Approach-Avoidance Conflicts for Love Avoidants

Posted on October 18th, 2012

Approach-Avoidance Conflicts are very important for anyone interested in understanding the behavior of a Love Avoidant in love-addicted relationships. A Love Avoidant is someone who both fears intimacy and abandonment and generally forms romantic partnerships with codependents or Love Addicts. Love Avoidants commonly also suffer form Intimacy Anorexia and Narcissism. Their behaviors surrounding love, romance, sex, and relationships almost always involve Approach-Avoidance Conflicts.

An Approach-Avoidance Conflict is when something you desire has both positive and negative implications. The way the pattern is acted out is that when you are near to what you want, you only want to avoid it again. When you are far from what you want, you only want to approach it again. With this conflict, the goals are incompatible and indecisiveness is the result. For example, with the Love Avoidant, it’s a case of, "Can’t live with ’em, can’t live without ’em." Love-Avoidants have on-going love-hate relationships that can manifest as constant ambivalence or as repeating cycles of closeness and distance.

Three Conflicts

Neal Miller has identified three conflicts: Approach-Approach, Approach-Avoidance, and Avoidance-Avoidance. In an Approach-Approach Conflict, both desired objects have positive aspects, such as, "Should I choose Bachelor #1 or Bachelor #2?" Regardless of which bachelor is chosen, this person is still going out on a date. An Approach-Approach Conflict is the least difficult situation of the three conflicts and is a win-win.

An Avoidance-Avoidance Conflict is the choice of the lesser of two evils. For example, the Donner party faced an Avoidance-Avoidance Conflict in deciding whether to eat their dead friends to survive the harsh winter while stranded in the mountains or to let themselves starve to death. (Please forgive the scenario, however, it is a real one.) The closer one gets to the goal in this conflict, the less motivation they tend to possess. Due to this, there can also be plenty of ambivalence in Avoidance-Avoidance Conflicts.

Breaking the Approach-Avoidance Cycle

Like so many problems, the real dilemma is all in the mind. Experts recommend focusing on the Approach aspect of the conflict in order to choke out the Avoidance aspect. If a Love Avoidant does not allow their fear to play such a big role, they could gradually come closer and closer to the real intimacy they so desperately need.

People who experience Approach-Avoidance Conflicts in romantic relationships remain stuck in their loneliness and despair. As long as the conflict cycle continues so too will the misery. If you desire to be close but you always pull away, it’s clear to see that you’ll never have what you want-true intimacy. Things will stay the same, meaning if you’re currently unhappy, you’ll stay unhappy. Unless you can turn love into a 100% approachable situation, you will continue to poison the flower you’re trying so desperately to grow.

By changing the way you think about the situation, you can turn around your love-related Approach-Avoidance Conflict. Are you happy with your ambivalence? Are you happy repeating the near-far cycle, which makes stability impossible? If it’s been going on for long enough, then, of course, the answer is no. Since you’re already unhappy, you have nothing to lose by facing your fear of intimacy and letting your partner in, taking your walls down, and, at least, enjoying some love before the (as you see it) inevitable break-up.

Another strategy is to build more space or "alone time" into the relationship so that the Love Avoidant won’t feel the need to pull away. This will involve the generally love-addicted, codependent partner also being less needy and controlling. In other words, building more space into the relationship is a win-win that helps both the Avoidant and the Addict get healthier.

Another point for the Love Avoidant to consider is the #1 tenet of the Eightfold Path of Buddhism, which is loosely equivalent to the Ten Commandments of Christianity. Quite simply, that ground-breaking idea is that pain is unavoidable. This is what the Buddha came to realize as he sat meditating under the tree for years on end. That pain is unavoidable is a fact of life that you are not going to change. The sooner you accept this, the healthier your love life can be. It is better than to have loved and lost than to have never loved at all. The truth is without the existence of white, there is no black. Likewise, if all you ever knew was love and nothing else, it would not be too special. What makes love so good is having known that the opposite of love-pain-is so terrible. So, in actuality, if you find yourself living an Approach-Avoidance Conflict with love, whatever hurt drove you to that behavior also has the capacity to allow you to love deeper than others who’ve never been so broken. In other words, if you let it, your pain can be the key to a better, more special, deeper love than other people have.

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