This is Why You Struggle with Relationship Anxiety

by | Jun 16, 2019 | Anxiety, Break Free From Relationship Anxiety, Health anxiety, Intrusive Thoughts | 39 comments

“Probably the next important evolution of Western humankind is to find a proper container for religious life so that we do not unrealistically expect another mortal human being to carry this high value. In short: don’t ask a human to be God for you.”

* Robert Johnson, Balancing Heaven and Earth

“Romantic love is the single greatest energy system in the Western psyche. In our culture it has supplanted religion as the arena in which men and women seek meaning, transcendence, wholeness, and ecstasy.”

* Robert Johnson, We: The Psychology for Romantic Love

When it comes to romantic love, Western culture is predicated on multiple distortions. Not only are you conditioned to expect your partner to be your physical ideal, socially fluent, witty, and high achieving, but you’re also conditioned to expect your partner to complete you, light you up, cure you of boredom, and inject you with purpose. It’s the Jerry McGuire mindset that swept the nation years ago with its romantic ideal of “you complete me.” It’s every romantic comedy you’ve ever seen, every classic novel you’ve ever read, every pop song you’ve ever heard.

In order to shift the dysfunctional paradigm of love in Western and the belief that your partner is supposed to complete you, we have to follow two basic steps. The first is to call out the faulty messages when they appear and replace them with a message that teaches some of the principles of healthy love. One of my favorite ways to do this, especially when I’m teaching my sons about real love, is with popular music. Let’s take these lyrics by Dido (whose music I adore):

And I won’t go, I won’t sleep
I can’t breathe
Until you’re resting here with me
And I won’t leave, and I can’t hide
I cannot be until you’re resting here with me.

We all assume that she’s singing about a romantic partner – and what a profoundly dysfunctional message it is when heard through this lens! –  but when I sing it I tell my kids I’m singing about the divine or poetry or even our cat ;). I’ll say to my older son, who is a pilot, “This is probably how you feel about flying.” When you connect to your true source of inspiration, which, in Jungian theory is called the anima or animus, it’s like coming home to and falling in love with yourself – and it’s a reason for living. That is true love. Read those lyrics again through that lens and the meaning changes entirely.

I’ve said it a hundred times on this blog and in my courses but I’ll say it again: It’s not your partner’s job to fill you up, to be your source of aliveness, or to make you feel in love. That’s your job and yours alone. Well, let me amend that: It’s actually the job of the culture to help you project your longing for wholeness and aliveness onto an appropriate source, so I consider it a massive cultural failure that so many people struggle in the realm of love. But given that our culture fails us here, we have to learn ourselves about what it means to take back our gold.

This leads to the second step, which is to learn to become the source of your own aliveness and project your healthy and human need for spark and euphoria onto an appropriate source. The antidote to the expectation that your partner is supposed to complete you and fill you with euphoria is to learn what it means to fall in love with life itself so that you can love your partner for the imperfect and completely lovable human that they are.

We carry a limited idea in the culture that falling in love is exclusive to another human being. This isn’t true. I fall in love multiple times a day. When I write a poem, I’m filled with an elixir of ecstasy. When I sit on a stone in the middle of the creek and converse silently with the mallard duck who keeps watch over his beloved, joy sings my being wholly alive and I think of my own beloved husband who keeps watch over us day and night. When I stand at an open door at night and listen to the crickets announcing summer’s arrival knowing it will be only a few short months before they announce its end, I kiss the night and she kisses me, and in doing so I’m tapped into the greater rhythm of life that reminds me of my footprint of belonging.

It’s these practices that deserve our true devotion. It’s the creative impulse and the natural world that long to be the object of our ardor. The creek and the duck and the tree outside our window are waiting for us to sing them songs of gratitude, and when we do so not only do we tap into the current of true love that permeates our world but we’re elevated above the fear fray that attempts to grab us by the heals and pull us down into the spiral of intrusive thoughts.

If you would like to receive guidance along the path of creating your own meaningful and personal practices that connect you to the true source of love, please join me for my next round of Grace Through Uncertainty: A 30-Day Course to Heal Intrusive Thoughts, Address Health/Death/Money Anxiety from the Root, Feel More Comfortable with Change, and Become the Source of Your Own Aliveness.

