The story of lost love is one most of us can tell, and the question, “Why do relationships fail?” lingers heavily in the back of our minds. The answer for many of us can be found within. Whether we know it or not, most of us are afraid of really being in love. While our fears may manifest themselves in different ways or show themselves at different stages of a relationship, we all harbor defenses that we believe on some level will protect us from getting hurt. These defenses may offer us a false illusion of safety or security, but they keep us from attaining the closeness we most desire. So what drives our fears of intimacy? What keeps us from finding and keeping the love we say we want?
1. Real love makes us feel vulnerable.
A new relationship is uncharted territory, and most of us have natural fears of the unknown. Letting ourselves fall in love means taking a real risk. We are placing a great amount of trust in another person, allowing them to affect us, which makes us feel exposed and vulnerable. Our core defenses are challenged. Any habits we’ve long had that allow us to feel self-focused or self-contained start to fall by the wayside. We tend to believe that the more we care, the more we can get hurt.
2. New love stirs up past hurts.
When we enter into a relationship, we are rarely fully aware of how we’ve been impacted by our history. The ways we were hurt in previous relationships, starting from our childhood, have a strong influence on how we perceive the people we get close to as well as how we act in our romantic relationships. Old, negative dynamics may make us wary of opening ourselves up to someone new. We may steer away from intimacy, because it stirs up old feelings of hurt, loss, anger or rejection. As Dr. Pat Love said in an interview with PsychAlive, “when you long for something, like love, it becomes associated with pain,” the pain you felt at not having it in the past.
Many of us struggle with underlying feelings of being unlovable. We have trouble feeling our own value and believing anyone could really care for us. We all have a “critical inner voice,” which acts like a cruel coach inside our heads that tells us we are worthless or undeserving of happiness. This coach is shaped from painful childhood experiences and critical attitudes we were exposed to early in life as well as feelings our parents had about themselves.
While these attitudes can be hurtful, over time, they have become engrained in us. As adults, we may fail to see them as an enemy, instead accepting their destructive point of view as our own. These critical thoughts or “inner voices” are often harmful and unpleasant, but they’re also comfortable in their familiarity. When another person sees us differently from our voices, loving and appreciating us, we may actually start to feel uncomfortable and defensive, as it challenges these long-held points of identification.
4. With real joy comes real pain.
Any time we fully experience true joy or feel the preciousness of life on an emotional level, we can expect to feel a great amount of sadness. Many of us shy away from the things that would make us happiest, because they also make us feel pain. The opposite is also true. We cannot selectively numb ourselves to sadness without numbing ourselves to joy. When it comes to falling in love, we may be hesitant to go “all in,” for fear of the sadness it would stir up in us.
5. Love is often unequal.
Many people I’ve talked to have expressed hesitation over getting involved with someone, because that person “likes them too much.” They worry that if they got involved with this person, their own feelings wouldn’t evolve, and the other person would wind up getting hurt or feeling rejected. The truth is that love is often imbalanced, with one person feeling more or less from moment to moment. Our feelings toward someone are an ever-changing force. In a matter of seconds, we can feel anger, irritation or even hate for a person we love. Worrying over how we will feel keeps us from seeing where our feelings would naturally go. It’s better to be open to how our feelings develop over time. Allowing worry or guilt over how we may or may not feel keeps us from getting to know someone who is expressing interest in us and may prevent us from forming a relationship that could really make us happy.
6. Relationships can break your connection to your family.
Relationships can be the ultimate symbol of growing up. They represent starting our own lives as independent, autonomous individuals. This development can also represent a parting from our family. Much like breaking from an old identity, this separation isn’t physical. It doesn’t mean literally giving up our family, but rather letting go on an emotional level – no longer feeling like a kid and differentiating from the more negative dynamics that plagued our early relationships and shaped our identity.
7. Love stirs up existential fears.
The more we have, the more we have to lose. The more someone means to us, the more afraid we are of losing that person. When we fall in love, we not only face the fear of losing our partner, but we become more aware of our mortality. Our life now holds more value and meaning, so the thought of losing it becomes more frightening. In an attempt to cover over this fear, we may focus on more superficial concerns, pick fights with our partner or, in extreme cases, completely give up the relationship. We are rarely fully aware of how we defend against these existential fears. We may even try to rationalize to ourselves a million reasons we shouldn’t be in the relationship. However, the reasons we give may have workable solutions, and what’s really driving us are those deeper fears of loss.
