Is your partner afraid of you? Are you afraid of your partner? Fear pollutes your relationship communication.
River and Phoenix are partners. River has a fantasy: To send out holiday cards with two names in the upper lefthand corner:
River & Phoenix
Together, Forever X0X0X0
River feels too vulnerable to ask Phoenix directly to make the commitment of buying a house though, so, instead, River says, “Housing prices are really dropping around here.”
It would make it so much easier if relationship communication fears came out of your mouth wearing blue smoke
Then your partner would know to slow down and listen more carefully.
But fears hide. And then fears pollute your relationship communication.
Phoenix, who doesn’t hear River’s heartfelt desire, responds, “Oh, don’t worry, River, your job is safe.”
See how it gets confusing? River didn’t get the promise of an envelope. Now River feels rejected. River didn’t communicate.
You’re probably scared to talk to your partner about something today. I understand.
Real communication—filled with transparency and honesty—is scary. But it’s what your relationship needs if you are gonna feel more connection.
How fear derails healthy relationship communication
In short, fear wears lots of disguises. Fear tries to pretend it’s not fear. Here’s a couple of the disguises fear wears:
Do you recognize a strategy you’ve used in the past to disguise fear in your relationship communication?
What does fear do to your relationship communication?
Fear hijacks your amygdala and inspires you to fight, fly, or freeze.
In this example, River is unconsciously choosing to freeze. River is so casual about “Housing prices are dropping around here,” that Phoenix doesn’t even see the question River’s dying to ask, “Do you want to buy a house with me?”
River is like that rabbit who is hiding in plain sight. The problem is, River’s disguise is so effective that Phoenix just blows right on by. This is not relationship communication. Each person is talking past the other, completely oblivious.
Do you use avoidance to hide your fear?
Avoidance works well for people who want to run away from the potential conflict of a situation. Avoidance is sort of like that hot potato game you played as a child: Hot! Hot! Hot! Drop it! Don’t touch it! Avoidance works well for people who want to drop hold of their fear.
Oh. Except that then fear is just lingering about; haunting the entire room by causing complete confusion. There’s zero relationship communication.
When you disguise fear as avoidance, you might notice the following sensations in your body:
- An airy, spacey, ungrounded feeling in your limbs.
- A feeling of confusion. Dizziness.
- There are no words. None. You open your mouth to speak, and there’s…nothing.
If you tend to disguise fear as avoidance, you will be a cave of emptiness with nothing to offer your partner.
Fear disguised as suspicion undermines your relationship
Suspicion is sort of the opposite of avoidance. With suspicion, instead of backing away from conflict, River would assume conflict is inevitable and go looking for it.
Suspicion shows up in people who have great imaginations and are prone to make assumptions. Suspicious people build a case and gather evidence to prove their case. The problem is their case is based on a wounded way of seeing the world. They were hurt, so they expect the world to hurt them.
Oh. Except now since they treat the world the way they were treated, they actually create the world they fear. It’s not communication when you don’t include your partner.
If you use suspicion to disguise your fear, you might notice the following sensations:
- Darting eyes to see things that go “on the list” of evidence.
- Chewing and stewing over details ad nauseum.
- A tight or churning stomach or tight throat.
If you tend to disguise fear as suspicion, you’ll have lists of reasons your partner fails you.
When fear hides as anger, it’s like setting off a bomb
Anger can be seen like suspicion that escapes in an explosion. It explodes your relationship communication. Our fears—until they are overcome—are the lens through which we see the world. River is afraid Phoenix doesn’t want to make a commitment.
Instead of Housing prices are dropping around here, when River uses anger to disguise fear, River accuses Phoenix, “You never do anything around this house.”
The anger/accusation model is used by people who tend to blame or find fault. There’s a lot of tension that gets stored in your body when you’re afraid, and a burst of anger is a great release.
Oh. Except that it destroys relationships. Hard to communicate if you’ve blown up the relationship.
When you use anger to disguise fear, you make intimacy difficult because you blow up moments of intimacy and cause fear in the heart of your partner.
In your body you might notice the following sensations:
- A hot burning feeling under your skin.
- A feeling of pressure that might manifest as headaches.
- Bursts: burst of language, energy, or eating. Energy that comes in waves.
If you tend to disguise fear as anger, you will often find fault with your partner.
Fear disguised as control strangles your relationship
Instead of housing prices are dropping around here, River could say, “We have an appointment with a realtor on Saturday at 11:00am.”
The control model to keep fear at bay works well because you go through the world fixing what everyone else got wrong. It doesn’t even feel scary because you can fix everything.
People resort to this disguise for a combination of reasons: avoiding conflict, or a secret pride that their way of seeing the world is superior. Control is certainly one way to avoid anger for those who don’t like explosions.
Oh. Until the illness, the earthquake, or the job loss comes along that is sadly out of your control. Relationships need practice with communication so you’re prepared to handle the crisis.
If you use control to disguise fear, you make intimacy difficult because you erase your partner’s individuality. There’s no room for variety, an alternative way, or, frankly your partner.
In your body you might notice the following sensations:
- You know the universal truth for how the world works: The fork tines go down in the dishwasher, why doesn’t everyone realize this?
- In your hands, your core, your voice.
- You fix the world: if the forks are aimed tine-up, you turn them the right way, and point them down.
If you tend to disguise fear as control, you’ll be constantly trying to change your partner into someone else.
Your fear is trying to protect you and protect your relationship
These are some of the ways people disguise fear, but it’s not an exhaustive list. The key thing to remember is that these disguises are fear’s way of trying to protect you.
Protection is a worthy intention. When you can approach yourself or your partner with this gentle and kind assumption that fear is an attempt at protection, you can cultivate compassion and understanding in your communication which open the door wide to cultivate intimacy in your relationship.
Try This: Discuss with your partner how you tend to disguise fear and how you see that disguise impacting your relationship communication.
I’d love to hear what happens when you name your fear. How does that change the way you see your partner? How does it make room for compassion when you have conflict? Please text me and let me know how your conversation changes when you identify the disguises your fear wears: 970-210-4480.
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