Posted by Pascal on January 15, 2020 at 8:39
With the exception of a very small minority, we all want to be happy with our partners. Very few of us want to get in a relationship just to sabotage it. Nor do we wish to add drama, heartache and stress to our lives. We get in relationships because we are looking for companionship, safety, and support. We are hoping to grow, share, learn, discover, love, and feel loved. Even heal, sometimes.
With so many of us agreeing on what makes a good relationship, finding one that makes us happy should be easy.
But it isn’t.
Instead of this peaceful, straightforward enterprise, we often find ourselves sad, disappointed and alone. There we are, freshly out of another relationship. Wondering where things went wrong yet again. And how many times we’ll need to repeat this heartbreaking process before finding someone we can be happy with.
On top of that, we sometimes have to face another unpleasant reality: If this relationship failed, it could be because of us. Ourselves. And the fears that we bring to our interactions with our partners.
Realizing this is hard. It requires a lot of honesty. But it is a first, crucial step to building better relationships. Better relationships with others, sure. But just as importantly, a better relationship with ourselves.
Our fears are deep-rooted. They go back, way back in fact, to a time when we were simply not equipped to deal with them.
Growing up, we may have lacked the emotional support and attention we needed. Maybe we were neglected by authority figures. Or maybe we didn’t receive the affection and guidance we craved as a young child. This could directly translate to feelings of loneliness, according to Michelle Skeen, author of Love Me, Don't Leave Me: Overcoming Fear of Abandonment and Building Lasting, Loving Relationships.
Grown ups who become demanding and closed off could be the direct result of this childhood pain. Likewise, adults who can’t open to, and trust others, or who are overly vigilant in their relationships can be the result of a childhood environment where they couldn’t trust people around them.
In the same vein, some of us lack positive role-models for what a healthy relationship should be. In our family and tribe, the default setting for a relationship could be one of gloom and doom. One where we more readily accept silence and sorrow than empathy and encouragement. And since humans are social creatures, we tend to replicate what others around us do. To consider this as the norm. Thus, developing a healthy, mature relationship could bring us discomfort. It might be too unusual for us. And more importantly, it could feel like a betrayal of our tribe.
Finally, there could have been someone around us who was jealous of our successes. A best friend, jealous of us having our first boyfriend. A mother, overly critical of our first partner. So, a long time ago, we learned that downplaying our achievements and happiness was the safest option. One that protected us from their envy and harsh comments.
And many years later, in a strange Pavlovian reflex, we learned to associate fear with safety, and happy relationships with danger.
It could sound paradoxical, but a fear of happiness could be the reason we keep sabotaging our relationships.
This explains why some of us balk at the first hint of things going well our relationship. Just when we feel a relationship is too comfortable, we stop responding to text messages, become distant, or start an affair.
Comforting and nurturing relationships are just not what we are used to. When we have been surrounded by worry and pessimism all our life, happiness is liable to make us panic. Struggling with our relationship feels more normal. Being too happy in a relationship rings some alarm bells, while being abandoned is the default setting. The one we are looking to revert to.
Besides, “knowing” how bad the world really is could lead us to developing a falsely comforting sense of superiority from it. Thoughts like “pessimism is intellectually better,” and “Optimists are simpleminded fools” can wrap our perception of the world even more.
The result? We seek out people who view the world through a pessimistic lens. We become overly critical, as this seems intellectually superior. We may even be aware that our criticism is sabotaging our relationships but find it too hard to change. This is what we do, who we are.
What is the next step? Once we are conscious that our fears are the cause of our relationship problems, how do we deal with them?
The first thing to realize is that these are deep-rooted fears. They developed at a time when we were too young and vulnerable to deal with them.
But we are not anymore.
We need to stop worrying about our present relationships and using them as a proxy for past traumas. The tricky part is that our relationship anxiety might not even stem from a trauma related to relationships. Any trauma, if not dealt with, can be the cause of our current relationship fears. And so, for some of us, it means digging deep in the past to get to the root of these traumas.
Gradually, with patience, understanding, and support, we will learn to appreciate the good parts of our relationships. Instead of worrying about what could happen, we will enjoy the present for what it brings us. A gelato on the beach with our special someone even when we are not sure if they like us back. A glass of wine with our partner without comparing ourselves to their ex. Or a romantic dinner with our new boyfriend even when there is nothing to celebrate.
Enjoying the little moments of happiness in our relationship is a sign of maturity. The ability to let ourselves be satisfied by the good times is an achievement. And there is nothing stupid about that.
It doesn’t mean pushing all our worries away either. There are things we should worry about. Just a lot less than we believed.
Fears and a healthy level of worrying can help us prepare for bad situations. They soften the blow when someone breaks up with us, since we expected it and were prepared for it. Being hypervigilant and “too careful” lets us know that something is amiss in our relationship before we would otherwise notice.
Fear is safe.
But the truly brave thing to do is not to prepare for everything that could go wrong.
The courageous move is to dare to lower our defenses. To resist the urge to sabotage our relationship when there is nothing wrong with it. It is to open the door to loving and peaceful relationships. To take account of everything that is going right and enjoy the good times for what they are.
The truly brave thing is to accept that every so often, surprisingly, there truly is nothing to worry about.