As I always say with my live programs, it’s unrealistic to expect to heal from long-standing habits in thirty days, but what I can offer are the seeds that, when planted in well-watered and lovingly tended soil, can send you in a new and positive direction with the thoughts and patterns that are no longer serving you. The benefit of joining the live program is that you’ll be guided daily and weekly alongside a group of dedicated learners, and guided personally by me through the forum and the calls. We can learn and heal alone, but there’s a special invisible magic that happens when we embark on a healing path in a group. This is the last week to sign up, and I look forward to seeing you there.


  1. I just have 2 simple words in response to this:
    “Thank you”.

    • Two words back: You’re welcome :).

    • “joy sings my being wholly alive”
      Holy crap! That’s amazing!
      Thank you for that jewel that I will now treasure and hold dear. And this; “we’re elevated above the fear fray that attempts to grab us by the heals and pull us down into the spiral of intrusive thoughts.” This is exactly the place I’m consciously walking today. It’s a stressful time for me because of some challenging projects I have chosen to taken on for creative and growth purposes but because of this fear rises up in me and creates huge pressures to accomplish and achieve. So just this morning I’m reminded that this is the time even more so now to be in this present moment taking it in as it comes and loving it so that, as you write the fears wont grab at my heels and take me under. Thank you again for these amazing words and this article. You astonish me over and over with the deep connection and expression you have with words and how those words convey there intended purpose so beautifully?

      • Thank you, Kristie! It sounds like you’re finding a healthy foothold amidst these new endeavors. xo

  2. Thank you for this !

  3. You bring a breeze of relief to me so often. Thank you Sheryl for making us connect in our suffering by sharing the message “you are not alone”xox

    • I’m so glad my words help you feel less alone ;). xo

  4. Thank you. Your simplicity and wisdom is a good model for me.

  5. Hi sheryl, Thank you so much for you wisdom , I don’t think I would have lasted this much with my Fiancee if it was not for your articles. I wanted to say that I’m currently facing another episode of RA that tries to convince that is not RA this time, that now the things are different, that I don’t love my fiancee, I don’t like her looks, we don’t share vision.. and whenever I try to pray or think positive or do something to lift the weight out my shoulders I’m facing intrusive thoughts that feels like me thinking them all the way, trying to convince me that I’m just lying to myself, that I don’t want this , I’m just forcing things. Even my clarity moments feels like a lie and these thoughts are making my day to day a living hell.
    My question is, is it common for fear to manifest in the form of “denial and lying to oneself”, that even happiness feels scary even thinking about your SO feels so damn scary ?

    I’m having very bad pressure at work and I spent a whole month obsessing about my Fiancee looks, I had some days of clarity but since my last breakdown I’m totally off and anxious.

    • Hi Yassar, I really feel for you and it’s sounding like you’re having a tough time. Are you anxious about other things besides your relationship with your fiancee?
      I wonder if it might help for you to think about: what are the things in your relationship and your life in general that you feel a bit more certain and positive about? could be really really small and simple things such as I like peanut butter…I like her laugh…I like my walk to work. This might help relieve the fixation on the things that you are feeling really anxious/uncertain about.
      I’ve found I totally fixate and obsess over things which feel uncertain/unclear for some reason, and that these end up eclipsing literally everything else. I’m slowly learning to practice opening out my perspective a bit. 🙂

      • What wonderful advice! Very much resonated with me; thank you ❤️

      • Thank you Florence for this piece of wisdom, yes I do feel anxious about my work, I’m completely overloaded these days. Adding to that the RA.
        Actually since my last spike I find it really hard to enjoy things like for example I love the laugh and smile of my fiancee but now when I think about it I get only anxiety , same for all the things I like about her, so thats why I am stuck this time ?

  6. Thank you for your article. My boyfriend and I are trying to set a date for marriage and he is ready to propose. I know my life would be wonderful with him, but RA convinces me that I don’t actually love him, his look, his personality and it makes me so far away from excited… which is what I feel like I SHOULD be feeling when I make these big decisions. I struggle when I wake up in the mornings and RA completely convinces me that all of this is wrong, yet I hold on, but I believe that I love him. Is this normal? I feel like I’m going crazy or I’m hopeless because I can’t fix this. I know it may stem from my childhood. I just feel so lost and all I want to feel is full and confident and able to move forward.

