The best thing about falling in love is feeling excited and confident that we’ve finally found the person we’ve been hoping to find. This is the person that you connect with on many levels, the person who you’ve been searching for and with whom you want to build a life. What an amazing feeling. Even those in long-term relationships can remember that feeling!
Did you ever imagine that there would come a time when doubt would sneak into your relationship? Probably not – I certainly didn’t.
Doubt in marriage is frightening. You’ve made an investment in a life together… maybe you’ve had children together… maybe you’ve bought a home together. Investment is also time that you have given to your relationship, and you’ve made an emotional investment as well. It worries me when doubt enters into a marriage and the advice is “if you’re unhappy – end it”. It’s not that I do not support a person who wishes to end their relationship, but when in doubt we are often not looking to end our relationship – we are looking for a way to move out of doubt, to reconnect and feel the depth of love that we hoped would continue forever.
First, let me say that although feelings of doubt are frightening, these feelings are completely normal in a relationship. When couples enter into counseling, among many things that they are searching for in therapy is hope. Hope to reconnect, hope to feel understood by their partner, hope, hope, hope. Knowing that doubt is normal provides a small degree of hope.
It is also important to mention that when you are feeling ‘extreme doubt’, most people want to ‘know for sure’ whether or not to end a relationship. This is why in my writing I focus on how to be in a relationship rather than tell you to leave it. Most take the decision to end a relationship seriously and want to know that they have tried everything – fear of regret is often strong. Therefore, I provide in my writing all the possibilities to help you in your relationship so that you can decide what is best for you. But again, in our discussion of doubt in relationships – I need to emphasize – doubt is normal. The challenge is “how can we work our way out of doubt?”
Let’s talk about how to find hope when in doubt:
Doubt is felt for many reasons. Let’s look at a few reasons for doubt entering a relationship.
First – Doubt can be felt when we see something (or many things) that we don’t like in our partner. When I work with someone who is newly in love, I always ask them “what don’t you like about this person?” and I am always met with a look of confusion! When we fall in love we are focused on all the things we have been looking for in a partner. We are focused on the things that we fall in love with in that person!
However, it is important to know and accept that there will be aspects of your partner that you will not like. You can never like everything about one person. The important point here is to decide what it tolerable and what is not. I know that when in doubt it is easy to conclude that certain aspects of your partner are intolerable. And while this may be true, please remember that no one person will meet all of your needs or desires.
At some point in a relationship, you will grieve (I know that seems like a strong word) the things that will not be part of your relationship. This is not a bad thing – you can actually find peace when you accept that your partner cannot meet all of your needs. Let me say this though, I’m not suggesting that you let go of your needs being met. If something is important to you, you need to have a conversation with your partner. Decide what needs can be met by friends or family and what you need to obtain from your partner.
For example, I need quality time with my husband. He tends to be focused on many other things in his life, but when we don’t spend time together, I don’t feel as close to him. It isn’t that he doesn’t enjoy spending time with me, it’s just that he needs to be gently reminded that the two of us should plan time together! And it isn’t that I don’t enjoy my alone time – I do!
An example of something that I turn to others for is intellectual dialogue about relationships – I love, love, love to discuss all aspects about relationships! I have studied it, it’s my passion. Believe me, I would love to have these discussions with my husband, but it is not something he enjoys, so I turn to friends and colleagues to meet this need. AND I understand the complexity of engaging in dialogue about relationships with your wife who happens to be a therapist!
Second – Doubt can be felt when we find ourselves in the same pattern that just repeats and does not move the relationship forward. This is perhaps one of the most challenging aspects of a relationship. Everyone will at some point find themselves in one of these patterns. You might find yourself in the same pattern of arguing, or maybe avoiding conflict. If you find yourself saying “nothing ever changes”, chances are you’re caught in a pattern.
The only way to change a pattern is to do something different. If your pattern is to avoid conflict, for example, take a risk and try to address what you know you need to address in your relationship. While changing a pattern will be uncomfortable, it is the only way your relationship can break free from feeling stuck and move forward. When we do something different – it is uncomfortable. My mantra is – comfort zones are expanded through discomfort. I have had to tell myself this mantra many times!
Third – Doubt can be felt when we feel helpless and hopeless that change won’t occur. Be clear on what you are looking for in change. There is a difference between wanting one’s behavior to change as opposed to wanting someone to simply be a different person. I’m sure my husband won’t mind my sharing here! At one point in our marriage he accused me of wanting him to change. The truth was that I did not want him to change who he was as a person – I love who he is as a person. What I wanted to change were some of his behaviors, such as how he approached conflict. It is important to make this distinction!
Finally – Doubt is felt when we’ve been so hurt that we question if we can endure more hurt. The sad truth is that hurt exists in all relationships (I’m not referring to abuse here). What is important to recognize is your emotional triggers. I can’t stress this enough. However, it is also necessary to focus on repair when we hurt one another. While we may always be able to feel the hurt that we’ve experienced, we still need to respond to one another with validation and empathy when we’ve hurt our partner. These are necessary components for repair.
BUT let me be clear – validation and empathy in relationships is complicated. It might not be something that comes easily to either of you. Hurt in relationships is often unintentional and when we express validation and empathy for the hurt that our partner has experienced, it can feel as though we are acknowledging that we’ve done something “wrong” when we have not. Expressing validation and empathy is not an admission of “wrong doing”, it is simply an acknowledgment of the hurt that you or your partner have experienced, even if it was without intention.
This is stating the obvious but it’s always worth remembering. We can never be happy all the time in marriage. Our instinct when we are unhappy is to find a way out of unhappiness. The tendency might be, especially if you feel stuck, is to believe that the only way out is to leave your relationship. And while this may be true for some – for others, it might be a matter of needing another perspective to find hope for your relationship. When I found myself in doubt, it was my trusted mentor who provided a different perspective that I was unable to see without guidance. Distance to gain a clearer perspective is challenging to achieve in a relationship – it can take someone from the outside looking in to provide a different perspective, gently guiding you out of doubt and closer to hope.
One final thing that is helpful for me when I find myself experiencing doubt. I remind myself that I have felt doubt in the past and that we’ve worked our way out of doubt and back to connection. Knowing that we’ve been successful in the past provides me with the necessary hope to pull through painful and doubtful times. Always remember – staying and growing in connection with one another is work. And don’t forget to treasure the times when you are in connection with one another! Embrace the times when in connection – you can remember those times when you feel doubt. It might be yet another way to move out of doubt and back into connection.
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If you want to learn more about relationships – I wrote this for you “Ten Essential Things I’ve Learned About Marriage & Relationships” I’ve included the lesson that saved my marriage. I care about the work that I put out to you, and I hope you find it helpful. Please let me know!
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Thanks for reading!
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Details of any stories told in my blogs have been changed to protect the identity of people that I work with in therapy.
Photo Credit: Anna Tsimpidi@flickr.comShare