What Should Love Feel Like?

At least once a week, a client asks, “I know that love isn’t all butterflies and fireworks, but what should it feel like? Since I’ve never seen a healthy relationship and I’ve never been in one, I have no idea what it should be like.”

I usually balk at the word “should”, but I know what they’re getting at. They want me to offer some kind of template or description of a healthy relationship so that they know if they’re on the right track. How sad it is that most people are bereft of this model! How tragic, really, that because our culture doesn’t offer these templates we’re left groping around in the dark, grasping at some idea of “healthy” and most often left feeling like we must be doing something wrong or that our relationship is wrong in some way. As Alain do Botton writes in The Course of Love: A novel:

“The ordinary challenging relationship remains a strangely and unhelpfully neglected topic. It’s the extremes that repeatedly grab the spotlight – the entirely blissful partnerships or the murderous catastrophes – and so it is hard to know what we should make of, and how lonely we should feel about, such things as immature rages, late-night threats of divorce, sullen silences, slammed doors, and everyday acts of thoughtlessness and cruelty.

“Ideally, art would give us the answers that other people don’t. This might even be one of the main points of literature: to tell us what society at large is too prudish to explore. The important books should be those that leave us wondering, with relief and gratitude, how the author could possibly have known so much about our lives.

“But too often a realistic sense of what an endurable relationship is ends up weakened by silence, societal or artistic. We hence imagine that things are far worse for us than they are for other couples. Not only are we unhappy, we misunderstand how freakish and rare our particular form of unhappiness might be. We end up believing that our struggles are indications of having made some unusual and fundamental error, rather than evidence that our marriage is essentially going entirely according to plan.” p. 58

In essence, we’re meant to struggle. We’re meant to walk through the labyrinth of relationship anxiety, doubt, uncertainty, and disconnect. We’re meant to feel lonely or bored at times. We’re meant to lose sexual desire. We’re meant to struggle with attraction of all kinds. If we knew this was normal, we would get down to the business of tending to the hurt places inside of us that are calling out for attention instead of mistakenly pinning our pain on the societal conclusion that “you’ve made the wrong choice of partner.”

So if all the above is true, how do we know what’s healthy? How do we know what love should feel like? Let’s start by saying that as much as we have to be cautious of the word “should”, we also need to hold the word “feeling” carefully. Because feelings, like thoughts, fluctuate, they’re not reliable yardsticks by which we can measure the health of our intimate relationships. Sadly, it’s the only yardstick our culture offers, so when people are blown to my virtual doorstep by the tornado of relationship anxiety, it’s often because they’ve lost “that feeling”, or never had it to begin with. If we can’t based relationship health on the feeling of being in love, what do we base it on?

We base it on connection and core values, by which I mean:

  • Connection: You like your partner as a human being. You feel emotionally safe and supported, and know that your partner is your secure base and a safe haven. This won’t happen all the time, of course, especially when you’re in conflict or you lose each other in some way. But for the most part, underlying all long-term relationships is a solid basis of friendship. There is the abiding sense that you put each other first, that your partner makes you a priority and that you do the same. Again, this won’t happen in all situations or all the time, but overall you both know that you come first.
  • Core values: You share common vision and values regarding having children, lifestyle, religion (you don’t have to have the same religion but you’ve come to a common agreement about the role religion will play in your life, especially regarding raising children), work ethic (again, this doesn’t have to be exactly the same but it has to work for both of you), and money. You also share a willingness to work on your relationship and own your imperfections. Being able to say “I’m sorry” goes a long way.
  • There are no red flags, by which I mean addictions (drugs, alcohol, gambling, sex, lying) or abuse (betrayal, emotional abuse, physical abuse). Keep in mind that many red flags can be worked on if both partners are willing to do the hard work of healing.

The above list might sound simplistic or too easy, but if you’re honest with yourself you’ll realize how rare it is to find all of these attributes in one person. All too often, people walk away from loving, healthy, well-matched relationships because it “just doesn’t feel right” only to discover that this mercurial sense of “not feeling right”shows up in some form in all relationships with available partners (it’s a different story when you shift from being the distancer to the pursuer for it’s the pursuer who often carries the sense of certainty and the feelings of being in love). When you know how rare a good partnership is, it helps to shift from the grass is always greener syndrome mindset that there must be someone better out there who will lift me out of the pain of being human to a mindset of responsibility (it’s not someone else’s job to make me feel alive or to rescue me from my pain) and gratitude. Then you can focus your energy on the person who needs your love and attention so that you can cultivate you own sense of aliveness and well-being: you.

So what should love feel like? It should feel, beneath the anxiety and below the intrusive thoughts, like a bowl of oatmeal: warm, comforting, and tender. At the end of the day (or the beginning), that’s all we really want.

90 comments to What Should Love Feel Like?

  • Kathy

    Sheryl, thank you so much for this post. As always, it is very timely. I’m doing the work of breaking through my fantasies of what love “should” feel like but the problem is if my boyfriend and I ever get in a fight, or disagree or go through the “everyday acts of thoughtlessness and cruelty” I find myself immediately going back to “well love certainly shouldn’t feel like this”.

