How we respond to our fears can either save our lives or burden them. Whether we realize it or not, we face our fears on a daily basis and make split second decisions based on what we perceive as a danger to us—whether it is driving through traffic, turning on our security system when we leave our home or even in our relationships. This alert keeps us safe and aware, but what about when our imaginations projects our fears forward. What happens when we allow an undocumented fear (something that has not happened) to consume what is actually happening?
How do you know when your fear based feelings are exaggerated?
You usually will not know your fears are exaggerated in the midst of the feeling. All you will know for sure is that you do not like the way the situation is making you feel and you want the “bad” feeling to stop.
In our short sighted view, if we can get whatever is generating this uneasiness within us to quit, then the feeling will go away. How can you slow down enough in the midst of the feeling to really examine it? Well, you probably will not like the answer, but it is practice. “Wait, you mean to tell me you want me to go through the ‘bad’ feeling more than once?!” The short answer is yes; the long answer has to do with repetition.
This may be a weird example, but when you were younger and learning to tie your shoes, you did not learn the first time you tried, you did it over and over and one day you got it. In the beginning it was a real struggle as you trained your brain to remember the steps needed to complete the process. It seemed like a huge obstacle to overcome. “Can’t I just keep them tied and slip them on? How about if I just wear flip flops?” With your parents’ patience and knowledge of the benefits of learning to tie your shoes, you kept at it. Before long you went from spending enormous amounts of time fighting your parents over wearing the shoes to feeling proud of the fact that you could tie them all by yourself! With repetition, what seemed insurmountable became automatic. The initial fear of not being able to tie your shoes was real, but the response to not being able to tie them ended up exaggerated.
We can do this same thing when it comes to our jealousy. Yes, what you are feeling is what you are feeling, but is it apropo to what is going on? Determining this is going to require some dissection on the part of you and your partner, and not just once, but over and over as you learn whether or not the fears being brought to the surface have an actual basis. Now I realize this type of repetition is counter to what most of us are taught. The usual course of action when jealousy is involved is to immediately stop and never venture in that direction again. But if our jealousy is a message to us, ignoring the message strips us of the opportunity to grow…to learn to tie our shoes if you will.
Here is an example: Early on in our open relationship, John invited a girlfriend to go to lunch and then to a museum with us both. Being new to the swingers lifestyle and still learning the dynamics of opening up our relationship, I elected to stay home, thinking this would create a bonding time for John and his friend. I did not realize that I also needed this time to grow comfortable with the situation. I began to have feelings of separation, which brought some fears and jealousy to the surface.
Instead of sharing these fears with John right away, I stifled them and tried to act as if nothing was bothering me. The more I ignored these feelings, the more insecure I became. I finally broke down to John in the midst of tears and anger. John’s first response was to never go on any kind of outing again. I knew the outing itself was not the issue; that it had more to do with how I viewed myself in comparison to this other woman.
After calming down, wiping my tears and putting aside my anger, John and I had a constructive conversation about what happened. I learned from this experience how important it is for me not to pull away and to involve myself in what is going on as well as to be honest about how I feel. Only through this honesty and vulnerability can true progress be made. (I also realized some affirmation from John did not hurt either.)
I made it clear that I wanted John to try another date. I needed and wanted to put my newly discovered tools in play. John of course was a little apprehensive, as he did not want to see me sad or upset, but he also saw the relevance in giving me the chance to see what I had learned.
So a few weeks later, an opportunity for John to go on another date presented itself. We talked at length before he went and discussed whether or not I wanted to go. It was important for me to see how I would feel at home again. This time, instead of focusing on my separation from John from a negative aspect, I focused on the benefits of spending an evening on a date with myself.
When it came time for him to leave, we said our goodbyes and I readied myself for an evening in. Initially, I did have some fears creep up, but instead of stuffing them back down, I pulled them out and looked them straight in the eye. I was not afraid. I talked myself through what I was feeling.
What were some of my fears? Well for one, the fear that he was out with another woman. I knew it would not bother me if he was having dinner with a guy friend, so how was this different? Was it because it was a woman? Did I really think something was going to happen to our relationship if he had dinner with this woman? My ego wanted me to believe this dinner was a threat, but deep down I knew better. I knew John loved me and our relationship. He showed me on a daily basis just how important and how valuable our union was to him, and I knew he took our vows very seriously. We had both searched a long time to find each other and neither one of us wanted to do anything that would jeopardize what we had.
Again, my ego wanted me to believe the fears—to believe I could be so easily replaced. The problem with this fear my ego wanted me to believe was that it simply was not true, and I knew it! I knew it in my core. This was not about replacing me, but about adding to our open relationship. I knew from experience that John would come home excited about sharing his evening with me. I knew he would wrap me in his arms and shower me with kisses.
This was about us and the love we shared. Once these fears were out in the open, they did not seem so scary and they did not seem to have the same power over me. All of a sudden I was proud of myself! This was not about losing my husband but about finding myself and how I viewed who I was in the relationship.
Once I began to see the wonderful aspects of me, the ones my husband kept telling me he loved, I realized that my focus shifted farther away from my fears and closer to what I loved. I focused on the love for my husband, the love for myself, the gratitude I had for our open and ever deepening relationship, the many attributes John and I both possess and our commitment to creating the best relationship we can.
Instead of John coming home to a tearful and fearful woman, he was greeted with a massive hug and a resounding, “I love you!” John and I shared one of the most romantic evenings together that night. I realized in facing my fears that what I had initially thought was a fear worthy of my protection was really a fear I had falsely created…a creation I had the power to dismantle.