Open Topic

Having Doubts About Your Relationship.

When you love someone madly, the last thing you expect is to entertain doubts about the strength of your bond. Questioning seems contrary to commitment. Even if you do so privately, inside your own mind—in the midst of a sleepless night, while jogging, or showering—it can feel like a serious betrayal.

After reaching a certain point, you don’t want to question whether your partner’s values are aligned with yours enough to move forward, long past the lustful stage and into lasting romantic attachment, or whether you want the same things out of life in practical, realistic terms, or whether you can imagine parenting together and growing old alongside each other, eventually dying hand-in-hand as you’ve discussed so many times while caught in the throws of passion. You don’t want to let yourself ask these questions because it seems disrespectful to the person you love and the life you’ve built together so far.

But you must—without freaking out, if possible. Because if you don’t, those pesky questions will eat at you from the inside out until your heart is Swiss cheese, compromising your capacity to love.

No matter how strongly you feel about your significant other, it’s natural to feel confused about the relationship once in a while. You might doubt the fact that the person you love loves you as much as they claim to. You might doubt that your partner is worthy of the trust you’ve placed in them. You might wonder if you can make it as a couple long-term. Especially in matters of the heart, none of us is all-knowing.

Pangs of uncertainty can sprout up for no good reason, tickling your consciousness and begging for attention no matter how unjustified they may be. On other occasions, your gut may respond to blatant signs of trouble, or to subtle but significant cues. Unfortunately, it’s tough to know the difference. But it’s always worth trying to decipher the root cause of whatever doubts creep up. You can’t fear the outcome of addressing them too much to deny yourself the room to figure things out. However unpleasant the process may be, confronting uncertainty is the only way to return to a point of clarity.

You may have reason to doubt your relationship, and you may not. You may decide that the woman or man you’ve long thought of as “the one” is exactly right for you after all, or not. You may choose to do the work to repair whatever aspects of your relationship are broken, or deem the situation a lost cause. Relationship doubts aren’t necessarily an indicator of insurmountable problems, but they can be. The morning you wake up wondering whether the person next to you belongs there, you’re not doomed to split. But you might.

So listen to yourself, but with the utmost caution. Don’t ignore your inner voices, but don’t become a victim of your own speculative thoughts, either. Be as reasonable as your emotions will allow. Seek counsel from friends and family members, but don’t assume their insights are more accurate than yours. Get therapy from a trained professional, but avoid horoscopes and psychics. Cyber stalk your boyfriend, girlfriend, husband, or wife all you want, but never ever cybersnoop. (If you don’t know the difference, figure it out.) Entertain every possibility—leaving, cheating, moving, ransacking the apartment, draining the bank account—but understand the distinction between thinking, saying, and doing something. Unless you’re a saint who only thinks pure, saintly thoughts, don’t feel obligated to express every theory or view that crosses your mind. Complete transparency isn’t as healthy as it sounds, and we’re all responsible to a certain extent for protecting each other from our own minds. That doesn’t mean you can’t communicate openly and honestly, but it does mean that you should choose your words carefully, especially when speaking to the person you love.

Ultimately, whether you have reason to be suspicious or paranoid or hesitant—whether you and your significant other stay together, or break up—you will both be fine. Love is painful and confounding and exhausting and frustrating and overwhelmingly awesome. It leads us to places we treasure, and to places we abhor. It brings out the absolute best and worst in us. Love demands navigating sharp curves, steep hills, and some impossibly giant potholes. The terrain is uneven—and that’s okay. If it were simple or easy, it wouldn’t be so damn hard to find, nurture, or let go of. But no one’s ever died of a broken heart.

People grow apart because individuals evolve, often separately. But relationships evolve, too. If you stay together, your love will be no weaker for the questions you once pondered. On the contrary, without a doubt, you’ll be stronger as a couple.

Open Topic

Recovering From Addiction.

One of the most challenging parts of entering recovery is that you are forced to face the same painful emotions and challenges, but without the help of drugs and alcohol. In a precious column, I wrote that “The best part about getting sober is that you are finally able to feel your feelings, and the worst part about getting sober is that you are finally able to feel your feelings.”

Abstaining from drugs and alcohol didn’t immediately take away the problems in my life and within myself emotionally. Although they compounded my problems, drugs were never the actual issue. Mind-altering substances were how I attempted to treat myself.

I was never able to improve my life dramatically by merely removing drugs and alcohol. Eliminating drug use would mitigate the daily consequences of things like my husband’s anger and some financial stress, but ultimately, I was still a broken woman with the same problems. Abstinence without self-work just removed the only way I knew how to cope with my emotions.

I now spend time each day working on myself and developing emotional sobriety. I’m learning how to navigate my feelings without turning to drugs or alcohol.

Two ways people deal with emotional stress

When it comes to painful feelings or uncomfortable situations, I think people react in one of two different ways. You can either heighten your effort to increase the incoming benefits of a relationship, or decrease what you invest to conserve energy and minimize pain.

The first way that people react to painful emotions or uncomfortable conversations is by investing more effort to earn more significant benefits. When there is a conflict, especially in a relationship, this person wants to immediately talk about it and find a solution, even if the conversation is painful. They recognize that to get the most out a relationship or challenging situation they need to invest more energy into it.

The second way to react when facing emotional pain is to withdraw or avoid it. When I get emotionally overwhelmed, I try to avoid or escape the conflict and calm myself down by removing myself from the situation. I feel as though the less emotional equity I invest into a situation, the less I have to lose or less pain potentially I can experience.

Avoiding emotional pain without the help of drugs and alcohol

Not knowing how to process pain from childhood trauma in healthy ways, I used the one method that I learned during my childhood. For most of my twenties, I used drugs and alcohol to avoid uncomfortable emotions. This coping method worked until it didn’t, and I eventually found myself with an addiction to crack cocaine and unmanageable life.

No longer able to use drugs as a solution, this desire to avoid pain manifests itself in other ways. My desire to avoid certain feelings affects all aspects of my life, but is most detrimental in close personal and romantic relationships.

Instead of engaging in a disagreement with my husband, I’ll often use excuses such as being busy with other engagements. Ironically, I may even use the writing of this column as a way to avoid or delay meaningful communication. Being entirely vulnerable to a romantic partner is challenging for me, and something that I struggle with.

Author Neill Strauss said: “When someone’s buttons get pressed, what’s occurring is a regression to the emotional age where that button was created in early life. You can’t argue with a child. Wait until they’re back in an adult state again to have a rational discussion about it.”

I learned early on that I could cover uncomfortable feelings with drugs and alcohol. If challenged, I will revert to the behavior I learned as a child, hiding from my emotions or covering them up. I sometimes refuse to engage in a situation or discussion that might risk exposure.

People who have experienced trauma may disconnect from themselves in times of emotional stress. This disconnection is especially prevalent in people who also suffer from addiction since they already have a pattern of using avoidance to cope with emotions.

Uncomfortable situations are opportunities for self-reflection and growth. It’s crucial that I don’t remove myself and lose an opportunity for improvement. Abstinence from drugs and alcohol does not guarantee emotional sobriety, and without actively working on my emotional sobriety, I’m not sure I can sustain abstinence.