  7. I had to grapple with this post when I first read it. Walking through a dark night of the soul myself, initiated by a concussion and an existential depression, I found it hard to relate to the beautiful images of whole hearted joy. But I was realising that I have always longed for a time in the future where I would be free from the pain of life, and then I would be able to experience happiness like this. But I don’t believe this is the case… In fact as a fellow sensitive it would be impossible for me to ever be dull to life’s traumas.

    Yet the combination of pain and beauty in life is where I feel most fully alive. The flames that dance across the sky when day meets night, the coziness of a candle where light meets dark, the strange comfort of a fierce storm, the spark in a melancholy song. The peace in yoga that comes where the breath meets the stretch. The poignancy of a Mary Oliver poem. The sweetness of discovering a relationship with my Dad I never thought I had while noticing he looks older. I am inspired to get in touch with this side of myself and life by re-exploring my creativity: sketching the ocean, writing and listening to poetry and letting my frustrations of season in my life be released in song writing.

    • Exquisitely beautiful, Aimee. You’re a poet and a seer, and I strongly encourage you to follow the creative impulse that is longing to be expressed through your body and guide you into more peace.

  8. Sometimes I can agree that this feeling I have is 100 times worse than a heartbreak…and that killed. I feel like I have been stuck in this hole for a year. I think it’s safe to say that I am depressed and anxious but it’s so hard to shake this feeling. It all started out with relationship anxiety and beginning to lose my emotions towards my current boyfriend. Despite that fact we broke up and got back together, I constantly analyze him and our relationship. I can’t be happy, it is like my mind is convincing me that I need to find happiness elsewhere. But something is keeping me here right where I am..I have made no progress. I have all these intrusive thoughts and I keep fighting with my mind. I am 19 years old, I want to be having fun and going out with my friends and my mind is telling me that I will only get that experience if I’m single…but why can’t things just be that way right now? I can only think of experiences when I was way happier before and nothing was ever like that….but that didn’t include my boyfriend. This is not who I am……It really sucks for me when I see my boyfriend crying over us or trying to work things out but I do not feel anything. I feel no emotions. He shows me all this love and does so much for me and I don’t even want to do the same.

  9. Thank you for this post. I’ve been reading your work, but I still struggle with how to discern whether I truly have relationship anxiety or whether the relationship just isn’t right for me. I would love if you have any insights about this. I’m worried that I will use “relationship anxiety” as a way to blame myself and to force myself to stay in something that isn’t right. It’s not that bad, but I yearn for more. Maybe I am asking for too much though.

  10. Thank you, Shanna. I’m so glad the words resonate with you.

  11. A much needed gentle reminder, thank you Sheryl 🙂 It’s so easy to fall pray to relationship anxiety (the quite type that feels more like constant doubts and questioning). For me it always comes up in the form of “I need him to be more attractive for me to be able to feel true love and euphoria”, “I need a different type of man, the type that looks constantly cool and sexy in his ways without even realizing it for me to be truly happy in a relationship”. I can really feel the “this thought is preventing me from feeling real love” you talk about. Everytime I feel like “Ok we are clear I am now ready to experience real love” I can literally see a thought popping up, saying “Ok but why experience this whole true love thing with him when you could have true love… But with someone more attractive. It’s a win-win.” It makes sense, and that’s why it is so effective in preventing me from the risk of love. But that’s the case with every intrusive thought: their “job” is to make sense and talk to one of your cravings and taking them at face value in order to make you doubt your relationship and put your heart in a “stand-by”, overthinking mode in which you can’t really throw yourself in this big risk called “true love”. Our job is to recognize those intrusive thoughts as such, understanding what they actually mean instead of taking them at face value, forgiving, loving, and taking care of ourselves, and experience the true love we so much want and deserve. 🙂

    • Beautifully and wisely said, Giorgia. Thank you for sharing here.

      • Thank you so much, Sheryl! Your words always mean a lot to me :).

  12. Hi Sheryl,

    First off I’d just like to say that everything you write and talk about it is so very helpful and calming. So thank you!

