The Dangerous Dance of the Avoidant/Anxiously Attached Couple

Over time, many couples find themselves in a familiar pursue/withdrawal relationship. One partner may feel like they are doing everything in the relationship only at the expense of getting their own validation or needs met. Still, their partner often becomes more distant when they express their frustration. But there is also a fear that if the partner stops reminding their spouse that they aren’t getting their needs met, they will NEVER be satisfied. So goes the all-too-familiar dance of the anxious/avoidant attached couple. Tony shares his experiences as a couples therapist on how these couples arrive on his couch, and more importantly, what to do to get the relationship to a more mature, healthy state. 

Tony references the article “Attachment Woes Between Anxious and Avoidant Partners” by Darlene Lancer, JD, LMFT from https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/toxic-relationships/202008/attachment-woes-between-anxious-and-avoidant-partners

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You can learn more about Tony’s pornography recovery program, The Path Back, by visiting http://pathbackrecovery.com And visit http://tonyoverbay.com and sign up to receive updates on upcoming programs and podcasts.

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Speaker1: [00:00:01] Hey, everybody. Welcome to episode three

Speaker2: [00:00:02] Hundred and three, the virtual couch, I’m your host, Tony Overbay. I’m a licensed marriage and family therapist. Certified mine will have a coach, writer, speaker, husband, father of four and host of another podcast called Waking Up the Narcissism, which is continuing to blow my mind with the amount of subscribers and feedback, that sort of thing. So if you haven’t checked that podcast out, please go give that a try. And also, the path back, the path back pornography recovery program is continuing to change the live of many people. So there’s a weekly group call.

Speaker2: [00:00:28] You can go to Pathbackrecovery.com download a short e-book that describes five myths that people have about making pornography

Speaker1: [00:00:36] A coping mechanism no longer

Speaker2: [00:00:37] Once and for all. That sentence made little to no sense, but just go to Pathbackrecovery.com and there you can take a look at this e-book and to see the

Speaker1: [00:00:45] Work that is being done there, it’s a very strength

Speaker2: [00:00:47] Based hold the shame, become the person you always wanted to be programed. So again, that’s pathbackrecovery.com and

Speaker1: [00:00:53] I wanted to start with a completely unresolved

Speaker2: [00:00:57] Unresolved. That is also something that will probably go out in the editing. But I have to tell you, editing the audio

Speaker1: [00:01:04] Is really

Speaker2: [00:01:04] Easy because I use this product called the script and I always throw something in. The show notes that says, Hey, if you want to check out the script, go take a look at this. So if you happen to be a podcaster or anyone that does a lot of recording, go find that you can edit out all of the US and the ums and how much I repeat myself, which I didn’t realize. But if you want the unadulterated, unfiltered makes it sound like I’m doing something risky. But that version is the video that goes up on my YouTube channel, which I am trying to get better about. There are some that just say that they really want the YouTube video or they just listen on YouTube more than they turn to a podcast player. So I know that that’s the thing as well. This video will be up on my YouTube channel at some point. Just go find the virtual couch on YouTube, but let’s start with story time. I believe that’s where I was headed with this, and this is a story that doesn’t have to do with today’s topic, which is about avoidant and anxious attachment, which is a fascinating topic. But I had an experience over the last probably a week ago that I just thought, was it really summed up where mindfulness can take you? And if you are tired of hearing about mindfulness or meditation or that sort of thing, we’ll make this one brief. But I think this is a real life application because so often I find that people will do a daily mindfulness practice, so I use Headspace. As a matter of fact, yesterday’s mindfulness meditation was pretty amazing. Just talked a lot about the things that I say about Try not to think your way out of a thinking problem when you notice that you are

Speaker1: [00:02:23] Ruminating or

Speaker2: [00:02:24] Worrying that the best thing you can do is to note it. And it doesn’t say bless your brain’s heart. But that’s what I always say because your brain thinks it’s doing you a favor by worrying or by getting anxious. But when you try to figure that out or give it any of the negative energy, what’s wrong with me? Why did I do that? That all of that’s wasted emotional calories? So that was yesterday’s meditation on Headspace. But my point is I feel like so often people get a meditation practice down, but then they don’t do anything with it. They don’t enact it on a day to day basis. And so I wanted to give an example of how that worked. My wife and I had we had had a busy day. I think I had seen a whole bunch of clients and I had a daughter’s car break down. So we have to go rent a car and the cheapest place you can rent. One in the area here is the airport, which is about 40 miles away. So I picked my wife up. It’s it’s late. I think it’s pushing nine o’clock at night and it was also raining and I had just seen a bunch of clients and had a couple of pretty interesting sessions to end the day. So we get in this car. It had been raining in area pretty heavily and there’s a back road that goes to the airport and we just very quickly said, I wonder if that back road is flooded because often it will be flooded and you literally can’t go that way.

Speaker2: [00:03:33] But it had been a day or two. So we just said, you know, I think it’s probably fine. So it’s dark and we are cruising on this back road. And then all of a sudden, usually they have these signs that say flooded, they did not. And I hit this puddle fast, really fast. I think in my teenage years it would have been a lot of fun. And so I hit it really fast and the water just goes up everywhere and again. It would have been really cool, except for the fact that then we come through the puddle, then I hear a scraping on the ground and I know very little to nothing about cars. So I immediately am filled with panic and as I accelerate more than it tends to go away. So I just do the old, I’ll deal with it later thing. So we turn on another road. We’re heading down another back road toward the airport and then you hear this scraping or dragging sound again. So at this point, I feel like I am dragging some piece of machinery from my car that is going to do more damage than anything. So we pull over and it is raining.

