Why Love Is About Learning to Sit With Uncomfortable Emotions

What feelings come to mind when you think about love?

Is it the overwhelming tenderness you feel for the child nestled in your arms? Or the passion and desire you feel for a lover? Maybe its the quiet comfort of a shared smile or the intimacy and attachment you feel with a lifelong friend.

When we think about love, we focus on the pleasant sensations, the feelings of seen, being understood, being accepted. Love is the warm hug, the kind words, the desiring glance.

And yes, love is all of those things. It is perhaps our most powerful motivator, our greatest need. All that we do ultimately comes down to being done for love or out of a desire for love.

So if a need for love is universal, why do we struggle so much with finding it, feeling it and expressing it?

Because love is not only about the good feelings.

It’s about learning to sit with the uncomfortable ones.

Because that overwhelming affection is paired with the fear of losing the person that brings you such joy. Love lives alongside of loss. Of rejection. Of abandonment.

Just as love says, “I’m with you,” fear whispers, “But you could end up alone.”

When we focus too much on the fears, by pretending that they are not there, playing mind games to mitigate them or allowing their words to limit us, we inadvertently close the door to love.

Because in order to have love, you have to accept its potential loss. In order to have attachment, you have to risk rejection.

We struggle with love, not because we have difficulty with the positive emotions, but because we try to avoid the uncomfortable ones.

But that’s where love is found.

Sitting right next to fear.

And for you to find it, you have to be willing to find your place between them.

 

 

 

 

 

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Can You Find Happiness With a New Partner After An Unwanted Divorce?

“I can’t imagine being happy with any else but her,” the message in my inbox said. The “her” in question was his ex-wife, who had recently initiated an unwanted divorce. “Do you really believe that it is possible to ever be happy with a new person?”

I asked my journal that same question after my divorce, afraid to voice the query aloud as though that would give my concerns more power. Even while I felt disgust at the realization that I had been sleeping with a stranger, I still fought the connection I had forged with him over sixteen years.

I tried to imagine myself with another man – a generic, faceless one – and I would be instantly snapped back to an image of my ex as though industrial strength bungee cords still tied us together. I thought of how comfortable I was with him and I searched the men in my periphery questioning if I could ever be so vulnerable with any of them. I reflected back on the intensity of the love that I had felt for my ex and I wondered if I would ever experience that again.

I couldn’t imagine ever being happy again with anyone else.

And I’m so grateful that I didn’t allow my imagination to keep me from trying.

___

 

Here are five truths to consider if you find yourself wondering if you can be happy in a new relationship:

 

Your happiness is anchored in you.

When you’re with someone for an extended time, the boundaries can begin to blur. Something that makes them happy, makes you happy. And it’s easy to begin to believe that your happiness is dependent upon them.

Yet it’s not and it never was.

True happiness and satisfaction in life comes from living within your own beliefs and values. It is found in living a purpose-driven life where you know who you are and what you have to give. It is in a sense of curiosity and playfulness. And, yes, it is in the relationships you form with others.

Here’s the important part – the root of happiness and the ability to create it is not found in another person or when your external circumstances change. It is in you. Always has been. Always will be.

Believing it only existed with your ex holds you back. Believing that you can find it in someone new leads you astray. Finding containment within will never let you down.

 

Your marriage wasn’t perfect. 

And it may not have even been good.

I know. Tough pill to swallow. I choked on that one myself for a couple years. But once I accepted it, everything else started to fall into place.

You see, I thought I had a good marriage. A great marriage, even. We never fought. We had great intimacy. We had common goals and values (or so I was led to believe). Much of the responsibility for that illusion lies on his shoulders – he needed for me to believe that things were good so that my suspicions would not be altered. And some of the responsibility falls on me. I needed to believe that the marriage was great because I was too afraid to entertain the alternative.

By allowing myself to see the reality of the relationship, it helped to let it go and by recognizing its imperfections, it also aided my belief that I could be in a happy relationship again.

I used to believe that I had a great first marriage. Now, I believe that its ending was proof that it wasn’t great. And I’m okay with that. I can now look back and smile at the good moments while at the same time accepting that not all was good behind the scenes.

And I’ve taken those hard-won lessons from that relationship and put them to good use in my life now. I’m beyond happy in my current marriage and happier still that it isn’t perfect.

 

Different can be better.

After an unwanted divorce, all you feel is the loss and all you know is what you had. There’s a tendency to smooth over the rough edges and idealize the person who left. The sense of deprivation causes a panicked grasping, an almost-obsessive need to try to hold on to whatever you can of your former partner. Every ounce of your being is focused on the void you feel and you naturally seek to want to stuff your ex back into that space to fill that hole.

Sometimes this manifests through repeated attempts to win the ex back or a more subtle yet persistent pining for the one who left. Other times it shows up by trying to sift through the single scene looking for a doppelgänger to replace what was lost.

