There is often a predictable arc to relationship anxiety that includes three stages.*
The first stage is characterized by typical symptoms of anxiety and panic:
- Trouble sleeping
- Difficulty eating
- Bolting awake in the middle of the night
- Difficulty functioning at work
- Fluttering stomach
- Racing heart
On a purely physiological level, we can’t maintain this state of high anxiety for very long. Eventually the alarm bells will simmer down to something that feels like calm. This isn’t the true calm that arrives after working long and hard facing our fears. Rather, it’s the calm that follows the dramatic and intense storm of the first stage. It’s where psyche (soul) and soma (body) settle into a manageable state that might be characterized more by numbness or indifference than true calm. You can sleep now. You can eat. You can function. But you’re just not that excited about your relationship. At least when you were anxious, you could use the symptoms as evidence that you really cared.
As a reader commented on last week’s post:
I’m at a really strange stage in my journey. I feel this sort of calm, quiet, dull anxiety about my relationship. Does that count as relationship anxiety? It’s almost as if without the urgent, persistent, constant heartrending fear I’ve given up trying to fight the anxiety. I am very tired of it all and I just want to feel the solid consistency of the love I feel for this beautiful human when my thoughts are clear.
It’s during this second stage that the ego lines flare into center stage:
- You’re only with them because he makes you feel safe.
- You don’t really have relationship anxiety; you just don’t want to be with them.
- Now that you’re calm, clearly this is evidence that your truth is that you want to leave.
- This wouldn’t be happening with someone else. You’re with the wrong partner.
- You shouldn’t have to work this hard.
- You’ve had doubt since day one. Just admit that this isn’t right.
What’s happening is that the projection that took root in stage one is now flowering into full bloom, and by projection I mean attaching to the belief that your partner is the source of your anxiety. Where the first stage is characterized by the physical aspects of anxiety, the second stage is informed by the constant mental chatter whose goal it is to prevent you from taking responsibility for your well-being and facing your fear of love. As long as you’re caught behind the wall of these incessant questions/projections, you will keep your partner at arm’s length. At arm’s length, your partner is safe. At arm’s length, your partner is on the other side of the net. At arm’s length, you don’t have step vulnerable and open-hearted into the true risk of love.
Stage two is the hardest and longest stage of the work of breaking free from relationship anxiety. While fear pipes up with the above list of classic fear-lines, love says, “I don’t want to leave.” Fear will challenge all of love’s devotion with statements like, “You don’t want to leave because you’re scared to be alone,” and then love wavers. This is the battle between love and fear, and it can continue for a long time. It will continue, in fact, until you stop one day and say, with firmness and conviction, “This is mine. This anxiety lives inside of me. It predates this relationship and will show up with any available partner. I can keep blaming and projecting and running, but I will always end up in the same place until I take my scared, sad self in my arms and learn, probably for the first time in my life, what it means to tend to me.”
Once you shift from projection to responsibility, you enter the third stage, which is when the healing begins. For it’s only when you unhook from the story that your anxiety is a sign that you’re with the wrong partner and if you just left and found someone else you would be happy can you begin to take true responsibility for your inner states of suffering or well-being. In stage three, it’s not that you don’t get caught in a projection; it’s that you see it and name it for what it is and are able to quickly ask the questions that turn the microscope on your partner into a mirror faced toward yourself:
- What are these thoughts preventing me from feelings?
- Where am I off-kilter inside?
- What am I afraid of?
- What past hurts are causing me to block/judge/criticize my partner?
It’s at this point that you realize that the anxiety is a gift, an emissary from deep inside carrying messages that will help you heal. When you banish, ignore, or misunderstand the anxiety, you miss this opportunity for growth. When you fall into the cultural mindset that says, “Doubt means don’t” or “True love is effortless” you will naturally assume that the anxiety – and the subsequent state of false calm – means that you have to leave. But when you hang on, do your inner work, and eventually arrive at stage three, you will look back on your journey and realize, with gratitude, what a gift you’ve been given. The gift, as always, is learning how to love deeply and devotedly: yourself, your partner, and beyond.
If you would like to receive the roadmap that has helped thousands of people break free from relationship anxiety and embrace the path of real love with a loving partner, consider my Break Free From Relationship Anxiety course. Not a week passes when I don’t receive several emails from course members who say something along the lines of, “I’m quite certain I wouldn’t be married to my wonderfully imperfect partner if I hadn’t taken your course.Thank you.” If you’re ready to do the deep inner work that allows you to resist fear’s impulse to walk away from real love, the course is for you.
* If your anxiety hasn’t followed this trajectory, your ego will want to use it evidence that you’re not really suffering from relationship anxiety but that this is your truth. Don’t let it! The ego loves to find loopholes so that it can avoid doing the hard and courageous work of learning how to dismantle fear walls and inherited patterns so that we can let love in.
This post is so aptly timed! I’m dating a great guy and we’re taking about getting married…but… I’m in the throws of an anxiety cycle right now. This is the third go-around since we’ve been dating, and the first cycle led me to this website. Just reading these posts and signing up for the Breaking Free course was helpful! The second cycle lasted only a few days. This third cycle definitely has me in a harder place. I hate the tight feeling in my throat and the constant thoughts that assault me. Will I be happy? Does he love God enough? What are my projections? Why do I struggle with this? He is so sure, why can’t I be? Will I be happy when he proposes? I want to be! I’ve had anxiety in other relationships, so I broke up with the guys, but he is different – more mature and kind. He challenges me in good ways, and I’m attracted to him. I just want this anxiety to end and to feel content. I think I probably have more work to do…
Yes, it sounds like more work to do, Elizabeth: namely making a shift that will allow you to step fully into stage three, where you will take 100% responsibility for your well-being and the awareness that this anxiety is yours, it lives inside of you, and it will follow you wherever you go.
Thank you so much for this. This describes the stages I have been going through so perfectly. The lack of appetite, difficulty sleeping and focusing at work, for me the anxiety was so bad in the beginning that I would throw up every morning and every time I would get an intrusive thought about my partner. I have to say I feel like I am now bouncing back and forth between stage 2 and 3. Is that normal? I feel like once I can take responsibility and name the projection I get a sense of calm and a sense of hope that it is getting better and can feel my mindset changing. But then I get a feeling or a thought that tells me this is going to last forever or never go away and then I feel awful. Is that the ego/fear coming through? I think I have identified that for me all of this is the fear of growing up and letting go of my parents and my childhood because all of this really came shooting to the surface right after we moved into our new house and got engaged 2 days later, a lot of change and transitions for me at once! Especially for someone who has never lived away from home (not even for college). So I think I have called out the anxiety and fear to be related to not wanting to let go of my childhood and really “grow up” and build a new life with my partner because I am so close to family and it has been hard to make that transition. I think my projection onto my partner helped me to not feel that pain. Does that make sense?
Hey! Your post has really hit home for me. I have been in stage two and three for a while now but mine was digging deep of what am I really afraid of rather than projecting on my partner. I’ve been seeing a therapist and hope to start this course soon. You’re not alone.
Hey Sheryl, thanks so much for your article – it hits the nail on the head as always. It feels like you’re narrating my thoughts! i’m finishing up your Break Free course and it’s helped me tremendously. Something I still have a hard time navigating is maintaining my sense of independence while being in a committed, loving relationship. It’s been the biggest hurdle for me to let someone into my inner “space” as my greatest fear is losing my sense of independence, my sense of self (that happened to an extent in a previous relationship). I know my deeper work is about filling my own well and loving and accepting myself as the beautifully imperfect person i am – when i’m in that headspace, this mental chatter melts away. I’m still working on being able to hear another person’s story and not attach myself to it, but one step at a time. Thanks for validating my experience completely and reassuring me/all of us struggling that’s it’s a process with ups and downs and that’s all normal. 🙂
The dance between togetherness and separateness is a challenging one for most people, especially in the earlier stages of a relationship (and by early I mean the first ten years!). Have you taken my Trust Yourself program? You might consider it, as the more you fill your well of Self, the easier it becomes to navigate the dance of intimacy. I’ll be running it again in early April:
Hi Sheryl – Great post as always!
I am now engaged to the most amazing girl and I 100% wholeheartedly know that. A year ago I probably would have crumbled but I feel I passed that ‘initiation’ test and honestly have been happy with where I am. For months now the anxiety has been minimal to nil.
However, as of late we are looking at wedding dates etc and it slightly scares me. The the internal chatter begins again, and the slightly restless nights have returned.. thoughts from the past eg past partners etc start to chime in with the IFs and WHATs… Ego chatter. I am much more well equipped now and use tools I have learnt to calm myself to be able to sleep and carry on with my day. I understand this is a big transition time and moaring of leaving the family home and roads untravelled are being mourned, but should it cause anxiety?
Also at ‘at each Step in a journey will there always be some initiation to prove worthiness?’ I feel like its not even about my past as much as it is about ME healing from the past NOW to be able to learn and move into the future with that lesson. I also feel like my ego just keeps picking at past issues that were once sensitive to me to keep sucking me in, so I do the work. I do the internal work, but I just wonder, will it ever just subside? I feel as is I know the truths I am after but the Ego just wants to keep picking at me. What is the Ego’s ultimate goal?!
