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How do you suppose a relationship will play out, when one feels as if they might get left behind by the other?

Asked by FB (504 points ) September 4th, 2009

When I was 12 years old, my father moved away to pursue another job. I was initially proud of his heroic choice. Yet, he was gone for long periods of time, and it became more and more difficult for me, at that age, feeling like I was left behind. It bubbled within and it erupted without, at unexpected times, disguised, always, at a young age, as many different things…

Carrying that early experience over and over and over again throughout my life, this feeling of being left behind, has illuminated a pattern, woven deep into the fabric of who I am, and how I navigate each and every relationship.

I know my brilliant therapists here within the collective will offer advice: to me – and I welcome it – heck, it’s free, sort of, yet, I think, honestly, I am really asking this question in hopes of exploring the landscape of the subject, collectively, through truthful tales of how this aspect of a relationship has played out for others. Annoying little twinges rippling just beneath the apparent calm masquerading on the surface, to fully loaded adrenaline moments, etched forever in your history – and anywhere and everywhere in between.

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16 Answers

dpworkin's avatar

It depends upon how it is framed. If you assume that your behavior is pychodynamically determined, you will continue to re-experience your sense of loss and anger.

If you learn to consider yourself a free agent with control over your own cognition and behavior, you will be able to leave it behind if you decide that’s what you wish to do.

Saturated_Brain's avatar

You have such a dramatic flair, in case nobody has told you that already

gailcalled's avatar

Our early experiences (particularly the traumatic ones) are hard-wired. By exploring them in therapy, you can get a grip. In my case, I went around in circles when I tried to examine my anger without help. Once I found a therapist I liked and trusted, we unsnarled things. It took time and I paid this guy to listen to me obsessively tell the stories over and over, until I no longer needed to.

Now I can look dispassionately at most of the issues that used to cause me profound distress and sometimes despair.

Now, traffic court is a different matter. When I was there last week, I found myself dripping with sweat, as though it was the first day of Jr. High.

hearkat's avatar

A feeling of abandonment in childhood is difficult to overcome, and I agree with @gailcalled that it becomes hard-wired. However, I have learned that we can rewire our brains later in life, but since those patterns have been set while the brain was still forming, and reinforced over the course of the subsequent years (even if only in our perception), it is a very difficult challenge.

As @pdworkin says, we are in control of our cognition and behaviors. Yet it is FAR easier said than done! We must make a conscious effort to defy our gut reactions on the basis of knowing with our intellect that they are irrational. By doing so, and proving ourselves wrong, we then reprogram our brains and progressively will react less and less the way we used to in those circumstances.

wundayatta's avatar

How old are you?

I’d expect it to be difficult for you to fully commit to relationships. The people you’re involved with would feel like they don’t have all of you. There’s a part you keep back, though who knows what it is?

At the same time, I’d expect you to be someone who is more clingy than others. Perhaps always needing to know where your partner is and what they are doing at all times. You’d be calling to check up on them a lot, annoying the shit out of them. I guess it would be called possessiveness.

Extreme togetherness would be your thing. You’ll want a partner who just wants to be into you, as you are into them.

As to friends—again, I’d expect a weird combination of stand-offishness, especially when you start to get close to them, together with a need to do stuff with people all the time. If your friends are not around for too long, you’ll begin to question their friendship, and they’ll find you somewhat of a dramatic person. They may think twice about including you in things, wondering what drama will appear this time.

I feel like I’m writing some kind of horoscope. I hope none of this is true. Except the good stuff about bonding tightly and deeply with people you do bond with. But the trust issues…. I wouldn’t wish that on anyone.

sjmc1989's avatar

I think like that about all my relationships. As soon as I start a relationship I try to estimate how long they will stay around before they either disappoint me or leave me behind. So I am right there with you and I know how it feels. I would love advice too. And I think of this not only with my dating relationships but also my friendships and even with my family. I know it is very unhealthy.

hearkat's avatar

I guess I didn’t answer the question as it was worded (sorry!).

I have been in relationships where one or both of us had issues with trust or acceptance. There is a lot of pushing away, then asking for another chance, and repeating the cycle until one has had enough.

My issue was never accepting that I am loveable because of a history of childhood abuse. That was the also the case for the two men in the longest relationships I’ve had. When we don’t feel worthy of love, we always second-guess the other person’s motives for being with us— “what could they possibly want to be with me for?”; “Either they are taking advantage of us in some way, or they are passing time until something better comes along.”—and so we wait for the proverbial shit to hit the fan.

