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The Anxious Wife


For those of us who were raised without many married role models, sometimes marriage can feel like a terrifying leap into the unknown. It’s not unlike my fear of flying. Until someone explained to me the physics of how planes worked, I simply had no faith in them to not drop out of the sky. So, for the aforementioned reasons, today’s anonymous post on marriage anxiety hit me hard. But in a good way. Because sometimes we kids of divorced parents need to be reminded that that we’re not doomed to repeat the mistakes of those who came before us. Sometimes we just need to hear that there are, in fact, an infinite number of possible outcomes for our marriages and that there is plenty of time to figure things out. But now I’m going to turn this over to anonymous, because she has it way more figured out than I do yet.

—Maddie for Maternity Leave

The Anxious Wife | A Practical Wedding

I am an overthinker, and once my partner proposed, I immediately started stressing about our marriage. Not our wedding—our marriage. I freaked out because I’d never seen a happy marriage up close, and I was afraid that one day, our marriage would resemble that of my parents, who divorced after twenty-four years of no physical affection, a lot of arguing, and thinly-disguised disgust and contempt. I worried that after the wedding I would transform into my mother, and he would turn into my father. Because marriage sucks the joy out of everything, right?

So, I did something really smart: I told my mom I wanted therapy as my wedding gift. Off I went, knowing that this was going to help my relationship with my soon-to-be-spouse and with myself. We planned our wedding and it was fantastic. Seriously, a year and a half later I continue to receive compliments on our ceremony and reception, and it was definitely the best party I have thrown so far. Oh, and I married my favorite person.

But I’m writing today to talk about my anxieties that continue to this day about my marriage. In spite of the fact that people gush over our relationship (including but not limited to my mother, our local bartender, and friends of my family), I am still plagued by the fear that if I look away for five seconds or stop actively working on it, I will take my amazing spouse for granted, or he will take me for granted, and as a result, we will slowly grow apart and end up divorced, or worse, unhappily married.

My therapist gently explains to me on a weekly basis that I have an ingrained fear of abandonment, and this is triggering my fear that if I do something wrong*, my partner will leave me, physically or emotionally. However, while my head knows this, my heart has still not received this telegram. It’s a long process, apparently. I realized a week or two ago that my thinking is centered around a false dichotomy that marriage falls into one of the following categories:

Option A: Maintain your relationship by tricking yourself into thinking you are still dating, and thus, you could break up atanyminute. Don’t take your person for granted ever, bottle up the anger and sadness so you don’t scare them away, and always wear cute underwear.

Option B: Take them for granted. Let it all hang out. Be overconfident that they will never leave you, that things are fine, and don’t be self-conscious about yelling, crying, or treating them with respect, etc.

I have realized that this is a false pair of options. These aren’t the only two possibilities I have available to me. It occurred to me a few weeks ago that the mindset of Option A is based on fear, and that’s not a good place to work from when it comes to love, especially at the beginning of a marriage. It’s one thing if we’ve been together for fifteen years and he’s saying he doesn’t feel appreciated any more—that would be a slightly more valid time to worry, feel a bit of fear, and do some work. But when it’s been one and a half years and he’s not complaining, and I feel appreciated, it’s okay to relax, and, without turning into Option B, allow myself to enjoy the feeling of security in our relationship. To trust in my partner’s love for me, and focus on telling my inner “I Told You So” voice to cut it out and stop trying to scare me.

In this world of Option C, working from my feelings of security, love, and contentment, we can just be married. And I can occasionally check in and make sure that I am expressing my love for my spouse and cherishing who he is (and vice versa), but not out of a fear that he’s going to fall out of love with me anydaynow. So this is my goal, this is the message I’m trying to send my heart: Relax and enjoy!

But this is hard. I keep looking over my shoulder. I don’t know about you, but it’s scary and lonely to not see a lot of other models of happy, healthy marriages in real life. It feels like every few months another couple breaks up, and my confidence falters. There’s this sense of an inevitable doom—like after the four- or seven-year mark, it’ll all go to hell in a hand basket. I just don’t see a lot of examples of couples going through challenges and coming out on the other side together and happy with each other. There are a few, but I don’t know them well enough to ask them about their challenges. And the newspapers, websites, and magazines do not help. A happy marriage is not news; a messy breakup is. There are no magazine articles called “Stop Stressing Out! Your Relationship is Great!” Instead it’s all about how to attract, keep, or win back your partner’s attention and attraction. It’s about the top ten signs that he’s cheating, or that she’s bored in bed. That is where the APW community has filled a huge void for me.

