Holding hands or arm wrestling? Communication can be the difference. Image: Flickr/Panda.*
Young or old, gay or straight, for many people there's nothing like making yourself believe your partner is on the prowl to give your relationship a little kick. Would he betray you? Is she flirting? Do you think your partner is cheating? Do you accuse him or her of these things? Maybe you have reasons to be nervous, but here’s another explanation: many of us, for a multitude of reasons, subconsciously and/or consciously create
feelings of insecurity in our relationships as a way to get back the passion we once felt.
Insecurity can be hot. You’re uninhibited in bed, showing him your best stuff so his attentions don’t wander. He steps up to meet you in the hopes of demonstrating beyond a doubt it’s you he wants. But while suspicion and accusation can inject hotness into a mundane relationship, it can also create unnecessary discord that wears both you and your partner down. Eventually it can doom the relationship that you wanted to preserve and improve.
Let’s look a little closer at the path of insecurity in a committed relationship. First, this insecurity can show itself outside the bedroom as a deep and painful jealousy, and manifest as a heightened awareness and criticism of how your partner interacts with others. In response, your partner may feel like he or she has to be hyper- cautious and constricted around others just to keep you calm.
Now interestingly, if there’s a kernel of truth to your suspicion, and your partner does feel admiration for or connection to someone else (as is so often the case in healthy relationships), he certainly can’t tell you. Now look what’s happened: This insecurity that was meant to be harmless and hot has driven a wedge between you and your partner. And eventually, with the fatigue you feel from jealousy, the fatigue your partner feels from constant accusations, and the inability to communicate, the insecurity you created becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy, leading to real relationship insecurity and quite possibly the end of a relationship that didn’t have to end.
Why does this happen? Well, if you remember back to middle school, high school, college, or young adulthood, many early relationships were insecure – one person was more interested in creating and maintaining a connection than was the other. And not coincidentally, many of these early relationships were also hot. And in my experience, some women and men too learned to use sex as a tool to pull the desired person closer in these insecure relationships (we’ll look at this use of sex as a tool of entrapment more closely later in this series). And so the association between insecurity and hot sex (and perhaps excitement and intensity) gets imprinted. Then when adult relationships go through a period that we’ll just call “a little less than passionately exciting,” the partner who has imprinted insecure = hot consciously or unconsciously creates this insecurity to get back something he or she has lost, namely that edge of excitement and intense need in and out of the bedroom.
It’s different than the male sexual jealousy that sex researcher David Buss and others describe as a biological construct to ensure what they call “paternal confidence” – it’s not that you’re actually trying to keep your mate from cheating, but that you want to feel like you have to keep your mate from cheating. And it’s different than the experience of envy described in this article – it’s not that you feel inferior to a competitor and long for what he or she has, but induce in yourself the fear of losing what you already have.
But now that you know how and perhaps why you subconsciously create the feeling of relationship insecurity, you’ve got a conundrum: is the only alternative to driving this wedge of jealousy and accusation between you and your partner forgoing the addition of a legitimate spark?
No, there’s another option. Instead of exhausting yourself and your partner by creating insecurity through unfounded suspicions and accusatory communications, first recognize your role in creating this relationship discord, and then counteract it with honest and direct communication.
Instead of saying, “I know you’re cheating on me,” try saying, “I’m feeling insecure, and want reassurance that you’re committed to me.” Or when others compliment your partner, try not to see it as a threat, but rather as a way of rediscovering your partner’s strengths, and thereby infusing some excitement back into your relationship. When you feel fearful or threatened that your partner is admiring someone from afar, try thinking of it as if he or she noticed a beautiful piece of art in a museum. You don’t want to jump in bed with a beautiful piece of art, just admire it. It’s natural.
Eventually you can begin to break the cycle of negative communication and self-fulfilling suspicion that ultimately creates a wedge of discord.
I know this process of letting go of your insecurity can be scary. Join me on Tuesdays and Thursday for the next few weeks, to look at some of these reasons. We’ll also explore additional aspects of relationship insecurity in sex, including it’s use to entrap partners in early relationships, the addiction to insecurity this can create, the quicksand of needing more and more insecurity, how insecurity creates male-male and female-female competition, and eventually more alternatives to this useful but eventually hurtful subconscious strategy.
As I work on the next posts in this series, I would love to add your voice. Do you experience relationship insecurity? What’s a situation in which you or your partner created it? Let me know via comments or by the Twitter and Facebook links below.