Fear in relationships is hardly uncommon. Even the healthiest, most secure of relationships come with some sort of relationship phobia, be it fear of dating, fear of commitment, fear of breaking up, or simply fear of relationships themselves.
It’s easy enough to say face your fears. But fear in relationships can come from long-standing and long-buried insecurities and childhood trauma which aren’t quite so simple to stand up to and overcome. It is important, however, to acknowledge that these fears are common and that you’re not alone in feeling them.
The list of fears in a relationship can be long but subtle, manifesting in varied ways across your relationship. So, how do you recognize your relationship fears and overcome them? Do you talk to your partner first? Do you talk to a professional? Do you sit and stew in your fear so you can feel your feelings?
We thought this called for some expert help. So, we spoke to life coach and counselor Joie Bose, who specializes in counseling people dealing with abusive marriages, breakups and extramarital affairs, about some of the most common fears in relationships and how to start getting over them.
5 Signs Fear Is Affecting Relationships
Before you start working on your relationship phobia, how do you even know you have these fears? Here are some signs that fear is having an adverse effect on your relationships.
1. Your relationship isn’t moving forward
Fear of commitment is one of the most common factors on the list of fears in a relationship. If every time your partner wants to have ‘the talk’ about where you are in the relationship or when you think things are getting serious, you break out into a cold sweat, it looks like you could be a commitment-phobe and are keeping your relationship stagnant.
2. You’re afraid to articulate your needs
If you’re afraid of speaking out in your relationship, it could stem from a fear of rejection or that your partner will leave you for being too needy. Fear of rejection in relationships is perhaps the most common fear there is and many of us nod and smile away when we’d rather be articulating what’s not working for us and what we really need. Ultimately, this will lead to resentment and be corrosive to the relationship. You need to either speak up or figure out ways of dealing with rejection.
3. Your relationship feels stifling
When you don’t have separate interests and healthy relationship boundaries where you have enough time apart by yourself, a relationship can feel like a burden rather than a blessing.
Related Reading: 9 Signs Of Unhealthy Compromise In A Relationship
This could stem from a fear of being seen as too individualistic, instead of defining yourself primarily as part of a couple. Ultimately, though, you could break away from your relationship completely just to give yourself some space.
4. You have trust issues
Relationship trust issues don’t mean you’re never going to be able to trust your partner, but fear in relationships can lead one or both parties to be wary of opening up and trusting their partner completely.
For instance, do you talk to your partner about your dysfunctional family, or do you hide it? Are you honest about your past relationships or would you just leave things unsaid? Trust issues have a way of snowballing and causing major cracks in your relationship, so you need to work on them.
5. You push your partner away
Fear of relationships can stem from poor self-esteem and a certainty that your partner will probably leave you anyway so you may as well leave them first or at least keep them at arm’s length at all times.
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Fear of loss in relationships or fear of intimacy means that you do not allow the relationship to get to a deeper level. It’s not just about commitment or fear of missing out, it’s also that you assume you’re going to get hurt so you’d rather not risk hurting your heart. This could mean that you miss out on true intimacy and opening up to another person, and sharing your life to a meaningful extent with a partner.
8 Common Fears In Relationships And What To Do About Them
“To start with, it is not correct to generalize fear and compartmentalize it. Though most fears stem from past experiences lived and seen, they remain unique to each individual’s life,” Joie says.
Fear in relationships can come in all sorts of forms. Here are 8 of the most common fears that creep into relationships:
1. Fear of intimacy
When you stubbornly keep a relationship on the surface level because you’re terrified of the deep end and what might lurk there (seriously, didn’t any of you watch Jaws?), it’s a sign of fear of intimacy. There’s also the fear of sexual intimacy that could stem from sexual trauma or even lack of experience and exposure to healthy sexuality.
2. Fear of losing a partner
When your whole relationship is defined by a creeping fear that eventually, you’re going to have to learn to live without them, no matter how hard you try and keep things together. This can also prevent you from getting out of a toxic relationship.
3. Fear of rejection
This is when you won’t even ask someone out on a date because you’re convinced no one’s going to want to be in a relationship with you or even agree to go out with you.
4. Fear of commitment
You’ve convinced yourself you’re just sowing your wild oats, but in reality, you’re afraid of getting caught in a relationship you can’t get out of, because leaving just feels easier than staying and working on a relationship.
5. Fear that you’ll lose your individuality
This is connected to fear of commitment but a little more specific, in that you’re constantly worried that a relationship will strip you of everything that makes you uniquely you. That you’ll become somebody’s partner and that will be all.
