I love my partner very much, and things are good a lot of the time, but they have a bunch of Stuff (trauma etc) that means when they identify something they perceive as a relationship problem (sometimes it’s just been a miscommunication!), they escalate immediately to talking about breaking up. It’s something they’re working on, though they’re unable to access therapy right now, but it makes me feel really insecure — like the other shoe is always about to drop. Is there anything I can do to help mitigate some of my anxiety about this? I’m worried about my anxiety making me act in unhelpful ways, or ending up resenting my partner for something that isn’t their fault.
Hi, friend! I’ve got some tough news for you right off the bat, and that news is: Feeling insecure and anxious is a normal and reasonable response to the situation that you’re in. I don’t think I can talk you out of feeling anxious with strategies, but I do have some thoughts for you to mull.
I wish that your letter had been a little bit longer, because I have so many unanswered questions! I’m curious how long you’ve been dating, and how the communication is between you when there isn’t any conflict in the room. I’d like to know the specific ways that your partner talks about splitting up — “it feels like a break-up is inevitable (since love always ends)wp_postsfor instance, is very different from “it feels like you’re going to dump me,wp_postswhich also differs hugely from “I think we should break up.”
Even without knowing the answer to what things sound like during a conflict, an important factor here is how you and your partner communicate after the escalation is over. Are you able to get to a point where you’re each able to express what feels true about the state of your relationship? You note that your partner is “working onwp_poststhis tendency, and I wonder what that looks like — do they apologize for saying something that hurt you without speaking further about their state of mind, or are you able to have real conversations about how you each feel and what you want: out of your relationship, through inevitable conflicts, and in your broader lives?
Trauma responses to conflict are very real, and something I personally deal with (although, like fingerprints, I’m sure that no one is just like any other). That said, I want to note that just because something isn’t someone’s “fault,wp_postsor isn’t something they do intentionally to hurt you, that behavior (as you’re seeing) will still affect you. The fact that you feel affected by what your partner tells you, even when they are not their best self, is not inappropriate or bad. It’s human.
I can’t mitigate your anxiety about a potential future break-up between you and your partner. What I can suggest is that you turn your mind to what you can control: your communication, your boundaries, and your behavior.
During times of conflict, your partner is moving directly to talk about breaking up. That escalation may be influenced by a trauma response, but you still have the right to set boundaries. You still get to decide whether this situation is one that you can live comfortably within, and if not, to clearly communicate what would need to change for things to work for you.
I hope you’re able to have some honest, open, and conflict-free conversations with your partner about ways that you each would like to move forward. What are ways your partner wishes they were able to respond to conflict? What are the things they truly want you to know? What are their boundaries? And on your side, if you were to stop playing defense for a moment, stop being the person in the relationship who is reacting, and try to put your own needs, desires, and boundaries on the table where they belong, equally important next to your partner’s: what would that look like? What would you say to them? What would you want?
If you can have these real conversations, if you can work together to build something that’s more balanced, I think that some of your anxiety will start to fall away. But if that’s work that you’re not able to do together, it may be time to start reevaluating whether a break-up just might be the right choice after all.
I wish you all the best! 💙
You can chime in with your advice in the comments and submit your own questions any time.