No matter how you try, you can’t seem to convince your partner that you're committed to them. Maybe your partner is clingy, or jealous, or protects themselves by remaining distant. Whatever the dynamic, they believe that you think the worst of them and fear you’ll leave. So, what can you do to prove that they don’t need to worry?
Paradoxically, the best thing you can do is stop trying to prove your point. No matter how many times you’ve tried, it hasn’t worked; and if you keep trying, you will continue to get the same result. They might feel better briefly, but it never lasts. And it can’t last because the problem is in their perceptions, and you can’t “make” them change those perceptions. (An important caveat to this reasoning is that it does not apply if you have earned their mistrust.)
People who are chronically insecure in their relationships generally feel unworthy, inadequate, or unlovable. As much as you might disagree with this self-perception, there’s nothing you can do to change it – they’re the only ones who can do that. However, you can support, encourage, and nurture this change.
An important first step is to truly listen when they express their insecurities. Instead of arguing, let your partner know that you hear them. Tell them how their self-perceptions affect you, highlighting any compassion that you feel. You might say something like, “It makes me sad to see you feel so angry toward yourself and ashamed of yourself. And I just wish you felt better about you.” Then you might slip in, “This is also especially hard because it’s not how I see you at all. You are just so wonderful in my eyes.” Notice that the last statement is not focused on changing your partner’s mind, but rather emphasizes that you see your partner differently. By not directly challenging any self-perceptions, your partner might be more open to seeing themselves differently.
If your partner becomes clingy or acts in any insecure way that upsets you, try asking what is going on for them. Listen in a way that connects you with how they are feeling – even if you don’t agree with their perceptions.
For instance, when Kathy was (once again) trying to keep Brian from going out with other friends, Brian asked her why she didn’t want him to go. She explained her fear that he would meet someone better and leave her. Putting his frustration aside, he explained that it hurt him to see her suffer with jealousy when he loved her so much and had no plans to leave. Then Brian asked what he could do – short of giving up his friends – to help her move past the jealousy. After some discussion, they agreed that he would call her once during the night and then when he was on his way home. Kathy agreed to call her friends and try to make her own plans to go out. While Kathy’s jealousy problem was not solved, she developed a little more trust and sense of safety in their relationship. This change did not happen because Brian proved her fears wrong, but because he showed understanding, compassion, and support.
As much as an insecure person may want their partner to keep reassuring them, and their partner may want to offer such reassurance, that approach too often eventually leads to heightened fears and increased frustration. But when a secure partner is consistently loving, supports their anxiety-ridden partner in reconsidering their fears, and encourages that partner to develop more positive self-perceptions, then positive changes tend to happen. With time, the anxious partner develops greater self-compassion as they wrestle with their growing self-awareness about their insecurities. The anxious partner can absorb the loving messages, feeling more positively toward themselves and having more trust in their partner.