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Which of These 5 Fears is Holding You Back from Having a Closer Relationship?

Written on April 17th

April 2018

Several years ago, we attended a wonderful workshop by Dr. Pat Sheehan all about emotional intimacy.

At the event, she shared with us an assessment she created to help couples identify what is standing in the way of bringing our fully vulnerable, available, and openhearted selves to one another.

With her permission, we’ve since been using this assessment tool with clients regularly, and it’s terrific.

We find that nearly everyone has one or more of these 5 fears, and it can be really illuminating to identify. They show up, not only in our romantic partnership, but in other relationships too.

In this month’s blog, we go over the 5 most common fears and then some quick tips for transforming what stands between you.

The 5 Fears of Closeness and Intimacy

(* These 5 fears were identified by Dr. Path Sheehan, to whom we are very grateful! The tips we suggest for overcoming them come from our own work with couples.)

Uncertain Couple

(1) Fear of Abandonment

If you tend to get clingy, if you worry your partner may leave you, if you get jealous, if you doubt your beloved’s commitment to you, or if you reject others before they can reject you, a fear of abandonment may be lurking beneath the surface.

Quick Tip if You Have This Fear:
This is a great time to practice self-love. Make sure you aren’t abandoning yourself. Go on special dates with yourself. Cultivate confidence by building your self esteem and relationship with the one person you will spend every moment of the rest of your life with — YOU! Discover or nurture your passions. Reach out to friends.

The irony is that your beloved will probably want to come closer to you if they see you as independent, interesting, and confident.

Come to the relationship whole, healthy, and nourished already, so that your beloved is like the delicious dessert that adds meaning and flavor to life, not the main course you rely on for your sustenance.

Quick Tip if Your Beloved Has This Fear:
Rather than getting defensive when your beloved expresses jealousy, seems needy or clingy, or distances themselves from you, offer them your reassurance. Know that underneath what they say or do, they just feel scared of losing you.

Chances are, someone has abandoned them in the past, and it was devastating for them. They are now wired to be on alert to make sure they don’t feel that kind of pain again. Help them feel appreciated, secure, and valued. Freely express your love and commitment to them.

(2) Fear of Merger

Fear of Merger

If you are afraid of losing yourself or your independence in the relationship, if you want to go running when you think your beloved is trying to control you, if you resist or rebel against your partner telling you what to do, if you are concerned with feeling trapped or limited, or if you are worried your sweetheart may hold you back in life, this fear is probably active for you.

Quick Tip if You Have This Fear:
One of the greatest predictors of divorce is one partner’s unwillingness to accept influence from their mate. It’s so important, in order to thrive, that we get willing to compromise, that we’re flexible, that we’re open to feedback, and that we hear our beloved’s requests.

Of course, it’s also so important that we give each other permission to be different and that we not lose ourselves.

It’s about finding the balance.

Try to say yes as often as possible to those requests that are really important to your sweetheart but that don’t involve giving up some essential part of you. Then, choose wisely those areas you want to really stick to so that you don’t lose yourself.

Also, be sure to take initiative when it comes to nurturing your own interests. Make them a healthy and balanced part of your life. That way, you will discover that you really can have both — a deeply connected relationship and a life of personal passion and meaning.

Quick Tip if Your Beloved Has This Fear:
If your partner feels like they are losing who they are, they will take a step back from the relationship just to feel like they can hold onto themselves. Be selective about the requests you make. Let the little and less significant things go.

Rather than making demands, have positive and curious conversations to find creative ways you can both get your needs met.

Help your beloved feel like they have a sense of individuality, freedom, and choice in your togetherness – ingredients that help keep passion alive in any relationship.

Remember that a healthy amount of individuality actually creates more genuine closeness and is more sustainable for thriving love to last.

(3) Fear of Exposure or Being Seen

Fear of Exposure

If you avoid saying what you are thinking, if you have a hard time admitting when you made a mistake, if you are dishonest with your beloved, if you struggle to be vulnerable with your feelings, or if you fear your partner would reject you if they knew everything about you, it’s likely you have a fear of exposure or being seen.

Quick Tip if You Have This Fear:
Those parts of you that you are afraid to reveal or that you feel shy about, ashamed of, or judge can be some of the most lovable parts of you. We are all imperfect humans, and we crave not feeling alone in our humanness. Sharing those less polished and messier parts of ourselves can be deeply bonding.

Plus, the more vulnerable we are, the more empathetic (rather than defensive) our mate naturally becomes.

We realize this can feel terrifying and bring up core fears (i.e. if they knew X about me, they wouldn’t love me). However, 99% of the time, the opposite is true. The more you allow yourself to be seen, the more you will realize just how tender and precious these seemingly “unlovable” parts of you really are.

Quick Tip if Your Beloved Has This Fear:
Be sure to create a really safe space for your sweetheart to share their thoughts and feelings. If you criticize them, tease them, punish them, or make them wrong in any way, you are training them not to open up to you. Instead, focus on being validating, affirming, empathetic, encouraging, and appreciative.

(4) Fear of Attack

If you expect your partner to deliberately hurt you, are on guard against put downs, carefully select what you share so that it can’t later be used against you, regularly anticipate their criticism, and look for “ulterior motives” when they are kind, you probably keep some distance due to a fear of being attacked.

Quick Tip if You Have This Fear:
It’s important to distinguish — does this fear come from a prior relationship in your life where you were attacked or does it come from true concerns in this one?

Of course, if there is a true concern for your safety or well-being, please seek immediate help. Here is the National Domestic Violence Hotline and website.

Here are two things to consider. One, people often give us the love we feel we deserve. Someone who loves and values themselves deeply simply won’t tolerate someone else treating them poorly. Could this reflect a lack of self-worth? If so, it’s time to reclaim your power and confidence in order to gain your beloved’s respect again.

On a different note, sometimes our beloved becomes more aggressive when they don’t feel heard. It often doesn’t start here. It escalates here. What is your beloved begging you to hear? If they feel heard and understood by you, they won’t feel the need to get louder in order to get your attention.

Quick Tip if Your Beloved Has This Fear:
If your beloved has genuine concern for their well-being or safety within the relationship or if you have a difficult time managing your anger or stress, we highly recommend getting professional help.

If it’s less serious but still a challenge in your relationship or if this simply stems from a prior relationship your beloved was in, we encourage you to be especially positive and warm. Be encouraging, kind, affirming, and appreciative.

Avoid criticism, teasing, eye rolling, sarcasm, blaming, and condescension. Take some deep breaths and do something to center when you feel yourself getting stressed or triggered.

Use your words, tones, and actions to convey a sense of peace and safety that warmly invites your beloved to come closer.

(5) Fear of One’s Own Destructive Impulses

Fear of Ones Own Destructive Impulses

If you avoid having arguments, fear losing control, don’t trust your temper, are concerned you will do something destructive when emotions are high, or worry about hurting your beloved (emotionally or physically), this fear is probably active.

Quick Tip if You Have This Fear:
Perhaps you’ve made some mistakes in your life and carry a lot of regret and guilt from them. Maybe you don’t fully trust yourself.

From doing the work we are so honored to do with people, we are in awe of the human capacity for transformation. If there is an area of your life that needs attention, you don’t have to be stuck with it for life. Perhaps it was a behavior others modeled for you, a coping skill you learned at some point in your life, or simply an unhealthy way you have tried to get your needs met in the past.

When you pull back from your beloved, it causes them pain, so that’s not a long-term solution.

This is a brand new moment, and the future is unwritten. Your past does not have to dictate your future. Reach out for support to create whatever changes you’d like to make so that you can trust yourself and open to the love you deserve. Know that we are here to help in any way and offer individual sessions to address a variety of personal challenges and goals. You aren’t in this alone! Just reply to this message and let us know what personal changes you’d love to make, and we’ll be in touch.

Quick Tip if Your Beloved Has This Fear:
If your beloved truly does have active destructive impulses, we realize this may spill over to you and be a source of pain in your life. Be encouraging about your beloved getting professional help. Positively reinforce any good changes you see them make, no matter how small (progress, not perfection). See them as the person they are growing into, not just who they’ve been (it’s much harder to make positive changes when someone is continually reminding us of how terrible we are). And, of course, take wonderful care of yourself and get whatever support you need.

We lovingly encourage you to have a conversation with your beloved:

What are each of your top fears?

How can you support one another in transforming these fears so you can move in closer and enjoy all of the love imaginable?

Hold on just one minute though — there are a few important things we want to note before you do this.

First, no fears are wrong, and nobody is bad for having them. These 5 fears are listed here because they are so common. We want to compassionately and curiously become aware of our fears so that we can work with them, rather than against them.

Secondly, some fears may stem from painful experiences or messages you’ve received in the past. If this is the case, remember that you and your beloved often can’t “just get over” these fears as effortlessly as you might think and hope. It is so important that we do whatever personal healing work is necessary to minimize our old wounding so it doesn’t stand in the way of our current love.

However, it takes effort and time, and you can help be an amazing source of healing and support for each other as you work through this – rather than continually (albeit unintentionally) provoking and reinforcing each other’s fears.

Finally, just think of this: you want to make it as appealing, safe, and positively irresistible as possible for your beloved to want to come closer to you. Uncovering the fears that stand in the way will give you tremendous insight into how to keep the pathway between your hearts open, accessible, and clear!

Couple Driving Together



If one of you has been checking out, is having a hard time committing, seems distant, is struggling to open up, or has a hard time giving healthy space, we would be honored to help you cultivate a deeper connection.

You can learn more about our private sessions HERE and our incredibly bonding retreat, Thrive in Love, HERE.

Emotional intimacy is vital to thriving love, and, within every fear, you will also find incredible opportunities for relationship growth, healing, and deepening!

On the other side of every barrier is even more love to give and receive. We’re wishing you so many blessings as you release everything that stands in the way!

Infinite Love and Joy,
Christine and Bret


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