I often receive a version of the following email:
“Is indifference a sign of relationship anxiety? My partner and I haven’t seen each other in two weeks and I feel nothing. I’ve shut down. I don’t care if we split up. My partner even cheated on me and I felt nothing. I don’t seem to care about him/her at all anymore. Doesn’t this mean that I’m not with the right person? Is this normal? ”
Normal? Yes. Talked about? No. Used as evidence by our culture that it’s time to break up? Absolutely. It’s at this point in a relationship that, when you poll friends and family, they will unanimously say, “Hit the road. You’ve clearly fallen out of love.” Oh, the good-ol’ “fallen out of love” excuse for jumping ship on a good, loving, secure relationship. Once you use that card, you don’t have to convince anybody why you’re walking away.
Yet, once we get passed the “I must not want this because I don’t get the horrible feeling in my belly when we talk about breaking up” fear-line, we can explore what may really be contributing to the shut down and loss of ability to feel anything for your partner (or for life in general). The essential piece to understand is that, just like your partner isn’t responsible for making you feel alive and filling your well of Self, so he/she isn’t responsible for your numbness, indifference, or lack of aliveness. Inherent in the statements about indifference is the refusal to take responsibility for your emotional well-being, your fullness, and your vitality. Relationship anxiety, in it various projections, almost always points to this unwillingness to take full responsibility for one’s experience.
What’s embedded in indifference, numbness, and lack of feeling for your partner?
Fear is the fastest way to shut down the heart. Fear, by definition, causes us to contract and constrict, both physically and emotionally. The challenge with relationship anxiety is that we don’t always identify indifference and numbness as forms of fear. When we widen our definition of fear to include anything that closes down the heart and creates a lackluster state, we can see what a powerful effect fear and anxiety (a cousin of fear) can have in an intimate relationship.
2. Attachment Wound.
If you’ve been hurt by your partner and haven’t expressed it and resolved it, you may start to shut down. This doesn’t mean that you’re in the wrong relationship; relationships, if they’re intimate and real, will invariably cause hurt at some point. What it does mean is that it’s time to work toward learning how to communicate in a way that both expresses your needs and feelings and invites your partner to respond. When hurt, many people will use withdrawal as a coping mechanism. While it may have saved your life as a child if you were exposed to a painful environment, withdrawing as an adult in an intimate relationship will only lead to more and more distance, both within yourself and with your partner.
3. History of Shutting Down.
If you’re shutting down in your intimate relationship, you likely have a history of shutting down when life reaches a breaking point. As I mentioned above, many children learn to shut down as a way to handle the overwhelming pain and loneliness they experienced as a child. It’s a brilliant survival mechanism for a child, but it doesn’t work as an adult. You may have also witnessed one or both of your parents using withdrawal as a defense mechanism and, as such, learned to model that behavior. Life can be overwhelming at times, and if we never learned emotional fluency as kids, we will follow in the footsteps of what we saw role-modeled. If you’re with a loving partner, this could be a time to learn something different.
While medication can be helpful to take the edge off anxiety or give a lift to depression, it can also create numbness and indifference. While this isn’t true for everyone, medication tends to flatten out the spectrum of our emotional experience so that we’re living in a narrow realm.
One of the root causes of depression (and I don’t want to oversimplify as depression is a multi-pronged challenge with many roots) is squashing down our pain. Similar to being on medication, when someone is depressed, they’re living in a safe, yet narrow, realm, where the pain of life is tempered and, consequently, so is the joy. As the film “Inside Out” so brilliantly expressed, joy and pain live in the same chamber of the heart, so if you refuse to feel pain (Sadness in the film), you kick joy out of your heart as well. We are not fully alive if we don’t have an active and consistent relationship to our grief. And I don’t mean falling into the pit of intrusive pain. I mean a full-bodied, alive, and compassionate relationship to the sadness of life that is an inherent part of being human.
Hormones can wreak havoc on our ability to see through clear eyes and feel with an open heart. While hormones are somewhat out of our control, we can work toward more balance by attending to our physical bodies, including a focus on healthy nutrition (dark, leafy greens have been proven to balance hormones), regular exercise, and adequate sleep. Just as we need emotional/spiritual mentors to guide us through life, we also need holistic doctors, like skilled naturopaths and acupuncturists, to help bring more balance to our physical bodies. This is what it means to address anxiety, depression, and numbness with a holistic mindset.