Congratulations on all your hard work! As I’ve posted on other comments, transitions will always stir up the dirt in our psyches and reveal the places that need more attention, so it’s no surprise to me that more is being kicked up as you approach your wedding. The ego’s ultimate goal is to keep you SAFE from being hurt, which, according to its worldview, means separate from everyone else. Ego operates from an US vs THEM mindset, whereas the heart is seeking union and togetherness.
Thanks so much Sheryl for the reply and keeping me going on this journey. I love what you wrote in the reply makes perfect sense. I think I’ll even go through parts of the course again. I definitely feel like I’m progressing but just have spring cleaning to attend to now and then.
Many blessings, Mr B
Thank you for your dedication to helping others and being patient. Your emails always come at the exact right time.
I’m so glad to hear that, Sonia.
I just want to say thank you for these articles. I read all of them but have never commented before. I swear sometimes when they reach my inbox it’s like you’ve read my mind and know exactly what I need to hear. I came to your site when I was Googling about how you know you’re in love or not whenever the “honeymoon phase” of my first and only real relationship was settling down and I became terrified of losing my wonderful boyfriend. I now realIse I’ve had anxiety since I was a child and it hasn’t really come to light until this relationship. So thank you, thank you, thank you!
I’m so glad they arrive at the right time, Mary, and blessings to you as you uncover the roots of your anxiety and open your heart to real love!
I am brought to tears at the realization that struggle Is normal. That doubt is ok. That I am not flawed because I have big hurts. That I can love unconditionally. Sheryl you give me hope for All of these things. I am grateful for you.
Thank you, jaybee. Your words bring smiles.
Wow Sheryl, I’ve been following your blog for a few years now and this post really had me crying. It’s such a direct look at the patterns we all here go through and how learning to recognize and work with the patterns is a gift, of love, to yourself. You just really spelled it out for me in a way I really needed to hear this evening. I moved cross country again, last month. Its been challenging of course, as I’m asked to do so many things differently. I grew so much living in Colorado, I’m scared I’m leaving that part of me behind. My partner and I are getting at each other with all the newness and decisions to be made. This was a great reminder. Thank you so much Sheryl for your beautiful work.
Transitions will always stir up the dirt in relationships. Bring compassion, stay the course, hold hands, be vulnerable, do your inner work. Time for the next stage of growth!
I echo the others who say how timely your posts are — how is it that every one speaks to me exactly where I am?? I was just stressing about anxiety, wanting it gone, but realizing, as my boyfriend pointed out, I have come so FAR. I still have more to go, as I think I am in Stage 2. Or perhaps I am in the liminal zone – not where I was and not yet where I could be.
I’m moving in officially with my partner next week and we are looking at engagement rings. 🙂 I still have anxiety toward him, and anxiety for other situations that are tangentially related to us, but I’m happy to move in and excited, if not a little afraid, to be looking at rings.
Without your site, we would be long broken up. You have saved our relationship and quite possibly my life. Many thanks!!
As I wrote to CareBear above, transitions will always stir up the next layer of what needs attention. Time to become curious, bring compassion to wherever you’re at, and trust that it’s all unfolding in service of your growth and healing. I’m so glad my words have helped!
Thank you for this. You speak right to me. Just yesterday I was thinking about how indifferent and numb I feel now. I had all the anxiety symptoms for almost two months: no appetite, wanting to throw up, lack of sleep, crying at the drop of a hat. I have a long way to go and im ready to give it my all. It will only get better.
Hang on, Kim! It definitely does get better and better.
I feel that I was luck enough to reach stage three a while back…I offered myself and my husband compassion, heaps of understanding and ultimately acceptance. I put in the hard graft and graduated into these different stages. It felt like a progression as described above. However recently I feel like I’ve regressed…and dipped full force back into stage one and stage two!!! It’s so frustrating as a lot of work was done to progress out of these stages…is this normal!!!?? Feels very demoralising as I try to bring back my energy to fit the demons of my ego…
It sounds like you tasted a leap of consciousness that shifted you into the place of assuming 100% responsibility but you’re having a hard time staying there. Do you know what allowed you to shift into stage 3 a while back?
I can totally relate to this one. I’m having a hard time staying in the 100% responsibility area.
It’s difficult for almost everyone, Rebecca. We seem to be hard-wired toward blame and projection, and we have to work against it actively until responsibility becomes the new habit.
Ahh makes sense Sheryl. New pattern takes some time and effort for formation. 🙂
Yes…Taking 100% responsibility probably got me there…! I’m not going to lie though…it did always feel a bit like I had to convince myself still so maybe I’ve been to 2.5 and stuck there!
I guess I’m not strong enough/developed enough to enter stage 3 with enough conviction. I so quickly resort back to my ego talk. I genuinely feel like a long blade of grass in the wind…waving from pillar to post as I try my BEST to keep grounded. I’m addicted to fantasies of life with a different people…and this stops me progressing. I don’t know how many letters I’ve written to my ‘single self’ trying to let her go…or ‘love lists’ about my husband…it’s just not quite hitting the spot. I know I’m not doing myself any favours by wanting ‘different’ lives…I just don’t think I’ve developed quite the right tools yet to get out of all this rumination and being comfortable with what I’ve got. It’s hellish and ultimately quite destructive…I wish I could just settle and be thankful for what I’ve got. What is REAL. What I’ve spent so long fighting for…
I know it’s been a long journey for you, and you struggle ultimately with taking responsibility for your own aliveness instead of projecting it onto past or future fantasy men. You will break through one day, and I want you to trust that this is your journey, this is your timeline, this is your way of growing and learning. It doesn’t have to look like anyone else’s (and it won’t), and when you can trust that this is how you need to learn, something eases inside. Sending love.
Light at the End, I’d like to add my 2 cents to your comments. I finally understand what it means that to overcome anxiety, one must take full 100% responsibility because of this post. The Trust Yourself course (I took in 2015) helped me reach Stage 3 about a year later of rereading and deep thinking about the material. The concept of filling the well of self has helped tremendously with the visual of achieving more self worth – thereby giving me the courage to own and take responsibility for my problems and maintaining it. (I see it like staying on an exercising routine, once you fully accept that your new reality is including exercise as a normal routine as bathing, then you will maintain the habit of exercising.) Then once I developed enough self worth I was able to accept my humanity and forgive myself for not being perfect (I was obsessed with being perfect). Once I accepted that, I moved onto my husband, the second most important person in my life after myself. He’ll never be perfect either, how much am I willing to put up with? That was the main question. Then eventually I thought, if he can put up with a total wreck like me, who am I to critically judge his character? As long as we keep on laughing, having fun, and feeling respected/loved (most important), we are good.
YET I still have doubts and fantasize about being single and an “independent woman”, but I try not to dwell on or become obsessed with the thoughts. For ex, I recently connected with an old flame through social media (he messaged me out of the blue) and I seriously began fantasizing majorly and exchanged too much messages (not flirting, more chit-chat like, but still not a good combo with the fantasizing). The “big girl in me” scolded myself that these had to stop, but the desire was hard to ignore! Then it occurred to me, why not talk to my husband about this guy? So I did, and it turned into a joke…then the fantasies stopped. I had no desire to keep messaging him anymore and began paying more attention to my husband. 🙂 But I know my old-self would freak out, berate myself for being an awful human being for my behavior, or look for all the flaws about my poor husband and hold it against him. My current-self saw a potentially risky behavior and looked to my inner voice for a solution. Once the obsessiveness was gone, I was able to clearly see what was actually happening in my head.
Along with continuing the work from Trust Yourself, another book that has helped me tremendously was “Finding Your North Star” by Martha Beck. When I was in school, I read several textbooks about the same subject because reading different approaches helps me understand it better. At one point it truly felt as if it were my job to analyze my mental health because of how many hours a week I spent lol. But Martha Beck phrases it as thinking about your emotional health as a sick patient that needs to spend time focused on recovery. (and filling my well of self also helped me to acknowledge the depth of my emotional turmoil and the time I need to spend on recovery.) Good luck to you! This shit ain’t easy.
Sheryl, i cant thank you enough for your work and your blogs. A little over a year ago I was in the throws of stage 1 and 2 during the lead up to my wedding. I had been with the same man for almost 8 years, and I loved him dearly but the anxiety of change (single to married) compounded by a deep seeded fear of being inadequate in my life (ie not achieving “enough” before marriage) and comparison to my “perfect’ younger sister (Who got engaged first), were turning my life upside down. I was so anxiety ridden that I couldn’t sleep or eat, and I had no energy whatsoever. I also had the constant stream of negative chatter, my projections would tell me he wasn’t good Enough, or that I wasn’t sure, or “what if we get a divorce” (and many other things). It was like my brain was stuck on a spin cycle while my body was going through hell. I then found your site while googling my symptoms one night. I knew that I loved this man but I couldn’t make the thoughts go away, and I just wanted to call the whole wedding off just so I could ignore these awful thoughts. Luckily through you I learned I wasn’t alone, and that what I was feeling wasn’t horrible or wrong, but in fact was pretty normal (albeit the outer edge of normal but still!). If I hadn’t found your site, I would have made the biggest mistake of my life and let the man I love go. We got married in April last year and it has been an amazing year. I opened up and brought him into my anxious mind and by being open and vulnerable with him it brought us closer than ever. He is my rock and my biggest champion, and I am so glad I found your work in time to help me change my thinking and in turn change my life. We are more in love now than ever before in almost 9 years together. I can’t thank you enough for bringing light to relationship anxiety and helping to reduce the taboo around doubt!
