Most singles say that they want very much to get married. At the same time, they may harbor secret fears which prevent them from doing so. By identifying what it is that you fear, you may be able to change the beliefs which are sabotaging the decision-making process:
1. "I'M SCARED THAT I'LL BE SEEN AS INFERIOR." Children who are constantly criticized, either by parents, older siblings, teachers or peers, learn to believe, "Only those who are brilliant, ebullient and beautiful are deserving of love and honor. Since I'm not, I am unlovable. No one normal would want me." Though they dream of meeting someone who will love them as they are, they also think, "Anyone who could love someone as defective as me would have to be an idiot, and why would I want such a person?" People who develop a belief in their inferiority, even if they seem totally normal and successful on the outside, are terrified that they won't be able to keep up the pretence after marriage and that eventually their partner will find out how incompetent they are and will then abandon them. It seems far safer to be alone and keep others from discovering the awful truth.
2. "I'M SCARED OF THE UNKNOWN." There is much more openness about mental illness in the magazines and newspapers. Even teenagers talk openly about bi-polar, autism and OCD. Almost 25% of the American population is on some form of psychiatric medication. The imagination runs wild in young people with various "what if" scenarios, as in, "What if s/he is violent, addicted, withdrawn, hostile, demanding, domineering, anxiety-ridden, irresponsible or dysfunctional?"
3. "I'M SCARED TO MARRY SOMEONE WHO IS LESS THAN I." Some children are brought up to think, "I am so spectacular that no one is good enough for me." These types think of themselves as part of a royal elite and search obsessively for a true prince/princess." They may go out on hundreds of dates, and after two minutes, already decide, "This person is beneath me." They feel they are retaining their sense of self-worth by holding out for the fantasy.
4. "I FEAR MARRYING SOMEONE WHO IS IMPERFECT." Physical perfectionists want someone who is flawless in terms of appearance, cleanliness and organization. The spouse must possess just the "right" features and have impeccable manners and dress at all times. Emotional perfectionists want someone who can provide perfect understanding and will always say the "right" words. Spiritual perfectionists want a perfectly righteous individual. No one can pass the test of a perfectionist, since every person has physical, emotional and spiritual flaws. It seems safer to stay "married" to the fantasy of perfection than to live with a real human being.
5. "I'M SCARED OF REPEATING MY PARENTS' MARRIAGE." Children who witness strife or mental illness in their homes are terrified of repeating these patterns.
A powerful phenomenon known as "repetition compulsion" is what compels many people to repeat unhealthy childhood patterns even if they know that these behaviors are harmful. For example, a man with a domineering mother may have an extremely hostile reaction to even the most innocent of requests by his wife, fearing that he will again be under the tyrannical rule of a woman. A woman who had a neglectful father may fear that she will be abandoned. Both may react to conflict by withdrawing or attacking, because they never learned how to respect differences or work out mutually acceptable solutions. If you are single, then you do not have to face being hurt.
6. "I'M SCARED OF LOSING MY IDENTITY." Women seem more frightened of identity loss than men. Before marriage, a girl has a degree of freedom as to what to wear, what to study and how to spend her time. After marriage, her identity is often submerged in that of her husband. She takes his last name, follows his customs and adjusts to the needs and demands of her children. After the initial excitement of marriage has faded, some women become depressed and resentful, feeling they have lost all sense of individuality. This may be why the Rambam advises that husbands and wives each have their own individual realms in which they make decisions. The freedom to make one's own decisions strengthens self-esteem.
7. "I'M SCARED OF LOSING MY FREEDOM." A person is a bochur (bachelor) or bachurah (single woman) until marriage. This word is related to the Hebrew verb "to choose." Once people marry, there is a loss of freedom. They can no longer make a purchase, meet with friends or make plans without consulting the other. This loss of choice is very hard to bear for some people. For example, those who like to hang out with friends or pursue a particular career fear, "I have no freedom to do what I want. I must submit to my spouse's demands; if not, I'll be attacked for being uncaring and irresponsible." The loss of freedom makes them feel stifled and imprisoned.
8. "I'M SCARED THAT SOMEONE BETTER WILL COME ALONG." Many people fear that after they marry, they will, at some point, see Mr/Ms Perfect and feel, 'Now I'm stuck forever with the wrong person and will always feel disappointed, deprived and heartbroken."
9. "I'M SCARED THAT I WON'T BE ABLE TO BEAR THE DISCOMFORTS." Again, there are many "What ifs": "What if he leaves his dirty socks under the bed, gets sick, snores or eats noisily, has bad moods, leaves things strewn about, chatters incessantly, withdraws into hostile silences or has other irritating habits? How will I cope?" These fears are especially strong in people who were traumatized in early life by abusive parents or siblings. They find it difficult to bear being in close proximity with other people for more than a short time. It is now known that the brain structure and hormonal chemistry of people who were abused or neglected in early childhood is different from people who grew up in a loving atmosphere. When they come near a person, instead of building trust, their old fears are triggered.
Each of these fears requires that a person adopt a new set of beliefs. This is not simple or quick. They touch on our most primal anxiety of being rejected, hurt and abandoned. Hopefully, I will be able to shed more light on the subject in the future.
It is important to know that attraction is an emotional feeling that may fade, while love is a promise that has little to do with attraction.
Psychotherapy with an empathic, skilled professional is the best way for many people to talk about, accept, and overcome their fears to the point where they can progress toward a successful marriage.
San Rafael, CA
Great article. A lot, if not all, of it applies to me..