Intimacy Avoidance

What is Intimacy Avoidance?

         
                                                                                Is My Partner Intimacy Avoidant?

                                                                                Am I Intimacy Avoidant?

Intimacy Avoidance is the withholding of intimacy from one's spouse or partner. It is often unknown or unseen by the avoidant person (denial), yet causes significant emotional pain and difficulty for his or her loved ones. 

 

To the extent that an avoidant person does nothing about it, even when it is made known to them, does not necessarily mean that they are actively and deliberately withholding intimacy.

 

As we define it here at CORE, Intimacy Avoidance is somewhat different from intimacy anorexia (or “IA,” as popularly defined by Dr. Doug Weiss as the “active withholding of emotional, spiritual and sexual intimacy from a spouse or partner”) By Dr. Weiss' definition, intimacy anorexia is known by the anorexic—and yet they continue the behavior in spite of the consequences. 

 

In our experience, intimacy anorexia is part of an Intimacy Avoidance continuum, positioned at one end of that spectrum. Intimacy Avoidance and Intimacy Anorexia can overlap and can be hard to differentiate. This difficulty happens when an avoidant individual has developed a conscious understanding of what they are doing (no more denial) but either do not, or cannot, change the behavior and continue to cause cycles of pain for their spouse or partner AND for themselves.

 

Regardless of its position on the continuum, Intimacy Avoidance in any degree is an excruciatingly painful interpersonal dynamic, causing relational trauma for both parties within a relationship.

What are some common causes of Intimacy Avoidance?

• Emotional enmeshment with the opposite-gender parent

• No coping skills to handle difficult emotions

• Not allowed to “feel” as a child, due to messages like “don’t cry” or “grow up”

• Negative childhood experiences (trauma) 

• Early loss (major loss prior to 18, especially prior to 12 years old)

• Parents or family who were/are emotionally avoidant or cold

• Feeling that “I don’t deserve to be loved or nurtured"

• Self punishment, without recognizing equal-or-greater consequences to others

• Attachment to negative self-viewpoints

• Perpetuating reality: avoiding intimacy, not receiving it, then believing that reality confirms unworthiness

 

 

How Does it Feel?

If Intimacy Avoidance is showing up in your relationship and you are on the receiving end of it, it can feel like a divide across which you can’t reach. That divide seems to keep getting wider and wider, no matter what you do. No doubt, you’ve tried and tried and changed tactics and done whatever you thought might make your partner want to lean TOWARD you rather than AWAY from you. You’ve likely tried to please your partner one day, then instead tried to distance yourself so that your partner might know what it feels like. Perhaps you’ve reached “The Indifference Zone,” or perhaps you are edging along it. Perhaps those edges are fraying, yet you're trying desperately to grasp whatever scraps of hope your partner will give you—either real or imagined. 

 

Here’s a short glimpse of feelings expressed by partners of intimacy avoidant loved ones:

 

• Why isn’t he the person I thought the was?

• Why doesn’t he want what he told me he wanted?

• How did I get stuck in this seemingly impenetrable morass of emotions that I can’t seem to see my way through?

• Are my dreams of my marriage or partnership gone? 

• Were my dreams ever real? 

• Was what my partner presented ever real? 

• Did my partner get what she wanted, then just abandoned me and my wants and needs?

• I’m mad! I’m frustrated! I just want to shake him!!! 

• Am I that unlovable? 

• What did I do to deserve this?

• If only I had done this or that, maybe things would be different. 

• Where did I go wrong? 

• What if she leaves me? 

• Should I just walk away and try to find love and connection somewhere else? 

• I am such a mess!

 

Truthfully, these thoughts and feelings are only a FEW of the gamut you may have experienced

IS MY PARTNER INTIMACY AVOIDANT?

The Indifference Zone

If you’re reading this, there’s probably one thought you don’t often have: indifference.

 

You may well have been to the edges of indifference, and those edges may well be frayed. But full indifference? Deep at the bottom of the well? Not yet. You’re here, reading this page, so you haven’t actually given up. You might have declared—even screamed at the top of your lungs—“I don’t deserve this and I’M DONE!” 

 

You’re right: You DON’T deserve this. And it’s good that you’re so angry about it, because that means you are DONE acquiescing to your partner’s emotional unavailability. But something in you likely isn’t done with the partnership yet. Anger is still evidence of caring, while indifference lacks emotional connection (a state of uncaring). You likely still love your partner, even if you’re fed up with how things are. You still want what seems increasingly unavailable to you. You have hope, despite so often being in despair and feeling hopeless, that this person you love can return love in a way that is connected, vulnerable and invested in your relationship. 