    I wonder if you have, or if you could in the future, do a post on normal conflicts within a relationship and how to handle them. I understand that rifts are normal but to be honest my immediate reaction is “Well just because other couples go through them and think it’s normal doesn’t mean I should”. I think at the core of this is my fear of being open and honest about my needs and my inability to handle conflict effectively. How can I honor myself while still navigating through these inevitable rough periods?

    • Great question. Couples can fight about virtually anything from remembering a date differently to politics to family issues. The topic is basically superfluous; we argue because we lose each other in some way, we’re triggered, we forget that we’re on the same side. Your immediate reaction to conflict – that it shouldn’t be happening – is VERY common, as kids are generally raised with one of two conflict models: the sweep it under the rug model where nothing is ever addressed or the volatile, blame model where nothing ever gets solves. The path of skillful conflict resolution involves learning how to be vulnerable and learning about what it means to catch each other. The best book I can recommend is Sue Johnson’s “Hold Me Tight.”

      • Kathy

        Thank you Sheryl! Actually my counselor suggested that same book some time ago (so I’ll take that as a sign). I’m definitely familiar with both conflict models. The Rug model definitely comes from my dad, the blame model definitely comes from my mom.

        So this little voice that tells me that every disagreement we have is a signal that our relationship is failing, could that just be my underlying resistance to conflict?

        • Yes, and given that you come from both the Rug and the Blame model, it makes perfect sense that conflict would terrify you and cause you to question the relationship. How can we know that conflict is normal when we’ve never seen in healthfully and skillfully modeled?

  • Nikki

    Hi Sheryl I got spiked by this post slightly. When you said similar core values about work ethic, and money I feel I care to work harder than my partner as he is more of a free spirit. Also money wise we come from two very different socioeconomic status. Does this mean we have issues to worry that this might not be a healthy loving relationship? Just I feel so worried now.

    • Two people will never be on the exact same page regarding money styles and work ethic as we don’t partner with our clone! What matter is not that we view these areas in the exact same way but that we find a way to compromise and grow tolerance for our differences. A hard worker and a free spirit is a very common pairing, as is two people who come from different socioeconomic backgrounds.

  • Frances

    We’ve been arguing a bit more lately and struggling a bit. I said to him the other day, “I feel like we’re doing an impression of a couple that doesn’t get on very well”, but aside from these difficult moments/days/weeks there’s also an abundance of giggles, cuddles, compliments, encouragements, ponderings, dances, kisses, loving touches, comfortable silences. I’ve been struggling with a tendency to analyse the quality of our family life too, wondering – do we spend enough time together? Do we talk enough? Do we connect enough? Do we understand each other? Are we living or just existing – are we making the most of our time together? When I focus on our conflicts, I miss the precious, rare jewels of family life too – watching a music documentary with my Dad; simply sharing the room and a coffee with my Mum. Thanks, Sheryl. X

    • It’s always a mental discipline and a practice to orient our focus toward the jewels instead of toward the missteps. The missteps need our attention but probably not as much as we think they do!

  • Bob Holdsworth

    What I’ve come to realize is it’s never about the other person (exception is the red flags you mentioned). It’s always about my beliefs and my internal triggers of unresolved and unconscious issues that get activated from my past. We all want to be known and accepted for who we are. But I have to be willing to give the same in return – to accept and know my partner and be willing to work together openly and honestly. I really like how you made it simple based on the concepts of connection and core values. These have been painful lessons to learn. Fortunately, both my ex and I have kept communication open as we have a son together (now an adult). We have been able to talk about our individual issues while we were married and develop a solid friendship. Thank you

  • Marlene

    Yes yes yes. Thank you for being one of the few voices who help us realize that our culture has us “drinking the kool-aid” about love and romance. I’ve been doing some very deep work for a long time. I’m one of those that “never had it(that feeling) to begin with.” It’s particularly distressing since most of the advice espoused goes something like: “think back to when you first met” or “think back to when you were very in love; you can find that place again.” Whoa! What a trigger for those of us who didn’t have those euphoric feelings in the beginning!! I haven’t yet worked through all my conflictedness(if that’s even a word). And although those feelings weren’t there in the beginning, it would be a lie to say (especially since doing lots of therapy and inner work) that I’ve never felt attracted or in love. I believe at some point the balance will shift and there may be more “in love” than fear and grief.

    • It’s been inspiring to track your learning over the years, Marlene. Your commitment to your inner work and to your marriage is evident, and I’m delighted to hear about your progress.

  • Jenny

    I always get super spiked at the word “connection.” Sometimes I doubt mine and my partners connection and worry that I’m just trying to make it work because he is such a good person and we share core values. It’s just that I often feel so anxious around my partner, and I get so annoyed at him and start nitpicking everything about his personality. We never went through a honeymoon phase and I definitely get caught up in the “shoulds” of things. I just feel like it shouldn’t be this hard and that I should at least enjoy my partners presence but I just feel like I’m so anxious much of the time to do so. I have had periods where I do feel connection, almost like a “fog” has been lifted and I can see him for the wonderful man that he is but I feel like it should happen more often. I’ve always put such an emphasis on romantic relationships and have definitely been guilty of thinking that when I meet “the one” I will have arrived and everything will be easy. I think a lot about the idea that maybe I just “like the idea of him” and that sends me down the rabbit hole. So my question is does this sound like relationship anxiety? Also how does someone know if they just like the idea of someone?