If you’re ready to break free from the shackles of your own fear, learn how to tend to your pain with compassion, and create a healthy relationship with your physical body so that you can excavate the buried roots of your own aliveness and share this aliveness with your partner, consider my Break Free From Relationship Anxiety E-Course. It will guide you through each layer of the healing process, which extends far beyond the scope of your relationship, so that you can learn what it means not only to feel alive but to truly thrive.
Thank you, Sheryl for all you do. You’re such a blessing. This was a perfect post for today for me. I have gone through the Break Free course once and am going to start to go through it again. I have a lot of turning inward to do. This year has been really hard on me and filled with transitions in nearly every area of my life and my well of self has run dry. I am also on the eve of my birthday now. I look forward to working through the pain and coming out the other side full of love and aliveness again.
Thank you, Chantal. Birthday eve is a very powerful time: the liminal zone of transitions. I encourage you to spend some time turning inward tonight and reflecting on your past year – what you would like to let go of and what seeds you would like to plant in your new year. It’s a great time to start going through the course a second time and noticing what stands out this time around.
I knew tonight’s post would be what I needed, I’d been waiting for it. That last bullet has been in full swing this weekend and despite not handling it well outwardly, I’m proud of myself for what I did with my thoughts. I was moody all weekend, but made sure to remind myself that all of this was about me and had nothing to do with my partner. I went on walks, exercised and meditated to try and bring myself out of the hormonal funk. A year ago I would have gone completely off the deep end, but now I know that even if I’m in a bad way for a few days, it’s temporary and dwelling on the negative won’t do anything.
Well done, Laurie! That’s exactly how we can take responsibility for the normal ups-and-downs of life.
Hi, Sheryl. I have been through it all and I relate to your teachings and agree with every word you said. Thank god for people like you who is educated and professional. Your passion on this less talked about topic in our culture is such a blessing and life saver. I dont feel the numbness anymore, but when I did not too long ago it was a horrible feeling and experience. I am so grateful for your work, without it the divorce rates would be a lot higher. Everydollar on your courses was worth it. A life time of reassurance indeed.
Thank you, Angela x
You truly are a blessing… I was just thinking this today. It hit me that my bf is not responsible for my happiness. he is an addition to it. I tend to hold on tight since going through all this. thank you sheryl for this post. it confirms i am on the right track
I just wanted to say thank you! After working through OYH and Break Free a few times, I’m finally starting to feel better and just overall PEACE!! What I imagined peace to look like was infatuation and overwhelming feelings of love, but what I’ve come to find is that clarity/improvement/peace is simply being in the moment, not allowing thoughts to ruin your day, not ruminating, and just appreciating the small things- and naturally the loving feelings come and go! I now know that what I have is so special and unique, and I’m better equipped for the natural ebbs and flows (irritation, indifference, loving feelings, missing them, not missing them, too busy to talk, etc.)
Love this blog post!
You’re in inspiration, Nicole! You’ve put in the hard work and it’s paid off in spades. And not only will the learning you’ve gained serve you in your relationship, it will serve you for the rest of your life. And I have a strong feeling you’re going to bring what you’ve learned back to others which, to me, brings unparalleled satisfaction and gratitude.
this is the fist time that I hear about shutting down as a defense mechanism and I think that this happens to me in my relationships. It happens not only in a romantic relationship, but with family and friends. It is so easy for me to disconnect from a person.. But how to get over it? it happens so fast and it feels like out of my control…
It’s a practice, Avigail. It’s learning to catch yourself in that flash of a moment before you shut down and ask, “What am I feeling?” You can also go back to that moment and say, “Oh, I shut down again. I wonder what I was feeling just before I shut down.” With time, you’ll be able to create a different mental habit.
I will try…I think its a fear of being rejected..mostly. Thank you!