That’s brilliant Cheryl. I awoke at 3.30 am this morning with a feeling that I must just be with my partner because he is safe and now I have read this, it confirms to me that I am doing the right thing continuing to nurture this relationship. Thank you for your continued wisdom.
And being with someone because you feel safe is a wonderful reason ;). More on that in upcoming blog posts.
Thanks Sheryl for that encouraging article. It is amazing how your description of those anxious thoughts suits my situation. I have been dating a solid, kind and loving guy for six months and I ve had doubts from day one. It is weird, I cannot even name the exact fears or when I try to they do not sound like a big deal. I sometimes think he does not really get me and am afraid that in future our communication will be poor and therefore our relationship will be so boring or I will feel so alone in the relationship. That makes me feel guilty cause he really loves me unconditionally and I think my ambivalence is hard for him to understand and to bear. At the moment I am really not sure whether it is fair to stay in the realtionship but at the same time I do not want to lose him. Thanks for helping me with your articles!
Hi Sheryl, thanks for this post, which interestingly I read as someone without Relationship Anxiety. I am however still struggling a lot with pretty bad OCD with Intrusive Thoughts and the anxiety that quite frankly wears me down to the ground. The above post shows me so much of my current struggle too however, the relationship I have with my OCD and anxiety….or at the root of a lot of it, my ego! I sometimes feel a little better, then doubt why that is. I am scared of staying the way I am, staying with it the way it feels, as though it rules me, but in truth, I’m so much more scared of facing into it, perhaps even being without it and the unknown of feeling deep down into some underlying hurt, admitting that I (so wrongly) feel shame and guilt of being this way. And letting a very scared younger part of myself come forward for once and for all.
Right now, I feel as though I’m always just around the corner from things making sense, clicking into place, finally feeling easier but never quite getting there… your post on the Fear Forest was fantastic too, thank you.
How do you distinct between actual Relationship addiction (love addiction)
and Relationship anxiety?
Thank you Sheryl again ♡
My dreams are bothering me so badly again. I saw last night a dream where I thought that our marriage was a mistake. My husband told me in that dream that our marriage was just a lesson for us. On the daytime I can care and think positive thoughts about my husband, but I so frequently dream about leaving that it just has to have some message for me..Why I do not want to give up? Am I just coward?
Or can these dreams be a sign that I am still blaming my relationship about my depression and lack of aliveness? I am giving up, because this therapist had been the best so far (my fourth therapist) and all therapist are telling me to divorce..
On what basis are all of your therapists telling you to divorce?
Because I have dreamed about leaving my husband for years and felt indifference and lack of attraction since beginning.. I feel that I am just convincing myself yhat I love my husband, but I just do not love him enough. He is a great man and it feels so scary to divorce..
Well, as you know, I take a very different approach.
I know Sheryl.. I am just so tired because I believed that I was making progress, but all those divorce dreams are making me so insecure.. I have tried so many therapies for years and my depression does not seem to heal.. I cannot help thinking that this is about our relationship, because I am all the time checking and analysizing my feelings, even when I am not anxious..
I would need a lot more information in order to know how to guide you, Just me. I encourage you to consider a coaching session:
Thank you Sheryl ♡ I do not know if my english is good enough, but I will think about it seriously, because I do not want to be stuck anymore.. So many years is wasted and I am so scared that I will loose my son’s childhood with these dream analyses and checking my feelings..
I am now unemployed, because I have been unable to work, because of my depression.. and I am unable to concentrate on anything, because I am all the time analysizing my feelings and quesrining should I divorce or not.. I am feeling that this is so unhealthy.. I try to get some money in order to discuss with you. I am desperate..
This is the stage I’m in now and yes my ego is playing it along the lines you mention. “You are feeling better now and you still want to leave, stop fooling yourself!”
Thanks so much for today’s article I really needed it.
I’m so glad it helped, Julia.
“I can keep blaming and projecting and running, but I will always end up in the same place until I take my scared, sad self in my arms and learn, probably for the first time in my life, what it means to love me.”
Amen. What difficult and rewarding work this last stage has been and will continue to be for me. A year after the initiation of RA, I can see so clearly how much self-love and self-compassion (or, rather, a lack thereof) have been the root of it all. Yes, the healing brought me into deeper partnership with my boyfriend, but I am most grateful for the deeper partnership it has grown in myself. Life opened up WIDE this year, and with that brings so much emotion, light and dark. Grateful now to have the tools to ride them both.
Thank you, also, for your comment replies about transition kicking up the dirt. A reminder I think we all need again and again! I can peg my projections for what they are now, but it’s still disconcerting when they pop up. Then I remember I’m on the eve of a HUGE transition. Revisiting your checklist of questions as I dive in to investigate. 🙂
Blessings and thank you again!
Blessings to you as well, greenlane. I’m guessing your big adventure that you shared about on the Trust Yourself program has begun?
I am in the stage of my transition where I am engaged and the wedding events are getting closer.
I know that I love my fiancé so dearly, his touch & smell is so safe to me but looking at him I feel like, who is that? That is going to be my husband!!! (Not in a bad way, but I see him in a different light and feel such a deep love it sparks fear in me) I also feel unfamiliar around even my parents, I just feel like I am viewing everyone and everything in such a different way.
Is this a part of the liminal stage, has anyone else experienced this?
Hi Brooke, I must say I feel much the same. My and my partner are engaged and feels so warm and comfortable. But I do get some anxiety looking at wedding dates etc etc. Do you get that too?
I feel like everyone is looking at me a different way too… in a good way though eg ppl at work, home, gym and friends 🙂
We are on our love journey I suppose my friend 🙂
Please share your experiences would love to hear as we are in the same boat.
Hello Sheryl, I echo every other comment, your posts are always so timely and relevant. I am just now starting to recognize my pattern of anxiety finding things wrong with my relationship (I think back to your post “Anxiety is a Game of Whack-A-Mole”). Lately my hangup has been the best friend conundrum. I keep asking myself “Is he really your best friend? “. I take every slight action as proof that he is not and cannot be my best friend. If I am talking to him and he zones out, if I make a joke and he doesn’t laugh, if I overhear him talking to one of his good friends I make a note of how easily their conversations flow and how much he jokes with them and I think “why can’t he talk to me like that?”. I think he talks about himself too much, I think he’s selfish, I think he won’t love me anymore because I’m so needy and want him to pay more attention to me. I know fundamentally that this is BS, I tell him everything including my struggles with anxiety and depression and his compassion literally made me do a double-take. But still the thoughts persist, so much so that I hear myself getting more irritated with him and starting to pull away. My counselor tells me “Your wants and needs are valid” and I can’t help thinking that my needs are not being met (and then immediately chastise myself for being so needy in the first place). Right now I really feel numb, the only thing that is super clear to me is that he’s not meeting my needs and never will (because he’s selfish and doesn’t really care). I think that I am stuck in a story right now but the calm is convincing. Can anyone help me identify this projection because I’m having a really hard time separating what my anxiety is telling me from what is really happening. And it would break my heart to lose this man.
You always answer my call, Sheryl, without even knowing. This post is brilliant & I’ve needed it for a long time. Thank you.
Do you have any plans to talk more about the transition of moving in together at all? It’s happening to us and it’s so great, but I want to be prepared for when it becomes a reality. I’ve been struggling with some irritation lately (but it’s okay, I know where to go…).
I would also love some insight about moving in together. My boyfriend and I have plans for me to move into his house with him this upcoming spring/early summer. Even though I pretty much already live here (I stay at my own apartment only 1 night per week), officially moving in certainly feels different and while it feels like the natural, happy, and loving progression for our relationship, it definitely sometimes sparks my anxiety. I know from your work that just because I feel anxiety about something doesn’t mean it’s wrong or isn’t what I want, but I am afraid of being afraid of moving in with him!
Sheryl, Thank you so much for publishing this post. I am newly single, and realizing that this is a great opportunity for me to do my own inner work before entering into my next relationship. Everything you’ve said above resonates for me and many others, and encourages me to work hard now, in order to be open and vulnerable in my next relationship.
For the first time I find myself disagreeing with you Sheryl. It absolutely is possible to remain in that high state of anxiety for a very long time. In ALL my romantic/sexual relationships I have existed at the daily tears, not eating not sleeping, racing negative thoughts, wanting to vomit stage until the man understandably gets sick to death of me and leaves me. Which is ofcourse the very thing I was anxious about in the first place. I’m 44 now, single obviously never married, never even shared a home with anyone, no children. So please don’t say that” the alarm simmers down”, that may be true for some but for others, like me, it simply carries on daily with no relief at all. I have existed (I couldn’t really call it living) like this every day for months on end, and in my longest relationship for 3 years continuously day in day out.
This is very, very unusual, Rosie, and my guess is that the alarm state for you may be related to other issues. I’m also curious how you respond to the alarm stage when you’re in it. Are you in therapy? Do you have any daily practices like journaling, mindfulness, or prayer? Have you taken the Break Free From Relationship Anxiety E-Course? In any case, I know that stage is pure torture and I’m so sorry that you’ve had to endure it for so long.
