What Are You So Afraid Of? Fear and Marriage.

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By Stacey Rose, PhD, LCSW

“How are things?”  I asked a married couple whom I’d been working with for a few months.  

“Same old, same old” the husband replied.  

“Why should it be any different?” the wife responded defensively.  “The kids have schedules they have to be on and our work schedules don’t change,” she continued, “so it is what it is.  Get used to it!”

As I watched this husband express his frustrations, it became clear to me that the wife was scared.  She had strongly defended the routine of their lives.  She, like all of us, became used to what is familiar.  We may not always like the familiar but at least we know what to expect.  This husband was looking for some kind of change, some kind of excitement.  

“What is it that you need to be different?” I asked him.

“Anything!  I’m just so tired of waking up, going to work, coming home for dinner and putting the kids to bed.  Maybe, just maybe we have sex once in a while and watch a little T.V. but other than that, I can expect that tomorrow will pretty much be the same as today.”

“What can you do to change things up a bit?”  I asked encouraging him to take on some of the responsibility for the issue. 

“Not a lot, I mean, she won’t go out to dinner during the week, she has to give the kids their baths at 6:30 every night.  She won’t have a sitter come in unless it’s her mother.  I guess I just have to get used to it.”  He said with a sigh, resigning himself to being a victim of his wife’s routine.  

As she tried to jump in and defend herself again, I motioned to her to hold on a moment while I followed up with him.  “I imagine living a life that your wife determines for you must be very frustrating.”

He nodded cautiously.

“Whose life are you living?”  I asked gently confronting him.

“What do you mean?  It’s my life, of course, but she just has so many restrictions.”  He responded blaming her again.

The session continued in this vain.  What became increasingly clear to me was how scared they both were.  He was afraid of changing anything because he didn’t want to upset his wife.  She was afraid of clearing and/or changing her schedule because that would make more time for them to connect.  Emotional intimacy frightened her.  

So, what are you afraid of in your marriage?  How does fear get in the way of – having a closer and happier relationship with your spouse?  How does your spouse’s fear get in the way?  What would happen if each of you took a small risk – or a big risk?  Maybe, you would actually be more fulfilled and wouldn’t respond to a question with “same old, same old.”  Imagine saying “different and new, different and new.”  The choice is yours. 

This couple did eventually take risks with each other.  They started with small risks, like eating dinner on the floor wit the kids for a picnic and switching sides of the bed they sleep on.  At their last session, they reported just having come back from a surprise vacation to the Bahamas.  Remember, the choice is yours, same old or different and new, what will you choose?