When Love Makes You Flinch

One of the common fear-lines that arises when the ego is trying to deconstruct the idea of relationship anxiety and convince you that your truth is that you’re just with the wrong person is: “If what Sheryl says is true, why don’t more people talk about it?”

It’s an understandable question, and I have many responses to it. But the best response is to inform the person who is questioning that those who are intimately familiar with the ins-and-outs of relationships do, in fact, talk about the interplay between fear and love in a very similar way as I do. Clergy, couple therapists, longtime married couples, and anyone on the front lines of real relationships know that love includes fear, that certainty is often followed by doubt, that love is action, and that falling in love isn’t a prerequisite for having a great relationship. It’s only the mainstream media – films, books, magazines, billboards, music videos, and ads – that fails to understand how love really works. And yet, sadly, it’s the mainstream media that provides most of our education about love.

One such person who speaks the truth about love is Dr. Pat Love, a world-renowned psychotherapist who specializes in relationships. In this video, she talks about the fear of love and why being with a loving partner would cause a negative reaction. If you said to someone who is uneducated about love that sometimes – and maybe often – when your partner approaches you, you flinch, retract, or recoil, that sometimes – and maybe often – you don’t want to kiss or make love, and that sometimes – or maybe often – you feel irritated with your partner and wonder why you’re staying, that person would likely advise you to walk away. But if you said this to Dr. Pat Love, this is what she would say:

Please note that what we’re discussing here is real love: love that is kind, caring, compassionate, honest, committed. Flinching in response to abusive touch disguised as love is a healthy, appropriate reaction, and must be taken very seriously. But for so many of us for whom the love-wires were crossed somewhere along the way, when the heart has been hurt and the highly sensitive soul decides sometime long ago that it will never open fully again, we have a hard time receiving real love. This is where the work that I teach here every day comes in.

As Dr. Love explains, when you long for something it becomes a source of pain, so when you finally get what you want it’s going to feel painful and you’re going to want to run. If you don’t understand this basic truth, you will assume that your desire to run means that you’re in the wrong relationship, and that’s the feedback you will receive from the culture. So when fears enter the picture – and remember fear can manifest as doubt, irritation, indifference, ambivalence, worry, and intrusive thoughts – Dr. Pat Love says, “Feel the feelings and stay in the relationship.” Sound familiar? She says, “Take your mind and move it in a positive direction.” Have you read that somewhere before?  She says, “Getting what you want can feel uncomfortable.” Yes. The decision to stay despite the pain is a “values-driven approach instead of a feeling-driven approach. I was taught to follow your feelings, which is not always the best advice.” Right on.

So you see, those who know this terrain speak the same language. We know how many good, loving, and safe relationships end because people don’t understand the interplay of love and fear. We know how confusing it is to act in opposition to your so-called gut because we live in a culture that says “trust your gut.” We know this not only from our own experience but from the thousands of people with whom we’ve crossed paths and have helped to stay in their loving relationships and then look back after doing the hard work, after staying in the hug longer than is comfortable, after extracting their fear-lines and softening their walls, and say, “I’m so grateful I didn’t walk away.”

69 comments to When Love Makes You Flinch

  • e

    This is so true and important. Thank you. I suffered a very heartbreaking and traumatic miscarriage during my first pregnancy a few months ago, and was required to wait several months to try to conceive again. This experience and the deferred longing to be a parent has been so incredibly painful. Now I am pregnant again and on the verge of having my deep longing realized. Yet I am filled with so much fear and intrusive thoughts, to the point where at times (I am ashamed to admit) I feel I don’t want a baby and wish I could ‘run’. I know not to trust these feelings and that they are just the manifestation of my pain and fear, and that love lives underneath the fear and is waiting to be set free.

  • Nat

    Wow.. this post was needed and on time. Thank you sheryl

  • CT

    Sheryl your post was just spot on ! It made me to teat up a bit !
    Just reading all that it just makes so much sense and deep down i know i truly have that REAL love with my partner.
    Thank you so much for sharing your wisdom and your insight!