Through this community, I have realized that marriage is like aging—there are few examples of people who do it gracefully, yet it’s inevitable. We all get older, and it is those who embrace and love their evolving selves and who focus on living their lives who I most admire. Those who spend all their time and energy stressing about (or trying to fight) aging don’t really take the time to just live. So rather than focus on possible future challenges and changes in my marriage, I want to enjoy where it is right now and trust that our relationship will evolve in natural, beautiful ways.

*i.e., get really angry and yell, cry too much, let myself go, and other things that are not actually inherently wrong

Photo by: Emily Takes Photos (APW Sponsor)

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  • KEA1

    WHOA. You just hit home. I don’t know if my anxiety is all “nurture” or if there’s also some nature involved, but holy crap, the “he will fall out of love with me anydaynow…” And your (false) dichotomy of marriage options. And the “doing something wrong” involving some manner of expressing your feelings. And, and, and, and. This was my upbringing. This was basically how I was explicitly encouraged to think, especially about romantic relationships. I’m pretty sure that the messages have been so strong that it wouldn’t have mattered whether I was naturally predisposed to overthinking.

    Your post gives me a LOT of hope, and it comes at a time when I can really appreciate that. Thank you, and lots of good wishes for you and for your marriage!

    • Crayfish Kate

      Yes, exactly, me too! This essentially was going to be my comment, but I’m glad you beat me to it! I really thought I was the only one who felt so anxious and paranoid about my own relationship. Therapy sounds great, I’ve been wanting to go for a while now, but it’s just not in the budget :-( Regardless, does anyone have any suggestions on how to find a good counselor/therapist for these sorts of concerns?

      And thank you so, so much for this post!

      • LMS

        I don’t know what your health insurance situation is, but I’ve been seeing a therapist who works for my HMO and only pay $20 per visit. I don’t know that she’s the best out there, but it is helping. So one option would be to see if your doctor can refer you to someone, which might also allow you to get insurance coverage.

        Awhile back, another APW commenter also recommended http://www.goodtherapy.org, so you could try that as well. Good luck!

        • kyley

          It’s worth calling your insurance company, because sometimes you don’t even need to get a referral. For example, I just needed to see a therapist in-network and I get something like 50 visits a year. I pay a $20 co-pay and see her twice a month. I’ve switched insurance 3 times since I started seeing her years ago, and I’ve actually never needed approval!

          Sometimes it is really hard to make the call because it seems so *complicated* to find someone and get insurance approval and all that other stuff. And it can be so hard to feel motivated to take that on when you’re feeling down. Often, it’s much less complicated, and the hardest part is picking up the phone!

        • Diane

          The other thing to consider is that if you live in a major city, there’s likely to be a medical school or psychology graduate program in the area. Trainees are generally required to do therapy as part of their training and usually charge an only nominal fee. You’d be working with someone who is either in psychiatry residency training, usually in their 3rd or 4th year, or someone in a psychology PhD program or fellowship year. I’m sure prices vary but our clinic charges $15 a session — a fantastic bargain in the world of therapy.

      • Carrie

        There are also some therapists/counselors who do sliding-scale fees — i.e., if your income is lower, they’ll charge you less. I’ve had friends who were able to access therapy this way when they had low-paying jobs and no insurance, and would otherwise not have been able to afford therapy.

        Unfortunately I don’t know of a particularly awesome resource to find therapists who do sliding-scale fees — but googling “therapist sliding scale [location]” seems to turn up some listings (where “[location]” is replaced by your location, like “chicago” or “tallahassee fl” or whatever).

      • SarahToo

        You’re probably in the US, but for people who are living in Canada I’d recommend checking to see if your city has Community Health Centres (common in Ontario) where there is counseling that’s covered by provincial health insurance. I would highly recommend the route of checking out local universities with counselor/ psychologist training programs…in our city we have a university with an excellent program that offers fee-geared-to-income services to the wider community. Because I’m a student living below the poverty line and my partner is in a similar situation, they decided that we should pay $20 (collectively) per session for our couples counseling. And the quality of the therapy is excellent.

