The Sneaky Self-Talk That's Sabotaging Your Relationships (And How To Stop)

The thing I say to myself most — more than affirmations, more than inspirations, more than anything — is the word should. The almost inevitable result of should is a doubt spiral that makes me feel depleted, dejected, and incapable. So many of us do this, and so often, that it starts to seem innocuous. But don't be fooled. It's toxic, both personally and relationally.

The shoulds that affect relationships tend to be about risks we should take in the name of vulnerability or things we need to change because we perceive ourselves as inadequate or incomplete. If you see the patterns in your shoulds, however, they can be productive. These patterns hold valuable lessons about yourself and your relationships.

If you find yourself telling yourself over and over why you should do something good for your relationship, ask yourself why you’re choosing to stay stuck in your comfort zone. Examine the resistance.

In truth, it's the fear of rejection that's holding me back.

Why wouldn’t you want to move toward love? How does your resistance to doing the thing you tell yourself you should do hold you back from a fulfilling relationship?

Sometimes, we fear greatness — in this case, a profound love — more than we fear frustration or stagnation. With greatness, comes expansion and newness. We know what is familiar, even if it's not the best we could have.

If we reach new heights, we have something to lose. Many people unconsciously choose to stay single, or withhold some part of themselves in relationships, because they have a deep fear of rejection. Listen to the conflicting messages you're sending yourself, and reach their source, whether it's through self-examination on your own, journaling, spirituality, or therapy.

Even more harmful to our relationships are the shoulds that imply we aren’t good enough, or that we won't be ready for love until we do some unspecified thing. This is self-shaming. It implies that we deeply believe there’s something about us that is unlovable and needs fixing. To protect ourselves from being seen as imperfect or being rejected, we build walls between us and our partners or potential partners.

The more you tell yourself you are not good enough, or that you have something to fear, the more deeply you'll internalize them as truths. This perspective absolutely influences the way we interact with others and the significance we project onto our romantic interactions.

For example, I’ve recently gained a few pounds. While it’s not so much that I look like a different person, it’s enough that should messages about losing weight before deeply pursuing my partner have been wreaking havoc on my brain.

The shame of my perceived imperfection affects the way I experience my interactions with my partner, because I’m projecting my belief that I should lose some weight onto him. These thoughts prevent me from being fully present in my relationship. They serve as a barrier that keeps me from dropping into full intimacy and vulnerability with my partner. In this way, the should is "protecting" me from rejection.

But in truth, it's the fear of rejection that's holding me back.

Messages about how we should be if we desire love affect the way we perceive ourselves and the way we interact with potential or existing partners.

I’d like to challenge you with this question: What if there was nothing about you to fix and you were already perfect? (I know your mind will tell you this isn't possible, that there’s always something to improve. Mine does, too. That’s totally normal. It doesn’t mean you’ve failed.)

How would you navigate relationships if you truly believed this?

Don't indulge in guilt for having these thoughts. They're a part of normal, human mental chatter. Next time they arise, though, try calling them out. Recognize the thought. Usually, that’s all you have to do to put it to rest for a while. Then ask your intuition what your shoulds are trying to protect you from.

Put aside the should-shaming. Have compassion for yourself. Embrace the parts of yourself that you consider most in need of change and that are most resistant to change. Once you truly love and accept yourself, the fears will fall away, and when they do, your shoulds will disappear.

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