Speaker2: [00:04:30] It’s pouring at this point, and I’m in some decent, nice ish pants and a jacket, and it was really funny. I noticed so many things in that moment. No one. I noticed that I was noticing just kind of deep, a little bit meta, as the kids say. And I noticed that in the past I would have gotten really frustrated. And I even thought to myself, What’s the goal of my frustration? If I would have said, Man, I am just so mad. I’m so frustrated that I really was able to step back and say, What’s that goal? Do I want my wife to think, Oh my gosh, I don’t know how he does it or it when in reality, I think my wife would probably think, Oh, here you go is a. We’re getting angry or frustrated about something that we have no control over. So I noticed that and then I noticed that I also being completely open and transparent. I was just sharing this with my wife last night. I noticed that I don’t know what to do. I don’t know how to fix cars. And so I realize that that taps into some deep insecurities of mine because that’s a manly thing to do is to be able to fix cars. So I realized that I didn’t even know what to do. And so therefore I found myself almost wanting my wife to just take care of it because she’s really good at taking care of things.

Speaker2: [00:05:28] She’s a real fixer, not fix cars per say, but she’s just. Well, what are we going to do? We got to get things done. So I opened the door at this point. Now I’m feeling pretty calm and almost taking a look at this humorously. And then I noticed that I need to lay down on the ground, dirt and rocks to take a look under the car and use my flashlight on my phone. And I even thought so many times along the way I wanted to bail because in my mind I was thinking, I don’t know what to do, I don’t know what I’m looking for. And so all of those became things that were absolutely true. I’m not even debating the fact that I don’t know what to do. I don’t know, even know what I’m looking for. So I got to use the principle of expansion where I got to invite all of those feelings and thoughts and emotions to come along with me while I literally laid down on my back in the rain looking under my car. And at that point, I was fully present. I was in. I had recognized there’s nothing really productive about getting frustrated or angry. I don’t know what that would have done for me. And then I just observed

Speaker1: [00:06:20] With a bit of humor

Speaker2: [00:06:21] The fact that I didn’t know what I was doing, but I knew that it was the right thing to do to look under the car. And I saw this plastic piece that had become, I think something must have broken and it was dragging. And so in a

Speaker1: [00:06:32] Herculean effort, I bent

Speaker2: [00:06:33] It back, but now it was still going to drag. So at this point, I go back to my childhood, my 80’s, my 90s brain and the concept of MacGyver, and I need to make this work. So I opened the trunk and I wish this is where I wish I had duct tape. Now I have a roll of duct tape in my in my trunk, but I didn’t, and I had a first aid kit and I opened it and I found some gauze. And so I thought, there’s no way gauze will hold this, but I thought, I have nothing else. So I crawl back down under the car and then I gauze this thing back together and we go off to the airport. We get the rental car and we live happily ever after. So I was able to eventually get some duct tape on it, and I won’t have to fix it at some point. But the principle there of mindfulness was just noticing. I noticed a lot of things and I thought, Does it do me any good or is it a productive thought or feeling or emotion to get really angry? It’s a human reaction, a human emotion. Don’t get me wrong, my whole point is that I’ve been practicing a daily mindfulness practice for years now, but I feel like too often we don’t put that thing into practice on a day to day basis when someone is cutting you off in traffic. I’m noticing that feeling like the person cut me off and that that was dangerous or in the past I would have just reacted and just gone with this unconscious reaction.

Speaker1: [00:07:38] So it’s pretty powerful

Speaker2: [00:07:39] To be able to have that sense of presence and to just say, OK, what do I need to do right now? And it isn’t that you are void of emotion, but you have all kinds of emotions anger, sadness, humor, all of those. So what energy do we choose to give each emotion in any given moment? I still could have gotten really angry and frustrated, but then what would that have done for me? And looking at that whole experience with curiosity, stepping back from myself and taking a look at the moment, then it was it was pretty entertaining, and it ends up being a pretty fun story to tell. So there’s a there’s

Speaker1: [00:08:09] The opening story for

Speaker2: [00:08:10] Today, but let’s get to today’s topic, which is anxious and avoidant attachment. Now, why did this topic come up today? I had someone reach out to me, somebody that’s doing a lot of work,

Speaker1: [00:08:19] Which I really appreciate, and they sent me a

Speaker2: [00:08:20] Video and they just said the video was about anxious and avoidant attachment patterns in relationships, and when one person is anxiously attached to one person as avoidant attached. That, in essence, is that just now that one finds that out, is it just it is what it is? And are you doomed to this pursue and withdrawal relationship for the rest of your life? And there are a lot of funny things that happen when this person asked me that one of them was, I covered this topic and now I look back. It’s been a year in two or three months ago on my podcast, when the last time I interviewed Jennifer Finlayson, Phife, who was an amazing relationship, couples sex therapist and she every time she comes on my podcast, which she’s do now again. But I get more downloads than ever before when she comes on. But the last time that I had on my podcast, I really thought that I had solved this riddle about anxious attachment and avoid an attachment. And so let me share my hypothesis with you and I’ll share what her response was. And then I’ve got an amazing article from Psychology Today that I want to get to, and I think that we’ll be able to make a lot of sense of that dynamic that so many relationships find themselves in, where one person does feel anxiously, continually wondering if he did. I do anything wrong, and it’s as if the more that they become anxiously attached or try to reach out to their spouse and say, Hey, I’m noticing something’s off or what’s wrong?

Speaker1: [00:09:35] Or did I do

Speaker2: [00:09:35] Anything that almost the more avoidant that pushes that partner back? There’s let me step back there. So when I had Jennifer on, I wanted to talk about attachment styles,

Speaker1: [00:09:46] And here was my whole premise. I felt like over the course of several

Speaker2: [00:09:49] Months and then the more I looked at it, it looked like several years

Speaker1: [00:09:53] That

Speaker2: [00:09:53] I felt like, and I’m going to use some all or nothing statements, and I know that I’m not. I typically say, let’s not go always or never, but I’m going to do probably a little. That here, but I felt like for the most part, all the guys that I was working with at that time did seem to have this anxious attachment style

Speaker1: [00:10:08] Where they seemed overly clingy.

Speaker2: [00:10:11] They seemed like they would come in and they may say they see their spouse. That’s a bit withdrawn their wife and they would say, Hey, is everything OK? And if their wife said, it’s OK, I’m fine. And then if the husband, then five minutes later, the wife wasn’t jumping up and down and saying, you’re the greatest, then he would say, Are you sure? Did I do anything? And at that moment, then the wife would say, Oh, I really am fine. And then you would have a whole variety of things that I would see over and over again. Where if the guy was like, Geez, OK, hey, I’m just asking, you seem off. I don’t know what I’m supposed to do with that.

Speaker1: [00:10:41] And so it just creates this, this pretty negative dynamic.

Speaker2: [00:10:44] Some of the stuff I was reading, they kept continually calling it a toxic relationship or toxic dynamic. And so I also and this was just a little bit of side note stuff. If you take that concept of the the love languages, which I think Jennifer and I even talked about how as the therapist, sometimes it’s not as fulfilling. It’s a little bit frustrating even when people come in and all they want to talk about are the love languages. Gary Chapman’s five languages of Love because as wonderful and amazing as that book is, and it’s even there’s a part of that in

Speaker1: [00:11:10] My magnetic marriage course, but we

Speaker2: [00:11:12] Look at it just as something to be able to communicate about. But it isn’t a scientific, evidence based data. The five languages of love aren’t something that in double blind studied, and that there’s a here’s what you do with those lovely, which is it’s more of a Hey, check this out. So I started noticing that in this scenario, the anxiously attached guys that I was working with, for the most part, their love languages were words of affirmation. They loved hearing that they are doing an amazing job the attaboys, the kudos. And the second one was typically physical touch, which can mean sex. It can mean holding hands. Why don’t you hug me? Why don’t you kiss me that sort of thing? So I was noticing that that seemed to be the combo, the combination that I was getting the anxiously attached guy with the love languages of words of affirmation and physical touch. And then I see it seemed like most all I want to say, all of the the couples that I was seeing at that point, the women in that dynamic were

Speaker1: [00:12:01] Avoidant attachment where they seem to be more

Speaker2: [00:12:04] Arm’s length or more standoffish. And so the husband wanted nothing more than to. I want to be there. I want to be your knight in shining armor and in essence, almost so that he will then get his needs met, that she will then say, Oh my gosh, you’re my knight in shining armor. And now here’s some physical touch. Here’s some physical affection. And so most of the women I felt like at that time, if you looked at their love languages, it was typically quality time

Speaker1: [00:12:28] Or acts of service. And so here’s where I thought I just solved a major

Speaker2: [00:12:32] Riddles and puzzles and relationships that had gone on for eons and decades. So I present this to Jennifer Finlayson, five that I say I believe that most of the relationships that I’m working with, the guy is anxiously attached with these words of affirmation and physical touch as the love languages and the women are avoidant attachment with the love languages of acts of service and quality time. And then I felt like the more that the husband said, Hey, why don’t you tell me I’m awesome? And why aren’t we more physically affectionate than the more that psychological reactants built up in the middle, which again, is that instant negative reaction of being told what to do? So I really felt like that resonated, and that was most all of the couples I was seen in my office. And I think even on the episode I talked about,

Speaker1: [00:13:13] Oh, and that was my

Speaker2: [00:13:14] Relationship at home with my wife as well. But then my wife said something very fascinating where she said, OK, I do feel like that’s the so often the case. But then she recognized that her attachment style with our kids was similar to my attachment style

Speaker1: [00:13:29] With her or that anxious attachment.

Speaker2: [00:13:31] So if the kids and we have what seventeen nineteen, twenty one and twenty three year old

Speaker1: [00:13:35] Kids, and if they weren’t

Speaker2: [00:13:37] Jumping up and down and saying, Oh my gosh, you’re the best to my wife and I, then she would typically feel like, OK, did I do anything? Or What’s wrong with me?

Speaker1: [00:13:45] Because one theory of

Speaker2: [00:13:46] Attachment is that you have an attachment style, and that is the way you go throughout life. There’s more data over the last decade or more couple of decades that show that, OK, that attachment style influenced heavily by your childhood, by your relationships,

Speaker1: [00:14:00] With your parents, maybe even with your peers

Speaker2: [00:14:02] As you were growing up, but that it is malleable. And so I thought it was really fascinating to see that it seemed to settle in in a relationship, and I almost wondered if that was just the dynamic that then became created. And then people just said, this is the way it is, and there’s this push and pull constantly.

Speaker1: [00:14:18] And this video that this person sent me

Speaker2: [00:14:20] On YouTube, I watched that it was just a few minutes long, but it talked about that then often when the anxious attachment finally said, Fine, I’m done. That was the time where the avoidant attachment might

Speaker1: [00:14:29] Then come out of their bunker for a little bit. And then the

Speaker2: [00:14:31] Anxious attachment would say, OK, good,

Speaker1: [00:14:33] Now we’re

Speaker2: [00:14:33] Ok. And then they would have a period of peace. Until then, things would settle back into their their patterns and then the cycle would repeat and that some people would do that for their entire lives. But then for others, the anxious attachment may even begin to feel like they aren’t fulfilled inside the relationship. And then they might look outside of the relationship, which the crazy part about that is that almost then fulfills this subconscious piece to the avoidant attachment partner of that c, they were going to leave anyway. So that’s. Why I didn’t invest myself in the relationship, even if that whole thing was going on subconsciously. So I present all this to Jennifer Finlayson, Fife, and I was doing a little bit humorously and I said, I can talk to the guys. I’m a guy, I can talk to the guys. And I thought I was very clever in saying, if you notice that you are coming in and saying, OK, did I do anything? You’re allowed one check in. Hey, how’s your day? Did I do anything? And if your wife says, No, no, I’m good, I just have some stuff going on in my head that if you notice five minutes later that you wanted to go back and say, Are you sure? Is there anything

Speaker1: [00:15:29] I did here wrong that that was where you needed to acknowledge and recognize your anxious attachment?

