I receive the question below so frequently that I decided it’s time to address it clearly in a post. This version was left as a comment on my blog a while back:
Isn’t there such a thing as a bad match between partners, even if neither of them has red flags? Even if both are kind, caring, and have the willingness to grow and love one another? What about when all that is true but being together feels like nails on a chalkboard and their every move makes your insides grate.
Other couples seem to love one another with so much less bickering, hyper-arousal, and nit picking. What if we’re already doomed because I don’t feel this ease with my partner?
Most people who follow the mainstream model of love would read the above and assume that this couple is, indeed, poorly matched and doomed. Nails on a chalkboard? You have to walk away! Their every move makes your insides grate? That’s not what love is supposed to feel like!
I hold a vastly different view, one that recognizes that embedded inside of deep love is deep fear, and fear shows up as irritation, annoyance, and even rage. Yes, rage!
So in the above comment as long as the relationship is based on a foundation of friendship (you like each other when anxiety isn’t in the way), shared vision and values, and a mutual willingness to grow, then it’s a good match. What she’s describing, then, is the effects of fear.
Fear is one of the most powerful forces that churns in our inner cauldrons, and when it is unleashed – which is what happens in the presence of available, healthy love – it can make you feel like you’re not only going to jump out of your skin but out of the atmosphere.
I know this level of fear.
I know irritation and judgement and disdain. I know it because of the thousands of people who I’ve walked through not only relationship anxiety but also lack of attraction, lack of feeling in love, and the myriad ways that fear throws out roadblocks and obstacles to prevent you from taking the risk of loving.
I also know because I was there. In the beginning of my relationship with my husband, when fear first started to rear its powerful head, everything inside of me wanted to run.
Well, not everything. Because I was steeped in Jungian theory, I understood that I was in a massive projection, and with the help of my therapist at the time I was able to name the projection and decode it layer by layer.
Relationship anxiety grabbed me by the ankles a hundred times but I was able to pull myself out of the underworld a hundred and one times because I knew that this was the first man who was emotionally available, the first man who I wasn’t chasing after, the first man who was seeing me and loving me from my gifts to my wounds, the first man who I knew, deep in my bones, was as safe as glistening warm water and as solid as an ancient tree trunk.
So I worked my tail off and called fear onto the mat daily and hourly.
From the soil of my relationship, we grew not only our loving home and family, but the work that I’ve taught for the last twenty years. The building blocks of this work – the Love Laws and Loving Actions that allow you to soften fear-walls so that you can move toward real love – are what I teach in Open Your Heart: A 30-day course to grow love and attraction to your partner.
Let’s analyze the original comment a bit further:
Other couples seem to love one another with so much less bickering, hyper-arousal, and nit-picking.
First off, are you sure about that? We never know what goes on behind closed doors, but we can safely assume from the abysmal divorce and marriage satisfaction rate in Western culture that most people struggle quite a bit in their relationships. You might not see it. Your friends might not be talking about it. But give a relationship five or ten years and throw in a kid or two and there will be plenty of insides grating and feeling like you’re going to jump out of your skin.
Oh, you’ve been struggling like this since the beginning, you say?
Yes, that’s because fear has been present from the beginning. As soon as you sensed that your partner was emotionally available, that this was someone you didn’t have to chase and pursue, the fear signal was triggered and alarm bells starting ringing.
And nit-picking? If you come from a long line of nit-pickers, as most people do, it’s likely that you’re going to replicate these negative habits in your own relationship… until you learn better. This, too, is one of the Love Laws and Loving Actions that I teach in Open Your Heart.
Here are two of the keys to breaking through what appears to be a doomed relationship: (As always with my work, this is predicated on the assumption that you’re in a healthy, loving, well-matched partnership. I know that relationship anxiety can undo all of those words, but deep down, when anxiety isn’t in the driver’s seat, you know if your relationship is healthy or if it’s not):
1. Learn How to Soften the Fear Walls
There are tangible, daily actions that will help you identify how fear manifests for you, what it looks like and sounds like, and what the steps are to soften them. Fear can be a tricky demon so we have to learn to expose its convincing maneuvers that prevent us from seeing it clearly.
When we’re seeing through fear-eyes, the most handsome or beautiful partner in the world can look like a monster. But when we rinse the doors of perception and see through clear-eyes, the shining essence of our partner, which radiates beauty from the inside out, is revealed.
2. Replace the Negative Habits with Positive Actions that Shrink Fear and Grow Love
This isn’t just theory or nice words; these are real, daily actionable practices that will help you pull out the weeds of what is not serving you so that you can plant nourishing, positive seeds into your foundational soil. From a rich foundation, a beautiful garden grows.
This is what I teach in Open Your Heart: A 30-day Course to Feel More Love and Attraction to Your Partner. Love is a skill, and while we learn some basic skills in school like how to read and do math, we don’t learn the skill of loving. This eighteenth round of the course will start on Saturday, March 25, 2022, and I will teach you just that: the art and skill of loving. I very much look forward to meeting you there.
P.S. If you struggles with the attraction spike, please listen to our latest Gathering Gold episode on “Redefining Attraction.” The bonus episode, where I talk about my earliest templates of attraction and how they showed up in later relationships, will come out next week.
Note: This is the first time I’ve led Open Your Heart live in two years, and the live round includes two group coaching calls. If you can’t make the live calls, you’ll receive the recording afterwards:
Whenever you post, it’s like you’re reading my mind.
My relationship is healthy (when anxiety/fear stops it’s criticism) but recently my partner and I have been arguing a lot- for no real reason. Everything he seems to do is annoying me and he says my attitude generally sucks. I really angry and irritable but I don’t know why- we generally communicate quite well when we argue but it’s making me pretty unhappy to constantly feel this way (and I know he’s not feeling great either). Is this what you mean by the above post? Ways to manage those feelings or irritation, anger and conflict? I just want to go back to enjoying my relationship really without feeling like this. And just as an FYI the arguments we have- are never over anything serious! Just small, trivial things.
