Dear Dr. Hurd:
I recently discovered that I have had a serious flaw in my thinking my entire life. Today I read an article of yours I really liked on Capitalism Magazine’s website called: ‘Fear: The Great Inhibitor.’
As you said in your article, ‘Life becomes one big avoidance game’. I have been doing this my whole life, mostly with relationships. I am afraid to invest too much time and love for fear of getting hurt.
Now that I have identified that I do indeed have this problem, and have a long history of consciously and unconsciously sabotaging relationships, I’m ready to stop. I want to give my love freely to those I love, enjoy my life, and not worry about it not being there for me one day.
I’m 40 years old, and consider myself lucky to be married. I know my wife deserves all I have to offer. She still wants it all, so I’m willing to give it to her. I just want to figure out how to not worry about our relationship lasting (it’s all in my head).
I don’t want to make it sound like I have led an unhappy life, but I know it can be much better than it is. Any advice you can give me would be greatly appreciated.
Dr. Hurd’s reply:
Let’s start with your statement, ‘It’s all in my head.’ People say this to invalidate something. But why is what’s in your head invalid? What exactly is factually incorrect about it? Don’t dismiss anything just because ‘it’s in your head.’ Your head is full of many different ideas, thoughts and feelings. Anything true and wise you think is in your head, as well as any contradictory silliness. Either way, it’s your head where you must start.
You’ve said you worry about your relationship someday ending. I assume by this you fear your wife will one day leave you, or perhaps you will leave her. It’s the proverbial ‘fear of abandonment.’
Let’s think about this a moment. If your wife ever left you, it would probably mean she’s not the person you thought she was. It doesn’t automatically mean she’s a bad person if she leaves you. Good people decide to end their marriages or relationships all the time. If they’re truly unhappy, they do themselves and yourself no favor by living a lie and staying. But if your wife really is your ideal person to be spending time with, then by definition she’s going to want to keep spending time with you. If she wants to spend her life the way you want to spend your own life, and the two of you are fundamentally compatible, then it’s unlikely she will ever leave you.
It sounds like you’re having anticipatory loss—that is, a sense of loss over something that hasn’t yet happened, probably won’t happen and, even if it does happen, something you cannot do anything about. The same applies to one of you eventually dying someday. All good things must come to an end, through death if nothing else. I say this not to depress you, but to encourage you to accept the most basic fact of all, so you can live life to its fullest with all the brainpower, time and physical ability you have.
I have found that people who can rationally accept that they will some day die are the same people who know how to embrace their lifetimes with purpose, meaning, vigor and pleasure. If you can anticipate without anxiety the greatest loss of all, then all other losses seem small by comparison.
You said that you have a lifelong history of sabotaging relationships. A common reason for this is something like: ‘She’s going to leave me anyway, so the hell with it.’ If this is what’s happening, then you have some work to do. Your work is to write down a long list of things that a person who’s embracing and enjoying his relationship—rather than constantly worrying about losing it—would do each day. Walk through the day of such a person, and make that person you. Would he give his wife flowers or other thoughtful things? Would he kiss her goodbye and hello? Would he listen when she’s talking? Obviously yes. But come up with your own specific and creative suggestions too. It’s worth the effort, because without a specific ‘to do’ list to refer to, your desire to become a happier person will remain that—only a desire, with no practical use in everyday life. It’s not enough to want a new attitude; you need new habits, as well.
It’s very sad how people are sometimes SO afraid of something bad happening that they end up losing the very things they didn’t want to lose—only because of the fear! It’s all because of fear. It’s important to remember that the worst usually does not happen. But if and when the worst does happen—and over the course of anyone’s life, it sometimes does—you ought to show yourself the self-respect and confidence that ‘I can handle whatever comes my way, if I have to.’ People are always asking me, ‘How can I build self-confidence?’ The answer is to show yourself confidence, and treat yourself as someone worthy of respect.
Don’t subconsciously push yourself into a bad situation just to see how you might handle it. Actually, by overcoming your fear and allowing yourself to enjoy your relationship—and whatever else valuable you have in life—you will become a stronger person. The strength that comes from being deliberately and consciously happy will give you the courage and ability to take on any challenges you face, should you ever need to do so.
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