This is kind of linked to how ive been feeling recently, as working through the e-course I notice a lot of people who had doubts were followed with gripping anxiety/panic. However for me, for the first few years when I had doubts Id just kind of push them out of my head and hope that with time they would go away, or it would come to a point where i would just leave the relationship. I wouldn’t say they made me anxious, apart from one time at the begining, they sent me into panic. But then after that they were just me thinking “hmm im not sure if this is what i want” etc of course I didnt like thinking like this, but they didnt send me into anxiety. Then about a year ago, i had a thought for the first time, something like “actually my partner is someone I want to be with forever”, I’d always thought i wanted to be with someone more aloof more like “Big” from Sex and the City, and for the first time I thought to myself “god that would be awful, to be with someone who loves them self more than they love you. How silly I would be to get rid of my loving partner looking for that!” I felt ok for a few hours (i think) then anxiety took hold and I couldn’t think straight, and I just kept thinking oh no whats this feeling, does it mean I dont love him after all? I shouldn’t be feeling like this etc. It was around this point I found your site. So Im asking you, is it definitely relationship anxiety if the doubts weren’t followed by anxiety in the first few years? Or do you think my belief of wanting someone like “big” was keeping me safely at arms length from my partner, and once I’d consciously thought about that belief and how it was untrue, fear/anxiety took over to try and get me to leave? Or am i just wishful thinking/kidding myself. I know we spoke over skype and discussed some of these things, but I dont think I mentioned that in the first few years doubts weren’t particularly anxiety provoking. Thanks x
Hi Cara: To answer your question: “is it definitely relationship anxiety if the doubts weren’t followed by anxiety in the first few years?” YES! It’s classic relationship anxiety. For many people, they have doubts in the beginning that they can keep at bay and not consciously recognize until the relationship becomes real and they’re IN with both feet. In other words, relationship anxiety doesn’t always look like anxiety: it can look like doubt, indifference, numbness, etc. These are all manifestations of the same thing. What I’m hearing in your question is ego trying to look for the loophole the proves that you’re the exception. Oh, how ego loves to do that as a way of convincing you to walk away so that you don’t have to look deeply at yourself and take responsibility for your own inner work!
thanks Sheryl. Ive just started going back over the “resistance” part of the course, as that is what always seems to be sucking back into being stuck!
Thanks so much for this post. I had relationship anxiety before I married my husband and have healed from that (thanks for your help!). But like you’ve said before intrusive thoughts and anxiety can be a bit like whack a mole. I’m almost 30 weeks pregnant and I’m having anxiety about having our second child — worried about my health, the birth, if I’ll be able to breastfeed this time, how we’ll cope with a toddler with mild special needs and newborn, etc. You’ve normalized my ambivalence by responding to another reader’s comment at some point, but today’s post offered me this: “joy and pain live in the same chamber of the heart.” I can grieve the change from family of three to family of four and STILL feel happy at times about welcoming another child into our family.
Oh wow! I read the post linked under #5 depression about grief and joy and it hit me: yesterday we disassembled the crib our toddler was using as a toddler bed. She got a new toddler bed and we reassembled the crib in the baby’s room. I needed to grieve that change; I knew it on some level because although she has the same mattress and bedding on the new bed, it still upsets me to see the new bed in her room.
Transitional grief will do it every time, and when you’re sensitive, you’ll feel it all the time!
I’ve had intense anxiety my entire life. Relationship anxiety began with my first relationships 40 years ago. It kept me in therapy all these years but it wasn’t until I came across the concept of Relationship OCD that I was able to stop hashing over my relationship with my mother and come to terms with and better understand what I have been dealing with. That’s when I found you and your immense depth of compassion and insight. With every column I find so much support for my healing and growth. Finally, at 65, I have been able to stay in a relationship and not sabotage it to get free of the anxiety. Thank you so much for all that you so generously give to those of us who could find it nowhere else. Mike W
My heart overflows with humble gratitude from reading your words, Mike; thank you and many blessings to you.
Hi Sheryl – you talk a lot in other posts about how love = possibility of loss. I’ve struggled for awhile with no fear of loss. My partner and I have a great healthy relationship but relationship anxiety does get me from time to time, and my lack of “sense of loss” really contributes to that. If something happened to him, Im sure I would be sad but I think in time I would move on. And we are married, why doesn’t it bring me to tears? Is this the same thing as numbness? Your work has helped me immensely, don’t get me wrong, but when I started your weddings e-course and heard that we could’ve been with dozens of people, while it gave me relief it gave me anxiety. I felt like I could just replace my partner if I lost him. Which when I think about it doesn’t make sense because I know dating isn’t that simple. Perhaps Im taking him (and the process of finding a loving partner) for granted.
