I’m afraid I’ll lose him or her can be one of the most powerful motivators in a relationship. There are many stories that shape the foundation of this fear, but regardless of it’s origin, the way we behave out of this fear will either result in bondage or freedom. If we’re honest, we all have fears about doing or not doing something that will bring an end to an important relationship. This fear may not be consciously present for both partners, but it’s in there.
There are two ways we typically react to this fear. The first, which is a natural and normal reaction, is to grab on tightly and not let go. The other option, more nuanced, is to hold with open arms and allow the other the freedom to choose. Obviously the latter is more difficult, but it’s a promise we all hope to give and be given upon getting married. This is the reality of accepting that love is a choice.
In the infancy of a relationship, it’s impossible for couples to not behave and interact as though devastation is but a whisper away. Couples will spend countless hours together, spending energy they’d normally reserve for work and other relationships, and will be quite infatuated with each other. It’s the picture of the animals coming out in the Spring in the movie, Bambi. Everyone is twitterpated, and nothing else matters. This infancy can last days or weeks or years and is the beginning grounds of every relationship.
If one person tries to break free (mature) from the immaturity of the relationship, it forces the other person to either increase their efforts at containing the relationship or to follow the others’ lead. Thus begins the dance of “I’m afraid I’ll lose the other person.”
When we’re afraid of losing someone close, our natural tendency is to hold on tighter so as to guarantee the person never gets away. Said another way, finding something of immeasurable value is rare and it’s easy to want to horde so as to never experience the loss. God has hardwired us for relationships, and this is the dilemma that faces marriage: How do I ensure I’ll never lose him/her.
The unfortunate answer is that we can never ensure our own safety, or closeness to another person. Because of this, our humanness takes charge and we squeeze tight, so we don’t experience loss. One of the quickest ways to erode trust with your spouse is to risk them feeling controlled. If this word pops up in your conversations, wisely heed the warning and address it.
What’s not understood in this dilemma is that when we squeeze something, we generally expel the air that resides inside; much like a balloon. Balloons are designed to hold air. When you commit your life to your spouse, you commit to caring for him/her the way you’d care for a balloon. Sometimes they’ll need you to put some air in them, sometimes they’ll need a string so they can fly in the wind but not get lost, and sometimes they’ll need to be left alone to dance on the floor to how the air moves them. If I’m afraid of losing my balloon, I might squeeze it so hard that all the air is expelled from the other person. “She’s safer in my pocket, than out on her own,” might be a phrase associated with this act or belief.
This dynamic plays an important part for the early stages of intimate relationships. This “holding on tightly” is usually given and received as a token of the pure love that couples have for one another. This can be experienced as love early on in a relationship, but as the individuals (and marriage) grows, so too does the need for a more matured expression of love.
Love takes energy and selfless behavior to care, respect, actively listen, attend, and honor our spouse. On the other hand, fear silences, manipulates, controls, and worries. Marriage is the choice to engage in spite of our fear. I liken it to the challenge of being given a rare flower that needs care, but room to breath and grow. Smother it, and it will slowly die; tend to it and it will thrive.
If we let the fear of loss control our actions and interactions with our spouse, it will result in a failure of love. Love is not static. It’s a dynamic process of growth both for the other and for ourselves.
Samuel is a licensed counselor, therapist, coach, author, and teacher who serves as the Clinical Director of Sage Hill Counseling Brentwood. In couples work, he helps to identify negative patterns of relating and help to construct new relational styles built upon honesty and vulnerability. To schedule a couple’s session with Samuel, email firstname.lastname@example.org.