One of the common fear-lines that arises when the ego is trying to deconstruct the idea of relationship anxiety and convince you that your truth is that you’re just with the wrong person is: “If what Sheryl says is true, why don’t more people talk about it?”
It’s an understandable question, and I have many responses to it. But the best response is to inform the person who is questioning that those who are intimately familiar with the ins-and-outs of relationships do, in fact, talk about the interplay between fear and love in a very similar way as I do. Clergy, couple therapists, longtime married couples, and anyone on the front lines of real relationships know that love includes fear, that certainty is often followed by doubt, that love is action, and that falling in love isn’t a prerequisite for having a great relationship. It’s only the mainstream media – films, books, magazines, billboards, music videos, and ads – that fails to understand how love really works. And yet, sadly, it’s the mainstream media that provides most of our education about love.
One such person who speaks the truth about love is Dr. Pat Love, a world-renowned psychotherapist who specializes in relationships. In this video, she talks about the fear of love and why being with a loving partner would cause a negative reaction. If you said to someone who is uneducated about love that sometimes – and maybe often – when your partner approaches you, you flinch, retract, or recoil, that sometimes – and maybe often – you don’t want to kiss or make love, and that sometimes – or maybe often – you feel irritated with your partner and wonder why you’re staying, that person would likely advise you to walk away. But if you said this to Dr. Pat Love, this is what she would say:
Please note that what we’re discussing here is real love: love that is kind, caring, compassionate, honest, committed. Flinching in response to abusive touch disguised as love is a healthy, appropriate reaction, and must be taken very seriously. But for so many of us for whom the love-wires were crossed somewhere along the way, when the heart has been hurt and the highly sensitive soul decides sometime long ago that it will never open fully again, we have a hard time receiving real love. This is where the work that I teach here every day comes in.
As Dr. Love explains, when you long for something it becomes a source of pain, so when you finally get what you want it’s going to feel painful and you’re going to want to run. If you don’t understand this basic truth, you will assume that your desire to run means that you’re in the wrong relationship, and that’s the feedback you will receive from the culture. So when fears enter the picture – and remember fear can manifest as doubt, irritation, indifference, ambivalence, worry, and intrusive thoughts – Dr. Pat Love says, “Feel the feelings and stay in the relationship.” Sound familiar? She says, “Take your mind and move it in a positive direction.” Have you read that somewhere before? She says, “Getting what you want can feel uncomfortable.” Yes. The decision to stay despite the pain is a “values-driven approach instead of a feeling-driven approach. I was taught to follow your feelings, which is not always the best advice.” Right on.
So you see, those who know this terrain speak the same language. We know how many good, loving, and safe relationships end because people don’t understand the interplay of love and fear. We know how confusing it is to act in opposition to your so-called gut because we live in a culture that says “trust your gut.” We know this not only from our own experience but from the thousands of people with whom we’ve crossed paths and have helped to stay in their loving relationships and then look back after doing the hard work, after staying in the hug longer than is comfortable, after extracting their fear-lines and softening their walls, and say, “I’m so grateful I didn’t walk away.”