Many wounded adults actually avoid love, becoming restless around persons who might provide genuine care and nurturing. In these cases, the closer the adult come to obtaining the reality of love, the more they will push their partners away. This move, becoming avoidant and trying to create emotional distance within the relationship, is fueled by a fear of intimacy. Indeed love avoidants fear intimacy. Some love avoidants push away love as a test to see if their partner will continue to love them even when they are acting disagreeable or unpleasant. This behavior is a result of the conditional and irregular love the wounded adult experienced as children from their caregivers.
The struggle for the love avoidant is that he/she, like anyone else, wants to feel love and closeness. Regardless of what the past emotional, physical and/or sexual wounds might be, there is still an intrinsic desire for the security and affection and healing that comes from love. What the love avoidant will look like in a relationship, then, is to come in close and fast and make intense connections. As the relationship continues, the avoidant will start to distance him/herself from their partner. If the relationship continues, eventually the love avoidant person will seek to re-ignite the passion and intensity that used to be felt in the past. With time, distancing will occur again.
For most love avoidants, they are very good at beginning relationships, but horrible at keeping and maintaining a relationship. There is a lot of pulling in and pushing out – pulling in their love interest and then once the connection happens and the relationship becomes deeper, they push their partner away.
Origins of Love Avoidance
Avoidant love behaviors also arise from the co-dependent wounds found in the origins of the relationship with one’s parents. Again, to refer to Pia Mellody, those who exhibit love avoidant behaviors usually come from families where the parents are emotionally enmeshed with their children. Enmeshment means that there are poor boundaries in the parent-child relationship. This can take the form of the parent who uses the child as a confidant, like a substitute spouse – looking for emotional support and emotional intimacy from the child. It can also take on the appearance of a child being made to be dependent on the parents – squashing the child’s ability to become autonomous and independent.
As the child grows into adulthood, he or she will want to be in a relationship and work hard to make that happen. What they use to help establish a relationship is often based on intensity, creating closeness rapidly, and exhibiting a great deal of charm and sexual energy. Yet once the relationship has been formed, the individual will withdraw emotionally and even physically. Those not married will be able to see a string of past relationships that made it to a certain point and then dissolved. Some might hear their partners tell them they are afraid to make a commitment. And so the wounded adult using love avoidant behaviors remains alone within him/herself – tortured by being afraid of the very thing they want – love, security, affection, and nurturing.
As the love avoidant sees the relationship he/she is building with another – and intimacy begins – withdrawal will occur. The person will withdraw either physically, emotionally or both. Love avoidants can be men or women, and struggle to maintain friendships – same sex or otherwise. Once in a relationship, a love avoidant will often feel overwhelmed, suffocated and emotionally exhausted.
The following are love avoidant behaviors done in order to create space within the relationship. See if any of these fit with what you do in a relationship:
causing arguments, staying up after partner has gone to bed, becoming obsessed with work or some other activity, being defensive, turning arguments back on the other person so they look like they are all at fault, compulsively flirting with other people, thinking of other people when you have sex with your partner, avoiding physical affection – snuggling, holding hands, etc. flamboyant and charming outside of the relationship and withdrawn and sullen inside the relationship, feeling a sense of shame about who you are, allowing guilt and shame to be motivating factors for what you do in a relationship.
There are some love avoidants who never seek out people. They struggle to be around people and are often reclusive. They may want relationships and are sick and tired of being so lonely, but see that first step as too much. Many suffer from depression. They can go months and years without being in a relationship. Regardless of what the love avoidant behavior is, these types of wounded people live in fear of intimacy but crave the affection and nurturing that comes with that kind of a relationship.