6. Fear of infidelity
Are you constantly darting furtive glances at your partner’s phone whenever they get a text and thinking about how the other man/woman is better and/or more attractive than you? This fear isn’t necessarily paranoia, but it does need to be dealt with, whether or not you decide to walk away from infidelity.
7. Fear that a partner won’t show up for you
I also call this ‘fear of constant love imbalance’ which basically means you’re always afraid to trust your partner to show up for you when it counts, both physically and emotionally. This becomes especially tough if one party is always showing up, but the other isn’t.
8. Fear that it’ll never measure up to what you imagined
This is when you expect a perfect happily-ever-after like a romance novel or movie, and you get burnt a few times and then avoid connections, not because there are relationship red flags, but because what’s in your head is so much safer and better.
There’s no singular or foolproof way to get over fear in relationships or fear of relationships, but your first step is to realize that relationship phobia is real and common. Once you’ve done that, you can take concrete steps to go to therapy, practice setting boundaries and so on.
While most fears share common roots of early trauma, abandonment, abuse etc., it’s important to delve into their causes first, so that specific and structured solutions can be found thereafter. Read on to find out more.
Expert Explains Causes Of Fears In Relationships
When we’re afraid, it’s often because we’ve either suffered through a similar experience before, or seen other people get hurt in some way. Fear in relationships is similar. It’s possible we’ve had previous relationships that left us scarred, or we witnessed far too many alleged love affairs that weren’t quite a happily-ever-after scenario.
Related Reading: Fear Of Relationships After Divorce? Face These 10 Fears First
“When you have a list of fears in a relationship, the root causes often run deep and need introspection and/or expert help depending on the kind of fear,” says Joie.
She elaborates, “Fear of commitment is known as gamophobia and more often than not, people who have typically been subjected to seeing bad marriages while growing up are afraid to put themselves in such situations. They have seen people being trapped in unhappy relationships with no way out and they believe that all marriages are like that. A fear of being controlled is also linked to fear of commitment.”
“Then, there’s fear of rejection in relationships, which is extremely common. This stems from having been rejected by yourself first. If you’re constantly convinced you are not good enough, if you suffer from low self-esteem, you will begin to reject yourself before you put yourself out there. Hence, you assume everyone else will reject you too,” she adds.
Joie goes on to point out that while everyone comes into relationships with fears and insecurities, it’s when the fear becomes the defining factor of a relationship that it needs to be taken seriously. “It’s important to work on yourself and your fears in any case, but when it seriously starts affecting your ability to have a healthy relationship, it’s time to act,” she says.
5 Expert Tips To Overcome Fears In Relationships
So, we’ve talked about the kinds of fears and where most of them are rooted. But, how do you move past fear of dating, or fear of breaking up or fear of loss in relationships? We’ve rounded up some tips on overcoming fear in relationships to create and sustain healthy, intimate connections.
Related Reading: 9 Signs You Are In A Dead-End Relationship
1. Believe that good relationships are possible
“Believing in love, in healthy, loving relationships comes from within. It can’t be forced,” Joie says, adding that this kind of belief takes time and a great deal of strength.
“If you’ve been in a series of unhealthy relationships or just disappointing ones where there wasn’t really a connection, it’s difficult to pick yourself up and get back out there. But this belief is where every good relationship starts,” she says.
If you’ve watched and remember Jerry McGuire, you’ll know that ‘we live in a cynical, cynical world.’ We’re constantly bombarded by the worst of humanity and there are forever stories and examples of just how messed up life and love can be. That is a reality that we can’t avoid.
But, if you’re looking to build your own little world where there’s less love-bombing and more of slow and sure loving, it’s imperative that you hold a strong belief in the possibility of such a world. There’s no guarantee that love will last, but that doesn’t make it any less integral to life. And remember, Jerry McGuire also has the line, “You had me at hello”. It all depends on what you choose to remember.
2. Ask yourself ‘what’s the worst that could happen?’
This is my favorite thing to do when I’m interviewing for a new job and negotiating money matters. I used to mumble a somewhat decent figure and then settle for whatever they would deign to give me. Then, I realize that the worst thing that could happen if I asked for some outrageous sounding amount would be that they would say no. And I’d survive.
Related Reading: Love Vs Attachment: Is It Real Love? Understanding The Difference
This works when you’re talking about fear in relationships too. Specifying fear of rejection, Joie says, “What happens if someone rejects you? Nothing. You may feel terrible for a bit but that passes too. On the flip side, there is a whole world out there full of happiness if someone accepts you, right? Hope keeps us moving forward. If you can bring your mindset to believing, then you can surely overcome this fear.”
