Q: What do you suggest to people when they constantly compare themselves to others or don’t feel “good enough”, which leads to a fear of your partner leaving a romantic relationships? Competition seems to be ingrained in the male psyche, gay or straight.
A: Your question is actually fairly complex, because you mention your own feelings of not feeling “good enough”, at the same time worrying about the feelings of your partner leaving, and at the same time as trying to have a relationship in a “community” context. I think these are three different things, and here’s why:
When we don’t feel “good enough”, we’re really questioning our self-esteem. There are lots of reasons why people have shaky self-esteem, but it’s usually “buying into” criticism from our past from critical parents, teachers, coaches, or peers. We have “internalized” their negative evaluations of us, even if they weren’t accurate. In therapy, we work on this, so that we “iron out the wrinkles” in your self-esteem so that you’re more comfortable and confident with yourself.
In terms of your partner’s behavior, I always talk about relationships as having to have Commitment, Communication, and Compromise. That first one — commitment — is about talking with your partner about what you each expect in the relationship — and part of that means doing things that make each other feel secure, and specifically NOT doing things that make each other feel unsafe or insecure. These have to be discussed, and even negotiated, so that one partner does not control the other. You gain trust in your partner when he makes a commitment to honoring your relationship by setting boundaries with others. Maybe you “let him” flirt a little with other guys, but he only has sex with you. Or maybe he’s allowed to play sexually with other guys, but not in your home — or maybe only when he’s out of town (and vice versa). What those boundaries are is going to differ based on the couple and what their comfort-levels are with different activities.
Finally, having a relationship means making it work Emotionally, Physically, Domestically, and a fourth domain that I call “Managing The ‘Other'” — which means managing how other people might intrude on your relationship, whether that’s obnoxious drunk twinks who aggressively flirt with one or the other of you at a bar or party, someone not respecting the boundaries and rules of your relationship (this can be true even in open relationships), or an intrusive boss, sibling, parent, roommate, or neighbor who interrupts the peaceful conduct of your relationship. Couples must help each other set limits and boundaries with others who intrude on the relationship and demand your time, money, or attention — to the detriment of the relationship.
So this is about “settling in” to your relationship, and while not taking it for granted, it’s also about having enough feelings of safety that no one has “one foot out the door” to leave the other. There will always be other people who are better-looking, richer, funnier, more active, younger, more accomplished, etc. than our partners — but if we didn’t have a sense of commitment, we would all be running around with different partners every 10 seconds. It could be that the commitment and safety aspects of your relationship need work, and I can help you plan this in therapy.
For more information on how to see me, or work with me on the phone, see www.GayTherapyLA.com, or call/text 310-339-5778.
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