Are you in a relationship with a partner who's avoiding intimacy and connection? Would you like to know if you can save the relationship? That's what we're talking about in today's article. First, I will be breaking down what causes a love avoidant, what's going on inside them, and finally, how to save it – is it even possible?
Before we start, I want to clarify that love avoidance is a spectrum. All of us have moments where we avoid love, but in this article, I will discuss those further out on the spectrum. In all my years of research, Pia Mellody is, in my belief, the foremost expert on codependence, love addiction, and love avoidance. I believe so strongly I earnestly tell people that her books should be required reading before anyone goes on a date. If her understanding of relationship dynamics were common knowledge, I believe the divorce epidemic would be profoundly reduced.
She defines the characteristics of a love avoidant as:
1- Evading intimacy within the relationship by creating intensity in activities (usually addictions) outside the relationship.
2- Avoid being known in the relationship in order to protect themselves from engulfment and control by the other person
3- Avoid intimate contact with their partners, using a variety of processes I call "distancing techniques." (1)
What causes love avoidance
What causes love avoidance is sad and heartbreaking: they were most likely made to parent someone, typically an actual parent or sibling, emotionally and or physically. Or, they may have been smothered, used, controlled, or manipulated to become an adult too soon. Divorced parents of the avoidant are common, and in the aftermath, the mom or dad makes the child a surrogate spouse or best friend using the child to comfort themselves emotionally. This was my experience. While my parents never divorced, my mom was an alcoholic who enmeshed me, made me her surrogate spouse, and covertly sexually abused me, while my father used me to unload his anger.
In short, the avoidant's childhood was stripped from them because they were required to sacrifice their emotional well-being for others' benefit.
What is going on inside the avoidant?
Internally the avoidant is rarely in touch with themselves because they are so consumed with their addiction to their work, gambling, alcohol, porn, food, shopping, virtually any addiction will do. If not an addiction, there is always something more important than the relationship, an animal, a hobby, or kids. The avoidant needs something to be addictive or important because they feel alive only in their outside pursuits. Relationships in their childhood came at a severe cost, so, ultimately, as Pia Mellody points out, they don't want to be known because it means to be smothered, suffocated, and abandoned for them.
Is it possible to save the relationship?
Unfortunately, it isn't easy to save a relationship with a love avoidant. Here's why: do you see what it requires from them? To participate, they would have to get help to heal their childhood pain, and help requires vulnerability and intimacy. In their life experience, intimacy looks like engulfment, control, manipulation, and suffocation. Therefore, it is infrequent for an avoidant to pursue counseling or coaching because it would require them to face what they fear most, being vulnerable.
That is why it is fair to say that the love avoidant is never in the relationship – they can't be. Being in a relationship means being vulnerable. So they guard their vulnerability by walking out of the room, avoiding deep discussions and arguments. All attempts to create connection are a trigger for them to run.
Complicating matters more is that as a child, to survive, they detached from their feelings and created a falsely empowered reality that they are fine, so they wouldn't have to feel the pain for how they were used and thus abandoned. In addition, being relied upon by an adult leaves a child with a sense of false power. This false reality and sense of power mean most are not even aware that they are in pain, and many will accuse you of being overly emotional. If you ask them to seek help, they are so disconnected from the truth; they honestly can't see or feel that they have a problem. Unless you are the one in a million, who has found an avoidant who's actually willing to get help, the chances of creating the relationship you crave are minimal.
This leaves you with a decision to make: are you willing to stay in the relationship and accept that all you're going to get are scraps? If you are, that's the only way to "save" it. To achieve that, you have to be willing to drop everything you've complained about. It would be best if you relinquished nearly all of your expectations and accept that your needs and wants won't be met.
Tips for those who decide to stay.
If you decide to stay, here are a few things that might make it a little better: stop chasing them, stop asking for intimacy. Ignore and "abandon" them. I know that sounds cruel, but remember, their childhood smothering and the requirement to meet others' needs emotionally created excruciating abandonment. No one was there to care for them. But since they are disconnected from reality and believe that they are fine, they are not aware of their subconscious abandonment fear. When you start pursuing your own life and meet your needs and wants yourself, subconsciously, they will feel abandoned, and they will chase you but don't be fooled. The second you start opening up, they'll run again. Find that middle space where they don't run and realize you can never fully trust that they will be intimate. You must remind yourself that avoidants will rarely join you consistently in that shared relationship space without recovery.
Unfortunately, there is a cost to this approach. When you feel like you are acting just like them, cold, distant, and detached from the relationship, you will know you are doing it correctly. That's what you'll have to settle for. If you can live with that, that's how you "save" the relationship.
I know this is heartbreaking to recognize what your partner has been through. I'm not condoning their behavior – it's about understanding what causes them to behave the way they do and seeing that there is very little we can do about it in many cases. On the positive side, knowing these truths empowers us to advocate for ourselves, and the best way to love another is to make decisions that express love towards ourselves. Furthermore, you can now make an informed decision as to how you want to proceed.
Enjoy The Journey. 🕺🏼
(1) Pia Mellody: Facing Love Addiction pg. 38-39
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