This is One of the Essential Pieces to Healing from Relationship Anxiety

by | Apr 18, 2021 | Anxiety, Break Free From Relationship Anxiety, Intrusive Thoughts | 33 comments

If I could reach out across time and sit beside you…

If I could cross the vast spaces that separate us and place a note into your pocket…

If I could gather us together – all of the sweet, sensitive, highly moral, responsible and conscientious souls who find their way to my work – and sit down at the creek in an impossibly huge circle…

This is what I would say:

You are not alone.

Every thought and feeling you’ve had about your partner – every doubt, every projection, every moment of aversion, every time you’ve wanted to throw in the towel and run away, every fantasy about other people, every question, every unbearable moment of ambivalence and regret – is normal. Everyone feels like the exception, but there’s not a thought, feeling, or experience you’ve had with relationship anxiety that I haven’t heard a thousand times before.

In other words, what you’re going through is normal.

You see, it’s the normalization that reduces shame, and when we reduce shame we can do the deeper work of addressing the needs and wounds embedded inside of relationship anxiety. Shame is a protector and a barrier, so the first step of inner work is to reduce shame.

And here’s the thing: I can write about relationship anxiety every week, but it’s often when you come into real-time contact with real voices (not text, forum, Instagram, or blog) that you start to believe that you’re not alone and that what you’re struggling with is normal.

There are untold worlds that are soothed by sharing our struggles in the company of others; there’s something medicinal that occurs when you gather with people who are struggling in the exact same way with the exact same issues. It’s not enough to have people in your life who may struggle with anxiety in general. If it’s not specific to relationship anxiety, they’re not going to understand what you’re going through.

The people who find their way to my work understand. They know in their bones what it is to hook onto a thought that you’re with the wrong partner. They know in their heart the agony of believing the attraction spike and wandering down the dark alleyways of fantasy that tell you that you wouldn’t be feeling this way with someone else, someone to whom you were “more attracted” or with whom you felt “more in love”. They know in their soul what it is to be jolted awake in the middle of the night, heart racing and throat closing, with the telltale feelings of anxiety and the automatic interpretation of, “I’m with the wrong partner.”

And they know the loneliness of carrying the weight of this particular brand of anxiety without being able to talk about it with anyone in their life. They know what it is to share it with a therapist only to be told, “Doubt means don’t. Maybe you’re with the wrong person.” This is why the healing power of being in a group of people who carry your brand of anxiety has becoming increasingly more evident to me over the years of doing this work.

And it’s why I decided to start a live version of the course that I’ve offered since 2010. I can’t offer small groups to my entire audience – and my private coaching calls are booked out for months – but I can offer group coaching calls where people struggling with relationship anxiety can engage in real-time and receive direct guidance from me throughout the duration of the course. In lieu of meeting on the grass outside my studio, receiving the course via email and gathering weekly through the miracle of technology allows you to receive notes in your “pocket” and hear from others so that you can receive the shame antidotes that will allow you heal at the root.

I’d love to connect with you on the next live round of the Break Free From Relationship Anxiety course, which starts on May 8th, 2021. If you’re already a course member, you can sign up for the six coaching calls on this page. And if you haven’t taken the course, you can sign up here as well.

The benefit of going through the live round, in addition to the group coaching calls, is that you’ll be guided step-by-step through the course material with weekly emails directly from me where I highlight key exercises and bring your attention to the questions and topics that are most salient. This is a densely packed course, for healing at the root isn’t a simple 3-step procedure that I can explain in a few short videos. This course is the culmination of decades of work with relationship anxiety, and it’s helped thousands of people break free and find their clarity and serenity. I look forward to meeting you there.

***

Here are the times for the six group coaching calls (subject to change). Note that only about 1/3 of the participants are able to make each call, and you’ll receive a recording of the call 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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33 Comments

  1. Lovely. I think loneliness is a HUGE part of my experience with RA. My wife is highly sensitive too, so whilst she is fully aware that I can suffer greatly with anxiety, and she knows the general theme (and is aware of your work), we don’t really go into details – that would be hurtful. Through therapy I have learnt to differentiate the material that belongs in the marital space from the material that belongs in the therapeutic space. In other words, I have learnt (am learning) to take charge of my own issues.

    Reply
    • I hear so much learning in your comments, Joshua. It’s beautiful to witness.

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  2. Is it still relationship anxiety where my anxiety doesn’t tell me i’m in the wrong relationship, instead it tells me i’m in the right relationship but at the wrong time of my life.

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    • That sounds like a classic relationship anxiety line.