Thank you for your kind response Sheryl. Yes I have taken your anxiety e course but unfortunately i only found your work at the demise of my last relationship a year ago. It sounds though as if your course isn’t aimed at people as anxious as me?? However I’ve been in all different modes of therapy on and off for 20 years not specifically to address this but for general anxiety and depression issues (I am incredibly sensitive but also have a very outgoing confident personality which means that people treat me robustly when really I need much more gentleness) . I think when I was in my 20s I was more normal with my romantic relationships but too many relationship break ups along the way has made me phobic about being dumped to the point where I behave in ways that now make it happen even when the guy says he wants to be with me forever. It’s interesting to hear you say my response is very very unusual, I just thought everyone on here was like me and we all felt this awful all the time!! I do have a history of childhood sexual abuse from a distant family member which was handled atrociously by my parents when I told them and I was forced to still see my abuser for many years. That betrayal I think will stay with me forever and no doubt is a contributory factor to my lack of trust in close relationships today. I’ve had over 30 relationships since aged 18 but have given up hope now of anyone being able to cope with me and my constant anxiety. Not surprisingly I am incredibly lonely despite having what to the outside world looks like a charmed life.
Thank you for sharing this, Rosie. If I had to guess, I would have guessed that you had a history of sexual abuse that wasn’t handled well. In situations like yours, the betrayal of your family not supporting you and advocating for you is, in some ways, more damaging and painful than the betrayal from the abuse. I imagine you’ve done a lot of work directly on the abuse and your parents’ response, but I’ve recently becoming aware of an incredible resource for survivors that I would like to pass on to. It’s a free retreat for women, and it has powerful results:
I’m glad you have the Break Free course, and I would recommend going through it several times now that you’re broken up. For those with extremely high anxiety, it can be difficult to absorb the information while in a relationship, so this is the time to dive in.
Thank you so much for this blog post! It popped up in my email, I read it and realized this is EXACTLY what has been happening. My fiance (boyfriend at the time) and I actually broke up last year due to my anxiety. We didn’t know at the time that I was experiencing anxiety, I just kept questioning our relationship for a year and finally we both had had enough. Your anxiety course allowed us to get back together and I will forever be thankful for that.
However, I thought I was done with the anxiety, and recently after getting engaged/planning the wedding I have started panicking again, but not as intensely as before. It is taking its toll again, though, and I keep wondering if now that I’ve solved my anxiety, maybe he really isn’t right for me. It’s exhausting having to fight through all these problems, and my fiance is struggling because he feels like I don’t love, like or trust him.
Will you be putting out any more blog posts about this “second stage”? I feel like your course really helped me jump through that first hurdle, but now I seem to be in a whole new stage with limited tools on how to deal with it.
Really hoping I can improve soon so we an enjoy this season without me panicking all the time.
The course is actually entirely about the second stage. The first time people go through the course they realize they’re not alone and they’re not crazy, and that’s a huge relief. But the tools I teach in the course are specifically designed to shift you from stage 2 to stage 3, and that’s why I suggest going through the course multiple times. I encourage you to dive back in with the understanding that we’re never really “done” with our inner work. We learn in spirals and layers, and when the next transition comes along, like getting married or having a baby, we’re thrust back into the next layers of growth.
This post is amazing in how accurately it describes the patterns I’ve been going through…. What if in phase two the fear always comes back with the ‘what if I’m gay?’ line of worries? I’m having trouble pin pointing which fear it’s coming from, what is it trying to tell me… it’s my ego’s favorite what if? and it’s been coming and going all of my life to a point that I sometimes doubt my own sexuality. I’ve been working hard on myself but this one seems really deeply embedded in me and I’m having trouble finding the roots or an angle to go at it… any thoughts?
Have you read these articles?
I also dissect it in depth in the course.
Thank you, I had not read the gay spike this feels exactly like my story and gives me a starting point to begin the healing process.
Which course would be better suited for dealing with intrusive thoughts and relationship anxiety? I’m not actually in a relationship now but I feel it would probably help me find a good relationship and partner if I took the course anyway.
This would be the best course for you, and it doesn’t matter if you’re in a relationship or not:
I used to have that one a lot too Suzy. As I’ve delved into it over the course of Sheryl’s work it comes up less and leaves sooner.
thank you Rebecca for the encouragement, it is reassuring to hear from someone a little farter ahead in the journey.
I just reached the third stage last week. I am so excited for this new part of the journey and am grateful to how you described the stages. It took a lot of pain and exhaustion to finally get to the point to lay down my defenses and be willing to try something new that felt counterintuitive — but something in me (love) was screaming for it.
This weekend, I mindfully practiced that when I was triggered to pause and ask myself questions like the ones you listed. I turned the attention on myself and noticed every time a grievance would pop up with my boyfriend. It happened so often I’m embarrassed to admit. When I noticed the heat of fear, the rush of adrenaline, the heavy sigh of impatience–I would breathe and ask myself what was the fear under the grievance. Surprisingly, it was pretty easy to identify.
For example, as he retold a story, I would get impatient – I caught myself before he noticed my eye rolling and asked myself why I was feeling upset. It turns out, I had created a belief that him retelling me a story meant he didn’t remember telling me this before and therefore I was not important enough for him to remember our times together. Once identified, I could see how this was just a fear and was not true. Him retelling me a story is normal as humans do this regularly. Also, if it is an important story to him, he is sharing it with me and therefore is attempting to create more connection. So, I was able to find gratitude. This is a HUGE shift.
Typically, my impatience would have led to me being defensive, pulling away, perhaps saying something curt and we would hurt each other without understanding what was happening. Identifying all of my spots (and there are many) of fear is the place where I have power to transform how I behave and connect. I am so excited to continue practicing stage 3 in this relationship and others. I agree that fear is our greatest teacher now that I am a willing student.
Dear Tanya: This is so beautiful and so powerful. Thank you for sharing it here, especially the specific example about your partner telling you the same story twice. I love that you were able to catch your habitual response and practice something new, and then turn the story in your hear around completely in the direction of acceptance and gratitude. This is it. Stage three, indeed ;).
This is so powerful, thanks for sharing your example. It’s very close to home as I struggle with irritation so much. Is it possible to be scared of feeling irritability & anger, Sheryl? When I ask myself what’s wrong, the only thing that comes to light is the fear that I will feel irritated at my partner all the time, as I’m ashamed to say, I do with my parents though I love them very very much. Irritation feels so big and a part of me fears it will never leave. I hate the feeling & I hate myself for feeling it towards my loves. My childhood & family life was filled with so much irritation & arguing, as well as joy. Shouting, frustration etc are very familiar & I try very hard to manage them. In order to keep calm with my partner, do I perhaps need to address my feelings towards my parents, too?
Thanks once again for the steps on transitions. I have been through the three stages of transitioning. I am still stuck in the first stage of the physical aspect. I feel my chest is sore when i breathe in and out. I feel stuck, and I question myself why am i still feeling heavy still. I must admit and confess, i havent been doing the breathing exercises you so passionately advise. I doubt and question my physical state, knowing and believing your amazing work. My mental state is normal I dont want to leave. Ego is trying to tell me the grass is greener on the other side, but knows I wont give up. Its not my intention even if i do feel fed up with anxiety.
I have a question these days. If it is possible to work to get beyond the “infatuation” phase to something more real isn’t all this work a letting go of pleasure? I feel it that way, like sometimes I can be “wise” and real but I don’t feel pleasure, adventure, thrill.
Is it this road taking me/us there? To a state where you can invest in real stuff like having children or doing stuff together but u have to give up the pleasure.
Equating pleasure with infatuation is the problem. There is SO MUCH pleasure in life that isn’t dependent on the infatuation stage, which is always fleeting and often skin-deep. Your question speaks to the need to learn about true joy, which comes from a full well of Self, instead of momentary pleasure that is attached to a transitory experience in life.
Interesting. Thank you. Maybe sometimes I discover meaningfull stuf but i’m afraid to loose the thrill, the glamour.
Hi Sheryl, wonderful post as always! I agree with Custard353 in that the feeling safe with your partner (in my case husband) is something to feel grateful for/ a blessing. But why is it that reading it on the list of the second stage ego lines spikes my anxiety anyway?
As you answered to Custard353, feeling safe is a wonderful reason to stay. Why do you think so? Would love to hear your wise thoughts!
I just wanted to reach out and offer my experience. I started dating someone in July who is the kindest, funniest, most genuine person I have ever been with.
I have a bit of a rocky history with men, I dated an alcoholic for five years, had an on again off again relationship with a pill addict for two years, and dated an undiagnosed bipolar boy who refused to touch me for four years. I met this new man after 8 months of being single and feeling on top of the world. I met him when I was truly at my happiest. We have a ton in common, he makes me feel safe, and all my friends and family love him (that’s a first). Initially, I doubted the validity of my feelings for him because that “spark” or “fireworks” or “chemistry” I had with the other men just was not there. I didn’t feel “romantic” with him, I just knew in reality I enjoyed his company, so I decided to give it a try.
After about 3 months of dating I woke up and felt 100%, utterly repulsed by him. This was my first panic attack. I broke up with him immediately and then got back together with him 24 hours later. For the next 5 months (I am not exaggerating at all) I had a panic attack every single day, complete with everything-heart constricting, shortness of breath, and crying. I had obsessive thoughts every second of every day, saying “You hate him” or “your truth is you don’t love him” or “he’s not attractive enough for you” or “he is too nice for you” over and over. I lost twenty lbs. I cannot tell you the agony I experienced. But when I had moments of calmness, I saw him for what he truly was. I felt “love” for him.
