“Be messy and complicated and afraid and show up anyways.” ~Glennon Doyle Melton
When I was younger, I assumed that when I found the ideal person for me and was in my ideal relationship, it was going to be easy, and I was going to feel comfortable and safe all the time.
I would be floating on clouds, feeling blissful and light, and I’d love everything that person did all the time. That’s what being with ‘The One’ would feel like. I have come to learn, through countless emotional outbursts, anxious moments, doubt-filled thoughts, hard conversations, and extreme emotional discomfort, that my belief of the ideal relationship was pretty misguided.
When I met my boyfriend, I knew he was what I had been searching for. He was open, loving, honest, kind, caring, and funny, and his spirit just sparkled through his eyes. However, I was nervous.
I knew from all I had learned about relationships that they bring up emotional stuff, enabling us to heal wounds we may not have identified if someone else hadn't triggered them. I knew I was going to learn a lot from this beautiful soul, but I didn’t expect the anxiety that came up within me once things began to get serious.
At times I felt extremely co-dependent and didn’t want him to spend too much time out of the house, or working, or pursuing his passions, even though I knew it was healthy and normal for him to do that.
I would keep track of how many hours he was away and would share how hard it was for me to trust him. We would talk openly about my feelings and issues because I never blamed him or asked him to change his actions. I just knew that I had to communicate what was going on for me in order to sort out my feelings and for us to be able to work together on healing.
Before we met I’d wanted this open communication and healing in a partnership, and I knew this is what real relationships were all about, but that didn’t make bringing my wall down any easier. Our conversations and my fears would bring things up for him, as well—emotions and fears from his past and how he felt controlled and supressed by me now.
I now believe that the ideal relationship doesn’t always feel comfortable, but you always feel comfortable and safe sharing with your partner, no matter how long you’ve been together.
I have grown to realize that all relationships have stages. When we meet someone new and begin spending time with them, these stages can seem scary and can inflict doubt. I hope to shed some light on these stages and help you feel more comfortable with experiencing them for yourself.
First Stage: New Relationship Bliss
The first stage in most new relationships is bliss! We are perfect, the other person is perfect, and the relationship just flows. You make time for one another however you can, you communicate with each other constantly, and it just feels easy.
There are no triggers or things the other person does to upset you, the attraction is unreal, and you think, “This is it! I found them! My person. Finally. I can rest.”
Even with my anxiety and fear, I managed to feel this with my boyfriend. We talked every day. I’d get my “good morning beautiful” text when I was at work, the “how is your day going?” message at lunch, and then we’d talk or see each other on most nights.
We each put forth equal effort to get to know one another, and I was open and loving toward any part of his behavior. I had patience, understanding, and joy in getting to know his quirks, thoughts, and patterns, and he had seemingly limitless energy to listen to me, talk to me, and sympathize with my emotions.
This first stage sets a foundation for the relationship and builds connection, but there’s just one small problem: It never seems to last! Does this mean we aren’t meant to stay with that person? Nope. Not at all.
Though it can feel very much like this, it only means that your relationship is changing, and that’s okay. It’s completely natural, and this process of change is what takes us into an even deeper connection if both partners are open to going there.
Second Stage: The Inevitable Turn (When One Person’s Fear Shows Up)
So what exactly is happening when the dreaded, inevitable “shift” happens? You know the one. We feel like the other person is either pulling away or becoming more controlling, our “good morning, have a good day” messages have become less frequent or stopped, and we feel like we are becoming distant from each other.
There’s a big shift when our comfort level eventually builds in a relationship and we let our guard down a bit. This seems to be the perfect time for our fear to kick in. This is what happed in my relationship.
One day, my “good morning beautiful” message didn’t show up, the next week my boyfriend had plans besides spending hours with me on Friday night, and our conversations dwindled a bit. My emotional triggers went crazy, and all of a sudden my past fears of emotional and physical abandonment kicked in.
