I’m a 33 year old man with significant relationship trauma and abandonment issues. My partner of six years has, until recently, only had two partners; I was the only partner of the two she maintained a sexual relationship with, in what used to be a Dom/sub dynamic. She doesn’t, however, share a bed with me.
Shortly after we all moved in together she expressed a desire to be with someone else, looking for a heavy top to fulfill her masochistic needs. Her job places several people under her care and that gives her little energy to see to me as her submissive. She stays over at their place out of town roughly half the time, and still never with me.
I’m dealing the best I’m able, but I have a paralyzing fear of being abandoned because of where she’s at currently, what that means for her energy for me, and also because of betrayal and trauma in every major relationship. Since seeing this partner I feel like she has lost a lot of interest in me and that’s digging up a lot of pain. She will sometimes ignore texts that pertain to a pending vasectomy for the purposes of safer fluid bonding and that makes me feel like she doesn’t want that for us anymore.
I feel like she’s running out of patience with my fears and I don’t know how to pull myself out of this tailspin I’m convinced I caused. I’ve begun counseling to deal with my anxieties but I’m afraid she’s pulling away despite my best efforts. I’ve considered asking her about me exploring non-monogamy but I think she wouldn’t go for it.
Is there anything that can be done? Is this just part of cohabitation? I still feel get butterflies when we make eye contact, but that barely happens anymore.
There are two things that immediately strike me when I read your letter.
The first thing is that I’m very confused as to why it is she is allowed to be non-monogamous, but you aren’t? Especially when it’s very clear that she doesn’t have an interest or perhaps the time or energy into meeting all of your needs, and yet she is allowed to pursue other relationships outside of yours but you aren’t? This could be part of your dynamic, but the fact that you feel like you can’t bring this up with her or that she ‘won’t go for it’ is really telling.
Far be it from me to tell people how to operate, but I think regardless of whatever type of dynamic one person has in a relationship, it’s always important for things to feel equal or, at least, if there is an inequity, that that’s discussed and addressed in a way that’s feels open and fair. Throughout your letter, you highlight a lot of inequities in your relationship that I would guess, because of the way you’ve highlighted them, do not feel fair to you.
It feels like you are powerless to actually address these situations. Which, regardless of your dynamic in the relationship, really shouldn’t be the case. I don’t feel like a relationship where you feel like your needs are not being met and asking for them to be met is going to cause more harm than good is a functionally healthy relationship.
I’m also not sure if, given your fear of abandonment, a dynamic where one person has more power over you is something that’s particularly healthy. I’ll address coping with fears later on in this, but I do think part of dealing with fear is having a firm and secure foundation and that comes from feeling reassured which builds stability in a relationship and if you’re with someone who doesn’t have the time or isn’t inclined to provide you with the stability you need… it might not be helping you.
Coping with positive situations
The second thing is — Have you considered that it’s precisely because of your past and previous traumas and fear of abandonment that you, maybe not knowingly, seek out relationships with people who are more likely to abandon you? Especially if they behave in ways that are comfortable to you in a way. You’ve had a lot of betrayal and trauma in other relationships which may mean that you require or need a little bit more reassurance than people who haven’t, but that isn’t a bad thing. I think we have a tendency when we have a lot of trauma in our past to believe that we’re ‘damaged goods’ and we have to be some sort of project for someone else to fix.
But the reality is that no one is a ‘damaged good’. Different people have different needs and, despite the message our society gives us about the supposed benefits of rugged individualism, human beings are social creatures. There is a reason why solitary confinement is a torture which has serious psychological impacts on people. It’s hard to be alone. And it’s doubly hard to try and deal and cope with trauma on your own. It is not weak or wrong to expect or want reassurance or help with other people in going through this. Now, one shouldn’t force a loved one to be one’s therapist, of course. But I don’t think that’s what you’re asking or expecting.
While I can’t say this is true of you for sure because I’m not you, I’ve found that my anxiety sometimes puts me in situations that aren’t good for me because my anxiety is all about trying to cope with an environment that isn’t great. And in some ways, my anxiety almost doesn’t know what to do with people who compliment me or treat me well. I actually feel more comfortable dealing with insults than I do with compliments.
My brain can do unhealthy explosive confrontation, but struggles to process the idea that confrontation can be healthy or productive. Maybe you’re finding yourself attracted to people who you know won’t provide you with the support you need because deep down you doubt you’re worth that support? Or you’re unsure of what you’d do with support or what it would be like to get it?
Facing your fears
The other thing I want to mention, especially because you highlight your fears, is that one of the things that has helped me the most in terms of coping with my fears is, while it may sound counterintuitive, recognising that there was little I could do to prevent my fears from becoming reality. I think anxiety can function differently from person to person, but it’s been my experience that my anxiety is trying to help me, as I said, cope with situations that I’m no longer finding myself in. And sometimes the best way of coping with a really traumatic situation is by distracting you with other things to be afraid of or giving you things you can do to address a traumatic situation.
So anxiety will tell you that you have the power to prevent these situations by doing certain things, or by just worrying the hell out of yourself. And if you think about it, that’s far more empowering as an option than to just sit back and let the trauma hit you. As much as you being afraid seems to get in the way of you living life, your fear is actually trying to help you because it’s making you think that there are things you can do to prevent someone abandoning you when the truth is that ultimately there is nothing you can do to stop that from happening.
Obviously as people we can be pleasant to be around or mistreat others or do things which will drive people away, sure. But there are plenty of people who are nice and wonderful partners who just don’t suit one another or who grow apart for various reasons and that cannot be helped. If your partner is not up to the task of helping you cope with your fears where they can and is not responsible enough to be honest with you about their limitations and maybe even break the relationship off if they feel like you would be better supported by someone else — none of this is your fault.
Abandonment and responsibility
It makes perfect sense to be afraid of abandonment. As I said, we’re social creatures. But I think part of the reason this is so difficult to cope with is because you’re putting all of the burden on preventing abandonment in your life on your shoulders when there is no possible way that you can prevent that. You assume that *you* are driving your partner away. You put all of the agency on yourself in this letter without once finding fault in your partner for their inability to help you. You can’t force someone to be interested in you and you shouldn’t blame yourself or your trauma if someone is not capable of providing you with the support you need — or even in some cases, especially with ignoring texts, even the basic level of decency and respect.
You don’t even consider that it’s perhaps *her* past which has made her incapable of fully handling a situation where someone has a need she can’t fulfil or being a responsible adult and communicating what she wants rather than leaving you up to guess at the reasons for why she’s behaving in certain ways. She absolutely is not bound by anything to be there for you if she can’t, but at the very least she should be able to tell you if that’s something she can’t do rather than pulling away slowly. And to her credit, maybe she is worried it might upset you if she’s forthright, but either way, it’s not working very well for either of you.
I think you should re-examine this with a new lens where you’re not assuming your need for re-assurance is a bad thing that you have to cope with. Really ask yourself if this type of lack of support is something you want to deal with. You said yourself you’re not excited by the relationship anymore and you don’t feel supported — why keep holding on? Why let it get to a point where someone abandons you rather than deciding for yourself to be pro-active and seek what you need in life? She’s certainly capable of doing so — and so are you.
I hope this helps and good luck.