Thanks again, always.
Learning how to navigate conflict is a relationship skill that comes with time and dedication. I recommend Sue Johnson’s book “Hold Me Tight.”
Thanks for this, a great post. I have almost the opposite problem: I FEEL huge amounts of love, I just obsess over objective ‘rightness’ and compatibility from a scientific perspective (intelligence is my major spike)
It sounds like your mind is trying to protect your heart, which is exactly what the mind does.
What do you mean by “well-matched”?
A basis of friendship and similar core values and vision.
Yes to your entire post, Sheryl! This was me from date one. Someone who is open, available, and who’s heart feels safe? My heart said, “No thank you! That scares the hell out of me.” But deep inside I loved my now husband’s essence. And no matter how much fear tried to accuse him of every negative thing under the sun I always would end up seeing how it wasn’t true and was a projection of years of abuse from my family. Now as I’m learning to 1) Like myself and 2) move through the world with less fear, my heart has opened more to myself, my husband, and others around me. I don’t feel so afraid of love anymore. I still experience fear on a daily basis, but the voices of love quickly come and assure me everything is okay.
I hope to assure others that the process is worth it. After going through 25 years of emotional abuse and a history of physical abuse, all which were plagued with fear, avoidance and anxiety, its nice to start living a life thats more authentic to who I really am. Honestly, I owe so much to Sheryl, God, and the loving wise people in my life that walked and still walk with me, and myself for finally owning up and taking responsibility. I agree with Sheryl that if I can do it, then anyone can.
Beautiful, Sara. Healing really is possible!
What happens when you love your husband and he is gay? Is there no hope? Did I choose him unconsciously to protect myself. He has cheated on me with other men. Do I stay because I am scared? Do I stay cause this is what I feel like I deserve? I got general anxiety after my dad died 3 years ago. I have kept my husbands secret for years. Slowly I have started to speak about it with certain people.
I think you probably know the answer to your questions. I strongly encourage you to keep talking to people, and consider finding a loving and skilled therapy to guide you.
Do i have to be in a relationship to take this Open Your Heart course?
You don’t have to but a lot of the Loving Actions are meant to be practiced with a partner.
This post is beautiful and I truly appreciate the words. Reading that last part, I understand what it’s like to be on the other side of fear. I’ve been through relationship anxiety last year but once I learned I wasn’t alone and that love is ultimately a choice, I was back to feeling truly grateful for being with my partner. I have been struggling with the relationship anxiety again however, when a vivid memory of me having it last year popped into my head, including intrusive thoughts telling me I’ll eventually break his heart. It scared me so much and I was back to this debilitating fear. As I’ve started to manage my anxiety the fear has lessened but, I still have this feeling like I’ll never fully be able to get back to that loving place with my partner and it gives me a feeling of hopelessness.
This post might help:
Thank you Sheryl, my mind likes to use my so called “relapse” as a reason why I’m in the wrong relationship and it’s such a convincing hook. I know there are still layers of healing and learning to be done so this post was a wonderful reminder.
Hi Sheryl, this post is so helpful as I navigate relationship anxiety!! I’m curious what you mean by shared vision?
Shared vision is holding a similar idea for what you want in your life – things like: kids or no kids; working well together about money; talking about where you want to live and what kind of lifestyle you want to lead.
I normally don’t comment on blog posts related to relationship anxiety because I know I need to use the forum instead, but my questions are directly related to specific phrases in this post. Hopefully they don’t come across in a way that I don’t mean. My super analytical mind is just tossing these around and not knowing what to do with them.
“…I was steeped in Jungian theory…” – You say that if the deep love you have for your husband now is possible for you, it’s possible for us, but you said you came from a background of Jungian theory, so the foundation was there. For those of us who have not been steeped in it all our lives, I would think we have a deeper hole to climb out of. How can I reassure myself about that?
“…I knew, deep in my bones…” – This has always been spikey for me. I do not have that knowing. Sometimes I hear the message that this is okay; other times I hear the message that I’m alone in feeling like this. Again I’m not sure what kind of truth water to pour on this.
“this is predicated on the assumption that you’re in a healthy, loving, well-matched partnership…” – I’m a little confused. The title of the blog post sounds like it is going to lead into a discussion of how, by learning and practicing the love laws, you can practically make it work with anyone because you’re choosing to love. I understand what you mean about how anxiety undoes certain words, but it does sound like you’re saying that being a good match is indeed a prerequisite. Can you clarify?
Thank you. I’m sure you’re all too familiar with the mind of an overthinker.
Your comment isn’t mean at all ;). What I hear is that your fear has just moved directly into the driver’s seat and your loving and wise inner parent has jumped out the passenger window. If you were to read this comment on the forum, how would you respond from your most wise and loving self? I know you can do it ;).
Thank you, yes, my fear did jump into the driver’s seat as it likes to do so often. Let’s see…
1. Most people taking the courses/learning this work were not steeped in Jungian theory, so you are definitely not alone or at a disadvantage! That’s what this is all about, learning new ways of thinking little by little, piece by piece, alongside so many others who have similar struggles. Any time you’re feeling like the exception, that’s your fear talking.
2. You may not think you have a deep knowing, but there is a reason why you said yes and gave him a chance in the first place and have stayed in this for over three years. Something in you knows it’s a loving choice. Try not to get so stuck on the phrase “deep knowing.” It manifests differently for different people.
3. Your anxiety is in the way the vast majority of the time. When it’s there, it blocks any possibility of feeling love and connection. With that in mind, trust that you are a good match and that you’ll come to see this more as you practice the work more.
