The woman in my office was in tears. She’d just had a romantic Valentine’s Day celebration with someone she’d been seeing for the past year. They had talked about the thrill of finding each other, the joy in their intimate connection, the excitement about sharing their lives. It sounded just like being in love. So why the tears?
“I’ve been here before,” she said. Twice, in fact. She was with her first true love for 14 years. Her second love lasted for 10 years. So now, at #3, she wondered, Should I trust these feelings, again? She also wondered, How can I make this one last, when I couldn’t before?
It’s a dilemma. How do you let yourself relax into the happiness of the present when you’re scared about your past? How do you handle love, joy, and insecurity all at the same time?
I think it’s time to trust all your feelings, not just the ones you want to have. Lean into the insecurity, instead of trying to make it go away. After all, you’d be nuts to pretend there isn’t some risk here. The problem is, any time you let yourself really want something, you face the fact that it would really hurt to lose it. But what’s the alternative? Don’t open your heart, so you won’t hurt later? Don’t let yourself hope, so you won’t be disappointed?
The truth is that there are many ways a new relationship may not work out, and some of them have nothing to do with you. People have car accidents, health problems, ailing parents or children, career opportunities in different cities, traumatic events that can change a life in a moment. It’s just part of the human condition.
So first, a little appreciation for anxiety. Anxiety can keep you from doing stupid things, like moving in with someone on your second date because you just feel so…..amazing! Anxiety can also keep you on your toes so you don’t drift into avoidance patterns that will deaden your relationship. Additionally, anxiety and excitement are close relatives. Kayaking wouldn’t be much fun if you felt perfectly safe on the rapids. Anxiety is what makes you sit up, pay attention, and give it your best effort.
Age and previous experiences can actually improve your best efforts. Relationship hindsight can be brutally clear–it’s not usually that hard to see what went wrong. People often say they drifted apart, or got caught up in work/school/children/family demands. They stopped engaging with each other, and moved their relationship to the bottom of the priorities heap. They thought “Once we get through this (fill in the blank) it will get better.” Of course, it didn’t.
But by now you’ve been there, done that, and hopefully want to try something different. Among the many suggestions for nurturing love and romance, two stand out for me: be positive, and turn toward each other.
Being positive seems like a no-brainer, but you may be surprised at just how positive you need to be. Research suggests that a ratio of 5:1, positive-to-negative, is ideal. So if you start the day with a snippy comment, you need to look for 5 different chances to say or do something positive. Yes, that does take some effort…but it’s worth it! Thinking about what you appreciate and admire about her is a good start.
Turning toward a partner means responding to her efforts to connect with you. When someone says “Hello” in the hallway, and most of us respond, nod and smile, maybe engage in a little chit-chat. Few of us would deliberately turn away by ignoring the greeting, and even fewer would turn against her and get antagonistic.
And yet many couples lapse into patterns of turning away from each other. She wants to cook dinner together, you want to watch TV. You want to make plans, she likes to let things happen. She wants to ask about your day, you want to go on Facebook. You want to connect sexually, she gets busy with other plans. That’s turning away, and it definitely does not nurture your relationship.
Of course, you can’t and shouldn’t stay tuned in to another person 24-7. Talk about feeling like you’re losing yourself! But you do need to pay attention to bids for connection. And how are you responding to those bids? Turning toward her, or turning away?
If you’re falling in love, again, give yourself a pat on the back. You’re brave to be opening your heart, you’re wise to be a little anxious, and you’re smart to be positive and turn toward her. Nothing is guaranteed, but you can really improve the odds by being positive, appreciative, and responsive to her bids for attention.