Self-Trust, Red Flags and Relationship Anxiety

by | Apr 7, 2019 | Break Free From Relationship Anxiety, Trust Yourself | 66 comments

Just as there are no rules for life, there are no rules for relationships. That statement can be triggering for the ego, the part of us that insatiably demands definite answers and craves formulas. “Tell me how to live and how to love and then I’ll know that I’ll be okay!” the ego thinks, then pushes us to perseverate on an unanswerable question in its attempt to gain a foothold into the ever-shifting landscape of a life where there are no guarantees. For those struggling with relationship anxiety, these questions sound like:

“How do I know if I’m in love?”

“What if I’m making a mistake?”

“I’m not always attracted to my partner. Isn’t that a bad sign?”

“Sex? I could take it or leave it. Maybe I would have more chemistry with someone else.”

All of these questions are convoluted attempts to seek certainty; when we excavate into the roots of these questions we find the same need for certainty at the core. When dealing with garden-variety relationship anxiety (and by no means do I intend to diminish the mental and emotional pain that relationship anxiety can cause by referring to it as “garden-variety”), the remedy for these types of intrusive thoughts can be found in my Break Free From Relationship Anxiety Course.

But the question I often receive is: “What about when there’s a real issue? You talk about red flags. How do I know if my relationship has red flags?” I answered this question here, and more in depth in the course, but I’d like to unpack it a bit further for those of you who are struggling with two common areas of concern: alcohol/drug use and anger. When your partner drinks alcohol or smokes pot, or struggles with anger, we’re in a gray zone that relies on self-trust in order to determine how to move forward.

Let me start by saying that when there is true addiction or abuse, you’re dealing with a red flag and my strong recommendation is to seek counseling before moving forward with the relationship. As I often say, if both people are willing to do the work required to heal, almost any issue can be resolved, but it must be attended to with skilled professional and/or ongoing support groups in order to create a safe enough foundation to move forward with the relationship.

But when the territory is gray, this is where self-trust comes in. For example, let’s say your partner has a glass of wine or beer every night with dinner. If you come to me and ask if this is a red flag, I’ll say, “Is it a problem for you? If it’s not a problem for you, then it’s not a problem.” Likewise, many people struggle with their partner’s anger. For one person, this might be intolerable, but someone else might say, “I don’t like it but I know my partner is working on it and it’s not abusive so I’ll tolerate it for now.”

There are other gray zones, of course. Religion is one that comes to mind. Political differences are another. You can scour the internet seeking answers to questions like, “Should I marry someone of a different religion?”, and you’ll find a hundred different opinions. And if you go searching with your predetermined hypothesis in mind – ie Googling questions like, “Do marriages fail when partners are of different religions?” – you will most certainly find articles to corroborate your fear.

But it doesn’t matter what other people think. What matters is that you know yourself well enough to trust where you can be flexible and what your bottom-line, non-negotiable needs are. Where one person might say, “I’m a liberal but I’m okay partnering with someone more conservative,” someone else might say, “I absolutely need to be with someone who shares my political views.” There are no definite answers in these gray zones; there’s only what works for you.

In order to know what works for you, you have to know yourself and trust yourself, which is what I teach in my course, Trust Yourself: A 30-day program to help you overcome your fear of failure, caring what others think, perfectionism, difficulty making decisions, and self-doubt. If you have a sense that the waters in your well of self are low, meaning you don’t really know yourself, this is the course for you. Of course, you won’t magically know yourself in thirty days, but the course will teach you the principles and actions that will help you grow this essential aspect of self so that you can make decisions with more clarity and move forward with stuck places more fluidly.

By the way, the mindset that I’m writing about in this post applies to all intrusive thoughts, not just those specific to relationship anxiety. If you’re perseverating on a sexuality spike, for example, you can explore the spike utilizing the tools that I teach in my courses, but it’s also essential to be able to access the well of Self that knows who you are and knows your orientation. Likewise, if you struggle with health anxiety but have a solid sense of self, you might veer into the fear-territory for brief bouts but when you have a steady and well-nourished counterpoint, you will quickly return there. A solid sense of self is key, and this is what I teach in the course. It will begin this Saturday, April 13, 2019, and spots are filling fast. I look forward to seeing you there.

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66 Comments

  1. What if you think you are partnered with someone opposing your orientation? But care about them so much and want to make it work? But you never felt that “spark” of attraction and chemistry for them? But you also really don’t want to lose them and thinking of ending things makes you so upset. But you struggle to find your heart wanting them? I don’t want to leave but I don’t know how to get my heart on board. Like I think a small part of my heart may want this? I’m not sure. I know my mind does so badly. It’s my heart that I have problems with. I do believe in sexual fluidity and I have had strong attraction to 2 males before, 1 confirmed experience that I was in a relationship with and the other wasn’t “confirmed” but I think it was there. But I never experienced that with my partner who is so wonderful and is a male. But I do think my orientation is toward women. And I think perhaps my heart may want that instead because my heart tends to open around women and I haven’t felt that for my current partner. I’ve also experienced lust toward women and had minor experiences that seemed to confirm this. So those two things make me think I’m oriented toward women. My IC/WS has had issues with men for as long as I can remember and I’m not sure why or the root so I struggle with healing that. But my partner is so amazing and the best thing that’s ever happened to me. He truly is the best thing that’s ever happened to me. I don’t get why my heart can’t grt on board with him. I’m scared my heart can never get there but I don’t want to leave. I’m crying so badly because I want to make it work with him. At least, I want to want to as I struggle to find the desire in my heart and my heart hasn’t felt a “yes” yet. Please don’t judge me. I don’t want to have to end this, but even as I say that statement, I can’t find my heart opening up to that statement. It doesn’t seem to agree? Idk. It makes me think that my head really wants one thing and maybe a tiny part or my heart wants it too? I’ve had fleeting glimpses of this, but that’s it. As in for a second a feeling enters my heart that feels like an opening for him when I think of him (this hasn’t happened a lot) and then it’s gone and I can’t access it or find it. My heart just feels so closed and shut down to him. Since my heart has opened around women, it feels like my heart wants another thing. Even if my heart and body can’t access the hope, my brain has hope that my heart can get on board with him. He truly is the best thing that’s happened in my life. I really don’t want to lose him. At least, my mind doesn’t. But then I think, I wouldn’t be crying so much over losing him if I didn’t truly want this. Even if my heart doesn’t seem to be engaged with the process. But it could also be my defenses. Idk… maybe in my case I am more oriented toward women, but at the end of the day, it truly is about the person not the gender. And I want to make it work with him… but I’m scared since I haven’t experienced that attraction and spark and heart opening pull toward him yet, that I just can’t make it work with him. I know these things have to be there… I’m scared I can’t grow it but I have hope somewhere that I can because he truly is too wonderful to give up and I want this to work. I just wish my heart could get on board already.

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    • Funny, after writing this out I could tell that I can fall in love with my partner… I can sense it and I can visualize it. I just don’t know how to FEEL it yet in my heart. But I have a bit more faith that I can.

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      • I know that feeling very well and after many years of working through my anxiety around love and life in general I say go with that “sensing”. I’m very familiar with that feeling , an odd knowing that you’re not even sure where it originates from sometimes. You absolutely can do this, it will be difficult but you can absolutely do it. 🙂 if you haven’t taken the Break Free course yet I highly suggest it. I get sexuality spikes and I’ve never even been with a woman or really even wanted to. Hang in there!

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        • Thank you for your support, Amanda :).

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    • Hi 🙂 I too have experienced a lot of anxiety around my sexuality too. I think that it’s a totally normal human experience. I also think that it’s normal to want to know all the answers. It’s normal to want to know if you’re gay or straight–to simplify sexuality into two convenient categories. Society certainly wants us to do this. In reality, sexuality cannot be compartmentalized this way. It is fluid like water. It is unique to everyone. Our biology only has a slim affect on our sexuality. The rest is our socialization, openness, choices, among other things. All I’m saying is…at the end of the day, trust yourself. It’s not about gender. It’s about the everyday art of loving another person <3 You can be with your partner if you want to be. Don't let the labels that society provides dictate who you choose to love. You can grow attraction to your partner. You can create deep sexual intimacy with your partner through Sheryl's sacred sexuality course. There are SO many resources on this website alone. Hang in there, we are all here to support you.

      Reply
    • Hi!

      It seems like you experience the sexuality spike. I know a little about this as it is one of my major spikes. The core problem for me at least is that it all boils down to lack of self-trust, fear of the uncertainty and fear of losing control. Slowly I have started to accept that life is full of uncertainties and we most likely do not have the control, especially in the areas that are very dynamic like relationships.

      Also, the question is not really about whatever you prefer women vs men, it is really a metaphor in disguise. My relationship anxiety turned into sexual spike, when I learned that there is no such a thing as a soulmate that completes me, and that true love is choosing your partner everyday. What this work really is about is learning to open your heart towards love, pain and uncertainty. The raw feelings that your Ego is trying to protect you from. Of course it is easily said than done. But what Sheryl’s work boils down to is whenever the person you are with is a person you can learn about love and how to love. I hope you take the relationship anxiety course, I really recommend it! If I wasn’t such a poor student I would so much love to take the “Trust yourself” course. Much of luck to you on your journey!

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    • [long post but good news] I’m so thankful for the Trust Yourself course! My partner and I are difference race and religion (I’m more religious, he’s more secular but believes in a higher power). At first, I had no idea if we could make it and that worry/fear drove me insane. Though I loved him so much, we partnered well together, he was so loving and we aligned on values and goals…I just thought, interracial relationships already have their own challenges…do I really want to add religious differences as well? I googled endlessly, only having my fear fed with scary statistics and articles that were clearly written by someone who disagrees with mixing races or believed it to be a “sin” to marry someone of a different religion than yours.

      However, when anxiety wan’t in my driver’s seat, something deep inside of me just knew he was right for me. Deep down, beneath our layers of “differences” were two people who did life well together. I took Sheryl’s Trust Yourself course back in 2017 and it was JUST WHAT I NEEDED. I stripped away what my culture says, what people in my religion say and got down to the root of myself and asked, “what do you say?” “What matters to Fay?” “What does she care about and want?” I learned to be true to myself and take charge of my life and while it was scary to dive deep, I did the work daily and consistently over those 30days and saw tremendous results. After the course, my partner and I talked openly and both came to agreements on what our “spiritual life” would be like and how we could support each other and honestly…after unlearning some of the dogma/us-vs-them mentality I’d been fed, I realized he was just perfect for me! My higher-self said, “if God loves him just as he is, why can’t you?” We even agree on how we will raise kids in the future if we’re able to have them.

