How To Love Someone With Avoidant Personality Disorder

How to love someone with avoidant personality disorder

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Do you have an avoidant partner who seems withdrawn or emotionally disconnected all the time?

It’s often challenging to know how to love someone with avoidant personality disorder since they tend to avoid intimacy of any kind.

However, it’s possible to have a healthy intimate relationship with a partner who has an avoidant attachment style.

The best way to show love to a significant other who shuns emotional closeness is by developing understanding and empathy.

These skills allow you to love your avoidant partner in a nurturing way. And when your partner commits to communicating openly, as much as possible, you will also feel loved and respected.

WHAT IS AVOIDANT PERSONALITY DISORDER?

According to mental health professionals, avoidant personality disorder (AVPD) is primarily a pervasive pattern of social inhibition, feelings of inadequacy, and hypersensitivity to negative evaluation.

This personality disorder emerges by early adulthood. Furthermore, for a diagnosis of AVPD, a person must be affected in a variety of settings including the workplace and in intimate, romantic relationships.

Causes of avoidant personality disorder

CAUSES OF AVOIDANT PERSONALITY DISORDER

There are avoidant behaviors your partner likely has that hurt or aggravate you especially when all you’re trying to do is love them deeply.

When this happens, it’s natural to get into a place of blame and judgment. To help interrupt this natural process, it’s helpful to understand why your partner struggles with a pervasive pattern of social avoidance.

Fundamentally, avoidant personality disorder stems from childhood trauma. Neglect, emotional abuse, and enmeshment are common in individuals who develop AVPD.

Enmeshment, also known as “parental overprotection” or “helicopter parenting” is when a parent fails to have appropriate emotional boundaries with their child.

The result is the parent fixates on the child to manage their own anxieties. If your avoidant partner was enmeshed, they likely felt suffocated growing up by this parent.

It’s natural to develop avoidant behaviors when their caregiver’s emotions, needs, or demands were more important than their own.

Seeking separation and avoiding emotional closeness with others is understandable when you remember your avoidant partner was likely suffocated growing up.

Avoidant behaviors are your partner’s attempt to have a sense of their own identity. Given their overprotection, they will falsely believe that a loss of self is the cost of intimacy.

Other times, adults who develop avoidant personality disorder were frequently criticized or rejected by parents. Also, parents of those who develop AVPD may also not encourage achievement for the child.

Additionally, people with AVPD report more experiences of physical and emotional abuse growing up. All of these wounds contribute to why your avoidant partner struggles with poor self-esteem.

Finally, people who develop AVPD were more likely to be teased, and be less popular, than other kids growing up. If your partner has AVPD, it is likely that their childhood was filled with a sense of rejection and loneliness.

When a child is “overprotected,” their individual sense of self isn’t respected or acknowledged.

If you find you do not know much about your avoidant partner’s past, this is completely normal. After all, those with AVPD tend to struggle with emotional intimacy and avoid vulnerability.

Symptoms of avoidant personality disorder

AVOIDANT PERSONALITY DISORDER SYMPTOMS

The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders highlights seven symptoms of avoidant personality disorder. To be diagnosed with AVPD, a person must exhibit four or more of the following symptoms:

Avoiding work activities that require “significant” interaction with others due to fear of criticism or rejection

An unwillingness to speak to, or have a relationship with, someone unless they are certain the other person likes them

Being withdrawn in social interactions due to fear of embarrassment (they may seem like a wallflower)

Obsessive thinking about how they may be criticized or rejected by others in social settings

Withholding information about themselves in their relationships due to a sense they are not “good enough

A belief that they are less worthy (less attractive, interesting, desirable, funny, etc.) and more awkward than others

Resistance to trying new activities or taking personal risks (asking someone out, applying for a job, starting a business, etc.) out of fear they may embarrass themselves

You may recognize one, or more, of these symptoms in your partner. If so, please understand these symptoms are not a reflection of you or your relationship.

You may also be wondering how avoidant personality disorder differs from social anxiety.

Clinical psychologist, Dr. Ramani Durvasula explains that AVPD may be seen as a much more pervasive, consistent, and potentially severe social anxiety.

This social anxiety is reinforced by a belief that, no matter what, they will say the “wrong” thing and others will reject them.