Speaker2: [00:15:34] So much like this concept of the mindfulness example I gave you at the beginning with the car that just noticing, noticing that I want to reach out and check again and again, I want this external validation. I’m feeling uncomfortable, so I want my wife to make me feel better, even though it’s my own anxious attachment style that is causing me to feel this disconnect with my spouse. So I was saying to guys, All right, when you’re aware of that now, you need to go validate internally self validation. You need to go do push ups, you need to pet the family dog. You need to go, do a hobby, go and do. And when somebody would say, do what? Anything but primarily go do something of value, because then you’ll find real fulfillment or sense of purpose, which will raise your emotional baseline. And you’ll actually be able to show up

Speaker1: [00:16:17] In a

Speaker2: [00:16:17] Better way with your spouse in your relationship, which might actually then help with that whole anxious attachment, avoidant attachment dance that I’m talking about here. So I present all that, and I say to Jennifer, in essence, Hey, so can you talk to the women? Tell them to come on out of that bunker and the guy gets it now? And I love what she said. She said that just means

Speaker1: [00:16:37] The relationship is not mature. And I remember thinking, Wait, and I just laid all

Speaker2: [00:16:40] This stuff out. I’ve got all of this stuff figured out, and now we’re talking about immaturity.

Speaker1: [00:16:44] Fast forward a year and change more where we are right now.

Speaker2: [00:16:47] And what have I been talking about a lot?

Speaker1: [00:16:49] Whether it’s on my waking up the Narcissism podcast

Speaker2: [00:16:51] Or the virtual couch, this concept of emotional

Speaker1: [00:16:53] Maturity and how we if you look at the

Speaker2: [00:16:56] Concept of narcissism that I’ve laid this out on my narcissist waking up the Narcissist

Speaker1: [00:17:01] Podcast, where the percentage of people that

Speaker2: [00:17:03] Are diagnosed malignant or malicious narcissist narcissistic personality

Speaker1: [00:17:07] Disorder is very tiny.

Speaker2: [00:17:08] It’s in reality it’s I think one estimate said it was one to two percent of the population,

Speaker1: [00:17:13] But I have maintained that when I lay out my abandonment and attachment speech from childhood, from birth, that we all have these abandonment wounds where

Speaker2: [00:17:21] Coming from child and

Speaker1: [00:17:22] Attachment wounds, where we feel like if people don’t

Speaker2: [00:17:25] Respond to us the way that we would like

Speaker1: [00:17:26] Them to, then we don’t say, Oh, they must

Speaker2: [00:17:29] Have other things going on in their life. No, we’re programed

Speaker1: [00:17:31] From the factory to think it must be because I’m broken or I’m unlovable, or else people would meet my needs. Because when you come out of the womb and you are a young, a little baby, you are programed to get your needs met. Because if you don’t get those needs met, guess what? You die. If you don’t, if you cry and nobody comes to feed you or change you or nurture you, then you literally die. So that abandonment wound is so deep within us that we have this deep fear of abandonment to the point of where if you are anxiously attached, I believe that you are going to desperately do anything to make sure that that person does not

Speaker2: [00:18:02] Leave and even to the point of where you’re actually pushing them

Speaker1: [00:18:04] Away. And I’m oversimplifying this concept of where if you are that avoidant attachment that you are so afraid of abandonment that you may be unwilling to put yourself out there for fear of. If I put myself out there and then this person doesn’t respond the way I need them to. Then something really must be wrong with me. Or another part of that is if I already subconsciously fear that the person is going to leave anyway, because maybe of

Speaker2: [00:18:28] Some childhood examples or trauma or

Speaker1: [00:18:30] Divorce

Speaker2: [00:18:30] Or death or that sort of thing, then I’m not going to even put myself in a position for

Speaker1: [00:18:36] That person to leave.

Speaker2: [00:18:37] I’m going to avoid at least stay avoidant Li attached in this arm’s length style. So it does end up boiling down to emotional maturity because as you become aware of this avoidant or

Speaker1: [00:18:47] Anxious attachment pattern, then these are our emotional wounds from childhood.

Speaker2: [00:18:52] I believe that’s pretty simple. And so we need to then start to show up as mature, emotionally mature that we need to recognize that when somebody has

Speaker1: [00:19:01] A different opinion in our relationship that it

Speaker2: [00:19:04] Isn’t, we don’t. We may recognize that and feel criticized if they say, Well, I don’t like the way you do this. But now, as an emotionally mature adult,

Speaker1: [00:19:12] Now we need to be able to look at that with curiosity, and we need to be able to understand this is where I go to my four pillars. My four pillars are gold. I’m telling you that nobody wakes up and thinks, how can I hurt my partner? Or There’s a reason why people do the things they do. That’s pillar one. So if somebody is avoidant attached that it doesn’t mean that they don’t like me or doesn’t mean that something’s wrong with me. I want to look at that with curiosity. Why do they feel like they can’t open up? Or why do they feel like they

Speaker2: [00:19:34] Are having a challenge of coming out of that bunker?

Speaker1: [00:19:38] Pillar two is when they express something to me. I can’t say that’s ridiculous or I don’t believe you, even if we feel that way, because any of these things are going to take a conversation out into the weeds and make it unproductive.

Speaker2: [00:19:48] So if we assume those good intentions and the person says that I feel like you,

Speaker1: [00:19:51] You aren’t there for me or I feel like you don’t care about me, I want that to be our cue for empathy. I want that to be a thing that we can now really lean in and say, Man, tell me more about. My pillar, three questions and four comments help me see my blind spots. Help me understand what that’s like for you. And then the fourth pillar is this one goes back to our childhood wounding. Stay present.

