Love is Softening

img_6966Our hearts are encased in protection, layers of materials like iron or brick that create a fortress around our most sensitive selves. When these material first arrived, they came as friends, for our hearts as young people didn’t know how to rest undefended. We needed to harden in order to survive. But one aspect of growing up means realizing that our greatest strength is what we have become conditioned to believe is our greatest weakness: a softened heart is a wise heart, and it no longer needs the armor it thought it needed to keep it safe.

Safety, as an adult, means dropping the defenses. It means letting those we love into our innermost chambers. It means saying “I don’t know” or “Yes, maybe that as well” instead of being entrenched in one position. It means taking the risk of being vulnerable, which by definition is an undefended state. It means communicating from the origin of the feeling instead of from the defense, attack or projection, which means saying, “I’m scared” instead of “My partner isn’t funny enough” or “I feel hurt” instead of “He’s not the right one for me” or “I’m grieving” instead of “She’s not beautiful enough.” It means moving toward our partner even when the hardened material of fear or doubt tries to convince us to move away.

For those struggling with relationship anxiety, fear is the wall. Fear manifests as anxiety, doubt, confusion, lack of sex drive, and ambivalence. Each of these states composes a brick in the wall of your fortress, and each one needs attention in order to soften it into dissolution. When we dissolve the bricks, we allow love to flourish.

This is a process, of course, meaning that it takes time to soften what has taken years to solidify. And we need to the tools and plans in order to know how to crumble the bricks of our walls. We need to know what loving actions are required in order to chip away at the barricades or cross the moat that separates us from the one we love. For it’s action that softens fear’s grip and it’s action that fashions a boat that crosses the waters that separate.

Loving actions are YES practices whereas any action rooted in fear/separateness is a NO practice. Whatever we water will grow, which means that when we water the ways we separate  – listening to doubt, criticizing, nagging, projecting – the chasm grows. Conversely, when we water the YES practices, we learn to move toward our partner in thought, word, and action, thus shortening the divide and creating the closeness that we long for.

The first step in softening the walls, as I teach in depth in the first week of my 30-day  Open Your Heart course, is to identify your walls. Everyone’s walls may look or sound slightly different, but they generally fall into predictable categories and once you name them concretely they become easier to spot. Fear isn’t as clever as we think; it has a finite number of tactics and lines, which means once we can identify them we can call them onto the mat. The first step is always the naming.

From the naming, we commit to the other daily practices that help us dissolve the barriers that keep us separate under the illusion of safety. Again, what served when we were young – these defenses developed from wisdom to keep us protected when there was nobody else protecting – no longer serves. Much of the path of conscious relationship is undoing the unhealthy habits and replacing them with healthy ones. These new, healthy habits that are designed to promote open-heartedness, genuine attraction, and real love are what I teach in my Open Your Heart course.

Recently I blew the cover off one of my lifelong defensive habits. I will share the details of this awakening in one of the weekly phone calls in the next round of Open Your Heart, but for now I will say that every time I see another layer of fear’s sneaky ways, I’m both grateful and humbled. I don’t recall how early I learned this habit, but I know it’s been with me for a long time and I know it has created untold pain in my marriage as I’ve pushed by husband out of my heart through these micro-moments of saying NO instead of YES. When we submit to fear’s maneuvers in any way we grow the separateness and stop being a team player. And while we need a strong sense of Self in order to surrender fully into the risk of open-hearted love, we also need to be able to step into the mindset of WE instead of I and YOU. Fear erodes the WE for fear is always a manifestation of the mindset of separateness.

In The Book of Joy, the Dalai Lama and Archbishop Desmond Tutu speak repeatedly about the need to break down our barriers globally as we shift from a story of I/you to one of WE. We are the same human, they teach. We are seven billion together on this planet. Your story is my story and ultimately we all want the same thing: to love and be loved, to live a life of meaning, to be healthy and happy. For those of us working in the world of relationships, we take this global call and bring it down to the very personal level as we learn how to soften fear’s walls by naming them, working with them consciously, then choosing another path. The more times we choose the other path, the more we re-wire the brain in the direction of connection.

If you would like to be able to identity and name your fear walls and learn the loving YES actions that will help you bridge your moats so that you can open your heart to love, please join me for my tenth round of Open Your Heart: A 30-day program to feel more love and attraction for your partner, which will begin on February 4, 2017. Let’s join together as we learn how to step more fully into perhaps the most important task we’re entrusted with on this planet: to love and be loved.

82 comments to Love is Softening

  • Britt

    This is the most amazing article I’ve read in 2017. I love this. Thanks Sheryl.

  • Sarah

    I am so tired of this anxiety. I have had it for nearly two years. When the doubts comes up, which is everyday – you not in love with him, he irritates you, you don’t like his mannerisms , you not attracted, you had a stronger connection with your ex, you want to leave and move countries, I do what you say and talk to myself to try calm myself down. Unfortunately it keeps going. There might be a couple hours a day where I am calm and feel okay and then it comes back again.I wake up with a knot in my stomach every morning and I am starting to feel concerned with my health. Is it possible Sheryl that I am just not suppose to be with this person and my truth is that I need to leave and move countries? I am really sad and stressed as we are engaged but I don’t know what more to do.

    • Lacey

      Hello. I read your post and I know what you are going through. I think Sheryl’s message is if he treats you well or amazing and has great qualities, then the anxiety you are feeling is the fear that was created from our society today which depicts what love “should” be through media etc. Hence it naturally increases our expectation of what love really is. For most alot of people it’s usually easier to just leave because it takes work to stay. But if they or you don’t put in the work, you will always leave. Aside from Sheryl’s wisdom I think you should ask yourself, is he worth the work to stay? With time everything in life adjusts to its current state. With my wisdom, ask yourself, does he have 70% of the qualities you are looking for? Ask yourself this when you are not anxious btw. I was anxlous for 1 year with my husband after marriage and 1 year before. I knew logically, I was never going to find better, because he is amazing. So I took Sheryl’s course, I started to only focus on his goods things and I stopped the anxiety. The time your anxiety will stop is when you have a accepted him, if he is worth accepting. If he is an alcoholic, lazy, abusive, etc then he is under 70%. Just know you are not alone.

