12 Distancing Strategies the Love Avoidant Uses To Evade Intimacy

by | Jul 2, 2022 | Uncategorized | 0 comments

Growing up, the Love Avoidant developed defensive coping mechanisms in order to protect the self from a controlling, demanding, and/or needy parent (‘s) … In adulthood, these defensive patterns remain active in driving behavioral choices in close relationships (i.e., evading intimacy).

Such defensive patterns are what I call Distancing Strategies.

It’s rather paradoxical that a Love Addict and people with an anxious attachment style can often obsessively pursue romantic love with individuals (a Love Avoidant) who regularly use defensive strategies to avoid what love addicts want most— intimate contact.

Initially, a Love Avoidant will seem very eager to connect with their Love Addict partner– triggering an illusion that they finally found “one-of-a-kind.”

But once hooked, and the relationship unfolds and progresses… the Love Avoidant flip-flops, seemingly changing into an entirely different person. Instead of displaying a desire to connect, he/she emotionally disengage, becoming cold, unavailable, and unreliable.

 

In a short time, the message seems to be, “I want you, but go away.” — leaving the Love Addict feeling baffled, and asking themselves, “What the hell happened?”

 

There is a good reason why a Love Addict finds it is so difficult to intimately connect and feel close to their partner – Since, for a Love Avoidant, one of their chief objectives in romantic relationships is to evade intimacy – at all costs!

 

Love Avoidance is an “intimacy disorder. When people have an intimacy disorder, it means they all share a profound fear of intimacy (e.g., closeness, “being known,” vulnerability, sharing thoughts/feelings) * along with an underlying fear of abandonment.

 

In a Love Avoidants mind, intimacy with another person is equivalent to being engulfed, suffocated, and controlled.

 

Too much closeness can literally cause them to feel like they are losing themselves, and yes, it can even feel like dying. (that is how intense their fears can be).

 

Consequently, in romantic relationships, they have a heightened focus to make sure their partner keeps from getting too close.
 


A Love Avoidant does not embrace intimacy – but embraces ‘defying it’.



The Love Avoidant partner may send just enough mixed messages to keep the fantasy alive— just enough to give you some hint of what “might be” possible,” or “could be” possible, or “would be”  possible.
 


Yet the REALITY is: What is possible, will NEVER actually be. Any sporadic “crumbs” of connection you get, is as much as you will ever get with an Avoidant.

Love Avoidant Distancing Strategies – The “Anti-Intimacy” Tool Box for the Avoidant

How does the Love Avoidant disengage and keep their romantic partner at a distance?


According to researchers, avoidants distance from romantic partners by using various “deactivating strategies” in relationships. These methods and strategies are like an “anti-intimacy” toolbox. 


They consciously or unconsciously deny their needs for attachment and connection. They are compulsively self-reliant and feel a deep need to keep others at arm’s length in order to preserve a sense of autonomy and independence.
 

Deactivating or Distancing Strategies are tactical behaviors and attitudes used to elude and squelch intimate connection.
 

Although Love Avoidants have a need and desire to seek closeness in relationships (a hidden truth behind their mask)— they make an intensive effort to repress these needs (learned coping defensives from childhood).


Distancing Strategies are the tools used to incapacitate and suppress these needs. The following are some of the most common distancing strategies used in romantic relationships.
 

12 Common Distancing or Deactivating Techniques Love Avoidants Use To Evade Intimacy In Relationships

  1. Avoiding physical closeness— avoiding sex, or severely reducing sexual contact; eluding physical affection; avoiding proximity/closeness: (e.g., hugging, kissing, holding hands, sitting close; avoiding sharing the same bed; avoids sharing same bed; walks ahead or behind, etc.); also may retreat when affection is offered.
     
  2. Refusal to make commitment— makes assorted statements to shun commitment to a relationship, “I’m not ready for commitment,” “I’m no good at relationships,” or “I never have good relationships”, all the while engaging in a monogamous relationship, sometimes for years; (relationship looks/appears like a committed relationship).
     
