How do I cope with separation anxiety while boyfriend is out of town?

I have been with my boyfriend for more than a year. He recently got a new job and travels a lot. I’m not used to him being gone all the time. I feel as though he has forgotten about me because he does not talk with me as much and doesn’t keep me up to date on everything that he does throughout the day, which he used to.

I feel lost, sad and unwanted. This is really a tough new challenge. I just want to break up with him, but I love him so much. I don’t know why he is acting this way lately. I believe I have separation anxiety. Is there anything that I can do to help me cope with this while he is out of town?

Nicole Stone
Nicole Stone
Anxiety, relationship crisis, and the separation/divorce experience.

Relationships at any amount of distance can be so hard! It makes sense that you are encountering more anxiety than usual given that major change in your relationship. And you're right that being separated from our partners can heighten our insecurities and worries about not only our relationship security but about our partner's interest. Have you talked with your boyfriend about this struggle you're feeling? It can be hard to have this kind of conversation without triggering a sense of blame and subsequent defensiveness in our partners, but it really is possible. If you have any concerns about being able to do this, then a session or two with a local counselor or therapist might be really helpful - and it really can be just about finding the way to share what you're feeling.

As far as coping with anxiety, there are a lot of options but I highly recommend an app called Self-Help for Anxiety Management. There's so much good information in this app to help you learn to pay attention to what kinds of thoughts are helpful or unhelpful, and there are also lots of activities for calming down and decreasing the intensity of that anxiety. The best part is, it's free! 

The information above is intended as general information...  (more)The information above is intended as general information based on minimal information, and does not constitute health care advice. This information does not constitute communication with a counselor/therapist nor does it create a therapist-client relationship nor any of the privileges that relationship may provide. If you are currently feeling suicidal or are in crisis, call 911 or proceed to your local emergency room.
Lynda Martens
Lynda Martens
Marriage & Family Therapist, MSc, RP, RMFT

In a way, yes, you have separation anxiety. It's normal in a relationship for us to slow down a bit with the attachment behaviours that establish and deepen love and connection. So, just because your boyfriend isn't talking as much or keeping you up-to-date doesn't necessarily mean what you fear it means...that he's forgotten about you or loves you less. It could mean quite the opposite...that he's focused on being successful in his new job and impressing you. He may think he's loving you more, but you feel loved less. You have two jobs to do here. The first is to manage your anxiety by "talking back" to the thoughts it puts into your head. It sounds like "It's normal to be insecure, but I have tons of evidence that he loves me and that I mean the world to him..." Find that evidence that helps you refute what anxiety is trying to claim. The second part of your job is to let him know what you need. You need more affection and connection during this period when he's away (more texts, phone calls, information). It's okay to want that, and I am sure he will be relieved to know exactly what he can do to help you feel secure and calm when he's away. 

The information above is intended as general information...  (more)The information above is intended as general information based on minimal information, and does not constitute health care advice. This information does not constitute communication with a counselor/therapist nor does it create a therapist-client relationship nor any of the privileges that relationship may provide. If you are currently feeling suicidal or are in crisis, call 911 or proceed to your local emergency room.
Kaileen McMickle, MS, LPC
Kaileen McMickle, MS, LPC
Licensed Professional Counselor
You are dealing with a lot of emotions about your relationship and it must be really difficult to be doing that without support.

What brings you to believe it's specifically separation anxiety?  Did you feel the same way when he'd leave before the new job?  I'm not saying it isn't, but it sparks my curiosity about what that means to you.  It definitely sounds like you are grieving a pretty significant change in a relationship that you are invested in and a change in a person that you love.  That's so tough.

Another thing to remember is that no matter what it looks like, you are coping in some way.  Rumination and worry are both ways of coping.  Crying or retreating from the world is also coping.  What do you want your coping to look like?  Most people want their coping mechanisms to reduce their uncomfortable feelings, so separating what meets that need vs what doesn't can clue you in to what will work best for you.  It doesn't necessarily mean you always have to escape your feelings though.  It's OK to feel everything you are feeling because you're human and you care.  

