There is a certain sort of relationship that
is alternately passionate, fiery and painfully unfulfilling – and that tends to puzzle
both outsiders and its participants; a relationship between one person who is, as psychologists
put it, anxiously attached and another who is avoidantly attached. There is, in such
couplings, a constant game of push and pull. The anxiously attached party typically complains
– more or less loudly – that their partner is not responsive enough: they accuse them
of being emotionally distant, withholding, cold and perhaps physically uninterested too.
The avoidant lover, for their part, stays relatively quiet but in their more fed-up
moments, complains that the anxious party is far too demanding, possibly ‘mad’ and,
as they put it pejoratively, ‘needy’. One person seems to want far too much, the
other far too little. Image result for william eggleston The unhappiness unfolds in a cycle.
At the start, the anxious partner loves the avoidant one with great intensity – but,
in time, also growing frustration. The dissatisfaction grows ever more intense until, eventually
one day, fed up with so much seeming rejection, the anxious partner overcomes their fears,
decides they need something better and tells their lover that they’re off. At which point,
the avoidant party undergoes a complete seachange. Their greatest fear, that of being engulfed
in love, disappears at a stroke and reveals something that is normally utterly submerged
in their character: a fear of being abandoned. Wholly liberated from the threat of being
engulfed (the anxious one may by now have packed their bags), the avoidant one gives
free reign to all their reserves of pent up romanticism and ardour – which feel utterly
safe to bring out, now that there seems so little danger of reciprocation. Despite their
fury, the anxious person hears the honeyed words and forthright promises, and – after
some initial doubts – can’t help but be won over. The formerly distant partner appears
to have become, in the nick of time, as they’d always wanted them to be, a warm soul. There
is no reason not to return: after all, it’s not that they didn’t love this person, it
was the feeling they weren’t loved back that was making things impossible… For a time, there is bliss – and it seems that the couple
are headed for long-term happiness. Liberated from their anxiety around engulfment, the
avoidant partner gives free expression to love; liberated from their fear of abandonment,
the anxious one is left feeling secure and trusting. But soon enough the problems return.
Things become, as it were, too nice for the avoidant partner. It seems the anxious one
isn’t going to leave them any more, they’re just going to stick around and seek ever greater
closeness – and so the old fear of engulfment returns. They have no option but to start
to pull away again and get distant, which gradually proves intolerable once again to
the anxious partner. Within weeks or months, the pair are back in the same situation. Fierce
arguments are back: the words needy and cold are once more in circulation. It’s time
for another crisis and another threat of departure. It may go on like this for years, or a lifetime…
From the outside, it is almost funny. From the inside, it is hellish. There are a few
ways out: the avoidant party can realise, and learn to tolerate their fear of engulfment.
The anxious party can grow conscious of their unnatural pull towards unfulfilling people,
refuse to go back after a crisis and seek a future with more secure and reassuring sorts.
Or, yet more hopefully, both partners can acquire
the vocabulary of attachment theory, come to observe their repetitions, gain some insight
into aspects of their childhoods that drive them on – and learn not to act out their
compulsions. They can learn the games they are unconsciously playing – and then, to
the relief of all who care for them and to the redemption of their relationship, refuse
to play them any longer. Our book Sorrows of Love helps us handle the inevitabel sorrows of love. If you enjoyed our film, please subscribe to our channel and click the bell icon to turn on notifications.