Is Fear Motivating Your Romantic Life?

by Dr. Lauren Sierra Thomas

in Dating, Relationships

The Beloved

A few years ago I made a fascinating discovery as a result of a date I had.  I’ve come to call the discovery “the split” and it may be impacting your relationships without your awareness.

Being aware of “the split” can help make sense out of dating or relationship experiences that at first glance seem baffling.  The confusing suddenly becomes clear.  You feel better.

So, let’s get down to it and I’ll share some information that can help you in your dating and love relationships.

The Split In A Nutshell:

By mid-life (or even your 30’s) you long for a love relationship, yet you no longer believe it’s possible. In essence, you no longer believe in romantic love.

Imagine the bind this puts you in.  Or maybe you don’t have to imagine, you may be experiencing it.  The bind is a painful place to be.  If you’re in this bind you know what I’m talking about.

You’ve had enough life experience to know things don’t always turn out the way that you’d hoped and you may be disappointed, perhaps even jaded or bitter.  But, that’s not the end of the story.  If it were, that might actually be easier.

Along with feeling disappointed, you still long for a relationship. You’re pulled in two directions.  You want it, but you don’t really believe it’s possible.  OUCH!

Fear Is The Motivating Force

I’ll explain the date so you can understand the significance of “the split”.   My discovery led me to realize that fear is a powerful motivator in our dating and relationship behavior.

Briefly, I met someone who came on really strong and then completely pulled away. I was fascinated as I watched it unfold.  We had a great date but he mentioned he’d been hurt a couple times in relationship.  For example, his fiance had an affair that ended their relationship.  He basically came out and told me that he had a hard time trusting.  Yet, he was very excited about us and was convinced that I was someone he wanted to be in a relationship with.

A couple days after our date, he began to seem insecure and mentioned I didn’t seem interested in a relationship.  Although I felt I had shown an interest, he decided I wasn’t available to be in relationship and completely withdrewWhat fascinated me was that nothing had changed externally and so I realized an internal process had occurred.   The internal process was fear driven – it is “the split”.

We know what the pain feels like that we’ve experienced in the past and we don’t ever want to feel it again.

I describe the date not to point out anything negative about this person.  He was a good person and had a lot going for him.  Fear can feel paralyzing. I have my own defenses that are fear based, as we all do.

Defense Mechanisms and Personality Styles

You may have heard of “defense mechanisms”.   Defense mechanisms are ways we find to protect ourselves and we aren’t even conscious we’re using them.

In the near future, I’m going to talk about personality styles or types.   Different types (or personality styles)  handle situations  and relationships differently.

For now, I’ll give just one example so you have an idea what I’m talking about:  Some people over-attach very quickly while others have a style of being aloof and don’t allow themselves to get too close.

A person who attaches too quickly experiences anxiety and fear at the thought of separation.  On the other hand, someone who does the come here-go away dance feels fear and anxiety when they experience too much closeness. This person feels a tremendous urge to get away until they regain a sense of control.

Personality styles are fascinating and I’ll give you more information on them soon.  Learning about personality styles can be a great tool for understanding yourself and your loved ones better.

Fear and anxiety are the motivating forces behind the defense mechanisms we use. In the case of my date, he withdrew because he experienced fear and anxiety.

Compassion

Understanding “the split” can give us the foundation for compassion.

Knowing that fear and anxiety are the underlying factors in a lot of dating and relationship behavior allows us to re-frame our perspective, both for our self and others.   Compassion often emerges naturally when we recognize the basis of a lot of dating and love relationship behaviors.

Most people aren’t trying to be a..holes.  We usually don’t have the tools to communicate these feelings effectively. Not only that, we’re often not aware ourselves when we’re caught in these patterns.

Love Takes Courage

You may have heard the saying that love is not for the faint of heart. Love requires tremendous courage.  If your heart has been broken, it’s not easy to open it once again and take the ride.  Love requires that we let go of control and take a risk.

Just today a friend was telling me that when she first was with her beloved she almost ended the relationship and never returned. It wasn’t that she wasn’t smitten.  It was that she was smitten.  For the first time in her life she met her match and she felt out of control. She sensed the vulnerability of her heart.  Happily, she did return and she and her beloved are madly in love and have one of the best relationships I’ve encountered.

But, how many don’t return?

  • Have you ever walked away from love out of fear?
  • Have you had the experience of having love walk out of your life due to fear?
  • Do you experience anxiety or fear when you start feeling close to someone?
  • Do you feel as if you’re being “smothered” when you open yourself to relationship?

What’s coming

Over these next weeks we’re going to be talking a lot about love relationships.  I’m going to ask you to take a look at the stories you tell yourself about the opposite sex (or same sex if you’re in same sex relationships) and how that impacts what you experience in your relationships.

