Sometimes it is just too scary to let someone else make the decisions. Other times the fear of losing someone is so powerful we won’t even let ourselves get close to them. These sound rather extreme but are more common in marriages than we might think. Let’s take a look at what triggers these fears.
Again, we want to acknowledge the research and wisdom of Dr. Weeks and Dr. Treat in examining these fears of intimacy. To recap from Part 1 and Part 2, fear is present in all of our lives to varying degrees and comes with many, many faces. How should we deal with fear? Acknowledge it, name it, and talk to your spouse about it. Always move towards it, not away from it, and you will disempower fear!
Fear #5: Fear of Losing Control or Being Controlled
Weeks and Treat state, that “Healthy relationships are based on mutual control. Partners share the power and control in the relationship.” That is our baseline and our assumption here, that there is some give and take to the control in the marriage. We see the balance in the Bible verse that precedes the classic text about marriage in Ephesians 5: “Submit yourselves to one another”.
Submission is not something to brow-beat your spouse with – it is something to be mutually given in marriage!
Alright, back to the Fear of Control after a little side rant there… 🙂
A spouse with this fear may actively resist or else passively give in to their spouse. This fear is actually very complex as a person may fear that getting too intimate will result in a loss of control of one’s life. There are two levels of meaning here:
- Giving in or fighting control gives us a diversion from having to have deeper discussions that involve mutuality: which really is an intimate activity. This is why it is a fear of intimacy. By being controlled or by being controlling I can keep you out of my inner workings. Both are avoidance strategies.
- The deeper meaning is that losing control means feeling engulfed by the spouse. I lose myself, and my self-identity, if I am not in control. Often these folks will search (and this is paradoxical) for someone to complete themselves (a strong partner) but then need to recoil from that to preserve the little sense of self they do have. They don’t know who they are or what they want.
If you are in the first group, you will not let your guard down to let others know you. Often there is an assumption that the knowledge that comes from being vulnerable will be used against you. At the same time, you may not know how to assert yourself properly.
This often comes from parents who were over-controlling and did not promote competency and maturity. You may have been a child set up to take tasks beyond your capability and then had your parents stand back and watch you flop.
These marriages have a hard time with intimacy because it is more parent-child than equal to equal. It is regressive. It creates something that parallels what happened in your family of origin where your parents were over-controlling.
Again, the response is to own your stuff and then work through the task of piecing your identity together. It will be a challenging but wonderful journey. You will benefit from having a supportive spouse who respects boundaries and will lift you to that equal-to-equal place rather than buying into the parent-child pattern.
Fear #6: Fear of Abandonment/Rejection
In normal relationships, we all take this risk: the more we emotionally invest in our relationship, the more it hurts when the whole thing goes down in flames. Bring the fear of abandonment or rejection into this and it really complicates things.
If you have been hurt, you are wary to get too close too soon or to get close at all. If you have experienced traumatic abandonment (like death, divorce or desertion of a parent) and never had the opportunity to work through that, then it is even more severe. Or sometimes in adulthood, we can go through relational experiences that really build this fear up as part of our psyche.
The belief that is carried from all those experiences is: the best way to protect myself is to never get close to another person, then I’ll never go through that trauma again. For these people, the question “Is it better to have loved and lost, or to never have loved at all?” has an obvious answer!
Is it better to have loved and lost, or to never have loved at all?
Traumatic abandonment often makes a person believe that “I am unworthy and undeserving of love. Others are unworthy of my love and trust because they will hurt me. At the same time, there is this powerful drive to find worth and love. So I’ll want to be in a relationship and may even invest more in the relationship than my spouse, but I’m constantly insecure about it.” Phew, those are a lot of thoughts to be wrestling with!
How do we heal this?
This takes a lot of work! You need to learn the skill of who to trust, and how to trust. Start to undermine that voice telling you that all people are bad, untrustworthy, and will eventually hurt you. Then take time to reflect on the source of this fear and to work through that to gain healing. (This is good work to do with a therapist, especially one well versed in attachment theory.)
Start replacing unhealthy responses or thoughts with healthy, functional ones. The verse that comes to mind is “As a man thinks, so is he.” There is a retraining of the brain where you create new neural pathways that are grounded in a healthy view of reality.
Again, the underlying thread here as we’ve seen with our other fears it to name and acknowledge them, and then move towards them.
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From Anonymous (and yes, this is actually a real person who didn’t want to be identified – we’re not making these up!): How do you broach “intimate” subjects with your spouse – such as sex, pornography, suspicion of cheating, do-you-really-love-me-anymore?
A great question that we are sure all of us can relate to at some point in time in our lives! Listen to the podcast to hear the answer.