    • CT

      Just a question when it comes to that if you longing for something and if you finally gonna get it the pain begins.
      I have had one big fear/a worry since my partner proposed. Like truly a proposal was something what i was waiting for a long time , like years ! And when it finally happened on our 3.5 y anniversary it came out of the blue i was literally in shock.
      But i remember after he popped the question, i remember that there was in one point a word NO going through my head also. And that still bothers me 🙁
      Was that word no something what came from my truth ?
      Of course i said yes and after we had drinks and celebrated i couldnt wait to tell my family and friends but i just can’t shake the feeling when im thinking about it, and that one thing what makes me feel that maybe the anxiety kicked in because i was ignoring my truth ( that the word no what went through my mind turning the proposal was my truth)
      Just even writing about makes me feel really sick and anxious 🙁

      • Brooke

        I experience something very similar CT! I remember having thoughts running through my mind so fast. I almost had to push the word YES out of my mouth. I knew I wanted to marry him for a very long time. But something about the reality of it being right in front of you sends your mind and heart in a tizzy.
        You are not alone in feeling how you do. But I suggest trying to grieve your perfect image of a proposal. I had too. And do not dwell on your initial thoughts that went racing, that’s just what they were. Thoughts. Not truth

        • CT

          Thanks Brooke ! My biggest concern in forum has been thay i have never come a cross a single petson witm similar worrie.
          One part of me just feels guilty to even have a word No going through my head bc propsal was something what i really wanted and second reason is bc i have man standing front of me who gives me something what i have been waiting for so long but my mind was going crazy:S
          I think o had a big part of me also who felt disappointed about the proposal ( i have watched too many youtube best propsal videos) and i guess that was something what I thought i will have it also, i feel a horrible person even saying thay right now 🙁 and i know i had a point where i was disappointed with the ring he picked .
          Writing it all down just makes me feel like the perfect propsal and perfect ring would be what will make me so happy but in real life i know those things are not something what makes a relationship grow or get you through hard times. Those things will not show how much love we have for each other.

  • Valentina

    This post has been really helpful because I always fight with this gut feeling that often feeds my thoughts and rumination. One thing that’s been getting me is the fact that, before my anxiety kicked in, I used to be sure about marrying my boyfriend someday, but now when I think about it, it just makes me anxious or nervous, so I start doubting about if it is what I really want in my future. I also have times where I can connect with the good feelings and I feel really happy when I daydream about it, but I often force myself to think certain future scenarios in order to see how I feel and I end up feeling numb or anxious.

    It scares me because it makes me feel this is my gut feeling speaking and I can’t tell if I could apply this post to it, in order to calm myself.

  • ann

    Sheryl

    I am so glad you posted this! For a long time I worried that you were the only one out there sharing these thoughts, and worried that about it because a) if there were more people saying it – it would be true and b) if something ever happened to you or you decided to quit, the philosophy and much needed teachings would to, and I honestly don’t know what Id do without reading your wise words

    My spouse is everything I’ve ever wanted, he handsome, kind, caring, makes me laugh every day, is a man of God who inspires me to be a better person. Yet when he tells me how much he loves me or kisses me I pull away. My parents were not loving in a typical way, and were not physically affectionate towards me. I hate that I now have what I always wanted yet now I don’t want it now. I wonder if I associate that affection I now get with pain like she said i the video

    • ann

      I was also very much a parentified child, and still very much am to this day (actually moreso now)

    • Yes, being under-touched or over-touched (either from overt sexual abuse or covert boundary violations) as a child can lead to the crossing of wires around touch, which can then lead to associating affection with pain. You’re making important connections.

  • Brooke

    This was perfect!!! And dr. Loves video was so insightful!

  • Sally

    Sheryl, thank-you again for another beautiful post!

    However, I’ve increasingly been plagues by thoughts that my relationship isn’t as loving as I thought it was. I am definitely someone who has always craved love and physical touch, having been deprived of it for much of my childhood. I’m wondering perhaps whether I am one of the people Pat talks about, who recreate an unloving dynamic in their adult relationships. My boyfriend is definitely there for me through life’s ups and downs (e.g. seems to have nearly endless patience for my various anxieties and worries) and has even changed his work hours so that I am not alone at home so much by myself. However, affirmations of love do not come naturally to him, and he is not as “touchy feely” as I am. Unlike many other people that arrive at your work, he also seems to have slight commitment phobia. He told me that while marriage and children with me are something that he definitely wants, the idea of taking such a big step scares him and he feels he is not in the right place to propose just yet. Of course, this triggers similar feelings within me from my childhood, such as feeling abandoned and unloved.

    I’m now starting to really question whether I have actually broken my childhood pattern? In other words, how can I know that I do in fact have a loving partner?

