This is What Strikes Me About Relationship Anxiety

by | Nov 8, 2020 | Anxiety, Break Free From Relationship Anxiety, Intrusive Thoughts, Relationships | 21 comments

Every week for almost two years I’ve met with a small group of the most lovely people to talk about relationship anxiety. Like you, they’re highly sensitive, deeply empathic, analytical, and conscientious. Like you, they found me because they were struggling with relationship anxiety and, for many of them, the onset of relationship anxiety initiated a dark night of the soul which catapulted them into many layers of healing.

Through the Break Free From Relationship Anxiety course and then the weekly group, they’ve been able to recognize and name their intrusive thoughts and projections more quickly, which prevents them from spiraling down the rabbit hole of anxiety. The group began as a 6-week experiment to offer people more personal guidance around their relationship anxiety and has continued for nearly two years. It’s been a truly special experience.

 

But here’s the thing… we rarely talk about relationship anxiety.

 

Why? Because, as I often teach, relationship anxiety is a portal into other areas of our lives that need attention. Intrusive thoughts, like all forms of anxiety, are distress flares shining a light on past and present pain that is buried beneath the busyness of our lives and the messages we’ve absorbed about high sensitivity. As such, a typical conversation might go like this (this is not an exact conversation):

“I had the attraction spike last week. I was noticing other women and that shame voice came in that said, ‘If you really loved your wife, you wouldn’t be noticing other women.’ And then I got stuck in an anxious spiral of thinking I married the wrong person.”

“Let’s first remember that it’s okay to find other people attractive; that’s part of being human. [Cognitive splash of truth water] But you already know that. So let’s talk about what else is going on in your life that might trigger the attraction spike.”

“Well, one of my best friends is having a very hard time. I haven’t seen my parents in months because of the pandemic. We’re about to close on a house. And I’m having some challenges at work.”

“That’s a lot. And what happens when you drop out of the head space of anxiety and allow yourself to feel what’s happening in your body about these challenges and transitions? Can we take a few moments to breathe and drop in?”

Quiet. Breathing. Tears. Release.

“What do you notice about your anxiety now?”

“It’s quieter.”

“Did any of this have anything to do with your wife?”

“No. Except that I’m so grateful that she’s in my life.”

“Exactly.”

This is a condensed version of a conversation that might take twenty minutes or so. As you can see, other than an initial splash of cognitive truth, I don’t give any airtime to the initial attraction spike, for what we know about intrusive thoughts is that the more you water them, the more they grow. The thought is a portal and protector, and when we name the protector we can walk through the portal and attend to the vulnerable and valuable feelings that are embedded inside the thought.

After each person shares in the small group, I open it up to the full group so that others can offer support, validation, or sometimes just the magic pill shame normalizer phrase, “You’re not alone. I struggle with that, too.” When the person who shared hears these words, I hear a deep exhale.

 

The second thing that strikes me about relationship anxiety is how much of it is soothed by sharing in the company of others.

 

We could say the same thing about all forms of anxiety: there’s something medicinal that occurs when you gather with people who are struggling in the exact same way that you’re struggling. And it’s not enough to have people in your life that may struggle with anxiety in general. If it’s not specific to relationship anxiety, they’re not going to understand what you’re going through.

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

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

This is why I decided to start a live version of the course that I’ve offered since 2010. I can’t offer small groups to my entire audience, but I can offer larger coaching calls where people struggling with relationship anxiety can engage in real-time and receive direct guidance from me throughout the duration of the course. The coaching calls in the first live round last June were alive, meaningful, and transformative, and I have no doubt that they’ll be the same in this upcoming round.

 

Which brings me to the third thing that strikes me about relationship anxiety: it’s resolvable. 

 

This is not what the mainstream literature that is largely based in CBT will tell you, but it’s what I’ve seen in the twenty years of doing this work: when you address the symptoms at the roots instead of only seeking to eradicate them, they abate. This doesn’t mean that you’ll never have an anxious thought about your relationship again. That’s like saying that just because you learn more about healthy conflict resolution you’ll never have an argument with your partner again. That would be nice, but it’s not how real life works! What it does mean is that, like the members of my small group, you’re able to respond more quickly and effectively to the intrusive thoughts, which allows them to fade away

I’d love to see you on the next live round of the Break Free From Relationship Anxiety course, which starts on November 15th. If you’re already a course member, you can sign up for the six coaching calls on this page. And if you haven’t taken the course, you can sign up here as well. The benefit of going through the live round, in addition to the coaching calls, is that you’ll be guided step-by-step through the course material with weekly emails directly from me where I highlight key exercises and bring your attention to the questions and topics that are most salient. This is a densely packed course, for healing at the root isn’t a simple 3-step procedure that I can explain in a few short videos. This course is the culmination of decades of work with relationship anxiety, and it’s helped thousands of people break free and find their clarity and serenity. I look forward to meeting you there.

