The Dangers of Love: Understanding the Love Avoidant and the Fear of Intimacy

I am fascinated of late by the Love Avoider. The neglected one in the crowd. All the attention stolen by the Love Addict. And isn’t that ironic? The Love Avoider has even found a way to hide from that spotlight. Not this time. Got ’em. You get the whole enchilada this month and next. We are focusing on you. And it is about time you got your due. So, pull up to the table. Pass me your plate. We are piling it on. There is love to go around and I want you to have your share …

So, what exactly is a Love Avoider? A Love Avoider is someone who resists nature’s way. As humans, we are born to connect. A plain and simple fact. Nothing to argue here. But a Love Avoider has walled him/herself off as to negate the need and the desire for human contact on a deep and emotionally intimate level. He/she is more interested in protection and survival than connection and relationship. What does this look like behaviorally? 

  • Often come across as superficially pleasant, even charismatic;
  • Hyper – Independent. He/she does not seem to need anything from their partner except to be alone. Often rejects the attempts of others to nurture, help or give;
  • Will often come into the relationship as the giver or the caretaker;
  • Seeks the “juice out there.” He/she spends too much time outside of the relationship – working, involved in sports, with friends, projects, keeping busy. Could be having an emotional or sexual affair;
  • Is not present when together. Mono-syllabic. Gives vague answers to questions. Very contained. You can’t really get to know this person beyond a certain level. Feels like a chore to get them to answer questions. Wants to be alone frequently;
  • Hides behind walls of silence or anger with signs of hidden hostility such as eye rolling, sighing, interrupting;
  • Withdraws or leaves early from social events;
  • Has grown more and more distant since the early stages of a relationship;
  • Often emotionally detached;
  • Perceives and complains that being controlled, smothered, suffocated and/or that partner is too needy;
  • Is non-committal. The partner nevers feels like he/she is totally in the relationship;
  • Experiences the relationship as a duty or obligation;
  • Engages in a possible addiction or other self-medicating behaviors.

That is one long list. But for a moment, let’s consider the possibility that maybe the Love Avoidant has it right. After all, being in a relationship is a risky proposition. Love is the ultimate contact sport. The most dangerous of games. Full engagement not optional. So maybe it is wise to be afraid of it and to do all things necessary to protect ourselves from being flattened. After all … 

1. … Love makes us vulnerable.   Relationships cast us into uncharted territory where the fear of the unknown inevitably rears its head. Falling in love … just as the name implies … is a fall. A fall from control and self-containment. A movement from a one-person to a two-person. Thus, it is a risk. We are placing an immense amount of trust in another person. Will we fall into solid and nurturing arms or will we stumble into the grasp of someone’s need to cause pain? When we attach ourselves to someone, we sign-up to be affected by them. We become exposed and vulnerable. We give another permission to engender all kinds of feelings in us – often ones we would rather not acknowledge, much less feel. 

2. … New love stirs past hurts. When we enter into a new relationship, whether we are conscious of it or not, we are opening the Pandora Box of our history. All the ways we were hurt in the past, starting from our childhood, have a strong influence on how we choose, perceive and experience the people we get close to in the present – no matter how they act. Old, negative dynamics may make us wary of opening ourselves up to someone new. We may steer away from intimacy because it enlivens old feeling of loss, hurt and rejection – not to mention pain that occurs for not having had this type of love in the past.

3. … Being loved challenges our old identity.   Many folks struggle with an underlying feeling of being unlovable. We do not believe in our own value and that anyone could really care for us. Our internal critical voice screams old and ingrained messages that we are unworthy of love and happiness. Although harmful, these attitudes are also comfortable. Thus, when another person sees us differently, loving and appreciating us, we may feel uncomfortable and defensive. Challenging our long-held beliefs about ourselves can be dislodging and unbearable. 

4. … Real joy brings real pain.   Any time we expand our emotional range to experience true joy, we also open ourselves to other more in-depth feelings such as pain and sadness. Thus, many of us shy away from what makes us the happiest because it can also make us feel pain. Going “all in” becomes a risk we would rather not take.