    • Marlene

      Jenny,
      This very much describes relationship anxiety. My experience was similar; no honeymoon phase, nit-picking and feeling irritation at seemingly everything. But that’s how we keep from facing our own difficult feelings and perceived inadequacies. It was only after a lot of work that I was able to start to have windows of clarity from time to time. I have seen others run into others relationships instead of doing the work and inevitably the issues show up again. It takes a while for it to sink in and to really believe it’s really about us.

      • Thank you for sharing your wisdom, Marlene. There’s a particular and poignant impact that occurs when a response comes from a fellow reader in the same situation.

    • ESY

      This is exactly how I am also feeling Jenny.

      I also think that I have “lost” a feeling, a glow or a feeling of contentment that I use to have towards my partner, and it is now replaced with a nothingness and constant doubt and questioning.

      I am also experiencing a tendency to pull away from intimacy. I go up and down and constantly focus on the “feelings” I am or I am not having when intimate which push me away from relaxing or connecting. Is this a strong sign that I should walk away? I am very confused at the moment, and whilst this article has helped enormously, I am still in the cycle of doubt and nearly at breaking point of leaving. I can’t work out what started this and it is draining me every day.

    • ESY

      A response from anyone would be extremely appreciated.

  • Mr B

    Hi Sheryl,

    Just perfect, like a bowl of oatmeal. The best and simplest way to start the day and the best metaphor for a relationship: sturdy, always reliable, nourishing, warm and leaves you feeling ‘full’ and yes at times ‘same old’. But I wouldn’t trade my oatmeal for the world! Hey, you can always add spice, fruit and nuts to oatmeal too so although at times the ‘same old’ it is really what I make it!

    Love it! thanks Sheryl!!

    Mr B 🙂

  • Mike

    Sheryl, do you have any posts on being a controlling partner? As another person who had parents with a terrible marriage and lacked the good example of a relationship, I often struggle with wondering if I’m controlling my partner or just trying to find compromise. I also get very confused in the area of alcohol. I rarely if ever drink to excess anymore, whereas my partner will get drunk at weddings and events with her friends, maybe 5 or 6 times a year. When she starts to get a little too tipsy in my mind, while her friends may encourage her or describe her behavior as “fine,” I find myself getting embarrassed for her and myself, scared that this might be a “problem,” and trying to get her to start drinking water, slow down, etc. I’m left the next day wondering if I went to far, or she did, etc. (She has had a somewhat complicated relationship with alcohol, but is not what I think anyone would describe as an alcoholic.) I can’t discern if I’m just trying to control her to fit my needs, or I’m trying to find an easy out of the relationship, or our different lifestyles are one of your deal breakers.

    • Alcohol is a tricky area for many people, Mike. I wouldn’t describe this as a red flag, especially since it’s only occurring 5-6 times a year, but what’s more important is learning to communicate with her in a way that expresses the fear and vulnerability that live underneath what we might call “being a controlling partner.” To understand this more, I highly, highly recommend the book “Hold Me Tight” by Sue Johnson.

  • becominglove

    Dear Sheryl and readers, as a former ecourse participant and so lifetime member of the support forum, I have been meaning to write about my recent experiences with the topics of this article for a while.

    I think the biggest ongoing learning (and struggle) for me is the training of myself to a) not freak out about not feeling in love or attracted to my partner, b) to allow us to be where we are in times of lower libido or attraction, c) not to compare to other couples and d) to encourage myself to actually enjoy and receive the comforting bowl of oatmeal aspects of our intimacy and the safe, loving familiarity between us.

    There are days where I feel genuine hatred seemingly towards my partner and days where I question how attractive I find him and look for red flags. But I’m becoming less freaked out by these things, making more space for them, and loving myself through it all – because of what you have taught me, Sheryl.

    I love that my partner and I can be two introverts needing and wanting a lot of personal space and rarely being the ones dancing together smoochily at an ecstatic dance event because we’re just us. I think that in my case love is my willingness to adjust to who he is and is not (and who I am) in the context of the social world, as hard as I have found this at times and still do.

    You have re-educated me on love, relationship, marriage, intimacy, sex, loving, transitions, endings, heartbreak, healing and leaving my younger self and family of origin behind, from the ground up. I’ve endured deeper grief than I could have ever acknowledged before but recently finally begun to turn a corner where I feel I have arrived, with both feet, in my own life. It has taken me 35 years to get here. Thank you Sheryl xxxxxx

    • Well, you’ve just brought me to tears. Thank you for sharing your journey, and may you continue to arrive, with both feet and an open heart that knows how to grieve, into the center of your own life. xo

      • becominglove

        Thank you so much Sheryl. I cannot speak highly enough of your work and programs. Incredible value for a lifetime’s education and support. I needed to be able to understand why I was feeling the way I feel, and now that I do, I can face those gruelling emotions. Thank you thank you xxxx

  • Maria [Germany]

    A very timely post today, especially about the connection. I know that my partner and I have this connection, but currently, it’s so rarely that I can feel it, sometimes I even feel so desperate to think that there’s ‘no love left’ – of course this is not true (I hope), but this clinging to “I have to feel this” and the npt feeling it makes me incredibly sad. It’s just that I know that everything in this article is true and has a soothing affect on me, and still I can’t transfer it on my relationship – it feels like I subconsciously working against it, like I’m pushing all the love I receive and the possibility of healing away. Have you maybe seen this symptom in your patients, Sheryl? I don’t know why I (apparently) do that, my partner is a wonderful and very lovely and supportive person, and here I am, sometimes even feel pitty when I look at him, loving me so much, and can’t give something back, eventhough I know how much I loved him before my relationship anxiety started (we had a wonderful honeymoon phase).

