Another inspiring post from a member of the E-Course Forum. I’m reprinting it here with grateful permission from the author.
On the one year anniversary of getting engaged to M, I just wanted to drop back in and share some perspective that I’ve gained in the past year in the hopes that it may help some of the new folks on this board.
I know that it can feel like you’re the only person going through the terrible doubt and anxiety, but please know that you’re not alone. Our society may try to tell you that you are alone, and that ‘doubt means don’t,’ but all you have to do is look at the plethora of movies and celebrity marriages focusing on the ‘butterflies’ feeling of being ‘head over heels in love’ (which then subsequently end a few months later when one partner ‘falls out of love’) to realize that our perceptions about love are completely skewed and out of whack!
I found Sheryl’s work and this forum last June, about 2 months before M and I got engaged. As a little bit of a backstory, M and I have been best friends for many years. He was the first person I would call when anything good or bad would happen, and he was the person I knew would always be there when I needed him. He was always my rock, and the best friend that I had ever had, bar none. He knew everything about me, including things that I had never told anyone before (I joke with him now that he must be a special person if he knows everything about me, and still loves me anyway 😉 haha).
The attraction was definitely one-sided at first: M was crazy about me, and knew that he wanted us to be together as soon as he met me. Me, not so much :-). I put him in the ‘friend zone,’ and continued to date other people. Well, fast forward a couple of years (I’ll give him credit – he was definitely persistent and knew what he wanted!), and through a series of events centered around my health, I began to see M as more than just a friend. We started dating, and moved in together about 6 months later. I was completely on cloud 9 and couldn’t believe how ‘in love’ I felt with M; I just wanted to marry him and spend the rest of my life with him.
Fast forward again to last summer when we started talking about getting engaged, and I felt like my life was turned upside down; the anxiety hit me out of nowhere, and I suddenly didn’t know what I wanted anymore. Was this love? Is this what love felt like? What if it didn’t work and we got divorced? What if I wasn’t attracted enough to M? If I wasn’t attracted to him at first, how could I be sure that I was now? What if I was just convincing myself to like M because we ‘looked good on paper’? What if we’re more friends than lovers? Shouldn’t I feel completely and utterly in love with my partner 24/7? I shouldn’t feel like this when I’m getting engaged to someone I’m going to marry! How can I be sure this is the right thing to do? What if I wake up one day and realize that this was all just a horrible mistake? I could barely sit next to M without feeling suffocated, and wanting to scream ‘I can’t do this!’ Sound familiar? I told you you’re not alone! 🙂
Well, my reassurance seeking led me to Googling (naturally haha)…which led me to read the countless articles telling me that ‘doubt means don’t,’ and that I shouldn’t be feeling this way about getting engaged. I honestly felt like I could barely breathe – I was terrified that I had to leave M, and that I couldn’t marry him. I was terrified that our relationship wasn’t ‘right’. I was terrified that I was making a mistake, and I was ready to run away from it all. Then through some miracle I found my way to Sheryl’s website. I started reading through the ecourse, and then eventually found this forum. For the first time, I felt like I wasn’t alone in dealing with this. And for the first time in my life, I started seeing a therapist to help me make sense of my anxious mind and tendencies that had always been present in my life (OCD thinking, reassurance-seeking, worst-case scenario thinking, generalized anxiety disorder, being a perfectionist and a control freak! etc.). What started out as one of the darkest times of my life has led to a period of growth, awareness, and peace unlike I’ve ever known before in my life. And I’m thankful everyday that my relationship anxiety started me on this journey. I know that you may feel like you’ll never get to that place, but trust me it is possible; I’m living proof of it, so please don’t give up! Keep fighting – it’s worth it, and so are you!
I just wanted to add a few other pieces of advice that I’ve gathered over the past year that have really helped me through this process. Hopefully they’ll help someone else out there too:
• Reading recommendations: Recipes for a Perfect Marriage; First Comes Marriage.
• DO THE WORK, and dig deep to find the core beliefs that are at the bottom of the anxiety well. This was really challenging for me. It sounds obvious, but you can’t just gloss over this stuff. It takes a lot of time and patience to really delve into the core feelings and beliefs at the heart of your anxiety, and doing so is necessary to moving through the anxiety cloud.