 

The good new is, there is still cause for hope...

 

Cause for Hope

Here’s where that good news is anchored: Your partner is aware of these problems, at least to a moderate extent. Your partner, under layers of fear, at his most human depth, really wants connection with you too—even if it only crosses his mind when you bring it up. Even though he might be in denial about why he is blocking himself off from intimacy, thinking or saying things like, “I just don’t need that” or “It’s too much to deal with”—what he really means is, “The emotions it brings with it are too much to deal with and I have no idea how to stay present with them because I think they can or might hurt very badly. So, I am going to avoid them.” He is willing to avoid those emotions at all costs, forcing your life and relationship into a pretty miserable state of existence. This is SO FAR from what it can be. It’s lightyears away from what each of you deserve for it to be.

 

I know that doesn’t sound like cause for hope. But here’s why it is:

 

Our true selves—the truth about who we are—wants to be known. And the truth of who each of you really is (the person you fell in love with) was clearly represented in the time when you were courting. That is when we present the best of us and when our partner-to-be sees us for all the potential we have. The person we present is, generally, our true self—who we aspire to be, who we are in our heart. The problem is that it isn’t yet how we truly are in the world. Partnership and marriage (plans to mate for life) are actually a wonderful design to help us grow from who we are in the world into who we really are within—watching those two separate beings become one in “we-ness." As partners, we have that ability, through love and understanding and acceptance of our loved ones at each step they take toward their whole, true, core selves. This is best (and most quickly) done through vulnerability and connection.

 

Intimacy is scary. Like all growth, it creates anxiety. The opposite of intimacy and connection is depression, which can be described as “stuckness.” This stickiness presents us with a choice: stay stuck, or grow. Once your partner understands that in his or her heart, your partner can make the choice to grow, even in the face of fear. They simply need help (sometimes lots of help) getting there.

What Are the Signs of Intimacy Avoidance?


Take a look at the following list. If you answer yes to five or more, the likelihood is that you are partnered with someone who is Intimacy Avoidant.

  • I have a  distinct feeling of lack of connection with, or a feeling of distance from, my partner.

  • My partner has a seeming inability or unwillingness to share feelings.

  • I am being blamed for marital issues.

  • I feel disregarded.

  • I don’t feel that my partner/spouse pays attention to me.

  • My spouse/partner withholds just about everything meaningful; feelings, connection, sex (connected, intimate sex), love, discussion/talking, spiritual connection.

  • My spouse seems angry or edgy/sharp the majority of the time.

  • My spouse is often critical of me.

  • My spouse/partner is always “About Me.” Selfish, narcissistic; everything being considered surrounds how he/she will be impacted. He/she demands my ear, my shoulder, my attention, my love, my nurturing, but isn’t there for me in the same way.

  • When we do have an issue, I am offered solutions but I don’t feel genuinely heard.

  • My spouse/partner is not able to be present. His/her mind or attention wanders; he/she is always thinking of a response to what I’m saying instead of listening to what I’m actually saying.

  • It feels like any emotional discussion cannot end fast enough for my spouse/partner.

  • It seems like I can’t do anything right in his/her eyes.

  • No matter what I do, the outcome is predictably negative.

  • My spouse/partner controls the money and I feel like I’m in the dark about it.

  • I don’t feel married… maybe just good friends or companions.

  • My spouse/partner is always busy, travels more extensively than necessary for work, often comes home or leaves earlier than necessary.

  • I have a feeling that we are living two separate lives.

  • My partner/spouse has a “just get over it” attitude toward me and my concerns.

  • My partner watches a lot of pornography.

  • My partner seems to prefer to masturbate than to have sex with me.

  • My partner has had emotional or sexual affairs (or other forms of sexual out) outside of our marriage

  • My partner seems to be enmeshed with the opposite sex parent (mom/son, father/daughter). This is not a “good” relationship, but one which shows strong signs of dependence from and influence over your spouse/partner.

  • He/she just doesn’t “get me.”

  • Uses pot or alcohol to level out, “chill,” de-stress.

  • My partner is controlling.

  • My partner is needy (but it’s all take, no give).

  • Seeks pity from anyone and everyone.

  • My partner makes me question my reality.

  • My partner/spouse seems to invite surrounding chaos into his/her life or our shared life.

