The Art of Patient Loving

Perhaps the area of our lives to suffer most from the increasingly fast pace of the culture is love, for the expectation of immediate results naturally leads to a belief that love should not only be easy, but that when there’s a problem, it should be remediated quickly. Love doesn’t work this way. The truth is that when it comes to intimate relationships – with partners, friends, and children – very few things come quickly or easily.

As I’m decades away from my own battle with relationship anxiety and many of my long-term clients are now swimming in their own troughs and trials of early parenting, it’s on the front of the parent-child relationship that the need for patience appears most prominently in my life. For there’s a loud and pervasive expectation in the current parenting culture that says that when there’s a challenge with a child, it needs to fixed right away. As in instantly. But what I’ve found is that in reality the true challenges that we attend to in our children are not easily remedied, and the expectation that it should be so creates untold levels of anxiety.

I was talking to one of my dearest friends about the topic of patience a few weeks ago. We’ve raised our boys together and are now watching them emerge into young men. Between the three of them, our boys have had their share of challenges, and had my friend and I succumbed to the dominant parenting model and pressures our boys would have been sifted through the medical and academic systems where they would have been tested, labeled, and branded as problematic in some way. Stigmatized and likely bullied, their self-esteem would have tumbled into the gutter and we would not only then have to deal with the original challenges but would have had the additional, much more difficult, layer of low self-worth on top of them.

Our boys are far from perfect and we both have a long way to go on the parenting road, but we can say without a doubt that our boys know themselves, like themselves, and trust themselves. They’re joyful, self-directed, and passionate about their interests. They have close, good friends and are comfortable around adults. They’re well on their way to growing into young men with strong moral character guided by a mindset of kindness. What more could we ask for?

None of this came easily. Those of you who have followed my blog from the beginning know that my older son struggled intensely with the fear of death for years and years. And years and years. And more years. Despite all of our attempts to attend to this fear through teaching mindfulness, Tonglen, and many other creative and traditional approaches, the fear held fast. It manifested in different ways at different times in his life, most prominently through difficulty falling asleep, and there were times when we felt powerless, hopeless, and scared that the fear would follow him forever. But slowly and imperceptibly, as he grew and matured and finally settled more fully into himself, the fear dissipated.

In fact, at this point it’s virtually non-existent, and in some strange turn of psychological experience it seems actually to have done a complete one-eighty. Not only does he not fear death, he doesn’t fear anything, and every other day asks if he can go skydiving, hang-gliding, para-sailing, and every other death-defying flying experience he can think of. And, as I shared here, a few weeks after he turned fourteen, he soloed in a glider. Was he scared? Appropriately, yes. But he walked through the center of the fear and found ecstasy on the other side. I literally could not have imagined the young boy who was afraid of so much, including struggling with separation anxiety until he was nine, flying into the sky by himself at fourteen.

The same principles apply in the realm of relationship anxiety. People suffering from relationship anxiety often ask, “When will I feel better?” Given the misery that relationship anxiety can create, it’s an understandable question. But as I explained in the article linked above, you can’t rush healing. We heal in layers and spirals, moving forward then what appears to be backward then around again into the core of healing. While there are some people who take my Break Free From Relationship Anxiety E-Course and are able to find their clarity and serenity quite quickly, for many others the path to serenity is more circuitous and lengthy. In a culture that promises the quick-fix at every turn, this can be disheartening. But when we’re able to shift our mindset from one that expects instant results to one that understands that true healing takes time, we can relax into the process a bit more.

As I’ve quoted several times on this blog, this quote from Rilke can be helpful when we’re on the long road of healing, whether in parenting, partnership, or in life:

“Be patient toward all that is unsolved in your heart and try to love the questions themselves, like locked rooms and like books that are now written in a very foreign tongue. Do not now seek the answers, which cannot be given you because you would not be able to live them. And the point is, to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps you will then gradually, without noticing it, live along some distant day into the answer.”

This isn’t the message of the culture, but it’s the message from the soul. When we can breathe into the process of healing and begin to love the questions themselves, life becomes first more manageable, then tolerable, and eventually enjoyable. It all takes time.

27 comments to The Art of Patient Loving

  • Julia

    Thank you for this Sheryl. I keep getting frustrated when the anxiety, RA, and depression come back, but reading this I am reminded that we heal in layers. It’s so easy to forget.

  • Sara

    I seriously feel like God is following me. No matter I how much the fear tries to tear things apart, God ALWAYS does something to remind me to He is there showing me the way forward. Your article was the 2nd thing I read today about being patient with the process. Because thats what it is… A PROCESS! For two people to grow together it takes time, patience, and a whole lot of love for yourself and the other person (even tho you may not feel it all the time). For those of us who never saw that modeled, it is so difficult to do. It is so much easier to follow fear and all the negative things it tells you down its rabbit trails of falsehood. Its easier to say, “Its too hard to learn to see the good and beauty in my partner that leads to love and open heart. That should just come naturally.” In my experience it has never come naturally. Coming from an abusive past and an out of control thought life, the easiest thing to do my whole life was to go with how I felt rather than to learn to change the story lines in my head and heart.

    This may be the most challenging season I’ve ever been through, but I’m discovering its worth every tear, battle, and all the anxiety driven days that have gone by for the past 1.5 years. Because SLOWLY I’m gaining control over my thoughts. SLOWLY I’m seeing my partner in a more positive light. SLOWLY I’m seeing that our differences can help challenge each other (as longs as its done in love). And honestly, its a day by day, hour by hour, and minute by minute process. Yet as he moves towards connecting and loving me well and I as I move in the same direction, I notice something. We begin meeting in the middle where connection and intimacy grows. Its come with a lot of difficulties as i’ve always been avoidant and he tends towards being anxious, but the point is we are learning. I hold on to the hours it is easier and notice they grow in time. And I guess that is the point of this article as well. Time. I can’t expect him to grow in a day and my growth won’t happen that fast either.

    Thanks as always, Sheryl. Your heart and wisdom truly bless us all!

    • Spoken like a true love-warrior. Beautiful and thank you.

      • Sara

        Thanks, Sheryl. I feel like I’ve just BARELY scratched the surface, but I guess thats where everyone starts as they become love-warriors 😀

        • Being a love warrior doesn’t mean you’re at the finish line (there is no finish line). It means you’re committed to the journey.

          • Sara

            Thank you, Sheryl, for that reminder. I’m always looking for that end destination. I remember something you mentioned in the ecourse about how after you have done the work for so long you eventually stop crying and feeling anxious all the time and you settle into a new way of being. So maybe the work of the love warrior is to let a new kind of love continually be reborn in you.

    • Leslie

      WoW Sara ! I Love what Sheryl wrote, but I have to tell you, I Equally LOVE your heart felt message. Truly, every thing you wrote , I COULD have written ! … just, I didnt realize it so much until I read your message. As i was reading it, I kept saying Yep, Yep , Yep. Could relate to pretty much EVERY thought and feeling you shared. Sounds like we are BOTH on Very Similar Love Warrior paths. Thanks for sharing all that you did. Your insights have actually helped me lots, as I have been struggling for over a year with letting my FEELINGS and NEVER Ending THOUGHTS fully consume and lead me in my new relationship. Your post has helped me to step back and REALLY reflect on WHY this isn’t working. Thank You So Much .. both you and Sheryl. LOVE your posts Shery !! I have gained LOTS though you, too. <3

      • Sara

        Thanks Leslie! It’s so good to know I’m not alone in the process. Honestly, I have had anxiety and irritation from the first week my boyfriend and I met. It’s happened before in other relationships where as soon as somebody would start showing me affection and love I would get so irritated and the relationship would never last longer than a month. With my current boyfriend though, I’ve loved his heart from the beginning and even though we’ve had our challenges and have different views on things, we always seem to somehow meet in the middle and we see how our differences really make a difference in our lives and in the lives of others that we influence. Also, I noticed that the irritation decreases as I trust him and see his beautiful heart more and more. He’s silly and playful at heart and though I’ve always been silly, it’s always been in a sarcastic and bantering way that made fun of people. So I’ve had a hard time adjusting to the fact that somebody could just be silly and play and not be trying to put me down or antagonize me. But I guess that’s the beauty of having clear eyes and not fear eyes! I’ve been taking the breaking free from relationship anxiety course and it’s really helped me work with the false ways that I’ve seen things. I’m definitely not out of the woods yet, and still have days of doubt, but I also have a lot of confidence that our relationship is going to grow and move forward.

        Also, I’m a huge believer in prayer and I’ve seen God more prayers than I can’t count w my BF at this point. So that helps remind me God is in this process too. 🙂

  • Linda Farley

    Thank you so much. I was having a terribly emotional day and this reminded me to be patient with what is unsolved.

  • talespinner

    I have had this one specific friend for almost 25 years. Our relationship has been hot and cold over the years with her being passive aggressive and me being a pleaser/chaser so the dynamic has always been me doing way more than she to see one another. Also I have become way more spiritually/Buddhist minded after my divorce so we are on different planes in terms of things at the moment.

    For the last year, I have been observing her immaturity even at almost 40, her passive aggressive nature, and spiteful judgement of those who either aren’t at her level or if the wind isn’t blowing just right, just people in general. She will say terrible things about people, then tell them she loves them and act like they are best friends, and this is becoming not OK to me anymore. I down play the good in my life because she doesn’t genuinely celebrate others successes and I don’t want to make her fell worse than she already does.

