Hollywood has done a number on all of us. From the time we’re old enough to ingest information, we’re inundated with images and messages about love, romance, and marriage that are shrouded in a shimmery cloud of fantasy. There’s nothing wrong with fantasy; the problems arise when fantasy and reality become blurred and we unconsciously absorb the unrealistic messages of, “You can have it all” and “Your Perfect Partner is waiting for you around the next corner” and “When you meet The One, you’ll ‘just know'”. We watch film after film and read novel after romantic novel that reinforce these damaging messages and then we wonder why our culture is so dysfunctional when it comes to love.
Much of Hollywood films are predicated on the theme that the story ends when the relationship begins. This means that for ninety minutes we’re hooked on characters who are chasing after each other, always missing each other, both literally and emotionally, our longing building in direct proportion to their longing, watching them miss and then kiss and then miss each other again until – ah! at last! – they make mad, passionate love and then ride off into the proverbial sunset.
As a result of this programming, we’re wired to equate love with longing, which means that the only time we feel in love and certain is when our partner isn’t fully available.
We chase. We long. And then we think we’re in love.
Here’s the news flash: Love is not longing.
In order to understand this, you must understand a key dynamic that afflicts Western culture: The Pursuer-Distancer Dynamic.
In my new program, Open Your Heart: A 30 day program to feel more love and attraction for your partner, which opens for public registration today, I discuss the Pursuer-Distanced dynamic in the first week’s video, as it’s only when you understand this dynamic that you can fully understand the walls that are erected when you’re in a committed, loving relationship with someone who’s fully available. In a nutshell, in almost every relationship there’s a pursuer and a distancer. The pursuer is the one who holds the certainty, the in-love feelings, and the apparent lack of fear. The distancer is the one who carries the doubt, the lack of love feelings, and is more often the one erecting walls and barriers of various kinds.
So when a client says, “I was so in love with my last partner. I didn’t have any doubt at all,” I immediately ask, “Were you the pursuer or the distancer?” To which they invariably respond, “The pursuer. My partner was never fully available and I always had the sense that there was one foot out the door.” There’s usually a thoughtful pause, and then,
The only time I’ve experienced butterflies and certainty is when my partner wasn’t fully available. Once the chase ended and I knew that he/she wasn’t going anywhere, the walls went up and the doubt set in.
It’s essential to understand that it’s not that the pursuer is more in love or has any less fear about intimacy than the distancer; rather, it’s that the pursuer feels safer to let in the love feelings because he knows that his partner will put up a wall. This wall, no matter how subtle, makes it safe to feel “madly in love.” If the tables were turned and the distancer becomes the pursuer, as often happens at various points in a longterm relationship, the pursuer would then come into contact with his fears.
But if you’ve found your way to my work it’s likely because you’re the distancer and you’re struggling with your lack of certainty, attraction and feelings of love. While it’s not as fun to be the distancer, it also presents the opportunity to heal layers of fear that aren’t activated otherwise. And as I’ve shared in my recent posts, while it’s difficult not to feel love and attraction for your partner, it’s not a dealbreaker when you learn the Love Laws and consequent Loving Actions that will help you open your heart and grow your love garden. These Laws and Actions have worked in my own marriage, my clients’ relationships, and my friend’s marriages, and I’m sure they’ll work for you as well. No matter how long (or short) you’ve been together, it’s always a good time to learn about the Laws and Actions you can take to cultivate more love, connection, intimacy and attraction.
To learn how to feel more love and attraction for your partner, click here
In one of my touchstone books, “We: Understanding the Psychology of Romantic Love,” Robert Johnson writes:
So much of our lives is spent in a longing and a search – for what, we do not know. So many of our ostensible “goals”, so many of the things we think we want, turn out to be the masks behind which our real desires hide; they are symbols for the actual values and qualities for which we hunger. They are not reducible to physical or material things, not even to a physical person; they are psychological qualities: love, truth, honesty, loyalty, purpose – something we can feel is noble, precious, and worthy of our devotion. We try to reduce all this to something physical – a house, a car, a better job, or a human being – but it doesn’t work. Without realizing it, we are searching for the Sacred. And the sacred is not reducible to anything else.
Our culture misdirects the basic and essential human longing for the sacred onto people and things, primarily love relationships. So what happens when you find yourself with someone who’s fully available and there’s no longing? Or if you fall “madly in love” only to find the feelings fade or disappear one day? Or if those intense feelings of passion were never there to begin with? What typically happens is that you mistakenly assume that you’re with the wrong person, that you don’t really love them or love them “enough.” And if you’re prone to anxiety or are an over-thinker – and you don’t understand the normal, healthy trajectory of love and concepts like projection – you’ll likely find yourself spinning on the hamster wheel of anxiety asking unanswerable questions. (Do I love him enough? How can you answer that since love can’t be quantified!)
