Fear—what is it really, and how does it impact a couple?
Let’s check out some kinds of fear:
Fear of getting close
Fear of commitment
Fear of being honest
Fear of loss
Fear of rejection
Fear of failure, and
Fear of success!
How many of us think passion dies as a relationship gets older? That sex must fizzle out? This is because the longer we are with someone, the closer we are, the more we have to lose. Even if we’re unaware of it, we become Afraid.
Why do we fear commitment? Often because of past relationships—not just with “exes,” but also with family and others in childhood. We transfer unresolved baggage onto our partners. We fear being trapped. (“Holy S****: Is this the last person in the world I’ll have sex with?”)
Where did we learn that being honest with our partner about what bothers us is “wrong?” We can’t avoid hurting the people we love. And our partner may prefer to hear that we’re angry or hurt than for us to withdraw or make snide remarks!
We may fear loss based on past losses—abandonment by a parent; a partner who “dumped” us. Robin, my partner, is 13 years older than me. He’ll probably die before I do. (Or maybe not—he’s a pastoral workhorse!) Sometimes, I find myself getting irritable when Robin is tired. But when I look underneath, I find Fear. When I recognize this, I feel safer and more comfortable with Robin.
“If they really get to know me, they won’t like what they see—and they’ll reject me!” We need to learn to like what we see. Let’s accept that we can’t please our partner all the time.
“If our relationship doesn’t work out, I’m a failure.” Can we actually fail at a relationship? We give it our best shot. If it works out, great! If it doesn’t, and we’ve tried whatever we could (including couples therapy!), that doesn’t mean we’ve “failed.”
Fear of success can be bigger than fear of failure! If we’re unused to feeling successful, it can freak us out to be doing well, and we may sabotage the relationship. I’ve seen this when couples start improving in therapy.
But guess what: It’s not Fear that’s the problem—it’s acting on fear! Let’s not do that—because good relationships are worth it!
Jonathan Lebolt, PhD (“Doctor Jon”) is a licensed clinical social worker, psychoanalyst, and group psychotherapist specializing in relationship issues. He lives with his partner of 14 plus years, Rev. Dr. Robin Gorsline, and their princely pooch, Cocoa. Robin and Jonathan are proud grandfathers of a beautiful one-year-old girl, Juna. Feel free to contact Doctor Jon at his website.