  • Angela

    Hi Sheryl,
    This is incredible and inspiring, the truth water that is so REAL. Anxiety is fear and by having a unhealthy history, it does show up in adulthood because we need to take responsibility for our happiness which we all deserve. I know I believe i deserve the very best. As a 12 year old child, I remember one time in school, I asked a class mate to push me down the stairs.. why would i ask her to do such an awful. I thought i deserved that because of the physical abuse at home from my dad. I didnt love myself, and i did carry that into adulthood, i didnt deserve to be loved in my relationships is what i learnt from the cruel, unnecessary punishment I was wired into believing i was a bad person. It felt normal behaviour and I know as an adult, nothing will did was my fault. I was good, friendly and polite beautiful young girl. If only my dad was alive today, i would ask why????

    • It might be helpful for you to do some imaginal work, Angela, and travel back to that time when you were 12 so you can both sit with that young you as you tell her the truth about yourself and have a conversation with your dad. My guess is that he was also the victim of parental abuse and he was acting out his own self-hatred on you. That doesn’t excuse his behavior but might help explain it so that you know it didn’t have anything to do with you.

  • J

    I happened upon this video about a year ago, and it felt like she was talking TO ME. Thanks for sharing. 🙂

  • Katie

    This makes so much sense to me. My partner is very playful, he is a very affectionate person and loves to touch me and show affection and since anxiety most of the time I pull away or flinch even if he makes a move towards me (this obviously causes him great distress and confusion), I also have this weird thing where when we kiss now I feel like I can’t breath it’s very bizzare, has anyone experienced this???

    . But I’ve noticed that I’m not even just like this with him. Me and my mum are now very close and quite often she will try and hug me and it genuinely makes me feel so uncomfortable and I almost always run away from it, she does this now I’m an adult but I don’t remember when I was a child either of my parents really showing affection saying love you, kisses before school whereas other parents often did and I remember wondering why my mum and dad weren’t like that.

    Could this be the reason for my intimacy fear???

    • Brooke

      I experience similar reactions to my very affectionate, loving partner. Growing up, hugging and kissing was not something of normalcy and I did not like to hug or show affection to anyone. With my fiancé I want to be affectionate and loving but it genuinely is hard for me and I always feel myself throwing up a wall when touching gets too intimate.
      I am working on this. But it is hard and sometimes feels suffocating

      • Katie

        The suffocating feeling is very familiar with me too. How are you trying to combat this? Do u have any tips? I know combatting my anxiety will help greatly but I’m just trying to find other ways to not be always on the defense

  • Darlene

    Thank you so much, Sheryl…This came at the exact right time for me:)

  • NewlyMarried

    Thank you Sheryl for this post. I am just starting to get into doing the work and it’s a bit scary to open up to myself. Sometimes my intrusive thoughts include “but you didn’t have any traumatizing experiences as a kid to cross your wires, so this must not be anxiety.” I know that is the ego trying to discount the anxiety I am feeling. I’ve always felt anxiety with big life changes and transitions, so I know feeling anxiety in my first year of marriage should be expected, even though it’s difficult to feel the hard feelings and understand the normalcy of anxiety in the midst of it. My partner is so loving, caring, sweet, and thoughtful. I’ve felt on many occasions I couldn’t have dreamed up a better husband. We have our differing views on a few things, but nothing I think is a core value. In those cases he is always so willing to listen to my opinions, and I him. We are very good communicators. But having this loving relationship scares me sometimes. I get scared mostly that it will end, that I will discover years in that my anxiety feelings were right and we should not be together, or that I will hurt him in some way. But when I try to pinpoint a reason why it would end, I can’t. I wonder, where did these fears come from?
    This post makes me think that maybe it has something to do with how much I wanted a relationship when I was young. From childhood to adulthood, getting married was something I wanted desperately someday. I would dream up relationships with the boys I had a crush on as a kid. I wanted so badly to date and be loved that I would cry myself to sleep over it when I was a teenager. I never dated until I reached adulthood. I caused myself a lot of heartache over all this, sometimes convincing myself that the reason no boys liked me was because I was unlovable. So perhaps, even though I never experienced any trauma as a result of my interactions with others, I caused myself emotional distress at the thought of being lonely. I always wanted love, but would tell myself I would never get married. Here I am, now married to a wonderful man and it’s awesome, but still a little bit scary.

