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Having a relationship with someone suffering from abandonment issues
the past couple of months have not been easy but I felt that my partner and I would finally be getting somewhere. Now that he has been able to cut the cord to his dependent ex-wife, I assumed that we would be ok after some more grief management on his side. We are going fine and when we are together, it is beautiful and happy, unless the past comes up. But most importantly, over the past weeks and months, his therapist has found out that a lot of his difficulties with letting go and coping with loss are due to abandonment issues which originate from his childhood. He seems to have significant abandonment issues due to the treatment or neglect from his parents and although it is great that this has now been diagnosed, it is making life quite tough for him and us. He phrases it the way that he says at the moment, all the darkness is coming out before he can go over to applying solutions which basically is re-imaging his past and allowing his present self to take over and not be haunted by the self of the past. I am sure this will be a good process for him, although I fear it will take a long time.
In the meantime, he struggles with the loss of his broken marriage - not because he loves his ex-wife (it is not linked to the person at all) but because he does not cope well with loss in general because of his abandonment issues. So this is another big hill for him to climb. I think it is great that he knows about the issues now and he is very keen to solve them so he can be happy and feel secure in a successful relationship going forward. However, I am wondering how I and we should deal with this in the meantime. It would probably be better if he was not in a relationship while he is trying to heal himself but since we are and we want to be, we need to find a way to manage this well. I am not quite sure how I fit into this and what to do. I read a lot on abandonment issues but it appears that most of the things that can be done need to be done by the person suffering from the issues. How can I help? What can I do to possibly alleviate his issues? Would having happy times with me be a positive support to kind of balance out his dark days? We can have great times and then all of a sudden he becomes mentally distanced as if he was far away. It often feels quite painful to me and I try to tell myself it has nothing to do with me. He says we are great but everything else does not seem to be good. What could we do to make things move forward and easier?
It seems that my problem may be too complex or maybe I have just repeated myself so often that there isn't really any more helo anyone could offer. I would nit blame anyone, I feel I am running in circles.
I just have another question. Since my partner has said the final goodbye to his ex, he is in complete turmoil. His psych calls it delayed grief and I believe he is going through the grief cycle again. I think he expected instant relief and now he cannot make sense of how bad he is feeling. He says, he is not feeling much at all, he cannot sleep, has headaches and is down. He goes from being quite happy for a bit to having massive clouds over his head that pull everything down. I feel he is in the depression stage of grief and I don't know what to do. He distracts himself with me sometimes but that doesn't work for me. From time to time, I need to check in to understand how he is and what is happening. Whenever I raise the topic cautiously, he tries to change the topic or only gives superficial answers. He says he is ok and I know he is not. Then, he withdraws and sometimes even leaves shortly after as if I had destroyed the happy moment. He does not blame me and says it's not me. But he clearly isn't well. Today he is off sick and I feel he is withdrawing even further. I don't know how to deal with this situation. Should I leavr him alone, should I actually leave his life altogether right now? He clearly isn't ready for a relationship although he really wanted it. But right now, his grief comes first and I don't know how I could possibly fit into this because I don't want to be an additional perceived stressor. I told him to rest up and that if he needs anything, I am here. I feel that is the safest option - offering help but leaving him be. Is this all I can do.l? And will this get better after a while? Three weeks ago, he was excited to start a new life, then the final goodbye happened and now he is but a shell of himself. I just cannot really make sense of it all and I just feel so in the wrong place and like a burden although I make no demands. I want to support him but I wonder whether that support would mean me leaving him alone? What do I possibly do? I do not understand this situation and my place in it.
Thank you for your posts, I am really glad you were able to share so much with us and open up about what's been happening in your relationship. It sounds like it's been really tough on both of you so it's good that you are here for some support.
Abandonment and grief issues are such a tough thing to deal with and it's natural that it's putting a bit of strain on your relationship, not really knowing what to do or how to cope. It's also a bit of a lonely process, so while there's no doubt you love your partner, this really is something he has to do on his own.
