Help! I’m Married to an Avoider

You can’t change or reform another person. If that’s why you’re here, I’m sorry. You will be disappointed. However, if you want to know better how to love and connect with your spouse, then read on.

Is My Spouse An Avoider?

If your spouse could say many of the following, he/she probably has the avoider love style:

  • I take care of myself and expect others to do the same.
  • My childhood was fine, but I don’t remember much about it.
  • I’m independent, self-reliant and need my space.
  • My spouse and children seem to have a lot more emotional needs than I do.
  • I’m not comfortable when other people get emotional.
  • My children’s needs and emotions are often overwhelming and irritating.
  • When something bad happens I try to get over it quickly.
  • I’m happiest when others are doing well and don’t need a lot from me.
  • I don’t think a ton about my needs and feelings.
  • I like to make decisions on my own.
  • I rarely cry.
  • I don’t really miss people when I’m apart from them.
  • Why can’t other people be more independent like I am?

You can read more about it here to get a bigger picture: The Avoider Love Style

Your Spouse Needs Compassion

If your spouse is an avoider, he or she will need your compassion and understanding. Connection is scary for them, and they have a lot of underlying fear that often doesn’t appear on the surface.

Try to picture your spouse as a child. What do you know about their childhood? Do you know any of their stories of feeling rejected?

You have to first recognize that your spouse got here through pain.

These coping mechanisms were caused by injury. Your spouse didn’t receive the comfort, nurture, and emotional connection that children have a built-in need for. Your spouse had the natural desire for connection and tried to get it with his/her parents or caregivers. However, it is so painful to:

  • want something you need and not get it.
  • want someone to know you yet feel rejected.
  • need someone to acknowledge and help you feel and deal with your emotions, but to have your emotions dismissed or overshadowed by a parent’s bigger or controlling emotions.

At some point, it seemed easier to your spouse to not want than to want and never receive. They had legitimate, unmet needs and decided that if they just don’t need them, they will hurt less.

How Can You Love and Comfort and Avoider?

Unless your spouse has been working toward becoming a secure connector, he or she likely doesn’t know how to receive comfort. Verbal and physical comfort probably makes them feel uncomfortable. Milan and Kay Yerkovich in their book How We Love Workbook: Making Deeper Connections in Marriage explain that you will need to seek God for guidance and apply these suggestions slowly, over time, one at a time. The following suggestions are gleaned from their book:

Remain Patient and Calm

Keep your voice low and calm. If you come across angry or impatient, that will feel unsafe to your spouse and will drive them away from you even more. Try to avoid intense agitated emotions with them, and if you are angry, communicate the hurt behind the anger. Give them time to think and wait patiently for their answer. Milan and Kay suggest that if you’ve asked a question and a long time has passed,

“say patiently and warmly, ‘I’m going to wait until you can put words to your feelings and thoughts. I want to understand.'”

Try Not to Take it Personally

Your spouse learned very young that relationships do not bring comfort. They were not given the chance to communicate their inner feelings in a safe environment where they would be met with love, support, comfort, and understanding. Try not to get defensive and repeat an unsafe environment for their emotions. Their response with you is their response with everyone. Rather than taking it personally, try to view them with compassion.

Give Them Feedback

Likely, your spouse isn’t even aware when they are pulling away. They do it so naturally that it is just second-nature. Try different gentle approaches and keep track of what is healing and helpful for your spouse and what is not. For example,

“Could you try to share some part of your day that was stressful for you?” or “You seem very detached this evening” (Yerkovich p 44).

Communicate That You’d Like to Understand Their Past

Remember that they have not felt understood or known by their parents. Questions seemed to be used against them. Knowing this, if they do choose to open up to you, never, ever use what they share against them in a disagreement.  Use discretion here for the right time and the right words. Milan and Kay suggest,

“ask them to describe memories of being alone, ignored, or unseen. Help them link feelings to the childhood events they describe (the soul words list can be very helpful.) Also invite these avoiders to explore emotions of anger or sadness that could not be expressed in earlier years.” (Yerkovich, 25)

Recognize Their Attempts to Connect With You

Did you know that avoiders show love by doing tasks? This makes it all the more important to express appreciation for the tasks they do. Also, did you know that avoiders link feelings to shame? If you have done the last activity, and your spouse did venture to tell you stories, make sure that you listen well. They likely felt very vulnerable, uncomfortable, and embarrassed sharing. Reflect back what they are saying to show you are hearing them (without interrupting),

