I am a queer woman in my 50s who embarked on a new relationship after leaving my previous partner of eight years. My new lover is beautiful, smart, insightful, passionate and really takes my breath away. We have been dating for about three months. I like what we have and I am very fond of it. However, I find myself catastrophizing our relationship.
I feel a sense of dread most of the time and suspect that there is a part of me that might be self-sabotaging us, based on the belief that she will eventually break my heart. I don’t know how to stop this. I just want to enjoy the relationship, instead of constantly worrying and drawing the worst conclusions about our future.
Eleanor says: This kind of dread is like your mind is offering you a self-protective treatment – constantly looking for possible bad things, and at least that way you won’t be surprised. It’s bad business. All it does is make you think a lot about the catastrophe, and when it happens, it hurts no less.
It is very difficult to loosen the tentacles that terror envelops the mind, but I have found that this thought helps: nothing bad will happen to you just because you are afraid. Suppose you are overcome by the sudden feeling that your partner doesn’t care; he is lying; it will go. Whatever the outbreak of dread is, the feeling alone cannot hurt you.
Once you realize that, you realize that no I have do anything to make it go away. Fear likes to present itself as something urgent and decisive on the agenda; she bursts in and takes it for granted that she will cancel her plans to spend time with him.
But armed with the knowledge that it can’t hurt you, you can stop responding as if it did. You do not have to calm him down, or run away from him, or even think about it. You can just … do nothing. For me, this thought was completely emancipatory: The more I responded to fear by simply doing nothing for comfort, the more I learned fear that was not necessary. The goal is not to be free from fear but be free Despite that.
It can also be helpful to notice when you feel the least fear for your relationship and then put yourself more in those situations. Absorbed in work? Do you do something with your hands? Laughter? Go after the things that make you forget your anxiety.
But a word of caution: As you work to calm your worry, be careful around your partner. For the person who receives it, fear and anger can feel very similar: they both make a roulette of the reaction you will get today.
There is a fine line between sharing your fears with a partner so that you can help and sharing them as if you were the only person who may help. The healthy version usually feels like a request or an apology: “I know this is not rational, but …” The unhealthy version feels like a demand or an accusation, like they really care, you don’t know. it would feel like this. This last thought is a lie that will eat you both.
Hypervigilance promises you security as well as erodes it: superimposes disaster on your sunny afternoons, holds up the gifts you’ve been given, and tells you they’re wishful thinking. What a curse.
It is natural to worry about losing the things you want to keep, but worry cannot control it. To face it, you must control yourself.
This question has been edited for length.
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George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism