When you have a persistent “fear of abandonment” when you’re dating, it’s common to experience feelings of vulnerability and insecurity. Fear of abandonment is very different to fear of commitment.
People who have a fear of being abandoned are actually eager to commit – but at the same time they’re plagued by all the “what ifs”, “what if he leaves me?”, “what if he meets someone prettier/funnier/smarter than me and dumps me?” These kinds of questions and fears can hinder their ability to trust others and rob them of the joy of companionship.
Overcoming Fear of Abandonment
Dealing with fear of abandonment when you’re single can be hugely challenging. You may fear that your insecurities are standing in the way of you ever finding a husband or wife and experiencing the companionship that God ordains for us all. Don’t despair, however.
Fear of abandonment can actually teach you important life lessons, and God may use these to strengthen you in your future married life. Be reassured by the fact that it’s possible to overcome your fear of abandonment and enjoy a trusting relationship with a lifelong partner.
Enjoy the Wait: Don’t Rush Relationships
Everyone goes through periods of singleness until they find the person that they want to spend the rest of their lives with. For people with insecurities, however, singleness can cause you to feel lonely and become filled with self-doubts about whether you can even be in a relationship. It can be especially hard if you have feelings for someone that aren’t reciprocated.
If you struggle with a fear of abandonment, the root of your difficulties is a fear of being alone. You’re probably also very anxious about rejection. That makes singleness a huge challenge. Author Michelle McKinney Hammond’s book If Men Are Like Buses, How Do I Catch One? however, encourages you to avoid rushing into new relationships in order to combat your fears of being alone, and instead enjoy the period of waiting.
McKinney Hammond compares the period of waiting (i.e. when you’re not in a relationship) to a period of rest. This is very much like the way that God commanded the Israelites to allow the land to rest after six years of harvests the seventh year) (Exodus 23:11).
If you’re looking for a resource as a single Christian woman, McKinney Hammond’s book is perfect. It will help you to understand why it’s important to embrace the waiting period, and how waiting can be active, something that you actually enjoy.
It’s common for Christian women to feel like the waiting period before they marry is some kind of punishment. This is an unhelpful way to think and robs you of the ability to enjoy singleness. A more helpful way of viewing the waiting period is as a time in which God can help us to develop a deeper relationship with Him – preparing us for a committed marriage in the future.
During times of waiting, God will often refine our character. He gets us ready for the next stage of our lives. When we look at the waiting time through God’s eyes, we can see it as a time of enrichment and soul nourishing that makes us better people.
Often the waiting period is God’s way of preventing us from entering into a relationship before we’re prepared. When we use the waiting period to deepen our relationship with God first, we’re less likely to enter into a relationship in which our partner becomes an idol that leaves little room for God in our lives.
Of course, it’s tempting for both men and women to rush to find a partner in order to ease feelings of loneliness. In these cases, however, we’re in a vulnerable position and it can be destructive when we find ourselves in a relationship that’s dysfunctional.
Rather than falling into this trap, take the time to go deeper with God. Dysfunctional relationships only cause more pain and damage, and ultimately make you feel worse. God can fill the emptiness inside and better prepare you for the right kind of relationship.
An alternative metaphor for making something positive out of the wait is as a season in life. All human beings have to journey through life seasons in order to grow. Like the seasons in nature, some life seasons can be harder than others.
Winter is often viewed as a harsh season, but without it, we would be less appreciative of the warmth and new growth of spring – and new growth would not be possible without the winter season, either.
God doesn’t make mistakes, and therefore it’s important to be able to see the loneliness of a season as part of God’s plan to nurture and grow us.
When Someone Shows You Who They Are, Believe Them
If you are prone to a fear of abandonment, it’s important to recognize that our sense of abandonment can be either real or perceived. When we enter into relationships, it’s likely that we’re going to bring baggage with us from prior relationships. This can make for stormy situations as we’re controlled by our fear.
There are situations when it can be helpful to seek the help of a professional counselor about your fear of abandonment. For example, if you’re in a relationship with someone, you may not be sure whether your fear of abandonment is real or perceived. A counselor can help you work through your concerns without any sense of judgement.
If you find yourself dating someone who has been unfaithful, or who has a strong history of unfaithfulness, you probably need to take a step back. Author Maya Angelou famously said, “When someone shows you who they are, believe them.” What this means is that actions speak louder than words and tell you more about them than their words do.
Relationship experts often suggest that Christians use a period of dating to really get to know their partner and assess your compatibility together. It’s better to discover that you’re not compatible before marriage, as painful as it may seem. There’s a suggestion that you need to go through at least four seasons with your partner in order to get a full understanding of your compatibility.
Let’s take an example. Sandy was a young woman who had begun dating a young Christian man, Alex. He was enthusiastic, good looking, and passionate about his faith in God. At first, Sandy was hesitant about dating Alex.
He was relatively young in his faith compared to Sandy, and there had been a period of time when he’d left his church before she started dating him, although he returned to the church. The other reason why Sandy was hesitant was because Alex had admitted that he’d cheated on a previous girlfriend. Alex assured her, however, that all that was in the past.
