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TherapistMarryAnn, Therapist
Category: Mental Health
Satisfied Customers: 5762
Experience:  Over 20 years experience specializing in anxiety, depression, drug and alcohol, and relationship issues.
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Relationship Problem

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Hello there, I would greatly appreciate some advice regarding a problem that surfaces in my relationship. I am deeply in love with the man I am with and have definite plans to marry him someday. We are both independent artists in different fields so we are apart a lot, but very supportive of one another. Pushing each other to advance in our own careers, to do what we love and stay focused. So we are often apart for months at a time. There has never been an issue of trust or any question of our dedication to one another. But whenever I am in a social setting where I would choose not to answer my phone (at a restaurant with friends or a bar for drinks) and he is not in town he gets very worried. I am not even sure if "worried" is the correct word. But he will call me constantly, and even if I answer and explain that I am at dinner and will call him in a few hours, it doesn't necessarily make him feel better. He says it isn't about who I with (we have all the same friends) or what I am doing. He doesn't think I am cheating on him, flirting, or doing anything inappropriate. He also says it isn't even necessarily that he is worried for my safety. He can't say himself why he does this... But the worrying takes form of sort of a panic attack for him. Where he literally can't sleep and has sort of a mental hang over from it the next day. I must clarify- he isn't angry with me during these episodes. Even in the moment he is embarrassed. And aware of what the people I am with must think of him, how they must notice that he's called 8-10 times during the course of a few hours..etc. In all other walks of life he is extremely laid back- to a fault some would say! So this is very strange. And I feel it may also be important to know that his father died when he was just a month or so old. And his death, obviously, took a tremendous toll on his mother's mental health. She has a pretty severe hoarding affliction. Is it possible that he has some sort of adult separation anxiety? And if so, what can I do to help him work through this in a healthy way? Thank you, Rose

Hello Rose, I'd like to help you with your question.

It sounds like your partner may have been more affected by his father's loss than he may realize. Although he was too young to feel the loss of his father directly, the reaction his mother had may have created anxiety for your partner. He did not experience his father's death, so he did not get to react to it himself and see that grief can be experienced and worked through. All he saw was the affect on his mother. And the impact it had on his mother may have given him the impression that a loss is an intolerable thing that takes over your life (the hoarding and anxiety she feels) and there is no way to work through your grief. So he has transferred these feelings onto your relationship, particularly focusing on losing you. If you are out of range and he cannot be sure you are ok, then he may imagine the worst which is losing you. It triggers his anxiety about how his mother handled her loss and he has trouble coping.

It is very often difficult to pinpoint this type of anxiety. Your partner cannot say something happened to him directly but something did happen because he was exposed to grief and unresolved anxiety through his mother. It can be likened to the children of Holocaust survivors who "transferred" their grief, anxiety and sorrow to their kids, some of whom developed behaviors because of what they heard from their parents. The Holocaust did not happen to the kids but it still affected them.

Your partner can work through how he feels by first recognizing where his fear comes from. Talking about how he feels regarding his father's death and his mother's reaction would help him identify how he was affected. Then he can either talk to a therapist to help him change how he thinks and feels about what happened to him, and/or he can try working on it through self help. The ideal option is to talk to a therapist so he can get support and also so he can take this issue out of your relationship and work on it individually. Not that you can't help him with it by offering support, but he needs to address this on his own.

To find a therapist, he can ask his doctor for a referral. Or he can search on line at:

He can also learn more about grief and what reactions are normal and which ones are not. Here are some resources to help him:

I hope this has helped you and your partner,
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