After sifting through loads of panic inducing crap on the internet and politely ignoring every single friend who said “maybe he’s just not right for you”. I got a therapist, read the book Women Who Love Too Much by Robin Norwood (may not be applicable to everyone, but it certainly was to me), read every single one of Sheryl’s blog posts (thank God I found them. They were my only source of comfort the past 6 months), and I ended up being prescribed Z***** as well.
It feels a bit like a miracle, but I woke up about two weeks ago and this thought entered my mind, “what if the feelings you associate with “love” are not feelings you will ever feel with him? What if what you will experience is something new and better? What if yearning and pining and wishing and hoping isn’t what love actually is? Maybe you can’t search for a feeling you haven’t had before?” And then, I broke free!
In the past two weeks the panic and intrusive thoughts have stopped! The constant cycle of sheer fear has run out and I finally feel like a normal human again. This article is SO aptly timed, because now the anxiety is manageable and I am calm, but it is definitely present. I feel like I have definitely crossed through to phase 2 and I feel nervous, but I also feel prepared. In fact, today after a very pleasant day of spending time with him I felt the normal “what if he really isn’t right?” After a couple hours of mild stressing, I stopped, breathed and thought “This is flight or fight response. This is fear. This isn’t real.” And I got on with my day.
I have found that what helps is to focus on reality. Don’t focus on “what if I have to break up with him?”(I know it’s SO hard) Focus on the things you know, in reality. Reality is not panic and anxiety. Reality is the dinner he made for you or the movie you saw together or the gentle way he talks to you. For me, even when I felt totally grossed out by his appearance, I’d focus on his eyes, because I know he has lovely blue eyes. Or I’d think, “So, you think he’s ugly? Maybe he is. Who cares?!” It also helped me to look at a picture of the two of us I had, because in the picture I look genuinely happy. Even when I felt disgusted by him and it felt true in my gut, I would look at that picture and repeat to myself “You can’t fake that smile.” Also, STOP GOOGLING EVERYTHING. STOP. STOP. STOP. The internet is a blackhole or useless articles. In fact, my initial panic attack 5 months ago was set off by a listicle entitled “5 signs you might not like him as much as you think.” This listicle suggested that one sure fire sign was if you don’t like all of his clothes. Sigh. After months on this journey I realized what total crap that is. I also did a lot of research on Relationship OCD (go to credible websites!!!!), which helped me identify my intrusive thoughts with an actual panic disorder (again, may not be applicable to everyone, but it certainly was to me)!
These things may not help you, and do not let your ego trick you into thinking that my love is true and yours is not, because you cannot relate to things that helped me. Let me assure you. There were points every single day in the past 5 months that I truly felt no love AT ALL for this person. That all I felt was dread and anxiety. Let me assure you. There were moments where I literally felt like my divine truth was that I did not love him and all of the anxiety came from me trying to “block” my true feelings. FIGHT THROUGH IT. Your truth is that you care for this person. Your truth is that you enjoy this person’s company. Your truth is that this person treats you right and is loving towards you. Your truth is that this relationship is worth your time. You wouldn’t be on this website reading these comments if it wasn’t!
I send all positive vibes to everyone out there! You can beat this. Be strong!
Thank you, Jamie. This is powerful and inspiring.
Thank you Sheryl! You have helped me SO much.
Jamie, Thank you for sharing this! My story is very similar to yours. I also would consider myself in stage 2, with some definite moments of anguish but mostly calm and collected. Sheryl’s blog has also helped me immensely, I can’t stop practically shouting her name from the rooftops of all the online forums I read of other people going through this. I wake up every morning choosing to fight for the future of my relationship, and I know it will pay off. Friends and family just can’t seem to understand how it is we are feeling, and it’s so relieving to have this support system.
I’m so glad it’s been so helpful for both of you. xo
Sheryl I have a question, is it possible to only feel anxiety AWAY from your significant other? Whenever I’m away from him I have all kinds of doubts of my relationship if I love him etc. it’s almost like I’m afraid without him around I’ll lose interest and not want to be with him. However when I’m with him I’m on cloud 9. He’s my best friend I love being around him he makes me so significantly happy. What does this mean?
This is not only possible but extremely common. It’s very common for relationship anxiety to be worse during absences or the other way around: worse in the presence of one’s partner. Either way, the work is the same: to recognize that the anxiety has very little to do with your partner but is pointing to areas inside of you that need your attention so that you can heal and grow.
I’m sorry if I’m being annoying but I’m desperate. I want to know of its normal to experience anxiety when thinking about future scenarios. I’m wondering this because I read here that most of the people, even though they suffer from anxiety, they know at the end of the day they they want to get married with their partner. I’m not getting married anytime soon but before all of this started, I used to daydream about getting married sometime with my boyfriend, but now I just can’t feel it, or I do but not as often as I did before and this scares me.
Could it be because I’m forcing myself to picture this future scenarios, like moving together or getting married, and expecting to feel happy? I just dont know anymore, I really love him and he’s the best thing that has ever happened to me, I’m really afraid of losing him. I just want to be able to feel joy when thinking about our future together.
Thwts the first reason that paralyzes me when thinking about taking your e course, because maybe my truth is that I can’t picture a future together because we are not meant to be, and that destroys me.
what I’ve learned (but still need to remember for myself) that trying to picture things & gauge whether or not you feel excited about them is only a complulsuon to reduce the stress of uncertainty. Feelings are spontaneous, & you can’t possibly know how you’re going to feel about something unless you’re actually living in the moment. For me, I struggle with trying to picture my SO in my head to see if I feel “love feelings”. But the truth is, it’s only going to fuel my anxiety, because you can’t MAKE yourself FEEL love. Because love is not a feeling.
What I would say, based on what I’m learning, is live in the moment. Whenever you think about trying to picture your future, tell yourself “I’ll see how I feel about it when the time comes but for now, I’m just going to focus on being the best partner I can be & stay in the present moment.” Staying in the present moment is crucial but really hard sometimes (for me too!) Just breathe, & take each day as it comes. You wouldn’t be so torn apart if your SO didn’t mean something to you. I’ve struggled with that too. You’re not alone <3 *hugs*
This is brilliant, Heidi. Thank you for your compassionate and wise response. This is especially spot-on: “trying to picture things & gauge whether or not you feel excited about them is only a complulsuon to reduce the stress of uncertainty.” YES!
I have to say in the past few years I have learned a lot about myself and I owe a lot of what I have learned to you, Sheryl. I realized I had anxiety from a young age; I had issues starting in middle school with teachers that couldn’t understand why I struggled in school and often reacted with harshness when I needed sensitivity, I would stay up worrying about money and my parents while they were at each other’s throats practically, I cared for my sister when I was still a child myself and my newly divorced parents became preoccupied with their new lives, etc. My father was a hostile bipolar paranoid schizophrenic who was awful to live with and my mother was ready to be free of him, although it felt like she divorced not only my father but her children in the process. She cared more about dating and seeing men at odd hours of the night than caring for her children who were still in school (I had two older siblings who had already gone off to college long ago). I sought out relationship after relationship in my late teens with abusive men and some well-meaning who I hoped would love me so much that I would never feel unloved ever again. The more they adored me the more I treated them with disdain and the more they didn’t love me (or outright abused me) the more I longed for their approval. I was playing out the relationship of my parents and their relationship with me. It was not until later I would realize this to be so. I pushed away a few good men and battled with the worst of them.
I am 24 nearly 25 now. I met my current boyfriend 4 years ago. He was a bright young man about to graduate from law school with his own uncertainties about the future. He wasn’t the most attractive man I had ever met (this used to be a key topic I would get stuck on) but he had a glean in his eye and a wise outlook on life that attracted me to him. We had some times where we had split up; we both had to grow individually (I believe) before we could get back together. He had trouble finding a law job and I had trouble finding myself (frankly). When we were apart, I realized nobody else could replace him and that I knew in my heart he was the man I wanted to marry and start a family with. He feels the same though we aren’t quite ready just yet. I struggle with anxiety often, still. However, I used to google and post questions on sites with harsh responders who would spiral me even deeper into my RA. I have the control to respond in kind to myself and I no longer google or post questions! I know I will always push away those who love me as a defense. Love is not longing or abusive addictive situations. Love is also not about lust.
Sheryl, you taught me what love is and even though I still have my moments, you have provided me with the methods to stop torturing myself. I keep my anxiety to myself because now I know it is mine and I can calm myself down. I have moments when I feel like what if I need to do more, see more, be alone to figure it out, etc. What if he’s the wrong man? However I know when he is in my company there is nowhere else I would rather be and this anxiety is living inside me and likely always will.
I know my SO is not a perfect man, nor am I a perfect woman. It feels so much better to know that and accept it. Feelings ebb and flow, attraction does, too. I spent so much of my youth trying to be a pretty, thin girl for my father and my very traditional paternal grandmother (I was always told I’d be so pretty if it weren’t for my bad skin and imperfect teeth). Learning to love myself and be open to love is the biggest lesson of my life and one I am glad I learned. I read all of the blogs you post to this day, 5 years after I stumbled upon your site. Thank you for all you do!
