Anxious people aren’t typically the most easy-going people on the planet. Because our high sensitivity wires us for hypervigilance, which then causes us to scan the horizon for danger, we’re physiologically primed to have a more tightly-wound nervous system. Unless you received guidance as a child for how to work with this propensity to worry, all of those worry-strands continued to coalesce and gather strength in your body and psyche over the years, forming a tightly wound ball of twine until it reached a breaking point. The anxiety can focus on any topic, the most common being relationships, sexual orientation, health, money/career, parenting, and death.
When you can identify your personality type (tightly wound hence the need to control), you can see how this trait would easily transfer to your most intimate relationships. This point was illuminated for me as I watched a few episodes of one of Netflix’s top shows, Tidying Up with Marie Kondo.
About once a year I fall in love with a series on Netflix. Two years ago it was Grace and Frankie; last year it was Queer Eye; and now it’s Tidying Up with Marie Kondo. Yes, I’ve fallen into the craze, and I’m loving every minute of it. But of course when I watch any kind of television (which is rare), I’m also looking for the subtext story, the one that isn’t necessarily the focus of the show. So when I’m watching Tidying Up I’m fascinated by the dynamics between the couples, and I can see almost immediately which people are prone to anxiety and which are the more easy-going, laid-back types.
And I sit there thinking: “Those laid-back types. Does anything really bother them? They seem to laugh things off and easily move from moment-to-moment without becoming mired in projections.”
Of course, I realize that I’m watching a tiny slice of these couples’ lives and personalities. Like Facebook, they know they’re on international TV and they’re not likely to air their emotional dirty laundry (only their actual dirty laundry). But I’m watching not their words as much as their energy, the way they look at one another, and especially their degree of reactivity. Anxious/sensitive people are more reactive. Less anxious people allow things to slide off their backs. They laugh more. They don’t take everything so personally.
And what’s even more fascinating for me to realize is that, over the many years of doing this work, my husband and I have become more laid-back people. And the more laid-back we become, the more deeply in love we fall.
What do I mean by “the work”? I mean working actively and daily with fear. I mean seeking help when we’ve reached roadblocks. I mean being devoted to a daily practice. I mean practicing ways to shrink fear and grow love, which are illuminated daily in intimate relationships.
Love is a Choice
I’ll share one of these tools here – one that stems from the foundational principle of my work on real love:
Love is a choice. It’s not only a feeling. It’s not ecstatic fireworks or fluttery butterflies. Love may start there (and it may not) but real love is a choice that we make every single day. It’s an intention and an action.
Let’s take this a bit further and show how this basic premise can help you cultivate feelings of love and attraction.
Since love is a choice, you can choose to see through a fear-lens or you can make the choice to see through eyes of love that perceive the heart essence of your partner. The tricky part here is that we’ve been so culturally conditioned to believe that you’re either attracted and in love or you’re not that it’s difficult for our brains to fathom that we can choose to see our partners through different eyes.
In other words, you can choose to see the same features or characteristics or perceived areas of lack (not social enough, not intellectual enough, not driven enough) through a different lens. As one course member shared, “I used to be repulsed every time I saw my partner’s ponchy belly and would think, ‘Why can’t you exercise more?’ But the more I did my inner work and saw that this was a projection of my own self-judgement about my body and other parts of myself that I criticized under a microscope, the more I softened inside.
“Then one day I looked at him and thought, ‘You’re so cute and your belly is like a big cuddly teddy bear.’ And I saw in this moment of clear-seeing that his snuggly belly was just like him: warm, safe, cuddly, and my deepest comfort. It was a total shift in my perspective, and that shift made me soften in other ways.”
It’s a practice to see through clear-eyes because fear and anxiety are the default lens for most people, but it is possible to create a new lens, which is literally a new way of seeing and always steps from an open heart. Opening your heart is fundamentally about learning how to let go: how to soften the fear-walls, how to release control, how to yield into the soft, vulnerable heart where you can see your partner’s soft, vulnerable heart. It’s what I see in some of the couples on Tidying Up with Marie Condo, and it’s what my husband and I grew into after so many years. With real work, anything is possible.