Hi Sheryl! Can jealousy also be very evident with relationship anxiety? I get extremely jealous whenever/nervous whenever my partner is with someone of the opposite sex or alcohol is involved even though at most she will have is a glass of wine. I have a panic attack because of jealousy this past week and I felt like I was going nuts and just an awful boyfriend. Thanks
You really did help save my relationship with the last e-course I took, and this is more of the same great information. I have an amazing fiancé- but I was struggling with the “in love” thing, but only because I didn’t really knew what love was. I know he is my best friend and the person I trust most in the world- that he treats me better than I have ever been treated- but can you believe that I signed up for the course because I was wondering if I should stay, because I didn’t feel “in love”- not knowing what that meant. Interestingly, when I took responsibility for my feelings and fears, something changed in me. Before I would scrutinize my fiancé- not because I wanted to find fault, but because my ego did- and when I accepted that I have been blessed enough to have real love- well, now I don’t scrutinize anymore. I actually feel very grateful when I think of him. I am getting married in two weeks, and now my anxiety is going overdrive about everything else. But Sheryl this is a wonderful message- but sad that our society opposes it.
I look forward to your posts on my Monday mornings as they’re always insightful and bring comfort. I’ve been up and down with my feelings and thoughts about my relationship (now married) since we met. We’re married now and it’s much the same.
I did the Conscious Weddings e-course before we got married and it helped me to keep moving forward. I’m not sure we’d have gotten married without that but the fact that I’m still so up and down (every 2-3 weeks I go from feeling everything’s ok to feeling doubt, regret, guilt and pain) which gets tiring, to say the least. I’ve been to counselling which didn’t really help and to top it off, not a day goes by when I don’t think of my ex, to some degree.
Really don’t know what more I can do, aside from perhaps consider that maybe my core feeling that this relationship wasn’t for me in the first place. It would devastate my husband but that’s likely better than wasting his time. It’s not what I want, of course, he’s the kindest, softest person I know and whilst I do love him dearly, I really don’t know what else to do. In 2 weeks, I’ll feel differently. It’s too much!
I am in the similar situation. I have been in therapy for a year now and it is not helping me with this ambivalence. I am considering seriously divorcing, because this is not fair to my husband anymore. I cannot tell him that I love him, because I am dreaming about divorcing too often. And most of the time I feel just indifference and my hearth is completely closed. We do not have any intimacy and it makes me so sad.. I just cannot be near him because I feel like I am not honest, if I do so..
I am blaming myself all the time that I did not listen my insecurities and now I have to break our son’s home. I am not sure if I am able to be present mother to my son if I stay. I am all the time checking my feelongs and concerned that I have made a terrible mistake.
You would benefit enormously from the Break Free course, Tee. Truly, it was made for you and I can see you learning leaps and bounds and finally getting the bottom of your anxiety with the information and tools I present there. As you’re still thinking about your ex, there’s still work for you to do on the inner level. The intrusive thoughts are the distress flare and, ultimately, the messenger.
what do you think, is it better to postpone the wedding till I find my clarity and peace or is it better to continue even though everything makes me sick and anxious and the possibility for me to have a panic attack on the day of the wedding is huge…Everything is ready but all I feel is anxiety and depression, I feel like I’m making a mistake, I can’t go through the wedding this way…My fiancee and our parents know about this and they support me in the idea of postponing but I’m not sure if this would be helpful, is it possible that my situation gets worse? What if the shame and disappointment are unbearable and cause me to become even more depressed and anxious….? Any advice?
This has come at the right time. Thank you!I have a question Cheryl. I know when you talk about fear, your words resonate with me, however I don’t actually know what I’m fearful of when I ask myself that question. I’ve suffered from relationship anxiety for so long on and off in my eight year relationship and have two children too. Luna is only one so I’m putting my anxiety down to my body still adjusting to motherhood with two. However all i do is put it all into my relationship not being right instead of looking at what else it could be. X
It takes time and a true desire to learn about yourself to discover what’s embedded inside the fear. Do you have a journaling practice? Mindfulness? It’s the daily practice that can help enormously when we’re ready to turn inward an learn about ourselves. Do you have the e-course?