      • Sarah

        Thanks so much for your message Lacey. Even when I am anxious I know that my partner is such a loving choice for me. He is so kind and supportive and treats me so well. He has made me grow and taught me a lot about myself. There are no red flags. None what so ever. So logically, I know I am never going to meet anyone like him again. I have the break free course but maybe I need to go back through it in more detail. I do also see a therapist once a week. How long did you suffer from these thoughts if you don’t mind me asking? Mine have been for so long that it scares me they won’t go away.

    • Rosie

      Hi Sarah. I really recognise the feelings that you post. I was privately “in love” with my ex for 17 years and when we finally got together I couldn’t believe how happy I was. It was amazing. For about 2 weeks and then the doubts started creeping in, as they always do with me. I tried everything I could to quieten the voices I did mindfulness meditation I spoke to friends, I even tried speaking to him being honest about my doubts but didn’t get me anywhere for the next six months I hardly slept, cried most days and had dreadful Gastro problems and generally was a complete wreck. We did have what Sheryl calls a red flag though or at least it was a red flag to me – in the 17 years prior to getting in touch with me again, he had gone ahead and had two children with another long-term partner and if I’ve learned one thing about me it’s that I am not cut out to be a stepmom. I just could not get past this no matter how much logically I knew he was right for me. That red flag though manifested itself in all the ways that you’ve described every day thinking he was more attractive 17 years ago, he is not always the most thoughtful person, I don’t like the way he speaks to the neighbours, i’ve had better sex with previous partners etc. He was all for moving in together and getting engaged and I kept resisting. Eventually when I told him that I didn’t want to live with his children after a few months it was over as he couldn’t accept that in me. My challenge and yours I suspect is to work out if the red flags really are red flags or if it is just fear masquerading are something else. Different fears have come up for me with every partner I’ve heard and as I’m 44 and never married and have had at least 50 relationships I think I can say with some certainty that I have extreme relationship anxiety. The reason why I posted though it’s because I really empathiser with the fact that this is making you ill. I sometimes don’t think other people realise just how difficult dealing with this type of anxiety is. You are definitely not alone.

      • Sarah

        Thanks so much for your message Rosie. I don’t see any red flags that Sheryl talks about with my partner. I just hate going hot and cold all the time. My partner is a very good guy and treats me so well. my family and all my friend love him. I love him too but in a way that is different from my ex. My ex was a good guy too although he had just come out of a relationship and wasn’t ready for another relationship. We tried for 6 months but he ended up breaking my heart. That was 7 years ago. My relationship with my ex was high passion. I was totally infatuated with him I guess. Although we have stayed in touch and seen each other since breaking up 7 years ago. I did cut him off about a year ago as I didn’t think it was fair on my now partner that we were still in touch but I still think about him all the time.

        This is the first time that this type of anxiety has come up for me in a relationship. Usually I am the chaser so I have anxiety about whether they want me but i feel content when with them if that makes sense. I know my partner now wants me so my anxiety is about pushing him away I guess. It is all very confusing and hard but I am hoping I get some clarity soon. Thanks again for your message.

    • Britt

      Hi Sarah? I’d like you to know you’re not alone. I’ve been in your shoes, I’ve had all your doubts, fears, and questions; it does get easier. With time, patience, practice and self-love. Trust yourself to love yourself and be mindful of what you allow into your heart and mind. I say this because when I was in the darkest moments of my life and desperately seeking help/advice, the help wasn’t always genuine. People can sometimes be negative or if not negative, they make your questions about them, and that isn’t healthy for you; trust me. They’re only trying to help, but taking someone else’s questions and answering them with your doubt is totally unfair.

      “I am so tired of this anxiety.”

      The day I said these words, was the day I had a discovery. A strange memory from my childhood came rolling it, and I knew it was time for a change. ‘I was a five-year old girl looking in the mirror and I said to myself, “I am so tired of being sad.” While looking in the mirror, I clearly remembered being disgusted with myself for feeling something that was apart of me.’ Looking into my past gave me clarity Sarah. That memory made me understand something important. My parents were 100% emotionally unavailable, yet as a child I didn’t understand that. So, when my birth father was murdered, I couldn’t deal this “sadness” that was apart of me, so I looked in the mirror and said, “I am so tired of being sad.”

      I told you apart of my story Sarah so you’ll understand this; you’re an adult now, and it’s time to nurture your childhood “sad girl.” Dig deep, look into your past, visit your childhood, open the old box of memories that’s stored deep inside your heart, and this will be your saving grace. Trust me.

      Facing myself was the hardest thing I’ve ever had to do Sarah. To admit I caused my pain and sadness was death to me. To acknowledge my hurt and pain made my knees buckle . To remember my past allowed my tears to fall freely. It allowed me to finally me vulnerable; with myself, which I’d never been. That gave me permission to love me, for me with no strings attached.

      I guarantee you your partner is exactly like mine. You see, society tells us that we can’t find ourselves when we’re with someone else, and that’s not true. When you’re with someone who loves you for you; wholeheartedly, your heart opens, and you’ll naturally start to transition. When you exit the tunnel of darkness, your very supportive, loving, kind and gentle guy will have seen you grow.??

      Oh, and about the “ex” you could have possibly made it work with, it’s just an illusion. You like the idea of him because being with him means you wouldn’t have to face yourself; for a little longer. It’s a wall you’ve built inside to keep your mind from understanding what your heart has to offer.

      As I continued to work on myself, the questions and doubts about my partner naturally ceased to exist. Now, I do have anxiety in general, and doubts may creep in, however, the difference is that now I know myself enough to know when it’s me with issue, not my partner or my relationship.