      Now, I’m thrilled to say we are engaged to be married and have purchased our first home! I couldn’t be happier to finally break free from all that fear that was holding me back from such goodness! The “work” never ends, but it gets to a point where it no longer feels like work and instead just morphs into self-care 🙂

      Peace & love to you all on this twisty, turny journey. Trust me, there is light on the other side of all the anxiety (and even in it’s cracks)!

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      • Fay: This brought chills and so much joy to my heart. This is the result of committing to your inner work! I LOVE this:

        “My higher-self said, “if God loves him just as he is, why can’t you?””

        And this:

        “The “work” never ends, but it gets to a point where it no longer feels like work and instead just morphs into self-care ?”

        Sending so much peace, love, and blessings, especially on your upcoming transitions :). xo

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        • You are spot on my friend, I couldn’t agree more with what you’ve said here!

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    • I feel like I could have written this very same post. I am very curious to know how you are feeling now. I love my partner and want to be with him but really struggle with feeling that outpouring of love that I want to.

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  2. Dear Sheryl,

    this article really kinda spiked my anxiety. I have already been suffering from RA anxiety now for about 3 years. I have been with my wonderful boyfriend now since we where 16 and 17 – so the „too young“ spike is also a big topic for me over and over again (but so are many others – I can relate to nearly every spike you‘ve written about so far). Now our 8 year anniversary is around the corner (it’s in about 2 weeks) and I am still a mess. Atm I just feel numb and kinda depressed for most of the time. And I feel so bad… Like this whole thing won‘t ever stop. I think I do not experience crippling overwhelming anxiety (with the whole bunch of physical symptoms) anymore or at least not ALL the time (like I used to for a very long time) because I somehow got so used to it. (?)
    I love your work here and I’m very very grateful for your articles and I have been reading through your site now reguarely for about 1-2 months – since I luckily stumbled across your website. But I did not sign up for the e-course yet because I‘m so afraid that I‘m the exception and me and my boyfriend are really not „right“ for each other!!

    My current spike now is this:
    My partner works very much, he is working at his parents company. His parents (and the work itself) are somehow really „consuming“ so we do not have that much time together as a couple. In all our years together we have not been on a holiday together that was longer than 3-4 days, simply because its „not possible“ – because of the business/company. His parents and his elder brother never ever go on holiday/vacation and they work all the time! and they often say things like „no one even needs holiday/vacations“, „you always need to work hard“ etc.
    So my boyfriend is, in some way, always under some „pressure“ from his family (maybe unconscious) and somehow took on this beliefs, which he has heard over and over again from his parents and learned all the time in his life from a very young age.
    It makes me sad/anxious because 1.) I can see that it is not a healthy lifestyle for him, he often is very exhausted and often has not much energy left for free time activities – and he already has had some health problems last year, which clearly resulted from too much work (I was very concerned and worried)! ; 2.) maybe we will never go on vacation together because of this whole work/company/his family-thing.
    My parents and my therapist (who is very good, but she is not trained at/really knows about RA) said things like „if M. (my bf) is like that and won‘t ever go on holiday with you but you want to go on holiday/vacation with your partner, than maybe you just have to leave and find someone who does!“ and other things like that, which makes me so sad and super anxious. I don‘t want this to be true!

    Sheryl, please, do you think that this is a red flag??
    Having different lifestyles/views only about holiday?

    I am so afraid that it is and that I need to leave my wonderful and loving partner!! I am so afraid that I am the exception. My mind (ego?) often shouts at my like „don‘t be so stupid, you do not even have RA, you‘re just looking for excuses“ etc.
    I often think „maybe you are meant to be with someone else“ or other intrusive thoughts like that and they make me so afraid/sad because I don‘t want any other man!

    Please, does anyone has an advice for me or experienced similar thoughts? I am so afraid right now that it really is a red flag or something like that.

    (At least I am sorry if my english isn‘t that good. Unfortunately it‘s not my native language..)

    Reply
    • Does your partner see this as a problem? It sounds to me that the deeper issue isn’t so much about vacations as much as his attachment to his family of origin and their value system. Is this something that he’s willing to work on? If he is, then there’s no red flag.

      However, as it sounds like you’ve had every spike in the relationship anxiety book, I strongly encourage you to take the course. It goes so much deeper than these blog posts, and you’ll receive immense support and tools for working on the relationship anxiety itself.

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      • Thank you very much for your response, Sheryl!
        Which course would you recommend exactly?? The break free course?

        My therapist (who is an expert/very experienced in family counseling and especially around family ties/envolvements) told me the same things. She knows my bf quite well since I have had therapy/counseling with her for a long time now. In her opinion his parents – and particularly his mother – are highly „pulling“ at him and in some way they capture/occupy him.

        I not sure what to do. Do you have any advice how I can approach this issue or how to bring this up by talking to my partner?

        I already tried to talk to him (carefully) about this issue in the past but I think I did not find the right words/not described the issue clearly enough. He did not really „get“ what I mean and we ended up arguing about it… that was not my intention! I feel so upset and anxious right now and don‘t know what to do.

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          • Thank you, Sheryl.

