This is such a big topic that I almost don’t where to start. Memes on Pinterest show pictures of squirrels holding nuts with “follow your dreams” written above their heads. (You don’t know where I’m going with this, do you?) Motivational speakers and fitness instructors implore us to “not make yourself small so others can feel big.” And Chinese fortune cookies and Robert Frost poems encourage us to take the road less travelled. But, what do you do when you fear losing your partner’s love?
Sigh. I get it. I hear it. I feel it. But when you are in the middle of it, IT IS SO HARD. On any given day there are a hundred reasons why you can convince yourself not to go back to college, not to start exercise program, or not to begin that nanny business. Not to mention if you are on your period. That time of the month can add 50 more reasons.
One of the biggest fears on this list is the fear of losing your partner’s love. This fear morphs over time, and it’s not easy to navigate. When you initially get that spark of interest toward something, perhaps that you want to train for a half marathon, start an Etsy shop, or be a substitute teacher, you let it sit in the back of your mind. You aren’t sure if you should nurture or ignore it. If you nurture it, what would come next?
Then maybe you start googling half marathon training schedules during your lunchbreak or researching Etsy guidelines while the baby naps, and that idea begins to grow, and dare you say it, you allow the excitement to bloom. For whatever reason, maybe you’ve had seven other similar ideas in the past, maybe you are known for having ideas and not following through, or maybe you’ve never pursued something new before, you keep it to yourself. You don’t share it with your partner because you don’t know how he or she will react.
So, you do your training runs before work, literally in the dark. You write your business proposal during lunch at work. You research teaching certifications after everyone is in bed or listen to business-related podcasts in the car alone. I heard this practice referred to by Rachel Hollis as “dreaming in the dark.” What you are doing here is telling yourself that you are following your dreams, but only when it’s convenient for everyone else in your inner circle. You are only doing it when they are unaware; hence, “in the dark.” You allow your excitement to come out and play during recess when no one else is privy.
But is that really “following your dreams?” Are you really respecting yourself if you keep your spark confined? So, now maybe you reach a point in your journey that you confide in your partner about your idea. This is when your dream might start impacting the family unit. Maybe you must consult your partner about finances to enroll in a term at the local community college. Maybe you need him or her to watch the kids while you take your long training runs on the weekend. Or maybe you’ve stepped into your excitement and are so overjoyed that you can’t contain it any longer.
Either way, your idea is out there. You fear how your partner will react. You know the saying – you hope for the best but prepare for the worst. Your partner might support you outright, tolerate the goal, try to sabotage you, or throw a mix of those at you. Let’s examine each option.
If your partner supports you, great! You’ve hit the jackpot. Partners that readily accept and encourage your goals are likely to be pursuing some of their own, too. They encourage your dreams because they likely have them, too. They understand the determination and focus that it takes and are likelier to cheer you on.
If your partner tolerates your pursuit, he or she might go along with your requests to watch the kids, but not go out of their way to help or ask about your endeavors. This is a hard line to walk. You likely already feel vulnerable for stepping out of your comfort zone to pursue the goal and then for speaking it out loud. Now you must navigate this confusion. Is it too much to ask our partners to be encouraging instead of just tolerant? To ask open-ended questions and show genuine interest? And if so, how do we accomplish this?
It’s easy for outsiders to say Oh, just talk to your significant other. Communication is key. Yes, it is, but friend, I’m right here with you, and I understand that that is an extremely uncomfortable situation. For now, let’s imagine that your partner can make the leap from tolerance to encouragement. Maybe it took for him or her to see your first completed semester, first 100 Etsy sales, or first run with your training group. Often it takes literal time for a partner to see that you are sticking with a goal before getting 100% on board.