  • Anna R

    As the child of parents who are still happily married, let me just say: you aren’t alone. Even the Children of Happy Marriages struggle with this, because sometimes even Happy Marriages aren’t the best Role Model Marriages. I love my parents but I have a lot of anxiety and self-worth issues that stem from how I was raised and how they treated my relationship with my now-husband and I have struggled for years with the fear of “he’ll leave me any day now”. Even today, I’ll have moments of, “OMG I forgot to put gas in the car and it’s his to turn to drive and he’ll hate me and he’ll drive away and never come baaaaack.” It’s a long, ongoing process, but you’re getting the help you need and you’ll get through it!

    • Laura

      I agree with you Anna. My parents are still Happily Married after thirty years and they have been great role models for marriage. But any issue that you struggle with in life, even if it doesn’t have anything to do with relationships per se, can still have an impact on your relationship. I struggled with body image issues all my life, and even now I sometimes look at my fiancé and think, “How can he find me beautiful? What happens when he wakes up one day and realizes how ugly I actually am?” Such issues have the potential to destroy a relationship if we can’t see the good that our significant others see in us. For me, working on your marriage is as much about working on yourself as it is about how you relate to the other person.

      Anonymous, as you say, we only hear about the marriages that break up, whereas the successful ones tend to operate quietly in the background, unnoticed. It sounds as though you have done a lot of active redefining, and you will be able to create a role as a wife that fits you and will carry you through.

      • Jessica

        I agree with Laura! I had so many wonderful marriage role models growing up, but self esteem issues have me running to the gym every day for fear that if I miss a spin class or forget to wax or let myself go in any way my fiancé will realize that… I don’t even know what… but it’s scary!

      • http://misshappnstance.wordpress.com Miss Happ

        Yeah, the “What happens when he wakes up and realizes how ugly/insane/not-worth-it I am” thoughts are so, so, so destructive. Because not only are they perpetuating the idea that you are not worth it, which can’t be true, but they imply that either you tricked your partner into being with you and he/she is gullible enough to be tricked or that he/she is somehow blind/deficient/stupid/has really low standards… Double whammy of shame and guilt meets underestimating your partner and his/her devotion to you and valuation of you.
        It really is an ongoing battle for some, and I love that this post sheds some light on the issue and offers some options to work through it. Thank you.

        • Kelly

          Me too me too- I used to try to make him tell me EXACTLY how this relationship benefited him. When he told me he was with me simply because he loved me, I felt so insecure. I was constantly asking myself “What if he wakes up one morning and realizes it’s not worth the effort to deal with my anxiety/emotion?” I thought it would make me feel so much better if I could just figure out one concrete reason why he would HAVE to stay with me- some reason that it was worth it to him to deal with everything. The “What if he wakes up one morning…” question is scary.

      • JESS

        “We only hear about the marriages that break up, whereas the successful ones tend to operate quietly in the background, unnoticed.”

        Hey APW, what if there was a segment about successful marriages? Like interviews with people married 50+ years where they lay it all out on the table, and talk about the good and the bad and how they made it? I would love to read those.

        • Kelly

          APW occasionally runs posts for those who have been Happily Married for many years and they are some of my absolute favorites- I would LOVE to see more. I assume they don’t get a lot of those posts- readers should ask their relatives/friends if they think they know someone with a good story!

    • http://themoderngal.com The Modern Gal

      Yep, I too had a great example of marriage in my parents and yet suffer from anxiety about my own. I think in a way my parent’s strong marriage makes me feel extra pressure to Get it Right. The anxiety can have so many sources. The important thing is we learn how to work through it, and I think Anonymous sets a great example for all of us.

    • Maddie

      You know, I was wondering if this might be the case even for people who had good married role models growing up. It’s interesting to see how we all manifest these anxieties (mine, for example, stems from the fact that all the marriages I saw end happened after 10 or 20 years, so I’m afraid something terrible happens after you’ve been together forever).

      • http://turningtoward.blogspot.com Kara H.

        So true. I have happily married parents who have a marriage I greatly admire, but I’ve still seen the struggles they’ve had. I know the stretch of time when they fought over my dad’s workaholic tendencies, and I see those tendencies in myself- so I worry. I’ve seen how difficult it can be with my mother’s anxiety disorder- and I too have an anxiety disorder and worry that it will be too much. Even beyond my FH and I, circumstances loom ahead and I fear that life will overwhelm us. Or that his chronic illness will turn into something more severe. Or…so many other things. Anxiety seems to be all around us, which is perhaps not good but comforting all the same. We are not alone in this.

