Fears in relationships can take many forms. Most often, people experience fears of abandonment, intimacy, and loss. Fear becomes a problem when that person does not function well within the relationship or cannot get too close or intimate with their partner.
Causes of fear.
Although fears are dramatically different from one another, they can coexist and cause behaviors that pull one partner into a relationship and then push them away. Fears in intimate relationships usually stem from childhood experiences; the person in question is unaware of their past and focuses solely on their present relationship. The most common fears include
Fear of intimacy. A person fears emotionally connecting with others in an intimate relationship and is unable to share their emotions. This often results from the experience of not getting the necessary affection from a parent/parents as a child.
Fear of losing control. People with this fear are afraid of being controlled by their partner and losing their identity in the relationship. This often stems from growing up in a family where all family members where expected to think and behave in a specific way.
Fear of abandonment. Fear of abandonment is a feeling of constant worry that your partner will leave you. This fear often results from a parent abandoning someone during their childhood.
Fear of critique. Although these people may be comfortable in social situations and have many friends, their relationships are superficial as they are unable to make intimate connections, fearing that others will judge them negatively or even reject them.
Risk factors can often be detected as far back as childhood and the relationship between the person and their parents, which leads to various issues.
Loss of a parent or abandonment by a parent. The loss of a parent through divorce, imprisonment, abandonment, or death may leave a child with feelings of rejection. People who experience these fears may have a difficult time forming secure attachments as adults. It’s no surprise that fear of rejection and abandonment are associated with anxiety in a relationship.
Emotional neglect. People who experienced emotional neglect from one or both parents during their childhood may experience issues with attachment and have a hard time relying on others, including intimate partners.
Blended families. People who grew up in families where their opinion was not valued and they had to think and behave in a specific way may have issues with intimacy and independence in their adult life.
Role reversal. People in families where illness was a factor may have taken on the role of the caregiver early in life. This role reversal may have lead to poor coping skills in adulthood and may affect the formation of attachments.
Physical, mental, or sexual abuse. Any kind of abuse during childhood may make forming emotional and sexual connections as an adult a huge challenge.
How does fear affect your relationship?
Do you find yourself fighting with your partner? Do you find yourself or your partner bursting like a volcano and leaving both of you exhausted and hurt? These fights are often fueled by our fears. When someone cannot control their fear in a healthy manner, they tend to develop other unhealthy mechanisms to protect themselves when they perceive a threat. For example, when our partner says something that feels threatening to you, you may fear that they will abandon you. Then you panic and strike back in an aggressive way. At that point, there is no chance to deal with the fear in a productive manner. The partners just learned how to deal with it in a specific way (i.e., aggression), and cannot break the habit as they don’t know what else to do.
Coping with fear in your relationship.
You don’t have to live this way anymore. You can deal with fear in another way. Just follow these simple steps:
- Give a name to your fear (e.g., fear of rejection, fear of intimacy, fear of being judged, fear of being alone, fear of losing control, fear of abandonment, fear of failure, fear of being ignored, etc).
- Sit down and verbally communicate your fear to your partner instead of blaming them; then, listen to theirs. Try to understand them with compassion and empathy.
- Recognize that your fears are likely connected to your partner’s fears.
- Keep the discussion focused on your fears; don’t talk about your relationship.
- Set boundaries. Recognize that discussions about your fears will happen regularly in your relationship, so you need to set boundaries.
- Support each other.
What to do when you cannot connect with your partner.
People who suffer from fears in their relationship are often unable to interact with their partners on a deep level. As the relationship grows and the other partner comes closer, the person with the fear will try to maintain distance by any means possible, often risking the relationship itself. Because the intimate partner is unable to read their partner’s mind, they start to feel that their needs are unmet and their feelings are unimportant. This can create a vicious cycle in which the partner who has their needs unmet stops trusting their partner, causing all kinds of conflicts.
People with fears may sabotage their relationship in many other ways. For example, if they fear rejection, they may act aggressively first in order to replace pain with aggression and lessen the heartache when the relationship breaks down. Others may be overly critical toward their partner or become overly controlling. Fears may also lead to other extremes when it comes to physical contact. One person may avoid physical contact completely, whereas the other may show a constant need for physical contact. The partner who is unaware of their partner’s fears may misunderstand the reasons behind this behavior and think that their partner doesn’t love them, causing more turmoil in the relationship.
Relationship coaching for fears in relationships.
Most of the time, when people cannot overcome the problems that ruin relationships, is it recommended that they seek relationship coaching. This is important, especially when the fear within the relationship is rooted in one partner’s past. When seeking relationship coaching, it is important to choose your relationship coach carefully. The ideal relationship coach is one who promotes a therapeutic rapport, mutual respect, trust, and empathy.
It’s not uncommon to try a few professionals before you find your match. Relationship coaching can help both you and your partner come to terms with the situation that is causing the problems in your marriage or long-term relationship. For example, if it is something to do with past trauma, your relationship coach can help you come to terms with it and offer a plan for how to approach the fear gradually, then work through it. Also, as it is not uncommon for people who have fears to experience other problems like depression, addiction, and anxiety, treatment will address these, too.
Relationship coaching can help in many ways. It will teach you how to face your negative attitudes and show you how they are connected to your fear. Relationship coaching will help you accept uncertainty in your life and transform your worry to appreciation for what you have in the present. You will learn how to live day-to-day rather than focusing on the past or the future. Relationship coaching will help you cultivate self-compassion and accept your own values while setting healthy boundaries.
Relationship coaching also explores the past. Most people don’t want to think negatively about their childhood, but evaluating the past is an important step in finding the cause of your fears. In relationship coaching, you will explore your childhood past as well as your other relationships in order to find out what beliefs you built through the years. For example, if one of your parents abandoned you when you were a child, it could be related to your fear of connecting with your partner.
Relationship coaching will help you become aware that there is no reason to worry about the past, since you cannot change it. It will help you appreciate the present and set goals for the future.Overcoming a fear does not happen overnight. Especially during progression, you may feel that you are having setbacks. It is okay to have a setback and you must be forgiving to yourself when that happens. Try not to see yourself as a person with flaws, but simply a human being with vulnerabilities like everyone else.
If your partner is the one who is working on their fears, you will need to be patient. Setbacks are normal and should be expected. Promote an environment of trust, safety, and empathy. Be forgiving so your loved one can continue working for the relationship you have. Try not to react in extremes, especially if they try to push you away. Your partner is not rejecting you; rather, they are afraid that you will reject them. Regularly remind them of how you met and of your love. Always express this, both through words and actions, and never assume your partner knows what’s going on in your mind. Finally, the most important step is to let each other know that dealing with fears is a team effort and takes both of you giving it your best. If you follow these simple tips, you will definitely make a positive change in your relationship.
Dixon, H. C., & Overall, N. C. (2018). Regulating fears of rejection: Dispositional mindfulness attenuates the links between daily conflict, rejection fears, and destructive relationship behaviors. Journal of Social and Personal Relationships, 35(2), 159–179. https://doi.org/10.1177/0265407516678486.
Tanja Repic (2007) Fear of Intimacy Among Married and Divorced Persons in Association with Physical Abuse in Childhood, Journal of Divorce & Remarriage, 46:3-4, 49-62, DOI: 10.1300/J087v46n03_04.