            But I think all the time if we need couples counseling at such a young age, is this even considered worth it or normal? Shouldn’t romantic relationships just „flow“ and work out at our young age and if they do not so, then you need to break up because your too young to deal with such hurtful issues? (Or even to be in such a serious/committed relationship in general?) ☹️ I am so confused and desperately looking for help at the moment. I tried to call my therapist a little while ago but unfortunately she seems not to be at her office anymore this evening.

            Is it okay to struggle with such an issue in the relationship at our age (I‘m 24 now and my partner is 25)? Or do I just make a fool of myself by staying and trying to work it out. ?
            I guess that most people at my age would just leave and try to find the next „better“ partner. But I don‘t want to do this or rather have to do so! When I think about leaving I feel extremely miserable, sad and anxious.
            Everything is just too much. Sometimes I really hate being such a highly sensitive person… it makes me feel like an outcast or misfit!

            Reply
            • I recommend couples counseling for every couple on the planet regardless of age or issues.

              So many of your questions and shame-stories would be addressed if you took the Break Free course, including what you shared about being highly sensitive. It’s all in there! I cannot recommend it highly enough for you. A significant portion of your anxiety would be relieved from taking the course alone.

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  3. I know this might not have to do with the post itself, but I meant to ask you if you have dealt with magical thinking in your work and help me understand it a bit. I’ve had it in many forms before, but now it flipped into telling me about other people having some power over things that happen. Like, if they say something that triggers you you start to think that they’ll do something to harm you somehow. I’ve been having it alongside with relationship anxiety and it’s incredible how my brain immediately find a way to connect the thoughts and scare me. I feel quite alone about this one because few people have talked about it, so I was hoping you could tell me something regarding this issue. It may sound confusing but I hope you get it. Thanks is advance!

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      • Thank you, Sheryl. I imagine that all of this has to do with lack of self trust, but there is something that also bugs me is that I grew up in an environment where people close to me talked a lot about sorcery and people doing bad things to other people “magically” (I used to be around home maids a lot and they all believed those kind of stuff), so I think the magical thinking and the fear that maybe someone (even some friend that I might find untrusting at some point) would somehow do something to hurt me or affect my relationship. I know it is irrational but it feels very real. And I get so triggered when this very friend asks me about my relationship and I assume automatically that it means they want to know something. I feel silly writing this but I really needed to vent about it. It’s terrible to think that other people can have power of some sort beyond control. It’s also hard for me to understand that words are just words and they can’t affect reality. I’m working on it but it’s been hard…

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  4. Where is struggle is with my husband and I not having enough intellectually stimulating conversations and shared humor. He thinks I’m funny and interesting, but I feel like I am the one always pushing the conversation along. It’s frustrating, because I feel an essential part of myself dulled when we don’t banter and chit chat wittily. We have tons of good and lots of shared interests, and we make an amazing team and great parents together. But I have been feeling quite depressed about our lack of chatting and banter for a while now. And I wonder, was it something that matters to me? Did I overlook something so essential? And the anxiety goes down a rabbit hole. 🙁

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    • If you were to respond to that thought from the most loving and wise part of yourself, what would you say?

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    • I have this very same issue too! I am tired of always cracking jokes and thinking of good conversation topics. If I don’t start something, there’d be nothing! My fear is the same one as yours. I fear that I overlooked this very basic thing in choosing my partner. I looked for commitment, respect, and stability. I regret not asking myself: “am I having fun?”

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      • Commitment and respect are wonderful reasons to choose a partner! My cousin is suffering through a divorce right now because her Husband (who was tall, handsome, charming, super funny and very talkative…I used to envy their relationship even) was having an affair.

        Society tells us that our husbands should be everything. Talkative, funny, intellectual, supportive, good listeners…etc. But I say, you only need the essentials.

        Your husband doesn’t crack jokes? Watch more comedy together so someone else is making the jokes. Then you can laugh together. He’s not intellectual enough? Call one of your friends who is to satisfy that need for an intellectually stimulating conversation. Or go to a lecture. Take a class. Or spend some time with your friends.

        Or, perhaps you just need to change how you feel/think about the situation. Maybe you usually start the conversation, but I’m sure there’s something your husband is typically the first to do. Maybe he’s always the one to calm you down. Maybe he’s usually the first who has to listen.

        In short, there’s nothing wrong with being the one who adds humor and chattiness to the relationship! Take joy in this and appreciate that that’s your role, while his is something else. 🙂 You can say, this man has given me so much love and stability, so I give him laughter!

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        • Wisdom train coming through your psyche, Fay! I love every word. Thank you so much for generously sharing the wisdom gleaned from your experience here. It’s a lifeline for those still in the trenches.

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        • Fay, thank you for so much wisdom! It helps a lot. I have really been in an anxiety projection with my husband since our kiddo came along. Having a child brings up SO MUCH STUFF from our pasts like nothing else!

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      • Vanessa, I know exactly how you feel! And I also get hooked on the intellectual spike – he is intelligent, but we express ourselves differently. We often find ourselves in conversation where we realize we are saying the same thing, in different ways.

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  5. Hi Sheryl,

    Thank you so much for your posts. They really do bring me peace in times when intrusive thoughts being to take over.

    I am signed up for your break free course and I have been for awhile. I am slowly making my way through it.