That’s when the work of learning about real love begins. And here’s the paradox: When you follow the Love Laws and take the subsequent Loving Actions, you can grow the feelings of love and attraction that you were seeking. Do you want to learn these Laws and Actions? Join me for my new program, Open Your Heart: A 30 day program to feel more love and attraction for your partner, and discover that the relationship of your dreams is standing right in front of you.
The spots are filling up fast, so learn more, sign up, and join me and others around the world as I guide you on a thirty day adventure to open your heart!
Open Your Heart: A 30 day program to feel more love and attraction for your partner
I want to participate in the “open your heart” program for all my relationships with parents, siblings and friends. I’m not currently in a relationship with a significant other. Can I still attend?
That’s an interesting question, Leah. Please email me directly so we can discuss it.
I just want to say that I’m getting so much help from your conscious weddings ecourse and I highly reccomed any of your courses to anyone who is considering it!
Question: does open your heart also apply to those of us in long-distance relationships?
Thank you, Emily, and I’m so glad the e-course has been helpful. That’s another interesting question. After reading over my course outline, I would honestly say YES, it does apply if you’re in a long distance relationship. How often do you see each other and how much contact do you have in a typical week?
Well, we are generally texting each other constantly, although i know that isn’t the best form of communication. We’ll skype once a week and see each other about once a month. We’ll be seeing each other for four days/ attending a wedding together on June 15, which I believe falls in the middle of the course. I may see him again at the end of June. Not exactly sure.
I have no doubt you would benefit enormously from the program as that’s plenty of contact to allow you to practice the Loving Actions.
Ah, I think you just signed up! Welcome : ).
I would like to first say your whole site is a blessing. I would like to sign up for the course just not financially able right now from school an all:(. Is there any way to learn about the love laws, are yo doing an article on them after you finish the course maybe?
It’s not likely that I’ll talk about the Love Laws in an article as they’re intended to be worked through in a program format with guidance and support. But some of the laws are discussed in this book, which I HIGHLY recommend:
Sometimes I’ll feel sick when I think about my boyfriend and I. It makes me anxious. Is this normal? Is this because I miss the loving feelings and I’m not feeling them now?I just want us to be happy again.
Isabella: I strongly encourage you to either sign up for one of my courses or start practicing the journaling exercise that I recommend here:
While I welcome comments on my blog, it’s not intended to be a place for longterm support. It sounds like you would benefit from counseling with a local counselor and I encourage you to look into that option as well.
I have been going to counseling for over a month now. Just curious Sheryl, have you ever thought about a forum for those who can’t afford the e-course, but would like help and support? Just wondering.
I have considered it, Brianna, but at this point I don’t have the time to moderate a free forum. I’d love to be able to offer that at some point!
I just wanted to chime in too, that even if finances are a problem, you might be able to find a counselor through some area colleges. I did that when I was anxious and engaged, and it was a great experience! I was paired with a woman finishing up her counseling masters, and she was more than equipped to talk through my anxiety with me! It really helps a lot!
I’m going through this right now.. I’m the distancer and my fiance has always been the pursuer. In all of my other relationships, I was the pursuer. In fact, my last relationship includes me pursuing a guy in the carribean ( I met on a mission trip).. I ended it after a year and seeing him twice in person, because he wouldn’t fully commit. He wouldn’t call me his girlfriend after I made my final trip there. I was devestated and he guilted me by telling me he would have married me once I had moved on to my fiance. Who I’ve now been with for 3 years. We are getting married in a year and I was so certain when he proposed.. But the anxiety sunk in when I thought about how things are so different from when I thought I could have married the last guy, or the guy before that..
I only let myself be crazy about him, butterflies and all u til about a week after we decided to start dating. Sure we have has lots of strong attraction moments and show lots of love and respect to eachother, but it’s so different and that’s why I second guess and feel anxious.. The last thing I want to feel. I need encouragement …
Really looking forward to this Sheryl. Have really benefited from your conscious weddings e-course but still need to work through a lot of things. This sounds right up my alley! Having been going thru a recent spell of serious doubts again (nothing has changed in the relationship all in my head or course!). Thank you for doing this!
I’m so glad you’ll be joining us, Kim! And I’m looking forward to being able to interact with my e-course members more though this program.
