Yesterday I wrote a blog post about someone who recently reached out to me for advice. She was experiencing a lot of anxiety and worry about whether or not she was going to marry the right guy.
I asked my readers what advice they'd give someone in this position before I shared my response to her. Here were some of my favorite pieces of advice:
Zala's answer was short and sweet. Choosing the right person to marry has less to do with them, and more to do with you being willing to make it work.
I loved Lana's advice of "Choose someone you really enjoy... then forgive them for being human most days."
I appreciated Kelly's advice to get clear about what she's really doubting, talk to Mom, understand that divorce isn't the end-of-the-world, and looking for the message underneath the message:
And I loved Jennifer's advice to ask this young lady to really understand what is giving her anxiety. Sometimes we blame one situation for our anxiety when it's really coming from somewhere else.
I loved reading everybody's answers. You all are so stinkin' smart. I love how you each have a unique perspective based on your personal experiences and thoughtful observations.
Now for the advice I gave her:
Define where you don’t have control
First I started out by asking her what specific things felt outside her control. Anxiety almost always stems from a loss of control of the future, or a sense of dread that follows us from the past.
Come to find out, she was nervous about a few things:
She was worried her marriage would fail.
She was worried that her life would be mediocre.
She was worried that her fiance was not “the right one.”
My response to her was a simple question. “Can you explain to me what a failed marriage looks like, what a mediocre life looks like, and what it means to be “the right one?”
It’s easy to be scared of big, vague, undefined things like “failure” or whether or not someone is “The One.” If you’re like me, when you're confronted with something scary and intimidating, you’ll start to imagine all of the absolute worst-case scenarios… and that’s where the panic begins. It’s like the monster in under your bed. You can’t see it. You don’t understand it. Then your brain gets you worked into a paranoid frenzy over a threat that isn’t clearly defined or understood… and may not even exist.
That kind of fear can absolutely paralyze you.
And what happens when you’re paralyzed? Well, you freeze. You can't take action. You give up your ability to influence your life, or change the situation… which almost always leads to the worst-case scenario. The thing you’re scared of actually takes place.
If you’re so scared of a mediocre marriage that all you do is freeze up and focus on the things that are going wrong in your relationship in order to justify your fears, your marriage will never improve. (You might freeze up so much that you never even end up in a relationship!)
If you’re so scared that your partner isn’t “The One” that you freeze up, stop reciprocating their love (let alone initiating the things that will make your relationship extraordinary), you can bet that your partner will NEVER feel like “The One” to you.
Get clarity around your fears
The moment you get clarity regarding what you're really scared of, your anxiety will begin to subside. You start to realize how much power and control you actually have.
For example, what if what you call a “mediocre marriage” is really a marriage where you stop talking to each other about important things? Maybe it’s a marriage where you keep secrets from each other. Or maybe it’s a marriage where you stop taking care of your physical and emotional health. Maybe it’s just a marriage where you stop progressing as individuals or as a couple.
Getting from vague to specific will make your path clear. You no longer have to fight against a pretend monster. You have a clearly defined dragon, and you can start creating a strategy to defeat it.
Here’s a story that will give you the secret to defeating your biggest relationship dragons.
A few years ago, a friend of mine got in a motorcycle accident. He was exiting the freeway on his bike. The ramp was long and curved to the left. He noticed on the side of the road there was a sign. As he stared at it, he thought to himself, "Don’t hit the sign, don’t hit the sign, don’t hit the sign…"
He hit the sign, wrecked his bike, and broke his arm.
This is a common problem with new motorcycle drivers called “Target Fixation.”
Basically, where you look, is where you go. My friend ran into the sign because he broke the #1 rule of driving a motorcycle: LOOK WHERE YOU WANT TO GO!
Here’s a little truth bomb for you: Most people are great at saying what they don’t want in a relationship, and terrible at saying what they do want.
If all you focus on is the mistakes you don’t want to make, and the problems you don’t want to run into… guess what? You’re not going to get very far without running into the problem you are trying to avoid.
But, if you have a clarity regarding what you actually want your relationship to look like, not only can you can set up clear agreements to prevent yourselves from falling into the trap you want to avoid, but you can create clear agreements to create the marriage of your dreams!
Get clarity around your dreams
Here's an example of something that makes my marriage extraordinary. My wife and I have agreed to a secret-free marriage. We have an agreement in place that, “If you’re ever scared to share something with your partner, it’s the first thing you share.” We also have the agreement, “If your partner shares painful news, we I will choose to respond with empathy and understanding first.”
These agreements create an environment of safety and trust that makes it possible for us to have a marriage without any secrets.
You can set up any agreement you want based on your definition of an amazing marriage or an amazing life!
Ask yourself, “What is an amazing marriage?” “What kind of partner do I need to be to create that kind of marriage?” “What kind of things would the kind of partner I want to be do on a regular basis?” “What would make me happy to experience in my marriage?” “What would make my partner excited to be with me?”
As you answer these questions, you can begin to focus on creating agreements to create the marriage of your dreams instead of big, scary, vague fears that will wreck you.
Create an agreement to hit the gym 3-5 times a week to stay in shape. Create an agreement to go to a marriage workshop or an educational Date Night once every few months to continue your growth as a couple. Create agreements about fostering friendships outside the marriage, when to have sex, or how often you go out on a date night.
The more clear the agreements you create, the more control you have, and the less likely your fears will have a chance of becoming a reality.
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