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What Does It Mean to Be Love Avoidant?

love avoidant man walking on desert

Do you know someone who is love avoidant? And by that, we don’t mean someone who’s playing hard-to-get. Love avoidance is an actual term within the mental health and addiction community. If someone is love avoidant, it means they avoid and fear intimacy with others.  While love avoidance can be a common characteristic behind people struggling with sex or porn addiction, the causes of this fear of intimacy are much deeper. 

The Love Avoidant Attachment Style

British psychologist John Bowlby is considered the founder of Attachment Theory, which advocates that early bonds in childhood impact your ability to function later in life, shares Verywellmind.com. His Attachment Theory, along with the additional pioneering work of American psychologist Mary Ainsworth, led to the development of the four attachment styles:

 

Of the four, those who are love avoidant are commonly associated with the Avoidant or Dismissive attachment styles. This love avoidant attachment style means they have a tendency to keep any potential partners at arm’s length. Deep down, they may desire intimacy, but the thought of being close with someone creates fear of getting hurt. Consequently, love avoidant people struggle to trust others and ultimately avoid intimate relationships. 

On the other hand, a love avoidant attachment style may also lead people to view relationships as unreliable or even dangerous. This may drive people to develop a strong independence so they don’t have to rely on others—even viewing dependence on people as a sign of weakness. 

As a result of their attachment desires, love avoidant people are more susceptible to compulsive behaviors like addictions. Or, if they do pursue a relationship with someone else, they’re often attracted to people who are fixated on love, commonly known as love addicts.

Trauma and Love Avoidance

So what is the source of this love avoidant attachment style? Trauma. This trauma often stems from adverse childhood experiences, especially with caregivers. The way your parents responded to your needs (or didn’t) often ultimately impacts the way you relate to friends, romantic partners, and your own children as an adult. 

If your parents or caregivers didn’t support your expressed needs or even disrespected your boundaries, you’re more likely to develop a love avoidant attachment style as an adult due to the trauma these experiences caused in childhood. This childhood trauma will manifest itself by leading you to believe you can’t rely on others due to an intense fear of disappointment, turning into full-blown love avoidance.

Love Avoidant Behavior in Intimate Relationships 

Developing an intimate relationship with a love avoidant person is a real challenge. In the midst of your relationship with someone struggling with love avoidance, you may feel gaslighted, lonely, or shut out. Your partner may even act like they don’t need you or anyone else at times. A love avoidant person will often protect themselves by displaying a variety of common behaviors, including:

Avoidance of Physical Contact

Healthy couples will engage in a variety of physical contact and affection, from a simple hug and holding hands in the park to touching their legs under the table, kissing, and having sex. Yet love avoidant people will often struggle to express physical affection outside of sex. A simple hug may even turn them off, seeing physical affection as a threat to their autonomy and independence. Consequently, they may avoid unnecessary physical contact whenever possible, or they may only be interested in casual sex or one-night stands.

Fears of Commitment and Dependence

Love avoidant people can participate in monogamous relationships for long periods of time, even years. Even so, they may prefer to avoid any labeling of their relationship with you. Such labels would indicate commitment, which would require vulnerability and dependence—things they fear most. As a result, your partner may withhold feelings from you and avoid circumstances that would deepen your bond together, such as a romantic vacation or weekend getaway. 

Love avoidant partners may also want to take control of the relationship out of fear of being dependent on you. After all, giving up control would mean losing their independence, which they see as their way of life. Because of their overwhelming desire for independence, your partner may refuse to verbalize their needs and feelings so they can maintain their feeling of control. Yet at the same time, they will expect you and others to meet their unexpressed needs.

Secrecy

It’s common for your love avoidant partner to keep secrets from you, such as refusing to disclose what they’ve been up to when they need to take time away. In fact, a love avoidant person may even live a totally separate life from you, pursuing secret hobbies, friendships, and addictions. They may also prefer to make decisions apart from you, hide money away, and prefer not to talk about complex topics together with you. 

Escapism

Because love avoidant partners fear intimacy, they will seek out the intensity of intimacy that they desire in other things that give them a sense of control. This usually means pursuing other interests and hobbies that end up isolating you as their partner. Often they’ll turn to addictions, such as porn or sex, gambling, alcohol, or even workaholism to keep them busy and block any feelings of intimacy. Not only does this desire for escapism lead to unfortunate consequences of addiction, it can also sabotage their close relationships with you and others. 

Love Avoidant Distancing Techniques

Are you unsure whether your partner may be struggling with love avoidance? If so, there are some common love avoidant distancing techniques to look out for in your partner, including:

  • Refusing to say “I love you” or express intimacy in other ways
  • Avoiding conflict and communication, choosing to withhold feelings instead
  • Remaining uninterested in making an official commitment in the relationship
  • Criticizing you or choosing to make you the enemy
  • Flirting with others to show that they’re always considering their next partner
  • Having an affair so they can remain physically and emotionally independent

Some Final Advice for Those in a Love Avoidant Relationship

If you’re in an intimate relationship with someone who is love avoidant, you may deal with regular challenges—and even feel unloved or abandoned at times. Your partner may also need professional therapy to understand their love avoidance struggles. With that said, it’s important to remember to not take it personally when your partner exhibits love avoidant behaviors. After all, it is their response to past trauma and often has nothing to do with you. 

As your partner seeks help, it’s necessary to give them space to process things in recovery. In the meantime, you can be intentional about reinforcing their positive behaviors in the relationship and be mindful about expressing your needs in a tactful way that doesn’t lead your partner to withdraw. 

Overcome Love Avoidance at Integrative Life Center

If you or someone you know is struggling with love avoidance, know that there is hope. At Integrative Life Center in Nashville, TN, we provide comprehensive support and therapy for love avoidants, including sex addiction treatment, porn addiction treatment, and fear of intimacy treatment. By getting the help you need, you can heal the trauma that’s gotten in the way of your desires for intimacy and learn to build close, healthy relationships. To learn more, contact our team today

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