Stop Avoidant Attachment from Disturbing Your Relationship

You’ve read all those articles about how to resolve conflicts, right? How to address money and sex and childrearing and housekeeping tasks. Don’t scold, shame, or speak with contempt or defensiveness says expert, John Gottman, Ph.D.

Okay. You have all that down. But why does it seem impossible to understand other people’s reasoning? Why do they decide something is correct and that’s it? No discussion. Nothing can change.

Understanding your lover’s attachment style can help you understand why conversations go the way they do. And how to change how they go. You can do this with your friends, too.

Elizabeth Wedington and I created a Practice presented in our book, Stop Depriving Yourself: A Self Care Practice to Remove the Obstacles to Living Life Fully available October, 2018. It includes a 10 step guide at the end so that you can engage in the Practice on your own – often preferred by those liking the avoidant style. See my post, “Stop Depriving Yourself,” to read the Introduction.

Looking at some avoidant attachment behaviors can help with this.

  1. SILENCE   You want to bring up an important subject over dinner. You need his agreement before you buy something expensive for the house.

As you start eating, you mention the purchase you are considering. You know he may not agree because you have spent quite a bit more lately than he wanted.

He goes on eating as if you hadn’t said anything.

You say it again. You want to spend hundreds of dollars on something for the house.

Again, nothing.

Your usual reaction is rage. How could he just sit there and not even acknowledge that you said something? Who does he think he is, being so rude? So thoughtless?

If you know that he is a number 8 out of 10 on the Avoidant Attachment scale, you would have expected this. Avoiders need to keep themselves separate from others. And separate from their emotions. This was one of his ways.

  1. STARTING A FIGHT   Couples seem really involved when they fight. They seem attached. But in truth, they are making up a sense of being bonded that isn’t real attachment. (it’s called trauma bonding) They push themselves away from each other, and return to their corners.

Anxious attachers can fight for this reason, too. They may create a sense of closeness they depend on.

Have you been having a nice time with your person, only to suddenly notice that you’re arguing over something one more time? It’s never been resolved, and it won’t now. Perhaps he is accusatory, and you defend yourself. You have that odd sense that these words have come out of your mouth countless times before, and you are confused about why they are one more time.

Or you suddenly feel a flash of anger, and lash out, even though he has done nothing to warrant it. Everything was nice, yet you got annoyed. You could only assume there was a reason, but what was it?

Dr. Gottman wrote about how to resolve conflicts, but if the need for them is based on a response to avoidant attachment, skills in resolving conflicts are useless. Avoiders need conflicts to affirm closeness when they are uncomfortable with closeness.

Checking to see what you were feeling right before you got mad could help you learn how much of it was based on a need for distance, or a need to establish closeness in an old way.

  1. ADDICTION   Work addiction, drug, alcohol, sex addiction,

If you are attached to your addictive substance or behavior, you don’t have to think much about the person you are with. Or why you aren’t with anyone. When feeling insecure or lonely or alienated, there it is, waiting for you. The drug, the drink, the porn, the food.

Of course your family members may be upset if you use too much by their definition. But more of the drug can eliminate any concern. You no longer care.

This is an Avoidant Attachment style of handling both internal and external conflicts. Not only can you avoid the people who are difficult to be with, you can also avoid your internal processing. An entire avoidant style includes way more than just your person, your family, your co-workers. You can avoid feelings, thoughts, and unhappiness.

  1. NOT HAVING SEX   Avoiding the intimacy that sex can bring. Instead using porn and or fantasy to arouse oneself. Safer than feeling vulnerable with a lover.

Some avoiders don’t have sex with a partner because it is too difficult to remain avoidant. These people find it difficult to remain detached during sex, another avoider-method of staying far down the Avoidant Attachment continuum. This is the saddest outcome of this style.

The growing use of porn as a way to stimulate sexual feelings, and solitary masturbation, are signs of the extensiveness of the avoidant style.

I wrote about the healing of sexuality in Reclaiming Healthy Sexual Energy: Revised, and about how this interacts with the healing of attachment styles in Create New Love.

  1. INTELLECTUALISM   Using intellectual defenses, explaining things, rationalizing, reading extensively, and so on.

You know what it is like when someone uses bigger words than necessary, refers to literature or politics in ways you can’t grasp, and puts together sentences that are impossible to understand? Who acts like they must be so much smarter than you are? Who explains things to you that don’t really make sense, but you are expected to believe and accept?

These are examples of intellectual defenses. I had been a therapist for a while before I realized that seemingly smart, educated people who broadcast this way with their speech were really trying to stay a long way from intimacy.

Feeling superior and showing it are effective ways to get people to back away. If they stay, they will look up to you, which is also distancing and not intimate.

This kind of distancing may not create much conflict because few people understand the function. Instead, they accept that they are somehow remiss in not understanding the “smart” one. When conflicts are created, they are difficult to address unless the couple understands how the smart one defends himself.

And there’s more!

1.   How Do You Attach to People and to Life?

2.   Sexual Symptoms of Avoidant Attachment

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