Chronically distant and emotionally detached partners are often on the hunt for their mirror selves – the one who will draw them in with romantic intensity and then distance themselves when things get too close. Intimacy avoidant individuals unconsciously check out when their relationship starts to feel too close, whether related to an emotional, physical or sexual connection. Examples include:

  • The working husband who rarely returns home in time to see his wife still awake
  • The wife who puts her entire emotional self into childcare, leaving nothing leftover to meet the needs of her neglected spouse
  • The serial dater, consistently bouncing from one intensity-based superficial relationship to the next
  • The “modern” couple, too distracted by smartphones, laptops and video to prioritize an emotional connection

The Love Addict/Avoidance Cycle

Outwardly often an unlikely couple, the consistent (often maternal) and desperate seduction of the relationship/love addict is a forever flame for his or her opposite – the intimacy-phobic avoidant. Their emotional dance is one of endlessly circling one another, but never quite allowing themselves to connect.

This pair exemplifies the challenges surrounding many adult intimacy and attachment disorders, often based in adult personality challenges such as narcissism and/or early abuse and trauma. Considering the depth of some of these attachment challenges it’s a wonder that some of these folks ever do live together or marry! Even when the ambivalent avoidant strongly resists getting into a relationship, the romance/love addict often has enough desire (and obsessive fantasy) to make the relationship happen – at least for a while.

Here is how the push and pull of these relationships often plays out:

Initially, the romance addict comes on strong. He (or she), sensing the unconscious fragility, abandonment fears and needfulness of their prospective partner, quickly moves into meeting their every unmet need – with seduction, warmth and charm. At first, taking care of her makes him feel good about himself, likely meeting his learned need to rescue – but as true closeness builds he finds himself feeling smothered by the very emotional needs he sought to foster.

Over time having sacrificed to meet the responsibilities of an adult relationship that he doesn’t really want (as he values the chase and not the prize), the romance/love addict becomes resentful. His anger and need to escape (often unconscious) drive him to work longer hours, have affairs, abuse drugs or alcohol, spend or self-medicate in other ways. This increasing distance then re-ignites the avoidant partner’s abandonment fears, encouraging her (or him) to once again create a need to be rescued or threaten abandonment, tools which serve to draw back in the romance/love addict. And so the intimacy-avoidance cycle repeats.

Typical Love Avoidant Behaviors

Relationships such as these may at first appear reciprocal, but the love/romance addict is never fully committed to his partner. He is “loving and attentive,” but not in love (in the adult sense); he plays the role of committed partner to fulfill a deep internal sense of obligation, yet keeps secret his deepest thoughts and feelings. As such, he is not emotionally vulnerable or available. In this way not only does the romance/love addict confuse and hurt their spouse, but his very actions (unconsciously self-protective) also prevent him from getting the true deep love and intimacy that we all need and desire.

Here are a few common “love addict/love avoidant” behaviors:

  • Pushing a partner away emotionally or physically (e.g., by working extra hours, overspending, abusing drugs or alcohol, overeating or having affairs)
  • Beginning a relationship by rescuing a partner from a bad relationship or other problem but then distancing when that person is fully available
  • Being hypercritical, devaluing and otherwise creating emotional distance
  • Withholding thoughts, feelings and information (often leading the partner to complain that they do not really know their partner)
  • Consistent controlling of the emotional distance between themselves and their partner
  • Feeling that nothing they do is ever good enough to get the partner to love them
  • Feeling smothered, unappreciated and in need of more “alone time”
  • Engaging in addictive behaviors more frequently when in a relationship
  • Getting into relationships to avoid saying no or hurting the other person’s feelings
  • Missing the partner when apart but feeling trapped when together – even escaping into sex or drugs to avoid the partner

Addiction and Avoidance Stem from Childhood Enmeshment/Abandonment/Abuse

Love addiction/avoidant patterns typically begin in childhood as a result of long-term emotional enmeshment, abandonment and/or abuse by an early primary caretaker. Childhood experiences that may contribute to love avoidance include:

  • Being (or feeling) responsible for a troubled parent  (perhaps one who was addicted or physically or mentally ill)
  • Being raised by a smothering parent whose needs supersede those of the child
  • Growing up feeling the need to fill a void in the family, such as in single parent families or homes affected by addiction
  • Acting as a surrogate spouse to a parent who treats the child as a confidant or companion (covert incest)
  • Acting as a surrogate parent to younger siblings
  • Being physically/sexually abused by a primary caretaker or sibling
  • Witnessing physical or sexual abuse of a primary caretaker or sibling

Treatment for “Love Avoidance”

Sadly comfortable with long periods of non-intimacy and familiar with feelings of martyrdom, love avoidant partners are typically less inclined to reach out for help than their romance/love addicted spouses. If and when they do seek professional assistance, it will more likely be for substance dependence/abuse, overspending, overeating or related self-soothing behavior patterns rather than actual relationship issues.

As both partners often have childhood trauma or abuse impacting them individually and as a couple, both will need treatment to change longstanding problematic relationship dynamics. Co-occurring addictions or emotional health concerns that may prevent the partners from developing genuine intimacy must also be addressed.

Systemic work utilized to help the couple build and share insight into how past dynamics are playing out in current situations is essential. Learning to set healthy boundaries and nurture a strong sense of self can prevent the love avoidant from using their resentment as an excuse to threaten abandonment or check out emotionally, while learning better assertiveness and communication styles will help the relationship/love addict explore his/her enmeshment fears before they are acted out.

By applying clinical techniques that allow both partners to process their underlying attachment and personality concerns individually and as a couple, both can find a path to the oft longed-for deeper relationship they seek.

Robert Weiss is the author of three books on sexual addiction and Founding Director of the premiere sex addiction treatment program, The Sexual Recovery Institute. He is Director of Sexual Disorders Services at The Ranch and Promises Treatment Centers. These centers serve individuals seeking sexual addiction treatment, love addiction treatment, and porn addiction help. Specifically, the Centers for Relationship and Sexual Recovery at The Ranch (CRSR) offer specialized intimacy, sex and relationship addiction treatment for both men and women in gender-specific, gender-separate treatment and living environments.

Follow Robert on Twitter @RobWeissMSW

 


Comments


View Comments / Leave a Comment

This post currently has 12 comments.
You can read the comments or leave your own thoughts.

Trackbacks

Mental Health Social (January 19, 2012)

Tori Lafferty (January 19, 2012)

From Psych Central's website:
PsychCentral (January 19, 2012)

Rich Newbold (January 19, 2012)

Delicious Flavour (January 19, 2012)

From Psych Central's website:
PsychCentral (January 19, 2012)

Lisa Brookes Kift (January 19, 2012)

From Psych Central's website:
PsychCentral (January 20, 2012)

Attachment Styles – What are they? « psychologiques (January 26, 2012)






    Last reviewed: 6 Sep 2012

APA Reference
Weiss LCSW, R. (2012). Attachment Disorder, Name Thyself! Working with the Love/Romance Addict, Sexual Anorexic, Trauma Survivor and Intimacy Avoidant. Psych Central. Retrieved on July 25, 2014, from http://blogs.psychcentral.com/sex/2012/01/attachment-disorder-name-thyself-working-with-the-loveromance-addict-sexual-anorexic-trauma-survivor-and-intimacy-avoidant/

 

Purchase Cruise Control now Purchase Untangling the Web now

Check out Robert Weiss' books today.

Subscribe to this Blog:
Feed


Or Get a Single, Daily Email (enter email address):

via FeedBurner



Recent Comments
  • Amy: We have been married over 45 years and we only had sex once and never happened again. I have never slept, had...
  • Gabe Deem: First, I want to say I agree with a lot of the things you say, but I want to point something out to you...
  • Jesse: Interesting article. My anecdotal finding as a member of the community of porn and sex addicts is that most of...
  • SomeoneElse: Good article Rob. Your readers might also be interested to know that more than half of the addicts...
  • Kaye B. Williams: Bingo! Well said Rob.
Subscribe to Our Weekly Newsletter

Find a Therapist
Enter ZIP or postal code



Users Online: 12240
Join Us Now!