I remember working up the courage to jump off a diving board for the first time when I was a kid. Because I was scared, the three feet between the water and me looked more like thirty feet. My older brother, an expert diver who was teaching me, says that I bounced up and down on the board for several long minutes before I took the plunge. The same was true for my relationships. I bounced up and down on a metaphorical diving board until I was well into my thirties before I finally got through my fears and took the leap.
Fear has a way of clouding the mind so that even simple things look complicated and dangerous. I invite you to learn how to handle fear and anxiety in a graceful, effective way. In the early stages of a relationship, it’s natural to feel some fears and anxieties. This fear is normal-it’s how you deal with it that determines whether you can make your big leap into lasting love and genuine intimacy. I’ll show you the best way to handle those fears, so that you can give yourself and the relationship the best chance of success.
The First Step: It’s important to know the difference between real fears and false fears. If a 500-pound gorilla suddenly bursts through your door, you’re likely to feel real fear. This fear gives you a jolt of adrenaline that’s designed to propel you into action. From helping more than twenty thousand people handle relationship issues, and from our own twenty-nine years together, my wife Kathlyn and I have learned a lot about the difference between real fears and false fears. The good news is that almost all the fears that interfere with the success of relationships in the early stages are the false kind.
A false fear is based on a false belief about yourself or the world. A few examples are:
- I’m afraid it’s too late for me to find lasting love.
- I’m afraid I don’t deserve love.
- I’m afraid I’m fundamentally flawed in some way, and if I get close to someone, he or she will see my flaws and stop loving me.
Let’s take each false fear in turn:
I’m afraid it’s too late for me to find lasting love. I guarantee you, it’s never too late. We’ve worked with couples age seventy and above who were embarking on dating for the first time in decades. They felt exactly the same fears and anxieties as people who were twenty, and they moved through those fears quickly using the tools I’ll show you below.
I’m afraid I don’t deserve love. The truth is, love isn’t something you deserve or don’t deserve. Deserving has nothing to do with love. Love is simply something you want and need. Your mind may think you don’t deserve it, but that’s only based on some past experience or fear. The only thing that matters is now. What’s important now is choosing to open your heart and mind to the possibility of enjoying lasting love.
I’m afraid I’m fundamentally flawed in some way. If I get close to someone, he or she will see my flaws and stop loving me. Almost all of us have had painful experiences that left us feeling that we’re imperfect, flawed, or damaged. You might have grown up around people who saw you as flawed in some way, regardless of what you did; however, nobody is fundamentally flawed.
Two Simple and Quick Cures for Fear
The two quickest cures for fear are literally right under our noses: breath and honest communication. When you’re feeling scared, your breathing becomes shallower and faster than when you’re relaxed. The simple solution, now proven in dozens of scientific studies, is to slow your breathing to 10 breaths or less a minute (that’s 3 to 4 seconds in, 3 to 4 seconds out). Your body stops pumping out stress chemicals when your breathing is slow and easy. The next time you find yourself feeling those butterflies, notice what happens when you switch to slow, easy breaths. I bet you’ll feel the butterflies settle down and your whole body begin to relax.
The second quick cure for fear is to tell the simple truth about it. For example, it only takes a few seconds to say, “I’m feeling anxious. I’m not sure why.” Those few seconds can make a huge difference in the quality of your relationships. Many people have the habit of swallowing those simple truths rather than speaking them. The most important building block for a successful relationship is honest, nonjudgmental communication. There’s a big difference between saying, “I’m feeling scared,” and pointing the finger by saying, “It’s your fault that I’m scared.” Practice speaking nonjudgmental truths, especially about your feelings, and watch your relationships flourish.
Whether you’re looking for a relationship, or are in the early stages of one, remember that experiencing some fear is natural-just don’t let false fears keep you from taking that big leap into a new level of intimacy.
Don’t miss out on Gay Hendricks guide to overcoming fear in all parts of your life, The Big Leap