A year into their relationship, Alex confessed to Sandy that he had been seeing prostitutes because of a sex addiction. Sandy was devastated. She’d been convinced Alex was ‘the one’, and she was head over heels in love with him. Sandy started seeing a Christian counselor to help her decide what to do.
Sandy had to ask herself some searching questions. One of these questions was “If he doesn’t change, would I still want to be married to him?” Eventually, Sandy reached the point where she knew that she had to walk away and close the door on her relationship with Alex.
What Sandy learned through this painful experience was that when someone reveals their nature to you, that’s who they are, not who they claim to be with their words. It would have been easy for Sandy, who already struggled with a fear of abandonment, to settle into married life with Alex despite knowing deep down that he wasn’t the right person for her to be spending her life with.
Sandy’s counselor helped her to see that marrying Alex would not change his issues and weaknesses and enabled her to understand that it would be better to have a period of singleness than to commit herself to a relationship that would only cause more heartache in the long run.
Be Aware of Previous Trauma
When you’re in a dating relationship some of the hardest things you have to deal with is trauma from past relationships or trauma from your upbringing such as parental dysfunctional relationships.
Past trauma can trigger a fear of abandonment and unless you deal with the unresolved issues and trauma you may struggle to break away from a tendency to view all relationships through a distorted lens of trauma. If you’re affected by past trauma, it’s wise to seek the help of a counselor.
Turning to God when dealing with the effects of past trauma is one of the best approaches you can take. God is your ever-present source of security and confidence. Past trauma might be causing you to seek constant validation from your partner or to need to know where they are all the time.
Rather than letting your relationship be damaged by insecurity, it’s wise to learn to depend on God for validation, security, and peace. Doing this can prevent your relationship from becoming dysfunctional.
Common causes of past hurt include childhood abuse, parental divorce, previous partners who were emotionally abusive, and being the victim of infidelity. One thing that can help you with your fear of abandonment is to understand why you feel the way that you do. Taking time to journal can be a great way to better understand what’s happening.
Be Cautious of Sabotage
Self-sabotage in relationships is common for people who have a fear of abandonment. When the going gets tough, it’s not unusual to start looking for the emergency exit. This often takes the form of pushing your partner away, or saying things like, “well, if I’m too hard to work with, you don’t have to stay with me.”
This is a symptom of a desire to avoid abandonment by being the one to cause the relationship to end. It’s a defense mechanism in response to insecurity and anxiety that your partner is going to leave. Controlling the outcome of the relationship helps to reduce feelings of vulnerability.
However, it’s important to remember that vulnerability is actually important for healthy relationships. For those with abandonment issues, vulnerability can be a scary thing, and often makes you lash out or withdraw.
Another type of sabotage occurs when people have an unhealthy view of dysfunctional or emotionally abusive relationships as “normal”. They may struggle when relationships are healthy and non-abusive and stir things up or cause conflict in order to create the dysfunction that they’re familiar with.
Just because something is unfamiliar, it doesn’t mean you have to run for familiarity. This is especially true if you’re running from a healthy form of relationship towards an unhealthy, familiar relationship. Try to learn to recognize when you’re engaging in self-sabotage.
Don’t allow yourself to damage a healthy relationship just because you’re not used to that type of relationship. Being mentored by an older, more mature couple can be helpful in this regard, to help you to develop a better understanding of what healthy, normal relationships should look like.
If you have experienced a relationship breaking down because of your partner’s past hurts or abandonment fears, then it can be helpful to remember that “rejection is God’s protection”. It’s often these kinds of experiences that, although heartbreaking at the time, you later look back on as blessings in disguise.
Maintain Your Relationships
When you’re caught up in the excitement of a new relationship, it can be easy to sideline your relationship with God. Try to avoid this, since your relationship with God is the most important relationship you have. God is your comfort, your provision, your guide, and your shield. When your relationship with God is weak, you’re much more vulnerable.
Aim to set aside some time every day to focus on your relationship with God. Read His Word in the Bible and talk to Him in prayer. You might also find it useful to journal. Revelations 2:4 (NRSV) has a stark warning about abandoning your relationship with God: “But I have this against you, that you have abandoned the love you had at first.” Maintaining our relationship with God helps us to stop being overly (and unhealthily) dependent on our partner because our needs will be met through God.
At the beginning of a relationship, there’s that sense of excitement and “can’t get enough of you” type of infatuation. It’s at this stage that other relationships such as friendships often get neglected.
It’s important to remember, however, that these other relationships are necessary to maintain balance and equilibrium in your life. Friends can be good sounding boards when you hit dating relationship bumps, so it’s vital that you don’t lose those friends because you’re so infatuated with your partner at the start of a new relationship. We need friends as well as partners, and it’s important to get the balance right.
Everyone deserves to have healthy relationships, regardless of their past experiences. Although healthy relationships take effort, they’re important for our emotional health. There are always going to be times of difficulty, and times when your abandonment fears are triggered, but hopefully now you have some tools with which to handle your abandonment issues more effectively.
What you need to remember is that you can’t control the situations that trigger your abandonment fears but you can have control over your reactions to those feelings.
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