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  3. It feels a little weird even to say this, having always had a pretty good relationship with myself throughout my life so far- or so I thought. But through this journey I have come to really and truly try to find what it takes to properly love myself and accept who I am. For me personally, that has taken the form of literally standing in front of the mirror if I find myself there alone, and actually talking to myself. I’ve never ever said to myself ‘I love you’ or ‘I truly accept you- it’s okay to be whoever and however you want’ and I’m feeling a little emotional even thinking about that. I’m still finding it all really difficult. But if my journey results in me being even a little kinder to me and the child that still very much lives inside me, then that in itself will be a positive. Love to everyone out there who’s finding it hard x

    Reply
    • At the heart of the journey to loving others is learning to love ourselves, and at the heart of learning to love ourselves is the journey of loving others. It sounds like you’re in the center of this learning spiral. Thank you for sharing it with us here.

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  4. Any advice for partners of those with RA? A past therapist once suggested ROCD but he was never treated for it. Been together (with some breaks) for over a decade but he just ended things again. I told him not to contact me again as i was hurt and angry but now feeling some regret. How to know if this is a spike and will i prolong it if i reach out to him? Worried he won’t contact me even if he has regret as i told him not to. Any advice for partners (or ex partners) in this situation?

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    • It sounds like a very painful situation and probably more than I can respond to in a comment. I do recommend learning as much as you can about relationship anxiety so that you understand at least one aspect of what’s underneath his actions.

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      • Hi Sheryl. Been reading your blog posts for a while now and am thinking of joining up. But I need to know if this is worth even pursuing. I’ve been with my partner for 2+ years after being friends with him for 8. I love him so much but there are times that I am so irritated by him for no reason and times when I feel almost repulsed. These happen often and sometimes last days. I don’t want to end this relationship but I don’t want to feel like this around him anymore either. I’m completely torn. Is this over or should I do the course and hope it gets better?

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        • Hi Sheryl. Do you have any advice on the above?

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        • Irritation and repulsion are textbook symptoms of relationship anxiety. As such, the course would benefit you enormously, for the most you address the roots of your fears and withdrawal, the more your heart will open to your partner. In other words, the problem isn’t him :).

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          • Thanks so much for replying!

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  5. Are you planning on doing this for any of your other courses in the future?

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    • I lead all of my 30 and 40-day courses live at least once a year, and the live course always includes groups. coaching calls.

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      • RA is incredibly difficult to talk about with friends and family. It can be so isolating, that was absolutely my experience. One of the most valuable parts of taking Sheryl’s course was getting to hear the voices (interviews w Sheryl that are shared as audio) of other people who suffered as much as I was suffering and had gone through the exact same things and had come out the other side. I still remember the intense tears I cried listening to those stories, they were so powerful. The anxiety that comes from RA is excruciating. Knowing how many other people have walked some version of your own journey is deeply validating. Take this course, you won’t regret it. I haven’t felt anxious about my marriage in years and whatever comes up I know I can face it with curiosity and compassion for myself. Thanks again Sheryl, you were a lifeline to me when I needed it.

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        • This is so, so good to hear, Megan. Thank you for offering a lifeline to those who are deep in the trenches.

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          • I have been in such a loving long term relationship but last year I had a mental breakdown that ended with depression and anxiety. The anxiety stems towards my partner – “maybe I don’t love him” and the depressive me is agreeing. I feel down constantly and having a battle between my real feelings and depressive symptoms. I am lost!

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            • The course would benefit you enormously.

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            • I am experiencing something similar with the anxiety/depression etc. I think it’s the contrast that makes it scary as, like you, my relationship has been very happy, loving and generally a positive experience. My anxiety came about after getting engaged at Christmas time and I’m just now realising this is quite normal and common.

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  6. Shame is huge, shame is so catchy, too. I started this course a year ago and it taught me so much, I feel so grateful for this work. A few months ago, I got triggered by a thought about my relationship and immediately the shame came back. “I’m doing good, I shouldn’t be feeling this.” Or “There’s so many people who are over their RA why aren’t you?” And I started to read your book as a refresher and wow, you really called me out on the shame mindset. It’s so easy to get caught into shame and I remind myself everyday that there is no “ok now I’m over this, it’ll never come back again” the psyche works in spirals and just like the course description says TIME and PATIENCE are definitely necessary factors to doing this work. So if anyone is out there and have struggled for a while now, you’re 100% not alone, I am living proof of this, just remember its a journey not a destination

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    • Thank you for sharing this wise and supportive comment, Jane. The work is not linear; healing work never is. And when we can remember the layers and spirals mindset it immediately reduces shame when a spike returns.

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      • “It’s a journey not a destination” – I think this is a really important comment. This work is a lifetime’s work. So much of the self-help and mental health literature (at least in the West) is very goal-focused, and interested in time frames; I prefer to think of it in terms maintaining an ongoing relationship with myself, rather than reaching some kind of hallowed end-point.