    I do have one thing to ask though. It is similar to the issue with an earlier commenter. However my boyfriend who suffers from general anxiety. He and I have been together for over six years and we have had our issues. His family is very unhealthy and his parents negative people, which is difficult for him I know.
    He has tried it lay boundaries and it’s been a difficult process.

    I however have over the last few years struggled with relationship anxiety. When I am with my family I feel relaxed and capable of a healthy lifestyle. However when I’m with my boyfriend I feel at ease with him but my brain starts to go down the rabbit hole of “am I in love” and “is he really the one for me”. It doesn’t help (like I said about the earlier commenter) that I am very outgoing and like to travel while my bf is more comfortable at home and finds it a safe space. He doesn’t prioritize it like I do. I know it’s ok to have different interests in a relationship however this is one that I truly want him to be a part of and I don’t know how to move forward feeling like he may never truly get comfortable. He is seeing a therapist and working on growing and I love him for it. I want to be supportive and loving but I have definitely put a lot of my life on hold to help him and his family’s issues. Right now we are separated while I work with my family in another state and he works on building his business (which takes priority for him). I admire him for it but it’s as if he feels like he doesn’t have time to travel and that’s something that is important to me right now.
    My anxiety isn’t helped by the fact that I wanted to get engaged some time ago and he has been slower to get there.
    It definitely triggers the intrusive thoughts of whether or not he truly loves me. And if he feels I am even right for him. Even though he tells me he doesn’t see himself with anyone else. I don’t ever want to feel like he’s settling and neither do I.

    I guess it’s a complicated story I’m still working through.
    It’s just been difficult wondering if the travel thing is really a red flag if his personal anxiety or interests never gets better.
    I would hate to feel regret or like I had made a mistake by staying instead of finding someone with similar interests in seeing the world.
    I don’t mind doing it alone every once in awhile but I hate to think that’s the only way. I also feel guilty putting so much importance on travel when there are so many other things that make him wonderful (kind, generous, etc). Especially day to day.
    I have a hard time making decisions as it is so this has not been easy. Especially when a therapist I love tells me she doesn’t think he’s right for me. That he takes (with his anxiety and health issues) too much of an emotional toll on me or relies on me emotionally too much. Which he has gotten way better about.
    Also we are 27 so we have come so far since we first met and have so much still to grow as people.
    I hate to jump ship if I just need to be patient. But I have been patient for so long. It’s hard to keep going sometimes. He had a lot of sad life events happen to him and I hate to push him (he lost his brother and barely speaks to his mom or dad for good reason). But it’s not easy for me to keep waiting. Also this taking time apart is it really better for the sake of growing individually? We did it once for a few months about a year ago and here we are doing it again for different reasons. I don’t want to feel like I just keep stalling. He’s been patient with me and my need to explore my thoughts and feelings about us. But I so desperately want to move forward one way or the other and I’m afraid to decide when I feel so unsure of both decisions, staying or ending our relationship.

    Sorry for the long comment. I guess that’s how it goes on here. People start to unload there thoughts. There’s no telling where it ends hah.

    Thank you Sheryl. Any help or advice is always greatly appreciated.

    Reply
    • I would need to hear more about your history to be able to guide you adequately. I encourage you to sign up for a coaching call or, since you’re a member of the Break Free course, you’re eligible to join the small, 6-week coaching groups that I lead. Please email me if you’re interested in either of those. You can learn more about the coaching sessions here:

      https://conscious-transitions.com/coaching-sessions/

      Reply
    • Hi, Fallon!

      Thank you for sharing your story. I wonder how you’re doing now. Do you feel better? Are you and your partner still together?

      Best.

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  6. Thanks a lot for this, Sheryl. I have been suffering from the “red flag” spike a lot. Because my relationship did have what you may call as red flag(not anymore. Today we are in a better place). This is where I think it’s easy to misinterpret what Sheryl’s saying about Red Flags. At least I have. I used to use Sheryl’s wisdom as a rule sometimes. Oh X is there, then it’s a red flag and we’re doomed. Oh ‘Y’ is a clear Red Flag and that’s a problem. But I don’t think it’s meant to be used as a strict black-and-white rule. It’s mostly a pointer to listen to your inner guidance and trust it. Sometimes it might “seem” like a red flag from the outside, but the reality is a LOT more complex and nuanced. But the ego will hang its hat there. The ego loves to oversimplify everything including relationships. It’ll use anything and everything as a rule to answer complex questions. Some might be blatant red flags which surely need immediate attention, like consistent abuse. But there are many others that just need compassion, kindness and patience. As long as the attitude to grow and become better is there, it’s not a red flag. And if you do see improvements, it’s time to put the “red flag” spike to rest, because it’s very easy to fall prey to this convincing spike and use that as an excuse to not do this work.

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    • Beautifully and wisely articulated, Krs. Thank you :).

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    • Krs,

      I’ve had the red flag spike since my relationship anxiety started, jumping from one to another. This makes a lot of sense; thank you.

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  7. Thank you for this post! Just today, I realized that my ego is all upset about my religion and relationship with God. My prayers of late have sounded a lot like the dialogue from ego mentioned at the beginning of this post:

    “God, what am I supposed to be doing?? Just tell me what you want me to do and how to do it, and I will! Just tell me what you’re like and what you’re thinking, please!’

