[5 of 5] 3 Ways Anxious And Avoidant Partners Push Each Other Away
Updated: May 31, 2019
Today, is day 5 of our 5 part video series in which we are exploring the phenomenon of the anxious-avoidant trap; a situation in which lovers find themselves caught in a push-pull dynamic that typically devolves into unhealthy patterns of relating, and dissatisfaction in the relationship.
If you missed any of the videos in this series, see the full listing below:
[1 of 5] The Anxious Avoidant Trap: A Case of Like Sees Like: https://youtu.be/i2Pf3U1W-ZQ
[2 of 5] 6 Signs of the Anxious-Avoidant Trap: https://youtu.be/Kw0YMwKb6xo
[3 of 5] 4 Neurochemicals That Feed the Anxious-Avoidant Trap: https://youtu.be/Hf9DtzrGw7M
[4 of 5] The Role of Fantasy in the Anxious-Avoidant Trap: https://youtu.be/5iwwgh8XmP8
[5 of 5] 3 Ways Anxious And Avoidant Partners Push Each Other Away: https://youtu.be/vBojJVwAykc
Below is our Live Q&A Series to address all of the questions that came up from our followers throughout this series:
[LIVE Q&A] [1 of 5] "A Case of Like Sees Like..." https://youtu.be/B84mWhzDtTc
[LIVE Q&A] [2 of 5] "6 Signs of the Anxious-Avoidant Trap..." https://youtu.be/cOx9NXBalio
[LIVE Q & A] [3 of 5] "4 Neurochemicals that Feed the Anxious-Avoidant Trap..." https://youtu.be/6FlhtHXmpxY
[LIVE Q &A] [4 of 5] The Role Of Fantasy in the Anxious Avoidant Trap: https://youtu.be/x9ZF7NNlrhs
[LIVE Q&A] [5 of 5] 3 Ways Anxious and Avoidant Partners Push Each Other Away: https://youtu.be/eroD8H4EEtA
So, hopefully, now that you know six signs of the anxious avoidant trap, you are starting to develop some insight and context for your struggles in love.
With an understanding of the neurochemicals involved, perhaps you are starting to understand how embodied attachment issues may be.
And now you better understand the psychological impact of fantasy and idealization as a mental and emotional coping mechanism.
In our video today, we will explore how our behaviors and communications can both magnetize and repel one another, in the anxious-avoidant trap.
Now, to my mind there are 3 ways anxious and avoidant partners tend to repel each other, and those are…
We say what we want to hear.
We ask what we want to be asked.
We give what we want to receive.
The problem is when we don’t get back in equal measure what we put out, we feel put out, and slip into black and white thinking that illustrates our partners as saintly, or villainous, before considering that other people may have a different perspective and worldview.
What if what you want to hear, isn’t what someone else feels compelled to express?
Sometimes a partner doesn’t ask questions, because they would view it as invasive. At other times, on the flip side of that coin, sometimes a partner feels unloved because you don’t ask questions.
Sometimes being over-giving of love and attention can be received as an attempt at being forced into obligatory reciprocation. On the other hand, sometimes, giving too much space, feels more like neglect and abandonment to a partner.
So who’s feelings gets prioritized? What is the right and wrong way to be in a relationship? What are we allowed to need and not need in a relationship? How much do I give up what I want because it conflicts with what my partner wants, in service of the relationship? When do I prioritize the relationship, and when do I prioritize myself?
Before we attempt an answer to these questions, let’s examine the question a little further, and see how this plays out in real time.
If what you say, ask, and give is offered to someone who does not share your same values and world view--and your expectation is for those things to be reciprocated within the context of YOUR experience-- it hardly ever feels as if your efforts are acknowledged or well received.
Many insecurely attached clients have come to me, sharing the ways in which they express themselves to their partners. Particularly in the context of a breakup, potential breakup, or difficult point in the relationship.
But they seem to have little understanding of how those communications would be received from the perspective of their partner.
Here is one example...
“I told her I would be there for her no matter what. If she needed some time to herself, she can have it. I just wanted her to know I would be a secure base for her, and always be there.” (Note this is exactly what this person wishes their love object would declare to them.)
“I know what she’s been through and she is so hard on herself. She thinks she doesn’t deserve me. But if I could prove to her that I love her unconditionally, then she’ll eventually realize that she’ll never find someone who loves her as much as I do, and she’ll come around.”
(Note how fantasy is being used as an escape and wish fulfillment here. There is also a sense of condescension and egocentricity; this person assumes they know the ultimate “truth” of their partner’s experience well enough to make predictions about what they will do, and how they will behave. They also assume they can manipulate those outcomes through self sacrifice, which has an edge of grandiosity. This kind of emotional thinking and reasoning, developmentally speaking, is reminiscent of early childhood, when our attachment experiences and love maps [or “internal working models”] are being constructed.)
Setting aside the issue that this person seems to express no regard for “the self” (their essential sense of personage), and what the self needs in this scenario, this “unconditional” approach is not going to appeal to an avoidant partner with worthiness issues.
