I receive a plethora of questions every day through a variety of channels. Questions like, “I know everyone thinks they’re the exception, but is what I’m going through really relationship anxiety?” Questions about parenting and self-doubt and career anxiety. The questions span the gamut, but when it comes to love and attraction, the #1 question I receive is:
“Can you really learn to feel more in love with and attracted to your partner? Everyone says that the spark is either there or not there, and that if you force it you’ll spend the rest of your life feeling trapped in an unhappy relationship. Can attraction and chemistry really be grown?”
My short answer: Absolutely.
But my short answers involve much longer explanations, for learning to see your partner through clear-eyes instead of fear-eyes is rarely a simple process.
It’s not simple because love isn’t simple. It’s not easy because the reality is that we’ve all been hurt in relationships, if not with our original family then with friends, first loves, teachers, religious leaders. And when we’re hurt we put up walls of protection with the invisible words “I will not risk my heart again” written on the stone walls.
The work of rewiring isn’t simple because first we must understand the concept of projection, which is the psychological phenomenon of projecting our inner pain and gold onto the screen of another, usually our partner.
“My partner isn’t attractive enough” = I have fears and insecurities about my own attractiveness.
“I’m not in love enough” = I’m expecting my partner to be my primary source of aliveness.
When I dig into the projection about physical attractiveness with people, at least 90% of the time the answer to my question, “Were you bullied or teased as a kid?” is yes. Often the teasing was about some aspect of physical appearance, but not always. And there are other sources of pain and faulty beliefs that live at the center of projections, none of which have anything to do with your partner, all of which have to do with protecting ourselves from the risk of loving or outsourcing the responsibility we carry for becoming the source of our aliveness and joy.
When you can name the projection, you can harness the pain or invitation for inner healing embedded in the projection, thus opening your heart own and, by extension, opening to your partner. Once the fear barricades are removed, love floods in and we see our partner through an entirely different lens.
It’s the feeling part that is often most challenging for people, for we learned early in life that feelings are deemed “silly” or “too much” and since “we’re too sensitive” we need to “get over” the hard feelings.
But in order to heal, we must be willing to feel our feelings, for it’s when we can feel the painful feelings embedded inside the intrusive thought that the thought breaks open and we see our partners clearly. It’s then that we realize what a colossal mistake it would have been to walk away from a loving, well-matched partner because of these intrusive thoughts and feelings.
This is why my work around love and attraction isn’t simple or easy, because most people are terrified to peer behind the stone walls and touch down into those core, raw painful feelings.
Yet this is what it takes to heal at the root. This is what it takes to address intrusive thoughts in a way that shatters them open so that you can find your way back to your loving partner and even grow the love and attraction that has been hiding behind the fear-walls since the beginning.
This is what I teach in Open Your Heart: A 30-day program to feel more love and attraction for your partner. A 2014 course member recently wrote a comment on a blog post (I love hearing updates from course members :)) which inspired me to find one of her Open Your Heart forum posts from seven years ago in which she shared her process around letting herself feel her difficult feelings. With her permission, I’m sharing it here:
2014: So, the part of this week’s lesson that I am struggling the most with is just sitting with my feelings: welcoming them, even the ones I really do not like to feel. I’ve been practicing doing that with R too; telling him how I feel, and just focusing on feeling the feelings, not on “solving” anything. Even though it’s really hard to do, I can feel some relief coming too.
For example, yesterday he was gone all day unexpectedly, a project that he’s working on took much longer than predicted. I felt only a bit sad during the day, not too upset, but when he got home and we were cuddling, I began to cry. At first I wanted to hide my feelings from him and from myself; I felt embarrassed. It seemed so silly, and out of proportion to the actual situation, but I felt abandoned by him yesterday, b/c he didn’t tell me how long he’d be gone (he didn’t know). It spiked my fear that the ones I love will suddenly not be there, and that there’s nothing I can do about it.
So as I was having these feelings, I asked R if I could just express them, no matter how silly they might seem, and he said “of course.” I remembered the teaching of breathing into your feelings, so I did that; I let myself feel my feelings, and not turn away. It was super hard at first; there was a lot of pain there. I basically felt like I was 4 again, alone and terrified. R was really great, he just listened and reassured me that he wants to spend time with me too, and will be there for me, even if it can’t be always or exactly when we have planned. I fell asleep feeling sad but calm, and today I feel the same.
Here’s her update:
2021: Thanks for the great reminders about real love! I can say with confidence that your work has changed my life for the better; years ago, this course gave me the healing and training necessary to recognize an amazing chance at real love with my now husband. I’ve since come to recognize that I experience similar patterns of anxiety around work, and the tools you taught me have helped tremendously. So for anyone wondering whether this course is worth it, for me it was a game-changer. If you struggle with anxiety, the tools extend far beyond your romantic relationship to other areas where anxiety tends to pop up. It’s not that I never struggle now (I do!) but I know the basics of how to respond constructively. Thank you for all that you do, Sheryl!
