Here’s Why Fear Kills Many Romantic Relationships
Some time ago a friend of mine was starting to date a new guy. She liked him a lot and things seemed to go well. But one day she asked me a question that surprised me:
“How can I be sure that he’ll want to be with me before going further?”
I said the obvious. I don’t think you can be sure of that. The relationship itself will tell both of you if it can work out or not.
I didn’t understand at first why she was trying to get that sense of security. In any case, if she wasn’t sure, why would he be sure? She wanted him to provide a sense of security that would pave the way to a painless relationship.
A month later she was complaining about how he wasn’t making things clear. She was unsure of what he really wanted. She showed me some screenshots of their conversation. He was talking normally; I could feel his emotions in the messages. But she was hiding everything she felt.
She’d tell me how she felt but would hide everything from him.
I told her: “Why don’t you tell him what you actually feel?” Her answer:
“I don’t want him to know that I like him.”
Letting fear guide your behavior it’s a recipe for suffering
I’ve seen this behavior over and over again.
You start dating someone and start liking them. You decide to hide your feelings until you’re sure the other person has at least the same feelings for you (whatever that means). You hide your feelings and live in a lie for some time. What you feel isn’t aligned with what you show. This only brings suffering to you because you can’t truly love a person you are afraid to lose.
Now, think about this. What if you decide to not show how you feel because you are afraid of not being reciprocated and the other person interprets it as if you don’t have interest? And worst even; the other person may decide to do exactly what you are doing.
This is what you’d get:
Two poor lovers like each other but are too afraid to express it so they end up leaving what could have been the beginning of a nice relationship. And sadly enough, they both left feeling that the other person didn’t reciprocate their feelings, which only reinforces their inner sense of unworthiness.
What a sad picture.
Why on earth is this happening and how we can avoid it? First, there is a reason why people behave like this in relationships. Second, there is a way out of this. Emotional maturity can be learned.
The curse and blessing of romantic relationships
We get attached to things or people we value. You value your brand new BMW. You clean it, you drive carefully to avoid any minimal scratch, and you won’t let other people drive it. You also value your friends. You hang out with them sometimes, you talk and laugh with them and you’d defend them from external threats.
What we value, we take care of. But there is another dimension of attachment; volatility. For all the things we value, some are completely within our control, while others are almost 100% independent from us.
At one end of the spectrum, you have your right hand, for instance. You highly value it and it’s non-volatile. It’s attached to your body. You don’t fear losing your right hand. You probably don’t even think about it most of the time.
On the other end, you have a romantic relationship.
You value it and at the same time it’s highly volatile. You are attached to it because you value it but at the same time you are afraid of losing it because it’s out of your control.
The whole thing depends on another person. If the other person decides to end the relationship, there is nothing you can do. You could lose something that you value so highly without much capacity to avoid it.
“We fear things because we value them. We fear losing people because we love them. We fear dying because we value being alive. Don’t wish you didn’t fear anything. All that would mean is that you didn’t feel anything.”
— Cassandra Clare
That is the curse and blessing of romantic relationships: they are what we value most and at the same time they are the most volatile thing ever. That’s why we live afraid of losing a romantic partner.
However, there is something we can do to reduce this fear.
Emotional maturity to hijack your inherent mode of attachment
When you fear so much losing someone, your attachment to the relationship can become anxious. You become emotionally dependent.
- You are constantly searching for hints that your partner doesn’t actually love you.
- You start to be aware of the bad things a lot more compared with the good things.
- You become more jealous of potential threats that you see everywhere.
- You constantly ask for reassurance of their love.
- You become submissive and do whatever it takes to keep your partner even if doing so conflicts with your real wants and needs.
All of this is driven by your fear. You fear losing someone so you do whatever it takes to avoid the pain that would come from actually losing them.
But there is a way out of this loop of fear-based behaviors: emotional maturity. You can teach your emotions to become more resilient and non-reactive to external input.
- What your partner does or says doesn’t affect you much.
- The good things shine and make you feel good.
- You don’t react to threats because you are sure of your partner’s love.
- You want love words and gestures but don’t need them all the time.
- You respect yourself and don’t avoid conflict if needed.
This is what a healthy relationship looks like. You love your partner but you don’t need them. You respect your partner but you don’t nullify yourself. You express your feelings even if the other person hasn’t expressed theirs before.
And even if they don’t explicitly say so afterward you still hold strong and your emotions don’t react because you are being true to yourself and your feelings.
“The less you cling to something, the less fear you have of losing that something or someone. The less fear you have, the more love you have. It is true that you love even more when you let go of the need for it. Love grows when grief goes. Make your love stronger than your fear. Strive to make your love greater than your need and let love be the most powerful force in your life. Then nothing can overcome you.”
— Kate McGahan
You sometimes fear losing a partner, and it’s normal. But you can bypass the fear. Do you understand the danger? Do you understand the volatility? Nice, fear is just the messenger that tries to tell you this. If you already know, there is no use for fear.
Live your relationship while you have it.
Let it go when the time comes.
Don’t fear its end when you have it.
And don’t regret its loss when you don’t.
Because, as Buddha would say,
The only permanent thing in life is the impermanence of things.