I receive the below question 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 several months ago:
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. (There’s my handsome hubby in the photo at the top of the course page :)).
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 sixteenth round of the course will start on Saturday, March 7, 2020, and I will teach you just that: the art and skill of loving. I very much look forward to meeting you there.
Latest Update: On Friday night, my husband and I went out to dinner for Valentine’s Day. We don’t get out into the world without our kids very often, so it was a very special date for us. As we walked down the sidewalk heading to the restaurant, I looked into his handsome face and felt more in love than ever. I couldn’t stop kissing him, and every cell in my body shimmered with the deepest gratitude for the life we’ve created and the love for each other we have honed and grown. There was nobody else I wanted to be with, nowhere else I wanted to be. We sat across from each other, all of these decades into our relationship, and marveled at how much we like and love each other. We reminisced about our very first date. We talked about our boys. We held hands across the table and mostly just beamed at each other.
My dear readers, if this is possible for me it’s possible for you. I come from the same wounds and traumas that you come from, including the distorted and damaging downloads we’ve all received about love, attraction, and romance, and if I can break free from those limiting beliefs and heal the fear-walls that have kept love out, you can, too.