Most people have more than one hook!
I have the same question as Heidi, based on confusion over your article title and then your paragraph about being well-matched. What is a good match?
I edited the post so that it’s more clear, but to answer your question: Being well-matched is having a foundation of friendship (you like each other when anxiety isn’t in the way), shared vision and values, and a mutual willingness to grow.
What happens when your partner doesn’t show up in the ways you need them to. They’re not a bad person but just not in tune and very passive?
Give me an example. We have to distinguish between needs and wants.
Say, not romantic or particularly affectionate. Or not really “in tune” to the details of daily living and don’t notice what needs to be taken care of until they’re told (which ends up feeling like parenting at some point).
These sound like very common relationship struggles. I recommend going to EFT couples therapy if you’re both open.
Anyone you recommend in particular? Thank you again
Type in your city and you’ll see a list of certified EFT therapists in your area:
Thank you again
What if you do this internal work but your partner is the problem? I’ve been married for 10 years and we’ve been struggling with frequent arguments and unmet needs. I try to be aware of my own issues but I feel that he just doesn’t see me or hear me the way he used to. I think he’s the problem and I’m not sure our relationship will improve unless he changes.
At some point in every long-term relationship you will reach what seems like an insurmountable impasse, and it almost always seems like the other person is the problem. This is particularly poignant when there are children in the picture. Have you tried couples counseling? I recommend the EFT model, which is linked above. I recommend the book “Why Talking is Not Enough?” by Susan Page and I HIGHLY recommend “Hold Me Tight” by Sue Johnson. It’s very, very rarely just one person who is the problem.
What if your partner is the problem? Meaning, what if you do the internal work necessary to grow and your partner doesn’t? I feel like unless you’re both trying this idea of breaking through fear to deepen love will never work.
See above ;).
Sheryl, I would like to make a suggestion and express a long time wish
I would love if you wrote
more about the issues like Marlene and Gabrielle addressed above. It would be so nice if the dilemmas and issues of long time partners could have a little more of space in the blog.
My feeling is that you have experience of it to write more about it.
So, when I read you reccomending HoldMe Tight, I wonder “why not talk more on the blog about this with your words?”
Books and blogs can have different purposes. I read Hold Me Tight when you reccomended it to me during a Open Your Heart course, but I receive your email everyweek on my email box and I like the different ways you approach the themes of your work in each blog.
I would love if the emails contained more about the challenges of longer relationships.
Always grateful for what you share with us! Thank you!
Agreed! Great suggestion!
Hi Sheryl I’ve been waiting for this blog post for probably two years. When I saw the title my heart was like “spot on”. Thank you for sharing this. I have some more questions that I hope you could clarify:
1. What is emotionally available?
The guy I love the past two years have been isolating himself in the past year. The more I demand him being there for me, the more he shuns away, leading to us breaking up. I am certain we are still in love, but I can’t handle the pain of him stonewalling me when I want to talk. I can’t shake off the thought that I can’t trust he’ll be there when I need him most
2. What is the same core values and same vision?
His parents divorced when he was 8. He has 3 sisters. He grew up feeling like he always needs to validate other’s emotions. Now he doesn’t want to do that anymore. I want him to communicate and not stonewall me. Is this core value difference or communication problem?
3. Does this sound like ROCD or is there a real issue?
Sorry if this was too long. Thank you so much for sharing this.
1. Emotionally available is someone who is willing to work on their emotional blocks, and also address the relationship dynamic between the two of you that may be contributing to his shutdown. Please read “Hold Me Tight” to learn more.
2. This sounds like a communication issue, not a core value issue.
3. There are real issues, as there always are in relationships, and there may also be relationship anxiety in the mix.
I love your work, Sheryl. I’m struggling with determining the health if my relationship. He’s very committed to growth, and we are compatible in lots of.important ways, but I’ve caught him lying about connecting with women online multiple times. I love him very much, and he keeps saying he wants to change (he has come a long way, and I want to.believe he’s capable of becoming the partner I need, but the trust has been so broken). Is this a lost cause?
He trust would need to be repaired, which means he would have to seek support for his lying and possible addiction, and the two of you would likely need couples’ counseling.
Hi Sheryl, I’m currently working through the Break Free course, and wondering in what ways this course is different? Would you recommend doing both? I’m still struggling with a lot of intrusive thoughts and my partner now knows about my struggle with anxiety (but I haven’t told him the exact nature of the anxiety as I don’t want to hurt him by sharing the actual thoughts and fears of not loving him enough, not being attracted enough, etc). Thanks! I appreciate your work <3
The courses are quite different, and you’ll also receive direct support from me through the coaching calls on this course (if you ask a question). You can learn more about the differences between the two courses here:
Thank you for the wonderful, well-written post, Sheryl.
I feel that I go through some sort of cycles: At times, I feel completely comfortable, content, and very grateful that I have been in a relationship with my partner for over 7 years now. However, some other times I feel bored, irritated, and somewhat more distant from him. My mind pictures what my life could potentially be without him, which brings about the sensation of curiosity. Yet, combined with feeling distance from him, it all turns into a profound feeling of sadness and even dread. It feels as if I am at the bottom of some dark and nasty pit, and all I wish for is to get back to feeling joyful, optimistic, and content next to my partner again. Such cycles repeat over, and over again in a span of several months.
What is it?
It sounds like you may be projecting your own cycles of darkness/light onto your partner.
Thank you for this very valuable insight! I feel like you might have hit the bull’s eye. Is this type of projection a common phenomenon in relationship anxiety? Could you please recommend some useful article/reading on this topic?
There are many articles on my site on projection, and it’s the primary focus of this course:
Hi Sheryl, what do you mean when some is emotionally unavailable?