  3. Avoids verbalizing “I love you”— avoids saying “I love you”, while simultaneously asserting feelings towards the other; makes excuses as to why he/she can’t or won’t say, ”I love you”;  may say something like, “You know how I feel, why should I have to say it.”
     
  4. Sabotages when things are going well— when a relationship seems to be going well, he/she sabotages or disrupts it in some way; e.g., starts arguments; suddenly acts angry or resentful; becomes passive-aggressive; doesn’t keep agreements; doesn’t call back; becomes overly demanding, controlling arrogant; becomes hostile, defensive, or reactive for no apparent reason;  creates unnecessary drama, etc.)
     
  5. Cheats or has affair/’s— establishes a sexual, romantic, or emotional relationship with another person; creates a relationship with people who are unavailable (e.g., married or already in a committed romantic relationship).
     
  6. Refuses to resolve conflicts; communicate— refuses to discuss relational problems or resolve, negotiate conflicts; rebuffs sharing his/her internal or external stressors; withhold feelingsthoughts wants or needs.
     
  7. Criticizes or devalues— partner becomes the “enemy”; focuses on partners flaws or imperfections; makes belittling observations (e.g., comments on way partner talks, dresses, eats, looks, or (fill in the blank); finds fault/blames partner for any current or ongoing issues); displays a negative attitude of resentment, revulsion, or dislike; disparaging comments on traits he/she found to be positive in recent past; devalues, despite partners genuine effort of being open, loving, honest, caring, supportive, etc.
     
  8. Pines for past relationship (ex-girlfriend/boyfriend)—   talks or thinks about a past relationship partner with a sense of craving, nostalgia, yearning, or longing for “the long lost love”; may make statements about great qualities of an ex-flame, all the while ignoring/minimizing ex’s imperfections that, in reality, what avoidant focused on in past relationship; convinces self that he/she was “the best partner I ever had”; may also dream of “the one perfect partner” who is “out there somewhere”.


    This defense may seem absurd (it is). Yet, in the Avoidants mind, this defense justifies that “I’m okay and not the problem, my partner (current) is the problem” … to them, a perfect rationale to keep a current partner at arm’s length and make him/her seem unimportant by comparison. It also sends a message that the avoidant partner “actually craves or is capable of intimacy.” Don’t buy it!– dreaming of an ideal partner or ruminating about a past relationship doesn’t mean the avoidant is capable of real intimacy; the truth is in fact, they drive it away; and would do so in any romantic relationship they get in.
     
  9. Flirting with others— frequently leads on, flirts, teases, or plays with other/’s seemingly potential partners or “flings” (with little or no consideration of current partners feelings) – a tactic to send a conscious or unconscious message that “I’m always on the lookout for another, you’re not that important to me”– no doubt, this is an emotionally abusive and callous act to make a partner feel insecure, anxious, and self-doubting. As goes one quote, “Flirting is the Art of Keeping Distance at a Safe Distance.”
     
  10. Emotionally “checks out” of relationship—   spends lots of time away from partner; displays disinterest about partner’s daily life, concerns, thoughts, views, or feelings; rarely initiates conversations and/or cuts them short; indifferent, aloof, and unconcerned attitudes; ignores or minimizes sincere caring and loving acts/behaviors by partner; exhibits a posture such as, “you’re not that important to me”, “I have more important things to do with my time”, or “Don’t bother me.”
     
  11. Keeps Secrets —   withholds important information from partner (e.g., won’t tell how money is spent; doesn’t share what he/she is doing with their time , or persons, they spent time with when away;  conceals important feelings, thoughts, or views); shares information in ways which leaves things unclear, vague, or ambiguous; may keep secrets from close family members, friends, etc. about personal or relational matters. This defense is to maintain an entrenched desire to be independent and self-reliant (all Avoidants have) * Healthy/secure relationships involve inter-dependency:  a balance of independence and dependence. One extreme or the other blocks authentic interaction and intimacy, and leads to painful/unhappy relationships.
     
  12. Focus is outside/away from relationship— creates external distractions; diverts essential time and energy away from relationship (e.g., being excessively preoccupied in work, hobbies, children, or other relationships)outside focus can be some addiction or compulsive behavior (e,g., porn, sex, drugs, alcohol, gambling, gaming, etc.) — All a sure way to disengage and avoid giving a relationship time and nourishment; guaranteeing the obstruction of intimacy.

