This is How My Husband and I are Like Ducks in the Creek

by | Apr 25, 2021 | Anxiety, Relationships | 34 comments

My husband and I sitting on the bench at the creek that he made for me many years ago for Mother’s Day. I’m feeling tired, and I lay my head in his lap. Spring has finally arrived in Colorado, and the sun is dancing on the water, kissing our skin, holding us in golden light. We look at the creek and notice two ducks, the same pair who come to this patch of creek every year. We feel honored that they’re here.

“They mate for life,” I remind him. “Just like us.”

We kiss and snuggle and hold each other close. We talk about work and kids and nothing and everything. It’s blissful. Like a first date but a million times better because it’s supported by decades of living life together, working through the protective layers, clashing against each other’s defenses and shame and trauma, raising children, moving, job changes, loss, celebrations, joy, more medicinal laughter than I can quantify (he’s the funniest person I know and yet, as mind-blowing as it is to me now, there was a time when my defense didn’t let me see his humor), and always, always reaching for each other through the storms and landing on soft sandy beaches… together. And these days it’s more sandy beaches than storms.

Later I reflect, as I often do, on how we landed here. I think about the tsunami of relationship anxiety that claimed me a few months into our relationship, how I tried not to date him and even broke up with him for a day but how something kept pulling me back. Our love story didn’t look like any love story I had ever seen and yet, despite the anxiety and what felt like flames of hell at times, I knew that there was something profoundly beautiful between us: real love, true love, the love that Hollywood tries to emulate but can only hint it, so superficial is the telling of the glossy Disney love stories.

The fire analogy is not accidental for something had to be sacrificed in the flames in order for us to move the relationship forward. As the hosts of the podcast “This Jungian Life” share in episode 158 called The Phoenix: Life’s Transformative Fires, we must sacrifice something of ourselves if we’re going to step into the next stage of life, especially when it comes to intimate relationships:

“It’s in the fire of relationships, in the fire of love, that we are shaped and reshaped, that the parts we could not imagine submitting to change become something that we gladly submit to a suffering when it is sanctified by that deep, caring love for another person. And if we are unattached… or refuse to attach deeply enough, we are not called, and perhaps not even supported adequately to be able to tolerate the fires of change.

“In fact, I wonder sometimes for people who cannot seemingly get into a significant bonded relationship, if there is an avoidance of the Phoenix stage because they sense on some level that if they surrender to truly loving and truly bonding, they will not be able to escape a change process that will take something that they currently think is precious away from them.”

“It’s what love asks of all of us. True, deep love. And we may shy away from giving that.”

Relationship anxiety is the “shying away” from submitting to true, deep love. It’s the protective barrier that says, “My partner isn’t _______ enough and therefore I need to leave or keep myself separate in some way”, and it’s this protection that prevents us from laying parts of ourselves into the sacrificial fire, the crucible, the alchemical vessel of a relationship that has true love at its core.

When relationship anxiety shows up and bangs loudly at the doors of psyche we can ask, “What am I afraid to surrender? What am I being asked to let go of, to give up, to die to in order to show up fully for this relationship?”

It could be so many things.

It could be our fear of losing ourselves, losing our separateness, which often stems from growing up with an enmeshed relationship with a parent.

It could be our fear of losing the chance at the perfect fantasy partner who will validate our worthiness or lift us about the pain of life or make us feel alive, and what is being asked is that we name the fantasy and toss it into sacrificial fire.

It could be the single life, the single identity, and the illusory fantasies that accompany it (which our culture loves to glorify – ie Eat, Pray, Love syndrome).

It could be our hidden shame, that lining that lives inside most of us, that says, “I’m not enough. I was never enough. I didn’t fit in. I didn’t belong” that then becomes projected onto our partner in the form of relationship anxiety and can often be whittled down to the three-word sentence, “You’re not enough.” See this post for more on the word “enough.” 

It could be our lifelong focus on caring what other people think and feeling afraid that others won’t approve of our choice of partner. This points to lack of self-trust, and it’s this self-doubt that needs to be tossed into the sacrificial fires.

