Fear is a Four Letter Word

I sat with a couple recently listening as the wife refused to accept that her husband loved her, in spite of his insistence that he did. I had been working with this couple for almost a year, and I had no doubt that this man loved his wife, even though he had said some hurtful things to her in a fit of rage. I knew that these words had hurt her and she still felt their sting. I asked her if there was anything that her husband could say that could convince her of his love. She shook her head. Meanwhile the husband persisted in saying all the right words, mirroring her feelings and, trying to regain her love.

As I was beginning to feel annoyed with the wife, I noticed the husband showed no signs of anger. At first I felt perplexed; why wasn’t he angry at his wife’s rejection of his efforts to reconcile? Then I thought, “I bet she’s feeling the same way”. I asked her if the reason she didn’t believe her husband was because he didn’t seem authentic, and that his lack of anger at her stubbornness was a further validation that he couldn’t be trusted to say how he really felt? She immediately calmed down and said, “ Yes, that was exactly how she felt, and that maybe she had just wanted to provoke a genuine feeling from him, even if it was anger. Because he kept telling her what he thought she wanted to hear, she didn’t trust him, and because of her history and her own fears of being unloveable, was convinced that he wasn’t being truthful about loving her. Where as he, because of his own history of pleasing others to avoid being abandoned, had long ago lost access to his feelings of anger – except for the periodic explosions of rage. The fear of being unloved and abandoned was so powerful for them both that it prevented them from connecting to the love that I could see so plainly between them.

The worst thing about fear is the insidious nature of it. Often times couples have no idea that they’re in the grips of early, primal deep-seated fears when they’re in the midst of a fight. A couple of warning signs that fear is dictating the fight are; (1) the couple’s perceptions of the events leading up to the fight are completely different and irreconcilable. (2) the fight keeps escalating while things become less clear and more confusing. Once each person can recognize that they’re each reliving a deep-seated fear, reconciliation and true intimacy can follow.

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