***

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

Tuesday November 17 at 12 noon ET
Tuesday November 24 at 12 noon ET
Wednesday December 2 at 3:15pm ET
Tuesday December 8 at 5:15pm ET
Monday December 14 at 6:15pm ET
Tuesday December 22 at 4pm ET

21 Comments

  1. Sheryl,

    Beautiful post, you’ve helped me so much.

    I struggled with the attraction spike. I met my current girlfriend online and since COVID, we didn’t meet in person for three entire months.

    Now that we’re seeing each other regularly in person, I definitely am struggling with the attraction spike in terms of, “You found her attractive over the phone, facetime, pictures, but now you don’t.” I know it’s just a transition I have to get used to and it’s the anxiety speaking!

    Flaws are flaws and just because I can’t fully see everything over the phone, it doesn’t mean I don’t truly love her. I just need to learn to love her flaws!

    Reply
    • Sheryl’s work (particularly this course) changed my life. I was suffering from unexplainable anxiety and a fear of getting married, even though I was deeply in love with my partner. I could barely sleep or work because of the anxiety. After looking at Sheryl’s website, I realized I had all of the symptoms of relationship anxiety. I took her Break Free from Anxiety Course and it helped me realize that it was my issues and not him that were the problem. I then worked one-on-one with her for a couple of sessions and ended up taking most of her other courses. (I also worked with an amazing specialized ROCD counselor who referred me to Sheryl’s work. They both had great insights.) I overcame my fears. I am thrilled to say I have been very happily married for two years and look forward to a lifetime more with my husband! My husband is my best friend and marrying him was the best decision I have ever made. Since our wedding, I rarely have relationship anxiety spikes, and if I do, I know from Sheryl’s course how to figure out the real problem going on (it’s never related to my partner but to other life events, just as she describes above). I literally thank God every week for directing me to Sheryl’s work. I am so, so happy in my marriage! If you’re having doubts or anxiety about your relationship, just sign up for the Break Free from Relationship Anxiety Course. It will be one of the best investment in yourself that you will ever make. I hope this helps someone. I’m praying for all of you suffering from RA/ROCD. If you work at it, it will get so much better, so don’t give up! –(33/F)

      Reply
      • This is so beautiful to read, and thank you for sharing it here! Sending you much love. x

        Reply
        • Sheryl, I took your relationship anxiety course this summer and it opened my eyes wide to the world of cognitive distortions and cultural misconceptions about love!
          I worked through a lot in that time while dating my boyfriend (who is one of the most amazing men I have ever met.) I admire him so so much, but my consistent anxiety spike has been that we do not share a connection. I truly do not know what to talk about with him sometimes. We don’t have “chemistry.” These issues seem insurmountable, and even after all my self-work and growth through your course, we broke up recently. I was devastated. I guess I am just disheartened. This work does not save all relationships. In the end, he and I both had exhausted ourselves trying to connect and understand each other, and we just did not have the energy to keep fighting. Do you have any words for two people who feel like anxiety won the war, and who, despite loving each other deeply, feel like they don’t have the strength to keep fighting?

          Reply
  2. Sheryl, you always put what I am feeling so beautifully into words. “…the onset of relationship anxiety initiated a dark night of the soul which catapulted them into many layers of healing.” That is exactly what happened to me. Finding your work was the catalyst to my journey of healing and reparenting. I’ve been on this journey for a little over a year now. It is so much better now than it was in that initial dark night period, and I know that I still have so many layers to work through. I literally said that to my therapist the other day, that I am at the point where I can acknowledge the layers, I just need help moving through them and healing each one (because it feels so messy at times that I don’t know where to start). Thank you so much for giving me a starting point and continuing to encourage me and many others through this hard but necessary time of healing.

    Reply
    • I’m so glad the posts arrive at the right time, Leah, and it sounds like you’re doing very deep and very difficult work. This work isn’t for the faint of heart!

      Reply
  3. Hi Sheryl,

    Wahooooo! I’m so excited for this opportunity – thank you! I bought the course years ago but never went all the way through. The bit I did helped but I still continued to struggle immensely with RA over the past handful of years (of course, because I didn’t do the work fully). I’m super eager to really get into it and have the structure and support of others to finally commit to the material. My partner and I have talked about engagement for a year now, and I’m really ready to do the work so I can finally have the courage to take that step.

    I’m looking forward to meeting others and learning from you, Sheryl. See you all there!

    -Brittany

    Reply
    • I look forward to seeing you there, Brittany!

      Reply
  4. Connecting with like minded people was one of the things I was so looking forward to with the in person workshop. I still grieve it’s cancelation and hold hope for being able to do something like it in the future.
    I’m noticing how I’m not having anxiety spikes with me partner these days but I am around my job and feeling a lot of escape hatches fantasies. I’ve been repeating to myself this week “maybe don’t make major life decisions the same week as the most stressful election of your lifetime” but also trying to sit with the question of “is this escape hatch stress or is it a deep longing to do something that feels more like a calling than just a job?” Noticing when I’m going into justification of “Why leave? This is fine, it’s secure, I’m clearly needed, I’m helping people” or resistance and fear of “If I change jobs will there be enough work? How will I get clients? Idk if I have the self discipline to be my own boss. Who am I to try to do this work?” Acknowledging change is scary. I set up some conversations with people who have experience in the field I’m interested in. Trying to approach this with curiosity and expansion. Assuring myself this is not an either/or decision. Yes it would be a lot of work to do both but we can try it out and see how it feels, I don’t need to shut myself down. Maybe I’m using the lens of RA to talk myself out of something. Breathing, reminding myself I don’t need to make these decisions tonight.