  • SR

    Hi Sheryl,
    Thank you for your post. Reading this article made me realize that this may be what my partner is going through. We’ve been together for several years, and are engaged, and he has not been fully comfortable with touch and affection (verbal and physical) with me. I see how this comes from his past, and he is doing his best to dissolve the walls he’s built around his heart. I am very grateful for this, and try to be mindful of how I might be triggering him. I do notice though there are times that I find myself getting jealous of the ease with which he is able to offer love and affection to our dog. Sometimes it is just when we are hanging out, other times, it is when we are in the midst of a heated discussion trying to resolve some of our misunderstandings. Either or both of us starts to get upset, and our dog who is also sensitive (we thinks she is an empath, just like the two of us), will start to bark. My partner will leave our interaction to comfort our dog, and I’m left feeling discouraged and thinking doesn’t he see I needed comfort and reassurance too? I’ve had relationship anxiety, and see him going through phases of it himself through our engagement. Being aware of his doubts trigger more anxiety within me. Do you have any articles where you have addressed when our partner is the struggling with this too, or do you have any books or resources you can refer me to? I could use a little more perspective. Thanks for all that you do!

    • Have you read “Hold Me Tight? by Sue Johnson? It’s excellent and does address the very common dynamic that you’re describing. If you’re both open, I also highly recommend finding a local EFT-trained couples therapist and committing to a round of therapy together. It’s life-changing and can help both of you heal the old wounds:

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

      • SR

        Thank you Sheryl, I have not read that yet. I will be getting a copy soon. Luckily, my partner and I are having sessions with an intuitive counselor/therapist, who also happens to be officiating our wedding. This is the first time we have been able to do this work together after years of me suggesting it, so I will see how this goes and keep the EFT-trained therapists in mind for the future. Hopefully, the book will be a sufficient supplement to start. Just looking at it briefly online, I have a very comforting feeling about it. Thanks again for taking the time, and offering resources.

  • Kathy

    Timely as usual, this speaks right to me.

    Does anyone have any thoughts on dealing with irritation or numbness that comes with relationship anxiety? I am finding myself lately really harping on the negative things in my relationship and it’s getting to a point where I can feel myself putting up walls and moving away from my partner. I know in my head that the good far outweighs the bad in our relationship but for some reason right now I can’t get myself to act on that belief and it honestly feels like I’ve lost the will to try and maintain this relationship. The fact that this is a common thought pattern isn’t really helping me right now, all that’s telling me is that I won’t ever get through this feeling no matter who I’m with 🙁

    Any one have any advice?

  • Megan

    I’m not sure I understand Dr. Love when she says, “your strongest feelings should lead you back to your core values.” Doesn’t that mean, “trust your gut”? Or is she saying that at your deepest core, your strongest feelings will always say, “love again” despite your anxious thoughts?

  • Angela

    Hi Newlymarried,
    I would like to pass on to what Sheryl said in one of her amazing courses. You dont have to experience a traumatic childhood to get anxiety. There is a disposition from genetics. Even if you had wonderful healthy relationships. Anxiety can strike anytime. Its such a blessing to me to know Sheryls accurate work. Before i came across Sheryls work, I was joining in the rat race of what love “SHOULD” feel and be like. You will see clarity just like myself and many others.

  • Newly Married

    This is really helpful because I was actually worried that since I was hurt by some of my husbands actions its very hard for me to be close to him, to hug him or kiss him even though he is great now there s this part of me that pulls so strong that I was starting to wonder if it was a sign that we are on the edge.
    Being sensitive it hard work especially when you been hurt by your partner but thanks to you sheryl that you help us understand that flinching is not a sign that something is wrong but a sign that there is work to do.

    • Newly Married

      I wanted to ask too, is jealousy is sign of fear as well? a sign that fear is in the picture as relationship anxiety?

      • When there’s been a lot of hurt in the relationship itself it’s important that the two of you work together to find repair. Jealousy does stem from fear and insecurity, but again, in your case it’s also stemming from broken trust with your partner. The work is to repair that trust, which can take time and is a journey that must be embarked upon together.

  • Sonya

    I’m so frustrated. Instead of letting these beautiful posts soothe me I pick out the parts that can be twisted into negatives and dwell on them. In this post I was triggered by: “Please note that what we’re discussing here is real love: love that is kind, caring, compassionate, honest, committed. Flinching in response to abusive touch disguised as love is a healthy, appropriate reaction, and must be taken very seriously.” And my fear’s saying “what if what I’ve thought of as loving touch is acually abusive touch disguised as love, and I don’t realise.” Deep down I know it’s not true but I just can’t get over it. I also had an abusive father who hurt us a lot and disguised it as playing, so when ever my partner is being playful with me, I get upset and withdraw. Does anyone else get this?

