When our intimacy button differs from our partner, we are bound to enter into the “perfect storm” that prevents both parties from getting what they want. It’s like starting a weight loss program that entails eating big macs and supersized french fries five times a day. Good luck with that…
In one of the most psychologically recognized toxic relationships, one partner craves intimacy while the other becomes uncomfortable when things get close.
I used to be an Anxious Attachment type. Or as society would label me – needy. As a result, I tended to attract Avoidants because of my intense expression of emotional intimacy supplemented their own suppression of emotional intimacy.
Studies on intimacy buttons reveal that when our need for intimacy is met and reciprocated by our partner, our happiness increases. On the flip side of the intimacy coin, incompatible intimacy lowers both our happiness and satisfaction with the relationship.
Our love buttons are unconscious biological and emotional luggage that has been filled by our past experiences. These past experiences form our emotional blueprint of how relationships are ‘suppose to work,’ and how we believe we should behave within those relationships.
In my relationship prior to my health incident, I’ve never felt such an amazing high when my Avoidant partner finally came closer to me. But then I felt more unwanted than trash when she withdrew.
I had never felt so pathetic and insecure in my life.
I craved her love. She’d give me a kiss, only to turn around and bolt the other direction, by shaming me, by calling me crazy or ignoring me altogether. Our unconscious desires for closeness and intimacy in the relationship not only affected our intimacy but impacted all of our conversations.
Psychology calls this the Anxious-Avoidant Trap, or as I like to call it, Lost in the Sea of Love. I felt so alone, I might as well have been stranded in the middle of the Pacific Ocean
I want you to meet Anxious Alex and Avoidant Alli.
Anxious Alex met Avoidant Alli using Okcupid, a popular dating website. After the first few dates, they were happy with each other. Puppy love had taken over, and they adored each other.
As the months passed, Anxious Alex wanted to spend more and more time with Avoidant Alli. He would come over after work and drop everything just to spend time with her. Like most anxious people, Alex was a boyfriend chameleon.
Since Avoidant Alli had become a vegetarian, Alex hopped on the bandwagon too, even though he loved meat. The true motivation, unknown to Alex, is that his low value of himself and intimacy style causes him to accept new identities that his girlfriends already had.
He does this partially because he perceives himself as low value and unworthy of love, and finds her lifestyle/value as more compelling than his own.But the other reason is his fear of being unloved. As a result, he adopts this new value system as an emotional strategy in order to increase intimacy among his partner and him. His real motivation is fear, not love.
As anxious Alex finds ways to get emotionally close, Avoidant Alli initially loves the attention. Eventually, both Alex and Alli become extremely close.
I can tell you this feels amazing. It’s a natural high without the drugs. But over time, this closeness begins to feel suffocating to Avoidant Alli.
She begins craving space and distance. As a result, she deactivates her intimacy button by withdrawing and behaving in ways that puts space between them.
Anxious Alex recognizes this. He sees this distance as a threat to the relationship and activates his intimacy button as a response.
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He wants to keep the intimacy high going. Anxious Alex’s mind becomes a targeted missile with Avoidant Alli as the target. Because of his response, Anxious Alex’s anxiety causes him to panic, to feel insecure – like the world is ending. This is all an illusion, of course, but Alex’s biological and emotional luggage is creating such intense emotions that logic doesn’t exist.
This flood of emotion motivates Alex to behave in ways to get both Alli and him back up to that amazing intimacy high. So Alex starts texting her more frequently. He even shows up at her place unexpected. Alex’s dire need to resolve this emotional conflict causes him to use bat-shit crazy behavior.
4 text messages in an hour. Anxious Alex feels like his relationship with Avoidant Alli is fragile, so he begins to behave in ways to constantly prove to himself that she still loves him.
Sadly, the emotional frustration from Alex’s crazy behavior and Avoidant Alli’s dire need for space causes Alli to react in hostile ways.