My boyfriend is committed, patient and loyal and has kind intentions. But he struggles with talking openly about his personal feelings or about issues in our relationship. He tries (and he seems to develop at is) but sometimes he shuts down completely and there is no talking possible. Or sometimes, when he is tired, overwhelmed, or unaware, he can be a bit distancy and in his head. Not connected to his feelings, which makes me feel like i can’t ‘get to him’. That can feel quite lonely sometimes. Is that emotional unavailability?
This is NOT emotional unavailability. This is someone who has a hard time talking about his emotions (which many people do).
The one stumbling block we always hit in our relationship is how we fall out and argue. Neither of us are very good at it if I’m being honest – I’ve started noticing in myself some of the learned behaviours I saw within my own family when they argued cropping up when I’m charged, and now I’ve noticed them I’m trying to change the way I behave during an argument. And recently my boyfriend has started doing the same, which is a massive step as he’s quite a private man and isn’t super comfortable discussing his emotions – it’s not really the language he’s used to hearing at home as both his parents lost their fathers young and have had to ‘toughen up’ and face the world without them, which is very sad, and this has naturally filtered into the way my boyfriend deals with big emotions. He’s started to apologise (we both apologise at the end of an argument now, which is a massive step in the right direction!) and he’s also started to logicize what underlying thoughts or life events are leading him to be more irritable and prone to arguments which, again, is a massive improvement from even a few months ago.
What really hurts is that he gets so upset after he’s been angry or after we’ve argued, which naturally upsets me and taps into my need to help and heal others. He thinks it’s wrong, he worries that he’s hurting me and that his behaviour isn’t fair on me. I see the kind, loving, playful man that he is, and my own journey through the forest of anxiety has helped me identify the patterns of behaviour that lead the both of us towards an argument, or that leads to either of us having a bad day. But it’s almost like my reasoning makes him even more sad because he thinks I’m a much better person than him.
I know that I cannot change him – I don’t want to. I do wish sometimes I could take his pain away, but I know that’s not possible, and I also know that I can only do so much for him. In the space of a year it almost feels like the shoe is on the other foot, and his anxiety is more potent than mine. How can I help him weather this storm?
Just by continuing to be his loving partner and mirroring back his essence, which you see so clearly. It sounds like a shame character gets activated for him after a fight, and unfortunately there’s not much you can do to help someone else out of their shame spiral other than continuing to love them. If he’s open to therapy, that would be wonderful.
I think it’s early days for him to seek therapy…he’s still fairly certain at the moment that he ‘can’t be fixed’. However, he is softening slowly, especially having seen how much of a difference counselling and therapy have been to me. And forcing him will make him retreat, I know that, and that’d be no good. I also know that he went to therapy as a child and had a bad experience, so I think he’s worried that it didn’t work, and that it didn’t work for a reason.
I also feel, because I’ve battled anxiety and relstionship anxiety myself, that knowing the patterns and spirals myself makes me more hyper aware of his torment, which at times is a blessing, as I can be more empathetic, but other times a curse as I know exactly how horrible it can be and how frighteningly convincing the shame voice can be which makes me worry on his behalf. All I can do is pull on my inner work and help as best I can, whilst also being kind to myself knowing there’s only so much that I can do. My wise inner parent has really come to the fore of late, and I’m finding immense comfort and courage in it’s voice.
This definitely speaks to me at the moment. My partner can irritate me a lot and when I feel like that I just can’t seem to shake it. It happens frequently and can be over small things (she can be quite repetitive in what she’s saying (to which internally I respond to with impatience and sometimes label her as stupid which I know is massively harsh and critical), has a tendency to exaggerate and sometimes be judgemental of others) but part of me can’t help but worry that these are fundamental things of her personality and therefore maybe I just don’t *like* her enough? Which plays into the anxiety of maybe we aren’t good enough friends.
But on the flip side, when we first got together it was so much fun, we talked for hours and really enjoyed each other. I went through a phase of being 100% sold and convinced that she was the person I wanted to build a life with. Now I can’t help but see all the negative qualities and be unsure. All of this makes her feel bad and I feel like I’m not being a good enough partner to her and that she deserves someone who’s not going to get irritated so much, nit pick and can’t just be happy like she was before I brought all this into the relationship.
I definitely have a lot to work through and hope I can find the strength and self compassion to make it work as I really feel like this is something that sits inside of me and would happen to some degree with any partner (a voice in my head is now saying that even if that’s the case, maybe it’s not supposed to be *this* hard or happen to this degree). Thanks Sheryl for your work, and strength and solidarity to anyone who’s feeling similar things at the moment.
I agree with you here 100%:
“I definitely have a lot to work through and hope I can find the strength and self compassion to make it work as I really feel like this is something that sits inside of me and would happen to some degree with any partner (a voice in my head is now saying that even if that’s the case, maybe it’s not supposed to be *this* hard or happen to this degree).”
And yes it would be THIS hard! The seed of the discontent lives within you, and as long as you believe the projection that the problem is her, you will continue to suffer.
