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    Last month I wrote about finding healthy space in your relationship. But what if the very thought of letting go of your partner, even a little, is a one-way ticket on the A train (A for anxiety) to Clingsville?

    If you have a history of abandonment or unfaithful partners, it might send you into a tailspin when your beloved asks for a little friend time or alone time. Your fear or jealousy my be fueled by unhealed emotional wounds that you look to your partner to fix, or an emptiness you hope s/he will fill.

    What you’re faced with is a challenge of differentiation. Renowned relationship expert and couples therapist David Schnarch PhD writes extensively on this delicate balance between individuality and connection. He points out that our task as adults is to learn to hold on to ourselves in the face of such anxiety—to calm ourselves down and give our partner room to be who s/he is.

    Easier said than done, to be sure. Yet this is what being a grown-up is all about—learning to handle our feelings and develop into whole human beings. In fact, Schnarch points out that it’s the relationship itself that triggers and stretches us—that grows us up, so to speak. Or it can—if we are willing to do the work.

    If you have a lifelong pattern of insecurity in relationships, professional counseling may be in order. But anyone can benefit from trying these in-the-moment self-soothing strategies.


    If we pay attention, our bodies offer the first signals we’re feeling anxious. Whether it’s a knot in the stomach or a heaviness in the chest, these body sensations are telling us “It’s time to get grounded.’’ Conscious breathing is a tried-and-true approach that has helped millions.

    Try this simple breathing technique (taught by Andrew Weil M.D): breathe through your nose for a count of 4, retain your breath for 7 beats, then exhale through pursed lips on an 8 count. Weil recommends practicing this two times a day for no more than four breath cycles.


    Make friends with your adult brain and talk yourself down. Remind yourself that your husband spending a weekend with friends is not the same thing as your father abandoning the family when your were five years old. Remind yourself that in the adult world, we get to operate according to our choices about relationships. We choose to stay or go—and so does our partner. If we are functional and able to feed and care for ourselves, we actually cannot be abandoned.

    Try this: Send soothing words to the scared child inside, letting him or her know it’s going to be ok. Or call an objective friend and get a reality check.


    Learn to sit with those uncomfortable feelings. One hallmark of adulthood is the ability to tolerate anxiety, fear, loneliness and hurt without lashing out at oneself or another person. Nobody ever died from having an emotion—but I have seen many people reach new levels of maturity by simply acknowledging and sitting with their vulnerable feelings.

    Try this: Touch the place in your body where you feel the emotion and simply say “Yes, this is here right now: I‘m afraid…I feel ashamed…I’m feeling angry” and just let it be, without judgment.

    (This technique from psychotherapist and author John Welwood is a shorthand for his transformative process, Unconditional Presence. See below.)


    These tasks aren’t always easy, but the payoff can be huge: you and your relationship can both get better. As we connect more deeply with ourselves, our lives inevitably becomes richer, and the emptiness inside begins to fill up with Self. We can learn to relish our own company, and bring more to the table when we’re with our beloved.

    To Learn More:


    Passionate Marriage: Keeping Love and Intimacy Alive in Committed Relationships

    by David Schnarch PhD

    If the Buddha Dated: A Handbook for Finding Love on a Spiritual Path

    by Charlotte Kasl

    Perfect Love, Imperfect Relationships: Healing the Wound of the Heart

    by John Welwood


    David Schnarch’s The Crucible Institute:

    Dr. Weil 4-7-8 Breathing: