“Only thing we have to fear is fear itself” – Franklin D. Roosevelt

“For you have not received a spirit of slavery leading to fear again, but you have received a spirit of adoption as sons by which we cry out, ‘Abba ! Father !’” – Bible

Tom and Jane were having an argument. It wasn’t the first time. Tom arrived home late, had a quick dinner, and then buried himself in paper from work. Jane had interrupted him and was trying to explain to him calmly (and failing miserably) that she felt like he had forgotten about her and his family.

Although they didn’t realize it, the real cause of their problems wasn’t his behavior as a workaholic or her feeling that he was ignoring his family. Tom grew up playing second fiddle to an older brother who succeeded in everything. Tom wanted to demonstrate to his family and the world that he could succeed as well. His fear of failure was driving him to extremes.

Jane grew up in a similar situation; only in her case her family ignored her. She felt like Tom was rejecting her.

We all have our fears. Maybe you don’t suffer from consecotaleophobia – the fear of chopsticks. But I guarantee all of us are afraid of something – something that affects our behavior and can seriously impact our relationship with our spouse.

Dr. Terry Olson, a long-time counselor in North Carolina, shared some thoughts with a group of us the other day. He assured us “It doesn’t have to be this way. There is another way to deal with fear.”

1. Name the underlying fear. Do some soul-searching. When your spouse does something that upsets you, step back and try to determine why you feel the way you do. What are you afraid of? Falling apart, rejection, not being understood, being judged, change, getting old, lack of control, failure, helplessness?

2. Tell your spouse about your feelings of fear. Don’t blame your spouse; own up to your fear. For example, say “I am feeling afraid of us losing control of our finances” instead of “You always have to be the boss with our money.”

3. Listen to your spouse’s fears. Do not try to negate or “fix” the fears. Do not belittle, humiliate, shame, and threaten your spouse because of the fear. You cannot drive a fear out of someone else. Use compassionate and unconditional love to help them deal with the fear themselves.

4. Recognize that your spouse’s fears are likely to trigger your own fears. For example, if your spouse voices a fear of boredom, you may interpret this to mean that he or she is losing interest in you, and you may suffer from a fear of rejection. Don’t minimize your spouse’s fear, but make room for your own fear, letting your partner know how you feel.

5. Focus on the fear and don’t let side issues distract you. If your fear is loss of control of finances, don’t be sidetracked by arguing over some recent purchase, e.g. golf clubs if he likes golf and you don’t.

6. Contain the fears within boundaries. Recognize that these “fear” talks will occur regularly throughout the course of the relationship, but keep each discussion within a reasonable time limit, such as 10 to 20 minutes. Support each other, move on, and enjoy life once the fears have been named and heard. Don’t set the boundary with anger and bullying by saying things like “Aren’t we done with this yet? Can’t you just let it go already?” If one person is not done processing, gently but firmly plan for another time to talk the next day.

Dealing with fears takes time and unconditional love on the part of husband and wife. Fears are a natural consequence of our self-protective nature. We must make the decision to recognize them and overcome them, or they will control us.

Love and fear: two powerful and opposing emotions. Choose love; it’s best for your marriage.

  The Family and Marriage Coalition of Aiken, Inc. (FAMCO) provides resources for you to succeed in your marriage and families. Roger Rollins, Executive Director, FAMCO, 803-640-4689, rogerrollins@aikenfamco.com, www.aikenfamco.com.