Living in Fantasy Land

fantasyheader

Growing up I read a lot of books, and my genre of choice was fantasy.

Castles, knights, dragons, elves, dwarves, creatures like trolls/orcs/goblins etc; quests for mystical objects to save the world from some impending doom or evil.

I love that stuff.

For me, the fantasy genre was a way to escape into a world that was completely different from the one I knew.  There was nobility, intrigue, betrayal, redemption.  And there was usually the romantic notion of good triumphing over evil.

 

In the fantasy world, everything people did had a purpose.  You don’t see a lot of people doing things like eating, going to the bathroom, cleaning up the yard, or paying the bills.  They don’t even really talk about their day.  But when they do, it’s known as “character development”.

In the world of fantasy, things are always exciting!!!

(Alright, I know.  In Lord of the Rings the characters do a lot of walking.  And I mean A LOT.  But hey, they had to cross all of Middle Earth and it’s not like they had cars or anything.  So even all that walking was done with a noble purpose in mind).

 

The main draw of the fantasy world is, it’s just that.  Fantasy.  It’s not real.  It’s an escape.

When we read about knights and dragons, it’s pretty clear that this is just a make believe world.  Same as the world of superheroes, science fiction, and Disney princesses.

It’s less clear when the fantasy world more closely resembles that of real life.  TV shows, movies, books.  Often they are set in “the real world”, but they are just as separated from real life as the world of Fantasy.

And problems can occur when fantasy starts to interfere with real life.

 

 

Romantic Love

I write about relationships, and with that I truly believe in love, romance, and all the stuff that comes with that.

But I completely reject the way love is often portrayed.

True love.  The One.  Two people’s eyes meeting across a crowded room, and they know they will be together forever.

Don’t get me wrong.  I’m a romantic so I understand the appeal of that stuff.  But it’s a load of crap, and I think it does a lot of damage to people’s understandings of real, healthy relationships.

fantasyquote2

 

Let’s look at dating, and love.

Love is supposed to be altruistic.  It’s about genuinely caring about another person, and being able to (at times) put their needs and wants first.  It’s about being part of something that’s bigger than you.

In the dating world on the other hand, you see a selfish form of love.  When you first meet someone, do you REALLY care about them?  Umm, no.  Dating is primarily about what YOU want, and how you can find someone who will be able to satisfy YOUR needs and wants.  Sure, you give to the other person.  But that giving isn’t done freely, it’s done because of what we get out of it.  Either it makes us feel good to give, or we are expecting something in return.

In the dating world, you (usually) aren’t even YOU.  Instead, you are portraying a version of you.  And usually, you are putting forth what you believe to be the best version of you, or the version that you think the other person will be most interested in.

And the other person is doing the same.

You are exchanging carefully constructed facades, which have elements of the “real people” underneath.  But there is a lot that is left hidden, or unsaid.

Dating may have elements of a deeper relationship.  But like Fantasy it’s only a part of it, it’s not based on reality.

In a perfect world, as you get to know each other better you come to value the other person as more than just a vehicle for your needs.  You come to understand them, and genuinely care about them.  And eventually, you start to think of the relationship with them as something larger than use yourself.  You are contributing to something, and building something.  You are still “you”, but you are now also part of an “us”.

 

Romance stories and movies usually depict the early stages of relationships.  The excitement, the passion and the romance.  And often they end with the couple finally “making it” (usually after going their separate ways after a misunderstanding, and then at the last minute realizing they do belong together after all).

Romance stories usually end with the wedding.  Really though, that’s where “easy” stops and the real work begins.

 

When Life Gets in the Way

Life is mostly routine.  We work, pay bills, shop for groceries, prepare meals, do yard work, etc.  All of this is stuff we “have” to do, and there’s nothing particularly exciting or romantic about it.  But really, this is where most of our energy gets spent.  Add kids to the mix, and often it seems there’s little time left to focus on being lovers and being a couple.  So people settle into patterns, and what may have started as passionate love becomes a love based more on comfort and familiarity.

Love based on comfort and familiarity isn’t a bad thing.  At the same time though, romance doesn’t have to die.  In fact, it should NEVER die.  But it will change, and unless a couple works at it they will end up waking up one day and finding they are more roommates than a couple.

Romance doesn’t just happen.  Passion doesn’t just happen.

In the early days it’s there because it’s new, we are learning each other, and we are putting energy into it.  When we stop putting in, it fades.  And it’s not the responsibility of one person to keep things “alive”.  Both people in a relationship need to be willing to put the effort in, and prioritize being lovers.

 

Finding Passion again – the WRONG way!!!

A while back I interviewed a guy who cheated on his wife, and posted the story of his affair.  I’ve talked to a number of people and read a number of stories about affairs, and often the story is similar.

People get caught up in the “routine” side of life and find themselves longing for the “old days”.  They find themselves missing the early stages of love – the passionate side.  And they convince themselves that is “real” love, and they will never be able to find it again with their current partner.  They feel “dead inside”, so they start to look elsewhere in order to feel alive again.

In talking about his affair, he wrote:

I was lonely and dying for attention, which is what led me to look for it elsewhere. I did not do this looking for an affair, but just some attention that validated I was worth something. Then I met the other woman (OW), one thing led to another until I was in a full blown affair.

 

Affair are like a return to the world of dating, and it’s important to note that they are not real life. Rather, they are a way to escape from the pressures and stresses of real life.

Just like an alcoholic turning to drink, or an addict turning to a chemical high, affairs are a way to escape from reality.  Affair partners meet up in secret, and it’s all about need fulfillment.

There’s no real responsibility; no worrying about mortgages, bills or the kids.  Rather, the relationship with the affair partner is like being on a constant vacation.

Really, they are an “easy way out”.   Instead of actually facing and dealing with problems within a relationship, or accepting that the problems within a relationship are significant enough that the relationship should end; an affair is a way for someone to “have it both ways”.  They are able to pick and choose the parts of the relationship they want to deal with in their primary relationship, and then find the parts that are missing elsewhere.

Of course, they also destroy lives and do a tremendous amount of damage to everyone involved.

They are also not sustainable. 

Eventually, if the affair partners see each other enough the “vacation” will end.  Real life will start to intrude, with issues and responsibilities.  When this happens the carefully constructed facades crumble, and the real person beneath starts to show.  A real person, who has real problems just like anyone else.  And when this becomes apparent, the appeal of the affair is often broken.

It was euphoria when were together and agony when we were apart. This is what fed the illusion that it was such a great “relationship”. The reality was, it was just fantasy land and as I began to see her with everyday problems like us, the less and less I wanted to be with her.  I think I was finally really realizing what I had done. I was seeing that the OW was really just fantasy land and none of it was real.