  • He/she “checks out” with TV, movies, gaming, internet or other mindless activities.

  • He/she like things to be concrete, black & white, logical.

  • Combined with the above, trusts only what they can see or is backed up by evidence.

  • Over reliance on logic—especially when it comes to emotional problems.

  • Has to “understand/analyze” everything.

  • Accepts nothing on faith. (“Show me.”) 

 
 

AM I INTIMACY AVOIDANT?

 

If your partner is complaining that you’re never around and that you’re not present or distant when you ARE around, or that you never do anything together, then there is a problem. Those things in themselves don’t necessarily add up to Intimacy Avoidance, but they are some of the most basic indicators. 

 

You may feel connected. You may feel that there is no problem—for you. You may wonder why your partner is pushing for something that you have no idea what it is, what to do about it, or if it really matters. You may feel that your partner is needy. You may be frustrated and even dread coming home. What your partner is demanding of you feels foreign, and it makes you so uncomfortable that you wish it could just go away. You wonder what happened, when things have seemingly been so good.

 

The problem is this: your partner feels there is a problem. If one partner feels there is a problem in the relationship, then there IS a problem. In a coupleship, that means that you have a problem if your partner has a problem. It is unlikely to go away with a bunch of flowers or chocolate or “date night." Without open discussion, factual and emotional vulnerability, and dedicated efforts to “lean in” toward your loved one, it is (a) unlikely to get better and (b) much more likely that the relationship will continue to fray and unwind. The relationship will likely devolve instead of develop.

 

The good news is that there is less to fear than you might think about learning to be vulnerable and to openly communicate. Whether or not you know what it looks and feels like, you CAN learn. Not only can your relationship problems dissolve into positives, the new intimacy you learn will lead to planes of relationship and closeness you never thought possible. These are relational gifts that you mightily deserve—even if somewhere in your heart, you don’t believe you do.

What are some Basic Characteristics of an Intimacy Avoidant person?


If you answer yes to five or more of the questions below, then you likely have an intimacy avoidance issue.

 

  • I avoid emotions and emotional discussions: because they frustrate me, are painful, seem pointless, or I just don’t like them.

  • Other than superficial interactions/acquaintances, I avoid meaningful connection with other people, except a few close friends.

  • I find meaningful connection with people other than my spouse/partner—especially those who share my mate’s gender.

  • I spend time with coworkers and “friends" who share my mate’s gender, and I freely discuss my emotional issues/marital problems with those people, rather than discussing them openly and candidly with my spouse/partner.

  • I have had or am having sexual and/or emotional affairs.

  • I masturbating to porn often.

  • I would sometimes/often rather masturbate than have sex with my partner.

  • My partner just doesn’t “do it” for me anymore.

  • I visit prostitutes/escorts, massage parlors, etc..

  • I watch excessive amounts of pornography (meaning daily or multiple hours per day or binge watching a few times per week).

  • I'm controlling.

  • My partner is sooo needy.

  • Sometimes/often, I don’t really want to (or even dread) coming home.

  • I feel like, in our coupleship, I am always wrong.

  • I have to defend my position all the time.

  • I feel like the victim here.

  • There’s too much drama and chaos in my life.

  • I have issues like addictions, gambling, over-spending, debting, risk-taking.

  • I like adrenalized activities, a lot.

  • I use alcohol or pot to level out, “chill,” de-stress.

  • I like TV, movies, video games, the internet or other activities where I don’t have to think.

  • I like things to be concrete, black & white, logical.

  • I trust only what I can see or is backed up by evidence.

  • I tend to analyze things so I can understand them.

  • I want things proven to me—"show me the facts”—or I don’t/won’t believe them.

  • My spouse just wants too much from me.

  • I don’t know or understand what my spouse/partner wants.

  • I don’t know how to solve the problems my spouse comes up with; when I try to offer solutions, she/he gets angry and I have no idea why.

HOW CAN WE HELP? 

 

If you are reading this, your relationship has probably reached a critical point. One where you cannot, or have decided that you won’t, deal with it any longer.

 

Here at CORE, we specialize in recovery efforts for relationships that have reached this very point. Couples often come to us in a last-ditch effort to save their relationship, feeling like there is very little hope left. Our exclusive and small-group therapy intensives are designed to meet you where YOU are, providing what you need to seek (and find!) true and sustainable relational intimacy. Please visit our “Intensives” page and call us at (561) 345-3510 or email us at info@hopeforus.com for more information or simply click on the button below for a free initial consultation.

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