Speaker2: [00:20:10] Don’t go into a victim mode and say, OK, well, I guess I’m just

Speaker1: [00:20:12] Going to do whatever you want me to. Or also another way that people violate that fourth pillar as people will then retreat into the bunker by saying, Man, you’re right, I am

Speaker2: [00:20:21] Such a piece of garbage. I don’t even know why you are even

Speaker1: [00:20:23] With me, because that’s an emotionally immature way to show up. That’s a way that we’re trying to get our needs met, but it’s not a it’s not a competent, internal self validation way to get our needs met. It’s I don’t feel good. So I want you to make me feel better.

Speaker2: [00:20:37] And in my attachment pattern from childhood is the withdraw and become less than so that you will

Speaker1: [00:20:42] Come tell me I’m OK, I need to realize

Speaker2: [00:20:44] I am OK, so I can show up more confident in the relationship, because that’s actually what we want in our

Speaker1: [00:20:49] Relationships.

Speaker2: [00:20:50] I I’m going to get to this. This is funny. I feel like I almost don’t need this article down, but I really like it.

Speaker1: [00:20:55] It’s by a lady named Darlene Lancer. She’s an attorney and an EMT, and this is office psychology today. And I’m going to read a lot because I hope that you

Speaker2: [00:21:02] Can already see that I feel like I’ve established my topic and these are my thoughts, and I feel like she does a really good job in this article that’s called attachment

Speaker1: [00:21:10] Woes between anxious and avoidant partners instead of

Speaker2: [00:21:13] Real intimacy elude you. Find out why and how to get your needs met. So, she says, and she talks about this relationship. Duet is the dance of intimacy that all couples do.

Speaker1: [00:21:22] One partner moves in and another backs up, and partners may reverse roles. But they tend to, as I was sharing earlier, maintain a certain space between them. And the unspoken

Speaker2: [00:21:30] Agreement is, she says, the

Speaker1: [00:21:32] Pursuer chases the distancer forever. And in the world of

Speaker2: [00:21:35] Emotionally focused therapy, which my couples course is based off of, they do call it pursue and withdraw. So you’ve got to pursue her, she says.

Speaker1: [00:21:42] There’s a distancer and they never catch up, and the distancer keeps running, but never really gets away,

Speaker2: [00:21:47] And they’re negotiating the emotional space between them. So she talks about how we do have all these

Speaker1: [00:21:51] Needs for autonomy and intimacy, and that is that push and pull independence and dependance. Yet simultaneously, we fear both being abandoned, which is acted by the pursuer and being too close, which is acted by the distancer.

Speaker2: [00:22:04] That arm’s length or that avoid an attachment.

Speaker1: [00:22:06] So we have this dilemma of of intimacy. How can we be close enough to feel secure and safe without feeling threatened by

Speaker2: [00:22:13] Too much closeness

Speaker1: [00:22:14] So you can see how that anxious and avoidant dance occurs and why it can just persist in a relationship and we fall into these unhealthy patterns? Darlene says that the less room there is to navigate the distance, the more difficult the relationship becomes. So there’s less anxiety and then less demand on the relationship to accommodate this what she calls this narrow comfort zone. So the origins and this is why I really like this article.

Speaker2: [00:22:37] This in a couple of things she shares at the end. She just gives a really

Speaker1: [00:22:40] Quick overview of attachment. Theory has determined that the pursuer has an anxious attachment style and that the emotionally unavailable partner has an avoidance style, and she talks about the research behind that. That suggests that these styles and intimacy problems originate in the relationship between mother and child. Mother and infant babies and toddlers are dependent on their mother’s empathy and regard for their needs and emotions in order to sense their selves or to feel whole.

Speaker2: [00:23:04] So to an infant or a toddler,

Speaker1: [00:23:06] Physical or emotional abandonment, whether through neglect or illness or divorce or death, threatens its existence because of its dependency

Speaker2: [00:23:12] On the mother for validation and development of wholeness. So then she talks about how later

Speaker1: [00:23:17] As an adult that then being this separation to these intimate relationships are experiences really painful reminders of this early subconscious loss? Let me give an

Speaker2: [00:23:28] Example I was listening to this podcast. It was a true crime podcast that was pretty fascinating and the psychologist, I just

Speaker1: [00:23:34] Really enjoyed his work on this podcast, but he talked about the if you really look at attachment from a really deep place that when a baby is born, they literally don’t even know that they exist or that they are an entity. Until then, they have some interaction with anyone, any other person. So it’s almost as if we don’t even know that we exist or there’s this threat that we may not exist if we do not have this interaction with someone.

Speaker2: [00:23:59] And I feel like that at its core makes sense of why

Speaker1: [00:24:02] Sometimes we’re OK with even not even OK. But we may find ourselves in this fighting this emotional tug of war with our spouse or our partner, even when we feel like, man, this isn’t the relationship that I want, but when we are programed from the factory to know that if we do not have interaction, we do not exist, then we may continue to show up emotionally immature just so that we have any type of interaction to know that we are there, that we exist. So she goes on to say that if the mother is ill or depressed or lacks wholeness and self-esteem, that there are no boundaries between her and her child. So rather than responding to her child, she projects and sees her child only as an extension of herself and as an object to meet her own needs and feelings. And this is where I talk about

Speaker2: [00:24:42] Sometimes the maybe the emotionally immature parent sees that child as a way to get that external validation that if they aren’t feeling good about themselves, then they want that child to really be dependent upon them so that it gives them a sense of purpose.

Speaker1: [00:24:56] So she said the child’s boundaries are often violated and it’s autonomy. Feelings, thoughts or body or disrespected, so she said

Speaker2: [00:25:03] Consequently, the child does not develop a

Speaker1: [00:25:04] Healthy sense of self, and instead he or she discovers that love and approval come with meeting the mother’s needs. And so then that child tunes into the mother’s responses and expectations. And this also leads to shame and then this codependent feeling so the child learns to please or perform or rebel, but in either case gradually tunes out its own thoughts and its own needs and its own feelings. And I don’t even want to talk about this as far as it’s can you believe this? It’s just the way we work. It’s the it’s just a natural way that things happen, and there’s no shame behind it. There’s no judgment that we just show up and we do. And we are and we we just are trying to be the best versions of ourselves. But this is the first time we’ve ever gone through this as adults, and we’re coming from situations that we saw certain patterns modeled. And so this is why we need to give ourselves a lot of grace and a lot of empathy and step back and just start to notice that these are just things that we do or the way that we react to situations. And once we notice that then now what do we want to do with that? So beating yourself up or feeling like you’re a horrible mom or dad or spouse that that is going to get you, that isn’t a helpful,

Speaker2: [00:26:07] Productive thought at all.

