How Fear Makes Communication Tricky
I don’t know about you, but I really enjoy this season.
The leaves are changing, the weather cooling off, and holidays coming up.
I especially enjoy the uptick in scary movies, and having an excuse to watch more of them this time of year.
I know not everyone enjoys horror films, and some of them are just bad.
But there’s something about the rush you feel, the sense of surprise, that is fun.
Honestly though, when I think of the work I do with my couples and individuals working on their relationships, there’s often a lot of fear.
In fact, in many distressed relationships fear can feel deadly (to the relationship).
Some people fear the relationship won’t get better.
Some people fear that their partner views them as a failure.
Some people fear that their partner doesn’t view them as special or valuable.
Some people fear that if they don’t say the right thing, or do the right thing, then things will go terribly.
Some people fear that if they never speak up, nothing will change.
Some people fear they will always feel alone in the relationship.
I don’t know if you can relate to any of these fears, but even as I type them, I feel the weight of them.
It is terribly scary to be in a place where you don’t know if things will be okay with the most important person in the world to you.
In my opinion, the worst part about this is feeling alone with the fear.
And this is the part I want to make really clear in this short blog.
Fear is around likely due to the insecurity of the relationship.
In other words, if your relationship was a boat at sea, it feels like there are holes in the boat.
You feel like you’re sinking, and no matter how you try to clog the holes in the boat, water keeps coming in.
You don’t know if things will be okay.
You have a hard time trusting that you can fall back on your partner.
It feels insecure.
In this insecurity, fear is the last thing that feels okay to share.
In a way, it often actually feels ‘safer’ to express this fear in other ways that aren’t as clear to the other person.
And this is what is tough about relationships in distress.
Both people are fighting so hard for the relationship in their own ways.
But both people still feel alone with their fears.
And not only so, but in the conversations that happen about trying to make it better, they end up feeling worse.
Let me illustrate this with a pretend couple named Sally and Dan.
Sally has tried the 97th thing to clog the holes in their relationship boat, and has cried out to Dan about what could make it better.
When she does this, Dan often comes off as minimizing or defensive.
Which leaves Sally without many good options of what to do:
Maybe to her all she can do here is either try to get through to Dan (again) to see if she can be heard, or she could give up the fight of trying to clog the holes all together.
Neither of these choices feel good to her, of course.
And for Dan, when he again and again tries to convince and provide evidence that things will be okay and are okay, and that he is doing his part to get the water out of the boat, but she still has issues…he doesn’t have a good choice either.
In the moment maybe to Dan all he can do is lay out the evidence boldly that he is indeed doing his part (again), or he just could take what she is saying and retreat (‘maybe if we stop having these conversations it’ll stop getting worse’).
Again, Dan might feel like he doesn’t have a good choice in these moments either.
Sally and Dan's example can show us a couple of things:
This is an example of a typical cycle that many couples in distress get stuck in.
Both people are operating out of fear and insecurity, perpetuating the cycle, which continues to give them reasons to be in fear.
YES, this is hard. But now what?
Here are a few communication tools that often prove to be helpful for relationships under stress:
If you feel distant from your partner, invite them to connect with you instead of telling them how they’re getting it wrong for you.
Figure out what you’re needing so you can ask specifically and directly (instead of protesting what you aren’t getting).
If you see your partner getting overwhelmed or upset, try and focus on giving comfort before advice or feedback.
If it seems like your partner is ‘circling the drain’ about a topic, you may try and ask them specifically (and kindly) something like, ‘It seems like you’re really wanting me to get something here that I’m not getting. I want to understand why this is so important to you. Can you slow down and help me understand?’
These are just a handful of communication tips.
Sometimes even with these tools, the insecurity of the relationship creates a pattern that continues to make it very challenging to employ and use these tools effectively.
If this is the case for you, it might be helpful to have a third party look at your relationship, slow it down, and give you support where your relationship could really use it.
You don’t have to be alone with your fears.
It’s never too late to create more security in your relationship.
Feel free to reach out to me if you are interested in learning more about how Couples Therapy can help build more security in your relationship.