    Thank you for the space to write through some thoughts. Feeling gratitude and love to all my fellow highly sensitive people

    Reply
    • The live course isn’t cancelled, Scoby. It will start this Sunday.

      Reply
      • I was referring to the in person workshops that were scheduled back in April. I appreciate the opportunities for virtual connection but was really looking forward to those hugs and being outdoors in nature with people.

        Reply
        • Oh YES! I can’t wait to be able to offer in-person workshops again! x

          Reply
  5. Hi Sheryl,

    Thank you for this post. I was on the Live round earlier this year and you are spot on where you say there is something deeply relieving to hear the stories of others who go through this same, very unique kind of anxiety.
    This goes out to anyone -like me – who is new to this community, who didn’t even know RA was a thing until they found this site. The insight contained here from Sheryl and the other people who are here is life-changing, but bold and challenging. I am about 1/3 through the material and it’s no coincidence when it started to go really deep, I realised I’d put it down. But I’m picking it back up again now. Here’s to everyone else who needs to find that strength to keep going into those parts of ourselves that need healing.
    Sending everyone here loads of love and the strength to keep moving forward on their journey here.
    Thank you again Sheryl

    Reply
    • Thank you, Tom. I’m so glad you’re here. And yes, keep going!

      Reply
  6. Why does the thought of “what if I cheat?” appear? That intrusive thought has never made sense to me. My inner adult can’t come up with a reason.

    Could you give some insight, Sheryl?

    Thank you for a beautiful post, my friend 😉

    Reply
    • It speaks to lack of self-trust and the fear of losing control.

      Reply
  7. Will you be speaking to the panic that arises during conflict? That’s my greatest challenge. My anxiety goes through the roof when my partner and I have an argument, especially when I hear similar themes that popped up in my first marriage, like blame and defensiveness/reactivity. My mind goes to the “oh-my-god-you’re-with-another-man-like-your-ex” place … and then to the, “I couldn’t live with the conflict and poor communication in my first marriage. Is that how my second is going to turn out?”

    Also, I’m curious if you’ve noticed a correlation between highly sensitive people and non-neurotypical partners. Do those of us who are more attuned attract people with ADHD, for example? Do our areas of overfunctioning, like empathy and the need for order, compensate for their underfunctioning in those areas?

    Reply
    • I’ll be addressing any question that the members bring to the call. In other words, if you’re on the live call I’m happy to answer any of your questions related to relationships.

      Reply
  8. Sheryl,

    Can career/passion anxiety be a thing?

    I’m a high schooler and I recently changed passions (potential career for later in life) and at first, I was super excited, but the more I got into it, the less excited I got. I really want to be excited about this new passion, but for some reason, I’m not as excited as I was originally and it’s making me anxious for some reason.

    This reminds me of relationship anxiety in the fact that you don’t want that loss of attraction or the annoyance to be there, but it still is – hence the anxiety. Could this apply to a new passion or career?

    Whenever I think about the fact I might not like this new passion, I get really nervous almost like I did during my anxiety spikes.

    Do you have any insight into what this may mean or just any insight at all? Thank you :))

    Reply
    • Chasekap –

      I’ve been curious about the same thing. As a writer transitioning to a journalism/documentary filmmaking career, I’ve been having similar thoughts and immediately related them to relationship anxiety. Almost like a different kind of relationship 😉 one to your career rather than your partner.

      When I think about transition careers my main thoughts have been, “What if I don’t like this job as much as I thought I would” or “Don’t start working yet because if you do, you’ll realize you’ll hate it and have to leave.” Those thoughts plus the physical sensations of nervousness, faster pacing, etc.

      I would be curious to see if Sheryl has anything to say about this, but know you’re not alone!

      Reply
  9. Wow, what an INCREDIBLE post from such an insight human 🙂

    I have one question: My hook has always been, “I’m cheating on my girlfriend because I’m trying to make a girl laugh.”

    I am a generally flirtatious person and always enjoy making people laugh. I’ve been especially conscious of this in my relationship. I’m worried that I’m trying to flirt with other girls, but I don’t want to.

    Recently I met a friend of my friend while we were out eating dinner and something drew me to her, I know that it’s okay to be attracted to other girls, but I enjoy making people laugh and I was making her laugh. I feel awful and like I cheated on my girlfriend! How do I handle this?

    Thank you in advance, Sheryl, if you give your generous time to answer this question. It’s so beyond appreciated.

    Reply

Submit a Comment

Your email address will not be published.

Categories

Pin It on Pinterest