Thank you so much for taking the time to reply. I do try to do as much mindfulness practice as I can fit in with two children. I think my busy lifestyle being a mum, trying to keep a relationship going and also my mind balanced has a lot to do with my anxiety. I’d love to do your email course when I have my own money when going back to work. Xxx
PS if you have time. Please can you change my name on my first message to Sal, only I didn’t realize it automatically put my full name in. Thank you Sheryl xx
I am engaged to be married in September, this year. Since the beginning of my relationship I’ve had anxieties. Sometimes I feel sure of my relationship with my FH and other times not so much. He has a lot of health challenges and I have some myself and a lot of times it causes me to question am I really ready for these challenges? We live in different states and I feel so disconnected. We use to talk everyday in the beginning, sending texts etc. We may talk once or twice a day now and it makes me sad. When I mention to him about how it makes me sad, he says I’m insecure and that I know he loves me. I have no doubt in my mind that he is faithful, I just want to hear from him more. I feel if it is like this now, it won’t change once we are married. We have only made a down payment on the reception hall so far. We have not booked the church yet. He is on disability and has to wait for his checks before he can send me money. I am retired (49yo) as of July 2015. I am not rich, but I can pay off the venues, but because of the way that I have been feeling, I am hesitant about doing so. My feelings are UP and DOWN, one minute I want to go full speed ahead and the next, I want to Run and just give it all up. We have spoken about this on several occasions and everytime he tells me that maybe I need to remain single because I don’t think he is the one. I always assure him that he is the one and that I can’t imagine him not being in my life. I have been waking up lately feeling so anxious and nervous. The thought of me telling him I want out makes me cry, but the thought of going through with the wedding makes me nervous. We have had 2 counseling sessions together with his pastor and I have had 1 by myself with him. I feel so very confused. I don’t know what to do anymore. I pray all the time and feel that I get mixed answers. PLEASE HELP!!!
It sounds like you’re needing more frequent contact and reassurance from him, which is a normal attachment need. I highly recommend that you consider doing some EFT-couples counseling sessions so that you can learn to express your needs in a way that he can hear:
Wonderful post. All the posts on the blog are making so much more sense to me now that I am working with my innerself. And that’s all thanks to your ecourse. I only took the plunge and bought it yesteday but I am already working hard with my innerself to try and fight through this darkness and come into the light. Thank you Sheryl for all your work and all you do!! We are blessed to have you as a guide.
I’m so glad it’s making more sense for you, and SO GLAD you took the plunge into the e-course!
Perfect timing, as always Sheryl. I have been mightily struggling with these feelings of numbness lately, and yet I didn’t even imagine that I would need to possibly go through the e-course again or continue on the road of self love and discovery. This journey really never does stop, does it? Always a good reminder, time for some compassion and journaling.
There is no endpoint to this work, Emily. Healing and growth really do happen in layers and spirals, generally around the same 4-5 issues or stuck points. Time to dive in again!
I am engaged to a wonderful man and have suffered from relationship anxiety on and off throughout our relationship, ranging from manageable relationship anxiety that he will leave me/doesn’t love me to crippling ROCD and retroactive jealousy. I am seeing a counselor and a psychiatrist but sometimes I feel like they just don’t understand. Most of the time we just work through the fact that I was emotionally and verbally abused as a child by my father. Right now, I just can’t imagine getting married feeling like this. I can barely feel any love for my fiance underneath all of this panic and anxiety, and being around him almost makes me more anxious.
Do you think that the Conscious Weddings E-Course will help me, or are my problems just too big and span too many things? I need some hope that I won’t have to feel like this forever.
I highly recommend that you start with the Break Free course as soon as possible since you’ve suffered from relationship anxiety from the beginning and you come from a history of abuse:
My anxiety started out as super intense, heart breaking intrusive thoughts saying “you don’t love him” “you won’t work out in the future” “you’ll fall for someone else” etc. And these thoughts gave me so much anxiety, so so much anxiety and panic. But now…the last few days I’ve barely had any anxiety, the thoughts don’t make me panic or anything. Worst of all, even tho I haven’t had anxiety, I also haven’t really felt love towards my partner either. I know, logically, that I do love him very much…but I can’t feel it.
Is this indifference part of my anxiety, and my possible depression? I’m terrified that the love won’t come back.
It’s classic relationship anxiety, Julia. The love will come back when you commit to doing your inner work.
Thank you so much for your reply. And all the work you do. You’re truly a blessing
Hi, I would like to purchase your relationship anxiety course but it looks like a lot of the audio clips on your website require adobe flash player which isn’t compatible with my tablet. Are the audio materials available in any other format? I am also really interested in listening to the Alanis interview but having the same problem.
All audio material has been changed to work across all devices. You can now listen to the Alanis interview all of the course MP3s.
I’m wondering why the issues of the partner cheating on this woman wasn’t addressed as a red flag?