It's also worth noting that his actions (or lack of) are triggering these feelings you have about you.  I don't know enough to speak to where that comes from for you, but how much of what he's choosing or not choosing to do is possibly about him?  When we don't know why someone has changed their behavior toward us, we typically end up blaming ourselves because our brains don't like uncertainty.  The truth could be much different.  The only way to truly know is to express that to him--though that is up to you if you feel like you are in a position to speak your truth to him.

Support from other people in your life could help as well.  Maybe someone outside of the relationship can give some unbiased suggestions or even just offer support to you while you are moving through this really rough situation.  

One way to look at how you are feeling is that your emotions could be reflective of what you want for your relationship vs what is happening now.  If there is some separation anxiety, maybe that's something that warrants more inner work for you if you so choose.  But it's normal in any relationship to feel upset when our partners aren't meeting our needs.  You probably know best which scenario fits your situation, and maybe it's a little bit of both!

If you decide to confront him, speaking with someone you trust to help you with that or seeing a counselor could help to narrow down what you really want him to know and what you need from him.

I wish you all the best!

The information above is intended as general information...  (more)The information above is intended as general information based on minimal information, and does not constitute health care advice. This information does not constitute communication with a counselor/therapist nor does it create a therapist-client relationship nor any of the privileges that relationship may provide.   If you are currently feeling suicidal or are in crisis, call 911 or proceed to your local emergency room.
Sherry Katz, LCSW
Sherry Katz, LCSW
Couples and Family Therapist, LCSW

First step is to tell your boyfriend the reasons you feel upset.

This way he has a chance to answer your questions as to why he doesn't keep in touch.

His responses will guide your next steps.

There is a difference between his unavailability due to a heavy workload or because he has less interest in the relationship.

In order to work with his current behavior you first need to find out why it is happening.

The information above is intended as general information...  (more)The information above is intended as general information based on minimal information, and does not constitute health care advice. This information does not constitute communication with a counselor/therapist nor does it create a therapist-client relationship nor any of the privileges that relationship may provide. If you are currently feeling suicidal or are in crisis, call 911 or proceed to your local emergency room.
Lauren Ostrowski, MA, LPC, NCC, DCC, CCTP
Lauren Ostrowski, MA, LPC, NCC, DCC, CCTP
I tailor my therapeutic approach to each client's strengths and goals

Consider talking with your boyfriend about times that you may be able to talk together while he is away. This way, you have an idea when you'll be able to contact him. Does he recognize the feelings that you have while he is away? How do you feel when you are together with him and he is home?

I'm also curious as to how the level of your anxiety (on a scale of 1 to 10, perhaps) changes during the parts of his trips. Maybe there are certain parts that are more or less related to anxiety for you. Perhaps you have less anxiety while working or involved in a specific activity, for example, spending time with friends.

When you are both in the same area (when your boyfriend is not traveling), do you do some things independently with friends? 

Do you know what leads to your anxiety when he is away? I don't know whether it is a general feeling of wanting him to come back or anxiety that something specific will happen to you or him.

Do you ever recall feeling this way in your past? If so, what was happening then?

What do you have that makes you feel very safe and comfortable?

Consider working with a mental health professional in the area. Perhaps it would be helpful for the two of you to meet with a therapist who specializes in couples to see what kind of relationship you want to have and what you can each do to contribute to that relationship. There could be things that you could both start or stop doing to help your relationship move in the direction where you would like it to go. As an example, perhaps you would like a text before your boyfriend goes to bed, no matter what time zone or time of day it is. Perhaps he would prefer a good morning text or call/voicemail from you.

The information above is intended as general information...  (more)The information above is intended as general information based on minimal information, and does not constitute health care advice. This information does not constitute communication with a counselor/therapist nor does it create a therapist-client relationship nor any of the privileges that relationship may provide. If you are currently feeling suicidal, as if you want to hurt or kill yourself or someone else, or are in crisis, call 800-273-8255 (24 hours a day, 7 days a week), call 911, or proceed to your local emergency room.

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