This is what happens when you commit to your inner work and find the courage to feel your feelings, then share these vulnerable feelings with your partner. While loving and being loved doesn’t require that you love yourself first (a fallacy promoted by the self-help culture), when you do embark on a devoted journey of learning to love yourself, you naturally open your heart, pull back the projections that see your partner as “not attractive or sexual or social or intelligent enough” and instead see through clear-eyes. And then, like the course member above, you give yourself the chance at having real love.
The 18th round of Open Your Heart will begin on Sunday April 10th, 2021. This is the only time I’ll be running this course live this year, and I look forward to meeting you there.
Also, if you’re new to my work and would like to get a sense of my approach, please join my next free webinar called “Am I betraying myself by believing I can grow love and attraction?”, which will take place this Wednesday, April 7th at 1pm ET. If you can’t join the live call, you can listen to the recording afterwards. And of course old-timers are more than welcome to join as well!
Thanks so much for this post! My obsession at the minute is ‘you can’t commit to this relationship because you’ve never been single so you need to learn to be single before you can commit’. What projection may this be that I need to work on in order to heal? I worry this fact makes me an exception, but as you said everyone has some way of believing they are the exception.
Ooo, I feel called to chime in with some “You’re not alone” love here. I’m hearing similar desires for aliveness in this, like fear of losing independence and new possibilities. Truth is in a loving commitment there’s room for independence as well as interdepence, in fact that’s necessary to keep things from the unhealthy realms of codependence. I also hear a part of you that fears being abandoned or lost in enmeshment with another person, and I wonder what are ways you can commit to yourself, your personal curiosity and exploration without needing to push others away… like the projection is your partner is preventing you from exploring. The truth is one of the aspects of secure attachment is having a secure base and safe haven that we can launch from and return to (and the love laws and actions in Open Your Heart are great ways to build secure connection (no I’m not getting paid to say that))
You’re doing great, you’re being curious just by being here, Sheryl is a great cave guide, keep your headlamp on, I know it seems dark and scary but there’s so many treasures to find in here ❤️
Thank you for your beautiful, wise, and supportive chime in, Scoby! Very much appreciated :).
Thank you for this article. I struggle relating because my ‘lack of attraction’ to my partner has nothing to do with his physical qualities. I believe it’s more about his behaviours (impulsiveness or moments of impatience…which results in me pushing away). What projection might be happening for me, if there is one?
It’s the same work even if the projection is different: learning to be curious about the projection (am I impatient with these parts of myself? where these qualities that were judged in me as a kid?) then learning to move toward, both toward yourself and your partner, as well as implementing and practicing the other Love Laws and Loving Actions that I teach in the course.
Hello there! Great, insightful post. Thank you for sharing. I have saved this website on my phone—referring back to it often. I do however, have some questions coming up. My anxiety seems to be hyper focused on a different sense of humor between my partner and I. His humor often feels a bit corny, forced, and “immature” to me. How can I reframe that as a projection when my truth is that we have different senses of humor? I cannot force myself to laugh at his jokes. The feeling happens when it is just him and I also, so it cannot just be labeled as a fear of social rejection, although it does tend to get significantly worse in social scenarios—when I worry others are cringing at his jokes in the same way I sometimes do. I also was not teased as a kid for my sense of humor & do not feel that is a insecurity of my own. I cannot get past this and really would love some light in this dark tunnel. I love my partner at my core. But I wish to love him so much better—the way everyone deserves to be loved. With radical acceptance and unconditional love. I truly value the lessons taught on this website and the insight provided. Thank you so much.
Would really love any insight that could be given on this…stuck on an endless loop of anxiety/worry. Really hoping to join one of the courses soon!
Let me know if this post helps:
Great post! I’m not struggling near as much as I was in the past months/years. The questions about love and attraction came up over and over throughout that time though. This post addresses it head on. I don’t feel strong attraction currently, but the anxiety isn’t in the way right now making me feel even worse. My partner is a great match for me and that’s what matters right now. I’m still learning on how to trust myself, but at first, it was really important that I trusted you, Sheryl. Thank you for the truth!
This is so good to hear, Jared! Thank you for sharing your progress.
Is the Mother Wound course going to be self paced or interactive/live, do you think?
I’ll lead it live once a year and the rest of the year it will be available as a self-paced course.
I struggle with feeling attracted to my husband and have done for some time. I love to be held by him but anything more than that and I cringe, my mind goes into irritated/critical mode and there’s zero chance of getting intimate. I know deep down I love him and I can’t really see my life anywhere else but right now I wonder why I keep trying. I feel calm and a bit numb not anxious or panicked like I have in the past. I’m sad and tired of trying and sometimes think maybe I would be better off alone. I’ve taken Open Your Heart before but didn’t really get much from it. I found the forum to be quite spiky for me – everyone wrote with such eloquence whereas I’m more to the point. As much as I love your work and it speaks to me I wonder if maybe I’m just kidding myself that this love is worth pursuing.
JS: The work of rewiring so that we can accept and move toward healthy love can take a long time. The tools and information I offer in Open Your Heart are a roadmap, and the skills are meant to be practiced repeatedly until they’re wired in. This can take months, if not years. Also, if there’s any history of trauma, that will need attention as well.
I love that you call out the “self-help fallacy” that we need to love ourselves before we can love someone else… as it was THROUGH learning to love my husband, and be loved deeply by him, that I have been able to give and receive my own love for myself.
Thank you for sharing this, Katie. That may be the most important line in this post!
Thank you so much for today’s webinar, Sheryl. Reading your blog posts and comments have been really helpful, but there’s nothing like hearing actual human voices on the end of the line to make you feel less crazy and alone!
I’m so glad you were there :). x
I was just reading your article on ‘falling in love with other people’ and I had a question (it wouldn’t let me comment on that blog itself for some reason so I thought I could ask on here, hope that is okay).
If having feelings for someone else when you are in a relationship comes down to unmet needs and transference, why is it that my love for my partner is NOT down to this? Is it not possible to actually fall for someone else? This is just something I struggled with xx
I’ve got a question concerning love and resistance. I’ve been meeting my therapist for a longer while, and I’m also a reader of the blog. What my therapist says is 90% (or more) equal with what Sheryl writes about. Yet, on the one hand I believe that’s all true, but on the other I feel resistant to what I hear or read (like, “I see what you mean, but I somehow cannot apply it in my life / I’m not sure if my heart agrees with it – probably not”). My question is: what does this resistance mean? Is it a sing of RA or “clear eyes”? Any comment will be appreciated :*
No contribution except to say I absolutely feel this too! And same, sometimes it really lands with me and other times I’m like ‘there’s absolutely no way this is what’s going on’- even if I’m so anxious that I can barely sit still or think straight haha. Sending love x
I know you don’t often respond directly to posts like this but I really need some advice as I don’t think I can go on anymore.
I’m in a healthy, secure relationship. My partner was everything I want on paper. We aren’t perfect but what is perfect really? I’ve struggled with RA for nearly 2 years now in this relationship but I think I’ve had it in long before this (and other forms of anxiety).
However- now it feels different. I feel like I’m completely lying to myself. That I don’t love my partner and don’t want this to work out and that’s why these constant thoughts continue. It is non-stop, 24/7 and I feel terrible. I can’t stop thinking that maybe this is just my truth and I can’t be in this relationship. I read somewhere that you wrote some brides just knew it wasn’t right & maybe that’s me? I want it to work, I want to love him but I’m so unhappy. When I’ve weighed up what’s wrong in my relationship the only issues are my constant doubts & thoughts. I’m struggling to fully enjoy anything. We’re due to move in together soon but the thought of feeling like this forever is just making it a no go.
Is there hope for me? Is this just another stem of RA that’s pushing me even harder towards the inner work or am I just not meant to be with my partner? When is the point I need to accept that I just can’t be in a long term relationship? I’ve tried to do the inner work- really hard but nothing is working to help me.
I’d be eternally grateful for a response
Sorry, S x
I’m not sure if it’s of any help, and I know that you’re expecting the answer from Sheryl, but I want to assure you that you are not alone! You have just expressed exactly what I have been feeling for a while! Sending you lots of love 😘
Hey! Thank you for responding. What makes you stay and remember this isn’t your partner? Fear and resistance are so complex but it’s hard to know what my truth actually is.
I can relate so much to this as well. “Am I going to feel like this forever?” Is a question I often ask myself. I’m married as well so I won’t be giving up due to my love and devotion to God. I’m also blessed in many other ways because of my husband but I’ve been struggling with these thoughts and feelings for over two years now and I wonder if it will ever go away. I don’t really have any advice for you, only that you’re definitely not alone. I especially struggle when I see other couples who truly seem like they met their “soul mate” “the one” blah blah blah. Bitterness has creeped in as well. It feels like a 24/7 thing for me as well.
I pray for answers but have yet to receive them. Praying you will also find the light at the end of the relationship anxiety tunnel
Your work has been a huge relief for me in my 9-month relationship with my girlfriend. I began experiencing many doubts and intrusive thoughts from the second month and it got progressively worse, almost causing me to end it a few times. I have since been able to manage the intrusive thoughts much better. However, there is one thought that to me is – other than worrying and anxiety-inducing – intriguing. I want to share it because I don’t think I have seen anyone mention something like this before. While one of the most prominent intrusive thoughts experienced by people with RA involved something along the lines of: “I’m not attracted enough to my partner, and it means I don’t love them/they are not right for me”, I have experienced the complete opposite. I often feel madly in love with my girlfriend and she is the most beautiful girl I have ever met. In my case, the thought I have is: “I am TOO attracted/in love to/with my partner – I am just purely infatuated and I do not love her truly.” This thought has bothered me for quite a while, although I am aware it is probably my fears coming up with clever ways to pull away. Despite this, I continue to make the effort to act in loving ways to my girlfriend as I really think she is someone I can learn about love and life with.