It’s Not Your Partner’s Job to Reassure You

So many people have the misguided belief that their partner (of longstanding or their fairly new boyfriend or girlfriend – or even a friend) should reassure them – in a range of areas – so that they can feel secure in the relationship. Or that the partner should reassure and assuage them when they’re tense or upset.  In fact, this sort of interaction is one of the major ‘contracts’ people unwittingly get into that undermine either the continuation of a relationship, or even the likelihood of it getting off the ground in the first place.  The need for reassurance actually comes to be a form of trying to control the other, and it is never constructive in keeping people together. Some examples should help.

Dalia is scared and annoyed that the new guy she’s seeing, Pete, isn’t texting or calling her after their first or second (or 5th) date. She keeps looking for ways to get in touch with him, texting “how are you”, “how did your work dinner go”, “good night”, etc.  If you tell her that doing so is redundant and a form of seeking reassurance, she’ll vigorously deny that., saying that, on the contrary, she  thinks “it’s nice”, or “it’ll make him feel good”, or, “I really should thank him again so that he knows I’m interested”, etc.  Unwittingly, the reason she (and others) do this is that she’s already feeling insecure about whether Pete likes her, and that if she somehow ‘reminds’ him that she’s there, he’ll contact her, ask for another date, etc. (which is control-seeking).  But her behavior will most likely push him away. If Pete isn’t calling or texting, there are several potential reasons: he may be processing how he feels about her, possibly pulling back out of some ambivalence, not wanting to see her again, spending some time actually savoring the experience, or any number of other feelings and motives.  And in any of those cases, Dalia is in fact reducing the likelihood of his wanting to get closer because she is, in a sense, taking away his ability to go through that process. Her fear (and acting on it) of him not liking her actually makes it more potentially real..  Learning to manage her anxiety is a far better choice for her. (See also: Paying Attention to People’s Cues of How They Feel: Not Just What You Want to See)

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Matt and Adam have been together for about two years. Many aspects of their relationship are good. Nevertheless, Matt is annoyed that when he comes home from work, Adam is ‘busy’ – either reading, online, doing some work, cooking, relaxing – and doesn’t greet him more excitedly. He believes that your partner should be happy and want to be with you once you get home, and the fact that Adam simply acknowledges it with a calm “Hello”, or “Hey” (not in any way being uncaring) Matt just isn’t satisfied and brings it up with Adam or gets passive-aggressive and annoyed for part or all of the evening. In Matt’s perfect world, or because he saw his parents do otherwise, he blames Adam for not being loving. However, from hearing more about their lives together, it just doesn’t sound accurate, and yet Matt is stuck in his belief.

If Matt could come to understand that people have many different ways of dealing with separation and togetherness, of getting close quickly or slowly, of moving out of one mood or ‘space’ into another sensibility etc, he’d realize that Adam is very much ‘there’ for him, but just not in the idealized manner that Matt is convinced must be so. And by pushing this on Adam and making him feel criticized for how he does it, Matt is beginning to alienate him and is ‘losing’ him in a real way. There are any number of means to talk this through so that Adam communicates that taking some space and time for himself after a long day is something he needs to unwind and, in fact, help him get closer.

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Whenever Jeremy hears that an old boyfriend has been at one of Amanda’s friends’ parties, he grills her on why he’s there, whether her other friends like him, whether he’s contacted Amanda recently, whether she’s going to attend her friend’s next get-together, and so on. It’s perfectly natural to want to know the status of an ex in our partners’ lives , of whether our partner still has certain feelings for the ex (everyone has feelings of some kind for an ex, though not necessarily threatening in any way), of how our partner came to feel about that person over time, etc.  Amanda has a wide circle and maintains even casual contact with almost all of the friends (and boyfriends who became friends) in her life, and so the likelihood of Amanda hearing from people who know the ex – or the ex himself- is fairly high. She’s made it quite clear to Jeremy that he’s very much her man and that none of these other people are in any way important to her. In fact, if you talk to Jeremy, he can honestly say that he knows she loves him very much.

But his grilling invariably occurs, even in the face of something as simple as one of Amanda’s friends mentioning in passing that one of Amanda’s exes got another job or a family member became ill.

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In all of the above scenarios, the real issue is that the worried/annoyed (or hoping-to-be) partner has feelings of inadequacy about self and takes the ‘quick and dirty’ route of making the partner reduce the insecurity rather than understanding that it’s his/her own job. It’s not a simple process to begin to do that, but it’s a very manageable one if the person is willing to identify the problem and take action on it. Far too many people get stuck just expecting the partner to do it for them.

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