5. … Relationships change your connection to your family.   Being in a partnership can be the ultimate symbol of growing up. We declare a start to our own adult lives as independent, autonomous individuals. This development requires an emotional parting, a differentiation from being a child of one family to the formation of a new, adult one. For some, this healthy form of separation feels like abandonment – an injury that cannot be dealt to generous and adoring parents. So in protecting the original family, we stall our own growth, love possibilities and happiness. 

6. …Falling in love tests the boundaries of the self in ways that are threatening.   In the natural process of falling in love, nature has a way of blending two folks into a false but felt reality of being “one.” This grand union feels fabulous, very similar to the “high” any addict seeks. However, as the relationship progresses, the two selves re-emerge in that we can no longer be connected 24/7 to anyone as if back in the womb of our mother. I am me and you are you and somehow we have to negotiate the space we now call “we” as two separate people. 

If my sense of separateness is not solid and secure, contained within my own healthy ego boundaries, then I fear that you will take over and swallow me whole. The “we” becomes synonymous to the “you” forcing the “I” to no longer exist. Thus, my walled-offness is a defensive stance to physically keep you from annihilating me. Sheer survival – that is the name of the game. However, the more I can trust that I will stand, my connection to you can be more easily established. I can afford to be fluid, flexible and open because I do not have to worry that I will be taken over and crushed. 

So, after all that, why the hell should we bother with love? Just put a bag over my head, turn on the TV and pass the Doritos. 

In an upcoming article, we will discuss how the Love Avoidant got that way. What the benefits are of reconsidering. And how one can go about doing so. Stay tuned.

16 thoughts on “The Dangers of Love: Understanding the Love Avoidant and the Fear of Intimacy

  1. As a bona fide love avoidant (in the process of reforming), I can tell you that you have this 100% correct – especially the part about wanting to be alone and constantly feeling smothered. A simple request, such as, “can you be home on time for dinner tonight?” sounds like neediness and desperation to a love avoidant. Looking forward to reading part II.

  2. Hello Ginger, this is the article that brought me to you while I was researching about love avoidance. I had read quite a bit on this topic already and sometimes it got scary. The difference I have found is that you write not only with expertise but also with a lightness that says it’s still ok and things can be done to resolve the problem. You write with love. This is not easy to find. Thank you for the wonderful help you provide. Alex.

  3. I think Mia is saying – it is painful to be in a relationship with a love avoidant? Agreed on that, and that this article helps with understanding & potential optimism. So thanks also.

  4. I agree 100% with Mia. The man in my life is avoidant. He is seeking help, but I need help as well in how to cope; giving him space yet being there so he doesn’t feel abandoned, etc. Is there a “formula” for what to do when they run?

  5. Yes, I am also on the receiving end of this. This just completely hit him spot on. I’m having an epiphany reading this. It’s like you wrote it about him. He has recently asked for space & for me to be patient after being silent and angry for almost 5 weeks. He said he is scared of me because he doesn’t want to hurt me. How do I give him space & be patient & bring him to a place where he can trust me and actually want to come closet to me? Please help!

  6. As an aware and recovering love addict crawling from the thermonuclear wreckage of a thirteen-year marriage to a still-rampant, still-denying love avoidant woman, I am fairly certain that I would rather have suffered some traumatic industrial accident and lost a limb, rather than go through what I just went through. And the beautiful part is, as a man in a society overtaken by misandric third-wave feminism, whatever counselor we ever tried, “male” or female, was always only too willing to dump 99% of the blame on me instead of 50% as soon as I’d set foot in their office, simply for being born with a penis. Well, truth be told, this dynamic was made even worse by the fact that my wife’s multitude of busy-busy-busy-busy outside addictions are all societally approved, and getting people, as many people as humanly possible, to superficially like her was one of those addictions—a quiet, contemplative man like myself never stood a chance. Her absurdly thick walls were decorated so nicely, I never could get a single counselor to even recognize them as walls. I finally was left with little choice but to divorce her, and I’m someone who loathes divorce. Ugh. What a pathetic idiot I was to ever think I needed that.

