“Self, Other, We.” Part 3: The Avoider… Part 2

“Self, Other, We.”
Part 3: The Avoider… Part 2

I thought it prudent to pause in the series to respond to a great question from one of our readers named Olivia. I hope her question and my response will be helpful to many of you in your journey of love.

“Your post https://howwelove.com/blog/self-other-we-part-2-the-avoider/17654/ resonated with me. I got to the end and really wished for a section on growth goals for *the person dealing with an avoider*. My husband is the avoider, and we are in a vicious cycle in which I keep pointing out ways in which he is not “there” for me, and he keeps trying to “make up for it.” But when what he does is a reaction to my disappointment/anger and not something initiated of his own desire and will, I can’t bring myself to accept it as a meaningful expression of his love. If you can’t tell yet, I’m the vacillator. Is he just not capable of what I want and therefore I’m continually beating him up emotionally for not doing the impossible? Please help.”

Dear Olivia,

Thank you for your wonderful question. Here are a few suggestions that you can find in our book How We Love on pages 324-326 in the section “Helping Avoiders.”

  1. Please understand that your anger at his inability to “see you” the way you want to be seen will be the primary precipitator of the vicious cycle you describe. In other words, your abandonment wounds fuel the rage you feel when he is not attentive to your emotional needs. This is the first area you must work on, if not you will permanently hold him at arm’s length and you’ll never become close because he will be afraid of you. Spend time in the Vacillator section of the workbook to work on your historical losses. Share your thoughts with him in a humble way and ask him for help in your recovery.
  2. Stay Calm: Anger repels them and causes them to clam up. Share vulnerable emotions i.e. I’m lonely, scared etc. Being angry with Avoiders for their lack of emotional development is like being angry with your bicycle because it won’t go fast enough on the freeway. It simply can’t keep up with the cars in its present condition.
  3. Give gentle feedback when they pull away. Let them know they just faded away in the discussion. Ask them where they went? Ask if they were emotionally triggered which led to shutting down. Empathize with their discomfort and pain. Give them time to recover.
  4. Tell them you want to understand their history. There is a reason they don’t connect emotionally. They never learned how!!!! They were never asked how they felt or what emotions they were experiencing in life.
  5. Don’t discount small efforts: The most consistent complaint we hear from spouses of Vacillators is “I can never do it right.” Your “lack of acceptance” of his attempts at love will only discourage and dissuade him from even trying. Learn to say “Thank you.”

I hope this is helpful, even if it is a small start. Kay is a fully recovered avoider, so I resonate with your frustration in the early years of our marriage. I had to follow these steps myself and they really worked!!!!

Thanks for listening,
Milan