The Top 10 Reasons to Leave Your Partner (According to Fear)

Fear’s entire mission in life is to keep you safe from the risk of loving. It sees love as a dangerous cesspool where the invisible sea creatures lurk beneath the dark surface, waiting to snatch you into their murky waters. Fear believes that if you risk your heart through committed loving you will endure unbearable loss: you will either lose yourself in some way or you will lose your partner. Either way, fear tells you to run because it’s trying to protect you from an unpredictable risk.

Fear uses a handful of lines in its attempt to convince you to run. This is helpful information becuase once you identify the finite number of lines, you can begin to challenge them, diffuse them, and eventually, with enough committed work, flick them away like annoying mosquitos. Here are the top 10 most common lines fear carries in its arsenal:

1. You don’t really love him/her.

2. You’re just trying to convince yourself that you love him/her.

3. If you really loved him/her, you wouldn’t have to work this hard.

4. You’re not attracted to him/her.

5. There’s not enough sexual chemistry.

6. There’s someone else out there that wouldn’t make you feel this anxious.

7. You’re settling.

8. You had more chemistry with your ex.

9. Love doesn’t last.

10. Everyone’s relationship is better than yours (the grass is always greener syndrome)

When I’m working with clients, I offer effective responses for challenging each of these lines. For example, when fear says, “You’re settling,” a response that pulls the rug out from beneath fear is, “So what? If settling means having a solid, loving, wonderful relationship, then bring it on!” I encourage my clients to write down the response and keep it handy on a notecard (or iPhone, Blackberry, etc) so that as soon as she becomes aware of fear, she can respond.

For many clients, however, responding to fear with a challenge that disarms its power is a second or third course of action. We usually begin by discussing our culture’s buzzwords and dysfunctions around love and commitment, then we delve into the personal history that is fueling fear’s rampage. If you come from a history of divorce, doesn’t it make sense that fear will rise up with a ferocious attack if you’re considering marriage? Remember, fear doesn’t want you to get hurt again. It saw the pain and devastation you experienced and witnessed as a child and it truly believes that the only safe route is to remain alone or, at the very least, uncommitted.

In other posts, I’ve referred to fear as The Gatekeeper; for many people, viewing fear as a character in your psyche helps to begin to dialogue with it and, over time, diffuse it completely. I also often reference The Wizard of Oz because, like the wizard, fear puts on a great, big, loud, scary show, but when you pull back the curtains you reveal a scared little man behind it all. This is how it is with fear. When you’re believing its lines, it assumes the power of a vicious monster, but as soon as you start to name and see it for what it is, you realize that it’s really just blowing a lot of hot air and lies into your ear that, while may have been true as a child, don’t hold water anymore.

None of this is easy work. I simplify it in my articles for people to see what the process looks like, but understanding what to do and actually doing it are two different things. But this is what I can tell you with 100% certainty: if you do the work, you can work through your fear. I’ve seen it over and over again and it never ceases to inspire and amaze me. One of my clients, who was thoroughly dedicated to her process of dialoguing daily with the fear characters (judgement, wounded child, etc), recently said to me, “The moment I broke free was the moment I stopped giving fear any energy. I stopped listening to it. I’m amazed at what fear will do to get me to leave. But now when I hear fear whisper something in my ear, I just say, ‘Whatever’, and move on to the next moment.”

This is the work in a nutshell: learning how to stop giving fear any energy. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: it’s not easy, but in my mind, there is no work more worthy on this earth. In the battle between love and fear, who will you allow to drive your car?

21 comments to The Top 10 Reasons to Leave Your Partner (According to Fear)

  • Clara

    I really liked this post, Sheryl. I know my partner and I have a very significant love, and are really suited to each other, but I have found myself thinking every one of those fear thoughts at one stage or another. I think I’m beginning to get a sense of the difference flavour of the fear voice, from the voice of true nature. The fear voice has a confused, frightened, bewildered, desperate edge to it with echoes of punitive, rigid, harsh judgment. True nature is rational, adult, confident, sensible, open and flexible.