Most relationships bring up an onslaught of challenges. Getting to know our fears of intimacy and how they inform our behavior is an important step to having a fulfilling, long-term relationship. These fears can be masked by various justifications for why things aren’t working out—but we may be surprised to learn about all of the ways that we self-sabotage when we get close to someone else. By getting to know ourselves, we give ourselves the best chance of finding and maintaining lasting love.
Big change will be weird and difficult for a period of time, it’s uncomfortable, and it’ll give you some hellishly freaky dreams, but that’s ok.
Wounds from random parts of life can be healed when you least expect it.
Forgiveness is a welcome and beautiful thing. I feel like there was forgiveness going all different ways, between multiple people this past week. It’s reassuring.
Other thoughts on dating:
One of my single parent friends says that she won’t date anyone who has never been married, or who doesn’t have kids. Which surprised me, and was a foreign concept at the time. At that point, I had never dated anyone with kids even though I have two myself. Actually, come to think of it…I still haven’t.
But I’m starting to understand why. As a single parent, I have discovered that I have little to no patience when it comes to dating and waiting to see if it’s ok with a guy that I have kids. Which has happened on several occasions. If I date someone who has been married or who has kids, we can automatically relate on those two levels and it’s a less scary topic. I see how that can be a protection for both people involved. I am 34. Life marches on, and I don’t have the emotional energy to wait for someone to be ok with it. What can I do when someone struggles? Nothing. It’s a big thing I can’t really help with. Someday I’ll meet the guy who is already ready and who will take me as the whole awesome package.
I’m guessing us moms see things in more black and white…gimme feedback if you single moms agree 😉
I love being a mom. It’s a special part of my identity, and a part of who I am. Although my kiddos need me just as much, they are older now, don’t wake up a million times a night, and require less immediate hands-on direction than infants or toddlers. Which frees up a lot of my mental space to think about these things and to wonder. Haha…
Ever feel like you have dug yourself a hole (with words), but you can’t stop talking and you just keep digging that hole deeper and deeper? To the point where you can’t remember why you started digging it to begin with? Then you get all turned around and don’t know how to get out?
I think humans (and by humans, I mean me…) are really good at confusing themselves when strong emotions are involved. The more confused we are, the less likely we are to have to reach a conclusion. This subconscious tactic seems to be most often used when either possible conclusion is scary.
Clarity can be elusive. Life can be scary. I don’t like that. Every time I think I’ve kicked fear in the teeth, it resurfaces with a new face. And sometimes I feel like people draw me out of the hole just to wound me. Thus, the nice warm, safe hole in the ground.
So my conclusion is…I don’t have one. And that’s how it is sometimes. I’ma just stay in this hole until there’s a good reason to come out. Ha.
…and yes I’m aware this is not the first time I’ve blogged about hiding in holes. So what. Maybe I like the dirt:
If you had asked me 5 years ago, I never thought I’d end up here in Utah. But suddenly here I am.
There are less trees, less rain, less green…but more nearby mountains and more uninterrupted horizons. And more siblings 😉 It’s really beautiful here. The small town I live in actually reminds me of where I lived in Oregon. Family oriented, a bit artsy, farm lands surrounding…I feel very comfortable.
I may have left a recent frustrating situation in a furious blazing bomb of glory. What to do…? It happens. Actually this is the first time it has happened for me this way. So I’m analyzing myself and figuring out why I have felt the explosive emotion in the way I do, and what to do to move forward. This post is my self-therapy, if you couldn’t tell!
I had a lot written here…but I decided it’s just too personal. And the details don’t matter so much. [DELETE]
Venting, done appropriately and in a healthy manner, is good for you.
If you have pent up anger, frustration, or sadness, let it out. It is much better than the alternative, which is to keep it bottled up or pretend it doesn’t exist, because it will manifest in one way or another.
Give yourself space and distance to deal with it.
Figure out where the hurt is really coming from. It may be from a much older and deeper source, but the present situation is merely drawing it out.
Recover your power.
If someone or something is getting under your skin, or you feel like they are in your head and you can’t get way from it, you are giving them more of your power than they deserve. Take your power back. Don’t let someone else’s behavior control how you feel.