 

fantasyquote1

When the fantasy of the affair was broken and reality hit, he found himself trying to understand “why” he did it.  Why he felt such chemistry and passion with his affair partner but not with his wife.  And his answer was simple:

It is a funny question to me now. What did she see that my wife didn’t? I can answer it without a problem. She saw someone who had an interest in them. Who made them feel attractive and interesting. So she never saw me, she saw what I was giving her. So the real question I should have been asking myself was not “What did she see that my wife didn’t?” but “What I am giving her that I am not giving my wife?”

 

He had chemistry and passion not because of anything special about his affair partner.  No, it was there because of what he put into the relationship.  Time, energy, and effort.  He put that in to his time with his affair partner, and this led to the passion he had been missing.

 

Fantasy land is just that.  Fantasy.  It’s great as an escape, but it’s important to remember that it is not real life.  And it’s an escape that should only ever occur within the mind.

When the lines start to blur between fantasy and reality, often many lives are affected.

And no matter how great the fantasy world may seem, eventually reality always comes crashing down.

What Does it Mean When “The Love is Gone”?

hopefails

Love.

Love is a powerful emotion/feeling, and it can drive us to do incredible (and at times terrible) things.

When people think of “love”, the first thing they think of is usually passion or romance.  Well, sex too – but that’s usually a byproduct of passion.  Either way, it’s often perceived as an intense emotional response.  Butterflies in the stomach, and an overwhelming desire to be with that other person.

Science has shown this “romance” stage of love is just that, a stage.  It has a neurochemical basis, and usually only lasts for more than six months to two years.

When we are younger we often mistake the loss of intense feeling for the loss of love, and use that as an excuse/reason to jump to another “new” relationship where everything is exciting and fresh again.  But eventually most people realize even after the intense feeling has dissipated, strong feelings can remain.  And these new feelings can be even stronger in some ways, because they are a choice and not just a hormonal response.

When we realize this, and still CHOOSE love?  Well, that’s when we have a love that can potentially last.

The thing is, even when we are choosing love and have accepted the feelings aren’t as intense, we still expect there to be feelings.

Love is still love, right?  So shouldn’t we feel something?

We can continue to choose love, but what do we do if the feeling is gone – and there is no sign that it will ever return?

Looking at this another way, if there is only choice but no feeling, do we still have love?

What do we do when we are not in love?

 

What if a Loss of Love is Not About Love?

Personally, I don’t understand “not in love”.  To me love has always been both an emotion and a choice, and this combination allows me to actively love.  To try to show love through my actions, maybe not everyday, but as often as I can.  By showing love, and practicing love I know I won’t allow love to die.

It’s not always that simple though.

In a fantastic article on depression in relationships, John Folk-Williams talks about the impacts depression can have on the ability to “feel” love.  He writes about psychiatrist Peter Kramer, who believes loss of feeling is often a sign of deeper issues:

Kramer often works with clients who are dissatisfied with their relationships. They want to know if leaving is the best thing to do.

When he encounters someone who is convinced that the marriage is dead, he says that he always suspects depression or another mood disorder.

 

Mental Illness and Relationships

Here are two statistics for you:

  • 50% of marriages fail.
  • 25% of people will directly suffer from a mental illness.

 

At first glance these two statistics appear unrelated.  But I wonder, what would the numbers be if you could look at the marriage statistics for people with a mental illness vs. those without?

I’m not sure, but I suspect the failure rates of marriage for those with a mental illness are considerably higher than the norm; simply because they introduce additional pressures and stresses on the relationship.

Mental illness already has a lot of stigma associated with it, and this is by no means an attempt to pile anything further on it.  Rather, this is an attempt to help share some understanding for people who may be having doubts and challenges in their relationships that maybe, just maybe its not the relationship that’s at fault here.

I realize saying “don’t worry, maybe it’s not your relationship – maybe you’re actually dealing with a mental illness” isn’t exactly going to make anyone feel better.  But it is a possibility; and for those who ARE dealing with a mental illness it may be beneficial to understand that your condition may affect your ability to feel love in ways you may not have considered.

 

Impacts of Anxiety and Depression on Love

The two most common mental illnesses are Depression and Anxiety disorders; and I’ve written in the past about how anxiety disorders can damage feelings of love (for a different account on anxiety’s impacts on love check the article Daniel Smith wrote for CNN, titled Can anxiety kill your ability to love?).

The Folk-Williams article above talks about a symptom of depression called Anhedonia (although anhedonia is thought of primarily as a symptom of depression it is also found in anxiety).

A common misconception about depression is that it’s characterized be people feeling down, sad, or hopeless (for extended periods of time).  This definitely happens, but anhedonia is another characteristic of depression where sufferers often lose interest in things that they used to enjoy – activities, hobbies, spending time with friends, and even sex.

Anhedonia is a state of emotional deadness, where instead of feeling down or sad someone feels nothing.  Anhedonia can cause someone to feel as though the love is dead, or they have fallen out of love.

To those who have never experienced it this seems bizarre, but If you do a simple web search for “anhedonia and love” it’s a bit frightening to see how common this seems to be.

 

An Account of Anhedonia

Folk-Williams describes his own experiences with Anhedonia, and how it can destroy relationships as follows:

there is another dimension of depression that can lead to the idea of escape as the answer.

It’s the one that causes depressed partners to say they’re no longer in love and have never loved their partners. It’s called anhedonia, the inability to feel pleasure or interest in anything.

For me, it was a kind of deadness. Rather than an excess of painful emotion, it was the lack of pain, the lack of feeling, that was the undercurrent of all the surface turmoil. I felt no satisfaction in life.

I believed that the relationship was holding me back, that it had become hollow, empty of the intensity I longed for. I was sure that I could only find happiness and passion with someone else. It was the fantasy of the perfectly passionate mate that was a constant lure.

And later he writes:

Anhedonia is the cause of the desire to leave to find a new, more intense life. The depressed partner’s relationship feels loveless because he can hardly feel at all.

The problem is that the unaware depressive has such a high threshold of feeling that it takes extreme arousal to evoke excitement and passion. He can erupt with anger and rage because these are more violent emotions that stir him as little else does.

Kramer says that these clients often believe that they’re perfectly capable of feeling. After all, they can go out and have fun with friends. They can feel passionate with others who likely have no constraining relationships or might be seeking the same kind of escape.

But they feel good precisely because these experiences offer exceptionally high levels of stimulation. They may also turn to addictive habits like recreational drugs, drinking, gambling or pornography for the same reason.

Fantasies of escaping into a life full of new intensity seem like the perfect answer to their inner emptiness.

 

The Loss of Feeling

When someone needs intensely high levels of stimulation just to feel, it’s somewhat understandable that people will be willing to engage in risky and destructive behaviors.