    I had never thought of this as anxiety with a root need for certainty. I’m wondering if the “Breaking free from relationship Anxiety” course could help me with my fears about God. A few years ago, I participated in the Conscious Weddings e-course. Is it different than the relationship anxiety course? I was just glancing back at the Conscious Wedding material I used, and toying with the idea of just plugging God/religion into it instead of my partner.

    Reply
    • The Break Free From Relationship Anxiety course is 95% different from the Conscious Weddings Course; it basically starts where that course left off in terms of the focus specifically on relationship anxiety and intrusive thoughts. If relationship anxiety is your main challenge, that course is for you.

      However, if the need for certainly is at the root right now, I encourage you to take this course (I’ll be running it live in a couple of months but you can start it now on your own then join the live course at that time):

      https://conscious-transitions.com/grace-through-uncertainty-a-30-day-course-to-become-more-comfortable-with-the-fear-of-loss-by-falling-in-love-with-life/

      Reply
      • Sheryl, I’m engaged and really struggling with my fear of uncertainty and making a mistake. I have the Break Free course. Do you recommend Conscious Weddings or Grace through Uncertainty?

        Reply
        • Go through Break Free again and take Grace Through Uncertainty. Based on what you’ve shared in your comments today, it’s definitely the next course for you.

          Reply
      • Thank you for responding! I also have access to the Trust Yourself Program from a couple years ago. Are the Trust Yourself and Finding Grace in Uncertainty programs different from one another like the Conscious Weddings and Breaking Free courses, in that one picks up where the other left off? Or are they just totally different journeys?
        I’m asking for help to try and pick a starting point, though I don’t think there’s a right or wrong answer.

        I do know that I feel very burdened these days with lots of negative self-talk and judgement of myself and others. Though I don’t like that it’s happening, I feel very curious about it and yearn to know why it’s happening or what it’s come up to teach me. The only tool I have been able to use against that harshness is just try to observe it happening without judgement (mindfulness?), but I think there is more work to be done. I’m wondering if that harshness is a struggle with uncertainty or a lack or trust in myself.

        Reply
        • Grace Through Uncertainty is a different journey than Trust Yourself, although in some ways it does pick up where Trust Yourself leaves off in terms of the focus on learning to embrace the ever-changing flow of life. And yes, there isn’t a right or wrong answer :).

          Reply
  8. Thanks for this Sheryl. Really needed this. My relationship can be categorised as a “red flag” by some. But it’s much more complicated than that. What about cases like mine where there is a willingness to learn and grow on both sides and there has been considerable improvement.
    This is where the wisdom can sometimes be misinterpreted. Many times in the past I used to interpret the wisdom about red flags as a strict rule instead of pointer to trust our inner wisdom. “If X happened, then we have a red flag and our relationship is doomed”, “If Y is there this is a red flag relationship and cannot work out”. But deep down I didn’t want to leave. I knew i was with a great person. If there are some obvious red flag issues like consistent abuse and addiction then that needs immediate attention. But then there are many “red flags” that seem like red flags on the surface but is actually quite complicated and can be worked through. But the ego will try to convert this wisdom and guidance into a strict binary rule and try to oversimplify complicated grey areas that require our wisdom and “knowing”. And this is a particularly intrusive spike because it gives us a valid excuse from not doing the work and bail out on healthy but flawed relationships. How I see it these days is that, if the couple is willing to grow, learn from mistakes and are fundamentally good natured and respectful, it can never be a red flag and the spike is mostly just the ego mind’s convincing story to prevent us from being vulnerable. If there is improvement and there’s an earnest need to grow and show up in the relationship, then it’s not a red flag.

    Reply
    • K,

      I know what you mean. The “red flag” spike is very compelling and has hooked me for years, just one possible problem after the other. What if he plays video games in his free time? “He’s an addict and that’s a red flag.” What if he’s lied to me before? “He’s a compulsive liar and that’s a red flag.” My mind loves black-and-white, but so much of relationships is in the grey area. And yet, even when I’ve had red flag spikes that seemed convincing, I didn’t/don’t want to leave; I know that I’m with a kind, mostly good person. Someone who has his flaws (like I have mine) but is willing to grow and change on this journey of life. And, importantly, he loves me unconditionally.

      Reply
      • The ego mind likes absolutes: to know without a shadow of a doubt that our relationship will not fail and that we’re not making a mistake. I think this is what the red flag spike focuses on. But we can’t remove risk; there is always risk. The work is accepting uncertainty and moving forward in good faith — not with a perfect partner, but one who is fundamentally good.

        Reply
        • Beautifully said, A, and what I teach in the Break Free course over and over again :). Thank you for sharing your wisdom here.

          Reply
          • Thank you, Sheryl. I still have plenty of work to do, but it’s clear to me now: until I accept uncertainty, truly accept it, my mind will come up with one intrusive thought after another. As long as I’m not okay with being uncertain, I will remain stuck. It’s also becoming clear to me that having a spiritual outlet (whatever that means to each person) is essential to the healing process.

            Reply
        • Totally agreed, A. I think we’re somewhat on the same boat with respect to this spike. It’s not an easy spike to unhook from. But we have to stop looking for evidences and just trust our deepest “knowing” however risky it might “seem”. Thanks for your wisdom. 🙂

          Reply
          • K, it’s a very difficult spike to unhook from because in doing so you’re afraid that you’re making a mistake/not preventing disaster. The key is to definitely stop looking for evidence and sit with what comes when we don’t do that: fear, uncertainty. Because as we can’t have certainty or a risk-free relationship, as much as we try to chase it…we have to learn to sit with the uncomfortable feelings and live life with an open heart.

