In asking clients, "What does your spouse do to avoid you?" I have come up with a list of over three hundred answers. Here are some of those answers; "reading romance novels," "disappearing into the garage," "camping out on the phone," spending too much time at mom's," "memorizing every word in the NY Times..."
The fact that so many couples perforate their relationships with 'exits' arises an obvious question: why do men an women spend so much time avoiding intimacy?
There are two very good reasons: anger and fear.
Why the anger?
In the romantic stage of a relationship, people find it relatively easy to be intimate, because they are filled with the anticipation of wish fulfillment. Their partner seem to be Mommy and Daddy and doctor and therapist all rolled into one. Months or years later they come to the realization that their partners are committed to their own salvation, not theirs, they feel angry and betrayed. A tacit agreement has been broken. In retaliation they erect an emotional barricade. In effect, they are saying "I am angry at you for not meeting my needs." They begin to seek pleasure and satisfaction of their needs outside the relationship. Like a hungry cow stretching its neck over a fence to munch on green grass, they look elsewhere for gratification.
Why the fear?
The other reason couples avoid intimacy is fear. Specifically the fear of pain. On an unconscious level, many people react to their partners as if they were enemies. Any person---whether parent or partner or next door neighbor---who is perceived by the old brain to be a source of 'need gratification' and then appears to be withholding that gratification is catalogued by the old brain as a source of pain.
If you partner does not nurture you and attend to your fundamental needs, a part of you fears that you will die, and it believes that your partner is the one who is allowing this to happen. When a basic lack of nurturing is coupled with an onslaught of verbal and in some cases actual physical abuse, the partner becomes an even more potent enemy. The unconscious reason some people avoid their partner, is not that they are scouting for greener pastures, but that they are fleeing death. The appropriate image in this case is not the bucolic scene of a cow foraging for food, but that of a terrified lamb running way from a lion.
Most cases of fear of a partner is unconscious. All couples are aware of is a mild feeling of anxiety around each other and a desire to be with other people or be involved in other activities.
Some couples are literally acting out an 'exit' in their behaviors. An 'exit' is acting out one's feelings rather then putting them into language, it is shown in their behavior. This is like an affair, or as small as retreating to watching TV or fantasizing about someone else while making love. It is withdrawing from the relationship the energy that belongs in the relationship. An unconscious feeling of abandonment to the partner in need.
No matter how valid the reasons are for the 'avoidance behavior', it is important in the initial stages of the healing process that couples gradually draw their energy back into the relationship. Until thy close some of their numerous 'exits', they will always be seeking pleasure in inappropriate places. The basic problem being that areas need to be defined before they can be resolved.
As couples becomes more aware of their avoidance of intimacy and needs, and more focused on each other, they often have to come face to face with their repressed disappointments of anger and fear. They minimize their degree of happiness by being distracted by outside activities. The goal then is to identify the 'exits' or avoidance behavior and gradually learn to close those gaps. With professional help the couple can learn to identify and tackle these tasks which is to identify the emptiness in their marriage and fill the gaps with intimacy and revitalize vital energy in the relationship.
Getting the Love You Want