Good question! A relationship can still be loving even when there’s been a betrayal. The defining factor of what separates a good relationship from an unhealthy relationship is if both partners are willing to work through the betrayal of any kind (which will usually come up even in the healthiest of relationships – not necessarily cheating but some betrayal of trust). And sometimes when a partner is on the other end of their partner’s lack of attachment/anxiety, they cheat (kiss someone else or more) as a way to protest. It’s obviously not a healthy way to protest, but it does happen and it’s a workable issue if both people are willing to address it from the root.
Thanks again for another wonderful post. I have always learned something and I wanted to thank you especially for the previous blog (21 principles of CT) , it summerizes so many important points! I wanted thank you truly for it. Also I wanted to mention the movie “eternal sunshine of the spotless mind”, have you seen it Sheryl? Its about the story of two couples facing difficulties n their relationship & trying to erase memories and move on, but at some point during the memory loss they realize they have some connection and interesting facts about their relationship. I could connect to it and learned some interesting points about human psych and relationships, I think its also useful for people with RA anxiety. Just thought I mention the movie and see if you have watched it 🙂
I have to add that unlike other hollywood movies this movie real aspects (non-romance, reallife) relationship complications, which is nice and emotional in a different way….now speaking of media, and anxiety …I wanted to ask your opinion about my feeling…so in general I don’t get spiked by romantic movies because some of part of me knows its fake, however, recently (and also in the past) I get spiked so much by watching happy couples laugh or look at each other, I feel jealous and really doubt/analyze my relationship and feel deeply sad (of course I don’t like this feeling). A friend told me you can’t judge couples just by watching them for a few hours but my question is what if you know the couple and you have lived with them (example with housemates or sister) and you watch their dynamics, you know its real…why then do I feel the anxiety and how can I calm my disturbing thoughts…are these thoughts real, how should I attend to them. I would really appreciate any suggestion you have as this is getting very difficult for me.
Following on my above note, do you have any recommended readings for comparing your life to others? I am constantly comparing my partner and my love for him with other couples around me, my mind is obsessing alot over these comparisons and its driving me mad 🙁 I really need help in this area, and I cannot recall any of your blogs or course notes specifically about this, can you send me any blogs/reading about this if you know of them? Thanks alot Sheryl.
I have been so impressed and interested in all of the information on your website and blog about relationship anxiety and am very interested in taking the e-course b/c I think it will be incredibly beneficial to my relationship. I tried purchasing it via paypal but never got a login. I would love some help, because I want to learn more. Thanks so much!
My assistant has contacted you twice with no response. Please contact her at [email protected] so that you can gain access!
Any tips for dealing with/counteracting the numb side effects from medication?
First off I would like to say thank you so much for the work you do. I don’t know what I would have done these past 2 years without your compassionate guidance.
Although I’m nowhere near “normal” – your blog has been a lifesaver. I have a question about sex. My partner and I are getting married next month and I think I’ve worked through a lot of things since the engagement due to the fact that we decided long before we were “engaged” that we wanted to spend the rest of our lives together. I’ve almost always struggled with sex over the course of our relationship.. My drive comes and goes and I’ve tried to accept that. However, it seems of Late that I would rather please myself then engage in intercourse. This concerns me because it shows that I do have a sex drive (by the desire to masturbate) but I dont want to be physical with him. I know deep down there are probably some reasons and roots of fear of why this is so but it scares me to think that I’m sexual and just not sexual with him? Also I don’t feel as much guilt anymore as I normally would.. And the numbness makes it scary and feel real. Is this normal relationship anxiety still?
Thank you so much and God Bless you Sheryl
I needed this post so much. You have no idea. Thank you.
After a year of wonderfully being dedicated to my relationship, the anxiety began. I’d been somewhat happy for so long that I’d forgotten that I’ve went through these periods of sadness/numbness for a very long time–years and years. Even when I was very small, I would get sad about little things, like getting older. I remember when I turned 11 I was so sad that I was too old to count my age on both my hands anymore, like my childhood was over. And that sounds so silly, but it makes sense to me. I’ve always been someone who can easily get sad over what seems to be nothing, especially during certain months of the year (usually January-March). Surprise, surprise: January was when my anxiety started and I projected it onto my boyfriend. I can tell you all this, but cannot accept it internally and that’s my problem. Once I get there, I think I’ll have a grip on this.