    • Katie

      In reply to Sonya ^^^^

      YES 100%. I really focus on the negitives and twist everything in Sheryl posts, that sentence worried me too. My partner has never psychically hurt me nor ever will, but I too dont take being playful lightly and often find myself becoming defensive and angry fast even when I know he’s just having a joke with me. Like sometimes he picks me up and throws me onto the bed, in a joking manner and I get so so upset with him, I think this is the controllong side of me coming out, I don’t like the fact that in that split second he is controlling what I’m doing even if it is just in a manner that is totally playful and supposed to be funny.

    • Izzie

      Sonya, reading your fear-based line “what if what I’ve thought of as loving touch is actually abusive touch disguised as love and I don’t realise” really opened my eyes to something about the nature of relationship anxiety in general… That it’s not the content of the intrusive thought that’s really important, it’s the constant, invariable “what if (…) and I don’t realise” because that’s the part of you (and of all of us I suppose) that’s terrified of making a mistake, terrified of getting hurt, terrified of experiencing pain and not being able to preempt and avoid it. When actually, in our current situations, there’s nothing to be scared of because we’re in loving, committed relationships with respectful, available partners and we’re just hyperfocusing on the things that could go wrong to the point of “deep down I know this isn’t a problem but my anxiety is convincing me it is”. As Sheryl always says, these thoughts are there to create an illusion of certainty so we don’t have to experience pain again (though how ironic is it that they hurt us just as much)!

      Hope this is helpful, for some reason it helped me to write it 🙂

  • kalika

    “I’ve been worrying/
    that my time is a little unclear/
    I’ve been worrying/
    that I’m losing the ones I hold dear/
    I’ve been worrying/
    that we all/
    live our lives/
    in the confines of fear.”
    -Ben Howard, “The Fear”

    Heard this song lately and thought about FEAR that keeps us confined, that keeps us irritated at our loved ones, flinching at their touch, finding reasons not to STAY in loving relationships, shying away from directly approaching the difficult topics and seeking out for help with them. I love this song for its implicit challenge to push out from those confines into the spacious freedom of love, true love that isn’t afraid of hard work and, as Dr. Pat Love says, of “doing the right thing” even when the feelings scream otherwise.

  • Just me

    Spike warning.

    Sheryl, is it normal that I was quite anxious and sad on our wedding day.. I even thought that I can divorce if anxiety did not go away.. It bothers me a lot. Maybe I knew already then that what we have with my husband was more friendship than romantic love, because I have had troubles with physical intimacy since beginning. I somwhow felt pressure to get married because I was already thirty years ols and I had dated many guys before my husband. I still care deeply about my husband and it hurts me to leave him, but I have struggled already for so many years and all therapists are telling me that I have married my husband because of wrong reasons and I cannot heal my depression if I do not take my dreams and feelings seriously.. I want desperately finally heal because my son needs me..

    • Just me

      Sheryl, I truly believe in your work and I highly appreciate everything you are doing. Do not get me wrong.. I am just seriously thinking that I am the exception, that deep down I know that what I have towards my husband is not love.. it is maybe unhealthy codependency and I have lost myself totally in this process and I am unable to leave as a people pleaser..

  • Jeanne

    Must admit in regard to Katie’s post…somehow i feel not ending a relationship because of anxiety is one thing, reducing any unwillingness to be thrown on a bed without consent to anxiety or controlling is another. Women aren’t their husbands toys in the first place. Just a thought that popped up reading her post…

    • Under no circumstances is it acceptable for one person to exert any kind of physical force or expectation around sexuality on another. Healthy sexuality must be 100% mutual and consensual. However, that’s not what I’m hearing in Katie’s comment. She’s describing a very typical response to physical affection that most often stems from someone’s own anxiety, and often their own pain from early childhood around too much touch or not enough touch.

      • Katie

        My partner definitely does not force me to do anything sexual that I do not want to do, he is very respectful and since anxiety will always ask me “are you okay” if he feels I may start to become uncomfortable. My example probably wasn’t the best one and I knew someone would disagree with it. Couples pick eachother up all the time and sometimes he’ll have a joke and throw me onto the bed in a laughing manner, I definitely not I am not his toy. He’s a very physical person and I want to learn how to be more relaxed and open when it comes to affection like that, so we can both vibe equally on that level

        • Katie

          Thank you Sheryl, I am coming to realise that I think I have these problems due to lack of affection in my childhood as you’ll see in my first post!

