I've been in a relationship for the past two years that has been magical and wonderful at times but also full of really heavy struggles. One of the things that has been weighing on us is that I have never really felt secure in the fact that my partner loves and/or desires me.
Now, I don't think I have a big problem with my self-esteem in general, and in previous relationships or my friendships I honestly never really doubt/ed people's affection for me. On the other hand, my partner does express affection/desire, more than for example my previous partner did (with whom I did not feel insecure at all).
He writes cute notes, tells me he loves me, initiates sex... We have moments together that feel super connected and real to me, where we cry together or talk about our feelings, but a couple days or even hours later I will have lost the certainty that it was real or true and once again feel unsure about our connection and how he feels towards me.
This makes it very difficult to navigate other relationships as well - because of the lack of security in our connection, I often struggle with him going on dates or even hanging out with friends. It brings up fears of his connections with others being more special/significant/fulfilling or better in some way.
I don't know where I stand with him and so every other connections feels like a threat, since our connection feels very unstable and uncertain. My question now is: How could I understand more about where this uncertainty is coming from? Are there common reasons for something like this? Or even common strategies on how to navigate it?
I've had many theories over the months: it could be due to mixed signals (yes, he is sweet sometimes but he also withdraws a lot and is often overwhelmed by my expressions of affection) or real reasons to not trust his word (he has been holding back a lot of his own feelings, so for example I have crossed his boundaries many times without knowing, only to find out about it much later).
It could be that he rarely talks about what exactly he values about me or how he sees me, just that he is excited to see me or that he loves me. It could be that he often acts very differently to how I would act towards someone that I am madly in love with (rarely actively considering me unless I ask for it; and apparently not having the intrinsic desire to make it clear to me how he feels about me).
And it could also be that there are some of my own issues standing in the way of believing him (I have for some reason always felt inferior to him - so maybe there is actually a self-esteem issue that has been brought up and should be looked at). Especially after conversations where he does talk about his feelings towards me in a way that seems really honest and that I believe/feel in the moment, I don't know whether to feel bad about still doubting him, or justified in asking for more and repeated clarifications.
How do I get more of an idea of why this is happening, so we can address it in an appropriate and effective way?
There are so many things that could be causing your fears, but the biggest and most glaring one out of the things you’ve pointed out is that he holds back his own feelings. You say that you’ve crossed his boundaries many times without knowing only to “find out” much later and I wonder how you found out.
Because if he never came forward to tell you or only told you during an argument or a time he was upset, I absolutely could understand why you would struggle to believe all of the kind and nice things he’s saying.
While this may seem like a small thing, this is the foundation of your bond together in many ways. You have to be able to trust that your partner is being honest with you, Part of intimacy includes risk and we have to be able to believe that our partners are telling us yes or no with their actual intentions and wants in mind.
If we can’t trust that, then we can’t trust almost anything else that comes out of their mouth. It’s a foundational aspect of a relationship that has to be intact for anything to work. And a lot of people who end up doing to this to their partners don’t actually mean to but they may have a people pleasing problem.
However, even if this tendency comes from a defence mechanism, it still does damage to relationships and causes problems. Maybe not right away but as this happens again and again, it weighs heavily on you. And especially if your partner never actually came forward and told you that you crossed his boundaries and you had to find out some other way… of course you’re going to have trouble believing anything that he says.
The other thing that jumps out at me is a direct contradiction in your letter. You begin by describing your partner as this person who is very attentive and affectionate but then immediately you say he “rarely actively” considers you unless you ask for it and doesn’t have an intrinsic desire to make it clear how he feels about you.
It’s unclear through this whether this is an extension of your worry about him not being honest about his feelings — because wanting him to be more specific about what he likes about you I believe comes from your general worry that he’s not being honest in general about his feelings — or if maybe he’s not as attentive as you’d like him to be but is more attentive than previous partners, so you want to give him some type of credit.
One thing that I think is important to remember but hard to practice is that someone doesn’t have to be as bad as our previous partners to still not be able to meet our needs. It’s hard for me to say if you’d actually have an issue with his attentiveness if you felt like you could trust his words and it may be that when you rebuild that trust, you don’t mind nearly as much. I feel like it’s going to be hard for you to actually address what may be any of these other issues without addressing the root, which is going to impact everything around it.
I would honestly suggest you both see a couples counsellor to work on strategies together to rebuild trust. I think you need to figure out why it is your partner was not honest about whatever boundaries he had that you crossed and figure out how you’re going to address these issues going forward together.
Your trust is essentially broken and you’re going to need to rebuild that between the two of you. Whenever you get more towards re-establishing trust, then you might be able to tell if any of these other things you’ve mentioned are actually a problem. They may actually be just products of the initial issue which is that you can’t trust your partner whenever he tells you something.
I hope this helps and good luck!