What is your partner’s greatest fear in life? What is yours? Is it being left by their partner? Is it being cheated on? Is it being embarrassed? Is it losing their job and not being able to survive? Is it being seen as weak or needy? Is it being engulfed or overwhelmed by another? The list goes on and on…. we all have our fears, weakness and vulnerabilities, it’s part of being human.
In working as a couple’s therapist, I have found one of the most powerful conversations that people can have with each other is to discuss their deepest, darkest fears and worries. I know this can be risky and can feel incredibly vulnerable to talk about your weaknesses with anyone. It can be immensely helpful for your partner to know these things about you and to not walk on these land mines. Of course this may give your partner more power to hurt you when they know your weak spots. If you are serious in wanting to make your relationship work, you won’t want to hurt or upset your partner on purpose, right?!
So what might this conversation about sharing a fear or vulnerability look like? How about sitting on the couch together, facing each other, and sharing your biggest worry in life? Perhaps one person says, “The thing I’m most afraid of is being too needy and you leaving me because I’m too much for you. My father always said that I was so needy as a kid and that I was never satisfied. I’m worried that if I’m like that with you, you’ll leave me.” Your partner should just listen and validate at this point by saying things like, “That makes sense and I won’t leave you just because you need me. I need you too.” As the listener, your job is to respond with kindness and compassion. Don’t respond defensively or try to convince the sharing partner why this may be a “silly” or illogical fear.
The next partner to share may say “My greatest concern is that I’ll be taken advantage of by you since I was financially taken advantage of by my first partner. I’m terrified that will happen again to me. Can you help me feel more secure that this won’t ever happen between us?” The responding partner validates by saying something like, “I get it, I promise that I will never take advantage of you like that. I love you too much to do that to you.” Listen, respond with kindness and understanding, no “fixing” needed.
Once you’ve had a conversation and validated each other and soothed each other’s worries, it’s time to put this new information into positive action. First, don’t use this information against your partner in the heat of an argument, this will work against any progress you’ve made through your sharing. Secondly, remember your partner’s sensitive spots and try not to trigger those land mines. Third, reassure your partner that you understand them and help them feel better. Forth, you picked each other and you are a team, that’s why you’re with each other. Remember, when one of you feels better, there’s a good chance that you both will feel better….together.