Dear Bride (or Groom),
In my last letter to you I wrote:
Stay the course, feel your difficult feelings, challenge the false thoughts, and you, too, will land on the sandy shores with your sweet beloved by your side.
You're probably wondering what that means, so let's break it down:
1. Stay the course:
Start to become comfortable with the idea that you're making a choice to stay in this relationship even though you're feeling anxious. The more you accept that the choice to stay is just that -- a choice -- and not a predestined event sanctioned by a higher power, the more easily you will work through your anxiety.
One of the crucial differences between those who work through relationship anxiety and those who remain stuck is the ability to remove the projection from your partner that says, "I'm anxious because I'm with the wrong guy (or girl). If I was with the right person, I wouldn't feel anxious and I would be happily engaged and excitedly planning my wedding." This is the lie you're telling yourself so that you don't have to dive into the deeper, more uncomfortable feelings. As long as the problem is your partner, you have an easy escape hatch from your anxiety.
But, if you're like most people who find their way to my virtual doorstep, you've struggled with anxiety most of your life. This means that the anxiety lives inside of you, and if you were to leave your wonderful partner, you might experience temporary relief but the anxiety would find you within weeks or months. The anxiety is a flare sent up from your inner self, saying, "Pay attention! I need help! Listen to me!" If you assign the cause of your anxiety to your choice of partner, you're barking up the wrong tree (unless, of course, there are real red-flag issues in the relationship like addiction, abuse, or gross misalignment of core values).
2. Feel your difficult feelings:
Once you take full responsibility for your anxiety, you can start to dive in to the murky terrain of your inner landscape and explore what's living there. This is not easy work, and it requires understanding that feeling grief, loss, fear, vulnerability and loneliness are inherent to any life transition.
As you let go of your identity and lifestyle as a single person, separate from your family of origin (even if you haven't lived at home in years), contemplate what it means to make a lifetime commitment and leap into the unknown, it's normal to feel loss and fear. The more you allow yourself to feel these uncomfortable feelings instead of distracting from them through focusing on the planning or attaching to your negative thoughts, the more quickly they will pass through you and you'll experience the joy, excitement, and clarity that you're longing to feel.
3. Challenge the false thoughts:
There are two types of false thoughts that you'll need to challenge, with a different protocol for each type:
a. Unrealistic expectations of romance and marriage:
Thoughts that fall under this category include:
• "If I really love him (or her), I would feel 100 percent certain about being with him and would never feel doubt."
• "True love means feeling 'that feeling.' I should miss him terribly when he's away and experience fireworks and butterflies when he walks in the door."
• "If I really loved him, I wouldn't feel anxious."
b. Personal false beliefs about love:
Everyone carries a love script about intimate relationships learned from either the original blueprint of your parents' marriage, peer experiences and/or your first love relationships. These beliefs about love may include:
• "Love isn't safe. If I love someone, I'll get hurt."
• "Love means losing myself or giving myself up in some way. Love is engulfing, and intimate lovers only want to suck me dry, like a vampire."
• "If someone really gets to know me, they won't like me and they'll reject me."
• "I'm not worthy of real love."
• "Love never lasts."
I know this isn't anything like how you expected your engagement to unfold. I know you expected to be flying high, or at least to feel excited about your wedding day and marriage. Everything in our culture, from the time you were 2 years old, has set you up to believe that this would be so. But the truth is that, for many people, transitions are doorways into wholeness, opportunities to excavate deep-seated false beliefs and untended wounded so that you can heal them and experience greater joy and fulfillment on the other side of the transition. Most people don't know this, and how would they? Nothing in our culture prepares us for this reality. More on this to come...
Hang on, dear Bride (or Groom!), hang on. If you follow these steps, it will get easier. I promise.
Sheryl Paul, M.A., has counseled thousands of people worldwide through her private practice, her best-selling books, her Home Study Programs and her websites. She has appeared several times on "The Oprah Winfrey Show" as well as on "Good Morning America" and other top media shows and publications around the globe. To sign up for her free 78-page eBook, "Conscious Transitions: The 7 Most Common (and Traumatic) Life Changes," visit her website at http://conscious-transitions.com. And if you're suffering from relationship anxiety -= whether dating, engaged, or married -- give yourself the gift of the Conscious Weddings E-Course: From Anxiety to Serenity.