Friday, October 11, 2013

Over-Thinking Troubled Relationships


Over at Baggage Reclaim, Natalie has a fine post from awhile back on overthinking and it's impact on relationships. This particular paragraph, early on in the piece, was really striking:

I have a friend who spent over a decade (yes you read that correctly) ruminating on her relationship. Every time we caught up about what was going on, she was trying to “work things out” or “figuring things out” or “deciding what the best thing to do is” and even “trying to avoid making a mistake”.

Having done this pattern in the past, I totally know how you can fall down that rabbit hole. Part of me knew six months into my first long term relationship that we were a poor match, for example, but I didn't have the experience and insight yet to overcome the fear of ending it and being alone. We stayed together over three years.

I have also been on the other side of this equation. Another long term girlfriend, instead of breaking up with me fully, asked for a month apart so she could "think about things." That seemed reasonable enough to me, and I wanted to give it one last shot myself, even though the previous several months had been fairly miserable. Then that month stretched into two, three, four, five months, with all of my attempts to meet her to have a conversation rebuffed. Finally, I just gave up, and moved on. And found out later that she had moved on long before I did, but for whatever reason, decided to keep answering my requests to meet with "I'm not ready to see you yet," instead of just telling me she was seeing someone else.

Over-thinking is a pattern that is self-focused. There's a shift from considering the relationship itself, to obsessing about imaginary "perfections." If you want to stay, you tend to fixate on how to make some small aspects of the relationship work really well. You think,if only we could spend X amount more time together. Or if only we could stop arguing about money. Or if only he would stop getting jealous. Or she would stop fussing over my drinking. Whatever the aspect, even if it's something major, there's a "magic bullet" quality to it. That if you just can fix this one thing, the rest will be ok.

On the other hand, if you want to leave, you tend to get focused on executing the "perfect" exit strategy. A friend of mine spent multiple years trying to catch her Ex consuming porn. Even though the relationship had long been dead, she wouldn't leave until she finally caught him. It didn't matter that they had been terribly incompatible for a long time. Or that porn use itself was little more than a symptom for a larger set of issues around sex for them. She needed this proof to justify leaving the relationship. Without that proof, she would have had to accept that there wasn't any one, easy reason for leaving. That things just didn't work out.

I'm all for thoughtfulness and spending the time needed to suss out what you really want and how you want to move forward. However, there comes a time when "thinking about your relationship" (if it's troubled) becomes a protective zone from reality.

How about you? Are you someone who over-thinks your relationships? Do you sit on the fence for weeks and months on end, wondering about the many what ifs? Have you dated people like this?

3 comments:

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  2. I recommend Mira Kirshenbaum's book, "Too Good To Leave, Too Bad To Stay". It will at least give the reader a nudge in the right direction and tell them whether it is best to leave the relationship, or try and keep working on it (assuming BOTH sides want to keep working on it; if not then leave). It helped me when I was having doubts about my own marriage. Helped a few of the women I know, as well. I would offer that being in a bad marriage/relationship for a long period of time, clouds one's judgment, to the point where you start having thoughts like "well maybe it isn't all that bad", "I could get used to this", "if I leave, what will I do on my own?", "he's the best I can do" etc. This is probably the reason why many people sit on the fence in the first place.

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  3. I agree that the longer you are with someone, the more likely this kind of thing comes up. I knew in six months of my first long term relationship that we weren't a good match, but stayed almost 4 years. We were young, and I didn't have enough experience to know better.

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