One of the things Folk-Williams alludes to (but doesn’t address directly) is that this lack of feeling makes actual intimacy almost impossible.  So the type of attachment characteristic of close relationships breaks down, and sufferers often can find no arousal or attachment in their partners.  Everything becomes detached and clinical.  They know they “should” feel something, and they know they once did.  But they don’t, and they can’t change that.

However they can still feel the intense emotions of “new love”, so things like affairs are increasingly likely just as a way to feel.  As is sex in casual relationships or one night stands.  Those things can be felt physically, even though there is still usually little or no emotional connection.  As noted above, people may turn to substance abuse as a way of “coping” with this lack of feeling inside.

When anhedonia isn’t understood, it becomes easy to blame external things.  A sufferer is unhappy because of their job, or their weight, or their relationship.

Happiness and hope is replaced by the lure of fantasy.  A belief that things will be better IF they can only find the right thing.  If they can get the right job, get the right body, or find the right partner.

Spoiler alert here – it doesn’t work.  Finding the perfect partner is fantasy, not reality.  They don’t exist, and the people who try often end up destroying a lot of the things in their lives that are “good” in the pursuit of this fantasy.

 

Mourning Love

I write about relationships, and I write about love.  To me love is a powerful and beautiful thing, and the loss of it is always difficult.

Often love is lost and relationships fail because of little things.  We take each other for granted, we focus on the bad instead of the good, we are hurt and we refuse to let go.  All these little things often add up to growing resentment and the breakdown of love.

And when that happens, it’s tragic.

None of that however compares to the loss of love not because love is actually gone, but because someone has lost the capacity to feel it.

THAT seems incomprehensibly cruel.

Especially when the sufferer doesn’t realize what is happening, and instead of seeing it as the symptom of a problem they interpret the loss of love as the problem itself.

 

I don’t know what anhedonia feels like, and I hope I never do.  From descriptions of it and from reading others accounts of it, it seems like a terrible soul destroying thing.

But like many other aspects of mental illness, it’s something that’s not understood, and not discussed.  And I believe many, many relationships and families are needlessly lost as a result.

So if you have thought “I don’t love you anymore” or heard those words said to you, please stop to consider that maybe there’s something else going on.  Especially if you can’t understand or explain why the feeling is gone.

 

To gain a better understanding of  the struggles sufferers face daily check out the following video:

No one wants to talk about or acknowledge mental illness.  And people definitely don’t want to be labelled as having one.  But when it directly affects 25% of the population, it’s at least something to consider.

When you can’t understand something, you can’t address it.  And things can never improve.  So understanding why feelings of love may be gone can be the first step in the road to rebuilding it.

Learning to Love

Learning-to-love
Love. We all use the word, but there is no real consensus on what it is or what it means.

One of my first posts was my attempt at figuring out what love is, and looking back on it now I think I had a lot of things right, but at the same time it seems somewhat lacking.

Some say love is a feeling. Others say love is a choice. I think it’s probably a mix of both.

Maybe it’s best to say that love is a feeling that comes with certain choices, and the ability to maintain love (and feelings of love) over a long period is a result of continuing to make loving choices towards your partner.

I don’t think love just happens. Attraction may just happen, but you still have to choose to get to know the other person. To look at them, to listen to them, and to be with them. When you make those little choices, you are letting yourself allow love to develop.

And once love has developed, it needs to be maintained. I’ve talked before about whose responsibility love is. I truly believe that it’s not your partners responsibility to keep you feeling in love with them – it’s yours. You need to nurture your love every day, in countless little ways.

And if you choose not to express love? To turn away from love and not let it in? Or to not accept it when it’s given? They you only have yourself to blame if feelings of love fade away.

Deep Roots

I like to think of love like a tree. Trees need nurturing (sunlight, water, soil) to stay alive. When they are young they are fragile, and need more attention and care. As trees age their roots start to run deep, and they no longer need the same sort of care.

Even when their roots are established though, they still need nurturing. They still need sunlight, water and nutrients in the soil to stay alive. Established trees are strong, and can weather difficult periods. Trees can even be cut down. But as long as the roots are alive, the tree can survive, and come back. It may look a bit different, but that doesn’t make it any less beautiful.

Other times the tree can start to die from the roots, and although the tree may still appear healthy at first it has started to rot from within.

The key is the roots, and keeping those roots alive and healthy.

sapling photo

Nurturing Love

So how do we nurture love?

How do we ensure our roots run deep, to allow us to weather the storms of life?

And how do we keep the roots of our love alive?

It seems obvious to me that love requires nurturing. And this nurturing comes in the form of action.

But what actions are needed, to not only maintain but also to grow our love?

A while back I came across a great article on the characteristics of love. Look at the following quote:

Loving involves being in a relationship with another. In a functional loving relationship there are mutual expectations. If I love you and you don’t accept my love then the relationship is dysfunctional because the primary purpose of love is not easily accomplished. If you don’t let me love you, then my love will be squandered on you.

As such, to be in love is to be engaged in an activity that can be done well or not so well. One can be good at loving or poor at it depending on how good (or bad) one is at accomplishing the purpose or goal of loving someone. The statement, “I love you very much” may sometimes be a deep expression of a feeling that comes with being in love; but it can also be uttered by people who do not know the first thing about how to love another. This is because this statement, if it is meaningful, is not simply a report about a subjective feeling going on at the time that it is uttered.

To be meaningful, you must put your actions where your mouth is. This means doing things that promote the other’s happiness, welfare, and safety

So how do we nurture our love? What actions do we need to take? This article talks about love as being shown with the following core actions:

  • Being there
  • Being beneficent
  • Being considerate/non-maleficent
  • Making a commitment
  • Being loyal
  • Being consistent
  • Being candid
  • Being trustworthy
  • Being empathetic
  • Being tolerant

Let’s look at each of these…

The Actions of Love

Being there. This means you are there for the person in times of need. They know they can count on you, and they can rely on you. Sometimes they may need you at times that aren’t convenient to you, but that’s fine. Some sacrifice may be required, and you may not always be able to be there. But you should always want to.

Being beneficent. This goes one step further than just being there. This means you want to do things FOR them. You want to see them happy (in fact, I think true happiness comes not just from the things that make you happy, but from deriving happiness from seeing your actions bring happiness to someone you love). You value their welfare, and want what’s best for them.

Being considerate/non-maleficent. This is about not wanting to do things that are harmful towards the other person. Trying not to hurt them, or embarrass them. It’s about taking them, and how your actions impact them into account. Over the long term, we all screw this up occasionally. Everyone has moments that they are selfish in their actions, and they end up hurting those they love. But those sort of things should be exceptions, and should be accompanied by remorse when we realize we have hurt the other person.

