Do you and your spouse get into those “cycles?” Those patterns that seem to go round and round to where it feels like you just keep pushing each other’s buttons? Take heart, you are not alone! Almost all couples create cycles over time that can keep them on the proverbial roller coaster of relationships.

The Fear Dance

The “destructive dance” most couples get into generally stems from some source of fear. Men and women alike have basic core fears. The two most basic fears are:

• Loss of power, or feeling controlled. This is usually a man’s greatest fear. Men want to feel they are good at what they do, that they can ‘make their wife happy.’ If they don’t feel their wife sees them as good at for what they provide to the relationship or family, they feel a lack of respect or feel inadequate. Shaunti Feldhahn in For Women Only has shown in her research that inadequacy is most men’s greatest pain, and respect their greatest need.
• Disconnection, or insecurity of being unloved and not “chosen.” A woman’s greatest fears are around the areas of “am I loveable?” “Would he choose me again?” When a woman’s fears of insecurity arise, she needs reassurance, or security. And financial security is NOT as important as emotional security.

What happens when the Fear Dance begins?

In The DNA of Relationships, Gary Smalley describes the process that begins when a couple’s fears get triggered, or their fear “buttons get pushed.” Their feelings get hurt.

People that are in pain, or get their feelings hurt, want to be comforted or to be out of pain. Of course! They want to have their needs met and not be in fear. They want to receive what they need, especially from their spouse. When you hurt you want a solution-usually from the other person- to give you what you want and need. “If only they would…then I could be happy.”

Misplaced Expectations: When we expect other people or things to fulfill our wants, disappointment happens. When our expectations for help are put in the wrong place the result is fear. (We want acceptance, but fear we are not good enough. There’s a need for respect, but fear we will be looked down on. We want to control our situation, but fear we are powerless.)

So We React. Consciously, or non-consciously we fall into well-worn patterns when our fear “buttons” gets pushed. Our emotions and thinking result in behaviors that damage our relationships.

When fears are activated a number of things happen, we:

• Close our hearts and spirits
• Become defensive and reactive
• Get disconnected and conflicted
• Feel unsafe emotionally

So what do we do?

First, each person should identify their feelings and buttons that get triggered. Understand all the feelings and thoughts surrounding the hurt and pain. Next, determine how you react and the actions that are unhealthy for the relationship. Examine the reactions you generally exhibit when your buttons get pushed. And then, discover and understand your real needs and wants. Finally, create safety. Share together with your spouse your own emotions and pain, needs or wants you have, and how you have been trying to get them met in reactive ways.

Creating an emotionally safe relationship is the key to ending the Fear Dance. The National Institute of Marriage suggests couple’s engage in a safety exercise by sharing together their thoughts and feelings regarding Creating an Ideal Marriage Environment.

With sensitivity and without Judgment, carefully answer the questions and discuss with each other:
What do I do, or not do, that makes my spouse feel less safe in our marriage? (Ex: angry outburst, threats, ignoring issues, withdrawal, sarcastic humor, stating or implying “your feelings are wrong or stupid”, criticizing).

What do I do, or not do, that makes me feel less safe in our marriage? (Ex: poor or no boundaries, ignoring, judging or criticizing my own feelings, making myself stay when I feel unsafe, ignoring or not addressing issues I have concerns or feelings about, not controlling my anger, not following through on commitments)
What can I do to make my marriage feel safer for me and my spouse?

An emotionally safe marriage sounds like “I can tell my spouse anything-my hurts, fears- and completely trust they will handle that information sensitively and carefully and I won’t have to regret telling them.” We hope you will identify and understand your fear cycle and work to create your safe marriage!