Our hearts are encased in protection, layers of materials like iron or brick that create a fortress around our most sensitive selves. When these material first arrived, they came as friends, for our hearts as young people didn’t know how to rest undefended. We needed to harden in order to survive. But one aspect of growing up means realizing that our greatest strength is what we have become conditioned to believe is our greatest weakness: a softened heart is a wise heart, and it no longer needs the armor it thought it needed to keep it safe.

Safety, as an adult, means dropping the defenses. It means letting those we love into our innermost chambers. It means saying “I don’t know” or “Yes, maybe that as well” instead of being entrenched in one position. It means taking the risk of being vulnerable, which by definition is an undefended state. It means communicating from the origin of the feeling instead of from the defense, attack or projection, which means saying, “I’m scared” instead of “My partner isn’t funny enough” or “I feel hurt” instead of “He’s not the right one for me” or “I’m grieving” instead of “She’s not beautiful enough.” It means moving toward our partner even when the hardened material of fear or doubt tries to convince us to move away.

For those struggling with relationship anxiety, fear is the wall. Fear manifests as anxiety, doubt, confusion, lack of sex drive, and ambivalence. Each of these states composes a brick in the wall of your fortress, and each one needs attention in order to soften it into dissolution. When we dissolve the bricks, we allow love to flourish.

This is a process, of course, meaning that it takes time to soften what has taken years to solidify. And we need to the tools and plans in order to know how to crumble the bricks of our walls. We need to know what loving actions are required in order to chip away at the barricades or cross the moat that separates us from the one we love. For it’s action that softens fear’s grip and it’s action that fashions a boat that crosses the waters that separate.

Loving actions are YES practices whereas any action rooted in fear/separateness is a NO practice. Whatever we water will grow, which means that when we water the ways we separate – listening to doubt, criticizing, nagging, projecting – the chasm grows. Conversely, when we water the YES practices, we learn to move toward our partner in thought, word, and action, thus shortening the divide and creating the closeness that we long for.

The first step in softening the walls, as I teach in depth in the first week of my 30-day Open Your Heart course, is to identify your walls. Everyone’s walls may look or sound slightly different, but they generally fall into predictable categories and once you name them concretely they become easier to spot. Fear isn’t as clever as we think; it has a finite number of tactics and lines, which means once we can identify them we can call them onto the mat. The first step is always the naming.

From the naming, we commit to the other daily practices that help us dissolve the barriers that keep us separate under the illusion of safety. Again, what served when we were young – these defenses developed from wisdom to keep us protected when there was nobody else protecting – no longer serves. Much of the path of conscious relationship is undoing the unhealthy habits and replacing them with healthy ones. These new, healthy habits that are designed to promote open-heartedness, genuine attraction, and real love are what I teach in my Open Your Heart course.

Recently I blew the cover off one of my lifelong defensive habits. I will share the details of this awakening in one of the weekly phone calls in the next round of Open Your Heart, but for now I will say that every time I see another layer of fear’s sneaky ways, I’m both grateful and humbled. I don’t recall how early I learned this habit, but I know it’s been with me for a long time and I know it has created untold pain in my marriage as I’ve pushed by husband out of my heart through these micro-moments of saying NO instead of YES. When we submit to fear’s maneuvers in any way we grow the separateness and stop being a team player. And while we need a strong sense of Self in order to surrender fully into the risk of open-hearted love, we also need to be able to step into the mindset of WE instead of I and YOU. Fear erodes the WE for fear is always a manifestation of the mindset of separateness.

In The Book of Joy, the Dalai Lama and Archbishop Desmond Tutu speak repeatedly about the need to break down our barriers globally as we shift from a story of I/you to one of WE. We are the same human, they teach. We are seven billion together on this planet. Your story is my story and ultimately we all want the same thing: to love and be loved, to live a life of meaning, to be healthy and happy. For those of us working in the world of relationships, we take this global call and bring it down to the very personal level as we learn how to soften fear’s walls by naming them, working with them consciously, then choosing another path. The more times we choose the other path, the more we re-wire the brain in the direction of connection.

If you would like to be able to identity and name your fear walls and learn the loving YES actions that will help you bridge your moats so that you can open your heart to love, please join me for my tenth round of Open Your Heart: A 30-day program to feel more love and attraction for your partner, which will begin on March 10, 2018. Let’s join together as we learn how to step more fully into perhaps the most important task we’re entrusted with on this planet: to love and be loved.

Author's Bio: 

Sheryl Paul, M.A., has counseled thousands of people worldwide through her private practice, her bestselling books, her e-courses and her website. She has appeared several times on "The Oprah Winfrey Show", as well as on "Good Morning America" and other top media shows and publications around the globe. To sign up for her free 78-page eBook, "Conscious Transitions: The 7 Most Common (and Traumatic) Life Changes", visit her website at http://conscious-transitions.com. And if you're suffering from relationship anxiety – whether single, dating, engaged, or married – give yourself the gift of her popular eCourse