  • “It sounds like you felt very lonely as a child,”
  • “It seems like that memory was a really bad one, and it makes you very sad to think about it,”
  • “That must have been so hard. I hear a lot of hurt and grief when you talk about…”

Listen patiently, waiting (sometimes a long time) for them to formulate their thoughts. Don’t interrupt. When they have finished, comfort them and affirm them. Then thank your spouse for opening up to you,

  • “It means a lot to me that you shared that with me.”
  • “Thank you for the honor of telling me that memory.”
  • “I feel really close to you when you tell me memories like this. Thank you for letting me in.”
  • “Thank you for sharing that with me. I know it’s hard to talk about. It helps me know and understand you better, and I want to know you well, because I love you.”

If You Can, Help Your Spouse Uncover Their Unacknowledged, Undeveloped Wants, Desires, Interests, and Talents

Since their needs, emotions, and person were not drawn out, comforted, or nurtured in a loving way, your spouse is kind of like a treasure box. Likely, he or she has skills and interests that were never uncovered and explored. Be careful to not add your voice to the naysayers of his/her past. Be your spouse’s champion, noticing unearthed skills and championing exploration. Your spouse might just discover an activity that brings them great joy or even the one they were made for.

Look for Ways to Comfort Them Through Words and Touch

Be on the lookout for when they may be expressing an emotion. Do your best to comfort them. While it is often difficult to receive tenderness for an avoider, keep trying, even though their responses may be awkward. Since avoiders often see sex and physical intimacy as the same thing, you will need to communicate that your physical comfort is non-sexual in nature. Milan and Kay offer some ideas for what to say,

“‘You look upset and you probably want to be left alone, but come sit by me on the couch and let me put my arm around you.’ Be playful when possible: ‘Come here, honey. Even Superman needed Lois Lane.'” (Yerkovich 45)

Comfort For You

As you seek to extend love and comfort to your spouse, be sure that you are taking care of yourself.  You need to be practicing good self-care in all areas.

  • Get good sleep
  • Eat well
  • Exercise regularly
  • Be part of supportive and enjoyable groups (Bible studies, support groups, hobby groups, book clubs- whatever you enjoy that is fun to you)
  • Get counseling (as needed)
  • Relax and regularly participate in hobbies or other activities that are fun for you
  • Develop friendships

One aspect of this is ensuring you have safe, healthy relationships with friends and family in which you are both giving and receiving comfort and love. This means communicating your needs in a gentle, respectful, clear way to friends and family that love you. You can invite your spouse to love you in ways that communicate love to you. Knowing what you know, it may take time for them to feel comfortable with tenderness and relational closeness, so be patient and inviting, not demanding.

Parenting with an avoider is can be very lonely. Avoiders feel overwhelmed and inadequate in the face of the unpredicatable, messy nature of children in progress. Giving and receiving emotional comfort and connection is out of their league, but required in parenting. Find support from other same-gender friends who have children as well. Seek out mentors, who are older and wiser and have been through the stage of parenting you are in. These can give you support and advice. Hire a sitter or do childcare exchanges with friends so that you are able to get a break sometimes. Ask your spouse to consider taking a parenting class with you or working with a mentor couple with you through a parenting book. This could help facilitate discussion and a team-mindset.

Want To Know More?

Milan and Kay Yerkovich wrote a great book called How We Love: Discover Your Love Style, Enhance Your Marriage. The workbook quoted in this post is very helpful and practical for taking steps toward growth. They have a whole series for singles, couples, counselors, etc at How We Love. (note, I’m not an affiliate or anything. I just have benefited from these resources and want to share).

I’ll be going through the other love styles in the upcoming posts. Subscribe so you don’t miss valuable information about the pleaser, vascillator, controller, and victim love styles.

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Photo Credit: Photo adapted from Photo by Eric Ward on Unsplash.

Sources:

  • Milan & Kay Yerkovich. How We Love: Discover Your Love Style Enhance Your Marriage. Christian Audio.
  • Milan & Kay Yerkovich. How We Love Workbook: Making Deeper Connections in Marriage. Waterbrook: 2017.
  • Milan & Kay Yerkovich. How We Love Our Kids: The Five Love Styles of Parenting. How to End the Struggles and Tension. The Crown Publishing Group: 2011.

Copyright ©  2019 Angela Edmonds. All rights reserved.

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