Now, that comment really is ironic. I used to treat drug addicts all the time for a couple of years. I think I have dealt with dependence, a lot. Even benzo dependence. I also got agoraphobics out of the house for the first time in years, etc. Judicious use of anxiolytics - the right ones for the situation - is paramount initially. – anongoodnurse Oct 18 '17 at 13:39
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This is probably something that you should talk to a therapist about, but there was something rather unconventional that worked for me...

When I was much younger I had a similar fear of being cheated on, because I had been cheated on in several relationships in a row. Obviously this was really painful, but I found something that helped me get over the fear, jealousy, and pain.

Try reading up on ethical polyamorous relationships. I don't recommend polyamorous relationships, they're really complicated and often dramatic. Just read about the concept, and how people manage to have long term non-monogamous relationships. Just a hint, most of it centers around learning to openly communicate with your partner/s about your emotions.

Basically it's like steering into the skid. Just as a mental exercise, consider not only being ok with your partner seeing other people, but being happy for them, and actually encouraging them to pursue a relationship with someone else because it makes them happy. I know the thoughts are initially hard and painful, but with time and with practice it works.

I can say that I learned a lot from having an ethical polyamorous relationship. Mostly that my partner sleeping with or even falling in love with someone else doesn't necessarily mean that they love me any less. It also taught me how to deal with most of my relationship related fears and anxieties. I no longer worry about being cheated on.

I don't really recommend this relationship style in practice because they're really very difficult to maintain (and in my experience a lot of people get into them for the wrong reasons), but they do teach you a lot about yourself, and about communication in relationships because they are so very difficult.

  • Thank you for the suggestion, that is indeed an interesting angle. We've experimented with being "conditionally open", by having sexual encounters with other people, but that's not the same. Is there any reading you would recommend? As for seeing a therapist, I'm currently trying to find out whether I'm "ill enough" to be eligible to have therapy covered by insurance, but I will pursue that – M.V. Oct 15 '17 at 16:55
  • @M.V. morethantwo.com has some pretty good articles. – apaul Oct 15 '17 at 17:52
  • If you are well enough to say 'ill enough' then you are probably not ill enough to claim mental health insurance for therapy, a friend routinely dealing with such claims once said (paraphrase) -- but insurance policy may differ in your jurisdiction @M.V. – English Student Oct 15 '17 at 18:52
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    @EnglishStudent - Anxiety disorders in the US are covered by insurance. The problem is that really crummy insurances will only cover, like, 12 visits a year, which is criminal. But please do not be discouraging of the OP to seek care. – anongoodnurse Oct 15 '17 at 20:40
  • @EnglishStudent I am based in Germany, where health insurance covers therapy if a licensed therapist finds you in need of one, i.e. if disorders you have have "illness value", to translate it literally. What exactly that means, I will try to find out – M.V. Oct 15 '17 at 21:52
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(If you can't hide it) talk about it. Tell her you don't want to restrict her in what she does but you are also afraid she leaves or cheats on you.

I had long distance for half a year, we were both jealous and a bit afraid. Talking about it helped a lot. We decided on general rule to not do things you wouldn't want the other person Todo while your gone.

You can start the conversation by asking her if she feels jealous about certain things you do to create the openness for her to ask the question back.

1

Okay, first things first.

Props to you for recognizing that you have a problem, you know what it is, and you know where it came from. This is cool. Next step is to get your bad self some therapy. You can get help and advice from friends and friendly internet strangers (and I'm about to launch my "advice manifesto" on you), but it is worth checking in with a pro just to make sure that your issue isn't something that requires the heavy artillery.

That said... I've some thoughts to share with you.

  • You cannot control what she does -- This is the case whether you live in the same town or not. Unless you physically handcuff her to your wrist (not recommended), she is going to be out of your sight for large amounts of time. Meditate on that, because it leads to...

  • Trust -- You have to trust her honor. That is, you have to understand that she cares for you, and has sufficient integrity that she's not going to step out on you. If you don't believe this, you shouldn't be courting her.

  • Wry acceptance -- Accept that your feelings of jealousy, while magnified past the usual, are normal and expected. Yours are just a bit overinflated. Look, most every guy -- rightly or wrongly -- bristles at the thought of some other guy "putting eyes on my woman". It's understandable. Especially if she's going to be showing up to some party half-naked without you there for backup. I get it, you get it. But ... you (I presume) live in a civilized society. Overwhelming odds are that she will be safe. You will still have the jealous feelings. Accept them for what they are -- a protective reaction which is kicking in unnecessarily.

