Alongside the thoughts, “Maybe I’m just trying to convince myself to stay”, “I don’t know if I love my partner enough”, and “Do we have a strong enough connection?“, the question of finding a “better match” is at the top of the relationship anxiety list of questions. The culture encourages the belief, of course, that there’s one person who is your perfect match, but the thought also plays directly into the mind of the anxious-sensitive-perfectionist psyche. After all, thinks the anxious-perfectionist mind who’s looking for a fail-proof person with whom to take the risk of committed relationship, if I’m going to marry or am already married, shouldn’t I wait for my perfect match? This thought can be particularly debilitating when you’re already married and you think, “Maybe if I had just waited a little longer…”
As always, there are many spokes to the wheel of an intrusive thought. When we perseverate on any particular thought, we must address it from the root to the tip. This requires a diligent process of turning inward and attending to anything that’s needing attention on our multiple levels of being: physical, emotional, cognitive, creative/soul. This process is more than I can explain in a single article (I explain it in depth in my Break Free From Relationship Anxiety E-Course), but the spoke that I can address here is the cognitive realm. For when we’re asking the question, “Is there a better match for me?” we’re usually pointing to a sub-question that asks, “Does my partner really get me?” And here we need to douse our minds with a good dose of truth-water.
I can hear the anxious mind piping up already: “Is that too much to ask for: a partner who understands me?” No, it’s not too much to ask, but what we must understand is that with every blessing in a relationship there is a challenge; with every easy quality there’s another counter-quality that is difficult. So you may be with a partner who doesn’t quite “get” you, but with this disconnect comes a blessing that you probably don’t focus on. Likewise, you may be with a partner who completely “gets” you, but this blessing generally comes with challenges.
In general (and we must always be cautious when it comes to generalizations, especially when we’re walking in the territory of the anxious mind who loves finding the holes in the argument so that it can prove that “I’m the exception” and that your anxiety is actually evidence that you’re with the wrong partner), the two general pairings that I see are the following:
1. The Calm Pairing with Some Disconnect
In this paradigm, the couple enjoys a relatively calm relationship: few fights, good communication, basically peaceful environment. There’s a sweet friendship, but possibly not a lot of sexual chemistry. There’s a solid connection but not always in the deepest way. One person generally has less anxiety and is “the rock”, while the other veers more toward anxiety and emotional instability. The person with more anxiety can feel lonely in this model and wonder if his or her partner really “gets” him or her as the partner doesn’t seem to travel into the same places of depth, and sometimes darkness. Both partners may wonder at times if they’re “just friends.” This is the model that I most often see in my practice.
2. The Deeply Connected Pairing with Volatility
In this model, both partners are on the sensitive-anxious spectrum, which means they completely understand one another but often jut up against each other’s wounds. The positive side of this model is the deep connectivity and often natural sexual chemistry. The challenging side is that with the emotional energy so close to the surface, and both people leaning toward anxiety, volatility is often higher. The stereotype of this model is the Italian couple who have great sex and deep conversations but also can fly into a rage at one another. The passion runs high in all areas, which has its benefits but can also lead to feeling unsafe and a different kind of loneliness than in the first model.
Oh, what an anxiety-provoking post this may be! I can hear the hyper-vigilent minds clicking and calculating: which model are we? And what if we’re neither one? Or what if we’re the “worst” of both? Deep breath. And hold onto this reassurance lifeline: whatever your model, you will have blessings and challenges. You will have ways in which you meet each other and the relationship works, and ways in which you completely miss each other.
But here’s the bottom-line: whatever “type” of relationship you have, if you have a mindset of growth, you will grow toward each other. You will help each other fill in the weak links. This is the ultimate task of being in an intimate relationship: it’s designed to help us grow. It’s not supposed to be easy. It’s not supposed to be perfect. There’s no such thing as a “perfect match”; that only exists on some other realm, not on this human plane (and in the movies). We are here to heal. And one of our greatest vehicles for healing is intimate relationships. I’ll say it again: it’s not supposed to be easy. The gaps – the places where we miss each other – illuminate our opportunities for growth. As Rumi said, “The cracks are where the light shines through.”
This healing toward each other depends on two things:
1. Both partners have a mindset of growth, which means that both partners are open to learning about themselves. This requires a certain degree of humility (opposite of arrogance) and the willingness to hear your partner when he or she reflects back your flaws that need attention. This reflection can be done in a loving way (as happens in the first model), but if it’s done in a volatile and blaming way (as often happens in the second model), hopefully the kernel of truth embedded in the cannonballs of blame can still be heard.
2. An awareness that love grows over time, and that it takes years, if not decades, to grow a healthy marriage garden. If you enter marriage with the expectation that you’re supposed to “have it all”, you will be sorely disappointed, and will be more apt to entertain the notion that there’s a “better match” for you. But if you understand that, over time, you will grow more toward each other, you will have the patience necessary to wade through the difficult years.
If you have these two basic mindsets, I believe that everyone ends up in pretty much the same place: The couples who bemoan the lack of strong connection or chemistry find their ways of opening and becoming more vulnerable with each other and, thus, growing the connection and chemistry, and the couples who have plenty of connection but struggle with volatility and reactivity learn to temper their feelings and communicate in a more loving way. If we stay with the inner work and relationship work, we’ll grow and intertwine in healthy ways, like the invisible roots and ultimately the uppermost branches of two trees who remain together, side-by-side, for a lifetime.