By Amy Berrafato, LMFT, CST
You either want to have sex with me or you don’t. You must not love me.
I have to be the best partner at the firm, but can’t do anything right at home.
I never make healthy decisions; I will be alone forever.
If this doesn’t work out, I’ll be a complete failure.
I hear comments like this all the time in session, from perfectionists, worriers, internalizers alike. We get stuck in limiting thought patterns when we’re feeling anxious. And it sets up a linear way of processing emotions in relationships, which are anything but linear! They’re so much more than that. They’re grey, messy, complicated, and dynamic.
Anxiety feeds off of black and white thinking. It likes to make sense of the world in an over-simplified manner to help us tolerate difficult emotions. It has to be either this way or that way. So when your partner doesn’t initiate sex, it must mean something about their feelings toward you. Otherwise you might be sitting with a more vulnerable emotion (i.e. rejection, disconnect, sadness), which is not the easiest thing to do.
Anxiety is also driven by fear, which quickly leaps into the dark despair of what might happen in the future, leaving us to lose sight of what is happening here and now. Worst case scenarios, anyone? Well, he is probably hiding something from me, been cheating for years, never loved me, got into a horrible accident, and died. The train has left and gone to crazytown.
Here’s the interesting thing: fear can be a self-fulfilling prophecy, if unchecked. It often perpetuates the very thing we were afraid of to begin with. With trust issues, for example, if you’re so worried she’ll leave that you suffocate her with questions and demands on her time, you might push her to keep taking space from you, creating more distance. The exact opposite of what you want!
Don’t let fear be the driver anymore. Try to adopt a “both/and” dimension of emotions when you’re processing a feeling. I’m both excited and terrified about this upcoming change. I feel both scared of rejection and so close to you when we talk about our family backgrounds. This expansion allows us to sit in the grey of our feelings, building tolerance for all the different parts of your emotions. It gets you beyond linear processing, deepening your understanding of yourself. The vulnerability and connection that follow are totally worth it. Trust me.