Attachment Woes Between Anxious and Avoidant Partners

If real intimacy eludes you, find out why and how to get your needs met.

The relationship duet is the dance of intimacy all couples do. One partner moves in, the other backs up. Partners may reverse roles, but always maintain a certain space between them. The unspoken agreement is that the Pursuer chases the Distancer forever, but never catch-up, and that the Distancer keeps running, but never really get away. They’re negotiating the emotional space between them.

We all have needs for both autonomy and intimacy — independence and dependency, yet simultaneously fear both being abandoned (acted by the Pursuer), and being too close (acted by the Distancer). Thus, we have the dilemma of intimacy: How can we be close enough to feel secure and safe, without feeling threatened by too much closeness?

The less room there is to navigate this distance, the more difficult the relationship. There is less anxiety, and hence less demand on the relationship to accommodate a narrow comfort zone.

Origins

Attachment theory has determined that the Pursuer has an anxious attachment style and that the emotionally unavailable partner has an avoidant style. Research suggests that these styles and intimacy problems originate in the relationship between the mother and infant. Babies and toddlers are dependent on the mothers’ empathy and regard for their needs and emotions in order to sense their “selves,” to feel whole. To an infant or toddler, physical or emotional abandonment, whether through neglect, illness, divorce, or death, threatens its existence, because of its dependency on the mother for validation and development of wholeness. Later, as an adult, being separations in intimate relationships are experienced as painful reminders of the earlier loss.

If the mother is ill, depressed, or lacks wholeness and self-esteem, there are no boundaries between her and her child. Rather than responding to her child, she projects, and sees her child only as an extension of herself, as an object to meet her own needs and feelings. She can’t value her child as a separate “self.” The child’s boundaries are violated, and its autonomy, feelings, thoughts, and/or body, are disrespected. Consequently, the child does not develop a healthy sense of self. Instead, he or she discovers that love and approval come with meeting the mother’s needs, and tunes into the mother’s responses and expectations. This also leads to shame and codependency. The child learns to please, perform, or rebel, but in either case gradually tunes out its own thoughts, needs, and feelings.

Later, intimacy may threaten the adult’s sense of autonomy or identity, or he or she may feel invaded, engulfed, controlled, shamed, and rejected. A person may feel both abandoned if his or her feelings and needs are not responded to, and at the same time, engulfed by the needs of his or her partner. In co-dependent relationships where there aren’t two separate, whole people coming together, true intimacy isn’t possible, because the fears of nonexistence and dissolution are strong.

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Coping Strategies

We learned defenses as children in order to feel safe. As adults, these behaviors create problems and result in miscommunication. For instance, if you repress your anger to ensure closeness, you stand a good chance of alienating your partner, unaware that you may be expressing your anger indirectly. If you ignore your partner in order to create distance, you inadvertently devalue him or her, creating another problem.

Change and growth come in discovering your coping strategies and learning new responses and behaviors. Ask yourself: How do I create space in my relationships? How do I protect my autonomy? Do you criticize, blame, emotionally withdraw or use substances (e.g., food, drugs, alcohol) to create space, be left alone, or lessen intense feelings. Or do you avoid closeness or openness by joking around, showing off, giving advice, or by talking about others or impersonal subjects? Do you get overly involved with people outside your partnership (e.g., children, friends, affairs), or activities (e.g., work, sports, gambling, shopping)? These activities dilute the intimacy in the relationship.

On the other hand, ask: How do I create closeness? How do I ensure that I will be loved and not abandoned? Do you try to create closeness by giving up your autonomy, hobbies, friends or interests, by never disagreeing, by being seductive, or by care-taking and pleasing others?

When these behaviors are operating without awareness, you are not coming from a place of choice. When this happens you cannot communicate effectively, nor take into consideration your needs and the needs of your partner. Instead, the relationship is based upon unconscious manipulation of one another and can trigger your partner’s defensive reactions.