  • Mira Farah

    Hello Sheryl,

    I love this article, thank you so much. Im on the verge of getting married in a few months and I’m getting lots of anxiety. Some days I can’t tell why I’m so bothered or irritated by my fiance and his two boys. Every little thing irritated me and he feels like I’m looking

  • Mira Farah

    For things to go wrong. I feel like he’s always twisting things to blame me for how he’s reacting. Any advice? I’ve lost both of my parents and I wonder sometimes if I’m projecting some of my loss on him?

    • It sounds like you’re stuck in a very common negative cycle where both partners are blaming each other for their pain and uncertainty. If you’re open to couples therapy, I highly recommend investing in a round of EFT before you get married (if everyone did this we would have a vastly different success rate in marriage). You can find a local therapist here:

      http://www.iceeft.com/index.php/find-a-therapist

      • Mira Farah

        Thank you so much, we were doing it but we stopped. Our counselor is actually on the website. Thanks again and we will take your recommendation.

  • Sas

    Hi Sheryl

    Feeling a bit anxious reading this as I know I don’t put my Partner first due to anxiety about relationship not being right . I question the connection all the time and think I should feel more . I have conversations with other guys e.g. Friends husbands and find them so much more engaging and feel like my marriage is now like a shell . We had these issues at beginning i.e. Never looked forward to seeing him but then things grew comfortable and I was happy for a few years . Anxiety about it all is just awful now and I feel my marriage is so boring I want out . What do you make of this ? Thank you .. this consumes all my thoughts all the time xx

  • Louisa (Scotland)

    Hi Sheryl, this is my first post and I just wanted to let you know that I look forward to opening my inbox every Monday morning to read your blog. As others before me have said, your mail seems to intuitively know the exact issues to address – I’m very much still on my own journey but with some great therapy and the help of your posts and network of users, I feel I’m on the right path to reaching contentment. Contentment is something I’ve thought a lot about over the past year and something which I think our culture doesn’t understand. I still struggle at times to work out how to trust myself and that for me is something I’d love to hear your thoughts on in future posts. Thank you so much for this post – I agree that shoulds and shouldn’ts are a danger – so having a checklist like the one you have posted is the right level of relevance to everyone reading this and I think we can all take away from it. Thank you again, I look forward to learning more from you.

  • J

    wonderful post as always. The problem, however, with reading things like this whilst in the grip of deep anxiety is that the anxiety convinces me it doesn’t apply to me: “my case is the exception”, and “do I REALLY like her or just think I do?” or “what if XXX is a red flag after all?” I know you deal with this in your course, it just feels very real at the moment!

    • Yes, those a classic ego-lines designed to prevent you from taking responsibility for your pain. As long as you believe it, you’ll remain stuck.

  • Patience

    Thanks for all your beautiful content.I became married to escape myself and I choose a partner that has Adhd and is neurotic, which put me in a role of codependency and I’m left with the breadcrumbs of his love because much of his energy goes into dealing with he’s own issues.It has made me feel stuck for six years. I feel that I’ve made a vow and that’s what is keeping me in the relationship. I’m coping with adrenal fatigue, think it has to do with my marriage. Also when I was the most sick with stress he was unable to care for me, because it was to depressing to see me in that condition he explained. He didn’t want to be a part of it. So now that I’m feeling better he finds it easier to express affection for me. I’m reading about Codependency, love addiction and about adults with dysfunctionel childhoods – I can relate to these topics. I don’t have the upportunity just now to buy your trust yourself program, what else can I do? I don’t have a vision for where to go next. Any advice?

  • Mixed message

    This is opposite advice from the book Kosher Lust by rabbi Shmuley Boteach. Im confused 😔

  • Jackie

    Is there always a dynamic of distancer and pursuer in every relationship? Is it ever really balanced?

  • Angela

    Thank you for your work Sheryl, If only the language of love was so easily understood in such a simple and uncomplicated way going back years and years. Sheryl, you have saved so many of us. I agree with bob we all think about the past which paralyses us with fear, why do we feel this way? I remember a time i felt this way or that way? We all question ourselves, its how our mind works, its up to us to delete the past memories that have already been felt, dealt with and reprogram our thoughts with positive tools, we are just like computers delete the rubbish its not needed for our soul, we cant let the past control us and define us.

