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Replacement Fear in Love Relationships

Synopsis: We start with the case of the off-target surgeon; and then go on to what replacement fear really is; three places it comes from; and we end with what can be done about it.


The Case of the Off-Target Surgeon

With confused anger and dismay the surgeon told me how his wife had insisted he rid himself of his best nurse because she was just too personal with him.

She also insisted that he get a male massage therapist to replace the female one he had been getting massages from for years.  Not only that, but his wife had begun to complain about his female accountant who had been doing a great job with his rather complicated financial situation.

All this had led to several big fights and one really hysterical episode where his screaming and crying wife threatened to leave him.  He emphatically stated nothing had been going on that was inappropriate with other women, and he had tried with much logic and reason to explain that his relationships with these women were entirely professional, and though friendly were not at all intimate or personal.  The evidence, logic and reason he presented, along with copious explanations he attempted, only seemed to make things worse.

Exploring the surgeon’s view of his marriage, led to his conclusion that for quite some time he had not paid much attention to his wife’s emotions or shared much of his own feelings with her.  He admitted romance had faded from their relationship, and their sex life was declining and perfunctory.  Sheepishly he confessed he had forgotten her last birthday and their previous wedding anniversary.   He said he did try to make up for those ‘misses’ by belatedly getting her several very expensive presents.  That did not seem to help either.  I asked and was not surprised to hear that the birthday he missed was her 50th.

It was then that I shared with the surgeon my guess that his wife was suffering from replacement fear, and a lack of empathetic love-based emotional intercourse (see “Emotional Intercourse”).

What Is Replacement Fear?

Replacement fear in love relationships is the fear of being replaced in a loved one’s heart and life by someone else, often someone new and possibly in some important ways better.  Some older siblings experience this when a new baby or adopted child comes into the family.  It can occur in the life of a youth when a single parent seriously dates or marries someone new.  It sometimes occurs more with men, but also some women, experiencing physical disability, vocational identity setbacks, sexual dysfunction and severe financial loss.  It sometimes occurs in women, but also some men, as they get older, especially if their self-valuing depends on looks and being young.  Replacement fear is thought to be most severe among those who have poor self love and those who have highly dependent false love relationships.

Replacement fear can trigger big problems with anxiety, depression, jealousy, possessiveness becoming critical, negative, easily agitated and irrational, and also with addiction relapses.  Replacement fear also can be very bad for love relationships.  Strong replacement fear can cause a person to push a loved one away and into the arms of someone else.  Therefore, it can be a very tragic, self-fulfilling prophecy fear.

Where Does Replacement Fear Come From?

Replacement fear has at least three, big, main sources or origins.  First of all, it can come as a reaction when love is not actively and frequently enough sent to a loved one. (see Definitions of Love, “A Behavioral (Operational) Definition of Love”).  If you do not feed love to a loved one often enough, they may become love malnourished or even love starved.  They then may began to suspect you don’t really love them and that you might want to replace them with someone else.  The surgeon I mentioned before readily came to admit this was true in his case, before he began to do something about it. He saw that he had for too long taken his wife for granted, neglected actively loving her, and operated on the concept that love somehow would take care of it without his participation. (see Love in the Fridge).  He immediately set out to learn and show his love more actively and more often, with good results.

A second common cause of replacement fear comes from a lack of healthy self-love.  If you do not sufficiently love yourself, and have confidence in yourself, and at least have the suspicion that you are rather lovable, you perhaps subconsciously will suspect you are not good enough to hold your beloved in a relationship.  Therefore, you may begin to suspect that your beloved will be looking to replace you with someone better.  This too can cause you to act in ways that psychologically push your beloved away and maybe toward someone else.

Many an otherwise okay love relationship has been ruined just this way.  Some people feeling this way, test and punish their beloved irrationally and severely by acting as difficult as possible.  Becoming unresponsive, judgmental, controlling, passive/aggressive, dictatorial, etc. only serves to usually make things worse.  Until a person has sufficient healthy self-love, it is very hard for them to believe someone can see them as wonderful, desirable and of great worth.

A third way that replacement fear happens is when a love relationship or marriage is grounded in a false love.  She professed her love for him but secretly married him for his money.  He professed great love for her but actually married her for her high ‘trophy wife’ attributes.  He feared being replaced by someone richer and she feared being replaced by a younger ‘trophy wife’ type than her.  Both were right.  Both went on to repeat these patterns with new spouses, followed by new divorces.  Someday they may discover what healthy, real love is all about, but then again maybe not.

What Can Be Done about Replacement Fear

To do something about replacement fear in yourself ask yourself these three questions.

1.    Do I, or are we, actually and frequently showing our love for one another in varied and quality ways?

2.    Do I, and we both, healthfully love ourselves, and see ourselves as being of high quality, and our essence being worthy of being loved and receiving real and abundant love?

3.    Is our love real and healthy for us both, or are there parts of it that may be false, sick and destructive?

Naturally, those questions are not to be easily and deeply answered without good self honesty and strong work.  You also can study what you find at this site concerning healthy real love, and read some of the really good things available concerning real love.  Let me egotistical recommend Part Two of my book, Recovering Love, our e-book Real Love, False Love, what Paul says about love in first Corinthians, the Buddha’s teachings on compassionate love, Rumi’s love poetry, The Five Love Languages, and The Anatomy of Love, for starters.

Talking with loved ones in depth about all these things, journaling your own love learning, and meeting with love-oriented others all can be of great help.  If you are suffering from fear of being replaced in the heart and life of a loved one, ask, talk and request reassurance in exactly the way you would want them to demonstrate and talk that reassurance to you; be specific.Then work at accepting the reassurance.  If problems persist see a love-oriented, experienced counselor or therapist.

If someone you love or care about seems to be suffering from replacement fear, remember empathy well expressed is more reassuring than explanation, logic, reason, arguing the past, or defensiveness.  Patient listening and showing care for the person struggling with replacement fear also is very much in order.

As always – Go and Grow with Love

Dr. J. Richard Cookerly


Love Success Question
When feeling insecure, are you good at directly and clearly asking for reassurance that you are loved, wanted, highly valued, etc. or do you beat around the bush, hint and just hope that the reassurance you desire will come your way?


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