Irritation and anger is playing a HUGE part in my stage 2, so much so that I feel like it’s really starting to effect our relationship, as my once patient and loving boyfriend is growing tired of my constant moodiness, defensiveness etc etc. I’m trying my hardest to notice projections, I think I may have figured out the reason I’m projecting but I still don’t know how to stop it. For example, my boyfriend is very sure of himself in almost everything he does, he’s very clever and just in general presents himself very well, something I am not or feel I am not anyway, I’ve never ever been sure of myself lol, in a clear mind I really admire him for this especially due to his current circumstances with parents as he’s had a pretty rubbish upbringing. But anyway when something happens and he’s right or he’s confident about something he’s said that I don’t agree with I tent to get so irritated and angry and defensive and I think this is me projecting my lack of self confidence into him???? another example, he loves to drive and loves cars (he passed his driving test with flying colours and just bought his first brand new car) whereas I have failed repeatadly recently and can’t afford a car of my own, he worked his butt off and is proud of himself for buying his car outright alone and I am too. But when I hear him say “aw I just love driving this car” “I’m so happy with it” or anything positive related to driving I can’t help but roll my eyes, is this too a projection because I lack this confidence???? I dunno if this is even right, I just felt like this could be my problem. I’ve recognised it but I just don’t know what to do about it and as I still can’t afford ur break free course, I’m looking for some help to tide me over till then!!!!
Thank you, I had not read the gay spike this feels exactly like my story and gives me a starting point to begin the healing process.
Which course would be better suited for dealing with intrusive thoughts and relationship anxiety? I’m not actually in a relationship now but I feel it would probably help me find a good relationship and partner if I took the course anyway.
And thank you Rebecca for the encouragement, it is reassuring to hear from someone a little farter ahead in the journey.
are sadness and regret considered from relationship anxiety?
Wow, once again Sheryl writes something that completely covers me. I’m well and truly in stage 2 whilst trying to get in to stage 3 by taking full ownership of my anxiety but still have symptoms of stage 1 with waking up early or during the night etc.
I’m trying my level best to launch myself into stage 3 but the ego keeps piping up trying to pick faults with my fiancée etc.
I’ve been doing the wedding course for 2 months now and had this anxiety for just over 4 now. I’m only really on stage 5 of the course as I keep revisiting topics and trying to open up channels inside of me, which very slowly I’m starting to. Figuring out my personality type (high sensitive and analytical ) whilst opening up false beliefs based on my childhood and a messy parents divorce.
I’m finding as I’m uncovering childhood wounds my anxiety is increasing and focusing on my partner, I can only assume this is part of the process, deviate my mind away from the real issue but instead focus on my partner and take the easy way out (fear/ego).
But the key is to keep the inner work, mindfulness and journaling whilst not listening to my fear but show it compassion.
It’s been a very testing time and still is. Need to keep going though.
Hi sheryl, is relationship anxiety and relationship ocd (rocd) the same thing ?
It’s basically the same thing, different terms. I don’t use the term “relationship ocd” because it’s a diagnostic term that implies disorder. I don’t see anxiety in any form as a disorder, but rather as a gift, a symptom, and a messenger from psyche. This means that even though the terms are referring to the same symptoms, the methods of addressing the symptoms are quite different (with some overlap).
As usual, your articles always come at the right time. I’m once again in the throes of anxiety again and because of other life factors, my partner as I are at the brink of separating. I know a lot of it comes from my constant questioning whether or not he is “the one” and me feeling like it was never “right” from the beginning. I was triggered the other day when I watched a movie which was about a couple who were apparently completely wrong for each other (I think it was called “I Give It A Year or something) and where both meet other people who are supposedly much better suited for them. At the end of the day, they break up and end up with the person that was “perfect” for them and this just straight away sent me into I spiral of thoughts about how I feel like my relationship has always felt “wrong” and that my partner just doesn’t get me and that I would be so much better suited with someone else.
I’m always feeling like we don’t connect in a way that I need or that he doesn’t fulfil my needs and even though I understand projection, I struggle with actually taking responsibility for my own feelings as something inside me (my ego I’m assuming) tells me that I have to listen to my gut and just trust myself with this feeling that he’s not the one for me. I’m just at a point where I want peace and I feel like I am hurting my partner all the time with the way I am and I just want to end things so I stop putting us both through it all.
I really struggle to believe that my truth is that I’m supposed to be with him and that there isn’t someone more suitable for me. I’ve actually recently discovered someone on social media who represents everything I feel that my “ideal” man would be- he’s articulate, he’s intelligent, he’s caring, he’s passionate about helping others, he’s physically attractive and he’s in touch with his emotions and quite comfortable talking about how he feels. It’s hard for me to see this guy and not compare him to how my partner is and to feel that my partner doesn’t measure up. This guy just seems to be more my “type” and I struggle with believing that I couldn’t find someone like that in reality. I know that I don’t know this person in real life and fhat it’s very possible that there would be things about him that I don’t like or that my partner has and he doesn’t, but the qualities that I mentioned above are what I feel are missing in my current relationship and so I can’t help but feel that I’m missing out on being truly happy.
Anyway, I would appreciate your thoughts if you have time otherwise I wanted to ask another thing- so you offer counselling or programs which are made for the partners of people suffering from relationship anxiety? I just think maybe if my partner understood what I’m doing though maybe he wouldn’t get so hurt by my behaviour or by the way I am?
Sheryl, is it natural for all intrusive thoughts to eventually be met with a “calm” response? As you know, some of my intrusive thoughts are very violent. The current theme is pOCD and fear of losing my partner and all our potential and future. I don’t like diagnostic terms but I don’t want type the p-word. I’ve been struggling with this theme on and off since I was 10 years old – 15 years now. My mind has always been a very vivid and violent place and this is very normal to me, though I wish it were different. I have gone for long periods – years! – with absolute certainty that I am safe and harmless, but at the moment, it feels absolutely 100% true 🙁 . I’m really struggling to meet these thoughts with compassion and truth, but how on earth do I do that? Many people say, “If you were one of those, you wouldn’t be concerned about it” but sometimes it feels like I’m not! Either that or it’s so so very normal to me now, which is a problem in itself.
I feel like I have a dual personality right now. A part of me absolutely believes this to be 110% true, another is desperate for family life with my partner. It’s all I dream about; us being parents.
Even as I type this a small voice says “you’re not struggling, you like it”, “stop pretending to care” etc etc etc it all feels like ME. I keep wondering if I actually have done something and have forgotten or misjudged it as being acceptable. We are a very tactile family and whenever I squeeze or cuddle my sister, it feels like a manifestation of this.
I so want to break free of this and get back to clarity and certainty. I don’t understand the root of it or how to get to it. I keep asking myself the questions – “What is this thought protecting me from?” etc and TRYING to drop into my body, but nothing is working.
I wanted to add: people say that pedophiles (sorry ;/ ) just KNOW what they are and are okay with it. But people who find their way here think they just KNOW their relationship isn’t right – so can that ‘knowing’ be trusted? It always spikes me when people say this, but I guess people don’t know how to help. “The fact that it bothers you so much is a sign that you’re not one” is another one that spikes me too. What if it doesn’t bother me? What if it doesn’t spike me? What if I am one? How has this happened to me and what do I do? Am I really supposed to take being ‘bothered’ or ‘not bothered’ by something as the truth about my moral stance? I don’t even know what my moral stances are anymore. Sometimes it feels like I have none. I think about death, suicide, sexual/violence every single day, including in my dreams. If I were bothered by every one of those thoughts, I’d probably literally die from the sheer stress of it. My first experience with thoughts like this was aged 7 and it was absolute hell on earth. I lost years of my life to sexual violence anxiety.
The line between it being the real thing and pOCD seems so thin. I’m really struggling (cue doubt – “no you’re not, why are you saying that?”) with this and don’t know how to address it. I seem to only have exacerbated it lately. I’ve tried to journal but I don’t really understand it – how am I supposed to NOT journal about the thoughts?
I don’t know where to go to get help for this. I’ve tried reading pOCD forums but some of them have ‘resident pedophiles’!!! I don’t want to be part of that circle.
The most laughable part of all this is, when I initially broke free of these thoughts after a terrible episode with them when I was 18, I considered going into counseling specifically for people who struggle with pOCD. This is not so long ago yet it feels so far away. I’m sorry for all the posts. I have nowhere else to go.
If you could see this thought as a metaphor, what would it represent? The challenge with intrusive thoughts is that they draw us into taking them at face value, but they’re never real. Rather, they represent places inside of ourselves that need attention. What is needing attention inside? What would you be focusing on if you weren’t trapped in the web of this thought?
I don’t know 🙁 but what I do know is, I have a very dry well. I have nothing going on for myself. No secure place to live. Scared of creative challenges and of losing my loved ones. Scared of myself. In terms of a metaphor…I have no idea. All I know is that I have experienced these thoughts in phases and those phases have mostly happened with safe partners and have been triggered by an event. This time it was working with a who had a history of sexual abuse. You don’t think these thoughts are true about me, do you? 🙁 How on earth to I determine?
Specifically, I suppose I’d be focusing on looking for stable work, moving in with my partner, pursuing creative projects and good physical/mental health practices. Every time I think about doing one of these things, I feel compelled to answer the question – “but what if you’re a pedophile?” and I’m scanning my past for things I might have done and misjudged as okay or forgotten. I don’t know if there’s a connection to me wanting a family with my partner so much or the fear of not getting there with him. I guess it is the ultimate roadblock, because if I am, then my life is over. There is no point going forward in anyway. There is no redemption, no reason to move forward and learn self-loving. I understand intrusive thoughts are attention-getters, it’s just that these feel like they have so much weight behind them. Thank you for your response, Sheryl. I’m concerned about what you and everyone else thinks about me now 🙁 I had to get it out as I have been doing no good on my own.