    Your imagery of the dangerous cesspool with invisible sea creatures lurking beneath the surface, reminds me of a very vivid dream I had some time ago, around the time my partner and I were buying our first house. I was standing on the edge of an icey continent with a group of people (none of whom I knew) looking out to sea. All of a sudden I realised that the ice that I was standing on have broken away from the continent, and I was drifting from the shore. I called out the the people on the shore, but none of them were prepared to come to me. In panic, I lept into the water and swam towards the continent. As I tried to clamber out of the water, I was attacked by enormous water rats that were lurking just beneath the ice.

    It is amazing the capacity for fear to completely eclipse love. And, relatedly, how much courage it takes to truely love.

  • I love what you wrote here about the distinction between the fear voice and the truth voice. I’ve been writing about this topic for years but I’ve never quite articulated it that way in terms of noticing the flavor of each voice. That’s going to be very helpful for my clients.

    And wow, what a dream! Many of my clients and home study participants talk about the transition of buying a house and how it activates the same level of fear as getting married. Your dream expresses the fear quite powerfully, as dreams tend to do.

    Thank you for sharing. And yes, it really does take massive amounts of courage to love and real commitment to battling the fear voices every time they try to take over.

  • James Watson

    I’ve just had a massive hand inside my heart moment when you talked about giving fear a character, the gate keeper. I think i might have come to a massive realisation about myself. Thank you. James, Scotland

  • Amy

    It’s interesting that I have had the same fear-based relationship with my mother and my ex-husband
    My work on my relationship with him has only improved my
    time with my mom. I am a much happier person now that I
    have looked fear in the face and told it to ‘beat it’

  • Tanya

    Hi Sheryl,

    Thank you for this amazing post – it has been life changing for me. I am married to a wonderful man who I love dearly. Being raised by a parent with BPD has meant that I have been working hard to heal fear, abandonment, perceived rejection and associated woundedness from my childhood and all the false beliefs I learnt about love and relationships. Your article reminded me that I am not alone in this journey and gave me not only validation but a great strategy to use to minimise my anxiety.

    I have been reading your posts for sometime and they have had such a significant and positive impact on my life, my ability to move through transitions more consciously and in my relationship with my much loved husband. Thank you!

    Tanya (from Australia)

    • You are so welcome – and thank you for taking the time to write and share your experience and your story. Part of the challenge of working through relationship anxiety is that there’s still quite a strong cultural taboo against admitting and discussing it. Thank you for having the courage to help break the taboo.

  • parrot

    This was one of the first articles I found when I found your work. It was the one that gave me a huge sigh of relief – that I might be ok. I continue to come back to this one, again and again. I think I have felt almost all of these thoughts now, and to come back here and see again, it’s okay, it’s normal, it’s more common than I’d expect, still gives me that breath of reassurance. I will be OK. I don’t know where or what I’d be like now if Google hadn’t led me here to your work Sheryl.
    Thanks.

  • Thank you, Parrot. Thank goodness for Google, huh!?

  • chelsea

    Sheryl, one day I’m connected an have my love then the next I question my love for my partner an it’s almost as if you don’t know which one to believe anymore. Can fear have that power?

    • Isabella

      I’m the same way Chelsea. I go through that all day. One minute I love my boyfriend with everything I have and give minutes later I’m questioning and my mind is running. Something is always triggering the anxiety, but I try to tell myself to stay calm and let everything flow. Even though this has been going on for three months, because the anxiety has been less, I still can’t expect everything to be perfect by tomorrow. Even though I really wish it would be because I am very impatient! I just try to remind myself of why the anxiety started and that I have gotten better, even though I feel more numb and emotionless now then I did when the anxiety started 🙁 it sucks, but I’m trying to get through this!

      • chelsea

        I agree with you I to am very impatient plus I have been blinded by all the cultural aspects of love ie the”feelings an ” just knowing”. But I remember how I feel towards my bf when I’m calm because that feeling is amazing :). I also feel more emotionless sense the anxiety has started, maybe that is part of the process?

