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Ask Dr. Norman Brown Your Own Question

Dr. Norman Brown
Dr. Norman Brown, Marriage Therapist
Category: Relationship
Satisfied Customers: 1144
Experience:  Family Therapist & teacher 35+ yrs; PhD research in couples
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my boyfriend and i have been dating for almost 3 years. lately

Customer Question

my boyfriend and i have been dating for almost 3 years. lately since i stopped taking my prozac medication for anxiety which runs in my family; i have been fighting with him and clinging to him and trying to actively control him. he works in finance in a very stressful environment and supports himself financially. we do not get to see each other often as we would like to because of his job which he is trying to make into a better career and because of the studying he was doing for an exam license he needs for his job. this past weekend, things got very explosive because he wanted to spend 8 out of the 10 weekends with me during the summer and just 2 with his friends. because i have been off of the prozac for 8 months, things that used to really never bother me become huge to me. we were supposed to spend 4th of july weekend together and he told me last minute he didnt want to and wanted to be with his coworkers instead. this all took place ten minutes after i walked out of my therapists office who put me back on the prozac. just to let you know, i have never expressed or told my boyfriend about me taking this medication before or my family's medical history. long story short, we did not speak all weekend. i spend the weekend not eating depressed sick and with family and he told me spent it upstate alone trying to gather his thoughts. i reached out to him today to tell him i would like to know whats going on with us and he said we would talk tonight if i wanted to. i asked in person? and he said phone first because our face ot face discussions dont go that well lately. i also asked him is the reason you dont want to sit and talk in person like adults because your looking for a way out of this relationship and he said no. i love him with all my heart and soul and thats the truth. he comes from a wonderful family who is nice to me and he treats me good. every couple fights but i think my anxiety disorder has been bad. i need advice on it all.
Submitted: 4 years ago.
Category: Relationship
Expert:  Doctor Kevin replied 4 years ago.

Kevin Kappler :

So you need to know how much your insecurities and anxiety is a factor in your relationship? Are you getting anywhere with your desire to talk about the relationship? A good rule of thumb is that when you are thinking of asking a relationship related question is this instigated by your insecurity or by his behaviors? If it is the former throw it out. You need to be supportive of his job and not opposed to it. You need to create an environment where he wants to spend time with you and not simply bulling him into it. If he changes his mind at the last minute off an alternative another weekend so he doesn't feel so guilty advancing his career. Lastly you need to get a life so that the weekends you spend away from him you do more than pout.

Expert:  Dr. Norman Brown replied 4 years ago.

I read what you wrote and what Kevin wrote, and I think more needs to be said. First I want to show you a relationship pattern that holds for all love relationships:


Love and Power are a pair of opposites that have to balance each other in an intimate relationship, and that's not easy to do. Even long married couples like my therapist wife and me (25.5 years) can have power shifts that require more understanding between us. Having the higher income, having the more prestigious job, having less time to choose to spend with the partner, and having more outside-of-relationship interests and activities--each independently give that person MORE power than the partner. It sounds like your boyfriend has all four of these together. Perhaps he has less obligation or loyalty to spend time with family or taking care of family or pets than you do, and that would give him LESS power in the relationship. But the first 4 would put him in the position that most men in the 50s and 60s were in, with a lot more power. So their wives devoted themselves to their children and did without much power over what they would do with their husbands as a couple, or "quality time."


The simplest expression of the power principle in intimate relationships was coined way back in 1934: (translated for clarity) Whoever is more willing and capable of leaving the love relationship has the power to steer it to his/her advantage.


Or Whoever has more options for desirable use of his/her time outside of the relationship has the greater potential for controlling what happens in the relationship.


That person, in your case your boyfriend, is also called the (natural) "Distancer." The other person, when she becomes aware of the Distancer's decisions that are not made with the couple as highest priority, becomes the "Pursuer", and is also likely to feel nervous, dependent and less valuable as a person. The "Distancer" can easily feel more capable, more valuable, and both irritated at the Pursuer's nagging demands and anxieties AND a bit guilty about being more self-centered, unless he always has the excuse of Work hours, higher challenges.


The funny thing though, is that if the roles were to get reversed--such as if he lost his job, and you got a really good job with excellent benefits that took up most of your time, then he'd start feeling needy and dependent and devalued by you. There are personality features that tend more toward Pursuer, such as anxiety and fear of abandonment. But the current situation plays the most important role.


So your efforts to get him to promise to spend time with you and to get him to spell out his commitment to you and to your future as a couple are bound to irritate him and make him want to avoid you. An act of Pursuit can trigger Distancing in the partner, and an act of Distancing can trigger Pursuit in the partner.


So to keep your own power roughly as great as his, you'll need to stop pursuing him. Don't call him much when he doesn't call you much.


Still he's going to keep up with his high demand high stress high wages finance job for the future. So he's going to want your companionship to act as a rest & relaxation experience for him, and your natural tendency toward anxiety will not sit well with him. Since you haven't told him yet about your family's tendencies toward anxiety and depression (they're usually paired because they are genetically related), I assume you haven't been partners for as long as a year yet.


I'd suggest that a high stress high buddy-group-guy is not a good match for a high anxiety high quality time woman. Unless you can fill up your days with as many diverse relationships and activities as he does--and NOT just so you can stand to be without him but because you WANT a busier life--then I think you'd be better off with a more laid back and less ambitious partner. There are plenty of guys who value their leisure and their love more than climbing a corporate ladder.


If you have to keep reaching out for him (Pursuer, no matter how you do it), then you will probably keep feeling like a less well adjusted person, and that's probably not very fulfilling for you. This is a more long range perspective than just getting thru one weekend after another.


I hope this gives you an additional way to understand your relationship and perhaps to balance your own needs for love and for power to make the decisions that are best for you. Feel free to ask more questions to either me or Kevin.


Norman Brown, Ph.D., LMFT

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