One, I pick a fight, just to stir things up and try to shake my bad feelings loose.
Or two, I get quiet and withdraw, putting up a wall in an attempt to protect myself.
Neither of these things ever helps, and in fact almost always makes me feel worse.
And yet, I still struggle to figure out what exactly it is that makes me feel so “off” in the first place.
I call it “free-floating anxiety” – something that’s quite familiar to me, as I do suffer from anxiety disorder.
But just because I have anxiety, it doesn’t mean that sometimes there isn’t something very real behind my feelings of uneasiness.
So when I read an article by psychotherapist Katherine Schafler, in which she cites four questions we’re always asking of everyone we encounter, it hit a nerve.
These questions, which she says come from poet Maya Angelou, set the tone for our interactions with people, and determine the quality of our relationships with them.
The more I thought about it, the more I realized that these four questions really do get to the heart of everything. And I mean everything.
Every anxiety I’ve ever had about a relationship, with anyone, had to do with the answer to one of these questions.
Reading them made me want to reevaluate every relationship I’ve ever had with anyone in my life.
I’m betting they’ll do the same for you.
1. Do you see me?
We all want to be seen. Really seen. We can tell when someone is looking past us, or checked out, or thinking about something else.
In a past relationship, I wondered why I felt like my boyfriend didn’t really care about me, when he was always telling me how much he loved and adored me, and doing nice things for me.
This question is the answer.
When we were together, he rarely looked at me. I would gaze adoringly at him, trying to memorize his face, and he would close his eyes.
Sometimes he would actually cover his face with a pillow, as if he could not bear either to look at me, or to be looked at.
How can you connect with someone who refuses to look at you?
2. Do you care that I’m here?
It always puzzles me when I see couples out to dinner together, and both of them are staring down at their phones.
Why did they bother going out together at all, I wonder. Why not just go to dinner alone?
Once you notice this, you’ll realize how common it is.
If you’re in a relationship with someone, they shouldn’t just notice that you’re there and really see you – they should also care that you’re there.
Your presence should make a difference to them.
3. Am I enough for you, or do you need me to be better in some way?
There are so many things to feel anxious about in a relationship.
Someone can see you, and care that you’re there, and still make you feel bad, by implying that you’re not good enough in some way.
You recognize that look of disappointment in your partner’s eyes, or of restlessness, or dissatisfaction, and feel that sick, sinking feeling, often without even understanding quite why.
We want it all: we want to be seen and heard and cared about, and also to know that we’re good enough. That we’re worthy of love. That we’re loved just as we are.
4. Can I tell that I’m special to you by the way that you look at me?
There’s not much of anything better than having someone look at you with love in their eyes.
What is it, exactly, that lets us know we’re loved by the person looking back at us? A sparkle in their eye? A tilt of the head? A smile crinkling the corners of the eyes?
It’s hard to nail it down, but when we see it, we know it.
That boyfriend who covered his face when I looked at him? He did sometimes look back at me, in the same adoring way my dad used to look at me.
I never thought anyone would look at me that way again, after my father died. Like I was the best thing he’d ever seen. It was intoxicating.
I guess that’s why I hung on for so long, when the answer to the other questions was clearly no.
Did he see me? No, not usually. Did he care that I was there? No, not in the end, not enough. Was I enough for him? No, though I don’t believe anyone would have been.
But did I know I was special by the way he looked at me? Yes, sometimes. (Then again, he was an actor, so who knows?)
The point is, when the answer to these questions is no, or feels like it might be no, we become upset.
We get the bad-belly feeling; the free-floating anxiety.
In order to have a healthy relationship with anyone, the answer to all four questions has to be yes.
Think about the last time you felt a connection with someone – a stranger on the street, even.
It was probably because you felt seen. You felt special. You felt good enough. You felt that you mattered.
It doesn’t take much. It can just be a spark of recognition, but it’s powerful.
The next time you feel anxious about a relationship in your life, any relationship, ask yourself these questions.
You might just find that you have good reason to feel uneasy.
Source: Your Tango