        • Isabella

          I think it might be. At least I hope so lol. Cause I’ve seen a few people say that they feel emotionless. I’m glad I’m not the only one! I just miss those loving/happy feelings and thoughts so much! I find it hard to think of my boyfriend at times 🙁 but I keep trying to push through because I know without him I’d be devastated.

          • chelsea

            I to am glad I’m not the only one,an miss those feelings. An like you push forward cuz my bf is amazing, an I look at it this way my bf now is supportive of the anxiety an helps me if I choose fear instead of love I’d loose something amazing. Plus I would probably be anxiety prone with any guy I were to date.

  • Isabella

    My boyfriend was like “what if things end? You’ll be like this with other guys too.” I agree that he is probably right, but then I get more anxious because I don’t want anyone else! It makes me sick to think of being with other guys. My boyfriend was telling me last night how I’m acting cold, angry and not loving towards him. It bothers me and makes me feel horrible. Especially because we’be been arguing lately and it’s causing more anxiety because I feel like sometimes he doesn’t care what I’m going through and always complains about me not being sexual. I never wanted this. I just want it to go away.

    • chelsea

      Yea I agree I don’t want anyone else,I feel like I would never love or care about someone else the way I care about my bf now. My bf is supportive of the hole thing an does his best to help an I understand anxiety isn’t always cured so if I have to live with it I’d rather have him who is loving an supportive. An love is a choice, I love that expression it’s not a feeling everyone else thinks it is. An I choose to love him through the anxiety an all.:)

      • chelsea

        Also have you talked to your bf about your feelings? Mine is so supportive an stands by me on my weakest days an for that I’m forever greatful to him, he’s my rock. I’ve read through articles on here an realized what I thought love was is all a lie basically, so for me now it’s ‘re learning what love truly is. I love my bf I do I get anxious an question that sometimes but I choose to love him because he’s amazing,loving,caring,supportive,nice,sweet,an funny. When I look to the future it’s with him 🙂

        • Isabella

          I do talk to my boyfriend abut my feelings. I don’t know how he deals with me, haha, but it is hard for him and he doesn’t understand it, but sticks by me anyway because he says I’m worth it. I would have never imagined going through this with him. Everything was so perfect for me. Now I’m always emotionless, not sexual, and sometimes we barely have anything to say when we use to talk 24/7! It sucks,but I’m trying to get through this because the thought of not being with him in the future kills me.

  • chelsea

    Yes I haven’t been with my bf very long were going on six month together seven including talking..I know while we were talking that there was something about him that was amazing I couldn’t put my finger on but I loved him. I can’t imagine my life without him he’s amazing not only is he my bf but my best friend. An I never would have imagined it either but I’ll deal with it, an look to take some of the courses the future.

    • Isabella

      Sometimes now it”ll feel like we’re just friends and it sickens me! WE’ve always had that best friend relationship and that was something I always love about us. I don’t want to be just friends with him, I want our boyfriend/girlfriend relationship back! We’ll be together 11 months, 14 months including talking. He is my first serious boyfriend/love and the only guy I ever connected with. I know I won’t love anyone like I love him. Its hard for me to not feel the love, that is what made me feel so alive and whole. I’ll look at him and just start crying and telling him I love him and that even though I don’t feel it all the time I know its there deep down because I know I’d be lost without him. If in ten years I can wake up next to him with wedding rings on our fingers I’d be the happiest girl ever. We always talk about the future, it doesn’t feel like it did before the anxiety, but I have to try to push through it. Sometime I’ll cry as if hes the one who doesn’t want to be with me and I’m like you two are together! Enjoy it! Why are you crying?!

  • chelsea

    Me an my bf connected instantly. An I know what you mean about the feelings, but through this site an the blogs I’ve realized what I thought love was isn’t really love…ie the”feelings” an “just knowing”, love is a choice an acting in a loving way an growing an learning.it’s okay to feel disconnected sometimes all these things I’ve learned, I try not to focus on the ” feelings” because they don’t determine who I love.