      Believe in yourself and don’t give up on you. Things will get better, I guarantee it. To know yourself, is to love yourself; and everyone else. Hang on sweet Sarah.

      Your friend in need, Britt??

      • Britt

        Your friend in times of need, Britt #facepalm ??

      • Sarah

        Thank you so much Brit for your message. I cried reading this. I know there are things that live inside of me as I have had a lot of trauma in my life. I have been seeing a therapist for over a year and half and I have got slightly better. When I was at my lowest point I could’t move off the couch and I had to go on medication. I am now off the medication and trying tools – meditation, journalling, exercise to keep me going.

        My partner is the most loving, supportive, kind and gentle person I have ever met. I find it hard as I felt something was off from the beginning (a bit more quirky then what I would usually go for) but I was tired of being with men that didn’t want me or treated me badly so I kept going back to my now partner. We have been together for over two years and there hasn’t been a day where I haven’t had some form of anxiety.

        I have the break free course of Sheryl’s which I refer back to when the days are really bad but I don’t understand why I have these thoughts about him. Like I understand projection but the thoughts seem so real. My therapist has always said to me that they defensive mechanisms to protect me from love as love is scary to me due. I kept telling myself that but I just can’t relax.

        There are days where I plan my “escape” from the relationship and moving countries to start all over again and go back to my single life. It is so silly as I could leave at any time but I don’t. I know deep down he is a very good man and treats me so well. He has been so patient with me and knows everything that is going on. Maybe that is why I don’t want to leave.

        Anyway thank you so much again for your message. I really appreciate it.

        • Britt

          Sure Sarah, not a problem, I understand what you’re going through. It’s that relief you feel when you think of “escaping,” that can be so wonderful. That’s the flight response in this scenario, however. To flight would be easy; to fight would be rewarding.

          “We have been together for over two years and there hasn’t been a day where I haven’t had some form of anxiety.”

          What I see here is you wholeheartedly believing without a doubt, your partner is “supposed” to make you happy or better. I was in this victim mind frame for a long time. You haven’t been happy in 2 years you say. Is that a fact or is that “your truth?” Think about that for a second. A time comes in all of our lives where we must take responsibility for ourselves, the decisions we’ve made.

          “There are days where I plan my “escape” from the relationship and moving countries to start all over again and go back to my single life.”

          This is only a decision away, but you will not do it, because it’s not what you truly desire. Yet, you torture yourself with the idea. Why? Maybe because running is “better” than facing what’s inside your heart because what’s in your heart scares the life out of you.

          You have all the resources to Break Free Sarah, yet you choose to remain shackled by your mind. What on this Planet makes you believe you don’t deserve happiness? Why won’t you choose happiness? What’s stopping you? Take a deep breath and let go for just a minute.

          “Once you choose hope, anything’s possible.” ― Christopher Reeve

          Be Strong Sarah…

          • Sarah

            You are right. There have been moments where I have been happy. I just focus a lot on the negative as that is what my parents do. And the anxiety is so horrible and I have so much guilt for thinking the way I do about my partner. He is an angel and has patience that I don’t understand. He said we in this together and he is here to support me and I think a part of me can’t believe he loves me that much.

            I took a deep breath and sat for a bit and I started to cry again. This time it was about my past. I was in an abusive relationship for three years. I also thought about my parents marriage and how it is so negative and emotionally abusive. I then felt scared. A part of me is afraid that he will leave me or that we’ll end up unhappy like my parents. I know these are things I have to work through, I just want to stop second guessing my decision to marry my partner and for the thoughts and anxiety to go away.

            Thanks again for your messages to me. It has really helped me. I appreciate it so much. You are very kind.

        • Britt

          Our lives and paths are so similar. Please don’t give up. I’m here if you need me.

          Xoxo, BRITT

          • Sarah

            Thanks you! I do have another question that maybe you can help me with. With regards to moving countries – this is always something I have wanted to do. I have always wanted to move to Australia. I have had this dream for about 8 years. I have always wanted to go single as well as I felt my husband was in Australia. Do you think that this could be my truth or a fantasy I need to crush?

          • Britt

            “this is always something I have wanted to do. I have always wanted to move to Australia. I have had this dream for about 8 years”

            Partners don’t stop our dreams from coming true, Sarah. Partners help us achieve them.

            “I have always wanted to go single as well”

            Things change. Ideas change. Circumstances change.

            “I felt my husband was in Australia.”

            If I wholeheartedly believed (felt) my “one true partner,” was in another country, I wouldn’t have CHOSEN to commit to someone in my current country. I don’t believe this is the case; I believe this is another excuse, another wall, another reason to abandon your current situation, so you won’t have to face the current you. You’re trying to escape your problems physically when your problems are, mentally and emotionally. Escaping mental and emotional problems physically are a temporary fix because no human is capable of escaping THEMSELVES. Eventually, the mental and emotional will emerge and you’ll be in an endless loop I call, “running from one’s self.”

            “Do you think that this could be my truth or a fantasy I need to crush?”

            The difference between truth and fantasy is the difference between facts and perception. You “feeling like” your husband is in Australia is a fantasy (perception). You’re in a loving, committed relationship already is the truth (fact). You wanting your husband to be in Australia is a desire. Desires can be “good and bad.” Why? Because of the reason behind many desires; a need not for that particular desire, but a need to escape the present moment, which is the reality, which is our truth, which is the facts.

            It all boils down to one simple fact; FEAR. Ultimately, we all have to make choices. Your anxiety is coming from the choice you’ve made to stay with your partner while simultaneously not staying with him, if that makes since. You’re not moving forward because you chose to stay with your partner, but you’re in a relationship with your mind. You haven’t any room for anyone else. Until you’re able to look within yourself, you’ll never be able to experience the one true human purpose; LOVE.

            I think if you be patient with yourself and allow yourself to be vulnerable with yourself, you’ll discover a world of opportunity. Let your heart fill every emotion and don’t be afraid of the outcome.