            Reply
  9. Thank you, Sheryl. In response to the otger comment, I imagine that all of this has to do with lack of self trust, but there is something that also bugs me is that I grew up in an environment where people close to me talked a lot about sorcery and people doing bad things to other people “magically” (I used to be around home maids a lot and they all believed those kind of stuff), so I think the magical thinking and the fear that maybe someone (even some friend that I might find untrusting at some point) would somehow do something to hurt me or affect my relationship. I know it is irrational but it feels very real. And I get so triggered when this very friend asks me about my relationship and I assume automatically that it means they want to know something. I feel silly writing this but I really needed to vent about it. It’s terrible to think that other people can have power of some sort beyond control. It’s also hard for me to understand that words are just words and they can’t affect reality. I’m working on it but it’s been hard…

    Reply
    • Hi An, I’ve had a somewhat similar spike. It didn’t have to do with sorcery or magic, but astrology and stars, which is kinda like magic. I get what you’re feeling. But just remember that the best guide we have is our “knowing”. No external forces can disrupt or influence what you already know. That’s just your ego-based stories stemming from not trusting yourself and feeling powerless as a result. Magical thinking is something that most OCD/Anxiety folk suffer from. I think the way forward for all of us is to learn to fill our own well as Sheryl often says. Hang in there. All the power you seek is within.

      Reply
  10. Thank you for your work, which helped me during my last relationship, which ended suddenly nearly 2 years ago. I’m still navigating this breakup, and wonder at times whether my numerous worries were in fact warranted, as they ended in her sudden breaking up with me, or whether they remain mine to navigate. Regardless, I realize that my anxieties related to, well, relating, are mine to negotiate and listen to.

    As I reinter the dating realm this past month, I find that in beginning to find interest in a new person, all the anxieties return. Having nonetheless warned me that she’s a Luddite and stressed by texting, she often replies once daily (in the evenings), and often for a short text. My ex was like this; most of those I love dislike texting. My ex and I found our sweet spot in speaking via phone each night.

    Are these “red flags” for me personally, that I love and appreciate luddites, but that their communication tendencies require work to negotiate? Surely I can’t be programming myself to repeat a sudden breakup with someone I’d foreseen and discussed spending the rest of my life and having children with?

    My ex and I did not break up due to our different texting habits. While I still don’t understand why we did, part of me starts to feel at last that we broke up because we each had things to process. Her leaning in to work at times at the expense of us, and that she had unfinished internal work with regards to family and her past relationships, added fodder to a lot of anxiety and distraction I myself already faced. Where next was -I- going with my own work? Was I sufficiently “accomplished” as yet, and could I ever revive my focus for work? Would her seeming unresolvedness with internal feelings ever resolve so that we’d each feel settled with each other?

    So something as New and brief as texting a few weeks-old dating relationship provokes these reflections. As trivial as it seems, the new person texting a question in the evening, and no longer “being there” for the reply I send shortly thereafter, makes me worry whether they will be a person that can “be there.” Is this unreasonable logic? My ex, the neuroscientist, might call this a “causality error.” It is so new; how might I expect anything from someone? Why after a brief flit of enjoyment is anxiety already back? I don’t have anxiety regarding the others I’m still seeing over coffee dates, for whom I have less interest…

    Reply
    • Would you please delete these, if they’re not something to which you’ll respond? Thanks

      Reply
    • It’s normal to project past hurt and fear onto a new potential partner, but it’s much too soon to tell if this new person has attachment issues or just simply doesn’t like to text. What I’m hearing is that the lack of texting triggers an attachment wound, which needs its own attention – the fear that the person you commit to won’t be able to commit fully. That’s a valid fear as we absolutely need a partner who is responsive, but of course people are responsive in different ways and, again, it’s much too soon to know if this new dating partner will be responsive in the ways that you need. Have you read “Attached”? It’s excellent and I highly recommend.

      Reply
      • Thanks for your reply. I’ve studied attachment thoroughly, yes. Its connection to early childhood seems minor, but as an indator for attachment styles I do find it helpful.

        As it turns out, new person did break things off, noting that we’re in different places right now wanting different things, and that she wasn’t feeling a connection to those.

        So, my feeling that there was unequal responsiveness and instead avoidance was sort of accurate. There are times when perhaps anxiety accurately warns us?

        Reply
        • Yes there are absolutely times when anxiety is connected to true intuition.

          Reply
  11. To clarify, this new person has good reasons for why she texts less frequently at the moment. It just feeds my anxiety.

    Reply
  12. The alcohol issue is timely for me because that’s a problem that has once again reared its ugly head in my 11-year relationship with my husband. We both used to be heavy drinkers in and right after college, my usage has tapered off and his has stayed pretty much the same. I’ve read that’s one of the times you have a red flag–when the couple have mismatched drinking or drug habits. While it may not necessarily be healthy or ideal if they’re both heavy users, they’re on the same page so it is less of a cause of friction.