Speaker1: [00:26:09] But when you notice that you’re feeling that way, then give yourself grace, bless your heart and then try to take action on things that matter and try to start to move that needle. Because that’s that is the way to get out of these feelings of feeling stuck or these attachment patterns, that sort of thing. She goes on to say that later intimacy may threaten the adult sense of autonomy or identity, or he or she may feel invaded or engulfed or controlled or shamed or rejected, so a person may feel both abandoned if his or her feelings and needs are not responded to kind of talked about that abandonment a little earlier and at the same time engulfed by the needs of his or her partner. And I often say that people come are factory setting is to become

Speaker2: [00:26:44] And I’m doing this on my hands. If you are watching the YouTube video,

Speaker1: [00:26:47] But we come with, we are codependent and we’re enmeshed where in codependent relationships. She talks about there aren’t two separate whole people coming together. And when that’s the case, true intimacy isn’t possible because the fear of nonexistence and disillusion are so strong. It is programed, so deep in us that we feel like we have to be codependent and we have to be enmeshed and we have to have share all the same thoughts and feelings and that sort of thing. Because if we don’t and we show up and we have our own thoughts or opinions or feelings, then this person may leave. This person may abandon us. But as you emotionally mature or as you physically mature or you go throughout life and you have all these different experiences, it’s normal for people to start to have and express their own experiences in their own thoughts and their own feelings, their own desires, their own values. And so this is the part where if we accept the fact that we come into relationships often codependent and enmeshed, because we do just because we do, then as we start to have our own thoughts and feelings and emotions as we start to become interdependent and differentiated, we become too autonomous. Amazing, wonderful people. And that is a scary thing to start to explore because we worry about this deep abandonment that if we become ourselves and they become their selves, then that means they’re going to leave us. But it is the opposite. But I understand, as a marriage therapist has

Speaker2: [00:28:03] Worked with well over

Speaker1: [00:28:04] A thousand couples now and run three rounds of this magnetic marriage course, where by the end of it, in a matter of just a few weeks, people recognize what it means to have a truly differentiated, interdependent, autonomous, just passionate marriage. Because now you have two people that have their own unique experiences and you have the tools to communicate about them. So now you got two excited, interdependent people going through life together. They’re still a commitment there. But now you can look at all kinds of things with curiosity and not criticism. And so it’s that that concept of edification of one plus one equals three. So you do not know that version of a relationship until you, you go do the work and find it, I promise. And then it is just amazing. And that is where it’s passionate. It’s magnetic. So anyway, she had talked about the fears of nonexistence and dissolution and that when those are so strong, we keep going back to this codependent or enmeshment because we worry so much about the other person leaving, because then we’ll pull that whole abandonment thing on herself and think, Man, what’s wrong with me? So coping strategy, she said that we learn defenses as children in order to feel safe as adults.

Speaker1: [00:29:07] These behaviors create problems and the result and a lot of miscommunication. For instance, if you repress your anger and this is a part I loved about this whole article, and this is why I think Darlene Lannister does an amazing job. So she said, as adults, these behaviors create problems and then result in miscommunication. So if you repress your anger to make sure that you are close, you stand in a good chance of alienating your partner, unaware that you may be expressing your anger and directly. If you ignore your partner in order to create distance, you inadvertently devalue them, creating another problem. So she talks about how change and growth come in discovering your coping strategies and learning how responses and behaviors, learning new responses and behaviors. So she suggests that you ask yourself, How do I create space in my relationships? How do I protect my autonomy? And here’s some of the negative ways do you criticize or blame or emotionally

Speaker2: [00:29:53] Withdraw or use substances, food,

Speaker1: [00:29:55] Drugs, alcohol, pornography, social media to create space to be left alone? Or lessen these intense feelings, these worries or fears of abandonment or like you’re doing something wrong. Or do you avoid closeness or openness by joking around or showing off or giving advice or by talking about others or just complete surface level or impersonal things? And you get overly involved with people outside of your partnership children, friends, affairs or activities, work, sports gambling, shopping. These activities dilute the intimacy in the relationship. So she says, on the other hand, how do I create closeness? How do I ensure that I will be loved and not abandonment, not abandon? Do you try to create closeness by giving up your autonomy, hobbies, friends or interest? Never disagreeing and by being seductive or caretaking and pleasing others? And by that, it is where people feel like they lose themselves in hopes of being there for their their spouse or their kids or their church, or that sort of thing. They lose that sense of self or that autonomy because they feel like that is the way to get those needs met, to make sure that they will not be abandoned. And again, if any of you are listening to this thinking, Oh my gosh, that’s what I do, then. Wonderful. Now there’s some awareness and we can start to take action on that. So she said, when these behaviors are operating without awareness, then you are not coming from a place of choice. When this happens, you can’t communicate effectively nor take into consideration your needs and the needs of your partner. Instead, the relationship is based on unconscious manipulation of one another and can trigger your partner’s defensive reactions. I love that whole phrase unconscious manipulation of another and not saying, How dare you? You are so mean and malicious, but this is what we’re doing as a subconscious way to get our needs met. We’re withdrawing, hoping that our partner will rescue us, or we’re becoming overly anxious

Speaker2: [00:31:30] Because we just don’t know what to do with ourselves. And we need that external validation. Or we’re turning to things like