  • ColoradoGirl

    “…immature rages, late-night threats of divorce, sullen silences, slammed doors, and everyday acts of thoughtlessness and cruelty.” Ah yes- and for my Husband and I… a Friday/Saturday full of all of these fun marital moments (minus the threats part). I try to be as brutally open and honest about my marriage with friends so that I can do my part to normalize these unseen parts of our personal relationship. Then there are the morning back rubs to help wake you up for work, the hug when you feel low, the quality time given, the thoughtful text message. All of the big and small ways that a marriage brings you joy and makes you pissed as hell. I echo becominglove when they said that you’ve taught them how to make space for the dips. I’d have to say that is one the single best things I’ve learned from you as well. How to not get lost in anxiety and build an entire story in my mind when things head south- because I now know it’s part of the normal/healthy cycle of a marriage.

    • I love that you’re finding the courage to be honest with your friends about the reality of marriage, both the challenges and the tender moments of joy. We need a worldwide love/marriage revolution, and it starts with one person at a time being willing to be honest. Good work. x

  • Sas

    What do you make of my comment sheryl ?

  • Cecilia

    Sheryl, thanks for this post. I’m currently having recurrent conflicts with my partner about our different political views, which could also be called belief systems or lenses through which we see society, systemic structures, and the role of government in people’s lives. I don’t need us to have identical views but some of his beliefs are upsetting to me and cause me to feel less emotionally connected and safe. Do you think of this issue as similar to differing religious beliefs? I wonder if it could be an issue in raising children together. Any insight would be appreciated.

    • It can be very challenging to have differing political views, and the recent elections brought this to the fore for many couples. Yes, it’s similar to religious differences in that the work is about developing tolerance for differing opinions, but different in that you don’t need to be on the same page politically in order to raise kids together.

  • M

    I ran into my ex this weekend. We talked for a little bit and he gave me a hug. It stirred up a lot of old feelings and anxiety for me. Now I a worried I should have tried harder to make it work with him even though we dated twice and he was verbally/emotionally abusive. I know part of me still loves him and always will. I am married to a great guy. Why am I having these feelings? I feel terrible.

  • Jade

    Thank you once again for such a well-timed and well written post. I’ve shared a few of my anxieties in the comments before, ranging from constant anxiety attacks regarding my relationship (so bad I couldn’t eat and missed work frequently) to jealousy to apathy and so on. While things are still far from perfect and I have a lot more work ahead of me, my boyfriend and I made it to a year an a half and are planning on getting married within the next few years. I certainly go through periods of fear, and sometimes it feels like that’s all there is. Then I remind myself of all the wonderful times we’ve had so far, and think about how bright our future looks, and how he’s been so patient and understanding with me, I have no true doubts that this is the best partner I could have asked for. We’ve been fighting this thing hard and there have definitely been improvements. I think I’m still reeling from the initial anxiety and praying that “warm oatmeal” feeling comes back to the surface soon, but in the meantime, I know I can make it through the tougher seasons. I very much appreciate you shedding light on these issues, it’s helped me to recognize what the real problems are, which are hardly ever what I initially believe them to be.

    • Hang on, Jade. It’s a lifelong journey and it sounds like you have the commitment to yourself and your partner necessary to break through the fear and experience longer stretches of contentment.

  • Laura

    Thank you Sheryl, this was a perfectly timed post. I have recently found your site after starting to read your book The Conscious Bride. My fiance and I have been together for two and a half years, engaged for 6 months. We plan on getting married next October. Last year I had major panic attacks in the summer time where I would have intrusive thoughts that told me I did not love my fiance and that I should end the relationship. These thoughts scared me which drove me it to the panic attacks. I had attributed it all to being on birth control which messed my hormones up REALLY bad. We got through it and he stuck by me with every thought and anxious moment. My fiance is the best man I have ever met and he always knows when I am anxious and he is able to get me to talk it out and calm me down so well When we got engaged I knew without a doubt that he was the one for me and said yes immediately. He left for a year long deployment in January and this month I have noticed the anxiety has peaked again. The intrusive thoughts are back and it is scary for me. I have been trying to keep my mind away from them, but even when I am trying to think of something positive or a great memory the thoughts continue and my anxiety spikes. I also have self-confidence issues due to past relationships, my parents are divorced, and this is my longest relationship I have been in.

    I know without a doubt this is the man for me. But these thoughts saying, “You don’t love him” “You should end it” “Hes not that great of a person” “You’re bored” “he’s cheating on you” have been popping back up and some times i have a hard time not believing them. He will not be back from deployment until early next year and I am so afraid I will listen to my mind and break it off with him. Which is what I do NOT want at all. Any advice? I just want these doubts to go away. Thank you so much!

  • HannahR

    What can I do when have a fear of loss in general? After doing this work for so long I’ve noticed I have a lot of fear of loss and fear of commitment.

    I am getting married next year and everything is really great recently. I just feel so stable and safe with my fiancé and I am really happy we met. Still often I have intrusive thoughts but they are not as bad anymore. One is that I’m afraid one day that he will slip up and make a mistake and end up cheating. I know he loves me but I also know a lot of people do cheat and some people do just make a genuine mistake and realise they’ve messed up. I’m so paranoid that I’m going to lose him one day. I had a dream last night that he left me. No explanation, he just didn’t want to be with me anymore. The pain I felt in that dream was unbearable and I felt hopeless. I woke up this morning with the same feelings lingering. Every morning when in still in bed he kisses me on the cheek and tells me he loves me. How can I control the fear of loss? I know anything is possible and we don’t know what could happen in the future and that is exactly why I’m so afraid to lose him.

