Afraid to take the next step

-- Question for John --

I am in a relationship of about a year and I have fallen head over heals in love with this man. I know he loves me as much as I love him. But we have gotten to the point that we need to take another step in our relationship. He was in a very bad relationship before the woman was very self centered. We recently discussed me moving in with him but he is frightened.

He is afraid if we live together that I will soon hate him like his ex did he is so afraid to open up to me. Recently he introduced me to his family I get the impression he is trying to break through that wall of fear but he doesn’t know how. Is there any way I can help him?

-- Answer from John --

The best way to work with this is to find a way to create a partnership with him in the endeavor to work through fears. Do not just let this be know as “his problem” because: (1) that would leave him alone as the sole apparent reason things are not going well — this is too big a responsibility to take, and it only adds even more fear to the equation; and (2) that is not the full truth, anyway — you got your fears too, if you are paying close attention.

So make it a partnership. A joint endeavor. Give him some company in the facing the fear department. It will help both of you.

In that partnership, you would each commit to exploring, knowing, revealing, and working with your own fears. That way the situation is not just about him and his fears…. which a picture that is false and feels way out of balance. But, instead, it is about both of you facing each of your own fears and joining in partnership to learn how to better work with this very difficult and challenging part of developing intimacy.

In other words, he needs to know that he is not isolated in this place of fear. He may need to know that you yourself have a personal history with baggage, too. And that you have your own fears operating. In making it safe in love to have fear, you start to claim back some of the power you give fear to hold you back. Strange, but it works that way.

In fact, I would strongly recommend you look at setting up a very conscious shared vision in your relationship — one which gives each of you strength to deal with past emotional baggage and to overcome and work through the fears that are coming up now.

It is a mistake to think that fear is a bad sign. It is erroneous to see fear as being separate from the path of developing true intimacy. Fear is actually a very normal part of getting closer and opening yourself up to true intimacy. It is all too easy to blame the fear just on some past relationship that brought pain and suffering. It is not just that alone. While that kind of baggage can be very easy for us to spot and name, and there is validity in seeing it, make no mistake about it. Fear is there in all of us when we embark on the path to true and deep intimacy — the kind where we will ultimately expose and reveal who we truly are to each other — even the parts of us we are not yet comfortable with (and that is key) — and risk the potential rejection that we fear might be the response from “the other person”.

Learning to move through the fears and doing the healing work on the past baggage — and dedicating yourself to that enterprise together — that is the pathway to a lasting true intimacy, where love stays alive and the real you gets to come out and bathe in it’s light.