People find me because they’re in the throes of anxiety, and quite often the anxiety centers around their intimate relationship. They’re taken down by a series of questions that cause them to fear whether or not they’re in the “right” relationship or if they’re making a “mistake.” I’ve said it many times on this site but it’s worth repeating: most people who find me are in loving, solid relationships and the fear that plagues them is purely based in anxiety. There is a small percentage of people – maybe 5% – who realize that their fear is coming from a truthful place and is an indicator that there are serious red-flag issues in the relationship that need to be addressed, but these issues are obvious from my first conversation with them and aren’t associated with the gut-wrenching feelings that accompany relationship anxiety.
For the vast majority, the anxiety hits like a force from the underworld and literally pulls them from their high functioning, day-to-day life with a rush of terror into a hell-realm. Where they were once happily walking forward toward a stable married life, they’re now fraught with so much anxiety that it inhibits their ability to eat, sleep, and properly function, let alone plan a wedding. They fervently wish that the anxiety would vanish, mistakenly assuming that it’s a sign that they’re in the wrong relationship and that the only solution is to leave. That’s when they google “engagement anxiety” or “marriage fear” and find their way here.
The first, and most essential step, in working through the anxiety is reversing the longing for it to disappear and recognizing that there is great wisdom encased inside the shell of misery. This is obviously a challenging mental shift to make; no one wants to live with the demon of anxiety and it’s understandable that you would want it to vanish. But without the willingness to explore its roots and depths, there can be no true healing. For most people, this requires removing a strong mental block of fear that says, “If I explore the anxiety, I’ll discover that I don’t really want to be in this relationship and I’ll have to leave this person that I love.” So the first step is finding the courage to learn whatever it is that is meant to be learned.
It’s a strange and counter-intuitive statement, but what all of my clients eventually learn is that there is great wisdom living inside the fear-based thoughts and obsessional questions. In order to access this wisdom, it can be helpful to view yourself as a hero or heroine embarking on what Joseph Campbell called, “The Hero’s Journey.” Then you will find the willingness to descend into the darker regions of your psyche and hold a flashlight of truth on what you find there. And here’s a nugget of reassurance to counteract the fear of looking inside: what you find will have nothing to do with your partner and everything to do with you. You’ll find a storehouse of unshed grief, a soft place of vulnerability like the underbelly of a shy sea-creature, a river of fear, a warehouse of false beliefs about love, marriage, romance, and intimacy. And, as you learn to attend to your difficult feelings and replace the false beliefs with the truth, you’ll find a level of serenity, empowerment and healing that you never knew possible. The anxiety that you’re experiencing about your relationship isn’t new and isn’t the first time you’ve felt anxious in your life. If you’re like most people who find me, you’ve battled with anxiety periodically or consistently your entire life. Now is your chance to heal it.
The magic of this deep level of soul work is uncovering what it is that your soul is attempting to communicate. The soul longs for wholeness, aliveness, and serenity, but it doesnt always know how to attain these yearnings. Instead of asking directly for more aliveness, for example, we tend to project the desire onto our partner in the form of the thought: “He’s not interesting enough.” If we become stuck on this thought and believe it’s the truth, we miss the rich opportunity to mine for the diamond inside the anxiety.
I’ve often said that the over-focus on our partners’ negative qualities is a distraction or protection against the difficult feelings that are triggered by transitions: the grief of letting go of being single and the fantasy of the perfect partner, the fear of leaping into the unknown, the vulnerability that accompanies the risk of loving. But I’ve recently realized that, while the thoughts can be a protection against the difficult feelings, they’re also doorways into widening our consciousness and deepening our emotional and spiritual growth.
In order to crack through the anxious barrier and arrive at the diamond hidden inside, it’s helpful to understand which questions are pointing to which diamonds. To facilitate this process, I’ve grouped the most common questions according to their positive function.
The Longing for More Aliveness and Creativity arrives in the form of:
- I’m bored.
- He’s not intellectual enough.
- She’s not funny enough.
- He’s not social enough.
- All we do is sit around and watch TV; won’t that lead to a boring marriage?
The Need for a Spiritual Connection that Helps you Accept Uncertainty arrives in the form of:
- What if I’m making a mistake?
- What if our marriage ends?
- What if this anxiety is a sign that I’m making a mistake and if we get divorced I’ll regret not listening to myself?
- What if there’s someone better out there?
The Longing for a More Integrated Relationship with your Own Inner Loving Adult arrives in the form of:
- I’m lonely.
- He/she should make me feel whole.
- I’m not happy (and therefore it’s his/her fault).
- What if I’m not ready to get married?
- What if I jumped into this relationship too quickly after my last one ended?
- What if I’m only with him because I’m scared to be single?
The Soul’s Need to Develop More Compassion, Tolerance, and Self-Love arrives in the form of:
- I’m not attracted to him.
- I can’t stand the way he chews.
- I can’t stand the way she laughs.
- He’s not social enough.
- He’s shorter than I am.
- He’s not fit enough.
The Need to Develop of a Truthful Understanding of Love and Marriage arrives in the form of:
- What if I don’t love him enough?
- What if something changes, we grow apart, and our marriage ends?
- I don’t feel butterflies every time he walks in the door; that must mean there’s something wrong.
- We only have sex __ times a week/month.
- I don’t miss him like crazy when he’s away.
- I enjoy spending time on my own; shouldn’t I want to spend every second with her?
This is by no means an exhaustive list, but I hope you can start to see my point (and feel free to add or question this list in your comments!). When you address the anxiety from this perspective and approach it every day with a curious mind, you will start to break through its shell and arrive at your kernels of wisdom.
The singlemost important factor that determines one’s ability to move through this anxiety is pulling back the projection from your partner and recognizing that the source of the anxiety is in you and the ability to work through it rests in you. No one can save you from your own mind, your false beliefs, and your uncomfortable feelings. The willingness to take full responsibility for your well-being is the foundation for addressing these questions and finding your diamonds that are waiting, shimmering and full of beauty, to be revealed.