• Don’t put yourself on a timeline, or measure your progress against anyone else’s. It will only lead to disappointment! This one was really difficult for me as I’m very results-driven. But continuing to tell myself that by ‘such and such a date’ I should be over this anxiety only led to setbacks when that date would come and go without me being ‘cured.’ Which leads to my next point:
• Don’t expect to ever be totally ‘cured’ from the anxiety. For a highly sensitive person like myself, I’ve learned that I’m prone to anxiety about pretty much everything in life, and I’ve accepted that I pretty much always will be. I’ve had anxiety and panic attacks my whole life. Realizing this and accepting it was huge for me; in realizing that this is the way that I’ve always approached everything in life, I was able to call it out for what it was – anxiety – and not a sign that I was making a horrible mistake. But realizing that I’m prone to anxiety does NOT mean that I’ve accepted that I always have to be anxious. By realizing my tendencies, I’m working to take the power away from the anxiety, and putting the power back on me to change my anxious responses to things. And that will likely be something that I continue to put into practice throughout the rest of my life.
• Grieve when you need to grieve and feel all of the feelings, no matter how uncomfortable they may be. Don’t suppress the thoughts; when you try to suppress them, you’re giving them power! Simply notice them, and don’t attach meaning to them. I’ve really realized that almost everyone has uncomfortable thoughts at some point. The difference is that with those of us here, we immediately tend to attach significant meaning to those thoughts and accept them as fact. Whereas a non-HSP wouldn’t even think twice about them. As a HSP, I ALWAYS assume that I’m not ‘normal,’ and that ‘normal’ people don’t have those kinds of thoughts. It really helped me to remember that it’s not the thoughts that are the problem; it’s MY reaction to them. This is about me, and not about M.
• Realize that love is a verb – it’s an action, and a choice, it’s not a feeling. Feelings are fleeting. Real love is acting in a loving way towards someone, even when you may not feel like it sometimes!
• Realize that it’s okay to enjoy having some time to myself sometimes. It doesn’t mean that I don’t also love spending time with M – those two things are not mutually exclusive! That’s what mature love is: it’s not ‘I need you in my life, therefore I love you.’ It’s ‘I love you, therefore I want you in my life.’
• Realize that feeling disconnected from your partner is NORMAL sometimes. Anytime I get irritated at M or bitter or jealous or angry, I immediately start to feel disconnected. And when I start to feel disconnected, I don’t feel attracted to him (that has been a big issue that my anxiety has tried to focus on throughout this whole process), and when I don’t feel attracted to him, I get anxious and start having thoughts of ‘this is wrong, I shouldn’t be with M, I shouldn’t marry him, I shouldn’t feel this way, is this what the rest of my life will be like, etc.’ My anxiety really hones in on that disconnected feeling when I feel we’re out of synch, and tries very hard to convince me that our relationship feels wrong and forced because of it. I really realized how, instead of just assuming that the natural ebb and flow of a relationship will mean that sometimes you’ll jive with your partner and be completely on the same page and sometimes you’ll just feel out of synch or out of step, my reaction to feeling out of synch is to disconnect, which (in my anxious mind) *automatically* means that our relationship is wrong.
• Accept the uncertainty. Feel the fear and do it anyway. What has helped me the most as I’ve gone through this process is realizing that, if this really was about M and not about me, and I decided that the relationship wasn’t right for me, then that was my truth. It’s terrifying to accept that, but honestly, accepting it is the ONLY way I found peace – continuing to fight it will only make things worse. And is it really much scarier than how you’re feeling now? Asking myself that was how I finally convinced myself to stop fighting that thought, and to stop giving it power. I was sick of feeling the way that I did and I had to make a change. Once you’re able to allow that thought in and stop fighting it, you’ll have your answer. It sounds simple, but I know how hard it is to do! For me, my truth is that it’s not about M; it most certainly is about me. Accept the fear and uncertainty that come with allowing that thought in…it sucks, but it’s necessary to move through the process. I had countless people say that to me when I first started here, and I always *thought* that I was doing it, but in reality I was still fighting it because I didn’t *want* my truth to be that I shouldn’t be with M.
• Deconstruct and reconstruct your ideas about love and realize that everyone will fall out of love with the fantasy of love at some point in their lives. I 100% believe that everyone will have to deal with this shattering of false beliefs related to love sometime in their lives, and will have to do the work that we’re doing now. For some of us (those of us here on this board), it’s during our engagements and the beginnings of our marriages. For others (largely the ‘doubt means don’t,’ ‘you have to be 100% sure’ believers), it’s when they ‘fall out of love’ with their partners somewhere down the road during their marriage. The difference is, we’re learning about the truth BEFORE we get to that point, and we’re grieving the loss of that fantasy before-hand, and for that, I feel fortunate.