    • LMS

      Yep, exactly. Child of Happily Married parents, still have hella anxiety about my (potential, future) marriage.

      • KB

        I think everyone is affected by their parents’ marriages, regardless of happy, unhappy, divorced, etc. I think it’s natural to look at them and go, “Wow, I hope I’m not like that” no matter what the circumstances are – for example, I have a friend whose parents have been married for like 35 years and they are absolutely adorable together – but then I had dinner at their house and I saw her mom waiting hand-and-foot on him and the rest of the family without so much of a please or thank you. For them, that apparently works, but I swear to God if my fiance ever snapped his fingers at me to get him a drink (without irony), I would metaphorically end him.

  • KH_Tas

    Yeah, I still fall into the Option A line of thinking… quite a bit. Also the Fear Of Doing Something Wrong thing (and the same altered reality definition of ‘something wrong’).

    My parents are happily married, and I don’t think I acquired this line of thinking from them unconsciously. It may have come from some fairly toxic platonic friendships in my early years. My fear of abandonment is an ongoing struggle, but I think (I hope) I’m making some progress.

  • margot

    While I think part of this anxiety comes from family and personal experiences (or experiences witnessed), I think a fair amount of it comes from our culture. There aren’t many role models in our media or cultural narratives that have happy marriages, and fewer yet that have happy marriages that are built on real partnerships.

    It’s why Tami and Coach Taylor on Friday Night Lights fill such a void.

    More than that, I’ve worked really hard to take apart the idea that relationships that end are failures. That sort of thinking buys into the idea that any marriage or relationship is better than no marriage and relationship- a toxic way to think (which you saw with your own parents). And honestly, when other couples break up, sometimes I feel relieved because it means my relationship won’t be in bad company. Of course it’s still sad and uncomfortable, but part of wanting a lot of strong and healthy relationships to look to means that a lot of not great relationships do have to end.

    • LMS

      Tami + Coach: best TV marriage ever! Not because they were perfect, but because they had realistic marital issues and got through them awesomely.

    • Copper

      I’m pretty sure my marital example growing up was the Huxtables. Those two rocked, plus I learned how to tell people that I knew what they were saying was BS simply by raising one eyebrow.

    • Rachel Wilkerson

      So glad I’m not the only one who thinks the Taylors are the most positive example of marriage she has! (And I’m secretly glad my fiance watches the show and adores them…it gives me such a weird sense of confidence and faith!)

  • http://theviolettinker.blogspot.com Chelsea

    Thanks so much for this post. I come from a similar situation while my husband has happily married parents. I’ve got the enjoy the marriage part 90% of the time. However, when we have any kind of disagreement I have an amazing knack for making it bigger than it is because he just might see the real me (or finally get tired of the real me) and leave at any moment. It is reassuring to have language to describe my reaction and be able to think about how to respond differently. Thank you!!

  • Jessica

    Great post. I saw a lot of marriages I did not want to emulate in my family as I was growing up. It’s taken me much longer to find the few I do want to emulate. Of course I can learn from both the good and the not-so-good. I love that you asked your mom for therapy as a wedding gift!

  • http://www.minnesota-chic.com PAW

    One of the things I sobbed at my now-husband before we got married, was that I did not know how to be married. The closer I got, I felt like more and more of a fraud. I’ve had to come to terms with the fact that it’s something you do without knowing absolutely everything about it. You’re signing on for more time than you’ve lived! It’s incredible. And terrifying.

    And I wish you luck as you navigate through confronting your fears. It is incredibly brave to confront them head on, as you are doing–may your marriage be one of contentment!*

    * in my emotional math, contentment = joy + relaxation

    • http://livinglnf.blogspot.com Jo

      While not knowing how to be married scares me as well, it’s also been a source of freedom to me. The fact is, neither my spouse nor I really KNOWS what we’re doing, so we get to decide what we want our marriage to look like, warts and all. And that means those infinite outcomes are in reach – we are not on a set track with set rules, but we get to make the rules up together as we go.

      • http://www.minnesota-chic.com PAW

        I like that idea – I had managed to get my head around the fact that all relationships are different from one another, but had not quite managed to move on to the idea that we could, therefore, make up our own rules together!

