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.
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.