One of the most common questions I’m asked by people in committed relationships who are struggling with anxiety is: What if I’m just convincing myself to stay? What if he’s a great guy or girl but I just don’t really love him? It’s a valid question, and here’s my answer:
Yes, it’s possible to convince yourself to stay with someone because they’re a great person. The question to ask is: How do you feel about him/around him/toward him when your heart is open and you’re not in an anxious state? That’s the baseline barometer; anything else is what happens when fear is in the driver’s seat. Fear is VERY convincing. It can tell you that you don’t really love him. It can tell you that you’re just convincing yourself. It feeds you culturally sanctioned lines like you should just know and that if you have to work this hard, it’s not really love.
Instead of asking if you really love him, some better questions to ask are: Do you like him? Do you enjoy his company? (again, when you’re not anxious). Do you like talking to him? Do you find him interesting? Love is such a loaded word in our culture. It connotes such terms as “feeling head over heels”, having butterflies, and “knowing that he’s The One.” Love, quite simply, implies a feeling, but when it comes down to deciding something as monumental as choosing a marriage partner, you have to consider much more than a fleeting feeling.
Here’s another way to ask the question: when your heart is open (fear isn’t in the driver’s seat), do you feel connected to him? Certainly you won’t connect to every person on the planet even when your heart is wide open. There are certain people that you will feel connected to, that you work well with, where there’s a certain ease and compatibility, and others where the chemistry just isn’t there. Did the word “chemistry” just spike your anxiety? It’s another buzzword in our culture, and one that triggers many of my anxious clients and eCourse participants. But I use is a bit differently than the mainstream usage. When I talk about chemistry, I ask my client or eCourse participant this question: When you’re not anxious, are you drawn to you’re partner? Again, do you feel connected to him and do you enjoy spending time together? (There’s a great thread on the Conscious Weddings eCourse archived message board with the title “Enough Spark”, where the wise women offer their thoughts on this buzzword; if you’re not engaged or newlywed, please see my Break Free From Relationship Anxiety E-Course).
Even the word “connection” can mean different things to different people. ChristmasBride2006 wrote eloquently on this question in response to TrustandLove on the archived Conscious Weddings message board posts (which appear in the Conscious Weddings eCourse, as well as a fabulous interview with TrustandLove):
“Perhaps a good place to start is asking yourself “what is connection?” What is it? It’s an elusive term, like chemistry or even love. It means different things to different people. Is feeling connected an emotional state for you? When I think of being connected with my husband, the feeling usually happens when we’re “jiving” together, i.e. working together towards the same goal, being on the same wavelength about an issue, and so on. This is not a permanent emotional state; relationships are typically full of ups and downs. I do remember the first profound feeling I had after being engaged was not feeling connected” to my fiancé. I remember telling Sheryl about this! It was like my ability to be emotionally on the same page as my husband had suddenly disappeared and I couldn’t find it, no matter how hard I tried. Kind of felt like there was this palpable wall of fear between us. It was a strange feeling and I sympathize with how you’re feeling now. It hurt, and it made me so sad.
“When I was engaged, I really had no clue if it was the right thing, and that feeling of “things suck but I definitely want to marry him” wasn’t really there. At times the only thing keeping me going forward was that I felt about a million times worse when I thought of calling it off. The thought of not being with him felt worse than any sort of fear or doubt I had during engagement.
“So to start, there are probably a few questions you can ask yourself and perhaps explore them with your therapist. The first being, what does connection mean to you, and how might you create times where closeness can occur with your fiancé? What makes you feel loved, and how do you show love? (The Five Love Languages by Gary Chapman is an excellent book on this). What is your expectation of the relationship in terms of being “connected?” Often – at least I found- my expectations of emotions in a relationship were totally off-base to the realities of a relationship; like, I should feel in love all the time or want to rip his clothes off every time I see him.
“Reality is, long-term relationships just don’t operate that way. Long-term relationships go through times of feeling close, and feeling distant. One day you might want to kiss him all over, the next day you want to rip his head off. This was HUGE for me to learn. I didn’t have to be feeling a certain way 100% of the time to know that our relationship was a great one.
“Sometimes when we try to force certain feelings, the more distant they become and the lack of the feeling is that much more exaggerated. I suppose you could say that your feeling of connection was my feeling of love while I was engaged. I was forever trying to figure out if I really loved my husband or not because I could not “feel” it. The simple (and not so simple) answer is to just stop searching for it. The deepest feelings of love, and deepest feelings of connection happen in the times we least expect it, when we’re not on the hunt for it and trying to force it to be there.
“The last question I think you should ask yourself is what is your desire? What is your want? Do you WANT to marry him? Forgetting all of the fear or lack of emotions, what do you want deep down? The reason I ask this, is your comment about no part of you saying you want to be with your fiancé. In my situation, despite all the crappy feelings, I wanted to marry my husband. Yes I felt scared, sometimes so scared I couldn’t even get out of bed or make it through the day without breaking down, but in the end, what I *wanted* was to get married. What do you want?”