            XOXO, Britt

          • You are one wise woman, Britt, and a true gift to this community. Thank you for sharing your wisdom so generously.

          • Britt

            Thanks, Sheryl

            I’m only trying to help. I know you’re super busy.

  • agnes

    Hi Sheryl, thanks so much for this post. I am concerned that my levels of anxiety at this stage are not as extreme as some people on here. I need to find the root of this sense that I am somehow not emotionally wired right. What brings me back to your work is usually a sense of disconnection from my partner and my relationship between my dark thoughts & feelings – feeling I am not reacting ‘right’, as I say. Have you come across this before? I seem to dip in and out of clear-seeing, open-heartedness and disconnection/numbness, rather than extreme anxiety. Is this normal? I am feeling the need more and more to further my learning and take a course. It is the journalling technique I am most interested in. Would that tool be applicable to all kinds of intrusive thoughts, not just relationship ones? I think I am struggling with the lack of anxiety/sadness as to me, at least that = care.

  • Maria

    This is so true. My relationship anxiety just fades when I let myself be vulnerable with my partner. But it’s hard. This weekend I watched a movie and inmediatly thought of you Sheryl, and of everyone who enters this site to learn how to make the best out of our fears. It’s called “Fathers and daughters”, with Russell Crowe. If you haven’t seen it, please do. It shows how fear of loss and childhood experiences can make you build this blocks and fear of intimate relationships. Lots of love,

    • I look forward to seeing it, Maria. Thank you. It’s so rare to find a film that promotes these concepts!

    • Stevie

      Hi Maria,
      I also watched that movie and I instantly thought of Sheryl. I have been dealing with relationship anxiety for two years now, and have come a long way. I don’t know that I ever would have understood that movie before this “awakening” but it made me cry and so happy at the same time. It made me happy that it is being recognized and promoted in a movie! Once again it solitified that I am far from alone on this journey!

  • Katie

    I read on here quite a lot that a lot of people seem to be dealing with more than 1 intrusive thought at a time, where as my intrusive thought has been the same one since it started like 8 months ago and that’s “you don’t love him” and when I ask myself “why don’t you love him” all I can respond with is “I don’t know” I have no reason, he is amazing, he is everything I could wish for and more, we are best friends aswell as partners, he is so so so good to me. I just keep thinking I should feel love 24/7 etc and I should just know. But even though my head keeps saying this, I still want my life with him, kids with him and marry this man. I’m scared it’s the truth and not anxiety 🙁 I just don’t know this difference and don’t want to lose this amazing person.. I have moments when we are doing something like out for dinner etc and I just feel warm and happy and then whenever I’m away from him like at work or vice Versa, that thought comes flying back 🙁

  • Jade

    Hi, Sheryl! I have been following your posts for a long time, and it has been very encouraging to see that I am not the only one struggling with relationship anxiety. I’ve been dating my boyfriend for close to a year, now, and as I bring light to all the fears putting walls up, things get easier and I can see him clearer. One thing I still struggle with, which I’d love to ask you about is this: Constant intrusive thoughts that are other mens’ names. I don’t think about the actual men, and quite obviously I don’t want them, but the names keep popping in to my head at the worst times and make me feel incredibly guilty. Ocasionally if I challenge the thoughts they become worse or add a story of the man who,s name is intruding.I know how much I love my partner, I’ve never been so motivated to open myself to love before, because I know this guy is worth it. That’s why every hold up, but ESPECIALLY the one I mentioned, makes me feel like a bad partner, or somehow like my mind wants me to be unfaithful? I’m not entirely sure if that makes sense, but it has certainly been driving me crazy.
    On the other hand, since putting a name to my relationship anxiety, allowing myself and my partner a chance to accept it has changed EVERYTHING! For the most part we have been doing so much better, and for the first time since I was a kid I’m starting to feel safe and happy again, so not all is bad! In fact, it’s really good! Thank you for introducing me to the path of acceptance, I can’t thank you enough!

    • I’m so glad you found your way to my work, Jade. Your mind does not want you to be unfaithful. Intrusive thoughts are messenger and metaphors and they fatal error is when we take them literally. The thoughts are inviting you to turn inward, and when you sit with them from a place of curiosity instead of fear, you will start to understand their message.

  • Katie

    Sometimes I just feel like I want to cry and sometimes when I do cry I’m saying “I don’t love him” whilst crying, and then I’ll stop and be like “I must love him if I’m scared” I do have moments when I feel warm and connected like the other day we were driving home and he put his hand on my leg and I rested my hands on his and I felt happy

    • All classic relationship anxiety, Katie. To a tee.

      • Katie

        I really want to believe that, fear/anxiety comes across so convincing and makes you feel like what it’s telling you is the truth and drives me mad. I have no idea what fear could be protecting me from other than when my partner broke up with me 8 months ago and we got back together, I’ve never had someone treat me so well and been so loving and caring towards me. He is perfect and amazing and I know this. I’m just finding it very very hard to know what real love is and not what I think love is supposed to be. I really want to join your course but I just don’t have the money for it right now x

  • Kristina Van Dusen

    My anxiety is a battle every day. My thoughts are unorganized, grasping at straws, negative, self-abased, and critical of the man I love. I finally reached the point of telling him ” I love you”, which opened the gates! I can say the words, and I know they are real! I wont say I love you unless I mean it. I could not even say them to my ex-fiancé. It took looking past my fear and anxiety to say those words to my current boyfriend….it was strenuous. I got past that huge mountain at last! However, the intrusive thoughts have not seized. Most of time I am anxiety ridden, I just want to feel those mushy feelings like everyone else. I want to have a normal relationship! I am so terrified that he is not moral enough…we talk of marriage a lot. I am scared to death!What if he tries to control my life? What if I lose control? Thinking about it makes me want to vomit. I am so critical of him! why? Why am I so negative all the time? Why am I so selfish? Shouldn’t people who are in love be giving? look past weaknesses? Want to marry without hesistation and anxiety? What do I do??? I feel guilty…he deserves someone who doesn’t think this way or have these problems! He is sooooooooo good to me. Always giving. The more he gives the more I am anxiety stricken! I feel like I am losing it! :*(

  • Molly

    Hi Sheryl
    I’m currently really working the relationship anxiety course and it’s helping greatly. Thank you for your work!
    Do you recommend doing the Open Heart course simultaneously? Also is the Open course self directed or is it scheduled?
    I’m curious because I work full time and am in nursing school full time. My minutes are regimented for sure.