  • http://www.designflourishes.com Sarah

    As odd as it sounds I look to Kevin Bacon and Kyra Sedgwick as a great example of a marriage. When pretty much all other Hollywood marriages fall apart, they just stay quietly married. I worked with them a few years ago and they are not overly affectionate, but they seem to have a super deep bond. You are right, a nice happy marriage is not news, so we are inundated with stories of all the many ways it can go wrong and don’t spend much time on how it can go right.

    • KB

      I LOVE that they’ve been married for so long and are both successful and non-dramatic. If they ever broke up, I probably would cry.

  • Kess

    I have issues with this – thinking that someday my SO will wake up and realize that he’s been duped all these years and won’t want me anymore. Those kind of feelings are pretty much pervasive throughout my entire life though. I feel like that about school, work, and every friendship I’ve ever had. Yay for impostor syndrome. I don’t have the greatest self esteem. (My current theory – I was pretty much naturally good at everything and never had to work that hard, so as soon as I reach even the smallest bump, I’m a failure)

    However, my relationship role models have all been great. My parents are still together after 30+ years, and I saw them weather some storms and come out better for it. All of my aunts and uncles that got married are still married save one set, and nearly all my parents friends are happily married. Even the majority of my friend’s parents growing up were still married.

    My SO’s relationship role models are not so fantastic. All of his aunts and uncles have divorced, the majority of his friends’ parents growing up have divorced, nearly everyone he works with has divorced, and even his dad got divorced before marrying his mom (they are still together though). I know and he knows that this is a big issue for him. Hopefully we can both find our ‘option C’ that will allow us to work for a really long time.

  • L

    Wow. I had no idea I needed to hear this. I have been told by my wonderful, trusted therapist that I have a fear of abandonment. I can see her point and I can vaguely conceptualize how this affects my relationship, but reading this really hit home. I feel loved and treasured by my partner and he has seen all of me without blinking. He truly values our intimacy and has never hesitated in commiting to me. And yet… I watch and analyze our relationship like a hawk. I check-in with him regularly and I read books about how I can do better. I ask him to assess my performance as wife/friend/partner. I stress out when I feel we haven’t made ‘progress’ recently (even though I can’t articulate what this means, even to myself, its absence is clearly cause for alarm). I feel the culturaly narrative about egalitarianism and reconfigure our chore chart continually (I worry that the word ‘chore’ will create resentment and rename them ‘household contributions, done with love). Yes, my anxiety and fear does breed creativity.
    Anyway, this post jars me. What would it mean to *be married*?

  • http://anniecardi.com Annie

    Even though I’m fortunate to have stable marriage representation, I’m really glad to see this post about anxiety. My parents have a great marriage, but they were also pretty settled when they met (already established in their careers, both knowing they wanted to live in the same place, etc.). My husband and I have a lot more “life decisions” to make, and even though I’m really confident in our ability to tackle these problems, it does lead to worries about being able to establish our life as a married couple. How do you balance your lives as individuals with your life as a couple? In response to this, I like the poster’s mention of “embracing and loving their evolving selves.” In part, you’ll never be totally stable and appreciative and happy–and that’s okay. You and your relationship is evolving every day, and knowing how to deal with that is important, not trying to make everything perfect.

    • One More Sara

      I definitely relate to your worry about having to make too many life-altering decisions together. I’ve already had to move really far from all my friends and family so our baby family can be together, and I think my partner and I both worry that I will grow to resent him for it (even though it was a decision that we thought LONG and hard about). I don’t have an elegant summary of what this all means, but I definitely believe that thinking about just one day at a time (as someone mentions below) instead of OMG!THISISFOREVER!HOWCANWEBESUREWEWILLBEHAPPYFOREVER!OMG!

  • Contessa

    This applies to second marriages too by the way. I still find myself thinking, “I will do everything differently so that painful train wreck doesn’t happen again” or “I will take all the hurtful comments on my character which were hurled at me, internalize them and become a different and better wife this time”. BUT, didn’t Meg say something about not worrying about marriage lasting forever and that we can only control today? I try and make today good and hope that all the todays will add up.

  • Ann

    This post really hits home for me. I am newly engaged and so excited to marry my fiance, but my parents divorced after over 25 years of marriage and I have an irrational fear that I am somehow destined to repeat their mistakes. Thank you for articulating this fear so eloquently and sharing your experience with working through your anxiety.