  • Katie

    I’ve had a pretty clear head for about a week until yesterday when I got annoyed over something silly, my partner and I didn’t speak for a few hours and the whole “I don’t love him” thoughts came rushing back. In the week that my head has been clear, I’ve felt calmer, still had the thoughts a little bit but they weren’t bothering me as much.. what does it mean that my thoughts have gone from “what if I don’t love him” to “I don’t love him” I’m still thinking love is a feeling which is my biggest thing to deal with. Because if it isn’t then I’m confused how you’re supposed to know that you love someone and not just care for them? My thoughts are always worse when we are apart, as soon as we are back in each others company they go away and I feel happy, he makes me smile and we laugh loads. He is my bestfriend. I’m scared that maybe I just love him as a friend and not a boyfriend, but what’s the actual difference? Despite this and thinking love is a feeling which makes me think I don’t love him because I don’t feel love, he is still the person I want to be with and grow old with and have a life with.

    • JD

      Here is something helpful that got me through the worst of my panic attacks. You are not going to “feel” love when you are searching for it. You also cannot “feel” love when you are filled with anxiety. You cannot fill a cup that is already full, and if your heart is filled with anxiety, there will be no room for love. As scary as it is you need to let go of the anxiety/the search for feelings.
      I am sure part of you wants to hold onto this anxiety for fear that if you let go of the anxiety you will come to find that your “truth” is that you don’t love your partner, but I encourage you to fight through this and let go anyway. You do not need to end your relationship with your SO. You need to end your relationship with anxiety. You need to end your relationship with pre conceived notions about “love.”
      I assure you when you let go of fear (it is the absolute hardest thing I have ever ever ever done) what you will find is a feeling you have never felt before.
      You will discover that love has been there all along. And that being in a relationship with your best friend is the best sort of relationship to be in.
      Good luck to you.

  • SR

    Sheryl,

    Thanks for another fabulous post. I’m curious… have you heard of the “sleeper effect” of adult children of divorce? Link to research: https://link.springer.com/referenceworkentry/10.1007%2F978-0-387-79061-9_2666. Essentially, the research unveils a common yet silent experience of (mostly women) whose parents divorced at some point during childhood. The experience is essentially an onslaught of emotion, anxiety, and fear at the conception of their own serious romantic relationships and/or commitments. Up until this point, the women were “fiercely independent”, “resilient”, and “handled the divorce fine”, yet always chose men who were wrong for them or kept relationships very surface-level, struggling with true intimacy in romantic relationships.

    I ask for this reason: At the onset of my relationship anxiety (before we were engaged, when my fiancé told me he wanted to marry me), I had a dam break of grief and emotions that were entirely unexpected and terrifying. I fit almost the exact mold of this research. Both of my therapists have helped me understand that so much of my own anxiety around marriage has to do with the grief, fear, and wounds from my own parents’ divorce and infidelity. I am fairly convinced this is what’s happening with me (which I think is just a specific analysis and application of all the work you do, Sheryl!) I’m three months away from my wedding and, although my anxiety has subsided significantly, I still have days where anxiety knocks me off my feet and I feel terrified.

    Currently, my anxiety is surrounding the question, “What if I haven’t truly walked through this process that I suppressed for so long and now I’m getting married because I’m terrified of being alone and just want to establish a secure family of my own. What if one day I wake up and realize if I had just waited to get through the grief, I would’ve realized that we weren’t right for each other and I could’ve chosen the right person.” My deepest fear is that my fiancé isn’t “right” for me and I’m just with him to be rescued. Additionally, I love my fiancé so much, and there is literally nothing I can find that is concerning – I mostly fear that he’s hiding a dark secret OR that literally every intrusive thought you’ve discussed I’ve had – fearing it’s true. When I have clarity, I have no doubt that we are wonderful for each other.

    Any additional thoughts considering this angle/phenomenon? Thanks for any insight, Sheryl! Thank you so much for your work. It has been a true compass for me during this terribly hard, yet necessary and [I trust, beautiful] season of life.