    • I’ve only just realised that I was married to an avoidant for over twenty years. I’m finally in a new relationship, eight years after my ex-husband left me for another woman. I read ‘Attached’ by Amir Levine and Rachel Heller and then ‘Avoidant’ by Jeb Kinnison because I was trying to understand my new mans behaviour and figure out how to deal with it. Those books explained everything, I had an epiphany. The dawning realisation that my ex was also avoidant explained everything. Even ‘Avoidant’ adheres to the stereotype of avoidant man and anxious-preoccupied woman. I’m so sorry your problems are multiplied by these stereotypes. It’s hard enough being in a relationship with an avoidant without therapists being so blatantly sexist as well. My ex refused therapy, obviously because he was cheating and he not only avoids emotional intimacy and negative emotions, but he also avoids the truth.
      These books should be compulsory reading at age 16. Best wishes for the future.

  7. I am a man in the same situation. It is only recently that I have started to look for reasoning to my partners behaviours. We have been together for a year and live together.
    From just before we moved in together I started to notice the changes. Pretty much everything listed is how she is. It now makes so much more sense. The comments by Tring ring true too….the need for superficial friendships and the need to be like socially by an abundance of people she has nothing to do with. None of that friendly, fun side is for us though.
    At the moment, I just have to take time to absorb all of this. I doubt a suggestion of counselling would be met with anything other than contempt.
    It is incredibly sad as I do love her but my gut tells me that this will only end one way… .

    • “None of that friendly, fun side is for us though.”. —Bingo! Oh, and I highly warn you NOT to do counseling unless you find a RARE counselor who SPECIALIZES in love addiction/avoidance. And do NOT waste anything on a counselor who merely ” knows about” love addiction/avoidance. Trust me, as the one with the penis, you already have two strikes against you before you walk into any counseling session, so you gotta choose carefully. Or dont. It may be better to cut bait and move on. Counselor’s offices are little different from Family Court. You’re already the bad guy. Because you’re the guy.

      • BTW, Quiet Guy, the reason I suggest (and would strongly suggest) that you simply cut bait and move on (i.e., sever your ties with this female love avoidant) is because I was once in your place, and it is what I should have done. A decade and a half of acrimonious and ruinous separations and reconciliations later, our lives (and my life especially, since my ex has family support and I do not) are horribly damaged. I don’t know if I will ever fully recover, especially financially. And let me tell you what you soon have to look forward to with your female love avoidant who sounds so uncannily like mine: she will soon begin constantly “critiqueing” your every move, and your every move will never ever measure up to her standards. She won’t yell, she won’t raise her voice, but she will constantly, unceasingly, unrelentingly belittle your every action and deed (when she is actually home and not physically avoiding you). Oh, she will do it measuredly, even politely, but the accumulation of it will, over the course of just a few years, begin to feel like Chinese water torture to you. You will begin walking on eggshells in your own house and your own house will no longer be a place of rest or relaxation whatsoever. And later, when you try to tell a counselor of this constant chinese water torture of polite belittlement which she is putting you through, the counselor will NOT take you seriously. Neither will the married friends that you’ve made together: these two will all automatically assume that YOU are the reason for most if not all of the problems between the two of you. And you know why your love avoidant will soon begin this inevitable, endless, attritional barrage of belittlement? It’s because it represents to them, subconsciously I suppose, yet another method in which they can daily distance themselves from you. Good luck. Have fun with the coming nightmare you have in store for you if you stay with her. Sorry. But from all I’m hearing, that’s where you’re headed. I know. From horrendous, hard-earned experience, I know. Some lessons, you just wish you never had to learn.

    • QuietGuy, your situation mirrors mine exactly. Have been with my avoidant partner for just over a year and live together. Like you, her behaviour started to change just before we moved in. At that time and until very recently, I hadn’t come across attachment stuff so was just completely bemused and shell shocked with how things began to change.
      At first she was warm and loving, although had made it clear early on that she was very independent and liked her own space. I also knew that for 5 years previously, she hadn’t been in a relationship for more than a few weeks at a time and had always ended it because it didn’t feel right. I know now that she was just backing away the moment things went past just casual.
      Almost everything in this article rings true. She has an enormous amount of superficial friends but the happy go lucky friendly appearance she shows in public is only for them. At home there is none of that for us as a couple. She is cold and distant most of the time and her general demeanor makes it almost impossible to get near her. I now find myself walking on eggshells and having to think ahead before I say or do anything just to prevent copping some form of animosity from her. My home is not a restful calm and relaxing place, which for me is incredibly sad and very draining.
      Regardless of situation, I am always in the wrong. She takes no accountability for her actions, never apologises and any raising of any of her negative actions is met with a barrage of contempt and verbal abuse.
      I know I haven’t helped the situation because I had no idea about avoidants, so for a long time I was trying to resolve conflicts by showing I care, which just ended up making things worse.
      Looking back over time, she has told me a lot of what she needs, like space to calm down, that although she would like to be romantic she just can’t do it but doesn’t understand why and that she knows her past has affected her (which she admitted she didn’t think it had until we were together and now accepts).
      We reached a point a few weeks back where I had had enough and was going to be leaving. For the first time ever, she came down to me that night and opened up. She told me it took her several attempts to do it and that it was incredibly difficult for her. I was touched when she said that she knew she would end up back in her protective shell and asked me to just remember how she was at that point as that was the real her.
      To sum it up after my long ramble, I know only too well how hard your life is living with an avoidant. It is difficult to put into words but I know exactly how you feel.
      My take on it? We ourselves are anxious attachment partners. Their distancing techniques send us into a flat spin that makes us need closeness which in turn puts them in a flat spin and increases their defensiveness and sees us as smothering and needy. It’s a proper vicious circle.
      If we choose to be with them, we have to accept how they are. We can’t rationalise our feelings to them. The approach I am now taking is to step back and give her more space to breath. Closeness to them is like control. We have to show that we care and love them differently to how we are used to, in a way that works for them, which is ultimately what a loving partner should do. We also need to become more secure in ourselves and not rely on them to make us feel that way as they cannot do it. Putting that on them is like being buried alive to them.
      It’s a whole new, steep and long learning curve and only you know whether you can invest in that long term. I could keep going on for hours but I have rambled enough for now 🙂

  8. My partner of 22 years left while I was asleep, took all of her clothes and left everything I ever bought her. She is 14 yrs younger, I am 68. She promised to be with me until the end. She never gave me a reason. We had a discussion in which I dared to raise my voice asking why she did not want to spend time with me. Her last words to me were “. It’s too stressful “. And turned. To make me feel even worse is that I’m a retired psych PA she’s a Dr. I was in love with a hologram. I never knew her. I enabled her b/c I never pressured her . I was not a clinician but someone in love. I’m a gay woman which makes it worse. Not that another relationship is even in my mind but ,let’s face it, at my age? She promised to always be with me, all that crap. She left w/o an explanation , two weeks later moved to another state 600 miles away. She asks friends how I am , sounds like I’m moving on and “. When the dust settles she’ll send an email see how that goes and maybe call”. What a gal….my greatest fear was realized, I would be 70, living on SS and alone. Not only did she shatter my heart, but did it in such a cowardly way. I have 6 stents and she never gave thought one that her actions could have literally killed me. My nitro was and still is always with me. My survival depends on NC. I’m just devastated but not dead. I will recover and get to the point where I don’t devote one more day to the dysfunction that was my life. All of the behaviors you guys describe were present, also no memories of us. I fell stupid, but at least I’m beginning to see this mess as a clinician not a love partner. Or facsimile there of. May we see the sunshine and smile soon and forget the storm that zapped us.

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