Enhancing Your Relationship

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Reader’s Question

I’m currently in a long distance relationship, but it’s become hard to concentrate on things that I used to enjoy when I was single. Everything seems so depressing and boring when I’m not with my partner. I’m only thinking negative thoughts and, in a way, stalking my partner through the social networks and messenger. I just can’t seem to relax, especially at work. It gets to a point where my anxiety is so out of control that I tense up and get depressed. I try to relax, but it doesn’t seem to work. What can I do to gain control of my thoughts and take back my life, and at the same time enjoy my relationship?

Psychologist’s Reply

Many people in relationships often make the mistake of becoming totally absorbed in their romantic partner and it sounds like that may be what is happening to you. This total absorption in our partner should not come as a surprise because, for some reason, our culture promotes the belief that one’s romantic partner should be everything to us. It certainly was not always that way, but now we are told we should rely upon them to be our partner in all aspects — financial, familial, sexual and social. We expect them to make us laugh, share our interests, give us comfort, physically attract us, and be there in every way. In short, we shouldn’t need anyone else. However, as you are discovering, this is a dangerous viewpoint to hold, for several reasons.

First and foremost, the partner as the end-all-be-all sets expectations way too high. No one can be everything to another person, yet that is what we’re taught to count on. If you want your partner to be your everything, then the strengths the person does have may get lost under the weight of what they don’t. Second, when your partner is all, the world gets a lot smaller. When people don’t seek outside interests or resources, viewpoints can get stunted. External influences often provide new ways of thinking and if this is lacking, growth is slowed or even halted altogether. Third, if you put all your eggs in one basket and that basket breaks, you are in trouble. You have no other resources — friends, other interests — to cushion the fall and help you deal with your pain.

Given all this, the answer to how you get your life back is simple to say and difficult to do: start rebuilding a life in which your partner is just one aspect. In addition to going to work, start hanging out with friends again and doing some of the things you used to do when you were single. Rediscover your hobbies or find new ones. Do some community work and try to make a difference in the world. All of this will make your life richer, give you something else to think about beyond missing your partner (which will help decrease your depression and anxiety), and even have the added benefit of having something new to share with her or him. In so doing, your partner will be someone who adds to your life instead of taking away from it. Your relationship will be the better for it.

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