  • victorine

    Thanks a lot. My worry going into a relationship is Which one is the best one for me. How do I know the one coming to me will end with me as a life partner?

  • Lena

    Thank you, Sheryl! Another perfectly timed post.
    I’m 30 turning 31 soon, and I have absolutely no desire to have children. I keep thinking “what’s wrong with me?” Thankfully, it doesn’t matter to my partner. He keeps saying it makes no difference to him. However, my mother is down my throat about it and keeps reminding me that I will regret this later on.

    • There’s nothing wrong with you and it’s wonderful that you know what you want and don’t want. Trust it, and know that your mother has her own agenda.

  • HopefulForHope

    Sheryl,

    I’m thankful for your words and teaching me the truth about real love. If it were not for your website and course, I would believe the lie that love only starts from longing/infatuation/obsession. And all of my previous examples of that longing/infatuation were with men who were unavailable and who I did not really know.

    Because I have stuck it out with my fiancé, I have learned that love grows. And that’s a beautiful thing. Even if I didn’t have the infatuation phase and we were just friends at first, my love has grown over 2 years.

    I can’t imagine the way I would “feel” if this anxiety didn’t always hover over me. Because I imagine the love would only be that much more beautiful and enjoyable.

    Lately I have intrusive thoughts like “what if you would have loved N MORE…?” (N is an old crush who if ever had asked me out, I would have “known” he was “the one” for me w/o any doubt… having not known anything about him at all. I was obsessed.

    So silly and foolish of me. But the thoughts are sometimes consuming.

    I want to only move forward, continuing to learn about real love with my fiancé and not have these consuming thoughts about an old infatuation of someone I never really knew.

    • M

      Oh, I can so relate to your thoughts of what if you would have loved an old crush more! I ran into my ex this past weekend. We dated for four years, broke up and tried dating a second time. It didn’t last and I haven’t seen him in years. I got married to a great guy, but have had relationship anxiety with my husband on and off the whole time we have been together. Anyways, I saw my ex, said hi to him, we talked and he gave me a hug. Now I’ve been obsessing on the thoughts of “Should I have tried to make it work with him,” “Do I love my ex more than I will ever love my husband,” “Should I leave my husband and try to make it work with my ex for a third time?” It’s been a rough week. :/

  • Kim

    HI Sheryl
    I am finding it difficult to understand what “you like your partner as a human being” means when you struggle with being annoyed by your partner. To me, this is a clear sign of not liking them. I hope you can provide another perspective.

    Thanks

  • Angela

    Yes that is remarkable work, thanks Sheryl. My husband has no red flags and we are well matched. I have been doing the
    Tools which are my life saver, relationship saver.. on a daily basis. I still feel physical symptoms. I feel heavy, i cant breathe easily and freely and still bothers me. Yesterday,i had a bad anxiety day. When i got home from i felt irritable, moody towards my husband. I projected my distorted feelings on to him, the topic was about my mum being controlling,my husband and mum dont like each other and im in the middle of the sandwich. When we visit she ignores my husband and he feels uncomfortable and frustrated about it. I try my best not to get upset about it but its hard. I cried last night because the anxiety interferes with my life. What am i doing wrong Sheryl?

  • Angela

    Yes that is remarkable work, thanks Sheryl. My husband has no red flags and we are well matched. I have been doing the
    Tools which are my life saver, relationship saver.. on a daily basis. I still feel physical symptoms. I feel heavy, i cant breathe easily and freely and still bothers me. Yesterday,i had a bad anxiety day. When i got home from work, i felt irritable, moody towards my husband. I projected my distorted feelings on to him, the topic was about my mum being controlling,my husband and mum dont like each other and im in the middle of the sandwich. When we visit she ignores my husband and he feels uncomfortable and frustrated about it. I try my best not to get upset about it but its hard. I cried last night because the anxiety interferes with my life. What am i doing wrong Sheryl?

  • Lisa

    I feel so lost …had an affair with an old acquaintance who ended up being a total emotional abuser and tore my whole world apart! My marriage although we are still together is in shambles and the shame I carry equals his anger and rage. I never lied to him about what was happening, but I look back now and feel that I may have made the wrong decision with who I married …never did I have butterflies or passion for the man I married . I married him because there was a lack of feeling and intensity! I had no anxiety, no fear, no jealousy…I felt peaceful. But now when I met this old acquaintance and tasted the intensity and passion again, I realized how much I missed the passionate side …still
    The intensity and passion with this person turned to extreme pain and betrayal, I now feel lost and confused! My answer at the moment is I should be alone …stop hurting my husband and deal with my messed up mind without blaming him or shaming myself anymore!

  • Arlene

    Hi Sheryl,

    I cannot tell you how grateful I am that I came across this site. It is great to know that many other people are having the same exact thoughts as me, when I thought mine were completely outlandish. Thank you so much, I am definitely taking the e-course to help me out.