I’ll be passing along tools to love yourself more and to help you in your love relationships.

Restore Your Belief In Love

The intent of this blog (and my programs) is to restore your belief in love. I believe with all my heart in the process of restoring your belief in love because I’ve learned tools to help me restore my belief in love.  I know it can be done.

Restoring your belief in love is a process, a journey.  It is about change from the inside out and self-empowerment.

The journey is an exciting one and not nearly as difficult as you may imagine.

In the meantime, be well, and may you experience the best relationships ever.

Photo Courtesy of Linda Yvonne

{ 22 comments… read them below or add one }

Sandra Hendricks June 29, 2010 at 6:20 am

Hi Lauren,

You have a great insight to our personalities that stimulate fear and anxiety. I am excited to see what you have in store for us in your future posts. We can make numerous mistakes when we are on the threshold of love, that I know. When my husband, Mark, and I met, I adored him, and I still do. However, because I was so smitten with him, I nearly held back on asserting myself. It took real courage to risk the possibility of losing the relationship and assert what was important to me. Love is definitely risky but after 17 years of marriage I can think of nothing more rewarding than facing up to our fears and getting over our anxieties of love.
Sandra Hendricks´s last blog ..Positive Thinking and Modified Ideas – Pros and Cons My ComLuv Profile

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Lauren June 29, 2010 at 9:28 pm

Dear Sandra,

How inspiring to hear about your love relationship. I love that you were able to assert yourself even in the face of anxiety and being smitten. Not an easy task!

Sounds like it went very well. Good for you, Sandra.

Thanks for sharing this experience and for your kind words.

Warm regards,
Lauren
Lauren´s last blog ..Is Fear Motivating Your Romantic Life My ComLuv Profile

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Kimberly June 30, 2010 at 3:05 am

Love is strange and wonderful all at the same time. It’s funny what we do or don’t do in the name of love. Looking forward to reading more of your posts. Love it!
Kimberly´s last blog ..Go Sleeveless This Summer- 4 Basic Go-To Exercises That Will Keep Your Arms Jiggle Free My ComLuv Profile

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Lauren July 1, 2010 at 12:25 am

Dear Kimberly,

Tons of wisdom in just a couple sentences, Kimberly.

Yes, it is strange and wonderful…a mystery if you will. And it is something else the things we do – or don’t for love.

Nice to see you Kimberly and it’s good to hear you’re enjoying the blog.

Be well and warm regards,
Lauren
Lauren´s last blog ..Is Fear Motivating Your Romantic Life My ComLuv Profile

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tim walter July 24, 2010 at 6:55 pm

lauren
i know that we havent ment yet mom told me about your books. i was reading your blog and the thing that caught my eye is you discribed me perfectly im the person who attaches to quickly and has a giant fear of getting hurt and some major trust issuses that are putting stress on our relationship. what do i do please advise.
thanks connie’s son tim

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Dr. Lauren Sierra Thomas August 1, 2010 at 2:49 am

Dear Tim,

I empathize with you. Many of us have trust issues and a fear of getting hurt. As it sounds like you know, we can then create situations in which our fears come true.

Attaching too quickly and fear of abandonment don’t just go away but we can learn to manage those feelings and no react so much.

I really recommend therapy as it helps work through some of the underlying issues around attachment and trust. It may not go away but it can improve.

It’s an uncomfortable feeling and “reasoning” doesn’t help as it’s not a rational thing. But, try to hold back from saying and doing things you’ll later regret. And get support from at lease one person who can listen and understand.

I wish you the best and let me know how things go.

Lauren

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tim walter August 10, 2010 at 12:11 am

things have been going well thus far. and i have been going to therapy,its kind of helping still i have issues to resolve but working on them. our plan is to get maried in december we will send an invite if you email me your address.
thank you tim

Dr. Lauren Sierra Thomas August 11, 2010 at 1:06 am

How cool Tim, that you are going to therapy. These feelings don’t completely go away but we can learn to manage the emotions better.
By manage I don’t mean control, but rather accept our feelings and acknowledge them rather than avoid and go into denial. It can get much much better.

Thanks for the wedding invite – and big congratulations!

Lauren

Aileen June 30, 2010 at 7:40 am

Lauren, this is such a great topic.
I met my beloved when I was 34 and he was 37 before I met him, I felt that the dating experience was getting progressively worse because we have more issues about hurt,attachment, commitment than we did when “we” were young and unheartbroken. My beloved and I joke about our early dating experience and how weird we both were. We broke up at the three month mark and somehow got over our own foolishness 4 months later. Three years later we were married – but the early phase was full of fears, anxieties, insecurities all of that stuff.
We’re happy we got through that early phase, but it’s so common for people to through away a possible relationship early on when it’s a perfect seedling.

