I recently read this advice column in a magazine that dealt with relationships. In it, this young man was discussing his relationship problem with an even younger woman who he believes was not showing him the amount of affection that he feels he requires in his relationships. He described her as “indifferent” and “short on affection” even though he showers her with endearments and tender touches quite often. Although he does mention her once telling him “I don’t like sleeping alone,” when he wanted to hear “I want you to stay with me.” He feels her behavior “makes” him feel insecure, and then attributes her behavior to a lack of experience with long-term relationships.
The columnist gave fairly solid advice, agreeing that it’s no fun to be in a one-sided relationship and suggesting that relying on external cues like being introduced to the girl’s family are not enough to guess at inner workings of the woman’s mind. The columnist also suggests that each is acting out relationship roles they are familiar with from childhood - which is very likely true.
However, my experience as a therapist has shown me that often people don’t ask questions when their insecurities have them fearing the answers. Instead of having a frank conversation with his girlfriend, our lonely romantic is looking for external clues and trying to read between the lines of the woman’s actions and statements. In this way, he can keep guessing without ever having his internal fears confirmed, although the opposite is just as likely.
Another point forgotten is that couples are not often speaking the same language with each other. Each of us gets different meanings from the words we hear and the inflections and body language that goes with them. Have you ever had your statements misunderstood? A lot can go wrong in the interpretation. So, while she says “I don’t like sleeping alone” believing that she is letting him know that his presence is welcome and comforting, he interprets this as “well, that must mean anyone would do and it’s not exactly me she wants” or something along those lines. Don’t you think that would be an opportune moment for some clarification? When you hear “I don’t like sleeping alone,” the simple question “Does this mean you want me to stay with you?” can clear up a lot of doubt. It can also open the door to conversations about this difference in communication and love styles. Not everyone is as comfortable with touch, but that doesn’t mean that they cannot be taught to be comfortable. It may be that she needs a sign that touch is safe and welcome. That it doesn’t require permission.
Don’t forget, no one comes to a relationship without a past behind them. We are all carrying around various emotional baggage - remnants of old wounds that we collected in our childhoods. These bags can be sprung open without notice and can weigh down our actions. Without knowing it, you can pop open a big bag of hurt or fear and in this case, it sounds like each side opened a pocket on the other’s bags. The easiest way out of insecurity is holding up your fears to the evidence and be brave enough to ask for confirmation.
If your fears are preventing you from communicating freely and openly with your significant other - then get help! If you know there is lingering baggage that you can’t put down - get help for that too! There is no shame and only a rewarding relationship experience to gain. And that’s the best advice I could give.