When you get scared, your mind starts frantically telling old stories. Don’t listen to them.
The most destructive fight in a relationship is often the fight with our own minds. I know the feeling of spinning out of control very well. An old partner of mine had a best female friend, and they were scarily close. He would casually mention her in our conversations (my classic trigger) and I would skyrocket into emotional survival mode, racing to figure out what needed to be done to keep him or what was really going on beyond the surface.
The truth is that overanalyzing was my comfort zone. It’s so much easier to burrow into the noggin and plot and play out all the fantasies and worst nightmares than to fully live out something even more unknown. This habit is a tough one to kick. Even though I was sure working it out in my head was the only way forward, my spinning thoughts were lying heavy upon my relationship. I’ve learned that relationships are like a clothes hanger. We unload our heaviest layers onto this one new seemingly sturdy hanger, and then we get devastated when it falls under the weight and we have to carry it all by ourselves again.
Overanalyzing a relationship is one mechanism by which we unknowingly dump all of our baggage onto our partners and then wonder why it self-destructs over time. Camping out in my head was a way to avoid the realness of my own fears, past failures, and pain. The truth is that I was recreating these experiences in my relationship to try to escape the memories I felt in my body. If my partner just dropped the name of his best friend, my chest would clench and my heart would pound. My breath would shorten, and I would try everything in my power to avoid what my body was telling me, employing my best defense—in-depth and detailed analysis:
- “It was just a yoga class so there were plenty of other people there.”
- “But yoga is kind of sexy with all those positions.”
- “Is she secretly trying to wedge between us by inviting him there?
- “Is he having more fun with her than with me?”
- “Am I going to lose him?”
- “Okay, I should plan something sexy right now.”
Today, I’ve helped hundreds of people get out of their heads and ditch their baggage so their relationship can have a chance at thriving. During a recent session, one of my clients, on the verge of leaving the love of her life, began working on her spinning thoughts. Realizing that she was just replaying the mental stories she learned growing up—”Don’t trust your partner, he wants to steal your freedom”—we were able to ground her back into what was happening in her body. To her surprise, she felt deeply cared for and loved by her sincere husband, and this truth was far scarier than the mistrust, simply because it was less familiar. She could have really made a huge mistake, snowballing her anxiety and “hanging” it all on her husband until their love was completely buried under the weight of her irrational fears. Sounds crazy, but this is how most of us go through life relating.
So how do you stop your very own crazy train in its tracks? Whenever your mind sends you into a tizzy about something in your relationship, ask yourself, with the curiosity of a detective cracking a juicy case, “What’s so uncomfortable for me to feel in my body right now?” Then notice where your attention immediately goes. Breathe and wonder what’s actually going on in that place. Start with what’s happening strictly on a physical level. Note any tension, pressure, temperature or motion in your senses. Leave behind stories like “This always happens to me” or judgments like “My partner is holding me back.”
What if your partner is simply a beautiful mirror that brings all of your fears to light, ultimately for you to face and embrace a new level of happiness, one that’s a little outside of your comfort zone? What if you could simply turn toward yourself in those moments when you want to intellectualize and do something to support your own emotional growth instead- journal, meditate, make art. Then return to your partner, a little more whole with a lot more love to offer.
This is the real love you find behind closed doors, two people growing together in uncertain and uncomfortable places. Summon the courage to fully experience this moment. Analyzing a situation is a way to literally keep your life boxed in, within the confines of what our minds have already known. Exploring outside your comfort zone is not just useful for dancing in public or asking your boss for a raise. Essentially, it is what builds the love in our relationships and brings us closer together. It propels us in the right direction, whatever that may be.
So take back all that baggage from your precious relationship. Practice wrangling that dizzying habit of overthinking things wherever it shows up, whether at work, with friends or with family. Remember that the need to analyze is just a need to get away from feeling things you’ve never let yourself feel before. Get excited about what beautiful moments are hiding in that uncharted territory.
And don’t be too hard on yourself if it takes a while to unravel a lifelong pattern of overthinking. Our relationships are there to uplift us, help us grow, and experience more of out of life. Love is for living, not for thinking about. Don’t let an old habit ruin a good thing.
Nicole Casanova, the founder of Polished Personal Development, helps her coaching clients in committed partnerships to understand the true cause of their dissatisfaction and to build more meaningful and joyful relationships and lives.