Making a commitment. This is pretty obvious – you are committed to the relationship.

Being loyal. This involves being loyal and faithful to the person you love. As the article says, “loyalty is not optional if one is to enjoy a happy relationship”.

Being consistent. Consistency is very important. Love and relationships aren’t something that you only engage in when it’s convenient to you. They aren’t a part time job, and you can’t just take time off when things get tough. This goes hand in hand with commitment – and means that acting in a loving way is the normal behavior.

Being candid. Love requires openness and honesty. Lying and deception damages relationships, while honesty (even about difficult things) tends to bring people closer together. It’s important to be careful how you word things though – there’s a difference between honesty and being rude.

Being trustworthy. In loving relationships, you need to be able to confide in the other person and know that they are able to confide in you.

Being empathetic. This is about trying to see things from your partners perspective. We are all different, and “my way” isn’t necessarily the best or the only way. You need to be able to value your partners perspective an opinion even when it doesn’t line up with your own. Relationships require meeting halfway sometimes, and that requires empathy.

Being tolerant. Relationships also require patience, and the ability to let things go, forgive, and move on. Insisting things need to be “your way”, or holding on to grudges and resentment is one of the quickest ways to poison a relationship.

All of these are important characteristics in a loving relationship. And more importantly, all of them are things that can be developed and improved.

Choosing Love

I think it is these actions that people talk about when they say love is a choice. Yes, there are feelings associated with love. But these feelings need to be shown, and we show them through the actions we take and the way we treat our partner.

If you say you love your partner but you strike them out of anger, are you showing love?

If you say you love your partner but you are having an affair, are you showing love?

If you have no interest in spending time with them and connecting with them on an emotional level, are you showing love?

How does your partner know you love them? Should they “just know”? Or do they know because of the way you treat them and interact with them?

Love may involve feelings, but it is more than that. Love is actions.

It may not always be declarations of undying love and passion, but love still needs to be present in all our interactions. We can learn to love, and we can get better at it each and every day.

still learning to love

Forever is Now

forever

Recently there was a death in the family, and although it’s not a happy topic it’s had me thinking about mortality and loss.

Death is a strange thing. Someone is in your life one day, and suddenly they are gone. It doesn’t feel real at first. At an intellectual level you know they are gone, but it’s almost as if they have just gone away for a while. A part of you almost expects them to call, or show up at your door. But at the same time you know they never will again.

There is pain and a sense of loss that comes from their absence. Depending on how close you were to them, this absence is felt in different ways.

Different experiences bring memories of them. You have moments where you can still see them, and imagine them. You visualize the look they would have on their face if they were with you, and the things they would say. And in those moments they are still with you.

They live on, but now it’s only in memory.

Opportunity Lost

When thinking of those who are gone, there is a sense of loss from their absence. This sadness is for all the future moments that you will never get to share, as well as past opportunities that have been missed and things left unsaid.

And these past opportunities are probably the ones that hurt the most.

Why were opportunities missed and words left unspoken?

This happens because a part of us thought they would always be there. We thought there would always be more opportunities, so we never made it a priority to take those opportunities or say those words.

Chances are there were good reasons. We have jobs, families, friends and hobbies; never mind things like laundry, dishes and other chores. There are only so many hours in the day, and *something* has to give.

I suspect for many of us who have lost someone, once they are gone all of those reasons seem somewhat hollow, and we would give almost anything to turn back the clock and just have one more moment with those we cared about.

But we don’t.

In the moment we decided other things in our life were a greater priority than they were.

That’s not always a bad thing. Life does get busy and those other things do need to be done, and there are only so many hours in a day. We can’t do everything, and make time for everyone. Choices do have to be made.

But the sad reality is, often when you “know” the person is there, at a subconscious level you don’t feel you have to put in the effort.

Promises For The Future

This makes me think about marriage. When people commit to marriage, they are committing to forever.

They are making a promise to each other that they will be there for each other no matter what life throws at them. To me, there is something at once beautiful and powerful about this concept of forever.

When people talk about love and romance, often the focus is on passion and hormones. People kissing, unable to keep their hands off each other as they leave a trail of clothes on the way to the bedroom.

Being lovers IS very important, and it’s something I’ve written at length on maintaining in a relationship. But that’s not all there is to love.

To me love is deeper.

It’s rooted in commitment, trust, and being there for each other. Keeping that vow to each other to be there “no matter what life throws at you”. Growing old together, and reaching out for each other physically and emotionally each and every day.

End of a Relationship

The reality is, many couples don’t get to see forever.

They start full of love and promise, and build a life together. But somewhere along the way it goes wrong, devolving into resentment, hurt and apathy.

For those who can see past the hurt and resentment, the cause is often lost opportunity. All those times that something else was a priority. The latest show on TV, putting in long hours to get that promotion, going out with your buddies, and ironically even focusing on the kids.

All those things are prioritized over our partners, because we know our partners “will always be there”. So we spend months and years losing the connection we once had, and slowly drifting apart.

Dealing with it is akin to dealing with death – except the person is still physically there.

Reaching For Each Other Again

All too often, when a couple has lost the connection it marks the end of the relationship.

Personally I don’t think it’s ever too late (but then, I’m a bit more optimistic than most).

I hear stories about couples who were on “on the brink” and were able to rebuild their relationship – often making it stronger than it had been before in the process. It’s not easy to do, and for those that have been successful there are a lot of common characteristics.

It requires honesty – brutal honesty at times about what has gone wrong and why things have broken down. And it requires an ability to hear those things, and not treat them as criticisms or attacks, but instead see them as facts, and issues that need to be addressed in order to succeed.

It requires checking your ego at the door, and accepting that things will never be exactly the way one person wants it. Compromise is needed on the part of both partners.

It requires accepting conflict and issues as part of life. As part of the reality of two people building a life together.

If requires focusing on what you do have, and the good that exists in your life, instead of focusing what is missing or wrong.

It requires focusing again on the couple, and carving out time for each other even when life is busy.

And it requires empathy. Empathy in a relationship is about taking your partner into account, and understanding that your actions impact them. Understanding that even if something isn’t important to you, it still needs to be a priority if it’s important to your partner.

Here’s a fact for you:

Many couples who divorce wish that they had been able to “make it work”. Even when they have been able to rebuild and move on with their lives, they still wish they had put in a bit more effort and had made their partner a little bit more of a priority than they did. Many believe that they “could have made it” had they just shown a bit more empathy.

Building Forever

Forever isn’t something that just happens, and it’s not something that exists in the far off future.

No matter how strong you believe your relationships is, no future is ever guaranteed. Things happen. Tragedy or illness can strike at any time.