  • Jasmine

    This was a really interesting talk and idea. I notice how much I want to be Ioving relationship, with caring and good communication, yet when there is potential for this, I feel terrified. My partner and I broke up for a time and when I look back I can see how hard he was trying to give me what I needed yet for some reason, I would often see things in a negative light and push him away. We are five years into our relationship and are still working on being more open and emotionally intimate with each other. Is it usual for things to take this long to open up and understand our partners better?
    I feel I want to connect with him on a deep level to feel safe but sometimes that is challenging and I feel anxious with our silences.

  • anon

    Hi Sheryl,

    My partner and I are looking for our first house, which is really lovely, but I’m struggling with some odd obsessions and physical pains at the same time. I have headache and grind my teeth all day every single day and it’s driving me crazy. I sometimes have to stop talking entirely because my skull is on fire. I also can’t stop checking property websites and thinking about different houses and colour schemes etc etc! Today is the first time I’ve been able to get back to your work for quite a while and I’ve noticed I’m still doing a lot of ‘should’ thinking. Most commonly that I should feel as deeply as my partner appears to and I should cry when he cries. I journaled for the first time today and wrote mostly about how I’m ‘a bad person’, but felt no emotion what so ever. It concerns me how I can see/think/hear bad things and feel nothing. It only feels the belief that I am bad and lacking in compassion. Can you help, please?

    One more thing. I’ve mentioned before that one of the hardest things about being more conscious is that I see when others are showing signs of relationship anxiety. My mother in law is dating a man she says ‘ticks every box’ but is fixated on how she isn’t sexually/physically attracted to him. She has briefly talked about past relationships and how she has been excited by unsuitable men and how she ‘knows’ this relationship isn’t right because she was attracted to the last man she was dating (who also happened to have a history of domestic violence…). I’m very concerned that she will continue to talk herself out of healthy relationships, but I don’t want to push my views onto her. I have mentioned c-t before but she has chosen not to engage with it. I can see in various different areas of her life, including her relationship with my partner, that she does not take emotional responsibility for herself. I want her to be happy & settled. Is there anything I can do?

    Thank you x

  • anon

    *feeds the belief

  • Katie

    I’m naturally an honest person, I don’t lie and I can’t lie because it eats at me until I just spurt it out so I’m always honest from the beginning.. the thoughts I have are “I don’t love him” and occasionally but not often I’ll have “don’t wanna be with him anymore” which I know that one in itself is a lie because i do want to be with him.. my thoughts are always worse when we are away from one another, the minute we are back in each others company I feel calm and the thoughts disappear. I live with him and his parents. And even though I have these thoughts. I don’t feel guilty about living here with them, I don’t necessarily feel guilty about being with him. This makes me think that my thoughts are just thoughts because if I knew deep down I didn’t love him, then I would feel guilty for living with them and being with him. We are currently going to be looking to buy a house together in the next few months and I don’t feel guilty or having second thoughts about that because this is what I want. I want to be with him, I want to build a home and a family with this man.. we had a little talk last night and he was saying that he loves me so much. The “so much” part spiked me a little bit because I tell him I love him, but I don’t say so much at the end of it. I told him that I’m obviously the distancer in the relationship. He knows all about my thoughts and he knows I have good days and bad days with my head. I told him that no matter what he is still the one I want to be with him.. the only thing I struggle with is still the whole love being a feeling part because that’s what I’ve always thought love was so I’m just having a little trouble telling myself that it isn’t a feeling.. my thoughts don’t stress me out as much lately either, I have them now and then but I just feel a little calmer with them, does that mean they’re true or I’m just learning that they’re just thoughts? I now know it’s normal to find other people attractive, it’s normal to not always want to be sexually active etc

    • Katie

      And I just wanted to add..

      This man is my friend/best friend/ boyfriend. We have no red flags. We laugh all the time together. I can be completely myself around him, I haven’t gotta worry about what I say or do, it’s crazy how well we just get on, we know each other so well, is that what a connection is? We both share the same ideas, I occasionally buy him little gifts as a thank you for how supportive he has been, I’m always cuddly and kissy with him.. that’s why sometimes I do have the “do I just love him as a bestfriend” because we get on so well as friends but yet we are also cuddly and kissy as a relationship. Everyone who knows us says we are perfect for each other. I know that aswell, and I have been told that being friends with the person you’re with is a big thing aswell.

  • Angela

    Thank you so much, This is my favourite post. I love Dr Pat love. Her name suits her. Do the right thing is certainly the best advice, because it works and its be proven many times with me and many other courageous and brave people. A massive hug to both of you. 💋❤️🤗🤗🤗

  • Rachel

    Thank you so much for your wise guidance. Much of what you say is so helpful to me in the run up to my wedding. With much gratitude and appreciation for what you do.