Earlier some girls were talking about relationships, explaining how you need to let go when you no longer feel anything and it made me feel so badly. I do feel indifferent most of the time. This is why I can’t accept that this is relationship anxiety and not just me not wanting to be alone or hurt him.
The sensitivity you’re describing around getting older and change in general is not “nothing”. I talk about it in depth in the Break Free course, and on my site as well. The course would be ideal for you when you’re ready for it.
This blog has been such a lifeline as I have struggled with relationship anxiety. Right now I am in a good place, I moved to my boyfriend of ~6 years last June, closing our long distance relationship to a close distance. I was very scared to move due to my bouts with anxiety and my love for the city I lived in, my old job, and my local support group. I have still struggled since moving to be near him, but I’ve enjoyed many, many more periods of calm without the “Do you even care about this person if you are so comfortable living 6 hours away?” question running through my mind.
For the last two weeks my boyfriend has been working in Germany, and I just joined him here so we could have a vacation. Surprisingly, spending 2 weeks apart did not spark any anxieties in me. I was originally going to write to you to recommend a show, a Netflix original series called “Master of None”, specifically the last episode. It is a 10 episode series, and I started watching it while my boyfriend was away. Arriving to his hotel in Germany, and still being on US time, I settled in to watch the last episode before bed last night. After the first few minutes, I knew I needed to tell you and your other readers about it. The main character and his girlfriend go to a wedding. As the groom and bride exchange fairytale vows about having no doubts whatsoever, we see different couples in the crowd give pained looks, obviously comparing their relationships and freaking out that they don’t measure up. The main character then imagines trying to say vows to his girlfriend with a strong message of “I don’t know if you’re the one”. This whole scene fit my personal experience so well. The rest of the episode shows him talking to his father (who had an arranged marriage), his friends, and his girlfriend about it, and I won’t spoil for those who want to watch, but it definitely ends on the message that you aren’t going to feel 100% every day of your relationship.
Half way through the episode, I fell asleep, and had the most realistic, long dream about my boyfriend breaking up with me! It was so real, incorporating parts of our day. I was filled with dread. I woke up at 3 am shaken from the dream, and got some reassurance from my (very sleepy) partner. I finished the episode (headphones in) and now I am happily watching him sleep. There were so many times I would be up like this in the middle of the night struggling with anxiety, but right now I’m calm and so glad to be with him. It’s a 100% moment, but I know there will be days where I don’t feel so hot about us.
Thank you for sharing this, Laura. What an inspiring story of your trajectory!
Do you think numbness is akin to depersonalization? For the last few weeks I have felt so disconnected from reality. It feels like I’m living in a fog or a bubble. It’s truly been a horrible experience and I’m concerned it’s here to stay. It’s made me feel so alien-like and foreign that my loving partner feels like a complete stranger to me. Actually I have had awful experiences where I have felt like I hate him. I’m so confused about what’s going on and it’s really frightening.
Yes, numbness can be a part of depersonalization, but it’s not exactly the same. Are you still in therapy, H? I strongly feel that you need to be seeing someone in person, weekly, in order to move through challenges.
Thanks for your response. Unfortunately the last two therapists I saw in person told me they just couldn’t help me. I have seen several others in the last year and although they didn’t explicitly say they couldn’t help like the last two did, they would often sit there and be amiss for words. To be honest I feel utterly defeated. I have resigned myself to working through this alone now.
I’m wondering if they said they couldn’t help you because they sensed that there’s a part of you that doesn’t want to be helped and/or doesn’t want to help yourself, i.e. the resistant part. If you’re going to therapy but don’t want to take responsibility for yourself by doing the work necessary for growth and healing, there’s nothing any therapist can do to help you. Does that ring a bell?
Thanks for responding. The first therapist that discharged me, i adored. I worked so incredibly hard with her for a year to try and soothe my anxiety. Even my therapist attested to how hard i had been working. Ultimately this played into her decision to discharge me. She could see how hard id been working and yet despite that, we could both see that i was getting worse instead of better. She then suggested I pursue different kinds of therapy (we had been doing CBT). The other therapist (A psychotherapist) told me within two sessions that she personally didn’t think she could help me with what i was going through.
I think there is definitely some truth there to what you are saying (although im not sure it factors into why my therapists couldnt work with me) in that i am somewhat resistant to taking responsibility. I’m just perplexed though. Why would i not want to get better? This isn’t easy living. Also, maybe i’m still unclear on how exactly to take responsibility. Im good with my self care for the most part but other than that i dont know how to show up. I have such a hard time with overwhelming emotion residing in and consuming my body. At times it renders me almost immobile and incapable of doing anything. Im actually really, really unwell, i think. Its so scary.