  • Bluebell

    Hi Sheryl,

    You often speak of relationship anxiety and I wondered if anxiety in social situations can be understood in the same way by applying the same tools?

  • Maria [Germany]

    Is it also possible to take a course of yours when living in Europe? I will soon start sessions with a therapist, but if that doesn’t help, I think about taking one of your courses. I just want to get out of this terrible phase, me and my boyfriend now moved in together 3 weeks ago and my relationship anxiety started some months prior to it, due to this major life change. The thing is, my boyfriend really is everything I ever wished for, kind, loving, we share the same faith and goals in life, the same humor, it’s so harmonic. And still…my mind tries to tell me that I don’t love him, that maybe everything is a lie, that he is not the right one. But I know that I don’t want to leave him!
    Sometimes I also have moments when I think the complete opposite, like I’m not good enough for him, that he deserves better; I have a really low self esteem and mostly can’t even take his compliments because I just can’t believe that someone can love me this much.
    I’m thankful for your articles, it’s so soothing to read that it’s not complete uncommon, and I’m really ready to work on me, because I just know that there’s a lot of work to do, also about my past (regarding your article Deconstructing the family history I once again realized how little I could speak to my parents about my problems in life because both have kind of problems with talking about feelings and emotions, let alone show vulnerability).
    Greetings from Germany! ♡

    • Yes, at least half of my courses participants live outside the US. If your main struggle is relationship anxiety and you haven’t taken my Break Free From Relationship Anxiety e-course I would suggest starting there as it’s my foundational course. Open Your Heart is for those struggling with relationship anxiety as well as those who don’t struggle with anxiety but are seeking to grow their feelings of love and connection with their partner.

  • Bluebell

    Thank you for your reply. Do you have courses for social anxiety – could that fall under Trust Yourself?

  • Sonya

    Thank you so much for all your work Sheryl! I’ve been working with the Break Free course for almost a year. I’d been working hard and was doing well, then I got intense health anxiety mainly about my own health (which triggered panic attacks, which in turn triggered more anxiety) but also my partner’s health. I felt like I could clearly see how truly amazing he is, but I would think: what if he died? I would have lost the most special person in the world to me, the one who has helped me to grow so much, and we still have so much to do together, I don’t want to live without him.
    And now my relationship anxiety has come roaring back and among all the usual thoughts, I think what if I love him too much, what if I’m in an enmeshed relationship and don’t realise, what if I’m too attached? I don’t even know what that means, and I’m worried I’ve never read about other people having these thoughts. I think it may be because the first person I told about my relationship anxiety said it was a sign that I was too attached, which just made me a whole lot worse.
    Anyway, sorry I’ve written too much, but I just want to know if you think these are normal anxiety thoughts.

    • All normal, Sonya. Relationship anxiety can easily vacillate from “What if I don’t love him enough?” to “What if I lose him/her?” They’re really too sides of the same coin, which is the fear of loss. You’re not describing being “too attached”. You’re describing loving someone with your whole heart and the incredible risk we take in doing so. I suggest reading “Hold Me Tight” to learn more about healthy attachment.

  • agnes

    Can anyone in the community help me with my query above, please? 🙁 I have studied this site so hard, but am really in need of support. I’m finding it so hard to separate from certain thoughts. I’m practising mindfulness and trying to create that separation and watch the thoughts without latching onto them…but why do particular thoughts feel more truthful than others? Is it because they are, or because they’re the most frightening?

    My biggest struggles are identifying and trusting what I’m feeling and believing so deeply that I am a bad person. I feel so guilty saying that as my parents absolutely showered me with love and appreciation as a child. Whenever I express kindness or concern, ANYTHING loving or positive, I feel like an imposter. This is something that is quietly present all of the time, but right now it is bursting out of me. Can anyone relate? 🙁

    • Newly Married

      Hi Agnes I hope this message finds you well. I know that from personal experience the the reason some thoughts were so much more like truth was because I was scared about them being true most, they were the most scary because it was something I did not want to be and they felt so true that they would feel horrible and truthful. Try to just notice them and dont give them power, dont attach to the thought just let is run its course through your mind and see what you discover.
      I hope this helps, I am going through some awful and painful time and I just want to say your not alone 🙂

      • agnes

        Thanks so much for your comment, Newly Married. Your gentle reminder brought me much comfort. I hope you emerge from your struggle soon, with more peace and wisdom. xxx

        • Newly Married

          Hi Agnes, I hope so too and I wish you all the best. Dont give up, there is a reason why all this happens and its gotta be a good reason 🙂

  • Rachael

    Hi Sheryl,
    I am going through a breakup right now. I’m confused and don’t want to make a decision. There were red flags and things that I don’t think are healthy for a relationship. I am having so much trouble because I want to choose love and care for this person so much. I don’t want to breakup or give up on this person, but feel it is maybe best. I am taking your How to Heal From A Breakup course, but if you have any other insight or sources for information on when it is best to breakup and how to get over wanting to choose love and care for someone who might not be a good partner.

    Thank you.

  • growinglove

    I’m lost here. I feel careless in a way but sad at the same time. I currently feel like I don’t love my boyfriend and am displaying the behaviour in behaving carelessly. This is a result of when I have tried to stop projecting my anxiety onto him, that now I suddenly feel careless and as if I’m better off alone. I feel like I’m wasting his time. I don’t understand what is happening in my brain. Is love really supposed to be this painful? I’m crying listening to sad songs but still do not have it in me to really get to grips with the relationship anxiety. I feel like I’ve let it win. I have no hope in me. Or 0.1% anyway.