This is going to prove to that partner, over and over again, that you ARE too good for them, and you are FAR better off without them.
And you probably are.
Not because this partner is truly undeserving of you, but because you both are working with internal conflicts that will preemptively, and perpetually, trigger one another, unless you are in therapy and actively exploring it.
Because, remember, at the core of insecure attachment, is a sense of needing to earn love. And in this scenario, BOTH parties are operating under that principle.
The avoidant partner cannot be with this partner, because the anxious partner makes it too easy, there is nothing to “work” for (they might also be feeling overwhelmed and smothered).
The avoidant partner could appreciate the sentimentality, and perhaps “breadcrumb” you enough to solidify your role as a secure base, but if they are not actively in process with examining their own psychological makeup, it is unlikely they’ll ever really give you the romantic passion and intimacy you want.
Because you have basically turned yourself into a surrogate parent.
And, yes, most of the time, kids love their parents.
But eventually they grow up to leave their parents and find new love objects that they can have sex with and not feel guilty or incestuous about it.
And the anxious partner, keeps chasing the avoidant partner because they ARE making them “work” for it.
If, however, the anxious partner dramatically establishes a boundary--something the avoidant now has to “work” at dismantling-- this may spark the avoidant’s interest again, because it either poses that missing challenge, and/or because they are aroused by the unexpected burst of self advocacy, and are drawn to that sense of self-alignment that is being attempted. And so, the switch is flipped.
If they do come back, and the anxious person drops the boundary again...
Another game of cat and mouse ensues.
And so does the cycle of intermittent reinforcement and neurochemical addiction we discussed in our 3rd video.
Now, let’s look at it from the perspective of the other partner...
“He’s so good compared to me. He’s solid and caring and consistent and so selflessly giving. I know if I needed anything, he’d be right there. But sometimes--I feel so ungrateful for saying this--but... it gets kind of annoying...
“Like, he’s always hovering over me, trying to anticipate my every move, and I can’t have a private thought or moment alone, without him wondering if there’s something wrong in the relationship, or if he did something to piss me off. Well, no, I wasn’t pissed off until he asked me if he did something to piss me off!”
(Note, this person is illustrating their partner as being entirely wholesome and “good,” as if in comparison to their own ungrateful “badness,” setting the stage for an irreparable conflict that justifies the need for distancing and deactivating strategies. While the question might be annoying, her response is sharp and perhaps disproportionately large to the “offense.” We also get a sense that she makes no comment of her mounting irritation, until she’s already passed the boiling point of no return.)
“And then he looks at me with those eyes and I know I have hurt him so deeply, just by expressing a need for space. I feel like I have to wear kid gloves around him, and to be honest, it turns me off, and even makes me want to be mean to him, sometimes. He needs someone that can be totally available for him in the way that he wants. I know I will miss him, but it’ll just be a huge mess if I let this go any longer. At least at this point, we might still be able to be friends.”
(Here, she interprets his big eyes and hurt response as rejecting her need for space, when it may have been more of a reaction to the intensity with which she expressed her anger over a question that probably seemed benign to him. And because of her own inability to vocalize and establish her boundaries all along the way, she has robbed her partner of the chance to participate in the discussion of how she’s feeling. This circumvents the potential for a genuine growth of intimacy--which she would likely experience as threatening. So, she has allowed her irritated, “turned off” frustration and energy to accumulate over time, so that now she can end the relationship with the justification that this was the only way to relieve the tension, and ultimately “do right” by her saintly, kind-hearted partner.)
Now, I typically hate sharing this bit of insight, because a lot of people then take this as advice and say things they don’t really mean to a partner- just to keep a thing going that’s barely running on fumes.
The answer is not to dig around for behavioral tips and tricks to manipulate your partner or your conditions to match your fantasy of what you wish it would be. The answer, to my mind, is to find a place of self sovereignty and contentment within your emotional well being, and from that place, make discerning decisions with regards to partners, that are not compelled by compulsivity, or feeling pushed around by what you ultimately can’t control in your partner or your environment.
Truly this comes down to understanding the difference between being reliant on your partners to make you happy within yourself (which is a form of conditional love), and being in command of your own emotional life through the exploration and reinforcement of personal boundaries.
Because, remember, no matter how poorly you think your partners have behaved, the liberating truth is that the one common denominator among all of your relationships, is you. And I refer to this as a ‘liberating’ truth, because that means you can do something about it. Actually, you are the only person that can do something about it.
So what can you do?
Vulnerability to toxicity in your relationships is measured by the degree to which you experience a splitting of the mind-body-spirit connection.
To truly accomplished a sense of security within one self, and in the context of a relationship, one must take an inner journey to recover the parts of the emotional body that have been buried, arrested, or split off and stored in the warehouse of your physical body. The physical body, is the radio dial for your essential self, or your inner being. Some might refer to it as your soul, your higher Self, or your unconscious self.
