Pt. 2: Long-distance Relationships, Control, and Fear: Making Relationships Great: An Article for Men
by Sven Erlandson
Originally published in Long Distance Lover: http://www.long-distance-lover.com/moving-past-fear/
So, there is one final question for the man in a long-distance relationship who is often worrying about being cheated on…
HOW do you walk away from, or walk through, your fears, so as to live in a state of trust and joy?
Once again, I’m going to be completely honest when I tell you that you may not like the answer, because it may sound dumb to you. And that’s fine. There’s nothing wrong with calling it stupid and ridiculous.
But I’m going to tell you this as a matter of absolute fact: the guys who actually take this sort of stuff seriously are the men who have true inner power, true inner calm, and don’t get as beaten up by life. The men who do this stuff are the ones who don’t live in fear and who are able to live happily, while encouraging their girlfriends/wives to do likewise.
This isn’t stuff most guys do in their 20s or even 30s. Most guys blow it off…..until their lives begin to go to bad and they realize how important stuff like this is. (Don’t even ask me how many men come to me for counseling because in the very year, or years, they reached the pinnacle of career success their wives left them or their kids started spiraling out of control, or both. And it’s because they never made this stuff of looking inside themselves a priority. Left undone, this is the stuff that will later bite you in the ass.)
So, back to the question of how do you move through the fears to a state of greater trust in the universe and in your girlfriend or wife?
Simple. Take out two pieces of paper and a pen.
On the first piece of paper, draw a vertical line down the middle. Then write at the top of the left column, “What am I really terrified of, regarding this relationship?” And write at the top of the right column, “What’s the real, underlying reason I’m afraid of that happening?”
Then it’s really frickin’ simple, but it ain’t easy. You start listing, one by one, all the stuff that scares you the most about the relationship. It can be anything. Perhaps your list looks something like this:
“What am I really terrified of, regarding this relationship?”
1. “I’m afraid she’ll cheat on me”
2. “I’m afraid of guys hitting on her”
3. “I’m afraid of her texting guys behind my back”
4. “I’m just afraid of her lying to me”
5. “I’m afraid of being alone”
6. … Or anything that YOU are afraid of.
Now, it does you no good to lie and pretend you’re not afraid. You DO have fears. Everyone has fears. And, you would be very wise to get those out of you and onto paper as clearly as possible, so that you can begin to see the truth about what is driving your behaviors – behaviors that may very well be driving her away.
It does you no good to be all macho and hardass and pretend like you’re tough and nothing bothers you, because that’s a lie. And the more controlling and jealous you are, the more you reveal just how terrified you are. For,
Period. So, it’s best to get those fears out of you and begin to be honest with yourself, not to mention with your girlfriend.
After you’ve listed every last possible thing, big or small, that causes you anxiety about your relationship, go to the second column and tackle the second question for each numbered item in column one.
This is where it gets harder, because it forces you to go deeper and look at WHY you’re really afraid. Now we’re getting down into the real sh-t. It’s the fear underneath the fear. So, for example, your answers to the list above might read:
“What’s the real, underlying reason I’m afraid of that happening?”
1. I’m afraid of looking stupid when she cheats. I’m afraid of how bad it will hurt my heart knowing she was with some other guy or gal. I’m afraid of how bad it will hurt knowing she doesn’t love me as much. I’m also afraid of how mad I’ll be.
2. Cuz I’m afraid that if they hit on her, she’ll like it. And that means she doesn’t like me as much anymore. I’m afraid of her giving out her number and fooling around on the side. I’m afraid of her calling and texting guys behind my back. I’m terrified of how sad that would make me.
3. It would just hurt so much to know she is lying to me and using me.
4. Cuz when she lies to me she’s basically telling me that I’m not important anymore, not important enough for the truth. She’s saying I don’t matter. And she’s telling me that I’m not enough for her. And that would hurt soooo damn bad, no matter how tough I tried to act.
5. I hate being alone, because I feel like I’m no good. That’s why I don’t want her to cheat, cuz then I’d leave her, but then I’d be alone. When I’m alone, I feel unlovable. And I hate the thought of feeling unlovable. It just hurts too much.
These are just examples of answers. The goal is to dig down as deep as you can go into your fears. And often, just the sheer act of LOOKING AT your fears has the effect of reducing their stranglehold on your life.