    I am 1 year into marriage and it has been rough for me. I feel like I’m on a roller coaster of emotions. It hasn’t been all bad, I am happy sometimes but then I fall back into these dark holes. From the outside you’d never know that I’m going through this turmoil. I feel like I was so happy when we got married and excited and now I just find myself angry at him all the time. Nothing he does is ever enough. I feel like it’s probably a defense but I don’t know how to stop it. And I don’t know what I’m protecting myself from. I’m angry he doesn’t do the dishes/laundry/trash without asking. I’m angry he doesn’t exercise to get rid of his belly. I’m angry that things don’t feel like they did at the beginning (staring into each other’s eyes). I’m angry that I can’t feel anything but anger. I go to sleep angry and wake up angry with these thoughts of all of his flaws and all the things he doesn’t do. I feel awful and want to return to feelings of love. I know they are underneath but feel out of control. Any advice?

    • Erica,

      I understand your situation. What has helped me when I’m in this negative rut is gratitude. I think your mind sends more of what it is fed, so negativity = more negativity; positivity = more positivity. Instead of waiting for the lovey feelings to return – decide on loving actions, which often creates positive feelings.

      So every time you have a negative thought about his belly, for example, think about how he is healthy or attractive in other ways. For every 1 negative thought, come up with 3 positive ones. Make a conscious effort to be grateful for who he is and what he does, even if it’s so hard not to focus on those flaws. To take that a step further – voice that to him. “I really love it when you do __”. If your husband is anything like my fiance, he responds much better to the positive feedback than the negative. So saying something like, “I really appreciated it when you took the trash out. It’s very helpful; thank you.” Even if you had to ask and are irritated about that, still express appreciation.

      I tend to be the same way – nothing is good enough; there’s always room for improvement. But it’s also helpful to see it from the other perspective, and how necessary it is for your husband to hear what he’s doing right and what you love about him, since being around criticism and negativity is really hard. We all have expectations in relationships, and when the other person doesn’t meet them it’s natural to feel angry and disappointed. So I’m not saying to deny how you feel; I would sensitively share that with your husband while making an effort to express gratitude. 🙂

  13. Sheryl,
    I relate to this so much. My partner is more of a quiet lover. He doesn’t say how he feels much but he loves with a calm and a commitment that matches no other. And sometimes that’s hard for me. Because In society, we are taught to love boldly with flowers and vacations and gaudy rings. And sometimes my ego wants that. And she gets angry that he doesn’t give it to her and fill her up. But I know In my heart that’s not what I need. I need his quiet love. I need his sweet calls goodnight and his loving touch when I’m sad. I need his presence. I need his love. Purely love. Ego wants different but I want love. And I choose it every day, and I’ll keep choosing it every day.

    • It takes a real re-wiring to accept real love, especially when it comes in a different package than the culture promotes!

    • Oh I relate so much to this, Emily! Sometimes I find myself getting sad and frustrated over the same things. I see some girl on social media posting pictures of her beautiful ring or bracelet her boyfriend gave her and I suddenly get so angry and frustrated at the fact that my boyfriend doesn’t give me the same type of gifts. But then I realize that… I don’t actually *want* or most importantly **need** these gifts. I’m not actually frustrated at the thought of not having them, but… At the thought that I don’t have something this “lucky” girl has? I don’t actually care about that ring or that bracelet, but the thought that my boyfriend doesn’t give me something that other boyfriends give their girlfriends puts me in a naggy and annoyed mood. And often I actually find myself nagging and complaining to my boyfriend as a result of that! But it’s not actually my boyfriend’s fault. If you read my words carefully you actually realize it’s more of an “”inferiority complex”” that resides inside of **me**. So it’s really all about me, even if at the moment I get angry at my boyfriend’s apparent lacking 🙂 In times like these it really helps following Sheryl’s advice, meaning tuning in to our inner wisdom and throwing social medias away lol!

  14. I overheard a horrible and very triggering thing on “The Doctors” show today. It was a psychiatrist , which you expect to hear words of wisdom from, talking about divorce. He said that 50% of married people claim that they met their soulmate after they became married. This is horrible for some of us with rOCD to hear.