    He won’t talk about it and is always very defensive or dismisses it as no big deal, even though I’ve expressed concern over his health and well being. He goes through phases where he won’t drink at all or sparingly, but something always triggers him to go back to 4+ beers every night and more on weekends. We’ve never been able to resolve it with couples therapy, and he won’t go out of his way to address it in individual therapy, so I’m at a loss. We have a toddler daughter now and I want him to set a better example for her, but even that’s not enough to motivate him to cut back or cut it out. He feels a lot of pressure in life (being a provider in a high-stress job, having alcoholic parents whose messes he’s had to clean up time and time again and being responsible for literally keeping a roof over their heads, having a child, etc.), but doesn’t have a healthy outlet for it. I can’t force him into therapy. Not sure if I just keep to myself and try to focus on filling my own well; I’m also in no position financially to leave since I only work part-time and stay home to care for our daughter. Things in our relationship aren’t bad, per se, but they’re not great. There just seems to be nothing there anymore, and a lot of times I feel like his drinking gets in the way of us having a connection. He of course thinks we just need to have sex more often and that’ll fix things, but that is the absolute last thing on my mind right now and makes me cringe to even think about. I’m afraid we may be too far gone and we’d be better off parting ways, but that makes me panic.

    Reply
    • Have you tried EFT couples therapy? It’s the only form of couples that I recommend as it’s been highly researched and has the highest success rate over all other models. If he’s been open to couples therapy in the past perhaps he’ll be open now, and a great EFT therapist can gently lead people into their own personal growth. You can find a local therapist here:

      http://www.iceeft.com/index.php/find-a-therapist

      Reply
      • We have! We had a wonderful EFT counselor in our previous home state that did wonders for our marriage–she helped us get through a very difficult post-wedding phase where we both started to feel disillusioned with each other and our relationship; she literally saved our marriage, and we’ve been struggling since we haven’t been putting in that work anymore after moving away. I just get a little tired of how difficult it seems to be for us to even get along, that we need someone’s help in order to tolerate each other. It’s really easy to fall into that trap of thinking there’s someone else out there I’d be more compatible with.

        But thank you for sharing that link! I will do some digging into finding a local therapist for us to work with.

        Reply
        • Good to hear! Relationships require a lot of hard work. It’s a culturally-induced illusion to think that it should be easy or that it would be easy with someone else.

          Reply
  13. Hi
    I love my husband very much, I enjoy spending time with him. I am happy with him but over time I have gradually distanced myself from him. After a while I noticed I didn’t feel the need to be cuddled up constantly so I began to feel more comfortable in our relationship. After a while, we both didn’t really make much of an effort to be affectionate and just started to plod along most days. I fell pregnant and we were both so happy. After a while I got so heavily pregnant I did not want to have sex at all and I think this affected us. We even moved in with family at one point due to complications on where we did live at the time and I didn’t enjoy being openly affectionate with him so I distanced myself. He’s not that affectionate so naturally moved away from me too. Now I feel like I’m not attracted to him. I must admit there are times when I find him repulsive and really ugly. I don’t know how to fix this and change it. We’ve have two children together so I really want to be happy with him for their sake but I just feel like I’m trapped in a situation of not feeling attracted. Pleas help

    Reply
    • Marriage with young children is VERY challenging, and it’s easy to lose attraction, which really means losing connection both to yourselves as individuals and to each other. I encourage you to try to find time to reconnect, and also to go back through the course material. I believe you have one of my courses?

      Reply
      • Hi sheryl

        Yep I have your courses. I think I will have to log back in and go over it. It just felt really real this time as my anxiety in the past didn’t actually revolve around real issues, it was all in my head. This time, these are actual real issues for once. I guess this is a testing time to see how strong we are. Thank you for your help sheryl x

        Reply
  14. Hi Sheryl,

    I wanted to comment on the phrase ‘garden variety RA’ as i figured others might get caught the way i did. I’ve been at the work for awhile now and you’re also very familiar with my story – my immediate thought was what if i have a different/worse type or mine isn’t the cookie cutter version and therefore the path to healing is unclear or not possible. Every single one of us has different stories, symptoms, manifestations and paths to healing so I wanted a little clarification on what you meant. Thank you and thank you for all of your brilliant work!

    Reply
    • Thank you for shining light on this! Since I know how steeped you are in your inner work and how much you’ve been growing your wise self, I’m going to pose the question back to you: What do you think I meant? 🙂

      Reply
  15. Hi Sheryl, I just wanted to say that after listening to your webinar and the Q&A section, I found myself feeling a real need to journal – probably for the first time. I have tried journalling before but could never really get the hang of it. This time was different. This time I was able to pour my feelings onto the paper and then answer my questions myself. I already feel that this will be such a valuable tool going forward. Thank you for shedding some light on this through your webinar ?

    Reply
    • This makes me so happy to hear, Gemma!

      Reply
  16. Hello everyone!
    I’ve been having relationship anxiety for over a year and I can relate to some of your comments.
    Lately, since I’ve read a lot about anxiety and rocd, I read about “Limerence” too. So my mind is like “what if your only with him because you’re limerent and it’s not real love what you feel?”
    I don’t know if this is an intrusive thought or just the truth but it’s hard to swallow.

    Limerence sounds pretty bad and like a really selfish way of being with someone.
    I’m actually really anxious and feel like crying because of this. I can’t stop thinking about it. I’ve been avoiding my partner because I’ve been thinking that maybe I am “obssessed” with him and I don’t want to be. That would be dissapointed.

    Reply

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