These two words, love and courage, might seem odd companions – “what about loving someone requires courage, you might ask?” If we think about the long-term commitment of love in a romantic relationship, what comes to mind might be facing challenges and misfortunes together. The courage to love your spouse is of a magnitude all its own.
Marriage is yet again another developmental stage of life that requires us to face our demons if we really are going to thrive in our relationship. Frustrations in relationship often center around seemingly incompatible differences, judgements, decline in sexual satisfaction, loneliness, feeling suffocated, criticized. All too often partners just give up and resign themselves to those frustrations never changing. The solutions sometimes agreed to – “I’ll try harder to not get angry” – go by the wayside in a flash.
Here’s where those demons come in, lurking in our own personal undergrounds. In an instant our resolve evaporates.
You’ve likely said or heard “you are so irrational!” That is a true statement because these intense reactions are not taking place in our logical/thinking brain – we are not going through some internal dialogue that goes like this, “hmm . . . let me think, does her comment make me mad?” We are just reacting. Reaction leads to reaction and the escalation is off and running.
Deeper origins aren’t apparent to us because this has all been triggered at the ‘lizard’ brain level – those primitive parts of our brain that are geared towards our basic survival and are responsible for our ‘flight or fight’ responses.
Often our emotional reaction to something that’s happened has an ’emotional thread’, which with lightening speed dips into a pool of hurt experienced earlier in life. This adds massive fuel to the current fire.
We like to think that we’re fully rational beings and that our behavior is justified on the merits of the situation. Identifying what’s not fully conscious isn’t an easy task. Here’s where courage comes in – grappling with those demons of the past comes with anxiety. Anxiety is really, really uncomfortable. Humans will do a lot to avoid anxiety – I often say “we’ll sell our souls to avoid feeling anxious” – yet we need to build a tolerance for feeling anxiety in order to discover the roots of our troubles. Then we can make the shifts in ourselves to lead the life we want and fully connect in relationship.
How to build tolerance to anxiety? There are moments – milliseconds, really – that you can grab before they slip away. Anxiety is there when you are feeling intensely – frequently that is angry.
In these moments, ask yourself, “what else am I feeling?”
You will feel extremely uncomfortable and vulnerable- take a deep breath and just stay there in that feeling. This ‘sitting with’ this feeling of anxiety allows you to access your own emotions that aren’t apparent when you’re more shut down or just reacting. This is your opportunity to know yourself at a deeper level. What you’re feeling underneath the surface allows you to have options – options that are otherwise hidden to you.
With this awareness, you’re way more likely to express yourself in a way that another person can hear you. Or there may be something you choose to do that hadn’t occurred to you. Either of these is bound to be far more constructive.
The cutting edge of change is always anxiety – a journey well worth the vulnerability you will encounter along the way.
This post was previously published on Deborah Fox and is republished here with permission from the author.
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