“Self, Other, We.” Part 3: The Avoider… Part 2

“Self, Other, We.”
Part 3: The Avoider… Part 2

I thought it prudent to pause in the series to respond to a great question from one of our readers named Olivia. I hope her question and my response will be helpful to many of you in your journey of love.

“Your post https://howwelove.com/blog/self-other-we-part-2-the-avoider/17654/ resonated with me. I got to the end and really wished for a section on growth goals for *the person dealing with an avoider*. My husband is the avoider, and we are in a vicious cycle in which I keep pointing out ways in which he is not “there” for me, and he keeps trying to “make up for it.” But when what he does is a reaction to my disappointment/anger and not something initiated of his own desire and will, I can’t bring myself to accept it as a meaningful expression of his love. If you can’t tell yet, I’m the vacillator. Is he just not capable of what I want and therefore I’m continually beating him up emotionally for not doing the impossible? Please help.”

Dear Olivia,

Thank you for your wonderful question. Here are a few suggestions that you can find in our book How We Love on pages 324-326 in the section “Helping Avoiders.”

  1. Please understand that your anger at his inability to “see you” the way you want to be seen will be the primary precipitator of the vicious cycle you describe. In other words, your abandonment wounds fuel the rage you feel when he is not attentive to your emotional needs. This is the first area you must work on, if not you will permanently hold him at arm’s length and you’ll never become close because he will be afraid of you. Spend time in the Vacillator section of the workbook to work on your historical losses. Share your thoughts with him in a humble way and ask him for help in your recovery.
  2. Stay Calm: Anger repels them and causes them to clam up. Share vulnerable emotions i.e. I’m lonely, scared etc. Being angry with Avoiders for their lack of emotional development is like being angry with your bicycle because it won’t go fast enough on the freeway. It simply can’t keep up with the cars in its present condition.
  3. Give gentle feedback when they pull away. Let them know they just faded away in the discussion. Ask them where they went? Ask if they were emotionally triggered which led to shutting down. Empathize with their discomfort and pain. Give them time to recover.
  4. Tell them you want to understand their history. There is a reason they don’t connect emotionally. They never learned how!!!! They were never asked how they felt or what emotions they were experiencing in life.
  5. Don’t discount small efforts: The most consistent complaint we hear from spouses of Vacillators is “I can never do it right.” Your “lack of acceptance” of his attempts at love will only discourage and dissuade him from even trying. Learn to say “Thank you.”

I hope this is helpful, even if it is a small start. Kay is a fully recovered avoider, so I resonate with your frustration in the early years of our marriage. I had to follow these steps myself and they really worked!!!!

Thanks for listening,


12 Responses to ““Self, Other, We.” Part 3: The Avoider… Part 2”

I am not sure I completely agree with response. We vacilators do have anger issues. But Ive tried so hard to give space to make hubby happy, I now look like an avoider. I was even told I dont care anymore… But if I care Im told Im controlling. So I cant win either way.

It’s a common core pattern (Vacillator /avoider) and a painful one. It’s frustrating to feel like nothing works. All you can do is to work on changing you. Do the workbook for the Vacillator and try and express the vulnerable feelings underneath the anger. Caring without the anger is the key. Vacillators go through a pattern of protest, despair, detachment. Being idealist, they come around and try again and again going through the same cycle. Finally they detach, don’t care and can look like the avoider. I hope you are not to that point. Remember you each have a childhood history that is feeding this root problem. It was in place before you ever met. Try and link the past to the present. It can give you compassion for yourself and your spouse.

Curious… what should the Avoider do for the Vacilator to help them? Also what to do if your Avoider isn’t willing to grow and thinks they are just fine how they are.

If you look in the back of How We Love at the workbook, each love style has a chapter in the workbook . At the end of each of these workbook chapters is a section on How to help the Avoider or How to help the pleaser etc.

As an avoider, I can be fairly content with “space” but if it is too intentional it will come off as seeming to not care. I liked what Milan said because it gently prods the avoider to deal with their issues, which at the heart is learning to connect. It’s tricky because we can’t be ‘pushed’ to connect or it does feel controlling and when we are around highly emotional people it feels like we’re being controlled by their emotions, but when ‘gently encouraged’ to connect and thanked for those small efforts it goes a long way. I tend to be empathetic even though I’m an avoider so I loved what he said about expressing emotions such as feeling lonely or scared because they trigger my empathy and make we WANT to connect. Anger, frustration and disappointment make me want to run away.
Thank you Milan, this was helpful for me as an avoider and hope that there is hope I can learn to connect. I’ve had the desire to try the comfort circle because I think that will help, but my fear is overwhelming at times.

Milan, You are reaching so many couples! I am extremely grateful for your work. We are approaching year 40 of marriage this summer. Four successfully launched adult kids and now six grandkids, I call my “littles”.
Husband is an avoider-extreme and I a mild vacillator. WE both took your LOVE STYLE TESTS after I (alone, because my avoider would not go) went to a weekend workshop this past year.
You and Kay have opened up a world of helpful tools for me.
These replies to Olivia’s question are like finally meeting people who talk my language.
I just want to be of help to others who are younger in their marriages.
The pain is real for this LOVE STYLE combination. Yep, I have STORIES galore!
Anyone reading my post … just keep following this advice!
I have been on this journey for a long time and someday hope to tell my STORY… but for now…let me encourage you all to keep following Milan and Kay…life long marriage is tough, but worth it!

I took the quiz and am equally an avoider and a pleaser. How can this be? I feel that my avoider was not developed in my childhood but in my early married life when my husband traveled extensively and I had to take on the role of an extremely independent mother with three children and a household to run. My husband was home on the weekends but was out of touch on how to re-enter home and family life.

Traveling is hard on a family. Avoiders and Pleasers are alike in that neither like conflict and will avoid messy emotions. The big differences: Pleasers get very anxious when someone is unhappy or mad at them and will pursue to fix the conflict on a superficial level. (Bake cookies, take you out to dinner). The avoider doesn’t care if someone is upset and is unlikely to pursue. They assume you will “get over it” which is how they cope. Our new test….coming soon will help explain these differences.

Is any of this useful for a single individual? I am a widow in my mid 40s and have not had a serious relationship since my husband passed 6 years ago. According to the test results I am an avoider, but with my husband being dead, advice on fixing my marriage is not particularly useful (although to be fair my maariage had a lot of issues especially the last 5-6 years of it, and me being an avoider caused some of them, combined with the fact that my late husband had control issues). It seems like in my current single state being an avoider is a plus. What would be a reason to work towards “secure connector” status if there is no one to connect to?

I’m sorry for your loss. You are still young and likely to remarry. Moving towards a secure connector will help you choose others to relate to who are more emotionally healthy. This book is about marriage but it applies to all relationships, friends, parenting, etc. Being an avoider isn’t a plus because Avoiders block grief and tears are the way God designed our bodies to release stress and tension. Sorry for the delayed response. I was sick a lot in January. Blessings, kay

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