Hi Sheryl, I was wondering if you think you will be offering this course again at a later time. I currently am not working and can not afford the course but already know I want and need the information. Would this by my only opportunity?
I’m planning to offer it again in four months. If you email me directly I can add you to the next “interested people” list.
Thank God my anxiety is diminished after several days of struggle. But now another problem is started that i am feeling emotionless and empty. Sometimes i feel that i have no feeling for my partner which is so annoying for me. Any advices??
I get that happening all the time Sam I feel crazy how one day I can feel so in love then another I feel numb disconnected and feel I have no feelings for him which then sets of anxiety
I get that too! Right now that is what mostly causes my anxiety and depression
I have read and appreciated all your articles, especially on anxiety. I am someone who cancelled my wedding and ran for the hills out of extreme anxiety. I was madly in love, but very, very afraid. Afterwards, I came to your site in confusion to see if it was “me” and my anxiety that were the problem or him and his issues (which to me and many of my friends were red flags).
My own experience aside, I can see how anxiety can blind us and freeze and paralyze, but if we don’t base a relationship on “in-love” feelings, or if the Hollywood romance is obviously flawed, where do we go back to the beginning to start to look for love? Is it a rational, intellectual decision based on mutual interests? Is it a connection between persons like a friendship? Or is it a mixture of head and heart? Sorry if these seem like obvious questions!
I’m not sure that it’s head OR heart, but a deeper place of knowing that runs underneath changing thoughts and fluctuating feelings. I do believe that it starts with a special connection, a bond, and grows from there. It can certainly start in a blazing fire as well but when those feelings die down there needs to be a strong foundation to support the relationship. Shared values and vision certainly help.
totally understand brianna my guy is away this weekend and my anxiety has lifted already and im sure it will be back when he returns i really dont want to feel like this anymore cause his the most amazing guy
I agree. My boyfriend is the best thing that has ever happened to me and I just want us to be happy. I always saw my whole future with him and he gave me the “you just know” feelings. My anxiety got caused because I got scared of losing him and breaking up. I don’t get how that can make me things these bad thoughts still, of whether I still love him or not. The other day my mom said of things don’t work out there are other people and I got hysterical and started yelling no! No! That’s not what I want I just want him! When I’m with him I’m ok, but when I’m not my mind goes crazy! I just can’t take waking up everyday feeling empty. These last few weeks have been horrible. It literally is painful for me to go through this. I know I’d be so lost without my love.
i feel for you brianna it is so painful i hate the numb feeling i get and it gets even worse when im near my period . i dont understand how we love someone so much and have these thoughts. when i tell my family n friends they say i shouldnt be feeling like that maybe i dont love him then it sends my mind racing and i know i do . i just want it all to stop or i will end up losing him. i lost my last bf for the same reason he was sick of my walls going up n down
My family says the same thing. I think of ten years from now and looking back on him as a memory and get hysterical. I dot want him to be a memory one day, I just want him there forever. Our relationship was perfect before the anxiety. There was nothing wrong and I was always so sure of everything. Now I’m not and I can’t take it anymore I’ve been like this for three months. I feel like I have a heavy weight in my chest and then others it just feels hollow. Just something is preventing me from feeling my heart. And I hate when people say you feel it in your heart cause I’m like I can’t feel my heart!!
I’m just wondering when things ended with your last boyfriend did you feel any relief of the anxiety? Or did it stay with you? I’m sure everyone going through this has thought about breaking up and I feel like yes I might get some type of relief, but it wouldn’t last long because my dream relationship just got ruined all because of something in my head!
Yeah I got a huge relief and I felt so good for a few weeks because I was enjoying having no anxiety . Then I started to miss him and wonder what he was doing all the time . I did ask if he wanted to give things another shot but he said no because I’d hurt him to much . Now I’m seeing this other guy and I’m so scared its all happening again as my anxiety is doing the same thing .
Last night I had a dream that I was having sex with some random person and it felt good. I woke up anxious and felt upset because I haven’t been sexual with my boyfriend in months, since the anxiety started. My boyfriend gets upset by that and so do I. He thinks he’s not sexy enough and it has even given me anxiety thinking since I’m not getting sexually excited does this mean I’m not attracted to him? Is this normal sheryl?
Also when I dream about my boyfriend they are really good dreams, but I still feel emotionless.