  • Melissa

    Hello everyone,

    I’m struggling currently with an incredible amount of indifference/ irritation toward my partner especially when it comes to him speaking about our future together. I find myself unable to get excited or contribute to the conversation, it’s like everything in mè screams NO!!!! Honestly I feel an immense amount of distaste and anger when we have these conversations and I don’t understand why.

    A man who wants to commit to me, who loves me and supports me should make me happy but it’s making me miserable and all I want is to be alone.

    If anyone can shed any light on my situation that would be appreciated.

  • Angela

    Hi Sheryl, I think we all have good memories and bad memories of our childhood. I remember as a child I was felt the need to be around people, family and friends. I just loved so easily with an open heart, and I was so loved from my family and friends. I was such an affectionate young girl. I was vulnerable, when i was hurt i cried, when I wanted cuddles I dont remember getting them from my parents, but I still felt loved. I have such an incredible memory from the age of 3 onwards. I do believe i craved for cuddles as a child, just as much i wanted to give them to my family, cousins and grandparents. As a preschool teacher, i cuddle and kiss my kids. I think how lucky they are. I know many parents dont kids their children enough, which is sad, but having said that, children know and feel they are deeply loved just the same. I do remember being such a beautiful loving child.. I felt I had to make noise with cheer and joy, to be noticed.
    A quiet child isnt the favourite but to me every child is special.

  • Angela

    Dear Britt, What an amazing person you are, for shedding some hope and enlightnment. Thanks for helping those of us on here who need encouragement and support. Your truly are a beautiful person.?

  • ann

    Hi Sheryl

    Beautiful article by the way. I cant take OYH this round but will definitely try for the next one. Cant wait to hear about your recent breakthrough

    Sometimes I feel like Im in a state of projection, if Im unhappy with myself (career, lack of accompishments, appearance, etc) or just depressed in general I project the blame onto my partner, ie he doesn’t look handsome he doesn’t uplift me, hes not making me feel alive. Then I feel these walls start to build up around my heart.

    Whats interesting to me is how those walls soften two ways
    1) when I take responsibility for my happiness. IE if Im working too much and unhappy if I start to work less and feel more balanced, I feel more alive and open

    2) loving actions by him/touch: Sometimes Ill come home from work all stressed and he will open the door embrace me with a hug. Or out of nowhere he will kiss me softly on my face and neck. Not in a sexual way but in a very loving “I care about you” way. I could be totally stresesed and in a state of projection and the hug or soft kiss will literally crumble the walls around my heart (I can honestly feel it happening instantly). Its not that Im attracted or aroused, its that the action of opening his heart will make the walls around mine fall down

    Id love to hear your opinion one day on how touch can be a softening experience.

  • agnes

    I’m sorry to be posting again 🙁 I’m trying my best to work with my intrusive thoughts lately but I jus read this: “If a thought like that pops into your head but you’re not bothered by it at all, that could be a problem.” The absence of this painful response may help explain some violent and other antisocial behavior.” – and I’m SCARED. My greatest concern is that my initial reaction to thoughts may be neutral (or even positive – I really really don’t want that), then I am worried about the lack of appropriate reaction. I hope this is because somewhere deep down I know myself and that I am not going to act out my thoughts. Please please can anyone help me, this is too much. I need to know that I am a good person and that I am safe.

    There was a time not so long ago where I could never understand why I ever believed these thoughts, after having a bad spell with them as a teen (in my only other safe, loving relationship, funnily enough). I don’t understand what’s happened between now and then. I am testing my reactions to bad things all the time and constantly falling short of how a good person would feel. I’m sorry to beg for help but this feels to be getting more and more desperate.

    • Worrier96


      Having no anxiety with the thoughts is normal after some time. When I have thoughts now, I barely feel anything about them. It can be alarming, but its a very important part of recovery! It is when you begin to feel I suppose you could call it ‘calm’ when these thoughts arrive that you have a great opputunity to dig. Personally, when I was in the grips of anxiety and feeling sick and depressed everytime a thought popped up, I was desperately trying to dig underneath those thoughts but it was only because I wanted some sort of release from the pain I was feeling. Now you are no longer feeling that level of anxiety, you can begin to change your intention to exploring why your pysche is sending up the defences…does that make sense?

      Are you taking the break free course? I think you would benefit from going through the course 🙂

  • agnes

    Thank you so much for responding :'( I have been suffering this kind of intrusive thought (harm thoughts) from a very young age. I had a false experience which led me to believe I had abused another child, as a child myself. So themes of harm have been the absolute norm for me, literally all my life. I realised last year I’ve also had relationship anxiety. I’ve got to a point where part of me can let the thoughts go and be at ease with the, but another part of me is scared that means I’m dangerous, or some sort of psychopath…

    The reason I’m telling you this is because, although I want to take a course, I don’t know that it will address my specific issues which are not currently wholly centred around my relationship. Half of me wants to change and half of me *wants* to stay where I am and just accept my badness. I don’t know what the hell to do.

  • Kath

    I have done the Open Your Heart course, so I will dig out the emails and look at them again. I am confused at the moment. It is a year since I split up with my ex, from an unhealthy, unhappy relationship. I have only just started processing it all. But I have learnt a lot since, including about myself and how I contributed to the negativety.

  • Kath

    I wonder if I was the person I am now when we met, it could have turned out very differently… that makes me sad. Perhaps even now, we could make it work, though I think there has perhaps been too much water under the bridge, too much hurt. He is with someone else now anyway, though we are still in contact and still care deeply about each other.

  • laura212

    I you all,
    it I have seen a few posts regarding fears of him not being the right one etc. I have generally always identified any sentence that begins with “what if” as a “irrational” fear. My irrational fear is always a bit different, it can go from just what if i dont love him to what if I fall in love with someone else.

