July 2001
July 2001

Fear grips a person similar to this metaphor: You are dangling from a cliff hanging on to a branch as a helicopter passes a life line right next to you. There is a slight breeze and as you attempt to grab it, the rope sweeps past. Suddenly you are paralyzed. You are unable to reach out even when the rope is practically placed in your hand for fear if you let go of what you know you have for what you may not be able to have. As the branch begins to break you still find that you would rather hang on to this questionable security rather than take a chance on life. The limb breaks. As you are falling you gather your courage and finally try to grab the lifeline. In some cases it may be too late.

This is similar to the various reactions to Fear in marital situations. Sometimes it creates a numbness in marriages which then destroys the ability to relate to each other. Some clients refuse to discuss the issues that bother them in front of their spouses because it will cause another outburst from the mate. The counselor is the lifeline, but they are afraid to grab it. In these cases, it restrains ones voice to speak out and results in a refusal to air ones complaints. (This is another aspect of the Silence Conspiracy of which I addressed in a previous column.) The counselor is left with no tools to improve the relationship. Unable to read their minds, one can only request cooperation from the couple. The situation worsens with the spiraling fear that feeds off each partner. One may blaze at the other. The other doesn't respond. Both are using fear to protect themselves. The quiet one needs to talk, and the aggressive one needs to listen.

I see raw-primitive-fear blocking love and resolution. I see resentment, hurt, fear of loss, fear of abandonment bottled into anger. Anger always blocks love. Resolve each emotion and the solutions can be helped with learning new communication and relationship skills. Dr. Paul D. Maclean maintains that the brain has three major areas: the Reptilian (territorial, survival instincts), the Limbic (emotional feelings that guide behavior),and the Cortex (problem solving and memorizing, language, culture).

The Reptilian and the Limbic systems are the original protectors of frail humans against mightier animals in Prehistoric times when activating Fear was needed to create the caution and alertness to forewarn us of further danger. Our environment and survival needs have changed, but our body has not. A person feels vulnerable and the Fear is used as a shield to protect oneself. That primeval Fear works in an identical manner within a relationship, but those instincts work against a relationship because love should not be dog eat dog, but to rise above those baser feelings of attack, hide, or run towards a change in the dynamics of love, listening and caring by activating the cerebral hemispheres and using it to develop the necessary skills that will overcome the differences between the couple.

Good communication skills, which include the active listening necessary to create links in the relationship is the best type of feed back to help remove the Fear that has developed. Watch for other columns that will discuss each of these comments in greater detail.