1. Name the underlying fear. Some examples are: Fear of falling apart, fear of rejection, fear of not being understood, fear of being judged, fear of being alone, fear of loss, fear of change, fear of aging, fear of being overwhelmed, fear of your needs being ignored, fear of boredom, fear of lack of control, fear of failure, and fear of helplessness.
2. Tell your partner that you have some fear arising inside of you, and share those fears. Own your fears instead of blaming your partner. For example, say ‘I am feeling afraid of a loss of control of our finances’ instead of ‘You always have to be the boss with our money.’
3. Listen to your partner’s fears. Do not try to minimize, negate or ‘fix’ the fears. Do not try to bully your partner’s fear into submission. Do not belittle, humiliate, shame, and threaten the fear. Do not make snide remarks such as ‘Oh, you are always afraid of something,’ or ‘Why can’t you just relax and be happy for once?’ By trying to run the fear out of town, this technique to try to avoid a difficult conversation will backfire and leave you with a bigger mess.
4. Recognize that your partner’s fears are likely to trigger your own fears. For example, if your partner voices a fear of boredom, you may interpret this to mean that he or she is judging you as not being interesting enough, and you may feel a deep fear of rejection. It is important that you do not take over the whole discussion with your reaction-fear, and leave no space for your partner’s fear. On the other hand, it is also important that you make some room for your own fear, letting your partner know how you feel.
5. Focus on the fear and do not get detoured into specific details of the relationship. For example, don’t let ‘I feel fear of loss of control of our finances’ turn into ‘Why can’t you stop spending money on golf?’ Plan to discuss concrete and practical relationship issues at another time, when fear is not running the show. (And then stick to that plan!)
6. Contain the fears within boundaries. Recognize that these ‘fear’ talks will occur regularly throughout the course of the relationship, but keep each discussion within a reasonable time limit, such as 10 to 20 minutes. Kindly support each other to move on and enjoy life once the fears have been named and heard. Don’t set the boundary with anger and bullying by saying things like ‘Aren’t we done with this yet? Can’t you just let it go already?’ If one person is not done processing, gently but firmly plan for another time to talk the next day.