Then, if you’re really looking to get a hold of your own life and fears, start journaling every day, or a few times per week. Literally, just sit down with a pad of paper and start writing out what your fears are this week about work, life, relationship, family, finances, friends, etc. (I actually recommend not limiting your journaling to just fears, but flushing out everything that is in your head and heart. This will go a looooooong way to reducing your anxiety in life.)
Because, looking at something once isn’t enough. The goal is to keep flushing it out of you. These fears will come up again and again; though they will diminish with time, if you really look at them and move through them. But it’s a matter of continuing to talk them out with yourself (or with a therapist), because if you don’t, they very often will take over the relationship.
Then, the next challenge is to simply be AWARE of each time you begin to feel these fears, each time you find yourself getting jealous and anxiety-ridden, and each time you want to control your girlfriend. Once you become AWARE of what you are feeling, you then have a choice for how you act. You can choose the path of fear, or you can choose the path of trust, specifically trust that you’ll be okay, no matter what happens.
And when you see that fear staring you in the face, and you so want to act out of anger and anxiety, you then have the choice to pick the path of trust instead. You have the opportunity to express what your fears are TO YOUR GIRLFRIEND, and then choose to trust her anyway.
You see, this is how mature couples last and endure, over time. This is how couples grow closer – not by hiding their fears, but by sharing them. In my latest book, "I Steal Wives", I talk about “The Most Important Conversation Most Couples Never Have,” and it articulates this necessity to share all of your fears with each other, at least once per year. It calls for total candor, total risk, total trust, because you’ll never get closer to a woman until you do.
And, more importantly, you will never have a relationship with YOURSELF, until you have the courage to look at who you really are, and then choose to live your truth, even when it scares the bejesus out of you.
This second exercise is for you to determine how to know if you’re ready to start really sharing your fears – all of them – with your girlfriend or wife. This is to help you determine how serious you are about this relationship, and whether you should start releasing those fears, so you can get closer to her, or just walk away.
On this page of paper, draw two horizontal lines across the page, basically dividing the page into thirds. Then, at the top of the page write the word “Non-negotiables.” At the top of the middle section write “Want but Negotiable.” At the top of the lowest section write “No Big Deal.”
In that first section, simply list the three or five or seven things that you absolutely know for sure that you must have in a girlfriend or wife. These are the things where you know yourself so well that you just know these have to be present in a mate in order for you to be happy. It can be certain physical characteristics, aspects of her character, financial/career requirements, sense of humor, or just about anything. Maybe you know you need a woman with great teeth and a fiery personality.
Maybe you just are certain she has to be gentle or intelligent. Whatever it is that you know you need a woman to possess in order for you to be happy. This isn’t a list of wants; that’s the next section. This is more primal than that. This list of non-negotiables is the handful of things where you know you just couldn’t love of a woman if these things weren’t present. These are dealbreakers. These are the things you neither can nor should compromise on.
The next list ("Want but Negotiable") is comprised of those things you’d really like the woman to be, do, or have, but you’re willing to fudge on a bit. These are the areas where you’re open to compromise – give and take. And some of the things on this list will be more important than others. For example, one thing for me is that a woman have great manners and keep her living quarters pretty neat and clean.
This isn’t quite a non-negotiable, but it’s so important that I have very little wiggle room for a woman on this one. I was in the military and also had a mom who kept a clean house; so this became important to me. But, I am willing to compromise if she’s at least willing to let me clean up after her (and some women aren’t, believe it or not!).
In contrast, one of the things I have also in this “Want but Negotiable” list is my desire that she live near me on the west coast of the U.S. But, I am much more willing to compromise on this, and would gladly move just about anywhere for the right woman.
So, go ahead, in this section list all the things you really want but are somewhat negotiable on. Then write next to it the percentage you’re negotiable. So, for instance, on neatness/manners, I would write that I 90% want it but am 10% open to compromise. But on her location, I 20% want her to be on the West Coast, but am 80% negotiable. By adding percentages I am able to see in front of me just how important something is or isn’t, and how flexible I need to be.
By the way, this section will likely be the longest of the three sections.
Then, in the bottom section of the page, under “No Big Deal,” just start listing all the things you either know other guys care about that you don’t and/or things that some past girlfriends have cared about that you didn’t. For example, both of my ex-wives used to LOVE to buy clothes for me and dress me. And I, quite frankly, had zero problems with that.
