In therapy for couples, one of the most important steps is to bring to the forefront, the fears and anxieties that the partners harbour about the relationship, and to help them talk freely about these fears in order to establish an authentic relationship.
While working with couples we have seen that there are seven major fears that couples have in relationships. They are:
Couples fear that they might not have children because of some reproductive disability in either one of them, and that this might stigmatise them in society. If the woman has a problem in her reproductive system, besides fearing that she will not be seen as a “complete woman”, she often fears that her spouse might choose to leave her for another woman in order to continue the family name. However, if the man has a problem, he often wants to keep it a secret from society, his in-laws, his own family, and even from his spouse if possible. Because, he has been socialised to believe that having his own biological child is a mark of his manhood. The man may ask his wife to keep it a secret, and might even approach sperm banks and have his wife artificially inseminated with the sperm of another man so that he can save face in society.
Another common fear is that the marriage could end because of an extra-marital affair of the partner, with the partner choosing the affair over the marriage, thus leaving the first spouse partnerless. Divorce is dreaded because of the fear of remaining partnerless, especially if one suffers from feelings of low self-worth, therefore, will never ever be able to have another partner. And, this is what keeps people clinging on to bad marriages. One could also be left without a partner due to death of the spouse. Therefore, many couples face stress in the relationship because one of the partners does not take care of his/her own health. Hence the healthy partner feels vulnerable and scared.
Some couples drift apart emotionally because they have unresolved issues and resentments piled up between them. They fear that if these issues remain unresolved and if they cannot have an emotional closure to the hurt and resentment, then they might remain locked in a painful and loveless marriage. This fear of not ever having love in their lives arises mainly because they feel compelled to remain in the marriage for other reasons such as parental pressure, children, or financial security.
The lack of physical intimacy in a relationship if not addressed by either one or both, can result in the permanent state of a “sexless marriage”. Reasons for lack of physical intimacy could be physiological or psychological. There could be erectile dysfunction in the man due to organic reasons. Diabetes, obesity, side effects of medication for hypertension, along with performance pressure, fatigue and stress, and unresolved emotional issues in the relationship could result in erectile difficulties. Frigidity in a woman, fear of penetration, depression, lack of emotional intimacy, or a biological cause like painful intercourse due to lack of foreplay and inadequate lubrication could make her abstain from a sexual relationship.
Sometimes, denial of sex is a “passive aggressive act” on the part of one to get back at the other, for reasons other than sex. This can become a permanent state if the issue, because of which sex is withdrawn, is not resolved. Lack of physical or emotional attraction because of a forced marriage, preference for sexual gratification with a sexual partner outside the marriage, preference for masturbation in fantasy instead of actual sexual intercourse could also result in a sexless marriage. This fear of having to remain in a relationship without experiencing the joy of physical intimacy is a major fear in couples.
Money rules many a marriage today. The fear that the extravagance of your partner, overdrawing on the credit, risky business ventures and bad financial management could result in your not being able to afford a lifestyle that you are used to, creates a strain in most marriages.
Women who earn as much as or more than their partners, have a fear that if she does not keep her income aside, she might be left penniless if her partner uses up her income indiscriminately for his fancies. It is this fear that makes many women keep their income and their account separate from their partners, often resulting in a strain in the relationship because of the “my” money and “your” money concept.
Couples often fear the loss of health of their partner or themselves. The thought of nursing their partner through a debilitating disease and not living the life of their dreams could be quite overwhelming and anxiety-provoking. If there is a physical, emotional and financial dependency on the partner, one might feel more anxious the possibility of the partner falling ill. The financial cost of an illness also creates fear, which is why health insurance sells. The fact that one might fall ill and be dependent on one’s partner, especially if the emotional closeness is lacking in the relationship, causes great anxiety.
Some people fear that their individuality will be sacrificed at the altar of the relationship, and are usually wary of intimacy, suffer from fear of commitment, and are known as “committophobics”. They fiercely protect their independence and individuality. Their spouse may be overly demanding of his/her time, overly controlling, and therefore they have no time and mind-space which they can call their own. A healthy marriage is made up of two independent, self-reliant people with separate as well as mutual interests. You are a whole person having your own friends as well as common ones, enjoying your solitude and spending time with yourself as well as “togetherness time”, having your own dreams and also a common dream for the relationship. If one fears that one’s individual growth is being stunted, one’s dreams and aspirations are being quashed, one’s interests do not have a conducive environment to blossom, then one could feel claustrophobic, stifled and unable to breathe in the relationship.
These seven fears need to be shared by the couple with each other; they need to be empathically understood by both; and active steps need to be taken by both of them to alleviate all these anxieties and fears. Then the relationship can be mutually fulfilling and meaningful for both the partners.