-- Question for John --
I am 29 years old, have been with the same girl for 8 years, married for the last 3 years, no children. She is the only serious relationship that I have had. I have had anxiety for most of my life, but my anxiety levels often skyrocket when we are together, as she generally seems very dependent on me. I feel she is too needy and it makes me feel tense around her.
Looking back, I don’t think I’ve ever been completely comfortable with our relationship. I am constantly meeting new people, and I constantly fantasize about starting over with someone new, someone who I didn’t feel a constant tension with. How can I know if I am a miserable person, or if my relationship is making me miserable?
-- Answer from John --
The view that the other person is “making” you feel a certain way is like taking the posture of a victim. Obviously you don’t intend to do that. Certainly, most of us are prone to believe that the other person is “making” us feel a certain way (good, bad, whatever). Yet, in externalizing the cause of our internal emotional state, we overlook our own involvement in that process. And we give up our own power to grow and change those aspects of ourselves.
Our own past programming is what largely determines our reactions to people. Mood factors, such as a generalized state of anxiety, further influence our reactions. There are just too many factors inside you — built from your own history — to say she is solely responsible for “making” you miserable.
You have your own internal work to do to overcome these personal patterns. They are not going to go away just because you leave this woman. You will still be carrying around the same internal patterns — and they will come into play again the next time around. The only way to overcome them is to work with them intentionally. To commit yourself to self-healing.
This is a statement that is not meant to single you out here. You are not defective. No more than I or anyone else. You are not a miserable person. You are an okay person who right now feels miserable. And who can overcome that by engaging in self-examination and self-healing. Probably with the help of a good counselor.
Before you make up your mind about the relationship, I would recommend you dedicate yourself to getting some counseling. Your self-description of being anxious may be suggestive of a very treatable syndrome — perhaps just a chemical imbalance in your body It is coming into play in how you react to your wife, how you do not set healthy emotional boundaries with each other, and the ongoing discomfort of your situation. She certainly has a piece of the whole thing — I know that — and her own work to do, too. With good help, you may be able to set your relationship on a better path and find unexpected riches together.
But perhaps I am missing your real point here? Maybe you are simply looking for an exit justification. Your itch for variety and experience, to feel your oats? Maybe you have not been with enough women to really know that you are ready to settle down. Maybe this isn’t the ultimate woman for you. I don’t know if that is true or not. That is not a judgment call for me to make. But I would recommend that you prepare yourself for the realization that any intimate partner is going to trigger you and bring up emotional patterns that are resident within you. The fantasies you are having are just that — fantasies. You can start out okay, but usually sooner rather than later, the honeymoon ends.
If you are looking for someone who is going to give you a smooth ride, well, I have yet to hear of that. Let me know what you find. The ultimate key to happiness in a successful passionate longterm relationship is that you fully own your feelings and learn how to work with them — and get beyond your own patterns. When both partners are involved doing that, you have soulmates in the making. And that is where the walls come down and hearts open up. Who knows what your relationship could be like if you really owned your anxiety factors, and she really owned her dependency factors — and together, you dedicated some efforts to consciously changing.
Relationship challenges give us opportunities to learn and grow. And to increase love and happiness in the process. When we think it’s the other person “making” it so bad, we are acting like we are only innocent bystanders, like we have nothing to do with it. This is a sure way to stay lost on the highway of love. Only when you take full responsibility for the state of your relationship — even though you are utterly convinced the other person is making it miserable for you — only then will you have a healthy attitude that will enable you to steer love onto a positive track. Otherwise, you are handing all your power over to the other person, and making them responsible for your emotional state. That absolutely never works.
If you choose to leave this woman, then by all means just do so. That is your choice. To be in a relationship is absolutely a choice — not an obligation. You have no need to justify leaving her or rationalize it by blaming her for your misery. Getting stuck in the blame game is committing yourself to being a victim. I suggest you make your choices absent of any blame. A no-fault divorce is the way to go. Actually, a no-fault marriage is even better.