I struggle with the most basic aspects of daily life, I’m scared of so much but I just avoid things instead of doing anything remotely challenging. Perhaps this is why I struggle with numbness – I keep myself in a safe, familiar box. I didn’t go to school very much and I haven’t had that typical daily structure most people have. Even establishing a sleep pattern and getting showered every day creates so much resistance and overwhelm in me. Not very happy with myself for all this frantic posting. Sorry. x
The Trust Yourself program would be ideal for you. Any possibility you can join us? Also, remind me: Are you in therapy? When there’s a very strong web of intrusive thoughts it’s often because of a trauma history and it’s best to work with someone locally who is highly skilled and experienced in working with trauma.
I’m not in therapy, no. I’ve never met a therapist who understands intrusive thoughts. I’m not able to join the TY program currently, either. I have no history of trauma and I don’t know where this is coming from. 🙁
This has come at the perfect time!
I’m over it, I’m tired, I’m numb & sick of the fight with my own mind.
I look at things that use to make me feel better, books, reading affirmations and just conversations to my friends about it
Yet I don’t feel that hope that I use to, I don’t feel better I still feel numb. I feel stuck and like now I have exhausted all my roads and I can’t find a single thing to help me up and keep me motivated to beat this.
Is this normal? Is this part of anxiety?
I sent my friend a post from last week and she was like “how do you not feel better by this” I feel bad ( it’s definitely not your blogs! I love them)
Can someone help me?
These two articles may help:
Ok- my intrusive thoughts are completely out of hand. I cannot afford to do a course at the moment, any recommendations on what I can do in the mean time? I won’t lie, it’s hard to resist getting reassurance from fellow members on here, but I don’t want to rely on them for my peace of mind. I really need help.
I suggest you read all of my posts on intrusive thoughts, which you can find by googling “conscious-transitions.com + intrusive thoughts” then practicing diligently the tools I teach there.
I feel so helpless right now. I have been having this constant gut feeling and anxious symptons since this all started (which has been 7 months). You metion that the physical symptoms don’t last that long but this gut feeling just doesn’t go away and I don’t know if it’s normal for me to feel this way. Sometimes it gets so bad that I feel sick and my head starts to spin and then I start questioning everything about my relationship (from the start to now). I’m getting really worried that all this doesn’t apply to my situation. Please help
I’m so sorry you’re struggling, Michele. You’ll be hearing from Kathryn, my assistant today, about joining the course, and you’ll find immediate help there.
Hi Sheryl, thanks again for this wonderful post. Is it also possible to not experience incredible amounts of anxiety in the beginning? I first struggled with the question ‘What if I’m gay’ and this question gave me anxiety for a few days but then the relationship worries and thoughts started but I can’t remember having much anxiety about it (maybe this is a false memory). I just thought and obsessed and googled and checked the whole day. I’m afraid it’s no relationship anxiety and that I still need to leave my partner 🙁 fyi: I did struggle with generalized anxiety and hypochondria in the past so I would consider myself as a anxious person. I just doubt that I’m lying to myself now. Hope to hear from you.
You’re describing classic relationship anxiety to a tee ;).
Sheryl, I really really want to break up with my boyfriend. I feel like the only thing keeping me in is fear. Fear of dealing with a break up.
I’m honestly just struggling accepting this part of me. It’s like something in my bones is telling me to leave and that this isn’t right and honestly that voice has saved me in the past and so I’m afraid if I don’t listen to it I will be hurt and lead astray.
How do I stay with all of these strong feelings of wanting to go and wanting to break up? And the constant voices of I just don’t want to go through the pain of breaking up being the only reason I’m staying.
He’s a great guy though. Seriously. The first real relationship I’ve ever had. The healthy one. Why do I want to leave? I just need answers. How do I cultivate that feeling of WANTING to stay instead of waking up every morning with the first thoughts and feelings and PULLL to leave. everyone else on this site says that they want to stay but feel like they have to leave. I feel the opposite. I get mad when I choose to stay because something in me just doesn’t want it. This really sucks.
I also realize that I CAN handle the pain of breaking up and I need to trust myself on that. It just is hard and I’m struggling. Please answer. I feel happy and encouraged inside when I realize I can break up with him.
Did you ever get to the root of feeling this way?
Id love to hear a follow up as im going through similar..
This makes a lot of sense, but I’m just wondering- in theory- is there any case in which you would say that someone, after working through these things, might still just be happier breaking up with their current partner?
I understand that we should work through this to make sure our reasons are not just fear/ego, but if we’re aware of all that and just not happy, it seems like this advice just convinces everyone everywhere to stay put, and that doesn’t make sense to me as universal advice.
How would you frame this?
I am wondering about your thoughts on listening to yeses/nos when in this state. Quite often, everything feels like a “no” or ” I don’t know”. This is a new relationship, so it’s not expected that everything is figured out at this point. However, when I tune into my heart, I get the message of “this is not for you. You need to leave”. Sometimes it just screams “NO!”. It’s hard to decipher whether or not these messages from the heart are real. I can guess that they might be fear-related, but that can sometimes feel that I am lying to myself or trying to convince myself it’s fear so I don’t have to deal with the pain of leaving. This isn’t my first rodeo with RA either. When in this state of “coming down” from the initial anxiety, but still being anxious, how does one access the true “yes and nos”?
It’s great to see that typical anxious symptoms include depression and tears-I grew up with anxiety but my symptoms were usually the heart pounding, shallow breathing kinds so when I started dating my partner I’ve struggled to know if it’s anxiety or not because my symptoms included depression and crying all the time and just being unhappy. I’m glad to see that those symptoms are still considered anxiety! Thank you!
Yes, all normal, Kristen 😉.
Thank you so much Sheryl! You are truly a gift! I want to enjoy my life with my, now fiancé!, soooo much and open my heart to him and give him the love he has always deserved and give myself the love I’ve always deserved from myself as well!
Hey Sheryl, what if in the midst of stage 2 you meet another person? A person to whom you are attracted to, emotional for him, but has major problems (ie addictions, even if not active at the moment). Is this situation still a projection outside of ones couple? Has the couple chances anyways? Is that a sign I need to be alone instead? Thank you.
I’m in the throes of it now. I’ve been with a great guy for a year, and we’re talking about getting married. I don’t want to leave. I want to move forward. But the fear/anxiety is killing me. The QUESTIONS: Do I really love him? Do I really want to do this? Do I really want to get married? I’ve been divorced 16 years. I’m used to being alone. But I care for this man, and want him in my life. I feel like I can’t breathe sometimes – like someone is standing on my chest. I cry and pray and ask God to help me and to give me peace. I don’t want to give up. How can I be so sure one minute and having so many crazy doubts/questions the next? I don’t want to feel like plans are moving forward and I’m stuck, afraid to go on. Like Rose in Titanic! I don’t want to be her!
Oh man did this one hit the mail on the head! I feel so seen in this post. I’m definitely in stage two and my fear has piped up in full volume! “You’re calm because you’ve finally accepted that you do want to leave”. I know this work will be hard but I’m committed to learning how to love my loving partner. Thank you for this lovely reminder that this is really just the beginning of something bigger and better in my life!
Could you put friendship anxiety in the same category as RA?
I met up with an old friend over the weekend. I had butterflies before meeting her because she was my best friendp around 7-8 years ago. We clicked again straight away and I was excited at the prospect that our friendship could go back to how it was years ago. However fear has crept in and I can’t stop questioning things, asking if it will be the same as before, do we really connect anymore? Is it different now? I don’t particularly want to get my hopes up and then get disappointed as I’m desperate for our friendship to go back to how it was but I am fully aware that we have missed out on huge chunks of our lives too. I guess we need to get to know each other again and see if our friendship will actually continue as we are different people now.
Adult friendships are much different to teenage friendships and I guess that’s how I realised that we are both different now. I’m open to our friendship again, just scared that I will realise that things are different now and we can’t be friends.
Yes, people absolutely struggle with friendship anxiety. We’re planning to do a podcast episode on friendship soon.
Hi Sheryl, I thought you might like to know that your latest podcast inspired my mum to write (what she claims is) her first ever poem! You can read it here if you like:
This is so deeply touching, Joshua. Thank you for sharing it with us, and please tell your mom that I’m very impressed! ❤️
Sheryl, thanks for this article. I just bought your Conscious Weddings course, and am excited to dive in. I have felt intermittently anxious and numb for years, which I suspect has been exacerbated by the pandemic. I’m with an excellent, excellent human. He’s behaved in hurtful ways to me in the past, and I set aside my feelings a lot for his sake. But he has rectified his earlier behavior and matured a ton, as have I. He’s such a support and a cheerleader for me, and is always respectful. I just worry so much about being hurt, and I think I’ve put up a lot of walls around my feelings, and it’s dulled my connection. (I also have trouble fostering connections with other people, if that makes a difference.) I feel like a monster. I want to let go and feel everything I used to feel.
Sheryl, I am wondering if you think your course will help me, as my situation is maybe a bit different.