I think that the most powerful thing to do is what you're already doing - be there. By just being his partner, you're already helping in so many ways - providing a foundation and a base for him to heal - knowing that there is stability in you even if he doesn't feel it elsewhere (like in his grief or feelings about growing up). and yes, while you are completely right in that people do have to heal on their own from abandonment issues, part of that healing can be around having a secure relationship.
Can I ask if you've ever heard about attachment styles? I don't want to psychobabble but I wanted to share this idea because if someone has abandonment issues it's usually connected to an insecure attachment, but having a secure attachment style (aka healthy and ideal), actually happens through being in secure and healthy relationships.
The other thing I wanted to ask, is if you've talked with your partner about what might be helpful during this time? If he does not know, the therapist might have a bit of insight too into the things you could say/do that would be supportive.
I know that I haven't covered all of your post, but I hope that there is some sort of reassurance here in knowing you are helping even when it may not feel like it.
Thank you so much for your reply, romantic_thi3f,
I am so grateful because it feels good to be heard. I have read about attachment styles ever since I heard about my partner's abandonment issues. From what I can gather, he is an anxious-avoidant type, hence why he pushes and pulls, chases and withdraws. He wants closeness, then it is too much again. I am constantly living with a flight risk, it feels. He ended our relationship twice last year, mainly because he had not formally closed the chapter with his ex-wife. They were physically separated and the love was gone but he had not finalised it in his mind. Now that he has, he still seems to go through significant grief. I believe he is fully wrapped up in the depression phase of the grief cycle. And so, I feel really anxious that he may perceive the current pain and confusion as too much resulting in cutting me away again. This time, it would be the end for me and I would not give us another opportunity. I love him with all my heart but this has been very painful for a prolonged time. I am seeing a psychologist for myself but I would like to use that for self-development not for damage control on a regular basis. I would like to have emotional security and my partner is aware he cannot give me that right now. I am happy to make a sacrifice for now because I believe we have great potential but every time I try to talk to him about his emotional pain, he withdraws or leaves. That makes me feel as if I said something wrong and triggers my fear that he may cut me away because I have become part of the negative things in his life. However, the reality is that I believe communication is key and I believe we need to talk about his situation from time to time - pressure free but honestly. So I am at a loss of how to manoeuvre all this. At the moment, he is off sick (we work together) so I told him this morning that I am there if he needs anything. He said he knows and thank you. The rest was withdrawal and silence all day. I let him be. Now he just told me very clinically that he has seen a doctor, may still need to rest and will let me know tomorrow if he comes to work. There is no emotion in his words, nothing. Is this the depression in him speaking or is he planning to walk away? One moment he can tell me how cute I am and then he is completely void of feeling. Is this normal in the depression phase? How long does this last? He will see his psych on Friday and I can only hope he will get out of the worst soon.
It's great to hear back from you and I'm really glad you feel like you can open up here. I definitely hear you.
Honestly it sounds like it's been really hard for you. I think it's one thing to have abandonment issues in a relationship but another to have the push/pull. It's natural and normal to have different attachment styles but I imagine it's quite hard on you not having that security in your relationship.
I know that you've mentioned in your posts a couple of times that you've seen a psychologist - can I ask how that is going for you? Have they given you much support/advice? Your psychologist would obviously know both yourself and your partner lots more than we would and is really in a better position to be answering these sorts of questions. I do know though that both depression and grief have no timeline, and it is normal to have the sense of a 'void' or emptiness in not being able to recognise any thoughts/feelings or even just feel 'numb'. While I understand your goals are self-development with your psychologist I do think that they can be your second priority - while this is taking up a lot of your time, it won't always.
What do you think might be most helpful for you during this time? I can see what you need from your partner, but I'm wondering if there might be something that you can do for you - maybe that's doing some things you enjoy or a bit of self-care. Being kind to yourself and putting yourself first is so important at this time.