    • Dawn, I perfectly understand your struggles with ROCD 🙂 I think what that psychiatrist said is very misleading and inaccurate. First of all he assumes that there’s an ultimate, definitive soulmate for everyone out there: while actually there is no “THE one”, “THE soulmate”. There are a few people in the world who are very compatible with us and willing to love us: and while it may not be easy to find even one of them, it’s just statistically impossible that in the whole world there’s only ONE person that was perfectly made for us 🙂 It’s a sweet idea, and a perfect one for Holliwood movies, but it’s simply not realistic. People do not exist in order to complete each other in a perfect, unmatchable pair! Realizing that there is no “ULTIMATE SOULMATE” we may be missing out on is already very reassuring, don’t you think? 🙂

      Next, I don’t think that statistic means that in order to find a suitable partner for you, one you can build true love with, you NEED to go through at least one marriage: but I think that such a high statistic is the direct result of the fact that many people, almost the majority of them, throw themselves into marriage with faulty and irrealistic expectations about marriage and relationships, influenced by a superficial and love-addicted society, and sometimes with incompatible partners as well. Many people after a failed marriage or during the failing of marriage start to go to couples or individual counseling, they find their way to Sheryl’s work or they just start thinking seriously about love, relationships, and themselves. With this new wisdom they have now higher chances and better tools to build happy and loving relationships, and they do: thus why so many people end up finding the “soulmate” after their first marriage. But they don’t necessarily find a better or more suitable partner (of course, sometimes this may happen as well with incompatible or abusive partners, but recognizing these things is just part of the work), but what has changed is something inside of themselves, their views of relationship and their love tools 🙂 But if you are already doing the work and addressing your faulty beliefs about love right now, and you are with a compatible, committed, loving partner, there’s no reason why your marriage shouldn’t be successful 🙂 You are already doing the work many people end up doing only AFTER the failure of a marriage! So you are actually ahead of times, you should be proud of yourself! 🙂

      (I hope I was able to explain myself clearly, English in not my first language!)

  15. Thank you Giorgia, you did a beautiful job explaining! Believe it or not, I have been married for over 18 years, but just learned in recent years that I have OCD. It is a lot of work to try coping in healthy ways, but I feel I’m getting there. With the help and support of people like Sheryl and yourself, I hope to keep going strong.

  16. Hi Sheryl,

    Your blog has been the main thing that I go to during my times of intense anxiety. I’ve been in a relationship with a loving, caring, silly and supportive man for 2 and a half years. We met when we were 22 and are now both 24 and living together. I moved to Virginia to live with him (I am from New Jersey) and left my family and friends. I love him so much but I am constantly stuck on the thought “he isn’t enough for me.” I think that he is boring, he’s not very romantic, and we don’t have much in common, and these thoughts make me think that we are disconnected, don’t have great conversations and are awkward around each other. I love how silly we are together and how much we care about each other, but I can’t help but think that it isn’t enough. That I will always find him boring, that I will never fully love him and accept him for who he is and that I can’t enjoy our daily routine life together. If I can’t enjoy that, how am I supposed to enjoy him for the rest of my life?

    It has become very debilitating and very convincing. I have a hard time going through the day without having a panic attack or crying. I always confess to him everything and I feel terrible but he still says he loves me and wants to be with me and that makes me feel guilty because it makes me feel as though he loves me more than I love him and that that isn’t fair. I feel like I’m the exception a lot of the time because he is a guy that loves to stay home and play video games and chill out and I don’t know if I can handle being with a man like that forever. But he is so willing to try and make things better for him and I and every time I tell myself that I CAN accept him for who he is it makes me feel like I’m settling! Like “oh, yes you can accept that he is loving and safe and silly but you are settling because you don’t have the excitement and passion that you crave.” It makes me feel like I could find more by being with someone else, because it can’t be that hard to find someone like that, right?

    I know how much I love him. But then I think about the people that say, “you can love someone more than anything and they can still not be the right person for you” and that scares the heck out of me. Because what if he’s not right and I’m staying for nothing?

    Ugh. I’m sorry for rambling but this is extremely hard. I have always had anxiety, but not this bad. And it makes me feel if it’s this bad it isn’t worth it and I will never love him as much as I could. 🙁

  17. My anxiety is in full swing right now. I am currently enrolled in your Break Free course. The “flare” is where I get anxious every time I’m in my bfs presence and I’m super quiet. Has anyone else experienced this?

    • *this “flare” I’m currently in

    • I encourage you to bring this to the forum if you haven’t already.


Leave a Reply to Sheryl Paul Cancel reply

Your email address will not be published.


Pin It on Pinterest