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  7. Is possible to ACTUALLY fall out love with your partner and need to move on from the relationship or is ‘falling out of love’ just something the culture has created due to false expectations of love and fear of love?
    I see so many people break up and say ‘I loved them but I wasn’t in love with them anymore’.
    And i wonder what you’re thoughts are on this – even for people without RA.

    Reply
    • I’ll be writing more about this in the next couple of weeks but short answer is what you said here: “falling out of love’ is something the culture has created due to false expectations of love and fear of love.” Wisely said! I encourage you to trust your own wisdom :). Also, I have many posts on the true definition of being in love, which is very different from the definition the culture espouses.

      Reply
  8. I have learned so much from you, Sheryl. I paused, re-read, smiled and something clicked when I read the term “highly moral” in the first few sentences of this post. It reminded me of the work I have been doing with my therapist to explore how my brain grapples with questions of right and wrong/good and bad. After steadying myself in my relationship through your blog posts and Trust Yourself course about 7 years ago, I have had a few surges of relationship anxiety over the past year as I’ve struggled with my husband’s job as a police officer in the context of our nation’s reckoning with systemic racism. As a social worker and therapist myself, I have been sitting with many paradoxes, many perspectives, and many stories. On more than one occasion, my anxiety has veered me down the path of escape hatch-thinking, but my inner work, guided by your words, makes it easier now to come back to steady ground. I thank you deeply for this.

    I wanted to share that a couple of years ago I was in a cute little cider bar in Pittsburg visiting some friends, and we were chatting about your work (I have shared it with my friends over the years, and one of my friends especially has resonated with it as well). As we were getting up to leave, a stranger at the next table said, “Excuse me, I couldn’t help but overhear, were you talking about Sheryl Paul’s blog? She saved me!” We all had a moment of exclaiming how your work has saved us, because it truly has. When I felt like I was coming apart 7 years ago in a train station, I sat on a bench and googled “relationship anxiety,” and then I cried as I read your blog. You have given me a foundation to rebuild, block by block, my truth – and to trust it.

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    • Oh my goodness: I LOVE THIS! Thank you so much for sharing. Huge smiles over here :).

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    • Hello Sheryl,

      I wanted to message because I would like help in understanding if I’m going through RA (which I hope) or falling out of love (I don’t hope that. It doesn’t feel good).

      I have been through RA in the beginning of my relationship with my wonderful partner. It was a lot of constant suffering and pain, deep anxiety to the point of dread, and depression as well.

      I don’t understand if I am going through this again nor why exactly it would have shown up. I read in a blog of yours that transitions can trigger our RA. I am in the very beginning of a move (due in 4 months) and my RA has popped up around this time. It can’t be coincidence?

      I managed to be healed from this for 4 years and now it’s coming back maybe 🙁
      I don’t feel anxiety like I used to during RA, I feel somewhat calm and I’m not even plagued by thoughts.
      But that makes it worse in a way because if I’m just falling out of love.
      My thoughts have been,

      “He would be happier with someone else )I visualized him happy with another woman before I knew this was the thought I had) “

      “I feel friends love for him (this one is the hardest and most frequent)”

      Can you have RA and not go through deep anxiety and rumination? I’ve just been feeling off and wrong about us. Grossed out even.

      Since the few days it’s come back (slowly worsening) I can’t get turned on or feel pleasure (barely) when we are intimate with each other and that has made me question harder. In fact, I think this is what’s triggered me to feel the way I am I think. That’s why I get the “I love him as a friend” thought because feeling pleasure, getting turned on, is hard even though back when I experienced RA, I felt it deeply.

      I love him, I know that, I just wonder in which way. I want to love him as my partner, sexually and romantically, and it’s starting to hurt that I’m feeling these ways (my thoughts are telling me I’m faking my hurt because I so desperately want it to be RA and not falling out of love. I feel like I’m making it up and that I’m losing my feelings for him and I won’t ever feel for him. It feels like he’s a stranger to me almost (which I feel like I recognize this feeling as having had it my first round of RA. But I can’t quite tell. It’s confusing because this time I feel so different then the last).

      Is it normal to feel every way I feel? Even the turned off, repulsed part (I don’t feel repulsed by him. I feel repulsed at being intimate, like a deep fear regarding it).

      I must mention two things.
      I’ve felt this repulsion a few times for short moments even at my most in love moments with him which I always thought was fear of intimacy. It’s just that it’s “alive” now.

