Do you put up roadblocks to your happiness in relationship? If you do, you are not alone. There are many people who unknowingly sabotage their relationships because they fear being engulfed, controlled or rejected by their romantic partner. This relationship behavior is called a fear of intimacy, although the term doesn’t express completely what this fear is all about.
I’ve heard so many people say, why are we having trouble so early in the relationship? Isn’t this supposed to be the honeymoon period? Is this a sign that we are not right for each other? There are surely some people who are not right for each other. But, I find more often that arguments and strife in the first 6-24 months of a relationship are more about establishing parameters for the partnership. These parameters help to strengthen the relationship and work for the good of both parties. Take Jackie and Nick for example. When single, it was common for Nick to hang out with his friends several nights a week and well in the morning hours. Jackie was uncomfortable with this. Once Nick understood that Jackie wasn’t trying to take away his freedom, he was receptive to change and establishing boundaries around this activity that satisfied both of them. Nick’s understanding and receptivity went a long way to deepening the relationship and making Jackie feel secure.
To establish a secure, trustworthy relationship bond, you have to loosen your boundaries and merge identities and lifestyles with the other partner, while keeping your own identity. This can stress out even the most secure amongst you.
The merging process is not easy. But, I don’t have to tell you that one, right? You’ve spent many years forming your beliefs, values and preferences and ways of being, learning what you want and don’t want—and, what you fear. Now, to get the love you want, you have to relax your boundaries enough to integrate the identity and needs of your partner. Now, a relationship identity is born.
Relaxing our boundaries enough to be able to form a relationship identity with our partner is never easy. It feels in direct opposition to what you have been trying to achieve independently thus far.
Some of us are more ready than others to do this. Some of you may have been hurt in the past; that makes you shrink back from the developmental tasks involved in making a relationship thrive. Defensively, you may have built a lifestyle where you learned to rely solely on yourself to meet your needs and desires.
The hurt you feel may have stemmed from childhood or from experiences with past lovers. You learned that closeness means losing yourself. If so, closeness involved being abandoned, engulfed, controlled or rejected by someone with whom you put your safety and trust. You can see why these fears run deep; namely, because they involve a potential loss of self.
In your darkest moments, you imagine your mate taking away you freedom or hurting you in some way. Your more insecure moments involve imagining what he or she will do to you. The fear gets so intense that it has to be released. And, it does, but through what I call relationship unfriendly behaviors that temporarily reduce your fears, but also sabotage closeness. You can now quit the relationship or leave, you say to yourself. But, there’s a part of you that knows you really don’t want to do this.
The real problem is you. You really fear that you are not strong enough to tolerate the tensions of intimate relating—and my goodness, there are many. There is the tension of having to merge together to form a strong relationship identity. You have to trust that you can assert your views, needs and preferences while still respecting those of your lover. You have to continue to fulfill your desires and passions in the context of the relationship unit. Additionally, there are tensions of integrating family and friends into the relationship dyad without weakening it or demolishing its structure. Need I say more? No wonder you are afraid. You have a whole lot of new experiences and learning going on here.
It seems like the roadblocks that you put up to mask your true fear would be easy to spot and resolve, but they are not. We humans are oh so creative in conjuring up defensive maneuvers to prevent from happening what we most fear—namely, to lose ourselves in relationship.
Fear of intimacy is really a fear of losing yourself.
You may consciously fear being engulfed, controlled or rejected by another person. But, deep inside, you fear you can’t handle the numerous tensions of intimate relating, especially the ones that threaten the integrity of your own identity.
Here, are just a few of the defensive maneuvers that I often see in people who have a fear of losing themselves in relationship. They engage in distancing behaviors.
- Differences are blown out of proportion: Here, any conflict or difference gets linked, no matter how much of a stretch it is, to your fears. The conflict gets personal, for you. Airing of emotions quickly turns to personal attacks about the intentions of your partner to deprive, deny, subjugate, abandon or reject, or control or engulf. The complaint speaks to your fears.
- Person uses arguments to stir up calm: Closeness and good feelings can make some people uncomfortable. They want to be happy, but their energy is tuned for upset and conflict. They will tend to pick an argument when things are good that has little to do with whatever is happening. It has more to do with your fear of intimacy.
- Opening up the relationship dyad to friends, family, and other people who threaten the strength of the partnership: Both of you have an inner circle of friends whose meaning to you or ways may threaten the strength of your relationship. If you have a fear of intimacy, it may be difficult for you find a place for this relationship that does not threaten your partner and the strength of your relationship bond with him or her.
It’s hard to embrace fully the level of openness, risk, and personal change that you must make in loving. This is especially true if you were traumatized in love before. You are dancing as fast as you can to protect yourself, as the saying goes. I know this isn’t fun for you on any level.
You find ways to distance yourself in relationship to protect yourself against what feels unsafe to you. The next time you find yourself in a relationship conflict, unhappy with the relationship to the point where you want to end it, fearful of losing yourself, or being abandoned, please ask yourself the following questions. They’ll help you to better understand what is going on, so that you can choose behaviors and make decisions with full awareness.
- Describe your distancing action(s). Did you move an airing of differences to a full-blown conflict? Did you pick an argument that has nothing to do with the moment?
- Flesh-out what you fear. What do you fear you are losing, giving up, or will happen to you if you allow yourself to get closer to your partner?
- Ask yourself, do these old ways of solving intimate problems work for me now? Remember though, no matter how intelligent, competent and capable you are of intimate relating, if you haven’t had the right partner for whom you can solve relationship problems constructively, you have little experience in knowing how to do this. You can learn new ways.
You can change and modify ways of being that strengthen your relationship and still stay true to yourself. Don’t let your fear of intimacy fulfill the prophecy that the relationship is no good or not right for you. You are putting up roadblocks to intimacy to protect yourself. The safety you feel in the short-run may be sabotaging your happiness and the life of your relationship.
If you like my post today, please say so by selecting the Like icon that immediately follows. I welcome your thoughts and reflections on today’s topic. Best to you, Deborah