  • Lisa Pichl

    Really great post, I’ve discovered this site a couple of months ago and it’s really helping, however, I’m still struggling so much. I just had anawful weekend full of anxiety and doubts. I feel so guilty I just want to cry all day and not leave the house.
    I’m 25 and have been dating my boyfriend for almost 4 years and my main thoughts are ‘what if you’re settling down too early’ , what if you’ll realize you made a mistake and then have to go through a horrible break up, ‘what if there are still things you want/need to do in life’
    They started a few months after we moved in together but I’ve always had them, already in previous relationships.
    Back then I always thought they’re due to the guy not being the right one and I just ended it but this time nothing else is wrong. He is just amazing and it hurts me to not be able to give all his love back.
    I went on enough dates, I know I won’t gain anything from leaving him to be single again but the thought is refusing to let go. It’s so exhausting. My inner voice is questioning everything I thought i knew about our relationship and even questions me having anxiety. I started seeing a therapist but I’m just miserable, I never thought I’d have to live through something like this. My therapist thinks it’s my mom/parents because she kept telling me ‘don’t settle down too soon, that’s what I did’ and I remember watching her being overwhelmed and miserable because she had me and my sister too young.
    It all makes perfect sense but this inner voice is still trying to tell me otherwise. It’s all getting a bit too much, I’m incredibly sad, confused and just feel guilty and bad for doing this to my boyfriend. He doesn’t deserve this.
    Is this me being afraid of commitment because I saw my mom regret it? Or do I really just want to be single again and am too afraid to just do it? I think if I wanted to end it then it would be easier and I’d just do it. I feel like it’s be a huge mistake but then what do I know?

  • Bobby

    ” when you long for something it becomes a source of pain, so when you finally get what you want it’s going to feel painful and you’re going to want to run.”

    My parents marriage ended when i was very young and the subsequent years was very messy between them and upsetting for me. So now I’m about to get married, does this quote and what Dr Love explains apply to me too?
    She also mentions that when you get what you want (marriage in my case), the grieving starts (my parents marriage). So this would throw up anxiety.

  • Lauren

    Hi Sheryl, I love your work and agree with a lot of what you say in this piece. However, I believe that in many ways our current society is encouraged NOT to listen to our gut. For example, often victims of violence or sexual abuse report feeling uneasy about the person before the attack took place, but they rationalised the feelings and told themselves they were being silly, choosing to stay in the perpetrator’s presence when they could have fled and avoided the attack. Surely there are gut feelings about the important people in our lives that should be attended to? I myself visited your site for nearly 3 years while in a relationship with a guy who had no red flags but continued to make me feel like there was something to doubt. He eventually cheated on me and had not been entirely faithful for the duration of the relationship in fact. After that experience, I can’t help but see the importance in listening to my gut!

    • Hi Lauren: You’re asking an important question. Yes, there are absolutely gut feelings that people need to listen to. In my point of view, there’s a tricky but essential difference between gut/intuition and fear. Intuition is responding to subtle cues that you’re picking up on in the moment, whereas fear is past or future based (projections and what-ifs).

  • trey

    this really spoke to me and confuses me because i am now going through anxiety and i just cant feel connection and having intrusive thoughts. I am going to college next year and i feel as something is going to change me to the point where i wont want to be with my girlfriend anymore. i had my first relationship my junior year of highschool after longing for one my whole life,that ended up breaking me,then i had one more,another heart break, but now i finally found a loving compassionate, partner that gets me and suddenly i feel like im losing feelings! i cant stand it i dont know whether to go or leave but based on this post it seems i should stay, so ill give it my best!

  • jarrett

    This post really speaks to me because I had my first relationship in my junior year of highschool which ended in a cheating terrible heart break and i felt terrible, my next relationship also ended in a heartbreak which i was also suspicious of cheating and now i have a beautiful girlfriend but out of nowhere i just lost all my feelings but i know deep down that i love her.i honesty dont know what is going on with me but im so scared. But I longed for a relationship my whole life so i dont know if it was the longing or if it was the heartbreaks that are giving me this anxiety now. Now i just feel numb like i have no feelings and i just want my feelings back. Im wondering what the best course for me to take is.

  • jarrett

    How do i know if im outgrowig my relationship or if its relationship anxiety? I took the test and that said that it is anxiety but im still curious of the difference

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