Speaker1: [00:31:35] Social media or games or even to other people because we feel uncomfortable because we don’t have the tools to communicate with our spouse. And so we need to learn those tools because we are designed to deal with emotion in concert with another human being. But if you are just turning to an unhealthy relationship or a surface relationship or again like a game or an addictive coping mechanism, then that is going to leave you feeling hollow. And now you even turn around from that situation feeling less than. So she talks about the disowned self. She said relationships can serve as mirrors for unacknowledged or disowned parts of ourselves. And often people attract their opposite into their lives to try to make them whole. But the pursuer feels abandoned but is unconscious that he or she is also afraid of closeness so they rely on the distancer to achieve enough space for the pursuers needs for autonomy and independence. And similarly, the distancer the one withdrawing feels trapped but is afraid of abandonment and cannot express the wish for emotional closeness as his or her own. She or he would feel too vulnerable so she or he needs a pursuer to satisfy his or her intimacy needs so they subconsciously need the pursuer, but that just causes them to even withdraw more.

Speaker1: [00:32:42] But then if that pursuer starts to to to back off now, the abandoned her. That is where they made and start to say, Wait, I do, I maybe am starting to understand. Here’s where things get really fascinating because I talk about my waking up the nurses podcast often and she goes into distancing is typical of narcissists and a narcissist mind. Vulnerability is dangerous and avoided. So this is where I’m trying to change the whole almost definition of the word narcissism and just plug in here emotionally immature. So we’re not talking about a pathological malicious, malignant narcissist. Excuse me, but maybe we’re talking about somebody with narcissistic traits or tendencies or emotional immaturity, because what are they not doing? They’re not emotionally mature and standing up and learning the tools to be able to speak up to what they need in the relationship. Instead, they’re doing this almost subconsciously. So, she said, they often play games to draw you in, but then distanced themselves when the relationship gets closer. They may love bomb and

Speaker2: [00:33:35] Then ghost you or become

Speaker1: [00:33:36] Unavailable, and this becomes devastating for partners of narcissists. And it goes on to lead to things like a trauma bond, which I have several episodes on that concept. So the distancer says of the pursuer she or he is too demanding or too dependent or too emotional or too needy and wonders, Can I even, you know, can I love? Am I being selfish? Or what I give seems to be never enough? And the pursuer says of the distancer that he or she is selfish or inconsiderate or inflexible or emotionally withdrawn and has to have things their way. And they wonder, Is there something wrong with me? Am I not lovable my not pretty or thin or successful or smart enough? And so they each blame one another as well as themselves. The Distancer feels guilty for not meeting the needs of the pursuer. And I hear that so often where the wife just feels. I know he deserves more. I feel so bad about that. And then the pursuer feels angry for not getting his or her own needs met. So then the pursuer starts to realize, Man, I am being emotionally needy. I need to find my own hobbies and that sort of thing. But then they start to feel like then they’re my my wife’s going to think that I don’t even care. But in reality, that finding their own sense of self and purpose as they become more interdependent, more differentiated and show up with more confidence is exactly what the relationship needs now. If their wife and

Speaker2: [00:34:46] Going just with this husband wife scenario where the husband is the pursuer of the

Speaker1: [00:34:49] Wife is the distancer the withdraw. If that does not guarantee that, she will then say, Oh my gosh, I need to do the same. But this is where I often talk about that one person needs to get their baseline up, so.

Speaker2: [00:34:59] I and this isn’t the end, this is not a

Speaker1: [00:35:03] Scientific fact, but I often say that so that then either that spouse, the one that’s starting there may be the distancer or the withdraw that they may then at that point say, Wow, OK, that is that’s my spouse.

Speaker2: [00:35:14] That’s the person that I was attracted to. That’s the person that I loved.

Speaker1: [00:35:18] And so they’re either going to say, I do think I want this is worth it for me to try to come out of my bunker and figure this out. Or even if they don’t, then that person in this scenario we’re talking about the husband has this emotional baseline high and now he’s exiting on that level so he can be the best version of himself. He can be the best co-parent, he can be the best version of himself into a new relationship, whatever that looks like. Again, back to sum this up. She says they blame one another in themselves. The distancer feels guilty for not meeting the other’s needs. The pursuer feels angry for not getting his or her own needs met. So in reality, the distancer judges the part of him or herself that is needy, dependent and vulnerable, and the pursuer judges the part of him or herself that is selfish and independent. They feel like I’m doing something wrong if I all of a sudden am trying to find my own sense of self, but each sees the part that they don’t accept in themselves projected onto the other.

Speaker1: [00:36:05] Both need to embrace the dependance and independent the feminine and masculine parts of themselves, she says. Without change, partners keep repeating a painful cycle of abandonment, and the key to breaking their polarization is becoming conscious of our needs and feelings and risking what we fear most. So it requires awareness of our coping behaviors and resisting the impulse to withdraw or pursue. And it takes a tremendous amount of courage. Or this is where I plug in emotional maturity not to run when we feel too close and not to pursue when we feel abandoned, but instead learn to acknowledge and tolerate the emotions that arise. And all of this starts to trigger these feelings of shame and terror and grief and emptiness, despair and rage. And and she goes on to talk about with help of a therapist. These feelings can be separated from the present circumstance in which, as adults, our survival is no longer at stake. That’s where that emotional maturity comes in. We’re not talking about if I am abandoned, I die. We would. We are now talking about I need to thrive

Speaker2: [00:36:58] In order to

Speaker1: [00:36:58] Survive. And so that is one of the most difficult but yet

Speaker2: [00:37:02] Powerful things that I feel like I can help people with in.

