Hello everybody, welcome to episode 128 of Optimal Living Advice, the podcast where we take any questions you might have about the many struggles of life and get them answered for you here on the show. I’m your host, certified life coach Greg Audino. Happy to have everyone here today. Hope you’re all feeling good. If not, well that’s part of life isn’t it? And if that doesn’t satisfy you, then have no fear because today’s episode will be a good discussion about the ups and downs of feeling good and feeling bad – particularly when we’re trying to recover from a learning a difficult truth about a relationship we’re in. Intrigued to hear more about relationship anxiety? I hope so. Here’s today’s great question…
QUESTION: “Right now I’m struggling with anxiety. Recently, I learned a pretty dark truth about my relationship that completely shattered my trust in my partner. Months have passed, and we decided to work through it and stay together. But sometimes I still get attacked by these floods of intrusive thoughts about what happened, and they completely change my mood to become anxious, irritable, and suspicious. I would love to be able to master control over my thoughts. I know they say you are what you think. I struggle with accepting the past as unchangeable, and controlling these somewhat random attacks of horrible thoughts.”
“Working Through” Relationship Anxiety
Thank you for sending this good, honest question in. I really appreciate the vulnerability you’re exhibiting and how you’re in a place to take responsibility right now and explore how you can react to these past events differently as opposed to asking your partner to do something different. That’s pretty significant, and a good foot to start off on.
You mentioned that you two have decided to work through it and stay together – which is good for you guys. However, I’m inclined to ask how much “working through” is still going on as the months continue to pass.
Many couples in situations like these either don’t talk through them at all, or talk through them just enough until there’s a flash of feeling better, at which point it’s easy to say, “We’re over it, let’s throw in the towel and move forward!”
This happens because it’s tough to talk about these things, and both parties are eager to move forward and be convinced of the fact that there’s no longer a problem. This is especially prevalent in young and new couples, as the desire to live in a fantasy of everything being okay all the time is very strong and still feels somewhat attainable.
So bad feelings that come back after once feeling resolved even for a moment are swept under the rug and ignored for any number of reasons – not wanting to be a nuisance, telling ourselves they’re untrue, hating the feeling of taking a step backwards, and so on.
Healing Processes Aren't Linear
But healing processes aren’t often so linear, so if you’ve prematurely ended talks with your partner about how troubling this past event is to you, it’s time to start being communicative about that again, and fast.
These conversations don’t have to be dramatic meltdowns or arguments, but simply honest exchanges about how you’re not feeling as settled as you thought you were, and that there’s still some self-work to do (which I doubt you’d disagree with since you’ve submitted this question).
So I guess the two things to talk about would be:
- the self-work itself, and
- the nature of those conversations with your partner.
Let’s start with the self-work, and some questions you can reflect on by yourself, though of course a therapist would be a great resource in this scenario, too.
There’s a lot to be said about this “you are what you think” philosophy.
Yes, typically what you’re putting into your brain is what you can expect to get out. But that definitely does not mean that you should try to muscle out bad thoughts, because that never works. In terms of “you are what you think” I’d say that for you this has a lot more to do with the acceptance of thoughts as opposed to the thoughts themselves.
So it’s not the content of the negative thoughts that you can expect to result in your brain’s output, but instead the commentary surrounding them.
Accepting the negative thoughts you’re having about this past event in your relationship starts a pattern of acceptance. And that pattern will eventually allow you to better accept the past events themselves and anything else that may feel unpleasant. I really hope that all makes sense. Email me if it doesn’t and I’ll be happy to elaborate.
Ask Yourself Introspective Questions
Now I also encourage you to ask yourself some hard, introspective questions about your reaction thus far.
You said that you struggle with the past being unchangeable, which along with some other things you mentioned makes me feel as though you may have an underlying need for control. That’s ok, too. Again, accept something like that and then move forward to debunk it.
Some questions that could be useful to reflect on are:
- Why do you need the past to be unchangeable?
- Why should these past events have power over you and your identity?
- Is there any evidence to prove that these past events are going to determine the present or future?
- Is there one good reason that these past events should be more powerful than you?
- Who’s to say you can’t rebound from these past events, even while having no control over them at all?
The idea behind all these questions is to get you to consider why you feel these unchangeable, past events have to be running your show. Once you’ve sat with questions like this, I’m hoping you’ll come to find that whatever pain you’ve derived from what happened with your partner is much less about the event itself than it is about you.
So veer away from the occurrence in question and instead look into why the event has controlled you up until this point. It’s understandable that you’re having difficulty getting through this painful dark truth, but get curious about that difficulty, not aggressive with it.
Your Past Doesn't Define Your Value
My guess and my hope is that deep down, beneath all the conditioning and challenges in the past that have brought you to where you are, you’ll find that no past event, let alone this one, means anything in the context of who you are and your value as a person. Though it happened and there’s no use in trying to bury it, it still doesn’t really have to affect you.
Relationship Anxiety and Communicating With Your Partner
Finally, I do want to go back to how you’re communicating these feelings and this self-work journey to your partner.
Like I said, the healing process has a reputation for not being linear. So you may find that it’ll take a while to completely heal your relationship with these thoughts and that they’ll try to resist from time to time, which may feel like a step backwards. That’s totally normal, so allow it to happen and keep your partner abreast of all the ebbs and flows.
If they’re understanding of the fact that it’s going to take you a while to completely heal, that’s marvelous.
If they’re not, it seems they might have to do go back to the drawing board for their own reasons as well. In the mix of all of these good and bad feelings on both sides, the relationship stays grounded by each of you respecting the other person’s process.
If one of you finds the other’s process too egregious that the respect cannot be maintained both ways in spite of great efforts at communication and understanding, then a break or breakup might be necessary at this time.
Just trust that you have to look out for yourself first to be the most suitable partner anyway, and right now, that means taking the time to explore and be forthcoming about these challenging feelings.
Okie doke, my friends. That brings us to the end. I hope you the asker and you the listeners were able to take something from today’s episode.
We don’t always heal as quickly as we’d like to, whether it's from relationship anxiety or something else. And while we should up front and patient during this process, we should also seek to keep digging deeper and asking why. We might just unravel something about who we are at our cores that prevents us acknowledging ourselves as being bigger than the problems we face.
Sometimes you need a boost though! If that’s you, please email us your questions and we’ll be more than happy to help you on the show. Email us at advice AT oldpodcast DOT com
You'll get some extra support in a community that would be happy to have you. Thanks for tuning in today, folks. We’ll be back after the weekend for another one. Until then, enjoy yourselves out there and I’ll talk to you all again next time. Bye guys.