A person with AVPD is also highly sensitive to perceived criticism. So much so that they will worry incessantly about how others may criticize them in social settings.

Due to this fear of embarrassment and rejection, an avoidant partner will understandably try to become “invisible” in social settings.

When they do socialize, a person with avoidant personality disorder will likely gravitate to small gatherings. They will often have a very limited group of friends.

To manage anxiety, your partner may also drink alcohol excessively when socializing. Or out of the stress of it all, they may avoid social situations and relationships altogether.

How to love someone with avoidant personality disorder

WHY DO AVOIDANT PERSONALITY DISORDERS AVOID RELATIONSHIPS?

If you find that your avoidant partner resists social situations, be aware that this is out of their intense fear of rejection and embarrassment.

While not always obvious, people with AVPD do desire closeness and emotional intimacy. It is a common misbelief that people with avoidant personality disorders avoid relationships out of a lack of interest in others.

It’s just that to them, relationships sometimes seem too risky. Remember, your avoidant partner likely is convinced there is something so wrong about them that rejection is inevitable.

This being said, if you find you are in a relationship with an avoidant partner, this is good news. This means that despite their poor self-esteem and anxieties, their desire for closeness is overriding their fears.

Acting in such a way is incredibly courageous! You may even want to compliment your partner for being so brave.

ARE AVOIDANTS ABUSIVE?

Given the common history of abuse for those who develop avoidant personality disorder, it’s natural to wonder if avoidant romantic partners are more likely to be abusive.

This is understandable considering how prevalent intimate partner violence (IPV) is, unfortunately. This is true for both genders with 37% of women and 30% of men having experienced intimate partner violence

There are certainly risk facts for IPV. These include financial stress and unemployment. Some personality disorders are also predictors of intimate partner violence.

Researchers after reviewing 163 studies found that antisocial and borderline personality disorders are risk factors for abusive relationships.

Yet, it has not been found that avoidant personality disorder is a risk factor for abuse.

How to love someone with avoidant personality disorder

7 TIPS ON HOW TO LOVE SOMEONE WITH AVOIDANT PERSONALITY DISORDER

Being mindful of your avoidant partner’s needs, alongside your own, is imperative to having a healthy relationship together. Care and attention to each of your mental health needs will also be important.

To support your healthy relationship with your avoidant partner here are 7 tips that can help:

1. Understand and communicate the need for long-term management of avoidant personality disorder

Clinical psychologist, Dr. Ramani Durvasula, explains that treatment for AVPD will likely be “an ongoing life-long commitment, not continuously, but there may be times people go back for a booster.”

This is due to setbacks such as negative social interactions with other people. “It’s a calibration of sorts”, she adds.

Communicate with your partner an understanding that managing this diagnosis takes ongoing work. Also, validate that you understand they will have setbacks.

Emphasize you don’t expect perfection. Rather, you only hope they will continue to care for their mental health.

Communicate in advance about how they want to receive feedback should you notice they are regressing.

People with AVPD are highly sensitive to perceived criticism so discussing how to have these potentially triggering conversations in advance is very helpful.

2. Remember your partner isn’t the only person with mental health needs

Being with an avoidant partner has its own challenges. You may find yourself getting confused, defensive, aggravated, or, at times, lonely.

These feelings may also trigger your own trauma from your past i.e. if your parents worked a lot, you may find yourself triggered if your partner refuses to go to social gatherings with you.

Stay committed to your own mental health care and seek therapy as needed. Communicate your personal commitment to your mental health with your avoidant partner.

This will help build emotional intimacy. Furthermore, it will help show your avoidant partner that there is nothing “wrong” or “broken” about them.

Your commitment helps normalize mental health treatment to reduce a sense of stigma or shame.

3. Schedule a weekly date night to discuss needs and concerns

Needing to negotiate needs and resolve misunderstandings is a necessary part of any healthy relationship.

While your avoidant partner will likely be very sensitive to feedback, it’s important to create a safe environment to nurture intimacy and resolve conflict.

Ask your partner how they prefer to receive this feedback. Maybe they prefer if you compliment them while sharing your concerns or that you write notes to each other to express your feelings and thoughts.

How to love someone with avoidant personality disorder

4. Accept the fact that loving an avoidant person will be confusing at times

This is because many people with AVPD have an anxious-avoidant attachment style. This attachment style as the name suggests leads people to both be anxious to connect but also avoid intimate relationships at times.

