Do you have a pattern of being attracted to an emotionally unavailable intimate partner who is emotionally protected and difficult to get close with?
Or do you have a history of pushing away the sort of person who is available, caring, and easy to get close with?
How Do You Sabotage Intimacy?
Whether we are in the process of falling in love, or have been married for 16 years, we all know that it feels amazing to be emotionally connected our partner. Much less understood is how a couple can start holding hands with a close connection and then begin the painful process of falling out of love.
All of us disconnect in different ways. It’s a torturous feeling to experience love when we are so familiar with heartbreak. As Tina Turner reminds us, “who needs a heart when a heart can be broken?”
What are some of your disconnecting behaviors? Some of these might sound familiar:
- Overworking, criticizing, interrupting, withdrawing, drinking,
- Clinging, withholding your opinion, taking on too much responsibility, lying
- Keeping secrets, finding fault, withholding affection
At the heart of these disconnecting behaviors are deeply rooted beliefs about ourselves. “Everything a person is and everything he knows resides in the tangled thicket of his intertwined neurons”[1. A General Theory of Love page 164] forged by the synapses of love and the rupture of attunement.
The authors of A General Theory of Love explain that “a child who knew and loved a deceitful, selfish, or jealous parent does not often learn to love differently at age twenty, forty, or sixty.”[2. A General Theory of Love page 159]
Here are a few reasons we push our partners away:
- If I get close to you, I’ll lose myself, my freedom, and individuality
- I fear that you’ll leave me, and once again I won’t be good enough
- Intimacy means revealing my true self, and no one likes that part of me.
All of us have heartbreaking memories that cause us to disconnect from love in two self-sabotaging ways: distant intimacy and constant intimacy.
The individuals who boast about independence in relationships use distant intimacy to guard their heart.
Distant intimacy is my shield against being rejected, abused, or controlled in a relationship, horrible feelings I experienced as an innocent child.
Being emotionally aloof allows me to feel less vulnerable, therefore stronger. As a result, I don’t permit myself to personally invest into my relationships, which keeps the feelings of safety. But it doesn’t allow me to feel the connection and closeness that I long for.
Intimacy from a distance is not satisfying because there is less emotion, less passion, and less connection. And the sad truth is, nothing risked, nothing gained.
But the problem is, I never let someone into my heart who could reshape “the bars and walls of [my heart’s] prison into a home where love can bloom and flourish.” [3. A General Theory of Love page 164] It’s risky to stay in a loving relationship. To stand there and embrace loving feelings comes with a tsunami of fear for the distant intimacy lover.
Maybe I protect myself by “observing” all of the flaws of my partner, by distancing myself from the possibility of loving them for who they are. As a result, I damage my perception of my partner and the relationship by entering into what Dr. John Gottman calls Negative Sentiment Override. This is a fancy way of saying you’re bias to seeing the negatives, even in our partner’s positive actions.
This is such a powerful bias that couples in the negative sentiment override miss 50% of each other’s bids for connection. A sign of negative sentiment override is a tendency to view harmless or neutral comments as negative. If my partner tells me that she wants to go salsa dancing and my major complaint is how little activities we do together, I will react with suspicion.
If I have a negative sentiment override, my mind will focus on uncovering the bad traits of my partner and ignore the good traits. The big problem is I get a very skewed view of my partner, convincing me that this partner, like the one’s before are not “the one.”