Love Addict/Avoidant Pattern

I got an email from a reader and asked her permission to post it here:

Your book and posts have been a great source of comfort for me.  ____ has been gone 14 months now and I feel myself slipping back into despair.  Our children are 11 (boy) and 13 (girl) and parenting them alone is overwhelming.  I read a few blogs, but yours resonates like no other for me.

I have been fixated on meeting a man and have had to realize that I am turning over my self-esteem to each one.  It’s a cycle I am trying desperately to break and can’t seem to get it together.  Fortunately, I know I am able to attract men, but I seem to have a voice telling me I must get one quickly to replace _____ – the urgency is insane, but I can’t shake it.

I suspect these fears are not unusual, but I seem to be very anxiety-filled when someone (the man) is not validating my worth.  Did you go through this?  Were you able to figure it out and if so, how do you stop it?

Thank you so much for reading.  Please continue to write early and often.  Your posts are unbelievably helpful to me.

How many of us have been in this place? I was lunching today at a place I volunteer, a cafe in Seattle where people who are recovering from addiction come to have meetings, take classes, drink coffee and most importantly, stay connected. I got into a conversation with a young woman there who told me she was there because of a Love addiction.

“Love addiction?” I asked. Is that different to “Sex addiction?” I hadn’t realized there was a separation of the two, but there is apparently. We had an amazing conversation where she recounted her experiences with what she dubbed “serial monogamy,” a series of relationships that at times jepradized her life, given how abusive some of the men were.  She described a period of severe “withdrawal” which I have to say sounded very much like a severe form of grief to me, unable to get out of bed, body tremors (not that I have experienced those), lethargy, and a lack of memory of that time. She tried to go cold turkey and not have a relationship for a long period of time, but in the end, “relapsed.” I know, I have tried before to link grief and addiction and many people don’t agree with my analogy, but I have to say I do find some similarities.

The clincher for me though, the thing that struck home was when she told me that she is working through a 12 step program and that one of the dangers of recovery from Love Addiction is a swing of the pendulum from being addicted to love to shunning people/relationships altogether, what she called “Love Avoidance.” She described the desire to put away the notion of having a relationship of any kind, given the bad experiences and her desire to hermit herself in her home, cooking to her heart’s delight.

When Arron first died, I felt a physical craving for him that I write about in my book, describing it as a hole in my heart, leaking love, something that needed filling up. Every night I went to bed imaging him holding my hand, I longed for him, craved him in a very profound way. Sound familiar? I don’t know about you, but I craved love as part of my grief. When love was gone, I went into withdrawal and when I got through my withdrawal, I either dove right back into the world of dating, latching on to the first person who came along and filled that hole for me, thus feeding my craving like the woman who wrote me the email above, or else I become aware that I had a craving, an addiction, and I held myself back from entering a new relationship, fearful that the love I felt for the new person in my life wasn’t real, or that it would disappear again, which if I am perfectly truthful is how I have been feeling for the past few years. I go on dates, but I don’t seem to really ever connect with anyone I am on a date with, or I find fault with the person, or feel disappointment. OK, that is dating, yes. But I feel as if I have a rather severe case of this kind of detachment, the kind of thing my new friend called “Love Avoidant.” I just Googled “Love Avoidant” and got this:

“Love Addict”/Avoidant Pattern*

Person
Desires
Attracted to
Behaviors
Process of person’s relationships
Love addict Security, safety acceptance, “oneness” (merger)

Fears:

Greatest fear is abandonment

Underlying fear is healthy intimacy (in enmeshment the core of the person is actually sealed off)

Self-contained individuals who appear strong, stable (often avoidant or obsessive compulsive, like their families of origin) Line up next relationship before leaving current one–forming love triangles

Instant closeness, looking for “magic” feeling

Idealizing partner

Obsessing about partner

Talking obsessively to others about him or her

Acting out anger and revenge for being abandoned

Enters relationship in haze of fantasy–found this stable, strong, accepting individual

Gets high from fantasy

Denies how walled in avoidant really is

Avoidant gradually becomes distant and shuts down, abandons relationship in some way

Love addict acts out anger & revenge, turns to affairs and addictive sex

Partner capitulates and renews relationship, or love addict moves on to new relationship

Sense of self and self esteem does not develop–love addict remains in dependent position. Ability to tolerate fear and discomfort must develop for growth to occur

Avoidant person Wants to be connected, but not closely

Fears:

Greatest fear is intimacy/engulfment

Can have a hard time rejecting others or saying no

Individuals who provide much of the enthusiasm and intimacy for both of them Ambivalence all the way through may be in relationship because can’t say no May show initial traditional romantic pursuing, but ultimately enters relationship because love addict provides most of the “intimate energy”; may fear would never make into a relationship otherwise

As love addict wants more and more attention avoidant attempts to please by giving it to them–at least initially

Eventually avoidant becomes overwhelmed by enmeshment and/or neediness of love addict, becomes critical, and eventually backs off from relationship or abandons it

Feels relationship has failed, sometimes gets involved with addictive behavior or affairs to distance, distract, or numb out

May return to relationship out of guilt or fear of being totally alone, or moves on to connect with another partner

Cycle of abandoning and returning can go on and on, especially if love addict starts to move on

I am feeling a little bit like I belong in the “Love Avoidant” table. Could these patterns be common among widows/ers? Or is it just my own little twisted world over here? Something about all this has clearly struck a nerve with me and I am curious about that.