    My question is, have you found any of your clients experiencing this anxiety after stopping the birth control pill? I found that these symptoms started within months of me stopping. I no longer hang on to the thought that the pill is the cause of my thoughts anymore, but, I have read many accounts of women experiencing this phenomenon after stopping. I went to my general practitioner for a physical, assuming I could open up to him about my anxiety, and he and his nurse were not as receptive as I thought and hoped. I ended up having more anxiety walking out of there. I realize that many do not know too much about this particular anxiety.

  • Yvonne

    I’m abroad with my partner at the moment with my mum and my aunty, it’s my first time abroad and a few weeks before the holiday I had no anxious thoughts about my partner or anything, since being on the flight (which I was nervous about) my thoughts like “do I love him” “I don’t love him” have appeared again. We are also staying on the 6th floor of the hotel with a balcony and I don’t like heights but for some reason I just feel this urge to jump. Im not suicidal at all so I have no idea why I have this urge. Since being away so far, we have only been here 1 night I’ve had horrible thoughts about hurting the ones I’m with or hurting myself and I don’t understand why. It’s distressing because it’s not like me to be like this

    • You need to reach out to those around you and the them that you’re suffering. I’m not hearing that you’re suicidal but on some level, by writing this comment, you’re sending out a cry for help. You likely have that urge because you’re looking for an escape hatch from your mental pain. You don’t have to suffer alone.

      • Yvonne

        The thoughts and that have seemed to ease off. I don’t know if it’s because it’s my first time ever abroad and I’m a little out my comfort zone. Me and my partner swam with dolphins yesterday which was an absolutely amazing experience and all day today I’ve just been thinking about wanting to live abroad and be a dolphin trainer but I don’t have the slightest experience or qualifications or anything and in my head I was like “if I had to choose dolphin training and my boyfriend which would I actually pick” I know I’d never hurt them or myself. I hate heights and I have read from google that a few people get the thought about jumping from high places. I don’t want to leave my partner so I need to keep telling myself that love isn’t a feeling

  • Annaj

    Sheryl, thank you so much for these reflections, which have helped me greatly. I see from your assessment and past writings that your writing on relationship anxiety focuses on the self: “I don’t love her enough.” Have you encountered the reverse, “she doesn’t love me enough?” We both have relationship anxiety, and have been dating for over a year, with a lot of learning and growing together, and overall a lot of deep joy and enjoyment. What if I worry that *she* doesn’t love me enough, or socialite between worry of not loving her enough, and her not loving me enough? Is this within your realm of relationship anxiety? I deeply empathize with your writings. It has been a game of wack a mole, as you’ve noted. When one worry resolves itself, another emerges, and usually when we have just become closer and Or had a deeper connection in which I feel stronger feelings for her (followed by worry, numbness, dryness). Often I feel like the classic cartoon I once stumbled upon: an illustration of one partner, face terribly contorted in worry, with a thought bubble screaming “S/he doesn’t love me!!” and yet the partner is hugging tightly, fondly kissing the worrier’s cheeks. Only in my case we are noh the tight huggers, and both or at intermittent times the contorted-face worriers. We each have our own worries, through which we’re working. We also have a lot of care. Working through the worries is scary, especially as we learn at which times and how to share and carry ourselves alongside the other. Such a challenging and meaningful process, though so scary.

  • Sarah

    Oh Sheryl, this was exactly what I needed to read today.

    I first came across your work 2 years ago when I was in that intolerable tornado of relationship anxiety. I did your course and sought some therapy and was able to settle into a very happy and meaningful relationship.

    However recently that spectre of relationship anxiety has crept up on me again. Unlike the torment of before it was been an insidious onset of dampening feelings and emptiness, making it so much harder to get to identify. I’ve spent weeks oscillating between convincing myself that there’s nothing between my partner and I, and clingy/upset at not wanting to have to leave her.

    After 2 and a half years together we’ve settled into a routine. Our relationship is on a slow burn at the moment, but your comments on connection and core values ring so true. Our love does feel like oatmeal and that is exactly what we want!

    Thank you so much Sheryl for once again bringing so much comfort and clarity to such a confused world.

  • M

    I posted a few days ago about running into my ex, and last night I had a dream that I slept with him. Now I’m feeling numb and not in love with my husband. Please help me Sheryl.
    This was my post from before:
    I ran into my ex this weekend. We talked for a little bit and he gave me a hug. It stirred up a lot of old feelings and anxiety for me. Now I a worried I should have tried harder to make it work with him even though we dated twice and he was verbally/emotionally abusive. I know part of me still loves him and always will. I am married to a great guy. Why am I having these feelings? I feel terrible.

