From jealous rows, to self-doubt and crippling insecurity.
Karen Slater, a digital editor has been with Steve a self-employed designer for 5 years.
‘I felt like his therapist, that I was carrying the entire weight of his past”
At first, Steve’s vulnerability had charmed me. He was so different from the cocksure Alpha males I’d dated before, and so willing to open up about his feelings. What I hadn’t realized was just how deeply he would allow himself to sink into self-pity. How his insecurity would come to affect every area of our lives.
Steve, 42, had been raised by a single mother, after his dad left when he was just three. It wasn’t such a tragic tale as far as I could tell -he’d always spent time with his dad, and had a great relationship with his two half-siblings. But a childhood of longing for his parents to get back together, and an adulthood of failed relationships and trust issues (in part because of his parent’s marriage collapse) had left Steve with deep-seated insecurities when we met in our 30s.
Initially, I almost enjoyed supporting him emotionally – it was novel after years with withdrawn, inexpressive men. Our long, intense discussions about his childhood and why he felt so sad and abandoned. It didn’t occur to me that in fact, things were so one sided and we never talked about my own life or feelings. I had simply become Steve’s therapist. It was so much easier for him to blame his dad for his sadness, or make me responsible for his happiness, than it was to face up to why he found victimhood so comfortable.
As time went by, I became increasingly resentful. I felt embarrassed by his constant re-hashing of the past, and his obsession with having ‘missed out’ on a proper family. Once he talked about this at length during a meal with close friend of ours who’d been orphaned in her teens. When we got home, I was furious. “You were playing the victim all night and she hasn’t even got parents!” Frustratingly, he refused to just go and see a therapist. ‘I’m not talking to a stranger about my problems’. He said.
As time went by, I no longer felt grateful that Steve wanted to confide in me, I felt angry, that his insecurity was affecting our relationship, and making everything about him. I still loved him- he was kind, thoughtful, funny and talented. But I didn’t know if I could carry on supporting him when I felt I was carrying the entire weight of his past.
Things got worse when I started a new job, and Steve became anxious about me leaving him now I was meeting ‘interesting new people.’ After long days in the office, I’d still spend evenings listening to him talk about why he felt he’d never be good enough for me. When I was invited to the company’s annual party, which meant an overnight stay in a country hotel (partners weren’t included) Steve, went pale with distress. “How will you resist if someone flirts with you?” He began. “I’m not exciting or successful…”
After years of nodding along and comforting him, I’d had enough. “I won’t leave you for someone else,” I snapped, “But I might walk out if you don’t get a bloody grip.”
I felt genuine despair in that moment. It actually felt like Steve was enjoying his angst, happily dumping it all on me.
I’ve since discovered that insecurity isn’t eased by reassurance, it’s deepened- it’s never enough, and it will always mutate and find something else to latch onto. Steve finally agreed to therapy. But it’s not an easy or quick process. A year in though, it’s made a huge difference to Steve’s self-esteem. I’ve noticed he talks a lot less about his childhood, and I try to encourage him to look to the future, rather than the past.
I think a relationship like ours is a work in progress. Coping with Steve’s deep-seated insecurity has been a real lesson in my own limitations. I thought I could ‘fix’ him with endless support- it’s now very clear that people can only fix themselves, and even then, only when they’re ready. He may never be a confident man, brimming with self-esteem. I hope instead that he’ll be a happier one, who’s able to accept that some problems are his alone to deal with. I’m much happier now I don’t feel responsible for his happiness.