People with anxious-avoidant attachment deeply want approval but also find rejection terrifying. Therefore, they will push away the closeness they crave.

The risk of rejection or abandonment sometimes feels too great. One moment, your partner may want reassurance you will never leave.

While, in the next moment, they may seem completely disinterested in you. You may even find they are hard to communicate with or suddenly very busy.

Find a support system to help navigate this back and forth. And communicate in advance with your partner how to best come back to a middle ground when they are moving through their anxious-avoidant dance.

Seek couples therapy to help with this behavioral pattern if you find it’s too painful or challenging to navigate alone.

5. Create a mentally healthy lifestyle

As individuals, you will both have your own mental health needs that should be taken care of.

It’s also important to know that depression and anxiety are commonly experienced as well by people with avoidant personality disorder.

Luckily, there are health care professionals and licensed psychologists who are trained to handle situations like this.

Much of therapy focuses on creating a lifestyle that supports mental health. A mentally healthy lifestyle is centered on regular self-care.

It’s ensuring you get enough sleep since a lack of sleep intensifies emotions and leads to relationship conflict.

Self-care also means drinking enough water, eating frequently enough, and exercising regularly. You will each need to adopt and follow the routines which work for you personally.

Additionally, you may create mentally healthy routines together which help you both care for yourselves and connect together.

You may, for example, take a walk after dinner together. Or you may have a similar bedtime and waking time that allows for a full night’s rest.

6. Remember that your partner’s avoidant personality disorder is not your fault or your responsibility

There may be a part of you that believes you can love your partner enough that they start to believe in themselves. This is a beautiful desire.

However, you cannot heal your avoidant partner’s personality disorder. Your partner may always struggle to some degree in believing in your relationship and commitment.

Dr. Durvasula asserts there may “always be some sense of doubt” in your partner. If you find that you are preoccupied with fixing, controlling, or rescuing your partner, this can lead to other issues like resentment.

It can also contribute to a cycle in which you are critical and your partner feels increasingly wrong. This will, of course, reinforce their personality disorder while leaving you feeling worse.

If you find you are obsessing over how to take care of your partner, please know this is a sign of codependency and can be treated. 

7. Encourage open and honest communication in your relationship

Express compassion and understanding for your avoidant partner and create a safe space where they can express their feelings.

If you’re often critical or judgemental, they may avoid telling you the truth of what they think, feel, or need out of fear of being wrong or rejected.

Perhaps on your weekly date night, they can also negotiate how they will be open and honest with you.

When your avoidant partner shares a different opinion, perspective, or need than yours, share an appreciation for their openness.

This positive reinforcement can help build a sense of safety that you won’t make them “wrong.”

Naturally, sharing your perspective openly while validating differences in opinion can help to promote emotional intimacy.

It’s also a good idea to find ways to negotiate and compromise in your relationship.

Conclusion

Loving a romantic partner with avoidant personality disorder does have its challenges. It may also seem like a lot of work to make this relationship successful.

Yet the truth is that all healthy relationships benefit from a mutual commitment to mental health and open communication.

If you work to stay understanding and encouraging, your avoidant partner will learn your interactions can be safe.

By remaining committed to sharing your concerns, you support your partner in learning that misunderstandings or upset feelings are not inherently rejection.

Rather the couple that shares openly enhances their emotional connection.

Finally, the most loving thing you can do for your avoidant partner is to stay committed to accepting their challenges may be life-long.

Learning to accept them and finding ways to love each other with the avoidant personality disorder as a part of your lives is invaluable.

If you want to have a healthy, close relationship with your avoidant partner, you need to practice a lot of empathy and patience as well.

This is when you have a genuine sense of care and understanding for someone else’s experience.

No matter how much they push you away, all an avoidant person really wants is a stable, compassionate, and supportive partner who will always be there for them.

About The Author

Krystal Mazzola Wood
Krystal Mazzola Wood

Krystal Mazzola Wood, LMFT is a practicing relationship therapist with over a decade of experience.

She sees clients at her private practice, The Healthy Relationship Foundation and has dedicated her entire career to empowering people to heal from unhealthy relationship processes.

Every week, Krystal contributes to her blog, Confidently Authentic, to provide empowering dating, relationship, and mental health advice.

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