Cathy says, “I got out of a long-term relationship and was scared stiff of getting into anything else. My daughter kept suggesting that I get onto single mom dating apps and get over my fear of dating but I’d never done it before. Finally, I let her make a profile for me, and I surprised myself! I’ve been on a few dates and I’m rather good at it!”
3. Seek professional help
Relationship insecurity is insidious and can creep up in your love life in the worst ways. Sometimes, a friendly, impartial and professional ear could be the answer to all your problems, or at least a start towards resolving them.
“There will be issues where a professional is required. If you have a fear of sexual intimacy, for instance, there may be physical reasons that require the help of a psychiatrist and a doctor specializing in sexual health. It is safer to address this with the help of a trained medical professional,” Joie says.
For high-functioning relationship phobia and anxiety, or love phobias, it could be difficult to talk about it even with trusted people, or reach out to a therapist. Know that you’re not alone and that asking for help is nothing to be ashamed of. You can’t build a great relationship if you’re terribly broken yourself, after all, so by getting help, you’re actually helping your partner, too.
You could opt for couples’ therapy, or start with individual counseling first if you think that’s more comfortable. But take that scary first step and reach out. If you do need a helping hand, Bonobology’s panel of experienced counselors is just a click away.
4. Surround yourself with happy couples
Fear of loss in relationships and fear of breaking up come to haunt all of us at some point. This is especially true if all you’ve seen are narcissistic husbands, screaming couples and people who seem perfect but are always putting each other down. It’s important, therefore, to take a step back from such toxicity and surround yourself with joyful relationships.
“The healthy way out of fear in relationships is to surround yourself with couples who work at their relationships and who are happy doing the work and reaping the results. When you see others finding true joy in their relationships, it’s a little easier to believe that commitment and love are actually real,” Joie says.
Now, no couple is happy all the time. Even the healthiest couple in the world will have fights and arguments. “I’m a child of divorce and grew up watching my parents be completely miserable in their dying marriage. But then, when my mom remarried, I also saw how different it was with her second husband. I already knew that marriage could be a total bust, but I realized that life and love can also give you a second chance,” says Kylie.
5. Be brave enough to be vulnerable
Fear of rejection in relationships can be crippling. And it’s not just about asking someone out or approaching that girl from work that you’ve been crushing on forever. There’s also the debilitating fear of being rejected when you’re trying to share your deepest insecurities and fears, your truest, quirkiest self.
This is possibly where you need to be at your bravest, to stimulate vulnerability in a relationship. How do you open up a little more to each other? How do you accept that both you and your partner will change and evolve, as will your relationship? How do you straighten your back, take a deep breath and just make that first move on your crush?
None of this is easy, so don’t beat yourself up if it doesn’t come to you right away. Fear in relationships comes from years and years of insecurity and for most of us, the best way to shun any sort of pain is to build up a protective emotional wall around our hearts. Courage is a journey, not a destination and it comes with small steps and gestures that we make for ourselves and our partners every day.
Fear in relationships, fear of relationships – all of it is a giant common thread across most people and their relationships. I find it deeply comforting knowing that I’m not alone in being terrified of having difficult conversations with my partner. That somewhere out there are lots of people who will also avoid talking about it, burrow into their quilt and pretend everything’s fine. Until they implode, that is.
Love and relationships are rarely simple, and perhaps shared fears and insecurities are what make them so human. But then, so is being vulnerable, asking for help, working on emotional intelligence in relationships and forgiving ourselves and the people we love.
There’s no foolproof handbook on how to overcome fear in relationships because by default, they tend to be messy and fraught with obstacles just waiting to trip us up. But ultimately, love is meant to add and enhance joy in our lives, while teaching us a few hard lessons about ourselves.
Working on your relationship phobias, whatever it may be, could be the best, most loving gesture you make towards yourself and your partner. So, slow your heart down and take the leap. Or maybe that first small step. Because all of it counts as courage.
Men could fear commitment in a relationship and be afraid that a partner will turn controlling or make them give up too much of their individuality. Men could also be afraid of rejection, fearing that they do not live up to the other person’s idea of ideal masculinity or of a perfect partner.
Anxiety tends to make us edgy and chips away at our self-esteem. This can make us distant and cold as a partner because you’re terrified of them realizing that you’re constantly anxious and afraid. So, you may be pushing your partner away without even meaning to and just when you need them the most.
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