H: It does, indeed, sound like you’re working very, very hard, and I know how frustration and despairing it can be to work so hard and not see progress. Do you have a trauma history of emotional, physical, and/or sexual abuse? Sometimes talk therapy cannot touch the trauma that lives in our bodies. If that’s the case, I would strongly encourage you to have some EMDR, Brainspotting or Somatic Experiencing sessions. Those therapies work on the level of the body and brain, which is where the trauma lives.
Yes i do have a history of trauma. It was mostly emotional trauma, but i witnessed physical abuse too, towards members of my family. I also grew up seeing the mental illnesses of my parents completely overwhelm them. At one point i heard my dad arguing with my mum after he found a suicide note she had left. I think i was 9 years old or younger. Having grown up in an environment rife with trauma and also having two parents that struggle with their own mental health, within lies me, i think, the perfect storm for what im going through right now.
I have never heard of EMDR or the other therapies you listed. I will look into them. Thanks for the recommendations.
Hi Sheryl- I love your blog and it’s helped me a lot. I suffer with relationship anxiety and have done for about 18 months. I’ve had other types of anxiety in the past but this has been really difficult. I’ve recently got a lot better with counselling, mindfulness and yoga but I am sometimes still troubled by thoughts like ‘what if it’s not right’ and ‘I don’t feel like I’m properly in love’. The second is my main obsession. I worked on this in counselling and identified that I have strong beliefs about what love should be / feel like. Although some weeks I don’t let it get to me, this is the thought that always bothers me. My boyfriend and I have always lived together so I don’t know whether part of this is because we never had that ‘chasing’ period big part of me thinks if it was right then how we got together wouldn’t matter 🙁 when it’s bad it gets me so down and at worst I think about ending it but something inside me doesn’t want to. I just want to feel that ‘Rush’ that I have felt in the past (but those relationships never lasted). Any advice would be great. Thank you!
Have you considered the course? It will address both obsessions in spades:
Yes I’ve heard good things!
I feel so much better now that I have read this (and other) article(s). I had no idea that other people go through this as well; that it is common to feel “unsure” of your feelings towards an amazing partner; and that it even has a term – “relationship anxiety”. I thought I was alone in this, and I was just lost, trying to convince myself that I am in love with my boyfriend.
Just a week ago I was head over heals and 100% sure that I have found someone who is just so compatible with me, loving, compassionate, and amazing. I would tell my friends that if he is not “the one” I don’t know who is; “If I don’t marry this guy, I don’t know who I will marry”. He left to another state for training three weeks ago and I was devastated the first week he left. I think I was in so much pain as if I had lost him. I was sure then that this is it! I love this guy and I am in love with him. This past weekend I went to visit him, and it was a great and fun weekend, but when I came home I started feeling less and less devastated that he is away. Finally, just two days ago I felt nothing. I didn’t even feel the need to text him. We FaceTime and my heart just doesn’t melt like did before when I see his face. As soon as I realized I was feeling that way I naturally started obsessing about it and then the feeling magnified.
Now I am questioning if I am just convincing myself to stay because it is better than being alone; if I was maybe desperate to have someone and I had convinced myself to like this guy in the first place and start a relationship with him. It is a cluster of similar feelings and I hate them. I want them to go away. My brain and my heart (somewhere deep down there) are both telling me that this man is wonderful and I can have a great future with him; but these insecurities are making me feel so dreadful, tired, and trapped.
I am especially worried because I have gone through the same feeling with my last boyfriend and eventually left him because I didn’t love him anymore, and I never really did – it was just passion. The thing is, I know that breaking up my last relationship WASN’T a mistake made out of relationship anxiety. I know now that I never really loved him and it was the right decision to break up. After I broke up and after I wasn’t feeling the withdrawal anymore I was so liberated. Now I am worried and feeling anxious that maybe this is the case with this relationship too. And I really don’t want it to be..
I felt better when I read your blog, but like everything else, I am afraid this is just a temporary relief and I will soon go back to feeling this way again.
I would love to get some advice from you.
Thank you for your work Sheryl.
I will keep coming back to the blog from now on.
How long can this moment last? It is starting to worry me that I truly feel this way about my husband.