When a relationship starts to get serious, sometimes you may find yourself wondering – is this what I want? Where is this relationship going? What do I want? What does my boyfriend or girlfriend want?
These feelings are natural, and they are a normal part of emotional development as a relationship evolves from something casual and exploratory to a more serious situation. But it can be hard to see through such feelings and to decide whether they’re just proverbial “cold feet” or a serious sign that the relationship isn’t going to work out.
It is important to trust your feelings, but it’s equally important to use your brain, to be reasonable about your relationship. Break up a relationship every time you have any doubt and you’ll never get anywhere. But how can you tell the difference between normal cold feet – reasonable anxiety about moving forward with a serious relationship – and genuine subconscious warning signals that things aren’t right?
One of the biggest ways to figure out your feelings is to give yourself time. Don’t act on a sudden impulse and break up with someone as soon as you feel some anxiety about the future. Cold feet are normal, but they don’t last forever. Give yourself the gift of time to let your feelings evolve.
To help yourself untangle normal anxious feelings from more serious emotional signals, try some freewriting. Take time each day to scribble down some of your ideas about how you feel about your relationship. Keep this information private – you don’t ever have to show it to anyone or tell anyone about it. Make two columns on a piece of paper and list positive and negative aspects of your relationship. Do this every day for a week or two and you will certainly start to see patterns in your own thinking and in your emotions.
Another writing task might help – ask yourself the simple question “Why do I want to break up?” and then just write whatever comes into your head for five minutes. You’d be surprised how much you can scribble down in five minutes. Read the paper and then destroy it so you don’t have to worry about anyone else ever finding it. Be honest with yourself.
Even writing ideas down and destroying the paper they’re written on will help you clarify your thoughts and feelings. The things you’ve writte
n will stick in your mind and your brain will turn them over, sorting through them while you are awake and while you are asleep. Your subconscious mind is a powerful ally and can really help you make sense of a confusing situation given a little time.
It’s not always easy to be honest with yourself – we all have certain fears and irrational anxieties that keep us from telling the truth sometimes, even to ourselves. But sometimes scribbling down these fears, giving them life on paper, can defang them and deprive them of some of their power.
Concentrate on distinguishing between normal commitment jitters – loss of independence, restriction of your romantic choices and opportunities, financial entanglement – and more serious “deal breaker” problems. Normal jitters often come from the simple fear of growing older and moving into a more serious, grown up phase of life, leaving the freedom of youth behind. Our popular culture celebrates youth as the most important thing in life, and it’s hard to let go of the message we all get constantly from advertising, movies, and music. But growing up is a normal and necessary part of life, and if you give yourself a little time to adjust to that idea, you will be OK.
Are you afraid of commitment or afraid of your partner? Those are two very different things. Are you “settling” for someone who has serious, unresolved issues of some sort? In this case, you have to trust your gut. What does it tell you about your partner? If they have serious problems with alcohol, drugs, gambling, promiscuity or anger, then it might be better for you to break up, especially if they deny those problems and are unwilling to seek help for them.
Perhaps it’s the other way around and you have fears about yourself, that maybe you aren’t serious relationship material. The best way to deal with these sorts of doubts is to have a frank, honest discussion with your boyfriend or girlfriend about your relationship and where it’s going. Again, just as you need to give yourself time to process your feelings, make sure you give your partner time to reflect on the situation, too. Bring up the subject of your relationship and your future and tell them you’d like to talk about it sometime. But don’t force the issue by expecting an immediate answer. Let them have some time to think and figure out what they want, too. You may be surprised to find that both of you have doubts about yourselves and about committing to a more serious relationship. That’s fine and it’s normal.
In the end, you will probably never feel 100 percent ready to move forward into a more serious relationship. That’s not human nature. Try giving yourself a percentage score, though. Think and write about your feelings, and then decide – I’m 70 percent ready, or I’m 25 percent ready. Do this periodically and it can really help with major relationship decisions, like whether to move in together, get married, or try to have a child.
If you ever get to 75 percent ready or higher, then you’re probably as ready as you will ever be. Don’t wait for 100!