    And to top it off, her mother passed away (who was the center of her world) three months ago. I have spent these last two months running myself down, driving the hour to her home, bringing her small necessities, encouraging her, calling, texting, and most times with no response or notion of thanks. I have to go to another state to help care give my mother-in-law, and I have this deep fear that I will come back to her turned on me as well (I am half expecting it with her level of grief anyway).

    So how do I handle this transition? Looking at the “friends” in my life and realizing they may not be the best choices for me anymore is very painful. Wanting to connect and not on Facebook, but the people I know, just won’t. I am ready to leave most of them behind and look for new souls, ones that I don’t feel afraid to leave because they might turn on me, or simply forget about me. This is such a joyous and freeing time, but also so sad as I can see these people never changing but continuing to complain. I somehow feel guilty that I am choosing a better way for myself instead of staying on the level they are. I guess it comes down to broken people choosing broken people to stay broken, it’s easier than having to be accountable I suppose.

    Thanks everyone.

  • Sarah Koestner

    This is so beautiful Sheryl! Thank you so much for sharing! xoxoxo

  • Does the fears and questions regarding relationship anxiety arise when there is conflict between thr partners?My boyfriend and I had a fight yesterday where we realised our demons:his tendency to get easily irritable and angry(but he has never ever shown his frustrations to me until now) an my tendency to nag and take everything into face value..We realised we had these weaknesses and acknowledged it

  • Aizada

    Dear Sheryl,
    Just to thank you for this wonderful wonderful article. It did come in time for me too – and yes, to love patiently/with patience is such a great challenge for me.
    Wish you all the very best.
    Wish love from Tashkent, Uzbekistan

  • Bianca Wilson

    So, so, SO perfectly timed Sheryl. I am moving into the stage of life where friends are beginning to get married and many are meeting “the one.” Many are talking about how they “just know” with one of my best friends moving in with her boyfriend after a few months while my other best friend met her Twin Flame 2 months ago and will be getting married early next year. It has been extremely confronting the quickness of it all since I am a year into my relationship completely unsure if he’s “the one” and it is my second round of dealing with relationship anxiety. Despite having a boyfriend who is kind, available, loving, loyal, committed and a good person I still 100% deal with this lack of patience of wanting to feel more in love NOW; falling victim to the comparison monster and focusing on his perceived negative traits. Having been through this before, I know this is me and my issue last round of this was also patience and wanting it to be resolved immediately. Eventually I let go and the relationship still ended and I learned so much but it’s interesting watching myself deal with it again now and watching how the intensity of the impatience is still there…..no doubt because life is moving even faster than it did 5 years ago when I originally dealt with this.

    Anyways, I printed out the quote around living the questions since it struck me so hard so I thank you again for your words of wisdom that always comfort my soul whilst I do this work <3

    • I am not trying to pry,but let me ask you…have you felt an irritation or impatient feeling when u r with your partner?How did ur previous relationship end?Was it because of your thoughts telling you it isnt right?

  • josephine

    I have a question about always feeling the stress about confessing every thought in my mind, and all the mistakes i’ve made. It’s so exhausting, because there are always new mistakes to tell about, especially to my partner, but also in some cases to friends and family. Everone says that they tell their partners everything, and I guess it stresses me out, because it’s always these shamefull thoughts and actuons that I feel like I need to somehow put out there. And half of the time it feels quite bissare. I feel like I can’t allow myself to have any secrets, thoughts or fantasies on my own, because it feels like everyone else is so open in comparason to me. (I think deep down that i’m being a bit to honest at times) My anxiety wont go if I don’t confess, but still there will always come new things.

    Anyone who has the same thoughts, and what would you say about this Sheryl?

    • Sara

      Hi Josephine,

      I resonate with your post. I personally don’t think its wise to tell your partner EVERYTHING you are thinking and feeling in regards to the anxiety. With the amount of awful and terrible things my anxious thoughts and projections tell me, I find that its best to not get into every specific negative thought I’m having. I do tell my partner about my anxiety and the general themes around it, as well as some of my projections just so he knows what i’m feeling and thinking is my stuff and not him.

      In regards to mistakes or secrets tho, for the most part I’m open with him. I wouldn’t want to keep anything from him that would be harmful to our relationship. But also keep in mind that the anxiety could be triggering that need for you to say everything that your feeling in order to get reassurance that you’re okay. I say that cause I’ve been there before and still struggle with that. Have you taken any of Sheryl’s courses on relationship anxiety or trust yourself? They’ve really helped me learn how to take hold of my thoughts and decrease my anxiety. Just a thought. I hope that’s helpful!

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