When we think of the landscape of our relationships and marriages, there are many nuances to making a partnership last and thrive over time. Loving relationships built on respect, communication, and physical connectedness offer a rich lifetime experience. However, cracks in our foundations can come as we experience financial strain, crisis, or the ups and downs of raising families together. The concepts of self-mastery are helpful to see these experiences more decisively as either patterns based on fear or patterns based in love. So how can we use this concept to improve relationships?
It’s Just Love or Fear
It’s just love or fear. That concept might knock our socks off. It is so simple yet we make it so complicated and full of excuses. The truth is that there are busy families everywhere who are led by couples that are fully in love. There are couples who do not have two pennies to pinch together and are experiencing a beautiful and full relationship. So what gives? Those same challenges meet many families and the response is quite different – discord and distance instead of bonding and support. Human nature has a fear bias that often has us reading the ups and downs of life as threats and therefore we respond in fear. We do this in many ways throughout our lives, not just in our relationships.
Relationship Experts Know How Fear Undermines Love
According to Drs. John and Julie Gottman, renowned marriage researchers and therapists of The Gottman Institute, there are four major players that predict divorce which are: defensiveness, contempt, criticism, and stonewalling. They call these the “four horsemen” and it doesn’t take more than a glance to see that these types of behavior, when commonplace, can usher in problems that lead to great divide. One twist I would add to that is these behaviors are almost always fear based responses. Just as an example, defensiveness takes an issue and turns it around on our partner. Surely we can feel the fear simmer to the top in those situations. We become defensive because we are afraid to take responsibility for our part or afraid of exposing an insecurity or fault.
Moving Past Fear
A major hurdle to moving past fear in a relationship is to look at our own selves. It is always easier to blame the other person, but it is certainly not always true, productive or remotely loving. Instead we can ask ourselves:
- What is it about this topic that makes me nervous?
- Why do I feel so uncertain when this comes up?
- What is the root of why this issue has always been a hot button for me?
Understanding our own fears and insecurities can allow us to communicate that productively to our partner instead of hurling insults their way every time the issue comes up.
On the Other Side of Fear
If we move through our relationships without fear based behaviors and communication, what is left? Well, love, of course. There will be times our partner is going to mess up. We will too. But when our partner messes up and we meet them with love instead of fear, we build a deeper connection instead of burning the bridge. The bonus prize of this removal of fear is that our kids watch and learn what loving communication and behavior looks like. Fear is doing us no favors in any area of our life, and certainly our relationships are a key area to kiss fear good-bye.