Dear Carolyn: I have significant abandonment issues because of my childhood. Now that I’m 30, I’ve grown past the worst of it.
My long-term boyfriend recently asked me to marry him, and I said yes – we are both extremely happy. However, I’ve been having irrational thoughts lately about his falling victim to a horrible accident and my losing him forever. I’ve never been particularly afraid of death or of losing anyone like this before.
How can I tell him I have these irrational ideations of his untimely death without scaring him away?– Abandonment Issues
I am so sorry the old monsters are still clawing at the edges your happiness.
I also hope you’re not asking time and your (admirable) fortitude alone to fight them off. You say you’ve “grown past” the worst of it, which is great to hear – but that’s also the point in these letters where writers with heavy pasts tend to mention the counseling or guidance they’ve received toward their present happiness. If you’ve never felt the need for therapy yourself, then, again, that’s great – carry on.
But if you haven’t sought treatment only out of a sense you “shouldn’t” need it, because you’ve been trained to dismiss your emotional turmoil as irrational and be done with it, then please know: “Significant” fallout from trauma is all the permission you need to seek reputable, compassionate care – especially during big life transitions. Happy changes can amplify anxiety, adding to a sense of how much we have to lose.
You also deserve to receive compassion from (and provide it to!) anyone asking to be your life partner.
The way to learn whether you can count on your boyfriend for that is to tell him the very truth you fear will drive him off – because you need that confidence more than you need him.
I realize that will sound strange, as if I’m advising you to scare him off just to prove you can’t scare him off.
But the nuance is important. Testing people for the sake of testing them is terrible. But being yourself and telling and living your truth – and then paying attention to how a person responds to that, and deciding from there whether they’re healthy for you – that’s how authenticity works.
And a life without ever having to ask, “How can I ___ without scaring him away?” is what it delivers, if you’re patient.
The alternative is to hold a piece of yourself back in response to that fear – which will then keep him from knowing you fully for who you are. If he loves only the version of you that you dare show him, then he doesn’t love you.
Finding that out years into a marriage rips couples apart so much more often than horrible accidents do.
Plus, it’ll keep you from knowing how good it feels to be loved frailties and all.
So let him know you. If he’s a good fit for you, then he’ll be grateful you told him the truth – and he’ll stick around to help you through it. And if he’s not the right guy, painful as that would be to find out, it’s better to find that out now.
And do please talk to your doctor about getting screened for anxiety. There’s treatment for terror like this.
Email Carolyn at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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