I would like to introduce a word to you that I think everyone should be familiar with. Thanks to my brother and my sister-in-law for teaching me. Haha.
Smad = hurt feelings mixed with anger; mad and sad at the same time
An extremely useful word.
I now release you back into your lives, armed with those three tips for dealing. Knowing is one thing…implementing is another…may the force be with you.
It is so fascinating to watch life unfold, to watch my own growth. I’ve been paying attention to things that have been changing recently. I noticed today that I can say for the first time that I have developed a secure trust in myself, specifically in my ability to choose. My actual ability to choose or intuit hasn’t changed, but my confidence in that ability has.
I no longer second and third-guess. And that is a big deal for me.
This has been a long time coming, since I used to constantly question my conclusions. I was pretty sure they were alright, but I always felt “iffy” until I got some kind of reassurance or confirmation from another source. Today is the first day I realized that I don’t rely on it like a crutch anymore. Of course additional confirmation is welcome and sometimes appropriate, but in general the feeling of insecurity related to this is gone.
I have been given a lot of tools and blessings. I know how to use them for their intended purposes. So I am using them! Without worry or wondering. It’s such a feeling of freedom!!
Guys I’ve dated and things I learned. Names have been omitted to protect the innocent. And not-so-innocent. 😉 And these are quick summaries, because I don’t want to bore y’all. But this is more for me than you anyway.
Not sure if I missed any, but these are the ones that stand out.
You were the first person I felt I was “in love” with. Of course I was super young, so I’m not sure if I knew what being in love meant, but it sure was euphoric. You wrote me romantic poetry and thought I was the most beautiful, amazing thing ever to have walked the earth. I adored you back just as much. Ah…young love.
You were my first official boyfriend. It was the first time I felt that “special connection” and I really enjoyed the magical time we shared. I missed you for years, and I’m glad we rekindled our friendship. You’ve been a sounding board and a great support to me.
You were head over heels for me. I wasn’t interested, but we were friends so I went on one date with you. I feel badly that it was leading you on, but I have since written you a letter of apology and you offered me your forgiveness. You are an amazing person.
You were my rebound, and I was yours. But we knew it. We had fun anyway for the short time I struggled, and kept the loneliness at bay for a bit.
You were all wrong for me, but I was entranced by your outgoing, outspoken, amazing people-oriented ways. I loved being around that because it gave me permission to be the same. I felt badly at how much you were hurt by the ending of things.
We didn’t officially date, but I did fly down to LA to hang out with you and watch you perform in a play. You were a great buddy and I drew a lot of strength from you. Plus, you are hilarious. I loved how much I was laughing around you.
You were the catalyst for life-changing events. It was a difficult journey, but I am so glad things happened the way they did. I learned effective communication and respect, and I am a completely different person because of things.
You had OCD, and were a bit neurotic. The phrase I use, “I don’t do mean” came from having met you. That’s something I have learned that I will not tolerate.
You are barely worth mentioning, because of the littleness of character you exhibited. But something great did happen because of you: my standards and list of things that I want in a relationship skyrocketed and I can define the difference between a boy and a man.
You were my recovery and recuperation. A safe place to hide from my wounds. I needed that time. You were great. I’m sorry the ending was so difficult.
You were too wrapped up in your own head and ego…there wasn’t much room for me. And you didn’t know what you wanted. Also, looks mean nothing if there’s no connection.
You were the first person I dated since my divorce who treated me like a gem. Chivalry is not dead! Your manners and respect were impeccable. I also appreciated your honesty in the last phone call. Thanks for that. Your bravery caused my respect for you to increase.
You were interesting, you got me curious. We never “dated.” You were really weird with me in public though. Not sure what that was about.
You said you knew what you wanted. But you didn’t? Or you weren’t ready for it. Therefore, it re-emphasized how much I really need for a man to be self-aware .
We also never dated because we’re too many states apart, but we would if you were here. I really appreciate your support and direct communication. You are a great example of consistency and stability. Thanks for that.
With you, I learned about who I am and what I want, independent of any other direct influence. I have had to own and take full responsibility for everything. You have helped move me through the learning process regarding my issues with inconsistent men. One day I will figure out how to stop attracting inconsistency.
You can read Smile me Pretty’s original post here: