By Margaret Paul, Ph.D.
(This is part 1 of a 5-part series on making marriage work)
It was Joan’s first counseling session with me, but it didn’t
take long before the tears began to stream down her cheeks.
“I’m married to the man of my dreams, but I’m miserable,” she
said, reaching a hand up to wipe away her tears. “We were so
love and now things are falling apart. We are fighting and
distant much of the time. I love Justin and I don’t want to
lose him, but I don’t know what to do. I don’t know why this
happening. I seem to be getting angrier and angrier and he is
getting more and more distant.”
“What are you angry about?” I inquired.
“Justin keeps pulling away from me. He’s working longer and
longer hours. But even on the weekends when he is home, he
seems to be distant. He’s either watching TV, playing computer
games, or in the garage working in his workshop. When I try to
talk with him about it, he shuts down even more. We can’t talk
at all anymore.”
Like Joan and Justin, many couples are stuck in a
relationship system, wondering what happened to the love and
passion they had at the beginning of their relationship.
Two major fears may be undermining your relationship with your
Fear of rejection: the loss of another’s love through anger,
judgment, emotional withdrawal, physical withdrawal, or death.
Fear of engulfment: the loss of self through being controlled,
consumed, invaded, suffocated, dominated, and swallowed up by
Until these fears are healed, you will likely react
whenever they are triggered. Joan reacted by getting angry
her fears of rejection were activated, while Justin withdrew
when his fears of engulfment were triggered. You might react
different defensive ways, but the result will be the same -
reactive behavior coming from your fears of rejection or
engulfment will trigger your partner’s fears of rejection or
engulfment. Now both of you are acting out of fear. Together
you have created an unsafe space where love and intimacy will
Most of us have not learned to stay open when our fears of
being rejected, abandoned, engulfed, or controlled are
triggered. If, when these fears are activated, you focus on
is at fault or who started it, you perpetuate the problems.
Blaming your partner for your fears, as well as for your own
reactive, unloving behavior, makes the relationship feel
You both end up feeling badly, each believing that your pain
the result of your partner’s behavior. You feel victimized,
helpless, stuck, and disconnected from your partner. You
desperately want your partner to see what he or she is doing
that (you think) is causing your pain. You think that if your
partner only understands this, he or she will change - and you
exhaust yourself trying to figure out how to MAKE your partner
Over time, passion dries up. Superficiality, boredom,
and apathy take its place.
The dual fears of LOSING THE OTHER through rejection and
YOURSELF through being swallowed up by the other are the
underlying cause of unloving, reactive behavior. These fears
are deeply rooted. They cannot be healed or overcome by
someone else’s love. On the contrary, you must heal these
before you can SHARE love - give and receive love - with your
The key to doing this is learning how to create a safe inner
space where you can work with and overcome your fears of
rejection and engulfment. In this series, I will show you a
powerful six-step process you can use to create and maintain
the inner safety you need to become strong enough to love.
Only when you have achieved inner safety and inner strength
you create a safe relationship space. Joan gradually learned
stop attacking Justin and take loving care of herself whenever
her fears of rejection surfaced. She learned to create inner
safety when she felt threatened rather than trying to get
Justin to make her feel safe from her fears.
You can do this too. In fact, any two people who are willing
learn to create their own inner sense of safety can also learn
to create a safe relationship space where their intimacy and
passion will flourish and their love will endure. The rest of
the articles in this series will lead you through this
About The Author: Margaret Paul, Ph.D., best-selling author of
eight books, including "Do I Have To Give Up Me To Be Loved By
You” and co-creator of the powerful Inner Bonding healing
process. Learn Inner Bonding now! Visit her web site for a
Inner Bonding course: www.innerbonding.com or email her
at mailto:firstname.lastname@example.org. Phone Sessions.