Last week’s post provoked some anxiety in my clients and readers already prone to relationship anxiety, as I suspected it would. Alongside more typical intrusive thoughts like, “What if I’m gay?“, “What if I don’t love my partner enough?” and “What if I’m settling?“, the less obvious hamster-wheel perseverations like, “What if we don’t talk enough?” and “What if we don’t have enough of a connection?” can also rattle the anxious mind and deserve attention.
But not too much attention. What I mean is that once you resolve one question and find enough certainty to move on (conclude that of course you’re not gay; don’t you think you would have known that already?), if you don’t address the root causes of the intrusive thoughts you’ll quickly find yourself trying to bang the gopher of a different obsession down the hole. And then you’ll find yourself tumbling down the rabbit hole of anxiety, hell-bent on finding the definitive answer to your next soul-shaking question.
So it’s not that you need to give attention to the thought itself and try to resolve the question. In fact, you can’t resolve the question because these are fundamentally unanswerable questions. There’s not a blood test you can take to determine if you’re 100% straight or gay, if you love your partner “enough”, or if you share a strong enough connection. Either you dip down into the place of self-trust and self-knowledge so that can answer these questions to a satisfactory degree and/or you start to cultivate a relationship to uncertainty. And that’s when you find the gold that lives in the center of intrusive thoughts.
Living with uncertainty. We simply don’t like it. We want definitive answers. We want definable goals. We are intrinsically wired to gravitate toward a need for control and a subsequent attempt to create the illusion of control, but our dominant parenting and education models only reinforce this basic ego need. When we don’t honor the natural rhythm of a child and coerce her into conforming to an externalized model whereby she gains approval, her inborn self-trust is weakened. Adults inadvertently reinforce the ego’s need for control instead of helping children cultivate their connection to Self, which helps them connect to the transitory flow of life.
The fear-based self believes that if you could answer the question of the day – let’s say “Do we have a strong enough connection?” – you would hedge your bets and know, without any doubt, that you’re not making a mistake by moving forward with your partner. Because the fear-based self is terrified of risk, terrified of anything that touches into vulnerability, it creates elaborate and convincing reasons why you need to walk away from your loving partner with whom you could forge a shared, meaningful life. This creates an illusion of control, and as uncomfortable as it is to live in the head space of anxiety or uncertainty, it’s often a preferable state to the ambiguous, vulnerable place of living in your heart. In other words, the question to ask yourself is, “Is it more important for me to remain attached to the illusion of control or to learn about what it means to be loving?” If you want to learn about what it means to be loving to yourself and others, you have to be willing to let go of control.
This obviously doesn’t happen in one Hollywood, breakthrough moment of therapeutic enlightenment. Making the choice to learn about love rather than remain tightly wound in the safe fortress of control is a daily, sometimes hourly, choice. Years into marriage, it’s still a choice that we make every day, every time we notice that the habitual wall has snaked around our hearts and constricted our openness and willingness to actively give and receive love. Every time you notice the wall, you have a choice. And the intrusive thoughts are a wall; they keep you stuck in your head and create a wedge between you and your partner.
It’s a terrifying choice, no doubt. It’s a choice that flies in the face of every illusion of safety that you’ve spent a lifetime constructing. It’s as terrifying as standing on the cliff of eternity and leaping into the abyss. Let yourself feel that terror. Let yourself begin to befriend the mystery of life instead of clinging to what you think you can control. The truth is that there is so little we can control. We make plans because we want to know what will happen in the next hour, but the unknowable and mysterious force of LIFE could subvert your plans in an instant. The only freedom is to make friends with not knowing. When you start to become more comfortable with the places of not knowing, the intrusive thoughts will slowly fade away.
So here’s the million-dollar question: How do you let go of control and becoming more comfortable with uncertainty? This is a multi-layered question without an easy answer. I address this in my Conscious Weddings E-Course and I’ll be discussing it in depth in my two upcoming courses that will be released next year, but for now here are my suggestions (all of which require a daily commitment to turn your attention inward to fill your well of Self and connect to a source greater than yourself):
1. Commit to a daily mindfulness practice
When you practice mindfulness, you learn to connect to a source of energy that isn’t dependent on externals. You connect to your breath, your heart, and your deeper sense of intrinsic Self that has nothing to do with looks, grades, degrees, profession, etc. You connect to enduring qualities instead of ephemeral and transitory qualities. You learn to soften into your heart and connect to the only sustainable and unending energy source in the universe: Love.
2. Commit to a daily journaling practice
3. Commit to a daily prayer practice
Rituals and prayers both anchor us in the here and now and connect us to the flow of creative energy that surrounds us. When you pray for release from fear you’re proactively handing over the reins of control to a source outside of yourself (or the highest part of yourself), which helps you accept that you’re not in control but that you can trust that things are being taken care of. I share the simple prayer practice that I recommend in this article.
The bottom line is that when the waters of your inner well of Self are full – meaning that you know yourself and trust yourself – you can ask yourself a question like, “Am I gay?” or “Are we connected?” and answer it with enough certainty to provide reassurance. And when the waters of your inner well of full you also don’t need 100% certainty in order to feel safe inside and prepared to move forward with decisions. You give yourself permission to make mistakes. You understand that it’s through failure that we learn. You view life through the mindset that we are here to learn and grow and all of life’s experiences can be channeled toward that end.
P.S.: For those of you who followed our flood adventures, the photo in this article is our post-flood creek, repaired with artistry and skill by a group of incredible workers. We are so grateful.