      We are long distance him and I and have never met yet. We are planning on it this year.
      I am terrified of our first meeting. I am terrified he’ll be cold, it’ll be boring, awkward, we have nothing in common or he’ll get bored by me (deep fear of mine) and lately, terrified I won’t feel turned on, pleasure when we’ll inevitably approach each other. That’s been hardest because until last week, I’ve longed for him so much in real life, I wanted him sexually so so bad.
      I just want to go back to normal and feel in love and desire him sexually so much and get turned on and feel pleasure. I didn’t need this showing up now in my life, I already have so much I worry over and need to improve 😞

      Back when I had rocd, I used to ruminate over “do I love him or don’t” constantly. Not feeling like I loved him romantically but as a friend (which is back stronger now and worse with not being able to get turned on (I’m usually a very sexual person)).
      When I would think of our first meeting or try to imagine it, it never felt good, just like now.
      I’ve often had dreams of our meeting being awful which is what I’m terrified of happening.
      Though I’ve also dreams of us meeting being absolutely beautiful and blissful which is what I want to dream again so I can get reassurance (why do I feel like I’m faking so much? Like I’m convinced I’m just falling out of love and I’ll never go back to being in love, to the way we used to be together). It’s so confusing because I don’t feel anxiety like I used to, just a sense of repulsion, of off, of wrong about us. Yet I felt like vomiting this morning when I woke up even though I’m not sick (could it be anxiety?)

      It’s difficult to go through this.

      He is such a wonderful partner with all the qualities I’ve wanted in someone and more. We rarely get into disagreements much less fights and when we do, we always approach each other from a place of understanding, he treats me amazingly, he is so so loving towards me.

      I don’t understand if I’m going through RA again or if I’m falling out of love. I don’t want to fall out of love. I hate feeling like I have no control over this. I want to live the rest of my life with him. I want us to make it together. But I’m so scared of real life with him seemingly all of a sudden. I’m almost repulsed.

      What do you think?

      I apologize for the very long message.

      Thank you so much<:)

      Reply
      • Also I don’t feel I am getting triggered by anything like I used to my first time with RA (I remember how just seeing a song pop up on my feed entitled “plastic love” triggered me so bad because I thought it meant my love for him was fake (like plastic) and this was a sign (like the universe telling me). I felt so so guilty all the time.

        I don’t feel this this time although I do feel the fake thing (I’m faking my RA, I’m in denial, I won’t ever feel sexual or love for him again, I just love him as a friend, ect..

        Is it normal not to get triggered? Does it mean I don’t have RA?

        I also feel I can’t be happy, like I have to stay in my state of anxiety or thoughts (checking in with them, responding and interacting with them) otherwise I don’t have relationship anxiety and I’m just not in love anymore.

        I’m also a bit (or much perhaps) afraid to work on my RA (such as tapping exercises for example) because I’m afraid I’ll find out I really fell out of love or that if I’m not in my state of anxiety, I don’t love him.

        It’s so confusing. I feel like my RA has evolved to use itself against me this time (saying for example, “yes you do have RA (but you don’t. I’m telling you this to fool you)”.

        I feel like I’ve had a few lucid moments in which I realized all my thoughts and feelings were bs and that I do love my bf. I am just afraid of loving him and even more so afraid of (physical) intimacy with him.
        Then my thoughts tell me I just love him as a friend. Proof? You don’t feel turned on or sexually aroused by him. If you did you love him otherwise you don’t.

        Then I imagine us holding each other for the first time, him so warm, so loving, smiling at me and with me so gently and it feels loving. But my thoughts tell me again, “you just love him as a friend. Friends could hug like this. That’s not romantic love”.

        I feel like I’m playing myself.

        I’m confused. I don’t know how I feel. I don’t feel so much anxiety and that’s the worst part. I feel like I’m forcing myself to behave this way to prove to myself I had RA again so that I can stay in my relationship.
        Aghhh, it’s so confusing. And not pleasant. It doesn’t feel good. I feel like I should be writhing in pain but I am not. I have been crying all day but I feel like I’m faking it (my head tells me so).

        Am I having relationship anxiety?

        I’ve never had it in this form.

        Reply
  9. Hy sheryl. I wanted to ask you a question too, since I ve been very anxious lately. Ive been talking and going out with a guy for almost a year now and still dont know what I feel towards him . Sometimes i feel close and connected other times i find him not so handsome or as ambitious as i would like him to be. He truly loves me is an empathic man , im highly sensitive too but i get a lot of mood swings because my mind tells me you could find someone better , someone more attracted and you would be more in love . .. i dont know what to do

    Reply
    • I would be very interested to hear thoughts about this. I understand your feelings, Anisa.

      Reply
  10. When is the time to walk away and give up? Must we battle this our entire relationship?
    A therapist of mine said it wasn’t her job to tell me to stay in a relationship that didn’t fulfil me- but surely it’s my job to fulfil myself? I get this sick feeling in the bit of my stomach when these thoughts come up- like it’s realer than ever and I have to leave to feel better. (We are just about to move in together too). Will it ever end?

    Reply
  11. If we take the course will we eventually come to the point where we feel “in love” with our partner?
    I love my person so very deeply, more than I have loved anyone before. But I don’t feel in love. and I soooooooo want to.

    Reply

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