Let’s confront the last scenario I mentioned: Your partner might try to sabotage you. He or she might say belittling versions of Who do you think you are? You can’t go to college! You barely graduated high school! You can’t run a marathon! The last time you ran was when you jogged through the store parking lot to get cookies! You can’t take that kind of time away from the kids. That’s not what a good mother does! Friend, if your significant other responds like that, please, please consider couples therapy. You don’t deserve to be spoken to that way, and he or she is trying to control you. If your partner refuses to attend, go by yourself. Your spirit needs to be supported. I say this with nothing but love: Please remember that we are role modeling behavior for our children, and little ears are always listening. They pick up on relationship dynamics, for better or worse. Take care of yourself.
Let’s say, now, though, that your goal is expanding, and that your spirit is thriving. You passed your first year in college with straight As, you are launching six new Etsy products this quarter, or you completed the half-marathon and are eyeing a full! Why not? You are learning that you TRUST and BELIEVE in yourself.
And yet. And yet a new round of fears regarding your partner starts to surface. I recently wrote an article called “The Fear of Success,” and much of it was rooted in change. How will your growth affect the household? Your partner? Will you outgrow your friends? Will you outgrow your significant other? What happens then? Do you stay with the person? Yikes. These are not easy ideas to confront, which is why you might have been avoiding them until, well, you can’t anymore.
Underneath all that, is the fear that your partner will no longer love you. What if you start taking better care of your body as your confidence skyrockets and you experience more and more success? You exercise, eat differently, sleep more, and are more animated. You talk about your projects, what you are learning, and your pie-in-the-sky dreams that in your gut, you know you can conquer. YOU ARE GLOWING. That’s what I’m talking about – you are now in the headspace where you know that in spite of the regular doubts that go along with growth, you know you will be successful because you trust yourself, you believe in yourself, and you know you everything is figureoutable (thank you, Marie Forleo).
What if that headspace is intimidating? What if your partner doesn’t want to deal with it? And here it is…What if your partner is no longer attracted to you and prefers someone simpler? I just paused as I’m writing this because that last one has the potential to literally make your chest hurt. Hurt with panic and fear of the unknown. In Psychology Today, Hara Estroff Marano wrote, “Women especially fear success because they are afraid that being powerful enough to create the life they want will render them unlovable.”
Where do you go from there? I’m not about to sit here and pretend I have all the answers. It’s easy for people outside of your relationship to tell you, You don’t need him! If he can’t appreciate your ambition, get rid of him! But if you’ve built a life with this person, have a home, and/or a family, it’s not that easy. When you have deep feelings for someone, you don’t just throw up your hands. Love isn’t disposable.
But here’s the thing. Once you’ve gotten a taste of personal growth, whether it be exercising, attending a conference, or starting that business plan, it’s hard to squelch and bury in your heart again. Friend, Pandora’s box has been opened, and you have changed. You ideally hope your partner will want to better him or herself, too, but if they don’t, then you have some reflecting to do.
Do you want to acquiescence and give up the pride, belief in yourself, and the pure joy you are feeling so that your partner feels more comfortable? Can you even do that now? You’ve changed. Not only might that not be possible, but it’s not fair of your partner to ask. It’s not a fair condition of the relationship. If a relationship is to continue to be healthy and prosper, then you will both have to support each other’s growth. The relationship can’t grow if only one of you is doing the growing.
So, again, where do you go from here? The truth is, friend, no one can tell you. What I can tell you, though, is that the answer will come to you. Keep doing what you need to do for yourself, whatever it is that is causing you joy, and your truth will surface. As cheesy as this sounds, your head often knows what to do long before your heart is willing to accept it.
Wanting more is not an easy road, which is why many allow themselves to remain stagnant. Telling yourself that you are “stuck” and don’t have choices is easier than navigating through the soul-searching thoughts we’ve discussed today. Whatever happens, honor yourself, articulate your needs, and know you are not alone. You deserve goodness and are working damn hard for it. Hugs, friend.
Did today’s topic resonate? How is your significant other handling your goals? How are your changes affecting your household? Share below!
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