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!