Skip to main content

Verified by Psychology Today


The Secret Fears That Sabotage Relationships

... and why they may have once served a purpose.

Key points

  • If you want a lasting relationship but keep getting a different result, you may subconsciously fear losing your independence or being alone.
  • Those who fear losing their independence are more likely to have an avoidant attachment style.
  • Those who fear being alone are more likely to have an anxious attachment style.
Alejandro J. de Parga/Shutterstock
Source: Alejandro J. de Parga/Shutterstock

Most people would agree that modern dating can be tough and that it’s not uncommon to feel discouraged or burnt out during the process. After a certain number of disappointing dates that lead nowhere, some people may erroneously assume that all potential partners are “players, jerks, or unavailable.”

Yet, these same people may witness friends who seem to meet people and maintain romantic relationships with much less strain. If this is you, you may be thinking these people are just lucky and that you’re not. Sometimes luck and happenstance occur (such as people getting into a relationship with their first match on a dating app—it happens), but in other cases in which someone is frequently dissatisfied with their dating experiences, there are typically underlying fears running the show.

If you consciously want a lasting relationship but find that you keep getting a different result, you may be subconsciously holding onto fear of losing your independence or fear of being alone. Whether you find yourself single for long stretches of time with no luck or you’ve had a string of relationships that weren’t the right fit, chances are that if you examine your dating patterns, one or both of these two fears is driving your results. Not sure which fear may be impacting your dating results? Read on to find out.

Fear of the Loss of Independence

If you fear losing your independence, you may find superficial reasons to eliminate suitable partners or distance yourself when you grow closer to someone. You may be frequently drawn to unavailable partners, or those with whom you know deep down there is no future with. Alternatively, you may be drawn to partners with an opposing fear (the fear of being alone) and then start to distance yourself once the relationship grows more intimate. As a result, you may find yourself continually keeping others at arm’s length and remaining single for long stretches of time.

Those who have this fear are more likely to have an avoidant attachment style. Once they begin to grow closer to a partner, this fear may take hold more strongly and they may erroneously assume their partner is not the right fit. This fear can show up through thoughts such as, “Something is missing,” “I don’t feel those sparks I’m looking for,” or thoughts idealizing an ex-partner and comparing one’s new partner to an ex. If you have this fear, you may start focusing on the other person’s perceived flaws in an effort to support your argument and begin to distance yourself emotionally from the other person. You may even wonder why you’re still single and remind yourself that you are holding out for those sparks with “the one.”

This illusion can prevent you from looking further into your own relationship patterns. The fear of losing your independence may be a result of growing up in a home where your emotional needs were neglected and you learned early on to depend on yourself or growing up in a home where your independence was stifled and you often felt a lack of control due to overbearing caretakers. If either of these scenarios occurred when you were growing up, you may have learned it’s difficult to trust that others will meet your needs. As a result, you may have developed a heightened need for independence as a way to cope with your environment growing up.

Fear of Being Alone

On the other hand, the fear of being alone is a powerful motivator for remaining in relationships past their expiration date. People who have a fear of being alone may give too many chances to the wrong partners, jump from relationship to relationship, and have rare pockets of time when they are single.

If you fear being alone, you may find yourself over-functioning in relationships and overcompensating for the lack of effort your partner is making. You may find yourself being drawn to unavailable partners or partners that you need to save.

You may be more prone to overlooking red flags, falling for others quickly, and holding onto a fantasy about the potential of a relationship instead of seeing the relationship for what it actually is. This fear can show up through thoughts such as, “This is just a temporary rough patch, we’re meant to be together,” or “I know they can change,” even when they’ve shown you through their actions that they are not willing or able to change.

Those who fear being alone are more likely to have an anxious attachment style. Their early environment may have conditioned them to over-function in a relationship to prevent their partner from leaving, often at the expense of themselves. They may have grown up in a home with high conflict and adopted the role of being the peacemaker or witnessed a parent taking on that role. As a result, they may have learned to associate love with having to “fight for it” in order for it to be real and to prevent the relationship from ending. If one or both parents were absent, inconsistent, or emotionally unavailable, they may have learned to associate love with having to “earn it,” otherwise they won’t feel worthy of receiving it.

Some people identify strongly with one of these fears while others experience both of these fears at different stages of the dating or relationship process. For example, someone might experience the fear of losing their independence during the initial stages of dating someone new and then once they grow emotionally closer to their partner, the fear of being alone may take a stronger hold.

When someone is not aware of having these deep-rooted fears, they often play out in their dating patterns or relationships. If one or both of these fears are present for you, it’s important to know that they often develop as a form of protection that may have helped you cope in an environment you didn’t have control over when you were younger. As a result, these fears may no longer be serving you and could be getting in the way of meaningful relationships you desire as an adult.

The first step to releasing these fears is having awareness of which fear is most present for you and recognizing the ways in which one or both fears may be impacting your particular relationship patterns. If you find after reflecting on your fears on your own that you are feeling stuck, therapy can be a great avenue for helping you work through these fears and begin to shift your relationship patterns.

Disclaimer: This post is for informational purposes only. This post is not intended to be a substitute for professional or psychological advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your mental health professional or another qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding your condition or well-being.

Facebook image: Hananeko_Studio/Shutterstock