I have often lain in my husband’s arms and made him promise to never leave me. Though I know they are only words, I still want to be assured again and again. Lady Mary Pierrepont understood this. In a letter to her future husband, Edward Montagu, on the eve of their marriage in 1712, she wrote: “Are you sure you shall love me forever? Shall we never repent? I fear and I hope.”
“I fear and hope.” Does that sum up the woman’s heart or what?
Like a fraying rope in the perpetual tug-of-war between dreams and anxiety, we wear ourselves out angsting over everything, but especially relationships. It comes with the territory. As a mentor to hundreds of women, I have learned that even the most confident among us are torn between the beautiful possibilities and the unwanted realities of life, or rather the fear of them. But ubiquity doesn’t have to equal victory. We can learn to manage the worries hardening beneath our soft skin, and we want to. Otherwise, we run the risk of those fears undermining not only our dreams, but also our relationships. When insecurity is winning the tug-of-war, it is far more difficult to love and to be loved.
One way of giving Hope-and-Dreams the advantage then, is by coaxing the Fear Mongers into the light. Nothing is more liberating than identifying your fears, because nothing is more maddening, or crippling, than feeling afraid and not knowing what the heck you’re afraid of. So here is my attempt—albeit a mere sliver of the feminine heart—to identify four of the most common fears I see over and over in my work with women.
- Losing him. A woman may become uncomfortable, disconcerted, even distressed, when her man is emotionally unavailable to her, and a woman in love can hardly bear the thought of finishing life without her husband if he died. She is even more terrified of his indifference or rejection. Worse still is the prospect of abandonment. Once a man and woman are blended, the separation of souls is one of the, if not the, most painful of human experiences.
- Disappointment. We set very high expectations for ourselves and for our families, sometimes basing too much of our self-worth on the actions and accomplishments of our husband and children. The romantic in us also naturally builds up fantasies. When things or people don’t turn out the way we hoped (or tried to orchestrate), it’s a bitter experience for a wife or mother.
- Interdependence. We’ve been taught to value our strength and independence, and rightfully so, but some of us, in a mistaken understanding of feminism, shun interdependence. We feel so protective of the way we choose to handle our emotions, household, work, and parenting; that we frame necessary cooperation as the unnecessary surrendering of sovereignty.
- Exposure. Our worry that our husband will somehow discover who we really are, what we really think, where we’ve really been—and that he won’t like it, strangely, has a flip side. A woman can worry even more that she will be exposed to his imperfections and vulnerabilities—and that she won’t be able to handle it.
Scary, isn’t it? Whether we are terrified of revealing ourselves, or dread knowing too much about our husband; whether we’re tormented by disappointment, or scared to death our man will leave us—undetected fears can set us up to lose any which way. A woman’s instincts—which include retreating, withdrawing, denying, neglecting, judging, blaming, or hurting—stand in stark opposition to friendship and intimacy.
But they don’t have to. Team Fear doesn’t have to win. With Hope-and-Dreams standing strong on their end, scare-tactics can’t tug you over the edge if —when you are ready to lash out at the world—you pull up short and ask: “Whoa. Where did that come from? What am I really afraid of?”
This article appeared originally on Wellness.com