In couple's therapy, one of the most important steps is to bring to the forefront, the fears and anxieties that the partners harbor about the relationship, and to help them freely talk about these fears in order to establish an authentic relationship. While working with couples I have seen that there are seven major fears that couples have in relationships.
The fear that they might not have children because of some reproductive disability in either one of them, and that this might stigmatize them in society, that they might be viewed as not a 'complete woman' or 'not a man'. The woman fears being ill-treated by her in-laws or being left for another woman to continue the family name.
Remedy: Challenge the flawed belief of incompleteness, consider adoption, or better still, involve yourself with the many orphans in the world who need all the love you have to give.
The fear that the marriage could end because of an extra-marital affair of the partner. Divorce is dreaded because of the fear of remaining partnerless, especially if one suffers from low self-esteem, because then they feel that they are not good enough and therefore will never ever be able to have another partner. This is what keeps people clinging on to bad marriages. The fear of being partnerless is also because the partner is uncaring of one's health, leaving the healthy partner scared that disease and death might leave her without a companion and co-parent for the children.
Remedy: Remember that you are adequate in yourself, with or without a relationship, and that a relationship does not define you or your worth as a person.
Couples who have drifted apart emotionally because they have unresolved issues and resentments piled up, fear that if these issues remain unresolved then they might remain locked in a painful, loveless marriage with no emotional intimacy, and that they might remain unfulfilled forever. This fear of not ever having love in their lives is because they remain in the marriage for reasons such as parental pressure, children, social status, financial security etc.
Remedy: Never avoid discussing uncomfortable issues. Always keep the lines of communication open, and genuinely share your thoughts and feelings with your partner. Being your 'real' self and risking vulnerability is your only chance of having an emotionally intimate and meaningful relationship.
The lack of physical intimacy in a relationship if not addressed can result in the permanent state of a 'sexless marriage'. Reasons for lack of physical intimacy could be physiological or psychological. There could be organic causes and medical and surgical intervention may be required in some cases. Sometimes denial of sex is a 'passive aggressive act' on the part of one to get back at the other, and this too can become a permanent state if the issue is not resolved. Preference for self-pleasuring with porn, or then ignorance about pleasuring each other may also be responsible for sexless marriages.
Remedy: Never ignore the lack of physical intimacy, as it often gives insight into the status of emotional intimacy in the relationship. Communicate the need for sexual counselling to your spouse to determine whether there is a relational cause or a physical issue with either one or both. And then take appropriate steps to resolve the same.
The fear that the extravagance of your partner, risky business ventures and bad financial management could result in your not being able to afford a lifestyle that you are used to. For men it's the fear that in case of a divorce your wife might leave with half your wealth. For women it's the fear that if she does not keep her income aside, she might be left penniless if her partner uses up her income indiscriminately. This can create immense strain on an ongoing basis in couples today.
Remedy: A couple needs to think in terms of 'our' money and not 'mine' and 'yours' and co-create financial values and lifestyle choices in terms of savings and expenses. They should discuss delaying gratification by deciding on what are needs, comforts, and luxuries. and also discussing a retirement plan.
Couples often fear the loss of health of their partner or themselves. The thought of nursing their partner through a debilitating disease and not living the life of their dreams could be quite overwhelming and anxiety-provoking for some people. The financial cost of an illness also creates fear as well as the fear of dependency and being a burden.
Remedy: The marriage vows talk of being together in sickness and in health, for better or for worse. Health issues can therefore be seen as a challenge both have 'chosen' to face 'together'. On a practical side, medical insurance is advised.
Some people fear that their individuality will be sacrificed at the altar of the relationship. They unduly and fiercely protect their independence and individuality because of some 'emotional baggage'. However, sometimes their fear of being stifled is not unfounded, as their spouse may be overly demanding and overly controlling. A healthy marriage is made up of two independent, self-reliant people with separate as well as mutual interests. If one fears that one's individual growth and dreams are being quashed, and if one's views are dismissed and not valued, then one could feel claustrophobic, stifled and unable to breathe in the relationship, and resentment could brew against the controlling partner.
Remedy: Remember that a healthy couplehood is one in which there is a correct balance of 'we' time and 'me' time to pursue one's own interests without being begrudged the same. If a relationship supports the personal growth of both, and if both encourage each other to pursue individual dreams and aspirations while maintaining the 'sacred space' of the couple, it is a healthy relationship.
Dr. Minnu Bhonsle Ph.D. is a Senior Consulting Psychotherapist and Relationship Counsellor at the Heart to Heart Counselling Centre, Mumbai, and has been working with couples for the last three decades.