Don’t assume your partner will always be there, and don’t leave things unsaid. Yes, people get busy and life gets in the way. But don’t use that as a reason to not maintain and build your relationship.

People talk about drifting apart or falling out of love. That only happens if you let it. That only happens when you stop making each other a priority and putting in effort.

Forever is something you need to build into everyday life. It is built through looks, touches, smiles, and words of caring and support.

Forever is built by not just saying you love someone – but by reflecting those words with your actions each and every day.

Forever is now.

It’s Not About The Sex

holding-hands-1

I read a number of relationship blogs, and a while back I ran across something written by a woman commenting she didn’t want to just be a “receptacle for her partners sperm”. I have to admit, it made me laugh. It was kind of crude, but funny. And it got across the point of what she felt her role had been reduced to in the relationship.

I recently read another blog by someone talking about what she wants in a man. It was something along the lines of wanting a man who will love her for who she is. For her mind and her soul, being someone who would be willing to support her and grow with her, and not just want her for sex or her body.

I agree. Any man worth being with should want her for all of her, and want to be there for all of her. But guess what? He’ll still want her physically, and he’ll still want sex. And that should never be a bad thing. Actually, she would probably be upset if he didn’t want her.

Reading other blogs, this sentiment seems fairly common. There seem to be lots of women out there feeling some variation on the receptacle idea.

Somehow, somewhere along the way sex seems to go from being this special thing a couple shares that happens to feel good to almost being something bad. It seems to have become a chore or a duty for many women.

If that’s the case, it seems clear that there is some sort of a disconnect between how men and women are expressing our sexual needs as well as our understanding each of other.

Generally I don’t buy into gender differences. I think there are a lot of guys out there with “female” traits and vice versa. But maybe this is one area where we ARE fundamentally different. After all, if you think of the very act – we experience it in a completely different way. I know how it feels as a guy, but as a woman? I have no clue, and never will.

I’ve written in the past about the benefits sex has for a relationship, so I won’t rehash them here.

But here are a few facts:

  • Sex provides many benefits to a relationship
  • Sex drives between partners vary, and are not constant over time
  • Sexual problems can spill over into the rest of the relationship
  • Sexual issues are cited among the leading causes of divorce

How is it that something that should bring us together drives us apart? Some guys may be jerks, but I think most truly do care. So how can any guy make their partner feel like a receptacle for sperm?

Speaking Different Languages

My thought, maybe we just don’t understand each other. And maybe if we can understand each other better we can start to break down these walls of resentment that take what should be a special act and turn it into a cause of conflict. I don’t pretend to represent all guys here, but these my thoughts on the subject…

Sex is not about sex.

Huh? What?

Let me explain…

Who do you have sex with? Random strangers? Unlikely. Your parents? If so, first – too much information. Second, ewww. Your buddies? Some people have “friends with benefits”, but generally that’s because they are not in a relationship and are looking for a regular outlet. In that case, yeah, I guess it’s about the act. But it still has a tendency to run into complications.

No, generally it’s reserved for a couple in a relationship. Why? And why is it that having sex with someone else while in a relationship is often defined as an affair, instead of having dinner with someone else or going for coffee with them? (Incidentally, I think it’s a huge misconception when people draw the line for affairs at sex. The line for affairs should be drawn LONG before that, and could potentially be extended to something as “simple” as dinner. But that’s a topic for another day).

No, sex is clearly different. There’s something special about it. But what?

Being Naked

Years ago one of my buddies caught me off guard when he started talking about his girlfriend and how beautiful and sexy she was when he saw her naked. There are all sorts of stereotypes of guys talking in the locker room about their “conquests”, or constantly talking about women. Maybe it’s just my peer group but we REALLY don’t do that, so it was a bit disconcerting to me when he mentioned this.

First, there’s the unwritten bro-code. You don’t look at or think about a buddies girlfriend/wife/whatever in a sexual way. That’s just not cool. So having him talk about her naked was awkward, as of course it meant my mind instantly imagined her naked.

Ahh!!! Brain what are you doing? Noooooo!!!

As my traitorous brain was processing these unwanted images, I was also thinking “dude, ummm, your girlfriend’s really not that attractive” (I didn’t say that of course). Everyone has their preferences, but for me? Even trying to be objective she didn’t do much for me.

But here’s a secret about sex and desire. Being sexy and beautiful has very little to do with your physical appearance – it’s mostly mental. Is it only young attractive people who desire each other? No (at least, it shouldn’t be).

Being naked with someone you love isn’t about admiring their “naughty bits”. It’s about vulnerability. You are being open with each other. It’s about safety, closeness and trust.

For years I thought sex was about sex. But it’s not. It’s about that feeling, that sense of complete vulnerability and openness. That feeling is intoxicating, and arousing, and will likely lead to sex. But I don’t think it’s the sex that we want, it’s the sense of connection.

The physical act is just insert A into B. The emotional act is one of wanting to connect with and give pleasure to someone you love in a way that is only shared by the two of you.

Because of this I actually believe sex in a long term committed relationship can be better than any other sex. “New love” may have sex more frequently, but it’s more lust than love at that point.

love

Different Drives

Young guys may hope they will be having sex all the time. As you get a bit older, you realize that it doesn’t work that way. It doesn’t mean you wouldn’t be happy to be having sex more frequently, but sex is just part of the relationship and the relationship is more important.

Drives fluctuate. It may be frustrating at times, but we get that. What really matters is that we feel valued, and feel as though our needs in the relationship still matter. There has to be a middle ground where the lower drive person isn’t constantly being pressured, but the higher drive person isn’t left feeling unfulfilled.

If you say no one day, that’s fine. But when one person is consistently rejecting the other and shutting them down sexually then there is a problem.

For anyone who isn’t having sex with some regularity, I ask you this – what is the general level of non-sexual touching and affection like in the relationship. If sex isn’t happening, I’ll guess affection is at a shortage too. How about communication? How easy is it to talk to your partner? Can you tell them anything? Do you? When you are unhappy in parts of your relationship do you tell them? Or do you hold things in? Do you still tell them that you love them?

When there is limited to no sex, the affection and communication has also usually broken down. If affection and communication were still there, the lack of sex would probably be bearable. But then, if the affection and communication were there, chances are the sex would be too. They go together. Sex is simply the natural extension of that affection and communication.

As such, sex is about much more than the physical act. It is symbolic of all the closeness and affection that makes a couple a couple.

A Symbol of the Relationship

Guys see sex as symbolic of the relationship, and because of this a lack of sex can REALLY start to mess with them.

First, they start to question themselves:

  • Is there something wrong with me?
  • I desire my partner, what is wrong? Am I terrible at sex?
  • Does my partner no longer find me attractive?
  • Does my partner not desire me?

