Have you found yourself repeatedly pushing away relationships? Do you participate in a pattern of casual dating that only last so long or gets so far emotionally? Does the idea of commitment shut you down?
Or do you fit into the other extreme of falling for someone right away and jumping to commit and plan your life with someone?
First you need to identify where you are stuck in the falling in love process. Relationships begin with attraction. Attraction can be physical, mental, emotional, or sexual from the start and if you are lucky span across all levels. After initial attractions to one another, getting into a relationship requires risk taking.
Adults are often very afraid of getting hurt that they wall themselves up, completely guarded to being affected by anyone. People often only validate the pain in the ending or what you are afraid of (Insert: heartbreak, loneliness, dependence, etc) while idealizing the falling in love part. Recognize that the process of falling is also painful.
All the independence and thick skin forming helped you find your way out of the awkward developmental phases of middle school, high school, and/or college. You needed to learn how to be independent, manage your own negative emotions, and make decisions for your future. Why would you want to let go of the skills that have served you so well and risk losing that independence?
Falling for another person requires allowing someone else to affect your emotions. You may start feeling so emotionally volatile that you think you are going crazy and in order to not come across this way to the person you are falling for you have to admit they have the ability to impact which increases your vulnerability.
The people who pursue mostly casual relationships where they maximize benefit and reduce the risk get stuck here. This is the stereotypical of young men being termed emotionally unavailable or afraid of intimacy.
Once you allow yourself to become vulnerable through taking emotional risks, you open yourself up to mutual influence over each other. Couples who blend together as though they are one have very diffuse boundaries where one person may be making majority of the decisions or influencing the other person a greater deal than vice versa.
At this point, it is important for you both to sort out your expectations and boundaries for the type of relationship you want so you can teach them how you want to be treated. Without this essential step, you could fall on the other side of the extreme of diving in too soon with immediate susceptibility of getting hurt. A common example of this is the woman who pushes for commitment or a level of vulnerability when their guy is still stuck on the vulnerability step.
- Clarify the Relationship
Is your anxiety a normal, exciting part of the process or is your anxiety cluing you into something off about the other person or the state of your relationship?
Anxiety is an important function for humans. It allows people to protect themselves from getting hurt. Some people who have experienced a lot of pain in relationships or trauma may become hypervigilant, the intense awareness of potential danger, to avoid getting hurt in similar ways again. There are times this is very useful for people and their intuition is correct. However, hypervigilance can be so quick to shut down your vulnerability that you shut out potential relationships. You need to sort out what your reactions to the new relationship or situations mean for you. If you are usually anxious in response to change and have a way to cope where it subsides over time, follow the next steps. If you have noticed a greater struggle with stress than those around you, your issue may be something more significant than the relationship dynamic you participate in and may be battling mental illness and need more help to sort through the problem.
What do you want out of the relationship? Is this the same as the other person's goals?
The answers to these questions will help you identify how realistic your anxiety is. If you seem to have the same goals and understanding of what the relationship is, it may be worth it for you to push through the discomfort and allow yourself to be vulnerable. If your answers differ, now is the perfect time to use the rational part of your brain to decide whether or you want to pursue this relationship and allow yourself to fall for them.
- Spend time around adolescents
Notice the way they choose their behavior and express themselves. Ask someone their thoughts about love and crushes. Adolescents have an incredible ability to live in the moment and follow their feelings as they rapidly change. Whereas adults often oscillate between worrying about how their current relationships will play out in the future or rehashing old relationships and past mistakes holding them in a status quo. Many teens are able to only pay attention to the attraction to the person they are interested in and the way that person makes them feel when they are together.
Everything is very impulsive for those going through puberty. The hormonal changes of puberty are very similar to adults experiencing love. There are dopamine flushes that lead to rapid changes in emotion, an increase of motivation and excitement to see this person, elation when rewarded positively by this person's attention and affection, etc. Then, when not stimulated by the positivity, you will crash. This crash brings you below baseline to feel a lot more anxious and depressed than normal. You are consumed by finding ways to bring you back up to the happy place. However, dealing with the ebbs and flows are important for developing resiliency and conflict resolution strategies, essentials for healthy relationships.
- Separate yourself from Breakup stories
Almost every day there is news about a celebrity couple deciding to divorce with very limited story telling about the happy couple. There are exceptions of the wedding story or pregnancy excitements but more often than not a few years later we hear about their split. Ie: Ben Affleck and Jennifer Gardner.
Humans are relational creatures and we tend to discuss relationships a lot. We also seek connection from others. We look for and give empathy to other people's experiences. This can be great and intimate for friendships*. However, it is also natural for humans to take on other people's experiences in relationships and then apply them to our own to reevaluate. This is a very slippery slope. You need to shut this down or it will blur you to you actual experience within your unique relationship with your partner. Find a way to ground yourself in what you feel so you can separate yourself from other's experiences that they may project on you while trying to be helpful.
- Talk about the fear of falling in love with them
People often go to everyone else (parents, siblings, friends, therapist, spiritual leader) for guidance on their significant relationship. A lot of these people put emphasis on the disclosure of saying “I love you”. Who said it first? Under what circumstances? How long have you been dating? How long have you known? How do you really know? When did you really know? What do you love about them? Do you love them or are you in love with them?
Why not start this conversation earlier and involve the person of interest! If your partner is also an adult, they are likely to be feeling or have already had the same exact fears that you are feeling. When seeking reassurance, the only person able to truly assure you of their feelings or the status of your relationship is the person you have a relationship with. Also, should you push through the anxiety and allow yourself to fall in love, this is the person you will be wanting to resolve future conflict with open, honest communication.
Adults have the benefit and detriment of having years of different types of relationships throughout their lives. You form your expectations around relationships beginning with the relationship you have with each of your parents as well as through watching the relationship between them.
As you form new significant relationships, you may be triggered to emotional responses that you remind you of your childhood or previous, failed relationships. Labeling these feelings as old and making sense of what is stirring them up in the present moment is important. This person in front of you is new and different, despite any similarities they may have with other people who are or have been important in your life. If you fall into the pattern of treating them like the person they remind you of, you are stunting an opportunity to grow as an individual and couple. Own the feeling you have identified and discuss the behaviors your partner is doing that creates an insecurity within you. This is another chance to allow yourself to be vulnerable and your partner to relate to you fostering a new experience for you to manage.
Some people struggle to allow happiness and other positive feelings to be as they are where others feelings about their feelings (meta-emotions) may get in the way of letting yourself fall in love. If you are looking for a satisfying relationship or to work on yourself to become the person that would attract the partner you want, the therapists at Center for Growth can help you! Call 215 922 5683 x 100 and talk to a therapist near me today.