I’m in a bad place because Jason, my boyfriend of eight months, whom I dearly love, can be really thoughtless of me sometimes.
He didn’t make a special plan for my 30th birthday. Usually I am the one who has to call him, or we don’t speak all day. I am the one who usually initiates sex, though he is happy to have it when I do. I could go on and on.
I should explain that I had a pretty bad childhood (extremely strict, right-wing, religious parents who have rejected me big-time) so it is very important to me that my boyfriend makes me feel valued. I didn’t get that feeling at all growing up so I am really craving it.
I’ve brought this up with Jason and he didn’t seem to take my concerns too seriously. He said he tries to be a devoted boyfriend and doesn’t want a list of things he has to do. I’m not trying to give him a list, but I think these are pretty basic needs and it’s not too much to ask him to meet them.
You missed out on an extremely important experience growing up: feeling cherished by your parents. Positive and loving regard from others helps us learn to love ourselves. When kids don’t have this experience with their parents (or at least with someone important in their lives) they desperately seek it in their adult relationships, hoping that love from others will provide what they don’t have inside. The trouble is that once we grow up, no one else can give us that feeling; we all must find ways to value ourselves. This is where you must put your energy and effort.
About Jason’s not meeting your needs, there’s a very popular belief that a love relationship should be like a perfect parent-child relationship, where your spouse will always give you love and always strive to meet your needs. But this expectation can strangle a relationship. It’s nearly impossible for your partner to always be loving and supportive in ways that you desire. He may have his own ideas about how he wants to do things and live his life, his own desires and wants that conflict with yours, which means that he will not always be there for you. It’s far better that you work at being resilient, accepting that Jason may sometimes let you down because he is human and a separate individual, than to spend time stewing over your disappointment in him.
Keep in mind, too, that needs are very different from wants. Your needs — food, water and shelter — are your responsibility once you grow up. You want a boyfriend who plans exciting birthdays, calls you frequently and initiates sex. While you absolutely can advocate for these wants, you cannot count on getting them. Watch out for using “needs” to push Jason into doing things he doesn’t want to do.
I’m curious how Jason feels about connection. Does he reach out to you consistently in some ways that you value? Does he really let you know him? Or do you feel like he’s frequently distant? Keep in mind that even if you feel like he often isn’t there for you, your ability to see him clearly may be warped by your history. We often tend to see the present through the lens of our traumatic pasts, and because you got a lot of rejection growing up, you may now experience distance even when it isn’t really happening.
Developing self-esteem and a loving attitude toward yourself when you didn’t get that growing up is a tough challenge. I urge you to find a skilled therapist to help you become more solid and resilient. Doing that work will help you weather the inevitable letdowns of a relationship, more deeply enjoy the good times and simply feel good about yourself.
Michael Radkowsky, Psy.D. is a licensed psychologist who works with gay couples and individuals in D.C. He can be found online at personalgrowthzone.com. All identifying information has been changed for reasons of confidentiality. Have a question? Send it to Michael@personalgrowthzone.com.