Relationships are hard enough without any added baggage, but let’s face it: Most of us bring some sort of issues to the table. So many of our reactions, suspicions, and freak-outs stem from secret fears—and if we just took the time to recognize them before acting on them (and took a look at what’s causing them) we might have better relationships as a result.
Michelle Skeen, PsyD, author of Love Me, Don’t Leave Me: Overcoming Fear of Abandonment and Building Lasting, Loving Relationships has studied relationship fears for her book, as well as treating them in her own patients. Here, she shares five of the most common fears in relationships so that you can identify them—and avoid letting them interfere with your life. Granted, these could be your fears or your partner’s, in which case you can help by being extra sensitive about pushing any hot-button issues he or she might be sensitive to.”Each of these fears can lead to specific and damaging behaviors that are likely to sabotage your relationships—even as you are struggling to maintain these connections,” says Skeen. “The first step toward change is bringing awareness and understanding to these fears and the behaviors that are associated with them.”
1. The “He’s going to leave me” fear
According to Skeen, people with this fear tend to:
—Start arguments consciously or unconsciously to test the relationship (this can turn into a self-fulfilling prophecy—they push others away so often that they do leave you).
—Get involved with people who are unavailable in some way.
—Avoid relationships completely so that they can’t be abandoned.
2. The “I’m going to get hurt” fear
“If you grew up in an environment in which you didn’t trust the people close to you, didn’t feel safe, or were abused, you are likely to fear being hurt,” says Skeen. She adds that people with this fear often feel like the victim in their relationships, and feel they’ve been taken advantage of—or will be. People with this fear tend to:
—Act hypervigilant—constantly on guard for any sign of betrayal or abuse.
—When things are going well or they are on the receiving end of a kind gesture, they suspect an ulterior motive.
—Act accommodating and compliant as a way to prevent the other person from getting angry.
—Avoid sharing their vulnerabilities with others because they fear the other person will use it against them.
—Avoid relationships altogether because they can’t trust anyone.
3. The “He won’t be there for me when I need him” fear
“When you lack emotional support, attention, affection, guidance, or understanding as you’re growing up, chances are that you also anticipate emotional deprivation in your adult life,” says Skeen. “With this fear come such thoughts like, ‘I feel lonely’ or ‘I’m not getting the love that I need,’ or ‘I don’t have anyone in my life who really cares about me.'” People with this fear tend to:
—Become angry and demanding when they don’t get what they need.
—Pursue people who don’t express their emotions.
—Don’t share their vulnerabilities with others, anticipating that they will be disappointed by their response (e.g., lack of validation or interest).
—Resent others because they aren’t getting the love and understanding that they need.
4. The “I’m not good enough for him” fear
Many people struggle with feeling “unworthy, defective, or unlovable,” says Skeen. Your thoughts may center around ideas such as, ‘If people really knew me they would reject me’ or ‘I am unworthy of love,’ says Skeen. You may present a false version of yourself because you don’t feel confident people will like the real you. People with this fear tend to:
—Pursue people who are critical of them.
—Hide their true self.
—Have difficulty hearing criticism.
—Compare themselves unfavorably with others.
Did any of the above scenarios ring true for you? If so, follow Skeen’s advice:
1. “The first step toward change is identifying and bringing increased awareness to the situations that trigger your fears,” says Skeen. Notice what particular moments tend to cause those negative thoughts.
2. Next, “Recognize that your current experience, along with the thoughts and feelings that it triggers, is transporting you back to a past experience that has you viewing the present through a distorted lens. You will likely experience intolerable emotions that you want to get rid of quickly. The key is to learn to tolerate these emotions by being mindful of them and your current situation,” Skeen explains. Looking back to the past and identifying the original situation that impacted you is important.
3. But as for present-day, when you find yourself in the moment being triggered, “Don’t react immediately,” says Skeen. Allow the emotions to pass until you feel calm.
4. Then, “You will be more aware of your present-day situation, recognize that it has nothing to do with your past, and then you can respond in a way that is helpful—not harmful—to your current relationship.”