This morning, I woke up at 7:02 a.m., terrified I had overslept. It turns out I had not — I had actually beat my alarm by a solid hour. I would bet that I am not the only human on the planet who has a fear of sleeping through their alarm (it's totes normal/v. acceptable/I have anxiety.) When it comes to romance, my anxiety manifests in another form of terror: I'm terrified that committing to another person means that I will lose my independence. Anyone else have this fear? No? What even are normal fears in relationships?
In an effort to answer this question, I went directly to anecdotal evidence from my own life (you know, since that's always the most reliable source). I considered the couples I know, and the effusive proclamations of affection they make public on Instagram every time one of them has a birthday or goes on a weekend trip. They never seemed stressed or worried about their partnership in the slightest.
As a smart woman who understands Instagram is basically all just ponies and rainbows and highlight reels, I know that those couples might have some actual concerns about their relationships. My question is: what are normal fears? My general fear of commitment is a particular challenge that I deal with in therapy, but it seems relatively normal to worry that your partner might have a crush on their super-hot admin at work, no?
I spoke to two therapists specializing in relationships and dating in order to get a more studied take. Here's what they had to say.
1. A Fear Of Abandonment
Oh my, this is already getting real... and starting to make me squirm. Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist Dr. Gary Brown told me that a fear of abandonment is the number one fear people have in relationships. "We enter relationships because we naturally yearn to share our lives with another," he explains.
This does seem like a normal fear to me. Think about it: in the end, even if you and your partner make it to 102-years-old, you're technically going to be "abandoned," or "abandon" your partner, no matter what happens. "For the vast majority of us, this connection with our partner is the glue for our personal life," Dr. Brown adds. "So it makes perfect sense that the fear of being abandoned and losing our partner is the most painful for us."
2. A Fear Of Not Getting Our Needs Met
Licensed marriage and family therapist Nicole Richardson says a fear of not getting your own needs met is another common fear she hears in her practice. When you enter into a relationship, you may fear being abandoned by your partner, but you also may fear that your partner ends up not being able to take care of you the way that you'd hoped they could.
"We fear not being heard, not being understood," explains Dr. Brown. "[Not] having our most basal needs for real emotional connection met." Of course you don't want to disappoint your partner, but you don't want them to disappoint you either. Wow, relationships are tricky. But take a deep breath — both experts agreed that these are very normal fears to have.
3. A Fear Of Not Being Good Enough
This fear is not dissimilar from a fear of abandonment — it's just more personal. Richardson says that "What if the person gets to know me and leaves?” is another incredibly common fear amongst her patients. I certainly understand this — it's exactly what makes it tricky for me to be vulnerable and open up in my romantic relationships.
Even though your partner is in a relationship with you now, you might have fears about someone else coming along who's "better" than you. It's also normal to feel insecure about sharing your whole, sometimes-eats-chips-in-bed self with a person you love. Humans are weird!
So, How Do You Cope?
Now that we've established that you're not alone in feeling these things, what do you do about the fear? "The very best and most simple way to deal with these peers simply to talk about them," says Dr. Brown. "I recommended all couples been at least five to 10 minutes today, without any electronic devices, and just sit down and couch and just talk about you or what are your fears me know how are we doing."
Simple, right? But what if talking doesn't help, and what if your fears continue to grow and eat away at you? "If you don’t like the way you are being treated, examine why that is, ask for what you need and if you cannot get it from that person," says Richardson. "Know that there are people out there that want to give it to you and go find them." I wholeheartedly agree.
At the end of the day, my personal advice is that you trust your gut. Humans have excellent intuition, but we're also excellent over-thinkers. Do you have fears about your partner cheating because deep down, you don't trust them? That's legitimate. Are you just worried that things are going to fall apart because they feel so good right now? That may be something to sort out on your own. Normalize your fears, but protect your heart. Listen to your instincts!
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