The photo you have on this post is BEAUTIFUL!
Aileen´s last blog ..Today I’m Visiting Goodlife Zen with a Basket of Friends My ComLuv Profile

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Lauren June 30, 2010 at 3:37 pm

Dear Aileen,

Hi beautiful one. I’m glad you enjoyed the photo. I love it too.

It’s so great to hear about your relationship experience. Interesting to think how close you came to not seeing it through. Yet, you worked it out and here you are, together.

I really do believe love requires courage. It seems sometimes mid-life brings a “fear and trembling” in the love department. Understandable, yet sad. I don’t believe we need to give in to fear.

Living life in its fullness requires a commitment to aliveness and a willingness to risk.

Thanks for sharing your experience. I love that you and your sweetie persisted.

Warmest regards and hugs,
Lauren
Lauren´s last blog ..Is Fear Motivating Your Romantic Life My ComLuv Profile

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Lisa Marie July 1, 2010 at 12:56 pm

Dear Lauren,
You asked, “Have you ever walked away from love out of fear?”
My answer is yes.
Back in the 80’s, before internet dating, when everyone seemed to pair up in bars :) I met a singer in a local band. I thought he was perfect!Even though he had a really “high profile,” he had zero attitude. Not like the other musicians I’d dated, LOL
He got ultra serious, fast.
That would seem like a happy ending was in store, but…
I had to admit 2 things to myself.
1. I was scared.
Because of my deep down lack of self-love, I didn’t trust that someone like him would really love me. I thought he would come to his senses at some point. As you say- fear got in the way.
2. And this is even harder to admit- the more I pulled away, the more he tried to hold on, and I interpreted this as desperation. I was not compassionate about his vulnerability.
I wasn’t cruel of course, but seeing this aspect of him just ruined it for me. When I look back on this, I realize I’ve come a long way, baby!

He was a good bit older than me so I’m sure he forgave my immaturity.
We both had other destinies and I have heard his life is good, as is mine.
So it is a happy ending!
Ok, so I hope this story of my colorful past doesn’t ruin my reputation here!!

Thanks for the reminder that fear can still be lurking in monogamous relationships, it’s so true.
Lots of love, Lisa

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Lauren July 1, 2010 at 2:52 pm

Dear Lisa,

Ha ha – nothing could ruin your reputation here! Smile Lisa. I love that you have a wealth of life experience to share. And I realized many years ago when I was trying to be “perfect” that I really didn’t enjoy “perfect” (what a fantasy) people. They really aren’t very fun, are they???

You point out something so interesting. The dynamic of the push-pull. It seems when we pull away the other person often pursues. For some reason it simply is not appealing. Is it human nature to be turned off by being pursued too much?

Do we want what we can’t have? Now that seems like a topic for a blog post!

Re: self value and love. Yippee for you Lisa. I love that we can grow in our love of ourselves and I’m happy that you have. We know so little when we’re just beginning to spread our wings.

Tons of love,
Lauren
Lauren´s last blog ..Is Fear Motivating Your Romantic Life My ComLuv Profile

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Patty - Why Not Start Now? July 1, 2010 at 9:33 pm

Hi Lauren -

I love this topic. You’re so right about having certain relationship experiences and then getting to midlife and projecting those fears and disappointments onto people we barely know. Since I’ve been in relationship such a long time, I know how that shows up in a marriage too. Have you read much of Robert Johnson? He’s one of my favorites, and he thinks romantic love is all made up and at some point we begin to realize that we must pull back the projections and build the relationship on something else. As much as I love him, he’s a little too austere about romantic love for me. I mean, even now, I still believe in romance. But I also know it’s not the same as it was in my 20’s.

Thanks for the great post. Look forward to reading more on this topic.
Patty – Why Not Start Now?´s last blog ..Meaning Mondays- A Simple Philosophy Emerges My ComLuv Profile

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Lauren July 2, 2010 at 6:11 pm

Dear Patty,

Nice to see you. I’m glad you mentioned these fears and disappointments show up in long-term relationships as well.

I am familiar with Johnson’s work. Interesting stuff. I’m with you – a bit austere in the romance department.

I find being familiar with personality “styles” or “types” has been helpful in understanding myself and others. I love Karen Horney’s Moving Toward, Moving Away, and Moving Against.

Enneatypes (a study of the enneagram) are valuable and fascinating as well. I used both in my dissertation about how people handle break-ups ( a fascinating study in itself).

Glad you enjoy the topic. I’ll be posting lots of content on relationships in the upcoming months.