Whereas, many guys would have a fit if a girl wanted to buy their clothes. On the other hand, some guys might not care the least if a woman has good manners, but it matters a lot to me.
Some other things on my list of “No Big Deal” are: big breasts (I like a gal with a tiny ass, and couldn’t give two shits about breast size), money (I’ve dated poor and I’ve dated rich, and it doesn’t matter one lick to me which she is), wears make-up or doesn’t wear make-up, is close to her family, likes to travel, likes to do athletic/active things (I work out, but I don’t need a gal who wants to be active, as long as she looks good and gives me great conversation), likes sports (I prefer to watch sports with guys, and like to do other stuff with my girlfriend), etc.
Once you have all three of these sections laid out, you begin to see much more clearly who you really are. (Btw, I strongly recommend you have your girlfriend do the same exercise.)
Now, look hard at the top section of your page, your non-negotiables, and even the middle section, as well, particularly the things that are 70% important or higher. As you look at these things, ask yourself the question:
Does my present girlfriend meet this list???
Does she possess all of my non-negotiables (and perhaps several/most of my “Want but Negotiables”) ???
Then, ask yourself two questions:
1. If she doesn’t meet the requirements of this list, then why the hell are you still dating her?
2. If she DOES meet this list’s requirements, then why aren’t you opening up more, trusting her more, becoming more vulnerable, and taking your relationship deeper?
See, once you realize that a woman IS in the zone of what you really want in a mate, the ball is then in your court. The challenge is yours. Once life gives you a terrific opportunity for a relationship, you then have to step up and decide if you want to take it to the next level of intimacy and commitment, or walk away, because no relationship can last in limbo for very long.
And if she IS that terrific gal that meets all of your non-negotiables, then it’s time to start opening up about your fears and start learning to trust more, because otherwise you will only choke off the very joy you seek.
If she doesn’t meet all of your non-negotiables, you have to ask why you are negotiating on your non-negotiables, why you’re compromising the things that are most important to you. Do you need to be in a relationship so badly that you’re willing to go against who you really are and what you really want and need for your happiness? Are you that desperate? Further, if you ARE willing to compromise or negotiate on those things, then, by definition, they clearly AREN’T your true non-negotiables.
(As an aside: This exercise can also be used for every other aspect of your life, from finances to friends, from career to parenting, and from fitness to family, and so forth. List your non-negotiables and so forth in each area of your life. The goal is to help you get a very clear understanding of who you really are and see if you are living a life consistent with your true values, as well as see what you’re willing to compromise on or not budge on. Thus, it enables you to see where you’re wasting your time and/or where you should be spending more time and energy.)
Ultimately, there is only one tip when it comes to relationships. All other tips and insights boil down to this: Keep opening!
And opening up is scary stuff. Other than the proverbial ‘acts of god,’ like tornadoes, earthquakes, and your dog getting hit by a car, this is the single scariest thing of life: showing the world who you really are.
It’s about having the courage to be your truth, speak your truth, and live the life that feels right to you, no matter how scared you are of what people might say or think. It also means rejecting actions, behaviors, and situations that you do just to win approval from others or just to avoid their criticism.
And if you truly desire a great relationship with a woman (or man), there is no way to have that, unless you have the courage to show her who you truly are (and vice-versa)…..knowing full well that she may not like that and may leave you. To keep opening yourself to yourself, first of all, and then to your mate is ultimately the only path to happiness.
For the only alternative is to stifle and keep inside who you really are. You must trust me when I tell you, staying closed inside and not living your truth is the path of death. You will die inside, slowly but surely. Or, you will begin to more and more engage in maladaptive behaviors and drive away those who want to love you.
The only path to long-term success, especially in a long-distance relationship, is not to attempt to control someone else (thus giving in to your fears), but to open more and more, day in and day out. Then you will have the terrific relationship you’ve always dreamed of.
Sven Erlandson, MDiv, is the father of the 'spiritual but not religious' movement, the cutting-edge of author of several books -- including 'Badass Jesus' and 'I Steal Wives: A serial adulterer reveals the real reasons more and more 'happily married' women are cheating' -- and has his Badass Counseling practice in Manhattan, NYC.