Or, since we assume that the relationship is doomed to fail anyway, we subconsciously sabotage, by nit-picking at every little thing we can find to justify why we were right. Or we simply don’t give the relationship our best effort, and screw things up as if we don’t care; but then we realize that we do… it’s all a vicious cycle and self-fulfilling prophecy rolled into one.

Breaking the cycle is something that both people in the relationship need to be a part of, and counseling to improve communication could prove quite beneficial. As I said before, it is difficult to stop yourself from reacting almost instinctively to those emotions that have such sensitive triggers. But as soon as you recognize what is happening (and hopefully before serious damage is done) you have to stop yourself immediately and really pick yourself apart.

Very early in my last relationship, I was in a position to offer a loan to the man I was dating. He had made an error in judgment in trying to help someone else, and needed a short-term solution to avoid fees from his bank and such. He had always been the knight-in-shining-armor, so he took offense at the idea that he should borrow from me, even on a very short term. I felt rejected when he refused the loan, because I was accustomed to being the one to make things all better. I left in a huff, and when I realized that I was reacting rashly, he refused to talk to me.

It took about a week, but we realized how we had both over-reacted, and we did get back together. But after that, he was always finding fault with something but act as if all was well, then dump me without warning, claiming that the issue had been ongoing. When I would explain and demonstrate how the issue could be resolved with communication and compromise, we would try to reconcile, but a couple months later a new ‘issue’ came up. We were together for about a year before it became inherently clear that trust had been eroded to the point of no return. It still hurts.

But throughout all the sturm und drang, I managed to stay fairly level-headed after that initial tiff, because I recognized how I had let my emotions control me and had ultimately shot myself in the foot. So after that, I made a conscious effort to contemplate the origin of my feelings before choosing what actions I took. I really surprised myself and although it is sad that the relationship did not succeed, the lessons learned were priceless.

scamp's avatar

Excellent post @hearkat! I think the asker would be wise to follow your lead.

YARNLADY's avatar

I’m going to just skip to the chase, my Dad always said “You don’t have like what happens to you, but you do have to make the best of it”. In other words, it’s up to you to make the lemonade.

PandoraBoxx's avatar

I agree that it is hard-wired, and I think there is a tendency in relationships to set people up so that they do fail you and leave. It proves to yourself that you are correct, that everyone will leave you. And in being correct, in a perverse way, you feel “good”. Except that you’re abandoned. Again.

It’s really hard to break that pattern.

PandoraBoxx's avatar

I’m curious as to why you felt your father moving away was “heroic.”

chyna's avatar

@PandoraBoxx He was 12. Anything his dad did at that time in his life was “heroic.”

PandoraBoxx's avatar

@chyna, my dad left when I was 12, and by no stretch of the imagination did I consider him heroic.

chyna's avatar

I have effectively sabotaged every good relationship I was ever in and hung on too long to those that were hurtful and just plain wrong for me. I know that it stems from my dad dying when I was 17, leaving me with a mother who totally lost it, had a mental breakdown and wouldn’t let me leave to go to college or anywhere else for that matter. So I didn’t really learn to grow, and growing up meant only taking care of my mom. I finally had to get out at age 20, but not too far from her, as she “needed” me. At age 25, I was in a relationship with a guy I really liked, but he committed suicide and did it knowing I would find him. That devastated me. For years, and maybe even now, I won’t let anyone close as they will eventually end up hurting me. So, yes @FB, I know how my relationships will play out, so I usually steer clear. Although at times, I ache to have a relationship that, just looking at my partner, looking in his eyes, I will know we will be together and there for each other for life. Fantasy, I suppose.

PandoraBoxx's avatar

Mine left, and seemed appalled that I was not happy that he was “finally happy.” He didn’t see the devastation that his decision left behind. I was told that I was a kid and would get “over it, so suck it up.” Neither my sister nor I got over it. My mother didn’t tell her parents for three years that he’d left. She told them he was working out of town. They finally found out when they ran into my father’s sister at the mall. My history with adults has been one of promises made but not kept.

My father is dead, having committed suicide. I married a person who is very similar to my father in many ways.

gailcalled's avatar

Check out what Freud called The Repetition Compulsion. We marry either our mothers or fathers in hopes of getting it right the second time. It rarely happens. My first husband was my mother and my second my father.

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