It could be so many things. But, you see, none of them corroborate with the relationship anxiety voice that says, “The problem is my partner.” As long as you’re in a healthy, loving relationship, t’s not the relationship that needs to be thrown into the fire but the early pain around enmeshment and self-doubt and shame and expectations of perfection and unrealistic fantasies. And this isn’t a one-time ritual sacrifice but a process that takes place over many years, decades even, as we spiral more deeply into our pain and shame layers and learn how to reach for our partner as we help each other heal.

Relationship anxiety is the invitation and the portal that leads us into healing. It can be a harrowing journey at times, but also one of the most rewarding, for when you pull back the projection that says that the problem is your partner you have an opportunity to see your own old pain in high relief. And this is when true healing begins.

I’ve been working in the realm of relationship anxiety for twenty years, and have guided thousands of people through its rocky terrain through my Break Free From Relationship Anxiety course. I now lead this course live once a year, which includes titrating the dense material over eight weeks as I guide you via email and six group coaching calls where we’ll have a chance to connect voice-to-voice in real time and hear from others who are struggling in the same ways you’re struggling. There are few experiences more healing than gathering in safe, like-minded groups with an experienced guide facilitating the circle.

I want you to have what I have. I want you to be like two ducks on the creek. When I ask people who are struggling with relationship anxiety to share their vision of the future with their partner, it’s always some version of: “I want us to grow old together. I want to be sitting on a porch with my partner, watching our grandchildren play, holding hands, loving each other.” I want you to be able to make the necessary sacrifices that will allow you to snuggle into real love and grow the healthy, lifelong relationship that is your birthright. As the alchemists knew, we can take the lead of our experience – the weighty, scary, shadowy parts of ourselves – and, when worked with properly, transform it into gold.

A healthy, solid relationship is gold. The next round of the course begins this Saturday May 8th, 2021, spots are filling fast, and I look forward to guiding you there.

Here are the times for the six group coaching calls (subject to change).If you can’t make the live call you can listen to the recording immediately afterward:

Call 1: Tuesday May 11 at 11am ET
Call 2: Monday May 17th at 6:15pm ET
Call 3: Tuesday May 25th at 11am ET
Call 4: Monday May 31st at 6:15pm ET
Call 5: Tuesday June 8th at 11am ET
Call 6: Monday June 14th 6:15pm ET

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34 Comments

  1. I always think that maybe I want the single identity again and that I’m not living my true self. Is the course something for me?

    Reply
    • Absolutely. That’s a textbook relationship anxiety thought.

      Reply
  2. Thank you for this post, Sheryl. Grateful for the important reminders, and the resources you have sprinkled throughout. I really appreciate the Phoenix as a symbol of true love, and what it takes to get there. In my short 1.5 years with my partner, I have already experienced a few (or more) transformations. It has also been a catalyst for so many other shifts outside of my relationship. I can’t imagine what would have happened if I had initially followed my fear and resistance, and the belief that he/I/we weren’t “enough”. I of course still have much to re-learn and learn for the first time, but I can say that in the year that I have found your work (via the Break Free from Relationship Anxiety course) my life truly has shifted and my healing work has deepened greatly. And I have so much love and gratitude for my partner. And it all started with relationship anxiety. That was my initial call, and wow what a journey. Forever grateful for you and your work, and your generosity in sharing the gems, resources, and metaphors that supported you or your work along the way.

    ps: Your husband built you a bench to sit by the creek?! Oh my!!! That is the sweetest and most thoughtful/romantic gift. It’s so beautiful <3

    Reply
    • I love this that you’re seeing the transformations already, Mayi. It really is such a powerful journey, and quite often starts with relationship anxiety (at least for those who find their way to my work!). And yes, the bench! Incredible man :).

