I recently had a lunch date with a friend, during which she told me about her great new relationship that’s totally fulfilling and inspiring and loving and comfortable. I could see in the way she spoke about him how good she feels. But as we spoke more, she confessed that despite her joy in the relationship, she can feel fear creeping into her thoughts: “What if he finds someone better than me?”
I have experienced this fear SO MANY times in relationships, and it absolutely was the culprit of the demise of some of them. In freshman year of college, I began my first real, grown up relationship with a wonderful, loving guy who I thought was super cool. He played in a band, he was really hot, he had good style, he liked cool, indie music and art, and above all he was funny, sensitive, and kind. I loved going to support him at his shows and he would come see me in my plays, we would go to concerts and museums on the weekends, and we spent most weekend nights together for the year and a half of our relationship. We were so incredibly in love, and we had an amazing time together.
At some point, though, fear came into play. According to A Course in Miracles, which is what Gabrielle Bernstein’s teachings are based on, FEAR is False Evidence Appearing Real. We create false perceptions, which lead to false projections, which alter our experience of reality. It’s like an alarm system went off in my head: things were going too well; how could I be so happy and have this great guy who loved me as much as I loved him? These thoughts began to take over my life with him. I convinced myself that he was way cooler than me, and that he couldn’t possibly want me when there were so many gorgeous girls who were on his same level, which I clearly wasn’t.
I now know that this was my fear creating an “idol” out of him. As Gabrielle Bernstein says in her book Spirit Junkie,
“An idol is someone you make better than yourself, your friends, and your family. You believe your idol is your source of happiness.”
Putting so much pressure on him to be the source of my happiness pushed him away in a million little ways. I doubted myself and I doubted his feelings. I chose fights because I couldn’t identify the root of these emotions and couldn’t communicate effectively. I compared our relationship to others’, and always convinced myself that ours was lacking. (A cringeworthy example of this perception taking over: on a weekend away with another couple, I drunkenly sobbed, picked a fight and threw food at him after witnessing the kissing and cuddling of the other, very new and honeymoon-phase couple. Not good.)
Ladies and gents, this is called SELF-SABOTAGE. Yes, we broke up because we couldn’t stop fighting. Yes, I blamed myself and all of my perceived faults. Yes, I was devastated. But THANK GOD, because that devastation was what drove me to go to my life-changing therapist, Roger. Through Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, he helped me transform my thoughts around this relationship, and that was the first step on a long road (that I’m still travelling) to becoming a woman whose thoughts don’t have to control her actions.
The most important tool that I took away from that therapy was this: when I find myself in a downward spiral of thoughts, I pause and ask myself, “What’s the worst that can happen?” By imagining the worst and its repercussions, it becomes something more concrete and manageable, rather than an abstract concept of pain and suffering that stretches seemingly to infinity.
Since that relationship, I have had a few other important men in my life with whom I have had to return to the tools I learned with Roger in therapy. Without the funds for expensive therapy, when I needed new ideas to help me deal with my fears, I read books. Gabrielle Bernstein’s Spirit Junkie and Elizabeth Gilbert’s Committed were two extremely helpful ones that I still reference when I need guidance in my relationship with Luca. Spirit Junkie gets to the root of the problem, our fears, and helps to release them, whereas Committed takes the pressure off of our Western idea of marriage: the notion that the ideal partner should be our EVERYTHING.
Now that I have the tools to work on my issues and confront them head-on, I am much more secure in myself. By working on myself first, I have become more confident, a better partner, and am able to love more fully without fear getting in the way. I am not dependent on Luca for fulfillment and happiness, but rather he is an added source of pleasure, support, and companionship. I don’t need him, I want him. It lets Luca off the hook, and taking that kind of pressure off of our relationship is liberating and freeing for both of us.
If you find yourself in a downward spiral of fears, confront them head-on to make them less daunting by asking yourself, “What’s the worst that can happen?”
And above all, don’t put so much pressure on your partner to be your everything. Be your own everything.