When Joan came to the park with the children but without the sandwiches, her husband Mike hit the roof.
Then the four family members solemnly walked to the nearby delicatessen, ordered sandwiches and went back to the park to eat them. Their youngest daughter tried to cheer everyone up, but the tension was intense. The picnic was ruined.
Mike blamed Joan for the awful afternoon. It was true that Joan forgot the sandwiches. But the day didn’t have to be so bad. Mike didn’t look closely at his own contribution to the problem.
What happened on this afternoon was that Joan’s mistake was translated into something very major in Mike’s head. He thought:
“I can’t count on her. She won’t come through. She doesn’t really love me. If she really loved me she would do a better job with her responsibilities.”
I call it “lover’s panic” when a minor incident of a spouse or dating partner is taken as evidence of a major flaw, indicating that the relationship is sub-par or unacceptable. Sometimes, as in this case, it is taken as proof of lack of love.
Some people remain single and uncommitted for long periods of time because they suffer from lover’s panic. No potential partner is good enough. Some people commit themselves to relationships but are continuously dissatisfied.
People who suffer from lover’s panic do so without realizing it. When they panic, they think that the other person is entirely responsible for the problem, as Mike did on the day of the picnic.
To discover whether you experience lover’s panic, the first step is to watch for situations in which a single incident starts a major fight. Ask yourself whether you have generalized from the incident to something much more substantial.
If you have, then consider whether the generalization is accurate. Often it is not. When people feel frustrated or angry about anything in life, they sometimes pick fights over little incidents. It’s lover’s panic.
Even if the generalization is accurate, a single incident does not have to ruin the day. Say for example that Mike realizes that Joan often forgets responsibilities. Only lover’s panic would lead to a ruined family picnic. Mike could have said what he felt, without acting out on his anger and making everyone miserable. Later that evening he could have talked with Joan about the problem. Their picnic could have been salvaged.
Another action to take to avoid lover’s panic is to put everything in perspective. Every person has weak points when it comes to relationships. In our psychologically-oriented thinking, it is easy to turn every flaw into something with deeper meaning: “If she really loved me she wouldn’t. . . ”
Add that to our own deep-rooted fears about not being loved or about being treated unfairly, and almost any problem can cause panic. Sometimes the best reaction to the flaws of a partner is to say to yourself “no big deal.” You might say to yourself: “I’ll talk to him (or her) later and hope that matters will improve.” With this calm approach, they may very well improve.
If you suffer from lover’s panic, quit ruining your picnics and other joyful occasions. Appreciate the positive features of your partner. Feel his (or her) love and add a little humor, tolerance, and self-scrutiny to your life.
These articles are written to share ideas about how to create and sustain loving and cooperative relationships based on equality and mutual respect.