For some people, relationships signify obligation instead of love. These people who fear being engulfed are called Love Avoidants. Whether you are in a relationship with a Love Avoidant or are one yourself, it is a lonely place to be. These people never allow themselves to experience the full joy of giving or receiving love. The roots of this unhealthy relationship pattern sprout from childhood experiences which lead to fears of engulfment. They aren’t caused by the current relationship; the pattern will be replicated in any intimate relationship.

How It All Began
The Love Avoidant’s experience of relationship in childhood was often one of engulfment. He was a child who felt the need to take care of one parent or fill in for another, such as in single parent families or families where one parent was alcoholic or depressed. Instead of being a carefree child, he often had to play the part of a little adult. Instead of being nurtured, he became the nurturer compelled to fulfill the parent’s needs. His template for relationships is that he will be smothered, manipulated or drained.

Who is a Love Avoidant?
A Love Avoidant is the commitment phobic who refuses to take the relationship beyond a certain level. He is the husband who habitually goes out with the guys instead of making it a priority to come home to his wife. She may be the woman who doesn’t make time for her husband because she’s too busy with the kids. He is the philanderer who never stays with just one person for long.

A Love Avoidant:
has lots of walls. The walls may be ones of anger, silence, superficial pleasantness or seductiveness. They are all impenetrable and part of an attempt to avoid being smothered or truly known.
will do anything to avoid being controlled; he answers to no one.
gets his intensity outside of the relationship, instead of from the relationship.
spends lots of time away from you or is distracted when around you, leaving no space for intimacy.
will not invite vulnerability by appearing to want or need anything from you.
may begin the relationship as a caretaker, just as he played the rescuer in childhood.
often gravitates to love addicts who are needy and suffocating, reinforcing his childhood message. Watch www.wqmag.com for an upcoming article on love addiction.
will likely have difficulty giving and receiving this holiday season. He may withdraw or find reasons to avoid the intimate contact of family gatherings.

A Love Avoidant often comes on strong in the beginning of relationship. He wants love; we all do. But, the part of him that is deathly afraid kicks in. With professional help and a lot of diligence, this pattern which keeps the Love Avoidant lonely can be changed. By stopping the intensity outside the relationship and replacing walls with boundaries, he can allow himself to experience the joys of being truly intimate.

Loving a Love Avoidant is painful; he has an arsenal of distancing techniques. It’s tempting to try to reach that unreachable part of him and heal him, but you can’t. Clinging to him makes for a lonely life for both of you.

by Amy Warren, LMHC
Amy is a Psychotherapist and Master Certified Relational Life Therapist with a private practice in Sarasota.

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