I no longer felt emotionally stable, relaxed, or happy. I was upset all the time, I felt anxious and taken advantage of, and my mind came up with a million reasons as to why this treatment wasn’t fair.
I felt like I was the “crazy, needy girl” who wasn’t okay with her partner doing normal things. And I wondered all the time why things had changed. Was it something I did wrong? Did I expect too much? Was I being completely unreasonable, or did I just have too much baggage?
Most of the time we aren’t aware of what’s really going on; we just notice we feel differently. We might think it’s because our partner’s behavior has changed, but what’s really going on is that our past has crept into this new relationship.
Our past fears, hurts, and childhood wounds have surfaced for more healing, and if we aren’t aware of this, our new, wonderful, blissful relationship begins to feel just like the rest of them: disappointing, suffocating, abandoning, unsupportive, untrustworthy, and unloving.
The appearance of this fear is a natural, necessary step in any relationship, though, and we need to embrace it rather than run away from it. This is when a lot of relationships end, but they don’t have to if both partners want to stay and build on this stage.
Third Stage: Communicating the Fear
After years of discomfort, spiritual work, counseling, healing, and reading I’ve learned that we must communicate our fear, whether we are the one who experiences it first or the one who sees the change and doesn’t know why.
You can start the conversations by saying something like “I’ve felt a shift in the energy of our relationship, and I’m feeling anxious about this change. I’m even nervous to talk to you about it because I don’t want to put pressure on you, but I need to communicate what’s going on for me. Can we talk about this a bit?”
This can be challenging if we aren’t aware of what is really going on, but let that shift, that change, that first feeling of doubt be your signal that fear has entered the relationship. And know that it’s okay for it to be there!
Every time I felt upset I had to force myself to bring up my fear of our relationship ending, fear of being abandoned, and fear that we would never connect on a deep level. There is no shame in having these fears, and it’s not a sign that the relationship is doomed.
The fear is there as a message. It’s asking to be listened to and it is a gift necessary for our own growth. When we share our fear, and own that part of us, we’re not blaming the other person. We don’t share our fears to have the other person change, or to have them fix us, but merely to allow our hearts to open up.
By owning our stuff, we are taking care of our own healing, and this is what keeps our past from damaging the relationship in the future. It’s how we clear our past patterns and allow ourselves to move forward in a new and healthy way with someone else.
The best part is that we get to see how our partners handle this as well. Our relationships need this stage and this shift from the easy, wonderful bliss, because without it, our bonds would never grow.
If things are easy all the time, where is the room for true, deep intimacy? How do we learn to truly support our significant others, and ourselves, if we never experience pain, anxiety, anger, or annoyance?
We don’t, and that’s why after years of being with someone, we can feel like we don’t know them. If we’ve remained closed off and worked our hardest to keep things going smoothly, we only know that level. And the truth is there are deeper, richer, more intimate layers to us as humans and to our relationships.
Once you have opened your heart and begun communication around your fear, a small amount of vulnerability has been introduced into the relationship, and there is room for your partner to do the same. There is room for you to grow together.
It’s never too early to begin communicating our fears. If we wait for the problem to just go away, we essentially keep the cycle of anxiety, doubt, and tension going, because our actions, words, and energy reflect our uneasiness in the relationship.
I opened up to my partner two weeks into dating about my anxiety, fears, and panicked thoughts about seeming needy and wanting too much. I told him I was scared I was going to push him away.
When I opened up and took responsibility for my feelings, it brought us closer together. Acknowledging my anxiety without expecting him to change anything diffused the tension within our relationship, and I believe this is why we are still together today.
I don’t demand anything of him; I share my feelings, no matter how strong they are, and then he has space to make decisions based on that knowledge and to communicate his own feelings.
Stay connected to yourself and speak your truth—the whole, messy, amazing truth. Let your partner see the whole you, quirks and all, and enjoy taking your walls down together, brick by brick.