This is exactly how I feel! I haven’t really read any posts that I related to more. I am engaged to my best friends brother. From the beginning, I had anxiety because I liked him beforehand and there were high stakes. He was very nervous in the beginning so that was a bit of a turn off. Then we continued dating and I would get anxious and irritated but we also had alot of fun and became great friends! I remember some dates that I was like “aha. This clarity is what Ive been waiting for”. But the clarity never stayed because I would be worrying about if he would repeat stuff, if every joke was funny, if he had a high enough vocabulary, if he said a word or phrase too often…all these things had the effect of making me wonder if I even liked him and if we were compatible or not. There are also so many beautiful memories of butterflies and deep feelings of connection and longing. These feelings are overtaken though by negative emotions so I completely relate to you. Even during my engagement I have been going through big spikes which make it hard to prepare for the wedding and sometimes make me want to call it off. I also relate to the guilt you describe in your post exactly
This is an issue for me. I feel somewhere “this is wrong”. My husband has so many good qualities, but I feel I have given up on things I dreamed about lifestyle-wise. We have similar values, but also we have quite a different cultural background. This is tormenting. I feel like there is something wrong and missing, and I feel a lack of joy……
I really dont know if we are a “well-matched” partnership
This sounds like relationship anxiety, Veronica. This article may help:
I took the course Break Free from RA last autumn. It has already helped a bit but I will go through it several times. But I’d also like to get more information on the issues that are talked about on Open Your Heart -course.
My question is: how much do these courses overlap? Are the articles perhaps somewhat the same or is the content “new”? Would it be worthwhile to take both if one feels resonated by this post?
The courses are quite different with very little overlap. This page might help:
(Sorry if I’m double posting but I can’t see my comment)
How much does the Open Your Heart -course overlap with the Break Free from RA? I took it in the autumn and can see its positive effects but this post resonates a lot and I’d like to know more about the topics talked about on OYH.
Will the content repeat a lot what is on Break Free or would I get new insights?
Also, is there a limited amount of members or can I decide on the last minute? 😀
See above 😉
Different values are a trigger for me. We have some the same: time in nature, health and family but I value altruism/philanthropy more and he values saving money more than which is tough. It worries me that you say shared values. I love him and his company but wish we were more similar.
I hope you’re doing well! I love your posts as I navigate relationship anxiety (I also have your book which has helped me so much as well). My partner is wonderful. Emotionally available, willing to grow (himself and inside the relationship), safe, (we share the same core values/what we want for the future),helpful, tries EVERYDAY.
Here’s one thing that I have been obsessing about and that spikes me: when people say they talk to their partner for hours
I feel like sometimes there’s a blockage and our conversations don’t flow. I don’t think we’ve ever talked for ours, I’ve just felt like a contentment being around him, but I do scan the restaurants we are at together to see other couples chatting up a storm and we tend to have more awkward silences.
Would this be a complete deal breaker? It really frightens needs. Any insight would be helpful. Thank you so much
It is so good to read about others having this anxiety. My BF and I met 6 years ago and from day one he showed me that he wanted to be with me. Fastforward 6 years of constant unidentified relationship anxiety our relationship is on the edge of falling apart. I told him , I didnt love him, I wanted my freedom , I didnt feel connected , I want to leave him uncountable times out of a lot of fear and because I believed my fear. I knew it was something that always occured in very close relationships and friendships. Thats why I didnt leave. And because we have to Kids. So i knew I was scared but I didnt know how to behave or unproject. So I started obessing over him , destroying him and being unable to see anything good in him. And now he sais he is just so tired. And still wants to be with me. But doesnt know what to do anymore. Since I told him so.many times what a bad person he is and how he hás to be so I can love him he is shutting down and doesnt want to talk right now. Which triggers everything even more. I do love him and see is beautiful essence and see how much he always fought for me and he still is with me. I just dont know what to do as a next step. He doesnt want couples therapy right now , just because he is in a very bad place himself now. And I want to turn this.around because when fear isnt dictating its truth we are awesome and loving. Any suggestions how to start the shift?
I love your posts and they give me so much hope that I can grow and heal.
But I often find myself stuck.
I clearly see that I have been suffering from intrusive thoughts and relationship anxiety in my relationships, but it’s stronger than ever now. I shift between “What if I’m gay?”, “Is my relationship enough?” “Can I change?” and it goes on.
I have had relationship anxiety and intrusive thoughts since the beginning of the relationship and sometimes I feel so hopeless. I could use some advice from you, I would love to take your course since the waiting list for a therapist in Norway is so long and I don’t have the money for a private therapist or your course. So I often feel so alone and stuck.
Keep reading through my site including the Blog Collections and you’ll find a lot of support and guidance.
You’re definitely not alone. It’s so reassuring to read through comments on this blog and see people’s stories and the similarities of what they are going through as well. I didn’t even know this was a thing until I started feeling these “symptoms” of relationship anxiety. It’s been quite taxing to go through. I’m just writing you to reassure you that you’re not alone in these feelings. I wish I could offer more advice or better hope but I haven’t been able to get over this mountain yet myself. So from one relationship anxiety sufferer to an other.. I hear you, and we can thank you God for leading us to this blog because by the looks of it, there IS hope and there is a possible light at the end of the relationship anxiety tunnel ??❣️ God bless
1.) What if you and your partner generally like each other, mostly because you are both comfortable and familiar with one another, and have been together for 2 decades, and raising children together, rather than sharing a deep, meaningful and mutual friendship?
2.) What if you are both good people, but the relationship itself is not mutual? As in, I am married to a super nice and helpful guy, who will happily “allow me” to push/pull/drag him into any counseling, courses, seminars, etc. And he will read the books or do the surface level exercises, if I coax him into doing so, or a counselor coaxes him into doing so. However, it feels like appeasement, or doing it out of duty, rather than a true mutual willingness, that comes from one’s own inner-motivation. He says he wouldn’t choose to do any of these things on his own, and when I stop dragging him along, he doesn’t mutually offer anything as far as learning about/growing/improving our relationship. In fact, for the past 3 years, since I stopped pulling him along, we have not done ANY relationship work together, or anything to improve our severely struggling marriage. (FYI – I stopped pulling him along, per my counselors advice, to allow space and room for HIM to step up and grow and offer and bring things to the table of our relationship. Yet, he has not. No movement at all.)