  • Rachel

    Thank you – so comforting and reassuring to read and so true

  • Genie

    I love this article, I love being around my boyfriend but I constantly have intrusive thoughts that don’t help me to enjoy all the moments with him. I get guilty when I find other men attractive and somewhere out there I wonder if their is a love that will have the passion that lasts forever in the relationship, some people say that it exists and if you don’t have that passionate sparks in your relationship then you are doomed and that makes me worried bc I feel regardless I couldn’t imagine living without my boyfriend. I don’t want to be one of those people that feels the need to have the sparks in my relationship to keep me satisfied and I guess that’s why I worry so much. I have a great connection with my boyfriend and we can be our complete selves around eachother but I just hope that’s enough to keep a relationship going:

  • Krissy

    This post came in a timely manner for me, too. I’m a big Youtube fan and I’ve found myself addicted to watching the progressions and breakups of romantic relationships between people who post videos on Youtube. Recently I was watching a Youtube video from a female (28 years old) who talked about a previous engagement and also about them breaking up, I don’t need to get into details. The top comment on the video was written by a female who expressed the struggle for love, sometimes you can even find your “soulmate” and fall in and out of love with them too, but you have to fight for it, and it’s not easy. I felt so connected with this comment because I never had this *feeling of certainty* that my boyfriend was my soulmate, and I’ve struggled a lot with sometimes not feeling in love, even nitpicking, finding him repulsive, to now being very happy in the relationship. But here’s the kicker: There were numerous people commenting, “Love shouldn’t be that hard,” and giving examples of people who have been married 5, 15+ years saying they’ve never doubted their love for their partner, and it’s never been that hard. Man, did that just tear me apart inside!! I felt like an absolute failure with my relationship. My stomach dropped. Why was this relationship so hard for me, then? Should I find someone else?

    I have talked to my therapist and she helped me realize: I don’t have ANY concrete examples of what a “happy marriage” is. Only snippets of married people who seem happy. And so I held onto ideas, fantasies, about what I thought marriage was – to be madly in love, soulmate without a doubt, absolute certainty – and I never actually knew what REAL marriages looked like. I think a lot of us, especially millennials, are in the era of a 50% divorce rate where we don’t know what a real marriage looks like, so we only conceptualize what we think might be true. We watch “The Notebook” 50 times and decide that our love can be no less than that. And don’t even get me started on “La La Land”! Not what real relationships look like.

    I’m typing too much. Anyway, for the people who think romance “shouldn’t be that hard”, maybe a lot of them had good examples of what happy marriages are. So when they found the right person, there wasn’t much of a struggle, because they really didn’t think about it. And maybe love, and being in love, are way more simple than we conceptualize them to be. It’s okay to question, to doubt, to think your partner looks ugly sometimes, and not have an explosive sex life. It’s just real, and so are you!

  • Niki T.

    Hello Sheryl, my partner directed me to your posts as he has rather heavy relationship anxiety. He has noted how these posts have helped him to understand what he is facing and is also now helping me understand it a bit better myself.He states how I am very important to him and he feels that our relationship is special and he’s happier than he has been in some time. We have a strong connection and almost identical core values with no red flags but has fears that his feelings will not be strong enough and that he is not enough and is scared of the future. After an appointment with his counselor on Friday (he has been seeing a counselor ever other week for 2 years regarding his dilemma) and his last session triggered it rather heavily where our relationship has regressed heavily (we have been in a relationship for about 4 months). We said we would get through this together but as of now for the past few days he is too uncomfortable to even spend time together and finds basic conversation difficult. How can I help him? He says all he needs from me is to be strong and patient for him but it seems that things just keep regressing and that he is distancing himself from me and self sabotaging the relationship without realizing it. What can we do? What advice would you recommend to him. Any response would help immensely and I could not be more thankful. Thank you for your time.

  • Hannah C

    This post is so wonderful for what I’ve been going through. I wonder if you have any other resources/blog posts specifically around the idea of feeling certain as the pursuer, but struggling with intimacy with available partners. I’ve found that in my engagement, I’ve been idealizing the “feelings” associated with previous relationships where I was the more emotionally available party, and while I realize this is unhealthy and an indicator of unhealthy relationship patterns, I’d really appreciate more reading materials on this particular pattern!

  • Lindi

    Hi Sheryl! Do you have a post or something similar about “always being happy and excited” to see your partner? Last night we went out for dinner and i couldnt stop asking am i excited to see him and it spoiled the whole evening. I was so excited about our date the entire day. Our pastor explained to me that the fastest way to spoil something for yourself is to ask these questions.please help 😬

  • Andrew

    What if I can feel like i’m having a good time with my friends and not once do I think about my partner other than to feel bad that i’m not wishing they were there. Or that I can feel fulfilled without my partner even existing (which scares me and makes me sad). And why would I struggle to find reasons that I love my partner specifically because of who they are, or struggle to find reasons we fell in love in the first place even though I was so sure about it then? This really demoralizes me and dismantles my sense of commitment to her. Please help.

  • Andrew

    I feel like I don’t even know what my needs are or what my vision is, so how can I k ow that I’m with a good partner that I should stay with if I’m not in that state of knowing? I know she does a lot for me but I also think I take it all too seriously and put too much pressure on her in my own head, I don’t impose this pressure onto her.

  • Julia

    Hi Sheryl,
    When you list important shared values above (religion, money, etc), you don’t mention politics. What do you think about this? The recent election cycle and the rifts it exposed in our country has made me realize that there are some real differences in the way my new husband and I view the world. I would love to know whether you think differing political beliefs can be reconciled for a healthy marriage. I’m taking your Open your Heart course starting next week, will I have a chance to ask you about this then? If not, I’m interested in signing up for a coaching session with you.

    Thank you! Julia