  • http://lmiyakawa.blogspot.com Laura

    I’m definitely familiar with that anxiety. As a child who has seen her parents through 5 different marriages, I was very trepidatious about getting married at all. (Also, side note: when your mom remarries when you’re 32, her husband can just be her husband, right? I don’t have to call him my step-dad. I already had one of those.)

    But for me, engagement and marriage has actually been a balm for that anxiety. Before we made that big commitment to commit, when we would fight, I would see it as just another brick in the wall dividing us. We had one big fight, where I went to the gym to sweat it out, and when I came back I was filled with even more rage. My then-boyfriend looked at me and asked, “Why can’t we fight without our whole relationship hanging in the balance?” And he was right. We still fight: marriage doesn’t change that, but it’s given me the freedom to express without the risk that it’s going to tear us apart.

    • http://landlockedlove.blogspot.com Kelly

      My mom’s husband is just her husband and they got married when I was 17. I’ve never referred to him as my step-father in my life. You’re fine.

  • K

    I find it interesting that taking someone for granted is always considered to be such a *bad* thing. To me, it is the loveliest thing in the world that I can take my husband for granted. After a decade in my 20s of long-term relationships with guys I couldn’t trust to do what they said they would do or not do things they said they wouldn’t do, followed by another decade in my 30s of never being sure I would see a guy again when he walked out my front door after a date, the fact that I can totally take my husband for granted is an inexpressible relief. He shows up on time, follows through on his commitments, doesn’t ever play head games, and I never wonder if he’s going to come back when he leaves. That is gold plated, and does more to reduce my anxieties than anything else.

    • KEA1

      I think it might depend on what “taking for granted” actually entails. As someone who has been taken for granted her entire life, but also had lots of rug-yanked-out-from-under-her experiences, I want to feel the ability to take someone for granted in the sense of trustworthiness, security, etc. What I *don’t* want is to be involved in any more relationships where “taking for granted’ has equalled “undervaluing”–from either person involved. Nor do I want the double whammy of being taken for granted (i.e. ignored) and then punished for speaking up and insisting on having my needs addressed.

      From your description, it sounds like you have the “trustworthy” version of taking for granted, and I agree that it sounds divine. May you and your husband have a long and happy life, with all the beauty that security like what you’ve described can bring!

  • Carrie

    This is such a great post. I sometimes have this kind of relationship anxiety too. Most of my relationship anxiety these days is about sex, which is obviously one thing I did not learn from my parents as role models. But before we were married, I had a ton of the “I have to never, ever ask anything of him, I have to take perfect care of him and fulfill his every desire, or he’ll leave” anxiety.

    A year after we’d moved in together, I was getting really fed up about the housework (I ended up doing a lot more of it), but was hiding my frustration from him because I dreaded becoming a nagging girlfriend. Finally one day I was SO fed up that I actually felt like it was worth the risk to bring it up to him — I honestly felt that I could NOT live with this any longer, and if speaking up made him leave, then I was willing to face that.

    So I gingerly said “Hey, um, can I talk to you for a minute? I’ve been feeling really frustrated about the housework. Can we work out a way to split it up evenly?”

    And he said “Absolutely! Let’s sit down now and work it out,” and actually took the lead in coming up with a list of chores that needed to be done so we could split them up evenly.

    That experience started the journey of convincing me that it was actually safe to have expectations or desires that differed from his, and that I could actually open my mouth and talk to him about it, and he’d respond in good faith. That admitting “Hey, the division of housework is really not working for me” was not going to cause him to go “OMFG, what kind of crazy neat-freak ballbusting castrating bitch are you? I’m leaving.”

    The key for me was the moment where I said to myself “Fine. If speaking up means we break up, I’d rather break up than live like this for the rest of my life.” In retrospect, of course, that seems ridiculously over-dramatic! But at the time, those really felt like my choices. Being willing to take the risk of the worst happening actually led me to initiate a healthy, productive conversation, that in turn demonstrated to me that “work together to solve a problem” was actually a viable option.

    It’s still an ongoing process for me to truly believe and practice this in all situations. (As mentioned above, I’m still very much learning how to talk with him this way about sex — and we’ve been having sex for well over 10 years now!) But it gets easier the more I do it.