3.) What if you’ve talked to your partner about how there are years of things that need to be worked on and ESPECIALLY repaired between the two of you, and because you want to get back to “love”… and he does/says nothing? Offers nothing? No ideas, no setting up counseling, nothing?
I feel like he’s in the boat with me and isn’t going to abandon ship. (Which loyalty is a great quality.) However, he doesn’t want to “row” the boat along with me and see all of the wonders we could uncover, if only we were digging in and learning together.
4.) Sheryl, I dragged him through your courses 3 times, along with others, along with marriage counseling. Per your suggestion that he do his own growth work as well and work on healing some childhood stuff and fears, (which he has not done), he chooses to remain as is. Anxiety and fears DO keep him stuck. He has no motivation to do anything about this.
I feel like after 20 years and 2 kids, I am to either choose to stay with him, knowing THIS is how he’ll be for the rest of our lives… or I choose to leave and find a partner who values relationship more highly. This is hard on me because I also value nuclear family, and keeping my family together. Yet, I am not modeling a good marriage/mutual relationship for my children. It would break my heart if they grew up and experienced the same non-mutual marriage that I am currently living and modeling to them.
I feel constantly torn in two… with what I wish could be… and the reality of what is…
I completely hear your pain and your conflict, and I send you blessings as you continue to wrestle until you find your clarity.
I’ve come back to this post after my boyfriend just ended our relationship. We had not been together very long and relationship anxiety was something I struggled with since the very beginning. I began your break free from relationship anxiety course at the beginning of last month and felt a lot of reassurance going through that process. One thing that I’ve struggled with in this relationship was a sense that something was “missing”. My partner and I were both on the anxious spectrum and frequently found ourselves asking each other how we were feeling or what was wrong. This sense of something missing continued to grow and I kept feeling that we were just missing each other and that the relationship lacked sense of warmth, friendliness and closeness. We both expressed feeling distant and disconnected from one another. Whenever I went to ask for my needs to be met, to feel more warmth and closeness, my partner felt criticized and stated that his quietness and reserved nature was just who he was. I’ve had a lot of doubts around whether or not this match would be sustainable. We had many shared values and goals and he was a very loving and available partner. I am just left wondering if my needs for more warmth and friendliness from my partner were more of my own projection of what I expected him to be or were these irreconcilable differences in personality that made for a poor match. When he ended the relationship he expressed that he felt like he was trying too hard to make it work and that relationships should be somewhat easier.
Having a need for warmth and friendliness is healthy. I’m wondering if he could have an avoidant attachment style, which would create more anxiety and distance for you. I recommend reading the book “Attached” to learn more.
Thank you for your feedback. I’ll certainly look into that. In the beginning of the relationship he identified his attathment style as anxious/avoidant, which is my same style as well. We had very similar upbringings. He was most definitely the more reserved one in the relationship and I often felt lonely and would bid for connection frequently. Perhaps that is what pushed him away.
Thank you for this ❤️ But how do you know if you’re experiencing relationship anxiety or if you’re just not well-matched with your partner?
I’ve been in a long distance relationship for a year now. We spent a year beforehand talking regularly and getting to know each other. I’ve always struggled with anxiety about us even when we were just getting to know each other, but I kept choosing to know him and eventually love him. Now, in the midst of this pandemic, my anxiety is really ramping up. It’s making me rethink everything and wonder if we’re well-matched. Lately I’ve been fixating on one key difference between us: I tend to need a lot of emotional reassurance in this relationship, whereas my partner has a lot of trust and feels that he loves me and isn’t worried about it. I find I need to be reassured a lot, but it’s not something that comes instinctually to him. He says he loves me but he doesn’t always say it as often as I feel like I need to hear it. Does this mean we’re not well matched? How do I tell the difference?
I just re-stumbled upon this beauty THANK GOSH. One of my constant questions is what really defines core values and vision? I’m not sure if it’s a hook or not but I don’t feel entirely certain if ours align? We both want kids, we both want to get married at some point but sometimes I think I’m too out there for him particularly with living a conscious life and raising conscious / emotionally intelligent children. And since my relationship started based off of physical attraction, do I really like this person as a human?
I’ve been reading your blog for years.
I’m in a lot of pain, and I feel like my anxiety is telling me to leave the person I love.
I’m very much in love with my partner of two years, but we argue constantly due to the fact that we both struggle with anxiety and ADHD.
I’ve tried to drag him to couple’s therapy, or convince him to go to individual therapy and he just won’t budge.
Meanwhile I’m doing a lot to work on myself and our relationship.
I feel like he’s cowardly and lazy and is just sitting down and watching our relationship crumble while I do all the work.
He always blames my outbursts which I know are a problem, but he brings a lot of stress and negative behaviour into the relationship that he just expects me to accept, and when I don’t he gets mad and says I don’t “accept him”, when so simply don’t accept being given the brunt of emotional labor.
I love him but I’m starting to resent him and see him as the bad guy. I feel my heart shutting down and my attraction and connection to him is waning.
In times of anxiety I’ve always turned to this blog.
Can somebody please, please give me some advice about this dead end?
Have you ever read the 5 love languages by Gary Chapman? It would maybe be worth while to explore what that book has to offer your relationship. You may not be speaking each other’s love language. Maybe he would be interested in knowing his own and also getting to know yours. It might give you both clarity on your own struggles within the relationship and your own emotional needs. I don’t have much advice to give since I’m also struggling with my own RA ? but I’ve found this book helpful and hopeful. God bless ?
I can relate to you. I feel some similarities in my relationship where there is a lot of conflict. I also think both me and partner struggle with anxiety, but he is less open/aknowledging of his anxiety. Sometimes I wonder about the difference between relationship conflict/issues/problems and relationship anxiety. Aka am I really responsible for my feelings when there is significant conflict? Wouldn’t conflict cause people without generalized anxiety to also feel anxious? Have you taken any of Sheryl’s courses? Definitely they have given me more hope than I have felt before. She also has a lot of helpful tools to use in those times when you blame your partner. And the more I read, the more I think…relationships are super complicated! And we can always do things to improve ourselves and take care of ourselves that can have positive effects on our partner or our relationship.
