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My insecurity and constant need for validation is pushing my boyfriend away

You’ve already taken a big step by recognising that you want and deserve healthier relationships

Dear Roe,

I’ve been with my boyfriend for a year and I love him very much. When we’re together we don’t really argue and could easily spend days together. When we’re apart though, I tend to overthink things a lot. If he didn’t call when he said he was going to or isn’t paying attention when I’m speaking on the phone, I build these moments up in my head and see them all as, “it’s over, he doesn’t love me, I’m just convenient”. I know that I’m very insecure and I’m aware that I need quite a bit of validation from him. When it’s not there I can get moody and annoyed.

My previous relationship was with someone that was quite controlling and needed to spend every waking moment with me. My current boyfriend isn't like that at all – he's independent and has his own hobbies and friends, very much like me. I feel that because he's not the same as the previous relationship, he mustn't love me as much or just got stuck in this relationship.

I know that most of the problem is in my head but I don’t know how to fix it, how to be more confident in myself, in all aspects of my life, to stop it wreaking havoc on my relationship. I love him but I just want to be able to relax, to take him at face value, to stop being jealous and insecure.


Firstly, well done for not only being brave enough to get out of a controlling relationship and to find a new partner who treats you well, but for also recognising that you still have some work to do on your insecurities to make all of your relationships healthier.

And I do mean brave. Any form of controlling or abusive relationship, particularly if it’s long term, can deeply affect your perception of love and alters how you experience intimacy and attachment. And even though these perceptions of love may be unhealthy and damaging, it is what feels familiar and therefore comfortable. This is why many victims of abuse can get into abusive relationships again, because they internalise the idea that bad treatment is what they deserve and is what love feels like.

It sounds as though your low self-esteem, coupled with your ex’s behaviour, taught you that love involves being co-dependent, spending every waking minute together, constantly knowing the other person’s whereabouts, and generally not allowing the other person to be a fully-rounded individual in their own right. You have internalised the idea that control is what love feels like. And with this logic, it’s completely understandable that you would feel insecure that your current boyfriend wants both of you to be more independent.

When a previous partner has told you, implicitly or explicitly, that love is needing to know where you are and needing to be around you 24 hours a day, suddenly having space could feel like apathy. Why doesn’t your boyfriend want to know what you’re doing? Why doesn’t he miss you? And what is he doing with all of his free time?

This way of thinking is understandable, given what you’ve been through. And you’re not alone. Psychiatrist and psychoanalyst John Bowlby formulated the idea of attachment theory in the 1950s, which posits that the way you connect with your primary caregiver during childhood shapes the way you connect in relationships throughout your life. This theory has been researched and developed by psychologists over the past seven decades, and has shown that formative relationships with romantic partners and friends can also affect your attachment style.

One attachment style which might sound familiar to you is known as the Anxious or Dependent attachment style, and is commonly found in people who have been in relationships where periods of constant monitoring and criticism alternated with periods of neglect and abandonment, making the relationship constantly feel insecure. This causes you to rely on the relationship for your sense of self-worth, while also feeling very insecure about the relationship and fearing abandonment, which can result in you feeling constantly anxious about and preoccupied by the relationship.

It can involve feeling a strong need for constant contact and validation from others, and being very sensitive to your partner’s actions and taking them very personally – for example, assuming that if your boyfriend doesn’t text or call immediately, it’s because he doesn’t care about you, is angry with you, or is with someone else. Ironically, this attachment style can actually make you become quite controlling, as your need for constant validation starts impacting your partner’s life.

I'd strongly encourage you to seek out a therapist who can help you

I will never suggest blindly following any theory regarding relationships, but I think this framework of attachment theory might help you understand the origin of your needs and behaviours, and how to adjust them into a pattern that feels more secure and sustainable. This is absolutely possible, and is rooted in you feeling more secure in yourself, and embracing your self-worth and believing that you are worthy of love and respect, regardless of your relationship status.

Working on improving your self-esteem and self-worth won’t just improve your romantic relationships, but all of your relationships. When you feel more secure, you won’t need constant validation from others, and will believe that the people in your life love you and will be there for you – without you constantly having to prove yourself worthy of their affection. It will also allow you to communicate your needs clearly and set boundaries as you realise that love is not dependent on you simply shaping yourself to be what you think others want, and allowing you to be your own person.

I’d strongly encourage you to seek out a therapist who can help you work on building up your self-esteem. I would also tell your boyfriend what’s going on, so that he can be patient with you during anxious periods, and that you can work on setting boundaries and communication strategies so that both of you feel supported without feeling smothered. Together, you can talk about realistic expectations for your relationship, recognising that neither of you can meet each other’s needs all of the time, and discuss ways to communicate and set boundaries when you are feeling anxious.

Spend time with yourself on your own interests, so that you learn to feel comfortable being alone and to appreciate yourself as an individual, not just one part of a relationship. Also start practising communicating your needs and feelings clearly, instead of suppressing them to make other people feel comfortable.

Be patient and compassionate with yourself. You’ve already taken a great step by recognising that you want and deserve healthier relationships. Change takes time. But it’s worth it.