Here is a CNN article I found that explains more. Some of the suggestions for getting over love could also work for widows(ers).

6 Comments

  1. annie February 10, 2011 at 11:29 pm

    I’m reading Ruth Davis Konigsberg’s The Truth About Grief right now and she makes a good point about the dangers of stereotyping widowed folk. There are no studies that support the idea that large numbers of us share grief traits or patterns. None. It all comes down to personality types and individual circumstances. Do some widows rush into relationships one after another. Sure. Some divorced and never married women do the same thing. And couldn’t it be more about the way society emphasizes couples/love and equates worth with that? It’s normal for someone who was happily coupled to miss and want that again. Bad dating habits though are more likely a return to pre-marriage issues/habits we had or a lack of dating experience in general before we married. If one is having trouble with relationships wouldn’t it be better to step back, assess – maybe seek a bit of counseling to pin down why – then assume it is some “grief thing”? I don’t think you are twisted but some of the difficulties we experience post widowhood having nothing really to do with our losses. just a thought.

    1. Abigail - Site Author February 11, 2011 at 12:11 am

      Annie,

      Point well taken. I have edited the post to remove the “we” and replaced it with “I” since you are right. It is my experience and I can’t assume it has been anyone else’s.

      That said, I have had many conversations with widows, and I have seen patterns of behaviour, particularly with regards to yearning for our loved ones. I have also participated in many conversations with widows and widowers about dating.

      I do think that one thing we have in common is in the longing we have for our lost loved one. My point is simply that there are some pretty uncanny resemblances between grieving and elements of addiction and that perhaps based on our past relationship tendencies, grief has the potential of pushing all kinds of those tendencies that we may or may not have had before we were grieving in slightly errant directions.

      I have been on a Brene Brown kick lately and she talks of our society as a whole being the most addicted of any era before. We look for ways to satiate our strong emotions (both grief and joy alike). She describes our society as “the most medicated, the most addicted, the most in debt society in the world. It gave me pause.

      It is my sincere hope that in writing these blogs, people see that I am doing exactly as you suggest – stepping back, assessing, questioning, seeking counseling, etc. I am simply doing it in a form that I hope others too (grieving or not) may benefit from.

  2. annie February 11, 2011 at 10:43 am

    Yearning or pining is actually normal. Freud, in his infamous throw away line about the “work of grief” was actually talking about how grieving people need to work to break their attachment to the deceased so they can form a new attachment. An article I read about child loss quoted one “expert” saying that the only fix for a broken attachment is forming a new one. So it makes sense that many widowed return to dating and feel a sense of urgency about it. But our society equates difficult relationships with higher levels of passion/love, so some people tend to stick with bad matches longer than they should out of the misguided notion that working through obviously poor quality relationships somehow proves love. The only real studies on widowed and dating/remarriage was done in the sixties with half or more dating by six months. However, in the last decade there has been – for women mostly – a backlash against the idea of women moving one and remarriage rates for widows has dropped. There is an unspoken taboo against women who move on. Perhaps it is this societal scorn that makes dating again so fraught with anxiety and missteps? Regardless, with society moving away from the idea of commitment/marriage, dating has probably never been so frustrating for those whose comfort point is marriage. It’s hard to want something that you know works and is good for you when the world is telling you to compromise and settle for “dating for fun” or “companionship with benefits”. Preferred permanent girlfriend status is not the dream for many women and imo a lot harder to accept once you’ve been happily married.

  3. Supa Dupa Fresh February 13, 2011 at 10:20 pm

    Abby, I don’t think craving and pining are necessarily symptoms of the patterns described above.

    Holy crap, you’re on Brene Brown, too? We’re going to have to get that lady into a conversation. Let’s tawk!

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  5. Ceane March 21, 2012 at 4:16 am

    I am a love addict, thought it was co dependent too, My partner is surely a run avoidance addict, he surely does not know it. We got 7 months old twins, he ha run to another state, wants a separation til June July,where he can see other people sexually, I am a co dependent love addict, who is breaking the cycle and leaving him. He shot me down for admitting this, and continued blaming me for the excuses he has for running. I was shot down when my hands were up and I had not a leg to stand on. So know I take his control away, I am not his puppet any more.

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