      Reply
      • hi sheryl. i’m wondering if relationship anxiety can get projected onto a close friend.

        i’m going through a break up, a move, and a job change, (my family is also moving from my childhood home), and through all of this one of my friends has been a particularly solid pillar of support. we unfortunately experienced a deep rupture during this time, but it was handled with love and we have worked towards repair. still, i’m noticing fears and aversions arising that are similar to those i struggled with in my romantic relationship that just ended (she doesn’t *get* me, i’m afraid to upset her, i can’t tell where my boundaries are and that scares me, nitpicking our conversations etc.)

        i’m having trouble moving forward, because i don’t know if i can ask of this friend what could be asked of a partner, & if this means that i have to let go of the relationship. something tells me that’s not true, but i’m not sure how to proceed.

        fear is saying: my heart is broken and i don’t know if i can risk anymore loss. i don’t want fear to lead but i feel blinded by it right now.

        thank you <3

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        • & i’d like to mention that none of these thoughts were present before our rupture.

          thank you again.

          Reply
  3. Hi Sheryl,

    What if the question is not “how do I heal from relationship anxiety?” but “how do I know that my anxiety is not trying to signal that I am in an unhealthy relationship?”

    Is that something you respond to in private sessions?

    Reply
  4. I love this so much. It’s so interesting because since I’ve started your work- 6+ years ago. I have become so mindful of my surroundings, and birds have become a huge part of my healing spiritual journey. Certain ones visiting in my yard at different points giving so much meaning to what is going on in my life at the time. And lately it has been ducks!! I am sooooo grateful for the work I’ve put in. And so grateful for the deep safe love my husband and I share. Although in the thick of relationship anxiety I could not see!! As always thank you Sheryl!

    Reply
  5. Thank you for this and all your work, Sheryl! My husband and I were just having a conversation today that skirted around my anxieties that surfaced at the beginning of our engagement. I was so thankful for the wisdom you offer that, today, showed up in naming those anxieties we had been tiptoeing around and feeling very calm and confident to tell him how thankful I am that I went through that Phoenix phase to be here with him now. We have our third anniversary this week and I thank God that I was ushered through the fire to forge our love. I can also relate to how the safety and security that a loving relationship provide create a container for returning to the fire – my own, his and the ones life brings us. Thank you, thank you, thank you for sacrificing yourself at the altar of true love so you could lead others like me to do the same!

    Reply
    • What a beautiful, wise, and rich comment, Nannerb. Thank you so much.

      Reply
  6. P.S. I loved your first podcast! Walking through the forest as I listened to it made the tree references even more potent.

    Reply
    • Yay! This makes me very happy to hear :).

      Reply
  7. Thank you so much for all your incredible offerings! This blog prompted a very helpful revelation and journalling session. I’m very grateful <3

    Reply
  8. I am engaged to be married and I have never been so terrified. I wake up with anxiety and I come to this website for encouragement that this is normal. I know my relationship is healthy and that my fiancé adores and truly cherishes me like no one else has, and yet I find myself unable to feel in love. I compare him to the fantasy man, who is more sophisticated, more educated, and more articulate. I adore that my fiancé is emotionally and socially intelligent, but I feel like we’re not going to have the intellectual sparkle that I love. Without this I often have the feeling that we’re not best friends. Our conversation doesn’t have the ease I wish it would have. He is a good communicator, but he is not articulate or well-read. I fight annoyance with the way he talks and asks questions. I worry that I don’t admire him enough and that I’ll always be admiring other intellectual men and comparing him to them. Then the next minute he makes me laugh and I adore the way he smiles. He listens to me and grows and connects with me emotionally. I don’t want to lose him, but I don’t feel excited about spending my life with him the way I want to. I’m miserable!

    Reply
    • I feel the same, I wonder what Sheryl thinks if we qualify for RA course, since it was the only comment under the article that left unanswered.

      Sheryl, could you shed some light on our situation please? 🙂

      Reply
    • Hi Elle,
      I’m “just” a reader/lurker here, but I can only imagine that must be really hard to feel what you’re feeling right now. Maybe it would be helpful, if you haven’t tried it already, to talk about your concerns with a therapist, or to take a weekend for yourself away from your normal environment and partner and see if you gain some clarity with journaling and such? Wishing you self-trust and a sense of clarity.

      Reply
  9. I think at first of St. Mother Teresa of Calcutta saying, “Love to be real, it must cost—it must hurt—it must empty us of self.” And then I think of another quote of hers as we have learned to sacrifice, and lay down the cost: “I have found the paradox, that if you love until it hurts, there can be no more hurt, only more love.”

