Are you afraid?
Afraid that he will never love you? Afraid that you can’t trust him? Afraid that you will never be enough? Do you feel all alone? Can you count on him? Will he show up when you need him?
Most of my marriage I lived in fear.
Fear that he would leave me and that it would be my fault.
I would beg for help. I would ask him if we could go to counseling. He would tell me that I could go, that I was the problem.
I tried to be a good wife.
I tried to keep things clean, but clutter has always been hard for me.
I would exercise and eat healthy, but I never seemed to lose weight.
I tried to be perfect, but I wasn’t.
I would have sex whenever he wanted, then he wouldn’t go elsewhere…. right? The entire time I was scared to death that he would leave me. That I wasn’t worth staying for.
I lived in the fear/control cycle. I believed that if I just worked harder and faster I could save my marriage. I knew that if it fell apart it was my fault. I lived my life in confusion. I had a heightened sense of accountability. I enabled him because of fear.
I now know that relational trauma played a key role in why I fell into the fear/control cycle. In a healthy relationship, both partners feel safe and they know they can share all parts of themselves. They feel connected and take emotional risks.
In cases like mine where an addiction was present, the attachment relationship was not safe. Time and time again his stories about where he was or what he was doing didn’t add up. I became afraid of my husband. If I spoke about my troubles he would tell me that I had issues. Sharing only brought additional shame. A constant reminder that I was not good enough to be loved. The balloon was filling even fuller it was only a matter of time before it was going to pop.
As I began to learn more about the fear/control cycle I gained a better understanding of my responses to certain situations. Never ending confusion turned into understanding. I learned the control portion of the cycle was shame, that fueled the obsession and fear. In the fear/control cycle, my life was out of control.
This is an example of how I experienced the fear/control cycle.
Exhusband: I’m going to Vegas this weekend with my friends. I immediately become anxious and overwhelmed by fear. What is he going to do in Vegas? Last time he went he wouldn’t answer his phone the entire weekend. (Trigger/Fear Cycle Begins)
On the day he is to leave, I get up and get ready for work.
At work I can’t concentrate, I am watching the clock. My students are asking me questions, I have them repeat their questions. I didn’t hear them. I am jumpy and on edge. I know his flight left at 10:00 this morning, they should be in Vegas by now.
I start obsessing about the possible scenarios. I think of prostitutes and strippers. I start to feel inadequate. My heart is beating fast, my palms are sweaty. Everyone around me is really irritating. Why do they have to be so noisy? I remind myself that it still day time, I convince myself that he is just gambling. Try to calm down, Norma. After the school day is over I go and pick up my son. As evening approaches my anxiety builds. Is he at a strip club? I get on the internet and look up Vegas strip clubs. I will never look like those women, no wonder why he wants them. I start to feel sick to my stomach. I am able to take care of my little boy’s basic needs, but I am not playing or engaging with him. I skip dinner, I’m not even hungry. My hands are shaky. I hope my baby hurries and goes to sleep. (obsession)
I am upset and can’t stop my brain. I fall to the floor and I start doing push-ups and sit-ups. I decide that I am going to go on a diet and I am going to exercise more. I start cleaning up all of my clutter piles. I am going to be a better wife. I am going to be so excited to see him when he gets home. I’m going to show him how much I love him and how I can be positive. I won’t be negative anymore. I can save our marriage. I will be better. (Control)
What? A knock at the door? Oh no, it is my parents. I invite them in and they ask about him. I hope they can’t see that I am shaking. I tell them that he is in Vegas, and act like it is normal. My dad gives me a funny look. I smile and say, “Every once and awhile he needs a break with his friends, it is healthy and I support him.” I can’t tell them how upset I really am. How I am worried that he is not faithful. What excuses can I make? “He likes to gamble, I don’t know why he goes he hardly spends anything.” Then I change the subject and hand them the baby. My mom is talking, but I am not hearing a word she is saying. Smile and nod Norma. I hope they can’t see how panicked I am. (Fear begins again)
This was just one of the many examples I had to work through. As I am writing this right now I am feeling the same panic and anxiety I felt then. As I was writing it was like I was watching a movie of when this happened. I can see my parents walking through the door. I can feel my panic. My heart is racing. I am having to take deep breaths.
I drew the diagram below of what the fear/control cycle looks like for me. A trigger occurs and heads directly to FEAR. As the fear takes root my brain starts spinning around and around obsession and control take turns at stealing my peace.
Assignment for Healing: Do you ever fall into the Fear/Control Cycle? What are your obsessive thoughts? What do you try to control?
This week I will continue writing about the fear control cycle. Please come back for additional information and resources.