The answer, get ready for it…… “C.” Clear communication was the giveaway, right? Absolutely. Had Brian or Alicia been clear about what they were thinking, the situation very likely would never have spiraled downward.
But, it is worth noting that there are some people wherein clear communication would not be enough to save the relationship. This occurs when one, or both partners, have unusually intense fears about being in an intimate relationship.
The anxiety is so deeply rooted that even with good communication the fear remains. It is similar to talking to someone with a fear of flying and telling him or her about the exceptional safety record of air travel.
The information may be clear, accurate, and even accepted at an intellectual level. But at the gut level, that person just knows the plane he or she happens to fly on is surely going to fall from the sky and crash.
Something more is needed in order to help that person get over the fear of flying.
Corrective Experiences As The Key To Change
This is where corrective experiences are essential in order to break the anxious patterns we’ve been discussing. A corrective experience is one that strategically pushes back against some compelling fear. It corrects a lie, heals a distortion. The experience, to be corrective, needs to refute the very foundation upon which the anxiety remains alive in one’s life.
These foundations are always built upon falsehoods. “No one could genuinely love me if they knew the real me.” “People think I’m successful but that is only a façade – if they could see the truth it would reveal that I’m an imposter.” “If I let that person into my life and things don’t work out I would be totally devastated.”
The corrective experience powerfully refutes such lies. Not through thought, but through action. It is one’s immersion in the experience that gives it power.
Let me elaborate. Using the fear of flying example again, a corrective experience would be one in which the person got on an airplane, remained relatively calm throughout the flight (no screaming, no rolling in the aisle, no hanging onto the stewardess as though she were a teddy bear), and safely landed.
The person would have experienced safely, and calmly, flying in an airplane. The lie of “If I get on that airplane I’m going to crash and die” has been experienced as being false. Score one for truth, and a step forward in being rid of the fear of flying.
To thoroughly diminish that anxiety, however, that corrective experience would need to be repeated over a period of time and in various settings. In this case, the person would need to take other flights, both short and long duration, with companions and solo, leaving from various airports.
The idea is to so thoroughly beat down the anxiety with multiple corrective experiences that it is no longer an active force in one’s life. That is freedom.
Corrective Experiences For Brian And Alicia
For this young couple, corrective experiences would require them to have behaved much differently. With regard to Brian, it would mean talking with Alicia about his insecurities rather than hiding them. It would also mean not rushing off to put in more hours at work simply to ward off his sense of inadequacy (this assumes he really was already working diligently to advance in his career).
Alicia’s corrective experiences would involve discussing her fear that Brian was no longer committed to the relationship rather than avoiding such discussions. If her anxiety persisted even after being reassured, she would need to continue to be fully engaged and attentive within the relationship. This is directly opposite from the reaction she had which was to back off from involvement.
If both Alicia and Brian continued to behave in ways that were the opposite of how their fear pushed them to act, their anxiety would eventually lessen. In time, with repeated corrective experiences both of them would be able to break the stranglehold of relational anxiety.
When that took place, they would find a sense of freedom, and interpersonal connectedness, that they had never known before.
How To Use This Information
The key to making use of Brian and Alicia’s story is to make an honest appraisal of your own fears, anxieties, and responses to forming close intimate relationships. Write these down and then proceed to consider how realistic each of these fears is in your current relationship.
At this point, it can be helpful to have a friend or counselor look at the list with you and provide their opinion about how realistic these items appear to be.
Now choose those fears that are clearly unrealistic and also appear to be major stumbling blocks that get in the way of developing a more satisfying relationship. Take some time to think about what corrective experience would act as a good first step in refuting this fear?