I wonder if you or your readers could help me with what I call Adult Separation Anxiety.
I am a widowed father of three great children ages 9, 12 and 13. My wife passed away to illness about two-and-a half years ago. Since then I have put my life back together and made my children the most important things in my life.
I have since for the last year have met this wonderful Jewish girl. Our relationship is very strong and we are very committed to each other I am planning on proposing around Chanukah time.
Here is my problem: Just recently she took a trip to England with one of her girl friends. I was so happy for her to go away and have a good time, but I also felt abandoned. Ever since she returned home I can’t stop thinking about her or wanting to be with her nonstop. I know that it is not good for our relationship or my relationship with my children. I felt like I was a rock before she left, now I feel like the foundation under my feet has been weakened.
I love my her and my children very much. But I feel like my insecurity of not being with her every second of the day or thinking about her is driving me up a wall! Please help….
Drowning in Insecurity
Yo, Drowning! First of all, mazel tov on making a new relationship with a woman who supports Jewish family life. It must have been extremely difficult for you and your children to adjust to life without their mother; I imagine that it is a continual process to create happiness and a feeling of safety for your family.
You have lost one partner to the unknowable and unfair web of God’s will, and your fears of abandonment by this new woman are understandable, even justified. You want reassurance that she’s going to be there if you’re going to commit again. You likely worry that your family could not sustain another great loss, so you need to be in her presence or be thinking of her in order to make sure your world is intact. You’re clinging hard.
But you’ve probably already been through that pop-psychology interpretation and you’re correct in thinking your obsession will ultimately destroy the relationship. And not just yours; your children have already formed attachments that will be damaged should you not learn that you must give her some space. You have a woman considering taking on a husband and three teen and pre-teen children; she’s got to be able to go on vacation without guilt, for heaven’s sake.
Recognize you are creating these feelings of abandonment based on your experience and imagination; no amount of reassurance from or time spent with her will help assuage them unless you change the way you are looking at the world. You and your children have been through a great loss that occurred before you met this woman, and you must remove her from the picture (only figuratively) so that you can examine the origin of your anxieties. In other words, time to back off and regroup. She can support you through this, but she is not the issue.
In order to save this match, you must treat your own mental and emotional health as top priority. A good therapist will help you separate your negative feelings from this current relationship and there are many books about love after loss.
I also advise turning to God for help: the pressure of your future happiness is too much for your girlfriend, but not for the Almighty. This month of Elul and the upcoming High Holy Days are a chance to deepen your connection with the Presence that will never abandon you. Find strength in the acts that make you a good father, a compassionate neighbor, a helpful coworker. Ultimately you will find your back to being a strong partner if you keep the faith.
You and your family will be in my thoughts and prayers.