    • L

      One thing that really helped us talk about sex in a new way was with our couples’ therapist. When sex came up as something that we needed to get on the same page/improve our communication about, I wasn’t even really sure what it was that needed to be said and I thought we had been really open up til then. The first exercise she had us do was do our own separate sex histories. Not who we had slept with, but when did we first start to ask about sex? who did we ask? what did we say? what kind of jokes did we hear growing up? what movies made an impression? what did we mis/understand? what pressures did we feel? what did our friends tell us? what did we learn about nudity/modesty growing up? After talking them through with her, we found some really big things that neither of us even knew about ourselves and we learned some basic communication tools to help (i.e. my partner really needed to be told clearly whether or not I was interested in sex because he was so concerned with taking advantage). I guess my point is that, just like everything else, a lot of our insecurities and communication obstacles we actually did learn from our parents and our life history, we just can’t see it right away. Sex is one of the harder things to talk about, so don’t be too hard on yourself, but also know that on the other side of the conversation(s) there is wonderful intimacy and new trust to be had. *And if none of this applies to you, feel free to ignore me : )

  • SarahT

    I cannot say “exactly” enough to this post. After being married for 18 years my husband left me for a much younger friend of ours. I was deeply hurt and angry, of course, but I thought I had worked through all the ramifications pretty well in the 5 years since it happened. (Though I am still irked that the whole situation was so cliche. That part of my life sounds like a blurb from the Lifetime movie channel. But I digress.) Last year I fell in love with a wonderful man, but after we got engaged I kept expecting it to fall apart at any moment and treated him like he was a jerk who proposed only to break my heart. I was suspicious, clingy and controlling, things I had never been in my life. My fiance met this trifecta of engaged bliss with patience, gentleness, and a firm declaration that not only was he not leaving, but we were going to deal with the real issue-the brokenness I still had from being abandoned. I’ve been going to counseling and it has really made a difference. My counselor has helped me see that there are no guarantees, and no amount of controlling on my part will change that. But we’re not doomed either (hello stats on second marriages). We are working out a beautiful partnership, and there aren’t just options A or B, but C, D and E, ad infinitum. I can love him with my whole heart and an open hand, and I can have faith that the past doesn’t have to equal the future. Because it doesn’t,

  • Diane

    Another twist to this issue: while my parents divorced when I was quite young (separated when I was 3) and both re-married and my mom and stepdad in particular have given me a great example of a functioning, imperfect, mostly happy, more than worth it marriage. However, my mom was absolutely our parent, the one who set limits, the one who made the rules, the one who clearly had the authority. My dad was also an active and important part of our lives and was clearly dad. My stepdad was a wonderful support (to over-simplify the always complicated world of step-relationships) but never tried to be our dad. So while I feel like I have some ideas about how two people co-habit, be partners, and be spouses, I don’t have any example of how married people co-parent. That’s seriously scary stuff!

  • Rachel Wilkerson

    Oh my gosh, I could relate to this post SO much. It’s been on my mind a lot lately and something I need to bring up in pre-marital counseling. I hate saying I have daddy issues because I like to think of myself as well-adjusted, but I am learning that every stage in life requires me to re-adjust, and marriage is probably going to be the time when I have to re-deal and re-process the most. It’s a scary thing, admitting I’m not just fine with my parents’ histoey (because don’t we all just want to say we are fine re: the tough stuff?) but yeah…sometimes we have to admit that trust and not being afraid is hard to come by, even if we think we are over it or fine.

  • http://www.karinajean.com kari

    oh, yes. So much exactly. it’s taken me a really long time to trust my partner and to believe that he badly wants to make our life together wonderful – just as badly as I do. Right now I’m trying to purposefully work on letting him know my feelings and needs before they become too big and ugly and I can’t talk about them without crying. about little stuff, you know? like the dishes and how maybe I try to take on too much in our blended family time management.

    I think the most unfair part about abandonment complexes is that even when you KNOW why you’re anxious, and you KNOW about your complex, it STILL doesn’t go away!

  • Lauren

    Thank you so much for writing this! I love reading articles on here that help me feel normal.

    My parents had a nasty divorce, and my worst fear in life is turning into my mother.