There’s a good chance that the lack of sex is at least partially because their partner isn’t feeling good about themselves. But this lack of sex results in both people feeling bad about themselves, and can start a downward spiral of negative momentum.

If the problem persists for any length of time, guys start to question the relationship itself:

  • The person I committed to won’t touch me, do they not care about me anymore?
  • Do they not love me?
  • Is our relationship failing?
  • My needs are being ignored here, what about me? Don’t my needs matter?

At this point, the sexual drought is spilling over and affecting the rest of the relationships. Chances are you got here due to poor communication. Unfortunately improved communication is what you need to get out, as over time this will do considerable damage threatening the relationship itself.

People say that they don’t want to be bothered for sex. But someone pestering you for sex isn’t a problem. It becomes a problem when they have stopped asking, because when that happens resentment has set in and they have given up hope.

All About Sex

I opened with the idea that guys seem to be making women feel like they are only wanted for their bodies, and that things are “all about sex”.

I’m pretty sure that’s not the intent. Making your partner feel that way is simply going to cause any sexual rift to deepen, and that’s not something anyone wants. So why in the world do guys do it?

Here’s my theory:

One of the biggest issues that couples face is they get to a point where they feel they have lost “the spark”. They feel like roommates, and maybe feel taken for granted. They no longer feel special when they are around their partner. And likely they ARE being taken for granted somewhat. It’s easy to get caught up in day to day life and let the relationship suffer, but it doesn’t mean someone loves their partner any less.

I think this is the stage where some people start to resent sex.

For guys, sex is symbolic of the relationship. They need it on a fairly regular basis (“regular” being different from person to person) in order to feel that things are alright. But without enough focus on each other, to the woman it starts to feel as though all they are wanted for is sex. After all, if you aren’t taking time to nurture the relationship (which is usually the fault of both members) but still want sex, then it does start to seem like you are roommates who happen to have sex sometime. No one wants that.

I’ve heard it said that women need connection for sex, and men need sex for connection. I don’t think that’s quite accurate. Instead, I think maybe for women sex goes along with connection while for men sex is symbolic of connection. But even for the guys it’s not actually about sex. It’s still about connection.

I think maybe men and women are both actually looking for the same thing. We both want connection, and to feel valued in the relationship. We are just speaking different languages, and becoming resentful as a result.

Keeping Love Alive

The worst feeling in a relationship is the sense that you have become just roommates, and the sense of being lovers is gone. When this happens, men often seem to think that sex is the way to rebuild the connection, while women want the connection before the sex.

Both approaches are probably wrong. Sex without connection will feel devaluing for both parties. But going long periods without sex while trying to rebuild connection will undermine your ability to rebuild connection. The relationship has to be the focus, but sex needs to be included as part of that.

For any ladies out there who are feeling like they are just wanted for sex, chances are your partner is not just looking for the act (alright, maybe sometimes but not usually). Instead he’s looking for everything it means to him. He’s looking for connection, and a feeling of closeness. He doesn’t want just anyone, and he’s not looking for a repository for his sperm. He wants YOU. He’s looking for feeling loved, and valued by you.

And he sees sex as a way of expressing all of that.

I don’t know if this makes any sense, or helps anything. But to any ladies out there who are feeling used solely for their bodies, please be open to the possibility that there is a lot more to us than just that.

You may drive us crazy sometimes (just as we do to you). But we do love you for who you are. We love your personality, your quirks. The way you can make us laugh and how just thinking about you sometimes can bring a smile to our faces. We want to be there for you emotionally as best we can (which admittedly isn’t always the way you want). And we do want to grow with you and have a life with you. We just need sex to be a part of it.

Losing the Spark

dimmingflame

I spend my days in the world of business, and increasingly I see parallels between what it takes to succeed in business and what it takes to succeed in long term relationships (and life in general actually).

Two of the central concepts in business are Operations and Projects. Any business has *something* that they do, and the operational side of a business is the day to day tasks that allow the business to function in the here and now. This is the stuff that keeps money coming in, and sometimes you’ll hear this referred to as the things a business needs to do to “keep the lights on”.

A business can’t only worry about today though. They also need to keep their eye on the future and plan where they want to be tomorrow. See, even if they have a great business, markets change. New products appear (potentially reducing interest in existing ones) and new competitors appear with fresh ideas and approaches.

In addition to worrying about today, businesses have at least part of their energy and resources dedicated to ensuring there is a tomorrow. At the very least, they need to monitor the ongoing health of the business. This side of business where there is long term visioning is referred to as projects.

Operations may keep a business running and alive today, but the future still matters. A business needs to grow, or at least ensure that they aren’t becoming obsolete. It can be tough balancing both of these things, but it’s necessary to stay alive.

Those who don’t balance the present and the future tend to fail.

The Operations of Relationships

Think of the progression of a relationship.

The early days of relationships are all about building. You meet, and spend time together learning each other. It’s exciting, and it’s new. When you get together it’s an event. Even if all you do is rent a movie or watch some TV, you still made plans to get together. Think of this as your “business start-up”.

Then the relationship gets to another level, and you move in together or get married (and then move in together). What happens? We are no longer building the relationship, we have already built it. We know each other, and although there is still more to learn the pace at which this happens slows considerably.

We now start worrying about day to day life. Our “planned” time together gets taken up with things like grocery shopping, laundry and dishes. Then maybe we have kids, and for a number of years they become the priority. Life becomes all about feeing and changing the baby. It’s about teaching them, raising them. Helping with homework, and shipping the kids off to various events.

These things are all important, and we have to do them. And hey, maybe we even enjoy doing them. But all the while the energy we were once expending on our partner and our relationship is slowly diminishing.

If you talk to couples who are having problems, one of the biggest issues they face is they get to a point where they feel they have lost “the spark”. When this happens, couples will often say things like “they feel like roommates”, or “they feel taken for granted”.

I think this is the biggest killer of relationship, but what exactly is it that has happened here?

The couple has gotten caught up in “operations”. They have lost sight of the future (the fact that they need to have one). They aren’t monitoring the health of the relationship.

Instead, they are simply living life day to day, doing the things to keep the lights on. They haven’t focused on each other enough and spent enough time growing the relationships – or even just ensuring that they aren’t falling apart.

Part of it is “comfort”. Life gets busy, and when you *know* that the other person will be there it’s easy to let them slide. After all, when all the chores are done and the kids have been put to bed both of you are often tired. But over time this takes a considerable toll.

Some couples wake up one day and realize they no longer know the person sleeping next to them. And chances are both of them have a bit of resentment and a sense of loss for where they once were, and what they have become.

Look at your interactions with your partner. Look at the hours you spend together. How much of it is actually focused on them? How much time are you investing in being a couple? Now look at how much of it is time where you simply happen to be occupying the same space, but you are really focused on the kids, the chores, whatever.

Yes, all the “stuff” of day to day life has to happen. But you need to nurture the relationship too.

Signs of Distress

In long term relationships, I think all couples go through some sort of variation on “losing the spark”. Eventually we realize we have got caught up in running a household and raising a family (the world of operations), and we have lost sight of each other as a couple.

What matters is how far things are gone before we really notice, and what we do about it.

People talk about how communication forms the foundation for any relationship, and that becomes especially true when we recognize problems. People are different, so often one person will be the first to really notice “a problem”.

When this happens the biggest mistake people can make is to do nothing.

From reading books and other blogs, often women are the first to get the sense that something has gone wrong (us guys tend to be oblivious). It’s not always women noticing first, and the relationship may not even be a woman and a man – but let’s assume it is for this example.

She notices *something* has gone wrong by realizing that she isn’t really happy.

Maybe she says something to her partner, but he doesn’t get it. He hears her, but doesn’t understand. He thinks, “I love you, I’m providing for my family and I’m a good parent, I don’t understand what the problem is. I’m being a good partner here.”

He is stuck in the world of operations. Those things are important for keeping the relationship going, but not for keeping it ALIVE.

When she says something another response is to get defensive. Having his partner say “I’m not happy here” become misinterpreted, and in his head it becomes “you aren’t a good partner” causing him to start to withdraw (hey, we are emotional creatures and can be a bit sensitive sometimes).

A worse situation is when she doesn’t say anything at all. Rather, she pretends she’s happy and tries figuring out what is wrong on her own. All the while resentment towards her partner is growing, and he doesn’t even know anything is wrong.

Actually guys may be dumb, but we’re not stupid (mostly). So he has picked up on the fact that something is wrong, but he thinks it’s just a phase that will pass, or he completely misreads the severity of things. After all, they’re a couple and they’re committed to a life together, right?

Hah. Unfortunately life isn’t that simple.

Accepting a Problem

When it comes to relationships people REALLY don’t like to accept the existence of problems, so they deny it for as long as they possibly can. People are stubborn, and our natural response to things is to look for things to blame reasons, and we really don’t like change.

Eventually though, we accept that there’s some kind of problem.

I once read that most couples get to a counselor about 2 years later than they should have, and I believe it.

For the person who “caught on” late, they’re hurt and a little scared, so they do what they can to try and make things better. But by now the relationship is caught up in the resentment that comes with negative momentum, so there is a risk that the partner who noticed things first has withdrawn from the relationship, and ignores the efforts to improve things. They think it feels forced, and not genuine.

The couple is now in a downward spiral that does not have a happy ending unless they can both buy in that they want things to improve. And if they do, they need to realize that yeah, things will seem a bit forced at first – but that doesn’t make it any less real.

Digging Out

A LOT of relationships fail at this point. And a lot more stay together, accepting the “truth” that this is normal and long term relationships are simply doomed to a loss of love. Some are fine with a somewhat happy existence, and others stay together in name only – basically living separate lives.

I think there’s more to life than that. I think your relationship should be a source of joy. You should WANT to spent time with your partner whenever you can. After a long day at work, you should look forward to getting home and seeing their face. You should want to share experiences with them. And no matter how long you have been together, nothing should feel as good as being with your partner, holding each other and knowing you’ll never let each other go.

To get back to that spot, you need to focus on the relationship. Day to day life will always be there, but that can’t be your only interactions. You can’t use that as an excuse to not nurture the relationship.

Like a business that monitors it’s day to day health while having a plan for the future, the relationship HAS to become a priority. You need time focused on each other. You need to not only maintain the relationship, but build it.

Do things together.

I don’t think couples intentionally take each other for granted. Most couples will SAY “of course the relationship is a priority. Of course my partner is a priority”.

But actions speak louder than words.

Think back to my earlier question:

Look at your interactions with your partner. Look at the hours you spend together. How much of it is actually focused on them? How much time are you investing in being a couple?

Now ask yourself how much time you think you should be spending on being a couple. Everything needs some sort of sustenance and maintenance to survive, and relationships are no different in this regard.

If you feel the spark has been lost, rest assured that you aren’t alone. Many, many couples go through the same thing. But as long as there is still a flicker, no matter how faint, you can rebuild a flame.

But it’s up to you to do it. If your relationship is a priority, don’t let that only be in words. Back your words with action, and focus on it again. And this time, don’t let it go.

Emotional Walls

brick-walls

Over my last few posts I have been exploring attachment and emotional intimacy. Emotional intimacy is what brings couples together. We all want to feel loved and valued. We all want to be accepted for who we are, quirks and all.

In Building Closeness and Intimacy I looked at how emotional intimacy, or closeness is initially created. There really is no secret science to building closeness. It requires mutual self-disclosure (that’s a fancy term for sharing information about each other). It requires opening up and letting the other person in. That’s a simple fact, and at least on some level anyone who has been in a relationship know this.

I’m not sure if anyone ever lets the other person “fully in” to their world, but the degree to which we do determines the degree of satisfaction we can have in our relationships. So why is it so hard sometimes to let other people in? Why do we build walls, and hold back in a relationship?

When we are talking about dating, it’s understandable that we don’t let other people in. Trust takes time to build, and as the relationship develops the walls we build around ourselves should come down.

But what about marriages or other long term relationships? If you are able to commit to life with someone, should that mean you are able to let them in?

Impacts of “Holding Back”

Unfortunately that’s not always the case. Even in marriages and long term relationships, we don’t always let our partners in. We all have our secrets; moments in our lives that we aren’t proud of or moments that we wish we could forget. In some cases there are parts of our past that we have actually been able to block out, and convince ourselves never happened.
Allowing other people into access to our hearts and souls doesn’t require us to reveal every secret, but we do need to let our chosen partners in. As individuals we choose how close we are willing to let other people get to us, and how much of us we are willing to let them know.

Here’s the problem with holding back though. It limits the depth of emotional connection we are able to achieve and limits our ability to experience satisfaction in our relationships.
This is summed up in a great quote from this article:

Keeping your guard up in a relationship is guaranteed to keep the love out too.

This reminds me of Brene Browns thoughts on numbing behaviors (from “The Gifts of Imperfection”). She said that we can’t numb selectively. If we are numbing ourselves from negative emotions, we end up numbing ourselves to positive emotions as well. So if you are holding back in a relationship, you are effectively limiting your ability to love.

This makes absolutely no sense to me. If you love someone and want a life with them, why hold back? Why have a fraction of the happiness and joy in a relationship that you could potentially have? Holding back definitely limits the satisfaction we can have, so why do people do it?

Protection against Being hurt

The most common and obvious reason people hold back in relationships is to protect themselves from being hurt.

We’ve all been hurt, and the people we love are the ones who have the ability to hurt us the most. It’s a terrible feeling, and when hurt it’s understandable to want to protect ourselves from being hurt again.

One way to do this is not allowing yourself to get too attached. After all, if you never fully let go then you don’t allow yourself to be vulnerable enough to be hurt. It’s a form of self-protection. But it’s flawed, because it results in a self-fulfilling prophecy.

You aren’t letting people in because you are protecting yourself. But doing this means you are never able to develop strong emotional attachment. As a result your relationship ends up feeling lacking, as if something is missing. The distance that has been built in ends up acting as a barrier to love.

There are two main flavors of this:

  • Broken trust in the existing relationship. Trust is a very fragile thing. Some of us find it easier to trust than other, but once trust is lost it is very hard to rebuild. It takes time, and while it is being rebuilt it is easy to become hyper-sensitive, seeing shadows in every corner. Here’s the thing though, if you are looking for reasons to not trust someone, you will always find them. It’s easy to read too much into things and misinterpret simple (positive) words and actions in a negative way.
  • Baggage from prior relationship. To me this is a really unfortunate situation. I commonly hear stories where someone has been badly hurt in a prior relationship, and because of that they decide (normally at a subconscious level) to never let that happen again. They protect themselves by walling themselves off emotionally, never giving the next person a fair chance.

Issues with Identity

Holding back due to prior hurts makes sense. It’s unproductive and does more damage than good, but it’s understandable. As I looked into reasons why people hold back in relationships, one thing that surprised me is it can happen due to issues with identity.

If someone doesn’t have a strong sense of identity, they may hold back out of a belief that if they allow someone else to get too close they will become dependent, or they will “lose control”. They fear losing their own identity in the other person, so they hold back from the relationship in order to preserve their sense of self.

Another variation on this is a fear of acceptance for who you are. In discussing this, a buddy of mine related the following story:

I feared the other person wouldn’t accept me for who I am, so I suppressed myself and conformed to what the other person wanted. The phrase “everything to everybody” sums it up. The problem is that you don’t feel accepted for who you are, so you never feel comfortable around the other person. You never relax and just be yourself as you are always vigilant for signs of rejection. I never asserted myself with others in fear of offending them with who I am. I never was accepted for who I was, and therefore, I never accepted who I was either, which led to self-loathing.

It is similar to the fear of losing yourself in the other person, as both have the fear of acceptance and rejection at the heart of the issue. They just manifest differently.

The “all or nothing” thinking came from my negative view of reality. It is a cognitive distortion and it was part of my depression. My fear was that if a person didn’t like one part of me, they would hate all of me. There was no in between. It’s not a realistic view and my cognitive behavioral therapy deals with this all or nothing thinking and changed my perspective to that which is realistic. A person may not like a part of me, but still like the other parts.

In one case someone holds back because they are afraid of losing themselves. In the other case someone holds back because they are afraid of not being accepted. There is a belief that if someone got to know the “real you” they wouldn’t love you.

Interestingly both scenarios are symptomatic of people who do not have a strong sense of identity. When you are comfortable with yourself, then you can see that another person is able to enhance your identity. You don’t fear losing your identity, and instead see a relationship as being beneficial to both parties.

Fear

In my last post where I talked about attachment styles I mentioned that anxiety and avoidance levels are the two primary characteristics leading to unhealthy attachment. People with high levels of either tend to have more issues in relationships, and it is very common for people with avoidant personality types to hold back in intimate relationships.

When you look at the reasons for holding back, at their root they all come down to fear. It may be fear of getting hurt, fear of rejection, fear of losing their identity, fear of dependency, fear of losing control, or even fear of your own feelings.

All of these lead to holding back due to a fear of intimacy itself, and this is seen most clearly in anxious or avoidant personality types. They both want and fear intimacy, and as a result they hold back. Or when too much closeness occurs, they push their partner away. It creates an emotional distance that results in them either being alone, or living largely as two people leading separate lives.

keepingguardup

People have talked about love being like a drug, and the early stages of love can definitely feel that way. But if love is a drug, then anxiety and avoidance is the antidote.

In his book “Monkey Mind: A Memoir of Anxiety”, Danial Smith talks about how for him falling in love was the magical cure for his anxiety. But it is a cure that never lasts.

Unfortunately, what an anxiety disorder does to love is far more consequential than what love can do to the disorder. Anxiety is a wily, reactive affliction; it often recedes in response to positive life events. But it seldom recedes for long. Like acne or arthritis, anxiety is always lying in wait, ready to flare back up. My anxiety came back shortly after Joanna moved in with me and when it did it quickly consumed our relationship.

In his story, Danial Smith tells how his anxiety made him hold back, and question everything. He ended up losing the love of his life, because he wasn’t sure if he even loved her. His story has a happy ending (spoiler alert!!!). He conquers his anxiety, or perhaps it’s more accurate to say that he learns how to deal with in in such a way that it no longer controls his life. And in the process he was able to win back the girl he had lost.

Learning to Let go

We all want to be loved, accepted, valued and cared for. And I think that all of us hope to find someone to be with “happily ever after, till death do us part”. But when we hold back in relationships, we are not only sabotaging our relationships, but also our happiness and our future.

At it’s root, holding back is about fear. So ask yourself, what are you really afraid of? Losing yourself? Are you afraid of rejection? Are you afraid of being hurt?

My buddy was afraid he wouldn’t be accepted for who he was, so he tried to be what he thought everyone else wanted. He was afraid of rejection. When he finally learned to let go, he found that the people who loved him loved “him”. They cared about the person he was, not just the one he portrayed.

If you are in a relationship and you are holding back or hiding yourself, you need to ask yourself if you are holding back from the people you love, or from yourself? If your loved ones accept the bits of you they have seen, why would you not believe they would love you as you are? No one is perfect. We all have our quirks. Part of love is accepting the other person and loving them for who they are.

Some people who hold back blame their partner. They convince themselves that maybe it’s their partner. Maybe they would be able to let go with someone else, if they could just find the right person. Your partner may contribute, but usually it’s something inside the person themselves.

There’s a saying, garbage in, garbage out. You only get out of life what you put into it. When you hold back, you limit your potential happiness and your future.

If you have built up walls, you are the only one who can decide if you will ever let them come down.

walls

If you have someone who loves you even with those walls, imagine how much stronger it could be if you would let them in. When you hold back, you may believe you are protecting yourself. But consider the cost.

So make the choice to let someone in. Allow yourself to be vulnerable and allow yourself to be hurt. And guess what, you probably will be. We often hurt those that we love. But better to have a strong, pure love where you accept that there will be issues, and know that you will get through them together.