Stripped it down to the bare minimum, there are two kinds of people…those who are afraid of limits and those who are afraid of freedom.
Limits and freedom are basic features of life. Ultimately, our sojourn on earth is limited by time. We are born on a particular date and we die on a particular date. Despite that limit, we have great freedom to make of that time what we want. All along the way we have the freedom to choose the direction our lives take.
The dialogue between freedom and limits is at the core of how couples relate to each other. That dialogue may, in fact, be a basic part of what attracts us to each other. We come into the world hardwired for a fear of freedom or a fear of limits. If we’re wired to fear freedom we will be attracted to someone who isn’t afraid of freedom. Their ease with risk taking will feel like a breath of fresh air. By the same token, if we’re wired to fear limits we will be attracted to someone who is comfortable with limits. Their ease with limits will feel grounding and stable.
Difficulties arise when stress enters the picture. Sufficiently stressed, we typically revert to our basic instinct. In other words, we become our primitive selves. So, if we are wired to fear freedom we begin to look at the world through that lens. We begin to see even the slightest and most reasonable risk-taking as a threat. For example, if stressed financially, a person fearing freedom will see spending as a threat to their security…even when the spending is minor. By the same token, a person fearing limits will experience the same situation as smothering--as if they are being choked to death. The conflict that follows will have all the qualities of a life and death struggle. It will be intense. Even the purchase of a pair of inexpensive flip-flops can ignite an all out battle.
Identifying your Dark Truth can go a long way toward managing conflict and, perhaps, even making the conflict productive. If you recognize that at a deep level you fear freedom then you can be on the lookout for instances where that fear might be triggered. Of course, the same is true for a fear of limits.
Judging from social media posts, magazine covers and other forms of consumer information, most people are looking for a relationship life that is smooth, fulfilling, growing, interesting, passionate and exciting. This, despite the common disclaimers that go something like this…
“I know relationships are hard and they require work.”
“No one is perfect, certainly not me. So, I know there will be ups and downs.”
No acknowledgement of difficulty nor awareness of imperfection seem to stop us from looking for the quick cure that will, within a few designated steps, resolve all the really difficult issues we confront. Maybe it’s always been this way. Or, maybe we are simply living out an instant culture brought to us by quick internet searches and same-day delivery for online purchases. It doesn’t really matter. What matters is acknowledging the difficulty of successful relationships, letting that awareness soak in thoroughly and diving deeply into the work of making things go well.
By not letting the awareness of difficulty soak in thoroughly we fool ourselves into thinking things will be fine. Most of us are unwilling to embrace the depth of the relationship difficulties we face. We prefer to avoid them and hope for the best. The net result of avoidance is that we feel some temporary relief. But, in all likelihood the difficulties take root and become even more entrenched.
It takes a lot of acceptance, patience and courage to experience the full extent of what happens in an intimate relationship. Sometimes it’s even difficult to embrace how good things are. So, it’s not just the hard stuff that we resist. Being completely open to what a relationship brings…both good and bad…is the definition of intimacy. Intimacy often feels great but not always. Though it doesn’t always feel good, it’s always productive.
Going forward, I’ll take a look at some of The Dark Truths of Successful Marriage. These are the things we’re often reluctant to acknowledge and even more reluctant to embrace.
Jake Thiessen, PhD
I've been working with couples for a very long time. And, I love it! This blog is my attempt to communicate some of the things I've learned over the past 40 years.