You miss what you know and you don’t know what you haven’t had.

A new relationship will be different than the one you had. And different can be better (especially if you learned from your mistakes).

The grooves you followed in your old relationship will be rough at first, as you trip and stutter over the worn patterns with a new partner. But soon, you’ll find your own music.

The strengths of your ex may not be mirrored in the new partner. Yet they carry their own gifts and you may find they bring out new ones in you.

You won’t relive your early twenties with them, broke and optimistic. Yet you will share more experience and wisdom and the confidence that comes with them.

Happiness in the new relationship is found in recognizing what makes it unique, not in trying to make it a carbon copy.

Rather than see this as a burden, view it as an opportunity. A chance to start again, to start better.

 

Fear restricts; hope frees.

Fear weaves a web more intricate than any spider. Fear holds you back stronger than any restraints. Fear narrows your vision more than any blinders. And when you’re wondering if you’ll ever be happy with another person again, you’re listening to fear.

And fear lies.

But hope frees.

Fear tells us that the future will be worse than the past. Hope reminds us not to jump to conclusions.

Fear threatens that we’ll always be alone. Hope reminds us that connection is the natural outcome if we’re willing to be open and vulnerable.

Fear warns that we’ll never find happiness again. Hope reminds us that contentment is always present when we know where to find it.

 

Love doesn’t come with lifetime limits.

I’ve never seen love advertised as, “Limit 1 per customer.”

Yet we often live as though that were true.

Just as parents can find the love for each additional child, you can find the space within you to love again.

Eight years ago, I couldn’t ever imagine being happy with anyone else. And now, I can’t imagine having to go back to who I was with before. Because now, I’m happier than ever.

 

 

 

 

 

I Love You Enough

“I love you enough to feed you into the wood chipper head first,” I announced mirthfully to my husband the other night on our way to dinner.

Which got me thinking about all of the ways we express love that are often not interpreted as such.

 

Sometimes love is a sweet hug and a kind word, a welcome home after a long day.

Sometimes love is a playful smack on the butt, an adult version of, “Tag, you’re it!”

Sometimes love is expressed in the little things, the gestures that say, “I see you.”

Sometimes love is found in offering the extra helping and sometimes it’s found by accepting that unwanted offering.

Sometimes love is granting space, giving the gift of time and freedom.

Sometimes love is overwhelming, flooding the senses. And sometimes it’s more like a dull ache fading into the background.

Sometimes love is accepting the onslaught of frustration and unease that often releases once the distressed feel safe.

Sometimes love is a difficult decision that you know will hurt somebody in the moment yet be better for them in long run.

Sometimes love is saying you’re sorry even when you’re still angry and accepting an apology even though you know you’re right. And sometimes it’s admitting you’re wrong.

Sometimes love is enforcing boundaries and learning to say, “No,” as any parent is well aware.

Sometimes love is expressed through frustration, not at the person but the helplessness you feel about their situation.

Sometimes love is letting go and sometimes it’s refusing to release your grip.

Sometimes love is giving in and sometimes it’s about giving someone the confidence to do it on their own.

Love is the action and it’s also the intent.

And learning to see love requires that sometimes you look behind the curtain, that you shelve your initial assumptions and reactions and instead consider that maybe what you’re really seeing is, “I love you.”

And sometimes love is joking that if I ever get angry enough to kill you, I’ll be sure to make it quick 🙂

 

 

 

Giving Candy to Strangers and Coal to Our Partners

Quick.

Who do you care most about in your life?

Who are you the nicest to in your life?

Be honest, are they the same person?

They’re often not.

You can see this dynamic clearly in teenagers and their parents (especially with mothers and daughters – sorry, mom!), but it happens in romantic partnerships too.

At first glance, it seems counterintuitive. After all, shouldn’t love and kindness function in tandem? Ideally, yes. But the reality is often more complex.

I’m not talking about abuse here (here’s a post on that particular dynamic), rather, I’m addressing the more innocuous and unintententional unkindness that can find its way into relationships.

So why do we so often give candy to strangers and coal to our partners?

Safe Harbor

Have you ever had a negative experience during your day that is then transferred to your partner that evening? We can’t say all of what’s on our minds to the boss, to the policeman who issued the ticket or the difficult client. So we unload it later on the one person that feels safe.

After all, they love us. Sometimes that love makes us feel confident that we can treat the poorly and they’ll still be there. And sometimes, we may treat them poorly in order to test to love.

Your partner becomes your safe harbor and that sense of security can lead to an unintended (and often unnoticed) decrease in kindness. It’s easier to always be on your best behavior when you don’t take things for granted. (One of MANY reasons it’s important to not take your partner for granted!)

