Is it my girlfriend’s anxiety that makes her want to leave me?
Tell Me About It: She told me she loves me but says she finds the feelings of anxiety overwhelming, particularly when she’s in my company
We don’t have any children and she has as much independence as any of her single and non-single friends
My girlfriend of nearly seven years has suffered from various forms of anxiety for most of her adult life. Her mother has suffered from similar problems. The anxieties can manifest in the form of a full-on panic attack while travelling on trains or buses. She once had to take a few days off work to recover from such an attack.
However, she usually finds a way to manage her anxiety through cycling instead of taking public transport, or regular yoga sessions.
Last week, she told me that she wanted to separate temporarily and so she moved out of our shared flat. I met her a few days later and she told me that she has been having excessive feelings of anxiety concerning the future and feels she is missing out on her youth. She is 27 and I am 34.
She started seeing me just as she finished university and feels that she has missed out on a huge part of her 20s and wishes to take advantage of the rest of her 20s before she hits 30.
We don’t have any children and she has as much independence as any of her single and non-single friends. I noticed that she stopped doing yoga a number of months ago and I wonder if her current behaviour is another manifestation of her long-term anxiety.
I told her that I would give her time and space to think through what she really wants to do but I’m finding it very difficult to continue in a state of limbo. She told me she loves me but finds the feelings of anxiety overwhelming, particularly when she’s in my company.
There are a number of threads to your story: Anxiety plays a role in your relationship, yet there is something normal about a 27 year old wanting to experience more before settling down for life, but there is also the longevity of your relationship – seven years is a long commitment.
Your girlfriend seems to be very aware of her condition and has some good awareness of how to reduce her symptoms. However, right now she finds being around you anxiety-inducing and perhaps this is due to her ambivalence about her life and the decisions facing her.
She cannot have it both ways; she says she loves you but at the same time she wants to experience freedom in terms of dating and having new experiences. The difficulty for you is that you have already made your decision and you want to spend your life with her, so you are now in the position of waiting for her to choose what future you will have.
Given that she suffers so much from anxiety, it may be extremely difficult for her to cut off the security of having you in the background while she tests out her possibilities, but this might lead to enormous suffering for you. You are in charge of your life and you too are facing challenges that will require resilience and courage. Your girlfriend has asked for a temporary separation and if you grant that you must put some boundaries on it: what time are you talking about? Does this separation mean that you remain faithful to each other or not? How will you communicate during this time and what are your expectations about friendship? If you believe that this really is worth giving her the time to experience more of life as a single person before settling down, then you will need to fully follow that decision, ie stand back and allow her to be single, do not follow her on Facebook or try to be the wounded partner and gain support from friends.
Let her go for whatever agreed time and try to follow your own ambitions and life for this time. When the allotted time is up, you will need a decision and if you are still faced with ambiguity, you must let the relationship go and accept that you need to look elsewhere for a life partner. At the moment you are full of grief and shock and this might linger for quite a long time as a seven-year relationship is not one to step out of lightly.
You will need your friends to be around you, as good company offers us solace. Letting the uncertainty circle in your brain will only produce angst or anger and it will not offer solutions – keep your mind as occupied as possible with sport, movies, conversation or reading. You have been a loyal and true partner and this will stand to you in whatever future relationships you may have. You have great sympathy for your girlfriend’s anxiety but you cannot take responsibility for her choices, rather you must face your own reality and take measures that will enhance your own life.