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.