Disowned Selves

Relationships can serve as mirrors for unacknowledged or “disowned” parts of ourselves. Often people attract their opposite into their lives to make them whole. The Pursuer feels abandoned, but is unconscious that s/he is also afraid of closeness and relies on the Distancer to achieve enough space for the Pursuer’s needs for autonomy and independence. Similarly, the Distancer feels trapped, but is afraid of abandonment and cannot experience the wish for emotional closeness as his or her own. S/he would feel too vulnerable, so s/he needs a Pursuer to satisfy her or his intimacy needs.

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Distancing is typical of narcissists. In a narcissist’s mind, vulnerability is dangerous and avoided. They often play games to draw you in, but then distance themselves when the relationship gets closer. They may love bomb and then ghost you or become abusive. This is devasting for partners of narcissists.

THE BASICS

The Distancer says of the Pursuer: “She (or He) is too demanding, too dependent, too emotional, or too needy.” And wonders “Can I love? Am I selfish? What I give seems never enough.”

The Pursuer says of the Distancer: “He (or She) is selfish, inconsiderate, inflexible, emotionally withdrawn, has to have things his way.” And wonders “Is there something wrong with me? Aren’t I lovable (pretty, thin, successful, smart) enough?”

They each blame one another and themselves. The Distancer feels guilty for not meeting the other’s needs, and the Pursuer feels angry for not getting his or her own needs met. In reality, the Distancer judges the part of him or herself that is needy, dependent, and vulnerable, and the Pursuer judges the part of him or herself that is selfish and independent, but each sees the part they don’t accept in themselves projected onto the other. Both need to embrace the dependent and independent, feminine, and masculine parts of themselves.

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Change

Without change, partners keep repeating a painful cycle of abandonment. The key to breaking their polarization is by becoming conscious of our needs and feelings, and risking what we fear most. It requires awareness of our coping behaviors and resisting the impulse to withdraw or pursue. It takes tremendous courage not to run when we feel too close, and not to pursue when we feel abandoned, but instead, learn to acknowledge and tolerate the emotions that arise.

This may trigger very early feelings of shame, terror, grief, emptiness, despair, and rage. With the help of a therapist, these feelings can be separated from the present circumstance, in which as adults our survival is no longer at stake. As the feelings are worked through, a less reactive, stronger sense of self develops, one that is not easily threatened or overwhelmed.

Partners can learn from each other and embrace their disowned needs. The Pursuer can emulate the Distancer’s ability to set limits, to take care of his/her own needs, to prioritize, to be less personally involved. The Distancer can learn from the Pursuer’s flexibility, ability to reach out and ask, to feel others, and to blend boundaries.

Each person must take responsibility for him or herself, rather than relying on their partner to take care of his or her needs for closeness or distance. The Pursuer must risk saying “No,” and tolerate the anxiety of separation, saying, “I can’t help you — I need to be alone.” The Distancer must risk saying, “I miss you, I need you.” In the movie, “The Doctor,” William Hurt plays a busy, successful doctor, whose wife feels neglected and abandoned. It’s only when Hurt gets brain cancer that he telling his wife that he needs her.

Each must learn to ask for togetherness and space directly, without feeling guilty, or controlling or blaming each other. When each is able to say, “Yes” and say “No,” without the fear of being overwhelmed by intimacy or abandoned by separation, they won’t trigger each other’s defensive reaction.

When they’re conscious of their individual needs, they can acknowledge their partner’s needs with respect. They can empathetically hear each other, and wait to have their need satisfied: “I understand and hear your need and its importance to you, but this is also important to me — can we find a way to compromise?” As couples do this, they will have more authentic intimacy, instead of being locked into an unconscious duet of approach-avoidance.

Relationships can be an exciting path to the unknown. Real intimacy requires courage — courage to open yourself up and to experience pain. The rewards are worth it, because it is a path of self-discovery and ultimately the divine as we open ourselves to one another. Just as the transition from dependence to autonomy can be frightening, so is the transition from independence to interdependence. Yet, it is an essential process in order to heal our wounds, become free of our past conditioning, and to allow us to truly live in the present. Get Conquering Shame and Codependency to overcome early conditioning that stands in the way of intimacy.