    Another thing I take from it is knowing what not to do… seeing the bad as a child helps me to understand the fragility of a relationship and reminds me to be attentive to each of us as individuals in a relationship. Its easy for my mind to swing between option A and B but to find option C is the happy medium takes insight. Thanks :)

  • diane

    hi ive been reading this website a lot and i got married 3 weeks ago, its help sooo much and i find it amazing how many people struggle and there is not a lot of resources available easily for the highly sensitive people like ourselves.! i struggled a ton with engagement anxiety the last 8 months of our engagement, we moved 5 states away with no family or friends and me not having a job just yet. i spiraled out of control with the anxiety thinking somehow i had been living a lie with my relationship for the past 4 years and sudden i didn’t know if i loved him anymore. i got married, and the anxiety still lives with me, im terrified of making a mistake, that i “cant figure out if i love ken” or why i feel this way, when the answer is im scared of making a mistake, being made fun of because of it, and i miss my family terribly. i am in therapy and i think i want so badly to feel better that and go back to the loving person who wasn’t about to cry every minute of the day because i have some pretty awful thoughts crowding my brain. its like i know the answers that im in a loving awesome relationship and there is this anxiety and this disconnect and i cant see it or believe.. anybody have some advice or reassurance that this is typically anxiety?

    • Beth

      Hey Diane,

      I’m not sure if you’ll see this, but I’m glad to hear you’re seeing a therapist– it sounds like you’re having a rough time. Feeling isolated from friends and family definitely doesn’t help!! I hope you’re able to explore your feelings without fearing them– sometimes, for me just accepting my feelings/fantasies/thoughts, even though they scare me, helps them to go away. Other times, it is something that doesn’t go away, and I just have to (painfully) acknowledge them and figure out the next step. I’m sorry if this is not very reassuring. Best wishes to you!

    • anonymous

      Um, hi. I feel like I am going through the same exact thing as you, and I have had lots of guilt and shame about having these feelings. I have been SO SURE about everything up until about two weeks ago, where I too am like “holy shit, have I been living a lie? In some fantasy dream?? ” and the anxiety of “cant figure out if i love __ ” as you said..yes. which has been the most hurtful for me to feel, because I have been SOOO SURE and comfortable with everything up until , hellooooo panic attackkkk! What? This isn’t me! What is going on? I also don’t really have anyone to talk about it with, and would love to chat with you more, but I know this post is old, so who knows. But it is so reassuring to read other people feel what I feel, cause they are scaring me!

      • Diane

        Hi I’m still here ill be more then happy to chat I’ve found lots of useful resources to help me. It’s nice to connect to people who are going thru similar things. Hang in there!

        • anonymous

          Hi Diane,
          Thanks for answering me! I would love to hear what has been helpful for you. Could you email me? I would just rather not clog up the comments here, (i guess email is the best way?) my email is catherineeure@gmail.com . thanks!!

  • Angry Feminist Bitch

    I agree that the culture is to blame.

    But I think the problem is that the culture tells us all that we MUST find “The One,” MUST be madly in love, MUST get married, MUST stay married, MUST stay infatuated forever, MUST be conventionally sexual (once a week!), MUST be monogamous, MUST avoid divorce.

    Lifetime monogamy is so rare precisely because it’s so hard. And it’s hard because it’s–quite obviously, to me–unnatural for human beings.

    I’m a feminist, and I think the vast majority of differences between men and women are socially conditioned, but I do also suspect that (in general, most) men are just more likely to want multiple sexual partners, too. Because of our long, long (like, 100,000+ years long) history of food insecurity, financial insecurity, inability to control our own reproduction, etc., not to mention contemporary cultural pressure, women are more likely to crave well-defined commitments enforced by family and society.

    Perhaps instead of being neurotic about some man (or, indeed, woman) leaving us one day, we should all stop expecting so much, and confront the reality.

    Perhaps instead of putting all our eggs in one basket, we should form a sisterhood of support, and seek romantic liaisons on the side.

    Perhaps the current set-up is inevitably crazy-making. Because it’s trying to control and deny human nature.

    I’m against marriage (as a lifetime, sexually monogamous, potentially financially devastating contract) for this reason, among many others.

    tldr; Perhaps instead of having to worry constantly about being abandoned, or whether we’re crazy for feeling that way, and how to combat it, we should wake up and realize that we have no right to expect a promise of lifetime sexual/emotional fidelity from another human being, and rework our social support systems accordingly.