    Thank you for this article. Reading it this morning was beautiful.

    Reply
    • Oh, I love both of those quotes, Laura! Thank you for sharing them.

      Reply
  10. This touched on so many major things for me: the fantasy partner, fantasizing about the single life, thinking things would be “easier” if I were on my own or found the “perfect” partner. Also, in the nearly 13 years I’ve been with my husband, I always (but of course never got) a resounding YES from my mom. The most she could ever say is, “You could do worse than him.” And funny enough, I have lived most my life desperate for her approval and never feeling like I was enough. I took this course years ago but I don’t know that I was in the right state of mind to fully commit to the work. Maybe after almost 9 years of marriage (and a toddler) and the continuing stress over whether I should stay or go, now is the time to recommit.

    Reply
    • It definitely sounds like it’s time to recommit!

      Reply
    • Hi Alison, I’m right there with you! I’ve been with my husband for almost 14 years now, too. Married for 7! I took this course when I was engaged but now, after two kids, a move, this insane last year, etc. I feel like I could use a refresher on this course. Thinking of signing up for the live version, too, especially now that I hear someone in a similar situation to me (not totally new to this work!) is thinking of doing it too.

      Reply
      • It’s quite common for relationship anxiety to rear its head periodically, especially when life gets full and there are major transitions. I hope to see you both there!

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      • That’s one of the most powerful things about this space Sheryl has created. Endless support and the knowledge that none of us are alone, as isolating as these thoughts and feelings can be.

        Reply
  11. Hi Sheryl!
    I absolutely loved this post. It was very refreshing to read & exactly what I needed. I’m 21 & I’ve been dating a fantastic guy the past few months. This is the first relationship that I’ve ever had where I truly feel loved, supported, & cared for. I struggle a lot with feelings of unworthiness & not feeling good enough for my partner. I don’t feel like I deserve this healthy love. I really want to work on this and get through it. Part of me feels like I’ll always feel this way & that scares me so much. I want to be present and enjoy every moment. I have never felt so at home with someone before. We’ll be spending them together and a thought will pop into my mind such as “You don’t deserve this”, “What if this all goes away?”, or “You’re not good enough.” I want to get better because I don’t want this to hold me back from the life I’ve always dreamed of. I often worry that if I have relationship anxiety that it makes me unlovable. Do you have any advice on this? Thank you for all that you do Sheryl! I find such great comfort in your work! (:

    Emily

    Reply
  12. Sheryl my partner broke up with me last night because of my relationship anxiety. I’m heart broken and yet I feel this relief that I don’t want to feel. I want him in my life yet I feel like I don’t want to be together. Is it possible for fear to make you feel like this after being hurt or living in fear for so long?

    Reply
  13. Sheryl, this post has ignited in me a realisation that – after all these years – I have more work to do. Some years ago – with your beautiful, wise help – I was able to work with my relationship anxiety, take responsibility, and commit to my partner. We have since had three children, and we are a strong, steady, stable and loving. But upon reading your words, I can see there is another layer waiting to be addressed. I can see that – while I am committed and content – there is a part of me that is holding back – “refusing to attach deeply enough”, and refusing to “surrender to fully loving and fully bonding”. When I feel into it – it is a fear of giving up something of myself, or of being changed beyond repair in some way. I can see now that this work is life long, and at different times new layers of defence will surface and need to be acknowledged if we are to continue to grow in love. I have said it a 1000 times, but thank you for you. I could not find my way to these insights and wisdom without your guidance.

    Reply
    • Sheryl,
      I have taken your Trust Yourself course and it has transformed my life. I currently do not attend therapy and haven’t for some time, and have been considering starting the journey to find a therapist to help both myself and my relationship with my partner. However, I also believe I would benefit tremendously from the your Break Free Course. With our current financial situation, I would not be able to do both at the time. I think I am wondering if having a therapist to be seen 1:1 regularly is as important as I have internalized it or if having the support from your course is a substitute for lack of better words. Thank you.

      Reply
      • Erin: The course is NOT a replacement for therapy. If you can only choose one I recommend therapy.

        Reply

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