  • Side-note -- There's a weird counterpoint to the jealousy factor above; many guys like to show off their girls, how lovely and lively they are, etc. Both impulses can coexist in the same cranium. Us guys are funny creatures, neh?

  • Appearances -- Your lack of trust hurts her. Why? Because, per above, you do not trust her honor. What does that really say about your opinion of her? Do you really think she is so weak? Doubtless not, but it gives off that impression.

  • Time -- I can't promise this, but I bet you that as time passes, as you see her devotion to you in action, this should assuage the jealousy/anxiety.

Recommendation -- Share your thoughts with her. Tell her you have jealousy issues, but it's due to your baggage plus some misplaced protectiveness. Tell her to go to her party, but to give you a call when she gets home. You can then happily chew your fingernails up to the second knuckle while you wait. ;D

Oh yeah, almost forgot. Not kidding about that therapy, boyo. Just get yourself checked out.

1

Given your question, you sound like you are well aware of your anxiety. I would advise going to speak to a medical professional about this. They might be able to offer you some support and advice on how to better manage these symptoms.

But due to her character, previous experiences, and potentially certain mental health issues of her own, she is very afraid of upsetting me.

I think in any relationship there will be difficulties and differences of opinion. Perhaps you should suggest to your girlfriend that you are seeking help from other sources. The fact you've posted on here clearly indicates that! It sounds like you really like your girlfriend.

I've read up a lot on anxiety issues and they tend to arise from negative thinking and a lot of ruminating (over analysing what might go wrong and replaying the situation in your head). A good therapist specialising in CBT could help here. A panic attack is pretty much related to a surge of adrenaline

Things that might help in the short term:

  • Don't try to seek reassurance from your girlfriend when she goes out alone. It's outside your control what happens and it's good to learn this.
  • How confident do you feel in yourself? Seems your previous bad relationship experience gave you a knock. Being more comfortable with yourself will almost certainly make you less anxious.
  • If you feel anxious, maybe go do some exercise
  • Try and eat healthily, your body will function better on a right diet
  • Maybe try and solve a difficult problem to take up your time and stop you thinking about the girlfriend.
  • Get support from other friends and family.
  • Read up on mindfullness

Obviously I don't know you as a person so I still strongly believe you should speak to someone in person. It's up to you to get better.

Good luck!

0

I have a lot of directions to go with this. So first of all:

  1. Possibility that you have BPD

    Your use of "implicitly blackmail" plus the traumatic abandonment issues makes me wonder if you have BPD (the blackmail thing is an accusation I hear all the time against people with BPD who can't stop feeling bad and showing it). If so, it will be hard to find literature for a partner that does not demonize it. I strongly recommend a book called "When Hope Is Not Enough". I also second the recommendation for "Codependent No More", but that would be for the partner as well. For you, I suggest looking on borderline-related tags on tumblr and on psychforums.com's BPD section to see if it resonates with you. However, even if you do not feel this applies to you, allow me to continue with advice about your particular question.

  2. Viability of not lying

    It may be very hard to find someone who doesn't feel threatened in some way by the prospect of an onslaught of negative emotion, because many people are not able to be around someone else feeling bad without "catching" it. There are certain demographics that are less subject to emotional contagion: for example, autistics. They are also not very likely to resent you feeling bad in and of itself. You're allowed to have the feelings you have, and even if you're not allowed to, too bad because you do. If someone feels unduly restricted by that (in the absence you doing something to hassle them), that's THEIR feeling that THEY need to own (but it still may be possible to strategize to mitigate it). But, you say, due to this person's background, they can't handle it. Honestly dude, my POV is that someone who can't handle that can't handle you. Because that is part of you. The sooner everyone is honest with themselves about their emotional resources the better. It doesn't make either of you a bad person if it's not a match.

    1. What is your ideal situation

If you could have anything you wanted to reassure you while she was gone, in a hypothetical world where nothing's unreasonable, what would it be? It may turn out that this thing is doable. Try to break the anxiety down into component parts. Is time distortion part of it? Are you concerned that she'll literally not come back? Etc. Then try to address those things with hacks one by one. The vaguer it's kept, the more it's an intractable black cloud.

  • It is possible but not highly likely that this patient has BPD. Although a major constituent on BPD is fear of abandonment, there don't seem to be other indicators. Maybe the OP just has deep abandonment issues. – anongoodnurse Oct 17 '17 at 12:48
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    -1 for the tumblr suggestion. That community is a hotbed for people who self-diagnose themselves with mental disorders, and others who see mental issues as some sort of fashion statement. Definitely avoid it. – Pyritie Feb 22 '18 at 16:19

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