Stripping Away the Public Self

When we’re out and about in the world, we project our public selves. In many ways, we present how we want to be perceived (after all, strangers only know what we show them). And it can be exhausting. So when we come home, we peel off that mask along with our trousers and slip on the sweats and let the less edited self fly free.

And when we’re relaxed and less restrained, we are more apt to talk before we think. And sometimes the words that come out are far from kind. Not because we aim to wound, but because we fail to check ourselves as carefully when we’re comfortable.

Add to that the history and inner knowledge we share with our closest people and the results can be quite painful.

Apprehension About Vulnerability

Letting it all show can be a scary feeling. And sometimes, we respond to that defenseless feeling by going on the offense. The baring of the underbelly followed by the baring of the teeth as though saying, “I’ll let you see me, but I’ll wound you before you get too close.”

Preservation of Self

Vulnerability isn’t the only fear that can manifest as unkindness; a concern that you’re losing yourself by becoming too attached to another can also result in unintentional hurtful actions. Pushing away instead of taking a step back.

Heightened Importance

And this is really what it’s all about. Our daily interactions with people at the periphery of our lives are fleeting. Hurtful words or actions are more easily sloughed off and forgotten. We don’t bring in the expectations. The fear. The attachment.

When you have two lives intertwined, there will be some frayed edges and some frayed nerves. Things unmeant will be said and actions may not always match the true feelings beneath.

Yes, your partner is your safe space. But that’s no reason to take them for granted and to treat them as such. Be generous in handing out candy to both strangers and your loved ones. Save the coal for those who really deserve it.

 

 

How Not to Be Your Own Worst Enemy

When my writing first left the relative safety of WordPress for the great untamed wilds of The Huffington Post, I was elated. The first post hit big and I eagerly sat down that afternoon to read through the rapidly appearing comments.

And for every comment that made me feel good about myself or sorry for someone else, there were two that seemed to be personal attacks. Soon, the excitement I felt about being published was replaced with a sense of discomfort and malaise.

Yet I kept reading. For months, I dutifully read every comment, every review. I carefully weighed each criticism as though it was coming from a known and trusted source.I tried to answer each barbed question and address each complaint. I grew increasing anxious and melancholy.

And then finally there was one comment that broke me open. A stranger claimed that my ex was right to do what he did because I was always nagging and we never had sex. When he referenced the children (I have none), I finally realized it – he was talking to his ex wife, not to me.

Yeah, I can be a slow learner.

It finally registered that I was the problem. Not these anonymous internet commenters. But me.

I was acting as my own worst enemy.

It’s not always easy to recognize when you’re sabotaging yourself. Quite often, the initial injury does come from some external source. And then we remain focused on that even while we are ones choosing to keep our hands in the fire.

Set Limits For Yourself

Part of my problem with the early comment-reading is that I was allowed myself to become consumed, perspective lost and obsession triggered. In an act of kindness to myself, I limited my exposure to a few times a month and only on days when my confidence was high.

If you have a certain habit or behavior that is causing you distress yet you’re not willing or able to give it up completely, begin by setting boundaries for yourself. Decide how much is too much and stay well within those limits.

Watch Your Internal Narrative

When you’re acting as your worst enemy, you often verbally abuse yourself –  “I’m not good enough to succeed at this.” “I can’t do that.” “They’re so much better than me.”

Would you talk to another loved one this same way? So then why are you using these words against yourself? Here are some tips on how to edit your personal narrative so that you’re treating yourself more kindly.

Be Alert to Your Fears

Self-sabotage is often achored in fear. We would fail because we chose not to try than fail because we tried and discovered that we were not enough.

It’s okay to admit you’re scared. It’s not okay to allow that fear to control your life. Be aware of those areas where fear is dictating your route and work to regain control of the steering wheel.

Accept Your Locus of Control

Always wanting things to be different is exhausting. Strive to classify struggles in your life as inside or outside your locus of control. If it’s something you cannot change, either let it be or work to alter your response to it. Anything else is simply you beating your head against the wall. And we know how that feels.

Have an Awareness of Your Assumptions

When a friend fails to call you at the regular time, are you the type of person who assumes they were busy or do immediately think that something must be wrong – either with them or even more likely, with you?

If you fall into the second camp (which I think we all occupy at times), pay attention to these stories you tell yourself to fill in the gaps in your knowledge. Are you allowing yourself to get caught up in the details of stories that may not even be true?

Pay Attention to Your Feelings

What are the situations, people or actions that make you feel good? Which are the ones that make you miserable?

Which do you spend more time with?

Your answer may surprise you. When we’re acting as our own worst enemy, we often sadistically subject ourselves to situations that bring more pain than pleasure. And social media has made this even more commonplace.

Be Careful What You Nurture

Your energy is finite. Spend it wisely. Whatever you nurture, grows.