Dear Dr. Rob,
After you wrote this post for men I thought for sure we’d see a follow-up for the female readers, something to help us in our relationships with our boyfriends. And yet, nothing! Do I have to go to Dr. Phil for good advice?
Let the word go forth and make no mistake: if anyone here takes Dr. Phil’s advice over mine, she will be banned from this website forever, never to return. Banished for life.
A few years ago a large portion of my clientele was women, aged 21-35 or so. Most of them had what seemed to be potentially great relationships with their boyfriends. However, all the women had a common feature: a need for excessive attention from their boyfriends and a constant reassurance of the relationship’s stability.
None of these women were narcissists or suffering from Histrionic Personality Disorder (more commonly known as “Drama Queens”). They all hated the idea of being labeled “That Girl,” the one who might have a few too many drinks and blow a gasket when their boyfriends didn’t call or wanted to spend a night with the guys. And yet that is exactly what they were turning into. Successful women with great jobs, loving friends and goals that ranged from writing books to raising large, healthy families. So why were they needing to be the sole focus of their significant others’ world? Why the constant and debilitating anxiety from any signal suggesting a lack of complete and total devotion? Simply put, they were all afraid of loss, and this fear was a huge problem.
The women would come to me seeking ways to lower their anxiety levels, feel less jealous about ex-girlfriends, develop ways to not freak out that their partner didn’t say ‘I love you’ often enough. I will tell you exactly what I told each of them.
There are no magic words, no breathing or muscle relaxation techniques, no amount of drugs (recreational or medicinal) that can take away all of the angst and distress if you insist on making a small number of erroneous and perhaps not entirely conscious assumptions:
1) There is such a thing as a ‘guarantee’ in relationships or life in general. Read my post on why marriages fail for more on this. Life actually brings just the opposite: a constant series of risks, especially at the romantic level. Just think of the number of dates/hook-ups/boyfriends you and your friends have had over the course of your life. How many of those have ultimately ended? Almost all of them.
2) Men can essentially be put in a bubble, removed from their history and current interactions with the outside world, that they can have a healthy life generated solely by your relationship with them.
3) That you ‘can’t live without him.’
In other words, unless you embrace the fact that your man has a past and present that doesn’t include you, that there’s no way to ensure things will be Happily-Ever-After and, perhaps most importantly, that you are not made of glass and would survive if the relationship dissolved, then you’ve ironically already destroyed the good thing you have. If you can’t be comfortable in your own skin – knowing that if you were betrayed or dumped or both, that you’d get up, dust yourself off and move on – then give up on that relationship now. As cliché as it may be, you simply can’t ask someone else to tell you that things will be okay if you are unable to do it yourself. There’s no way the relationship will work. There’s no chance.
The good news is that once you’ve eliminated the aforementioned assumptions from your mind set, all the ‘symptoms’ will go away. No more worry, no jealousy, and finally some fucking inner peace. Why? Because you’ll know that while it’s painful to lose someone important to you, loss is a part of life and that you can be okay with that fact. You can and will move forward, as hard as it may be.
One further piece of good news: men who are interested in meaningful relationships will find this mind set attractive. You’ll strangely get so much more out of your relationship if you’re fully prepared to lose it.
Easy to say, right? Of course it is, and that’s why therapy is actually quite simple. It’s not a collection of mind-blowing words of wisdom that you’ve never heard before. Not at all. But unfortunately it is a process, not an event. You have to take information that you might actually already know and absorb it. It has to transform from an intellectual understanding to a more visceral one. And when that happens, people feel better.
Give these words some thought. Not just ‘yeah yeah, I get it’ thought. Sit with the three assumptions above and embrace how untrue and maladaptive they are. That will help. Trust me, I’m a doctor. Not a real one, but close enough for the purposes of this discussion.
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