While sitting down to write this post about unhealthy marriage patterns, I was reminded of a movie scene where an overweight man was lamenting how big he had gotten. He said, “I eat because I’m unhappy, and I’m unhappy because I eat. It’s a vicious cycle.” I bring this up because, as humans, we have a tendency to fall into all sorts of cycles or patterns in everyday life — many of which are not only damaging but can feel never-ending.

A perfect example of an unhealthy marriage pattern is the damaging fear dance.

As couples, we fall into well-worn patterns when our fear button gets pushed.

We’ve written a lot on our website about the importance of having a safe and connected marriage. Perhaps the one thing that keeps us from feeling emotionally safe in our marriage, though, is fear. Fear is defined as an unpleasant emotion caused by the belief that someone or something is dangerous, likely to cause pain, or is a threat. Granted, fear isn’t always a bad thing. But when our relationships feel unsafe, we protect ourselves by shutting down and closing our hearts and spirits.


We push the proverbial “fear button.” Do any of these signs of a closed heart and spirit look familiar?


  • Anger
  • Defensiveness
  • Judgment
  • Blame
  • Rejection
  • Withdrawal
  • Belittling insults
  • Negative thoughts and feelings about your spouse


Closing ourselves off is never a good thing. After all, God created us to be open and intimate with each other. So, what happens is that a damaging fear dance ensues. The National Institute of Marriage referred to it as a “dance” rather than a cycle or pattern because it ultimately ends up involving you AND your spouse. The fear dance can easily be summarized in their graphic below:


When you are hurt (sad, angry, disconnected, worried, not feeling accepted, embarrassed, or frustrated), you want a solution and naturally look to your husband or wife to fix it. When they can’t, won’t, or don’t know how to give you what you need to be happy, you ultimately feel disappointed — leading to increased fears and an unpleasant reaction.


Your reaction instantly causes your spouse to hurt, putting them in a position of looking to you to break the cycle. But you don’t, which leads them to be more fearful and ultimately react negatively.


If one of you doesn’t break the cycle — or in this case, end the dance — it is proof that you are both dependent on each other for your individual happiness and fulfillment.


Ending the damaging fear dance — you have more Power than you think

When we are married, we are in it together — through the good times and the bad. At the same time, it only really takes one spouse to put an end to unhealthy marriage patterns, such as the damaging fear dance.


You have the power to:

  • Stop the cycle, chaos, and “craziness”
  • Choose how you will react
  • Change and control your thoughts
  • Take responsibility for your own “fear buttons”
  • Focus on yourself, not on others
  • Focus on your own happiness (wants, desires, fulfillment, satisfaction)
  • Take things to God
  • Choose and change your expectations
  • Be accountable to others (especially your spouse)
  • Forgive and ask for forgiveness


All we are saying is that

It is your reaction to the pushed fear button that determines whether you get caught up in the fear dance or not.


You and your spouse have the power to choose your thoughts and actions, so take control of your feelings rather than give someone else that power. And above all, don’t rely on others to make you happy.


Our heart is devoted to caring about people and marriages!

Our heart is and always has been devoted to caring about people and ensuring they have a safe and connected marriage. The best way we know how to do that is by spreading the word to more people and let them know that we are here.

What do you think? Do you have a safe and connected marriage? What are some ways you and your spouse avoid the damaging fear dance? Send us a quick email and let us know one thing that needs to be better in your marriage. mike@MikeandSusanDawson.com.