Speaker1: [00:37:05] As a therapist is finding their true sense of self, their sense of purpose and beginning to become interdependent and differentiated, and oftentimes that does feel again, that abandonment pull is so strong the person feels like they are going to they are going to die when in reality, it is that that co-dependence that enmeshment that has caused them to get to the place where they feel like they feel like they want to not exist rather than not be in that relationship. So partners in an emotionally mature relationship partners then learn from each other. They embrace their own needs. And then she goes on to talk about how the pursuer can emulate the distancer ability to set limits to take care of his or her own needs to prioritize to be less personally involved. The distancer can learn from the pursuers flexibility, the ability to reach out and ask to feel others and to blend boundaries. And I love how she talks about each person must take personal responsibility for him or herself, rather than relying on their partner to take care of his or her needs for closeness or distance. The pursuer must risk saying no and tolerate the anxiety of separation, saying I can’t maybe help right now or I need to be alone. The distancer must risk saying I miss you or I need you. She quotes a movie, The Doctor. I do remember this one. William Hurt plays a busy, successful doctor whose wife feels neglected and abandoned, and it’s only when her gets brain cancer that he tells his wife that he needs her relationships. And I’ll just sum this up. This has gone on a little bit longer than I had even anticipated, but I hope that you’re getting the sense

Speaker2: [00:38:27] Of excitement that I feel like of

Speaker1: [00:38:30] Just beginning to put these pieces together because I really do feel like it’s a road to emotional maturity that as we realize and this is I

Speaker2: [00:38:38] Haven’t really voiced this one out loud, but I it makes sense in my head, so we’ll see

Speaker1: [00:38:42] How this goes. But when you really look at Sue Johnson, founder of emotionally focused therapy, talks about were designed to deal with emotion in concert with another human that I feel like we show up from our factory settings, from our childhoods, from our adolescence. Again, with this codependent and enmeshment that we look for external validation to figure out who we are. And there’s no judgment with that, as because when you’re a kid, you are emotionally immature and you do not know what your sense of self or sense of purpose is. So you are continually bouncing that off of everyone that you meet your parent, your teacher, your friends, your church leaders, your academic advisors and college your teammates. If you’re an athlete and it’s what do you think? What do you think? What do you think? I like the way that person does this. I like the way that person does this, and that all stems from this. These attachment wounds where we are so afraid of abandonment that we have to figure out how to get those needs met. We have to figure out how to show up. But as we’re doing that, we’re hopefully starting to find our sense of self. But we too often then try to show up as a mature version of ourselves in relationships. But if that isn’t the version of ourselves that we started the relationship with, then the other person all of a sudden feels like we’re doing something wrong, like we’re going to leave them if we all of a sudden we find ourselves or we have different likes or interests.

Speaker1: [00:39:52] But in reality, that’s the way it’s supposed to work. We we are supposed to be able to find and work through. These attachment and abandonment wounds in concert alongside and interdependent with another human being, I believe that’s why we couple because if you are left to your own thoughts and emotions and devices in your own head, things don’t typically work out to the and we lived happily ever after story because as I’ve covered on other podcast, the brain is in essence that don’t get killed device. The brain worries that if I get this thing wrong, one time that I may die. And and so we have to then be able to find a safe person that we can have mature conversations with. And I’ll just give a real simple example of this. The one that I give so often is if somebody is really struggling with, let’s say, anxiety because they come from their a childhood where they were often left feeling incredibly anxious and because they had parents that talked often about this fear of death or abandonment. Or you better not find yourself alone or those sort of things. Now they’re in a relationship. And so they they may even not be aware of what the cues that their spouse does that causes them to start to feel anxious. They come to my office and I get a version of that that where the husband may say in the scenario, this is a pretty real one, where the husband said, OK, I need her to work on her, her anxiety, because I don’t know what to do with that.

Speaker1: [00:41:09] And in reality, just hearing that causes her to feel more anxious. But if they have an emotionally mature, interdependent relationship now, they’re there to figure things out together because she’s not sure what that is all about. So if he notices that she is feeling anxious and now he can say, Hey, I’m noticing that your anxiety may seem a little bit high, and she jumps into this four pillar world of, OK, he’s not saying that to hurt me. I can’t tell him, no, even if I don’t notice it, and now I can ask questions. Ok, what are you seeing? Help me see my. Help me find my blind spots that now we can have emotionally mature conversations where then she may be able to recognize? Oh my gosh, the more I think about it, we haven’t been able to connect for a few days. And so when I was young, when my dad would be gone for days, they would come home. My parents would fight off. And so maybe I’m subconsciously working that through where if you and I haven’t seen each other or been able to do something together for a few days, I may start getting anxious because I have this fear that you are going to be angry. And so in that scenario, man, now we just process this together, and now we grow and we feel like, OK, I’m not. Nothing’s wrong with me. I’m not broken. I’m beginning to emotionally mature, and I’ll just throw one asterix here before we’re done.

Speaker1: [00:42:17] The the part that we must watch out for, though, because go back over to my waking up the nurses and podcast, I understand that when you are handing the emotional keys of the car over to somebody that is not a safe driver, I just made that one up, then that is not necessary. That is not a safe thing to do. Emotional maturity, even though we don’t come from the factor with that setting, can be achieved as people do start to look introspectively. You go get help, you go to counseling, you go to therapy. It’s about people that are taking ownership of their actions. They aren’t trying to tell you what to continually do and why you’re wrong and you’re broken. And here’s what I think you’re know. We need to learn how to take ownership of our own stuff and then be able to look at that with curiosity with another partner. Ok, I could go on and on, but I will put a link to this Darlene Lancer article attachment woes between anxious and avoidant. I am so grateful for the support that you, you give me each and every week, and I just hope that you will share this episode if you feel like it was something that would help. And I completely forgot to again mention my sponsor, Betterhelp.com. So if you are looking at the world of online counseling, you’ve probably heard the drill over and over. Just go to Betterhelp.com virtual couch. You get 10 percent off your first month’s treatment and they it is hard to get

Speaker2: [00:43:24] Into a therapist these days, so that might be the best way to go.

Speaker1: [00:43:26] So Betterhelp.com virtual couch. All right. I hope that you have an amazing, wonderful week and I will see you next time on the virtual couch.

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