Take care and big hugs,
Lauren
Lauren´s last blog ..Is Fear Motivating Your Romantic Life My ComLuv Profile

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Belinda Munoz + The Halfway Point July 5, 2010 at 11:34 am

Hi Lauren, this is such a wonderful post. I just love how you examine all sides and acknowledge the dark spots and still be positive and encouraging. I happen to be happily married and not looking for romantic love but know many people who do. The way you describe “the split” is indeed what I see happening with them. I even know folks who have completely stopped dating. The resignation, though understandable to a degree, makes me sad because clearly, at one point, they believed in love but through years of disappointment and possibly heartbreak, learned to be cynical. It’s always sad when we close off a part of us that used to be vibrant and healthy. But, as you say, belief in love can be stored and renewed with a little effort.

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Lauren July 5, 2010 at 8:41 pm

Dear Belinda,

Nice to see you. Yes, it is sad to see people close down and lose their sense of aliveness – and their belief in love.

We fail to realize it is something inside us, not outside, that causes this to happen. I love feeling that it’s something that can be re-kindled, a belief in love – and life.

It can actually be a fun process.

Glad to know you are in a happy relationship!

Hugs,
Lauren
Lauren´s last blog ..Is Fear Motivating Your Romantic Life My ComLuv Profile

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Madeleine Kolb July 6, 2010 at 12:33 am

Lauren, This is such a vital topic, especially as we grow older and carry baggage from prior relationships. I’m looking forward to reading more of your posts about romantic relationship.

I’m in a very happy relationship now. Both my BF and I have been married before, and it’s been amazing to both of us how good our reationship is. I think at the beginning he was apprehensive and afraid that our relationship would turn out badly like his marriages did.

So this is a fascinating dilemma. How you do learn from often bitter experience but still stay open to the possibility that the next experience will be better?
Madeleine Kolb´s last blog ..Pilgrimage to Site of First Flight My ComLuv Profile

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Lauren July 6, 2010 at 6:03 pm

Dear Madeleine,

I love hearing that many of you have enjoyed good relationships following challenging situations from the past.

Perhaps I’ll do a post with stories from my readers about their positive relationship experiences. It’s great to focus on what does work.

So good to hear from you and I like your topic about the myths of aging.

Warm regards,
Lauren
Lauren´s last blog ..Is Fear Motivating Your Romantic Life My ComLuv Profile

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Dawn @ Marriage Intimacy July 6, 2010 at 3:10 am

Hi Lauren,

Wonderful post! In addition to what you’ve already posted, I think that know what a person’s underlying values are will help him overcome his fears. These underlying values are what a person expects out of a relationship. When one has identified his underlying values, he can then focus on the positive aspect of his relationship, thus, eliminating fear within a relationship.

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Lauren July 6, 2010 at 6:08 pm

Dear Dawn,

This is a very interesting aspect you point out – values overcoming fears. It seems knowing our values can help (for example someone who has strong religious beliefs/values), yet studies show we often fail to live up to our own values.

As far as values eliminating fear, hmm…I don’t know about that. Fear is often anxiety based and we face quite a challenge as reason is not what fear and anxiety are made of – they’re emotionally based and often have no reasoning in them at all.

Emotions and desires sometimes blow our best intentions. Ah, those messy emotions.

Yet, I think there’s some truth in the benefit of defining our values. At least as important, I believe, is self-awareness and embracing all of who we are – even the things we’d rather not admit to ourselves and others.

The “shadow” in Jungian terms. Or as Pia Mellody said: “Hug your demons or they’ll bite you in the ass”.

These are my thoughts. I’d love to hear you say more about how you feel values eliminate fear in a relationship. I’d enjoy dialoguing with you more about this important topic.

Thanks for your visit and for sharing your thoughts.
Lauren´s last blog ..Is Fear Motivating Your Romantic Life My ComLuv Profile

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Jessica January 10, 2011 at 2:38 pm

Wow. Thank you so much for this! I am in a new relationship and my fear and anxiety are overwhelming right now. I really needed to read this. It’s so hard to let go & just be. To let love into my life w/o sabotaging it. I was ready to end this new relationship last night out of fear!!! I wish I could calm my anxieties. It can feel paralyzing!!! Thank you!

Jessica

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Jess June 2, 2011 at 4:41 pm

Oh my, Its like you wrote this for me!
The man I love is everything i could ever want! And he loves my two teenagers! We were both married before(for 13 years, each of us) and hurt badly. He has no fear and loves me more than anything. I have almost walked away due to fear. This blog makes so much sence, and has opened my eyes. Ive been afraid that I dont love him..yet I would die for him, want to have his baby, and long to be with him forever. Im seeing that not loving him is not what Im feeling. Its fear that it is all an illusion and it will go away. Its trying to wrap my head around the fact that this person loves me! Thankyou for writting this. My mom always says, dont trust your emotions. This is so true. Hold on to what you KNOW is true and good:)

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