“the sacred is not reducible to anything else”—gah! That is some good stuff. It is a beautiful thing when your personal connection to the sacred is so strong it just spills over into your relationship—I also find that it makes room for the natural ebbs and flows of any relationship. Whenever I am feeling questioning, critical, or doubtful of my relationship, I Always go within and recognize it is time to foster the connection within mySelf. This never fails to bring at least some clarity. Thank you for the lovely post, Sheryl! 🙂
Is it true Sheryl that feelings aren’t necessarily a fact?
Thankyou Sheryl for all the writing you do – it is truly a blessing this site. Im recently married, and had no anxiety throughout our 8 year relationship, as i always knew he was the one for me! In the lead up to our wedding, i started having these awful anxious feelings (which i now know are common) and i also developed a crush on a coworker out of the blue which caused me rediculous worry and ruined the months leading to my wedding. In the week of our wedding, it was perfect, i didnt think of this guy and was so thrilled to be marrying the love of my life. Since the wedding however, i am still feeling so anxious about this other guy, he keeps popping into my head and i am concerned about how i feel about the situation. I think it is purely a crush that means nothing, as i dont want to be with him, i want to be with my husband! In addition, i recently learned that this guy is a total jerk – has had a girlfriend for years and totally lied about it to me, so he is nothing that i would want to be associated with.
I worry so much though that these feelings mean something and it is causing me so much anxiety. How do you move through this infatuation/crush and does it mean anything when i know it is irrational?? I hate these feelings for my husband, but after 8 years, they go unfortunately – but it scares me that im feeling this?
Thanks for your help!
Thank you for this post Sheryl! Longing Love is something that I know well – and it does feel exciting, and gives you all the goosebump-y type feelings that we have been taught to associate with “the one.” So, when you move into a relationship with someone that is stable, emotionally developed and open – it can feel boring or like the love you share is not quite “enough.” I think this post and so much more of what you have written is incredibly important in understanding what healthy love should feel like.
I have a very good partner, i recognise myself in the descriptions of relationship anxiety and also in the distancer used to be enjoying the pursuer position. I have been in so much resistance during this relationship and ever before. I am questioning if i even want to pursue the work of if i am asexuel/aromantic. I forgot why it is that i could want a relationship so I dont know if it is worth it to work with this class even though something in me is quite convinced that I have no desire to be in a relationship anymore, and was douting since the begining ( 2 years now) .
I guess what I am wondering is, have you had clients taking classes that where totally convinced of not being attracted, wanting out of the relationship and changed their mind and heart around?
Yes, please have turnarounds all the time but you have to be willing to do the inner work. There are no magic fixes ;).
Within my relationship I moved from the crazy mad pursuer to the distance as soon as he made himself available.
I wonder then, cause I always thought my love was so real and now I’ve been plagued by this anxiety for almost three years if I should just accept the fact that I was longing for him and it wasn’t love.
He’s really the best partner I had, and I say this while being triggered.
Can a person be first the pursuer and then the distancer without seeing the past feelings as just fake?
All the time :).
I’m still slightly confused. I figured I always, always had romantic idealizations of my partners, even people who weren’t my partners but only short flings.
To the extent that I would find myself in deep pain when the feeling wasn’t shared and I was pushing away available people. I would have done crazy things for the people I pursued.
Same for my current partner, the exact moment he was available, loving, beautifully supportive. I started having doubts: ‘why did I look at that other person and find him attractive, does this mean I’m not in love?’, ‘let’s analize the whole night to see if my reaction was o a person in love’..this was the start of a rabbit hole of pain, a dark night of my soul. I found there was no way of finding it out by surgically discerning feelings and reactions solely in my mind. I knew something was wrong whithin myself, or was it only denial?
I’m doing the work, I am giving up to expectations and finding moments of clarity and love.
But sometimes this fear flares up, that I was only a pursuer all my life, looking for the wrong partners. I’m scared that because I was a pursuer then right now all the work I do is useless because there was never real love to start with and I was just lucky enough this person turned out to be good.
What is your opinion in the matter?
Is it possible to be the pursuer and distancer at the same time? What I mean by this is, I’m the one who does the texting first or asking when to meet up first, but I keep question my love for her, sometimes I’m sure sometimes I’m off kilter and feel somewhat indifferent. when I’m not with her, I get random thoughts like you don’t love her. Is this relationship anxiety or should I do open your heart? Thank you Sheryl!
It sounds like textbook relationship anxiety, Josh, and Break Free From Relationship Anxiety would be the right course for you.
Ok thank you Sheryl, still saving up for the course. Can you feel physically calm (no anxious symptoms), still feel somewhat connected to life and your relationship but still have relationship anxiety? I know I love her when I’m actually with her ironically! Thanks again Sheryl.