    Every time I get smiled at, whether or not the guy is interested in me or just polite – i absolutely panic. My head spins off to all scenarios where I break up with my boyfriend for someone else and the thought kills me. yet, if I find someone else attractive or at very interesting, and feel drawn to that person, I catch myself thinking about them a lot or seeking their attention. I was so bad at a point that I avoided going out with my friends or colleagues because I was terrified of any male contact. It all goes down to low self esteem I suppose.
    And while it is normal to appreciate someone elses advances (I mean who doesnt like to feel pretty or desirable) this has put a huge amount of pressure on me. What if i cheat? what if i find out that someone else (usually, i would insert a particular “crushes name” at this point) is better for me? Well the only way I would find that out is by ruining my relationship. My mum who has been married for 35 years now said that it is normal. You always reach stages where you evaluate your current situation. And yeah, you find crushes that are better looking or more successful or just simply exciting people. It is normal to appreciate other people’s beauty and soul, to even be drawn to it. Has anyone else ever had this “type” of fear? Unfortunately if I go on google and type this question in I am flooded with people who judge, and who would suggest to break up “Well if you think about other men you should break up” – but in my clear moments I know this is not true. Thinking, dreaming, fancying someone a bit that is all part of normal life. My partner does it, I am sure of that! And it’s fine, because I know at the end of the day he chooses me always. It would be great though if someone could give me a bit of advice on this one though. Much love

  • Kath

    I am torn, because I have very recently started seeing a friend, who is lovely and caring and understanding about my anxiety. But it has made me realize quite how not over my ex I am. I don’t know whether I should stop seeing the new guy until I am more sorted, particularly in terms of processing my old relationship, deciding whether it really is over and it is time to move on.

  • Kath

    I feel like I am messing the new guy around, blowing hot and cold and still far too into my ex for it to be healthy for us. But it is hard to go back to being just friends, when we both now know that we have feelings for each other and when the cuddling and kissing can be lovely when I am not emotionally overwhelmed.

  • Kath

    But if I tell my ex I still have feelings for him, especially when he is now with someone else, that could open up a whole other can of worms and I could just end up hurting lots of people for no gain. Am I wrong to be seeing someone else when I still have unresolved feelings for my ex? I think I probably am.

  • Kath

    But if I put the new relationship on hold, am I just putting up fear walls and will lose him too. I know fear walls were a huge problem on both sides in my relationship with my ex, and when ever it felt amazing, as it did sometimes, I would sabotage it by pushing him away rather than risk rejection.

  • Kath

    Perhaps my anxiety is trying to tell me that I do love him (my ex) and should push through the fear walls with him if he still feels the same???

    Sorry for the multiple posts, it only seems to let me post short paragraphs.

  • Anonymous

    The thing is I’m so scared of talking to my partner about my intrusive thoughts, I’m scared he won’t understand or that he will break up with me if I decide to tell him everything. I talked to him once about my relationship anxiety and my lesbian spikes and he was supportive, but he’s no therapist and he doesn’t fully understand, and plus I could see he was hurt by all of this so I decided to stop talking to him about my intrusive thoughts so I guess he thought that it was just some “normal” doubts and that it was all just temporary. But my intrusive thoughts changed since then and when I tried yesterday to make him understand that I probably have an anxiety disorder (I can’t be officially diagnosed because I am still dependant of my parents and I know they won’t let me see a therapist unless I tell them exactly what is going on), he just told me that I should “work on myself” and that neither him nor a therapist could help me and that my anxiety is not a disorder but that it is something normal that everyone has. But he actually has no idea about how bad it actually is because I’m too scared of telling him everything. Right now my fears are that what is between us is not real love but that it is just adolescent love, and that he’s tired of my anxieties therefore he doesn’t love me anymore… I told him about the fact that I’m scared that he doesn’t love me anymore and he always says that it’s false but somehow I can’t believe it. I know my message doesn’t make sense and is kind if contradictory but let’s say that my everything is so messy in my head and that I’m scared that I’m ruining my relationship

    • Anonymous

      Please it would really help me if you reply, because I’m so scared and I really want to make this relationship work because I don’t want to loose him

    • Kate


      I was In a similar situation to yourself. My advice isn’t obviously one size fits all and only you know the best way to handle this but if you can take anything from this then at least you know you’re not alone. I was terrified to tell my boyfriend about them but he can always tell when something’s up with me. He’s never had anxiety himself but I explained why I had my fears, how something inside myself was trying to protect me, to keep my distance from him, I didn’t tell him everytime I got them because after a while hearing the same “these thoughts in my head are telling me I don’t love you” even though I always reassured him I did, like you love your boyfriend or you wouldn’t be on this site as scared as you are and I learnt as much as I could on this blog, every article I could find to broaden my awareness of how fear manifests I read it and I say there one day tears streaming from my face and I told him all about these thoughts and how much they upset me but are here to show awareness that this love is requiring me to drop the protections I held so close, and it’s not an easy process it’s vulnerable, raw and exposing, but after a few months of opening my heart to him and moving toward him every time you get a get a fear thought which honestly, if you take any advice of mine this would be the one! Because I can’t tell you how much it stops creating distance in your relationship and calms your head down, it is one of the most profound antitdotes to fear I have learnt. When he tells you he still loves you trust it I know it’s scary but trust him to tell you how he really feels, it feels much better to believe it than to question it so believe it, don’t keep hurting yourself! You mentioned you spoke to him about them before and he was supportive, maybe you could look at some of Sheryl’s blogs together? You don’t (in my opinion) need to tell him every thought you have because they are not true, deep down you know that or you wouldn’t be so scared that they was true. Try to look and see where these fears come from, is there anything in childhood that you feel triggered these? Have you seen love go wrong? Are you scared? Talk to yourself, you hold all the answers. I met my boyfriend in college and we fell in love, I was a teenager! It doesn’t matter when you meet or what the love was then, as you grow your love will mature too, you clearly love him very dearly or your inner protector wouldn’t have flared up, the very best advice I can give you is move towards him when the doubts are there!!! I know how often the thoughts pop into our heads so imagine how much more love you will give. It’s the best way it truly is. I hope you find your peace.