I’ve been with the same women happily for nearly 20 years (married for 8), I’m now 40 and she’s 38. Things have been generally great the whole time. She’s lovely and kind and great and supportive and everything I would want in a wife and for nearly 20 years I never questioned spending forever with her, I was genuinely happy.
For a small bit of background my wife has been partially sighted since birth (due to blind spots in her central vision), this has never been an issue for us really. Her right eye has always been her “good” eye with her left having more unusable “blind spots”. She has always mostly relied on peripheral vision to see.
Unfortunately in Dec-19 she was diagnosed with a retinal tear in her right eye which was repaired via surgery. We were given the impression it was all going to be fine but due to her pre-existing condition and the nature of how they repair such things (they stick the retina back together by scarring the area up), it resulted in a considerable loss of her overall usable vision – i.e. it wouldn’t have affected a “normal” patient as badly.
This has been hard to adjust to and to make this more difficult it also resulted in a change to her facial appearance, her right eye now appears outwardly to look very “lazy” and she has to squint it partially shut to focus it, this is very noticeable / disconcerting to see, when she focuses at things or looks at me.
Oddly for the first year (2020) I wasn’t really bothered by the change in appearance, maybe I was too busy making sure she was supported and looked after and getting use to the change in her vision, I did notice her appearance sometimes but I mentally brushed it off i.e. “oh well it’s mostly just noticeable in pictures, not all the time, nevermind” and I really meant that at the time! I still felt the same about her at this time, she was still my lovely wife, apart from sometimes feeling sad about the loss of vision she suffered, I was still mostly “happy”, I wasn’t hung up on her appearance at all, I went months at a time without thinking about it.
For some reason something changed in my head in 2021 (really not sure what triggered this) and I began to obsess with her right eye, constantly looking at it and feeling very sad and distressed and anxious and panicked about the fact she looked different now. I’d have panic attacks and spend ages ruminating negatively. This was also driven by feelings of guilt that maybe if I’d got a second medical opinion the outcome would have been different.
A few months ago I realized I couldn’t go on like this and decided to go to therapy, and contacted a therapist who had qualifications in CBT. With this therapist I have tried to work through techniques to deal with the negative feelings I feel when I see the change in my wifes appearance, and these techniques have helped. I have reached the point where I can look at my wife and reach some sort of acceptance about how she looks, I’m able to not panic at much, or if I do, I can work through it better.
This is progress I suppose but recently I have been feeling sad and detached when I look at / think about my wife and I think this whole ordeal has triggered some sort of relationship anxiety in me. I am now ticking a lot of the boxes in the quiz on this site, I am worried that I don’t love her anymore / never loved her, i.e. “if I did really love her then why am I struggling so much with just a change in her appearance, she’s still the same person!” and I am feeling disconnected from her, and feeling very sad that I seem to have lost the feelings of warmth and safety I used to feel when I look at her.
I am scared about the future and worrying about what to do if I never feel like I used to again. I am analyzing every interaction with her instead of just “being with her”, I think about how I act around her constantly i.e. “did I just hug her because I wanted to, or because I think I should want to?” and so on but extend that line of thinking to everything i.e. kissing or physical intimacy.
So to me a lot of this seems like some sort of triggered relationship anxiety, but I’m worried my case is different (I know that feeling this is common!) but maybe mine really is different because this whole thing was triggered due to a traumatic change in my wife’s appearance and I’ll never be able to completely get over it. My safe warm place I used to have in my wife’s face / smile has been forever changed and I don’t know if I can “get it back”. It seems others on this site weren’t triggered in the same way, but I’m hoping despite this, the course might be able to help me work through this anyway?
Any advice appreciated, many thanks
Thank you for sharing your story, and despite what fear is telling you, it’s still textbook relationship anxiety and the course would be enormously helpful. I’m guessing this isn’t your first rodeo with anxiety, and as hard as it feels to believe (because anxious brain is SO convincing), it’s likely that you would have ended up in this same exact spot even if she hadn’t had the surgery.
I’m going to guess that there are other triggers – likely other transitions (midlife? covid? work changes? other losses?) – that stirred up grief and then anxiety, and instead of feeling that at the root, which is hard to do in our grief-phobic culture, your brain attached onto this piece about your wife. This will make more sense as you work through the course, which I hope you do so that you can heal this at the root and not continue to suffer.
Sheryl thanks so much for your reply, I will likely purchase and start the course in the new year.
I’ve definitely had some issues with anxiety in the past. I find it really interesting that I may have ended up here anyway because as you suggest my brain is telling me that what happened with my wife’s eye is the source of all my problems and if only things had turned out different I’d be blissfully happy.
It’s difficult because I read the “Not Attracted to Partner” pdf for men, and a common theme seems to be issues with attraction even when the woman is “objectively attractive” in the mans eyes, but what happened with my wife HAS made her objectively less attractive, which I feel horrible for thinking but I think it’s true! The question is can I ever completely get over it and not care?
I didn’t seem to care in 2020… so I had been obsessively looking at photos from 2020 of her where her eye is noticeable – to convince myself that if I didn’t care then I shouldn’t care now, or I’ve been looking at photos where her eye asymmetry is less noticeable, to convince myself she’s “still attractive”. I also keep trying to get her attention to get her to look at me, in the hope that she will “look good” – having read through some of this website, I realize that isn’t healthy and is seeking reassurance, so I am now trying to stop doing all that.
I am not sure what triggered me exactly. I remember my obsession with the appearance of her eye started around March-21 (over a year after the surgery!), I remember the day, she was walking towards me and I noticed it looked particularly obvious for whatever reason and I never stopped noticing it after that. In the proceeding weeks to this fateful day I had been feeling a bit depressed and down, I had been on a diet with a large calorie deficit so I put it down to this but I don’t know! Covid is obviously a bit stressful but we have been lucky enough to not really be affected by it either personally or career wise.
Very shortly after my obsession began in March my wife also started suffering from arthritis like symptoms (swollen joints etc) which also made her face swell up which I think made things worse for me – seeing her in pain and generally looking unwell and swollen and tired. Fortunately in the last 3 months she was finally able to get a diagnosis and treatment that has essentially cured all her symptoms and she’s looking and feeling much healthier now, but I suspect it compounded everything I was going through at the time.
I feel like a lot of the relationship anxiety tickboxes have been filled in the last couple of months as I’ve been working through therapy, I wonder if my therapist accidentally set me off slightly, as at one point they wanted to discuss my relationship with my wife, and I they warned me that sometimes when therapy heads in this direction things don’t always turn out well for the relationship. At the time this sent me into a panic that it meant my marriage was in serious trouble – even if the therapist was really just “covering their back” it did leave an insidious thought in my mind that I had some sort of serious problem with my relationship, and I think this has affected me as well.
Sorry for the long reply – I appreciate you probably don’t have time to get involved in back and forths with people in the comments section! But for what it’s worth I’m pretty sure you have a customer in me in the new year 😉
Do you have any insights re: the above that I can think on over the festive period before I start the course in the new year?
Thank you for your posts. I am considering the relationship anxiety course but need some guidance.
Recently my partner of three years and I realized we have different aspirations when it comes to children – I am sure that I want them, and he is less sure. Sometimes he says he doesn’t know that he wants kids, other times he says he wants them but can’t promise me when. We have been talking about it a lot and set a time frame after which we must decide on the matter.
Recently we had a terrible breakdown and I started suffering from a lot of anxiety. I have generalized anxiety that was on check until two weeks ago. Now I am constantly suffering from intrusive thoughts about him, as well as about the decision we would need to make about children.
I am wondering if the relationship anxiety course is for me because much of my anxiety seems to come from the uncertainty of the red flag issue – whether we both want kids.
I am suffering so much right now from the thought that it might be the end but I also realize that if we can’t align our core values it has to be the end. I am in a spiral of intrusive thoughts and physical symptoms and can’t differentiate anxiety from the truth.
I’m so sorry you’re suffering right now, and with the stakes so high it makes sense. One of the sole purposes of the course is to help you differentiate anxiety from truth, as well as offer tangible tools for working with both generalized anxiety and relationship anxiety. My hunch is that it will offer you great comfort and guidance during this tumultuous time.
What happens if you are anxious attached but do loving actions? I still get unwanted thoughts but they’re now just annoying and don’t make me feel intense panic. I just tell them to go away because I don’t want them there. These thoughts might be
– are you in love or just anxiously attached?
– feel certain you’re in love because you care about this woman so much but then one day question if it’s love or infatuation (I never had the honeymoon phase just A LOT of anxiety when I was in the presence of my girlfriend and also away from her)
I want to take the relationship anxiety course but don’t know if it helps with anxious attachment, and feel uneasy still about it but don’t have a huge sense of panic all the time.
Anyone have any thoughts or similar experiences?
Anyone have any advice to this? Please help. I know this isn’t a blog for advice so to speak I just feel like I need answers.
It feels like I got from stage 2 to stage 1 three days ago.. Is this normal?
I feel like I am so selfish in being with my boyfriend, I remember after our first date I told my friends that the thing I liked most about him was how much he liked me. And this was always my mindset, he is my first boyfriend and the first person who has treated me the way I know I deserve. Deep down, though, I think I am still denying myself, shaming myself for having needs, and this all comes out as me questioning my feelings for him. I am in so much turmoil over this, I don’t want to leave him. He tells me he feels the love from me. I think part of me struggles to truley trust his intentions as well. I don’t know. I feel so stuck. Any advice would be appreciated xo