As evidenced by our high divorce rate and, even more disheartening, how few long-term marriages are thriving and fulfilling, it’s clear that our culture has it all wrong when it comes to love. Not only do we project our gold and gods onto our partners instead of taking responsibility for our own genius and aliveness, but we unknowingly project our negative attributes onto our partners as well. If we received even the most basic roadmap about love – including understanding key concepts like projection and the pursuer-distancer syndrome – we would no doubt have a much higher satisfaction rate when it comes to long-term relationships. Instead, the mainstream message, as dispersed through the media, is that physical attraction, chemistry, and spark are at the top of the non-negotiable list of partner needs.

Obviously, I sing a different song, and it’s one that has served the thousands of people who have gone through my Break Free From Relationship Anxiety Course and other courses quite well. The chorus of my song is that how we understand attraction is misguided and limited, and that irritation, doubt, annoyance, numbness, and even repulsion are not only expected when you’re prone to anxiety but also essential passageways through which you’re brought to the doorstep of yourself. Love and fear are cousins in the heart-pocket of love, and if you’re going to open to love you have to be willing to walk through fear.

Clients and course members often ask me, “So if my relationship isn’t based on sexual or physical attraction, what is it based on? If it’s not based on the fluttery butterflies that I’ve always associated with being in love and have used as yardsticks by which I’ve measured if my relationship is “right”, what are my new yardsticks?”

There are many, but it simmers down to these two main qualities in a long-term partner.

The first essential quality is:

1. Character: By which I mean honesty, loyalty, commitment, and a good heart. You’re looking for someone with integrity. You’re looking for a stand-up human being. You’re looking for the person who is going to follow through on their word, who is going to pick up the phone when you call, who understands the difference between truth and lies (even small ones).

Kate Kerrigan, my favorite fiction author on love, says it bluntly and well in her essay(and obviously this doesn’t only apply to women):

Optimism and chemistry, which seem to be the bedrock of the modern marriage, just don’t cut it, folks. And while I am pontificating, one more tip for the ladies: Try to find a man who has that most underrated of qualities: character.

Now, now… pipe down fear-based voices. I hear you: What if my partner lies sometimes? What if my partner was unfaithful in the past? What if I was unfaithful? We’re not looking for perfection; nobody is perfect and we’ll all learning along the path of life. What we’re looking for is someone who is basically honest and is willing to own their mistakes when they make one. We all mess up. We have all told lies. What matters is that we can look at them, own them, and learn from them.

Which brings us to our second essential quality:

2. A Willingness to Learn: This means that your partner has a basic openness to grow together. Is this someone with whom I can learn about love? is the cut-through question for relationship anxiety, which wants to perseverate on everything that’s perceived as missing in your partner. The glass half-empty mindset, which is almost always intrinsic to the anxious-sensitive personality type, will tear your partner to shreds under your high-resolution, fear-based microscope that is looking for reasons to run and, thus, not take the risk of loving. It will insist that you answer a barrage of endlessly changing yet seemingly imperative questions about your partner’s worthiness before you decide to give your whole heart.

This is fear at work, and the most effective way to cut through fear is to call it onto the mat. When you’re in the throes of relationship anxiety, you’ll need to keep calling fear out, over and over again, as well as digging dip into your own places of hurt and wound the are trying desperately to convince you to run. But when you know that you’re with someone who is good, loving, and willing to take this journey with you, you’ll have an easier time reeling back in the projection that says that the problem is your choice in partner and instead begin to focus on the inner work that needs attention. 

Does your partner have these qualities? What was positively alighted or negatively triggered as you read this post. Share in the comments below.

This week’s intro to my weekly email came from my Instagram feed. If you’re not on Instagram, good for you! If you are, I’d love to connect with you there at: sherylpaul_wisdomofanxiety.

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