Thanks for this Sheryl. I love your work and have your book too! I recently started the separation process with my husband of 10 years. I wish I were the situation as above in italics in your post – that sounds like a great place to be (nit-picking an all!) Emotional availability, no red flags, and a willingness to grow together is really important. If I had those things, I would not have asked for a separation. Such as it is, I’d rather be friends with my likely-to-be-ex-husband than continue the way things have been with both of us.
Since I’ve asked for this separation, I feel free and unburdened, and incredibly sad as I love him so much (and he does me, in his own way). I wish things were better, but we’ve had years and years of strain and pain that is just not moving no matter how much I work on myself. It’s been quite the journey these past 14 years together, and I wouldn’t trade it for anything, but I also know that staying in this for another 14+ years is not right for me. This has been the hardest decision of my life, and yet I feel peace for making the decision.
I’m so glad you’ve found your peace and clarity, Fala. Yes, without emotional availability, no red flags, and a willingness to grow together a relationship has little chance of surviving and thriving.
I’m discovering this post retroactively, and, phew, it’s ultra helpful to me right now! Thank you.
It’s reassuring to hear that with the bedrocks of friendship/liking, mutual-growth mindsets, shared vision and values, that there is indeed hope. Thank you.
I’m recognizing recently that, both my partner and I are very hsp-ish and yet evolved communicators but fairly highly triggered right now by past challenges). The first 3 or so months (with some trip-ups) felt jubilant, full of laughter, and play. Off and on for the last month-ish, we’re been frustrated/irritated with each other around requesting/giving/sharing space. She said last night “we shouldn’t be talking about our relationship this much: it shouldn’t be this hard this early,” to which I said: “I think that life has thrown us all the major events – death, job loss, job uncertainty, and major health issues- in these months, and that we’ve done well, and are now getting to new levels of reality and challenges, triggering each other, that require learning new levels of understanding together.” That said, I also worry about the tension these challenges create. We have a lot in common, are very playful and curious together, have similar life goals, and similar family values. We have only been together for 4+ months, but have in that time expanded a lot, spent a great deal of time together, and have – for the first time in any relationship for me – made the future tense a normal part of conversations (which scares the h*ll out of me as much as it excites me).
A question within this: what do you do when you’re recognizing that you’re coming to places in which there are differences in needs (ie space vs closeness, talking vs quietude, verbal processing vs internal processing), and are “snagging” on each other emotionally, creating tension? We are both well-versed in psychology, and if anything, perhaps do borderline “over-talk” issues. We’re trying out setting aside time to talk about us every 2 weeks, to see if allowing the play and the connecting to not feel crushed by our numerous discussions. Is there hope there too? I think there is, but, dang, it’s really hard and scary.
I am recognizing how much I need to grow. Growing up my family perceived space as negative, a threat or punishment, and I struggle to take space requests well, sometimes countering with a request for connection and closeness. I appreciate my own space, and want to be better about letting requests for it (say, non-sleepover nights, or mornings apart to work-) not translate as negative. By focusing on all the ways that I can grow, how do I make sure not to lose myself?
So my girlfriend is a physically affectionate person at all whereas I am. Is this a red flag? I have asked her about this but she said it’s not really her and it’s not fair for me to ask her to change, which I haven’t now.
We do however trust each other and see a future together. I find sometimes that conversation isn’t always free flowing and this also gives me anxiety.
She shows love in other ways I.e offers advice if I need it or asks me to let her know when I get home. Does this sound like a loving relationship?
Sorry that was meant to say my girlfriend is not a physically affectionate person. By that I mean she doesn’t really initiate physical intimacy and it’s not something that comes naturally to her.
Hi Sheryl – this post speaks to me on some level about bad matching but my thought seems to be “what if I just don’t like him as a friend”? This thought always comes on the heels of him making a joke that gives me a sort of pit in my stomach. My husband grew up with brothers, he played sports his whole life, his type of joking is what you might call “ribbing” but it’s never malicious. And I don’t really even feel hurt by what he’s joking about, I just get this weird pit that I can’t define and it’s throws me into a spin. “Am I upset about what he said?” “His jokes are mean” “he’s not kind” etc. But when I quiet the thoughts, all I’m left with is the pit. I’ve been doing my best to sit with it but I have yet to come to a realization of what it’s pointing to. I’m not afraid of telling my husband if his jokes are hurtful or needing to create a boundary but I can’t even figure out if his jokes are hurtful or if it’s coming from a wound or expectation. All I know is that my husband wouldn’t intentionally hurt me, his jokes are meant to be playful and to make connection. The pit is just throwing me.
I encourage you to explore the pit separate from what it means about your relationship. Be curious about the fear that his jokes triggers in you and where it might come from without making assumptions about the relationship.
I really like that perspective, Sheryl! Thank you.
I find myself being triggered a lot anytime I read the phrases “well-matched partner” or “same core vision/values” as my anxiety has really latched onto these so I’m constantly looking for reasons why we may not be well suited for each other. He’s a good person, listens to my concerns/needs lovingly and makes changes to better our relationship, is amazing with conflict resolution, we have deep conversations, and he doesn’t play games of any sort and has always been clear with his intentions for our relationship.