      • Anonymous

        Thank you so much for replying! It really reassures me to know that I am not the only one feeling this way and that it doesn’t mean that something is wrong with my relationship. Again, thank you so much!

  • Katie

    I’ve had a few days anxiety free and no thoughts on “I don’t love him” I’ve been happy these last few days and my heart has been open and I know I love my boyfriend.. I work in a pub though and I don’t know why but sometimes if there’s a man in doing some work, if they walk past me my head Starts thinking of things like “imagine if they put their hands on your waist” and wondering if they’re looking at me/find me attractive and rubbish like that. I have no idea why my head randomly pops up with things like that, it doesn’t happen too often but what would you say about that? I’d never actually get close or anything to another man; I always make it known that I’m with someone and that I’m not available

  • elle elle

    Hello all, I’m curious if intrusive thoughts about your significant other cheating on you or lying about his whereabouts are a symptom of relationship anxiety. My mind seems to go in almost another personality, making up scenarios about him lying to me, sneaking around,or pursuing others. This mind gets triggered off and on, and i go to lengths to “Prove” my doubts and catch him in a lie. I realize this is really twisted behavior, but I don’t know how to stop. At times I am at ease, but then something starts it up again. Ive never caught him lying to me, or cheating, or disrespecting me. And I see now that I’ve done this in all my previous relationships. Just not with this extreme intensity. I think i really may love this man. We’ve been dating a year and 1/2 and I know this is putting a huge strain on our relationship because I keep all this inner drama to myself. I have zero trust. It driving me mad and almost every other day I want to leave it just to calm my mind. is this what relationship anxiety looks like? or is it some other thing? Thank you for any advice.

  • Katie

    I woke up this morning with the thought back in my head “you don’t love him” I’m so upset because I’ve been free from it for like 3 days and felt happy and calm. If anyone could respond and help I would appreciate it so much. Why is my intrusive thoughts only on one thing? I desperately don’t want it to be truth because this man I’m with is amazing, I’ve never had anyone treat me the way he does, he is the only person I’ve ever been able to imagine having a proper future with. But if it’s fear protecting me I don’t have a clue what it’s protecting me from? The only thing I can think of is how hurt I felt when he broke up with me a year ago. Maybe I’m scared it’s going to happen again? I don’t know. I keep thinking love is like what you see in movies and that’s how you’re supposed to feel, like the notebook etc. How else do you know if you love them? And is there a difference between love and in love? Please someone reply and help 🙁 I don’t want to lose this amazing person.

    • Katie

      This is my first serious relationship (I’m 23), I was in a relationship for a year and 8 months when I was 16 and I never had any of this anxiety or whatever. But I was young and never really thought about a future with him. And now I’m in the best relationship I could wish for and I’m now dealing with all this and scares me. It scares me that I have this thought when I’m with such an amazing person. I just want to feel and know I love him unconditionally

      • agnes

        Katie, the best advice I can offer you is to read more. Read everything. Go down the archive and read, print off and stick the most poignant articles on your bedroom wall – whatever works. The information is all here, you just need to practice practice practice. Its really hard to rewire and recondition ourselves and it takes time. I struggle with the ‘what is this thought protecting me from?’ too, I have no idea. No idea what these thoughts could be covering, or why they are there. When I ask those things of myself and can’t find an answer, I do what I can within the other realms of Self – usually Physical (I exercise, eat right, get fresh air, stretch, exhaust my body in a healthy way). I hope that helps. It sounds like your boyfriend is one to stick with 🙂 though I know it doesn’t feel clear right now. Good luck to you. xx

        • Katie

          he hurt me once when he broke up with me a year ago, so maybe that’s in me still somewhere. He also has a house with his ex which is in the process of being sold so maybe that’s bothering me more than I realise. I always thought love was like something from the movies but I keep reading on here that it’s not like that and that’s what I struggle most with.. is how you know if you love someone. I can’t lose this amazing person. I don’t want to lose him

  • Beth

    I am so grateful for all of your posts and all of the experiences that have been shared on here. I am currently experiencing a peek in my anxiety. In May I a, moving in with my boyfriend of 7 years. It was all we wanted for so long, and then As soon as it seemed real I started to get so anxious and scared. I started to over think every aspect of our relationship, he always cooks me dinner so my brain says is he trying to take my power away from me and make me dependant on him, what if that makes him abusive?? What if I am not a strong independent woman anymore? He does little things that do annoy me and when I am feeling anxious it’s all I can focus on. I now get terrified if we are spending time together because I am scared of the feelings of anziety and panic which I desperately want to escape. I know it takes time and it has been about 8 months I have been going through this, with the help of CBT and mindfulness, things started to improve but every now and again it rears it’s ugly head. Will it be like this forever. Just looking for people who truly understand and don’t judge me or think I don’t love my partner because I truly do. Xxxxxx

    • We understand 100%. Have you take the course yet? It would be enormously beneficial for you:

      • Beth

        No I haven’t, I keep wanting to do it but when I start to feel better I think YES and just want to forget it ever happened. People say to me I need to,stop giving it so much power and thinking about it, I worry that by doing the course I am focusing on the anziety too much as I have let it take control. Does that make sense?

        • That’s a common reason why people don’t take the course, but it’s a gross thinking error. The truth is that when we learn to manage the anxiety effectively, we can truly start to live our lives. Furthermore, the course isn’t about focusing on the anxiety (yes, that will exacerbate your symptoms). Rather, it’s about learning to heal the anxiety from the roots. As soon as you watch the welcome video you will see exactly what I mean.

  • Beth

    Thank you! I have just looked at the course content again and I do think it would help. Are there another payment options? Like over a few more months? The house my partner and I are moving into requires a lot of work and is draining the accounts, another part of the anxiety. Xx

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