When you are upset or feeling a negative emotion, it's because your thoughts are not in alignment with the truest essence and opinion of your inner being, and your feelings are intended to draw your attention to that misalignment.
It’s like you think a shitty thought, and your inner being says, “Whao buddy, that’s a shitty thought. So I am going to make you feel super shitty, so you see just how shitty that thought really is.”
But then we misinterpret the shitty feeling that our shitty thinking is true. And make ourselves feel even shittier!
And so, let’s go back to those original questions we raised:So who’s feelings gets prioritized? What is the right and wrong way to be in a relationship? What are we allowed to need and not need in a relationship? How much do I give up what I want because it conflicts with what my partner wants, in service of the relationship? When do I prioritize the relationship, and when do I prioritize myself?
To my mind, the answer is there are no blanket answers to these questions. And certainly no static ones. If there were, then relationships would never be able to change, and of course we know relationships and partners change all the time.
Esther Perel says that most poeple in the western world will have three major long term relationships in their adulthood, and sometimes they do them with the same person. But I do have a metphor to help you understand how to find your own answers for yourself. Let’s say you have a lock and the lock represents the ideal relationship; a relationship that stimulates you in all the ways that you want because it arouses so many layers of you, your many aspects of self.
And you want to get into that relationship.
You want that relationship so bad.
To unlock it.
And over here we’ve got all these keys. Hundreds of keys.
And each key represents a different aspect of yourself.
But only one key represents all aspects of yourself. Or at least most of them.Now you have no idea which key it is. They all look the same to you. And that’s because you have blinders on and you don’t even know it.
So over and over again you keep trying to jam a random key in the lock with little or no success.
In fact, you don’t even know if its the same key you keep choosing over and over again, because you can’t just tell the difference anyway.
And, of course, most of the time, if not all the time, this doesn’t work.
So then you tell yourself it’s the lock’s fault and it must mean there is no possible way to open it. And slump into limiting beliefs about love and your relationship to it.
This is when you chase after a relationship for the sake of having a relationship, because you don’t feel whole without one.
Or what happens when you give up and walk away too quickly after blindly trying only one or two keys.
So what is the solution?
Hire a therapist to explain the lock to you? Help you communicate with the lock better?Find a coach to give you tips and tricks on what text messages to send the lock, to get it to open up for you?
But What if, instead, just maybe...you tried Taking off the blinders.
Stop blaming the lock, and Start actually looking at, sorting, and labeling your damn keys so that you can make an informed decision the next time a lock presents itself to you. Now each time you try a key in a new and intentional way, it may start to jiggle a little bit more, and once you’ve tried enough keys, you’ll know which one is the perfect fit; the one that represents the greatest sum of all your parts.
But the only way to get that lock open is to sort through those keys first. And remember, those keys each represent an aspect of yourself. A self that you have long been blind to, for variety of reasons.
And accessing those parts of yourself now feels so difficult because we are essentially trained out of knowing how to do that...even though, as children, this truly came naturally to us.
Now, you might have a hard time believing that key is actually there. You’ve tried so many times, and each time, you feel like you failed.
Why should you believe taking off the blinders would make any difference?
Because of whatever pain brought you here, to this call.
That pain is like a dog barking at a sound so high pitched, you can’t hear it. But do you assume the dog is faking it? Do you say, “stop barking you big faker!”
You accept that there IS something there, there is a noise crying out for attention, a deep pain that wants to be acknowledged, and maybe it's something you can’t perceive so easily, in this moment…
But you know its there because there IS evidence of its power and its effect, as exemplified by the barking dog.
Or you might say that barking dog looks like anxiety attacks.
Or a depression you can’t shake.
Or finding unhealthy partnerships and suffering heartbreak, over and over again.
I believe when we encounter these kinds of catalytic events, it is your soul, your essence, your true self, your inner being--or your unconscious self, if you prefer, forcing you to recognize the mind-body-spirit split that has occurred; and this is in fact a ripe opportunity for integration.
But once you start sorting through your keys, as the relationship evolves and a new key is selected, you are better able to make educated and sovereign decisions about where your sense of self is willing to compromise, and where it must stand firm in self definition, all in service of the relationship. The decision to compromise is not an abandnment of self, if you have weighed the decision against what the self truly values and desires. But so many compromise themselves without knowing that. With a complete sacrifice and abandonment of self because they believe that is what is loving and generous in a relationship. Not so.
True compromise comes from a deep knowing of self, because you do not fear, in that moment, that you will be swept away with it. One compromise does not mean you will always compromise, because each moment of contrast in a life made up of billions of moments, is unique and special unto itself.
Want to learn more about attachment?
What if there were a simple solution to your most painful relationship problems? Gain insight into your relationship problems in 4 questions, when you take this attachment styles quiz!
Take the Quiz: http://bit.ly/4LuvStyles
Briana MacWilliam ATR-BC, LCAT
Licensed and Board Certified Creative Arts Therapist
Author, Educator and Reiki Practitioner