But some of our values/lifestyle elements don’t overlap. He likes to go out with friends a lot more than I do, likes to be the center of attention a bit and is constantly making jokes (most that I don’t find funny as they’re slightly immature), enjoys living in the city and doesn’t value being in nature as much whereas I’d like to move closer to the beach, and has many friends who have very questionable morals which makes me heavily question his values if he’s willing to be friends with those types of people. With the last point, he also believes their actions/statements/values to not be the best at times or in line with his and has at times called them out for certain remarks, but one of his values is seeing the good in people and not giving up on them just because they do/say some bad things since no one is perfect. I appreciate his loyalty in that respect.
At times, the lifestyle differences have made me feel like if I stay in this relationship, I will compromise on the type of lifestyle I’d like to live. He is always willing to compromise though and try to find a solution so we’re both happy.
All this to say, I’m not sure if this makes us not well-matched or if these are just normal relationship differences to learn to navigate and would transpire in any normal relationship.
Do you have any insight on this or how to work through this?
This is one of my very early posts. It might help:
I could have written this comment myself, so just know that you’re not alone. This is at the core of many of my relationship fears.
Alexis, I’m sorry to hear you’re also feeling this way. Have you found anything to help you in any of these areas?
I have a hard time with what is said here. While I understand that fear can show up this way, I can’t imagine when someone feels nails on a chalkboard that it automatically means fear. i believe this has to be a case by case basis. And as someone who is learning to listen to and trust myself more, I find this message re-enforcing opportunities to not trust ourselves. I spent years in a relationship that wasn’t right for me because I doubted myself. There were no red flags, he loved me very much, but I didn’t feel those feelings for him and I talked myself into thinking it was just fear and pathologizing myself, when really it was fear that was keeping me in the relationship.
There are no formulas when it comes to relationships (or life). For some people, “nails on a chalkboard” is a sign of fear around intimacy and rigid places inside that need softening. For others, it may be an indicator of a mismatch. And for others, especially highly sensitive people. it’s just a normal part of being in intimate relationship with another human being; we tend to be most tightly wound, which means more prone to irritation.
Ultimately it comes down to self-trust, and I’m so glad you were able to find that place in you.
I’m confused by this response as it seems to negate the entire point of the blog post. Specifically this portion:
“So in the above comment as long as the relationship is based on a foundation of friendship (you like each other when anxiety isn’t in the way), shared vision and values, and a mutual willingness to grow, then it’s a good match. What she’s describing, then, is the effects of fear.”
It seems to me from this section that you’re stating a fact that in this scenario this is indeed a result of fear always provided the other items are true, but this response suggests otherwise.
As much as we long for certainty, there are no “always” or “nevers” when it comes to love or life. For my audience, the vast majority of people who find themselves in the above scenario recognize that fear is at the root, but there will inevitably be people for whom there is a different path. When we get quiet enough, we’re able to discern if it’s fear or something else.
I’ve been following your work for a while now and wasn’t able to name my fear walls until now. I realized that my fear is commitment. Specifically afraid I’m not choosing the best partner for me and afraid of marrying and having to “put up with that person” forever.
My partner is amazing and not a red flag in sight but we deal with similar flaws. Lack of confidence/ insecurity and glass half empty mentality. I’ve always been attracted to/dated ppl who were better than me in those areas and since he struggles with it more than I do l struggle with feeling happy in my relationship.
I’m trying to work on myself but I find myself trying to help him “fix it” and hoping he changes one day. But what if he doesn’t and I’ve married him? It’s so scary. Can I deal with it forever? Will I be happy? Terrible mindset to have because i know I’m not perfect and he accepts me for who I am. I know I’m probably just projecting, but I’m not sure how to fix my mindset. It manifests a lot as frequent irritation, lack of attraction, lack of sexual desire, grass is greener mentality.
What do you suggest?
For grass is always greener, it’s essential to remember that every partner will have areas that you want to “fix.” It’s just part of being in a relationship.
For the irritation and lack of attraction I encourage you to join the course!
My partner and I have vastly different beliefs when it comes to parenting, which makes blending a family an even more complicated hurdle than it typically is. It seems like, even in the same household, there will continue to be this roadblock of a true sense of family and we have essentially been coexisting for several months now. We also had been able to work through arguments relatively easy before living together, and now arguments turn into full on fights and he calls me names and says really hurtful things when he’s angry. These arguments typically revolve around parenting or the kids in some way. This would be a core value difference, correct?
Thanks. I know that I have a history of relationship anxiety, and it’s shown up for us in previous years. But this feels different now.
Yes, this would be a difference in core values. And name-calling during conflict is also a yellow/red flag, especially if it’s not being addressed.
I have to admit, I went through this kind of a situation. Stayed for seven years because he was a good guy, and I kept trying to overcome my hangups, but we just never really fit. I went through the Open Your Heart and Relationship Anxiety courses, and tried everything. We almost got married at one point. Thank goodness we didn’t. Not disparaging the courses, they address common problems and can be wonderful for certain situations. But sometimes you just have a square peg and a round hole. The nails on a blackboard feeling slowly turned into emotional exhaustion and then resentment; and we eventually broke up. I really regret the years I spent fighting a losing battle trying to force myself to love him because he was such a ‘great guy’. I am now engaged to a wonderful man who I am much more compatible with. I didn’t have the exciting butterflies that people tend to expect, but I knew not to depend on that. We feel calm and easy together instead. It just works. Yes, anxieties come up from time to time, but I can refocus on the good and let them pass. That never worked in my previous relationship. So some of the principles from the courses are helping me, years later, now that I am in a more compatible relationship. But incompatibility can be insurmountable.
Rachel: I’m glad that you were able to trust yourself and make a decision that was in alignment for you. This is ultimately the work of all inner work: to take in information, mindsets, perspectives, and tools, and access that place of self-trust that lives inside everyone. I encourage you to view your time with the other guy as a time of learning, which will likely help soften the regret. It’s all learning, no matter which direction we choose.