Carolyn Hax: She’s perceiving a change in their relationship

DEAR CAROLYN: I’ve been in a relationship for three years with a wonderful man. At the beginning, I was deliriously happy. Recently, though, my boyfriend is acting differently toward me – more withdrawn, needing more space, etc.

I consider myself a fairly perceptive person, and so I mentioned this to him, suspecting there was just something small we needed to work on and everything would be fine. He swears there’s nothing wrong. I still think there likely is, but I also realize that continually asking him what is wrong will only make things worse.

But I don’t know how to get rid of the feeling of being insecure – and now when he says no to hanging out, I’ve started to feel anxious and sometimes even a little hurt (which I realize is silly). And I think he’s starting to notice. Help!

– Insecure or Just Perceptive?

DEAR INSECURE: You can be insecure and perceptive.

It’s also OK to be concerned; in fact, writing off your hurt feelings as “silly” is so self-negating that I wonder if you do that reflexively. If you’re upset over every little thing then, sure, look inward – but your boyfriend has started brushing you off. Why isn’t it a given that you’d notice, and hurt?

I’d go further and call it useful. Negative feelings are our alarm system.

But you’ve chosen to do nothing about your distress except flog yourself for showing it. That’s unhealthy, and you have the anxiety to prove it.

To get onto a more productive path, chuck the self-doubt. You’ve noticed something, so it’s real, so concern is valid. Just giving yourself that much can help appreciably.

Next, recognize that a real change in his behavior warrants a real change in yours. Since your choices are acceptance or action, weigh these:

(1) Straight-up acceptance. Change your “I’m going to shut up in case my anxiety costs me the relationship” approach to “I realize something’s up, I don’t know what yet, but surely I will soon enough.”

(2) Hedged acceptance. While you wait to see what develops, re-engage with one or two interests you had dropped. If your boyfriend is withdrawing for reasons unrelated to you or just evolving naturally out of the shmoopie phase, then renewed interests will help you absorb such ebbs and flows more smoothly. And if your boyfriend is falling out of love with you, then these interests will help cushion your fall. Win-win.

(3) Straight-up action. Recognize you have all the information you need, and decide for yourself where the relationship stands. His words + actions + your perceptions + actions = four big pieces of information. Put them together, and what do you see?