The insecurity responsible for the demise of so many relationships starts out harmless enough. It begins with the occasional probing question—“You got a text message really late last night, is everything okay?” or “Who is Danny? I haven’t heard you mention that name before.” But before long, the floodgates open, releasing a torrent of accusations, resentment, and discord. And when an insecure partner turns every stray glance or innocuous comment into a declaration of war, it can feel like there’s no choice but to end things and escape with your sanity intact.
But is leaving always the answer? I thought so at one point, having dated more than one guy who struggled with insecurity. But recently, I got into a relationship and found myself struggling with my own insecurity. It gave me new insight into how to help an insecure partner who needs copious attention and reassurance. Insecurity can be frustrating, to be sure, but it doesn’t have to be a dealbreaker.
Insecurity can be rehabilitated with patience and dedication. And if your partner has genuine soul-mate potential, it’s worth the effort. Here’s what to do:
1. Understand that your partner may not plainly ask for what he needs.
It would be wonderful if insecure partners said, “I’m feeling anxious about us and I’d like to be reassured.” But it’s never that simple. The request will come disguised as an interrogation or a fight instigated over something that seems unrelated. The first step is to pay attention and listen to what your partner is really asking for.
If your partner accuses or confronts you, don’t spend time debating the details of the accusation. Stay calm, and talk broadly about your investment in the relationship and your commitment to honoring your agreements. You might try saying something like, “I’m not trying to change the subject, but I want to talk about why you thought that was the case, so we can make sure you don’t feel that way in the future.” But that tip can be dangerous if it’s not used in conjunction with the next one, which is…
3. Don’t minimize your partner’s concern.
Your mate may focus on something that makes no sense to you. In fact, you may think it’s the most ridiculous thing you’ve ever heard. But I beg of you: don’t say that. For the conversation to be constructive, you have to respond to the concern without making your mate feel stupid for raising it. If an accusation is leveled, respond to it without equivocation or judgment. Instead of saying, “Where would you get such a crazy idea?” say, “I’m definitely not dating other people when I’m supposed to be at my karate lesson,” then dive into the deeper conversation about where the relationship stands.
4. Ask your partner what would help, and commit to doing it—at least temporarily.
A potent way to defuse an insecure partner is to ask what you could do to prevent future conflict…and then do it. You’ll have to gauge whether you can live with the request—being joined at the hip 24-7 is probably a non-starter—but it’s unlikely to be an open-ended arrangement. People want to trust their mates, but some people need to be given permission to do so. Agreeing, temporarily, to something like frequent calls throughout the day communicates your commitment so powerfully, it could soothe your partner even if your execution isn’t flawless. But that comes with a caveat…
5. Make your partner your teammate.
The situation becomes unworkable when you think the whole problem is your partner’s insecurity, while they believe the whole problem is your behavior. Without a meeting of the minds, you’ll both end up feeling like you’ve caved into the other’s unreasonable demands. Have an honest discussion about what can change temporarily, what can change permanently, and what can’t change at all. If you agree to a temporary concession, underline that it’s a short-term thing designed to help banish those feelings of insecurity. Check in often to see how you both feel about how things are going. That said…
6. Don’t be afraid to cut your losses.
It’s a bad idea to bolt without addressing what could be a reparable issue, but it’s worse to make yourself miserable for the sake of saving something. If your partner is as willing to accommodate your needs and meet you in the middle, you’ll both benefit. But if a couple months have passed and you’ve seen no fewer fights about Facebook wall posts, the issue may be less about insecurity and more about your partner’s unwillingness to compromise. Give it a real effort if you think the relationship has real potential, but be prepared to draw a line in the sand if you start to feel like you’re normalizing the insecurity rather than helping your partner work through it.